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By Shawn Raymundo

The San Juan Capistrano City Council on Tuesday, March 19, appointed Stan Braden as the fifth member to sit on the city’s planning commission.

Councilmembers had initially impaneled the five-member committee on Monday, March 11; however, a counting error during the tallying of the votes resulted in Matthew Gaffney, who previously served as a planning commissioner, to be incorrectly appointed for another two-year term.

The council confirmed Braden, an architect and principal at KTGY Architecture and Planning, in a 4-1 vote, with Councilmember Sergio Farias opposed.

“I look forward to serving the city in my new role as planning commissioner,” Braden told The Capistrano Dispatch.

Members, who are to serve two-year terms, are tasked with approving or denying development proposals and ensuring that capital improvements and design plans remain consistent with the city’s general plan. Braden will join Lisa Fenning, Harrison Taylor, Tami Wilhelm and Howard Hart as the city’s planning commissioners, who are expected to convene for the first time next month.

During Tuesday’s meeting, City Clerk Maria Morris acknowledged the counting error, taking responsibility for the mishap.

“I would like to sincerely apologize to the City Council and to all the applicants to the Planning Commission for my error and the inconvenience this has caused,” Morris said.

The counting snafu did raise questions on the council’s ballot process when it comes to appointing members to the city’s commissions and committees. In order to reach a consensus, councilmembers vote on committee appointments through a ballot process.

While discussing the issue, councilmembers and city staff noted that the ballot process has been a long-standing tradition, but it wasn’t clear how, why or when it started.

“I think the silver lining in the mistake is that we get to look at the process,” Councilmember Farias said. “And I think for the most part, no one I ever met in city council ever liked this process. I think we all felt like it was flawed.”

City attorney Jeffrey Ballinger advised the council that while the ballot process isn’t “technically illegal,” it should consider switching to voice votes primarily for transparency.

After appointing Braden and reaffirming the previous appointments, the council also voted in favor of having city staff review alternative voting processes for councilmembers to consider at a subsequent meeting.

According to the city, while reviewing the council’s ballots the day after the March 11 meeting, Morris discovered that she had counted Councilmember Derek Reeve’s votes twice, giving both Hart and Gaffney extra votes. In actuality, Hart had three votes and Gaffney received two, tying him with Braden, who was then a candidate.

At the start of the March 11 meeting, Councilmember John Taylor recused himself from the interview process because his son, Harrison Taylor, was in the running for a commissioner position. During the first-ballot selection, Fenning, Wilhelm and Harrison Taylor received a majority of votes from the four councilmembers.

With Harrison Taylor already selected from the pool of candidates, Councilmember Reeve motioned for Councilmember Taylor to return to the dais to vote on the remaining two commissioners. That second ballot vote resulted in Hart and Gaffney being appointed.

The tie vote should have triggered a third ballot selection between Gaffney, Braden and the remaining candidates.

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