San Carlos residents will be asked to change the city treasurer position from elected to appointed in 2024 in a move councilmembers said is meant to ensure a qualified expert is handling the city’s finances.
“The only qualifications that we have for a treasurer are that they’re 18 years old and a registered voter, and I think that’s actually a big liability for the city because we could have somebody who runs and they have zero experience and they’re in charge of all these financial jobs for the city,” Councilmember Sara McDowell said during the body’s meeting Monday. “It also appears to me that San Carlos is behind the times. We are one of the last cities to have an elected treasurer. And so I think it’s time we update our policies.”
Councilmembers voted unanimously to place a measure on the November 2024 ballot asking voters to change the city treasurer position from elected to appointed. If approved, the change would take effect in 2028, leaving whoever wins the 2024 treasurer race to finish out the four-year term.
Given the price, councilmembers opted against holding a special election before the November 2024 general election, which, if the measure were approved, would have made the position an appointed one once the current treasurer term ended in late 2024.
Depending on the ballot language, either the council or the city manager would get to appoint someone to the role. City Manager Jeff Maltbie said he would appoint the administrative services director as treasurer. Rebecca Mendenhall, a city employee of more than 17 years, currently fills the role and oversees much of the city’s financial planning. Councilmembers also adopt a budget every two years but review the city’s finances annually.
If the measure fails and no one was running for the treasurer position, the council would then get to appoint someone to the role.
“I think we can all attest elections are a lot of work, not necessarily a lot of fun. I don’t think I would run for a position that the city was trying to eliminate,” Vice Mayor John Dugan said.
Former councilmember and current City Treasurer Inge Tiegel was reelected to the role by 13,000 votes in 2020 and her term is set to expire in November 2024. Tiegel asked the council to not place the measure on the ballot, arguing that the elected position serves an important oversight role independent from city staff and the council.
Her work goes beyond what’s publicly listed, she said, noting she’s often visiting City Hall weekly to review warrants and quarterly investment reports, responding to inquiries from rating agencies and lien release for the public and Board of Supervisors when asked. And she also provides fiscal oversight for the City/County Association of Government for San Mateo County and Commute.org, a joint powers authority of 19 cities and towns in the county focused on improving transportation.
“As an elected treasurer, I’m maintaining an independent and autonomous role for the oversight decisions related to the investment and safekeeping of city funds. I’m independent from the city council, from the city manager and from the finance staff. That’s not to say I don’t work very closely in conjunction with them, as you all do, but I do believe there is a value in having that autonomous role and checks and balances,” Tiegel said, noting she plans to run for reelection in 2024. “As an elected treasurer, I’m [as] accountable as you are to the public.”
Councilmembers thanked Tiegel for her services both on the City Council and as treasurer and assured her their decision was not a reflection of her work. Instead, they agreed that the position should be filled by someone with an academic or special background in finance.
Only two qualifications exist for someone interested in running for city treasurer currently — they must be 18 or older and a citizen. State law prohibits the city from adding additional qualifications.
“Thank you for your long service to the city both as treasurer and when you were on the council and as mayor. It hasn’t been forgotten,” said Councilmember Ron Collins who suggested the council consider the matter during its last meeting. “I also want to make it clear that this discussion has been going on for a number of years. It predates your time as treasurer.”
Despite their praise, councilmembers previously censured Tiegel last May after an investigation by City Attorney Greg Rubens found that she likely violated five sections of the code of conduct by failing to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, attempting to direct the city manager, retaliating against a member of the public, using her official title when seeking personal gain and using her title when sharing her personal opinions on a city policy.
The perceived misconduct occurred when Tiegel sent an email from her personal account to City Manager Jeff Maltbie asking if there was anything he or city staff could do to lobby the council from moving forward with a development moratorium in North East San Carlos. She also questioned if there were any fiscal or financial repercussions to the moratorium that she could speak on during the meeting as city treasurer “to help oppose this item.”
Maltbie forwarded that email to Rubens who advised Maltbie to not respond. That email also contained a forwarded email from Tiegel with the subject line “HIA - Important Notice to All San Carlos Property Owners” and signed “3rd generation property owner and current San Carlos City Treasurer,” that informed email recipients of the potential moratorium and encouraged them to email their concerns to McDowell, Vice Mayor Adam Rak, Rubens, Maltbie and the Planning Department.
Tiegel apologized for the misconduct before being censured but Collins still called on her to resign.
In other business, the council also adopted a 2023 Strategic Plan outlining its goals for the coming year. Goals within the document largely mirror those in the 2022 Strategic plan — develop a Northeast Area Specific Plan while working on addressing housing needs, child care, mobility, traffic, transportation and infrastructure and climate change.
Youth programming and senior services were removed from the list because areas are already regularly addressed and considered during staff’s day-to-day business. New to the list is a stated focus on recreational services which reflects the community and council’s growing interest in improving parks, open spaces, and health and well-being facilities and studying opportunities to bring in new recreational programming.
Collins asked the staff specifically address traffic light timing on San Carlos Avenue between El Camino Real and Devonshire Boulevard while McDowell asked that staff be mindful that improvements to school routes between the highlands and lowlands.
Staff will present a progress report to the council in June and again in November. Specific tasks listed under each objective are expected to be completed within a year but Mayor Adam Rak asked that staff provide firmer time frames for when they think certain tasks will be completed.
“I’m excited for this year,” Rak said. “We have lots of exciting things ahead.”
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