Thursday, June 15, 2006
On his last day on the job as mayor of Pacific Grove, Jim Costello found himself playing lawyer.
Costello, 62, announced his retirement May 23 after being diagnosed with a rare, chronic cancer called Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia.
The city’s charter explicitly outlined the process for replacing a council-member. But it didn’t spell out what to do should the mayor resign.
And so, on the morning of June 9, Costello represented himself in Superior Court. Accompanied by City Attorney David Laredo, Costello sat in Judge Robert O’Farrell’s Monterey County courtroom and asked the judge to revise the city charter. Costello wanted to ensure that the City Council could appoint one of its own to the mayoral seat after his retirement.
“I wanted to make sure the city council was still capable of functioning after I left.”
“I wanted to make sure we had a process in place to ensure that the City Council was still capable of functioning after I left,” says Costello, who also worked as a teacher at Pacific Grove Middle School. “The only logical thing is that someone from the City Council takes over.”
Last month, Costello and the City Council discovered that any situation not explicitly spelled out in the city charter automatically reverts to common law. In this case, common law prohibited the City Council from appointing a councilmember to the mayor’s post. Costello and company found themselves caught in a political Catch-22 with time running out.
So, at 10:30am on June 9, Costello and Laredo stood before Judge O’Farrell and requested an expedited review of the case. Because the City was requesting a ruling on the day its mayor was retiring, Judge O’Farrell granted the expedited review.
He then heard arguments from Costello and Laredo before ruling that the common-law prohibition against self-appointment does not apply to the city of Pacific Grove or its council. In other words, the City can appoint a sitting councilmember to the mayoral post.
“He gave us what we wanted,” Laredo says. “A quick, clean ruling on the matter.”
As a result, Mayor Pro Tempore Dan Cort will start the June 21 City Council meeting as presiding mayor. What happens next is up to the City Council.
“The whole purpose of this was to make it clear what choices were available to the council,” Laredo says.
According to Laredo, the City Council could do one of three things at the June 21 meeting: it could do nothing; it could appoint a seated councilmember; or it could appoint an individual from the public-at-large.
However, the immediate appointment of a councilmember on June 21 would leave a vacant spot in the City Council.
“We have another 30 days to appoint the councilmember under the charter,” says attorney and Councilwoman Susan Goldbeck. “Since the appointment of the mayor creates a vacancy in the council and we have until July 21, I doubt very seriously we’ll be making a decision [regarding the mayor] next week.”
Goldbeck says whatever the City Council decides, it must remain a transparent and public process. She says she was displeased when some members of the council wanted to schedule a special closed meeting for June 14 in an effort to discuss the appointment before the June 21 meeting.
“I was less than pleased they were trying to set a special meeting,” Goldbeck says. “I complained that it wasn’t right. These decisions need to be made at a council meeting, where it will be televised and the public is present. There’s a little too much backroom stuff going on.”
As for Costello, his retirement began the moment Judge O’Farrell made his ruling. Costello stepped down from his position as mayor and retired from Pacific Grove Middle School, where he taught English and history, to focus on treatment for the disease.
Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia causes a thickening of the blood due to the rapid multiplication of abnormal plasma cells. Although currently considered incurable, clinical trials of new anti-cancer drugs, combinations of drugs, and new biological therapies are ongoing.
In addition to battling his illness, Costello says he wants to devote time to projects like the half-built Lotus he bought off the Internet.
“Originally I wanted to race it, but this illness affects my vision so that would be tough,” he said. “It’s kind of a lesson of what not to buy on eBay. Still, I’d like to see it finished.”
Costello’s two-year tenure will be primarily remembered for its successful completion of the senior housing project at Lovers Point; the controversy and completion of the golf course clubhouse; the hiring of City Manager Jim Colangelo and City Attorney David Laredo; and the first real attempts at dealing with the city’s much-publicized sewer and storm water run-off problems.
“Some people will disagree, but I feel like we came a long way on our sewers and we started the groundwork for addressing storm water run-off,” he says. “We found some middle ground between reality and the environmental groups.
“My real hope is that Pacific Grove can be a pilot for the rest of the state in terms of storm water. We don’t want to fight it. We just want to do it. We want the money. We want to be the first to use new technologies and methods to meet the standards for clean run-off.”