SLO council to appoint new mayor to replace Harmon

San Luis Obispo City Council

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

The San Luis Obispo City Council decided on Tuesday to appoint, rather than elect, a new mayor to replace outgoing Mayor Heidi Harmon.

Harmon will vacate her mayoral seat on Sept. 26, more than one year prior to the conclusion of her current two-year term. Harmon has accepted a climate policy advocacy position with a nonprofit and has chosen to give up her mayoral position, rather than fill both roles simultaneously. Critics have questioned the timing of her resignation announcement, which came amid an FBI probe into corruption in the cannabis industry that has targeted a local marijuana mogul from whom Harmon allegedly accepted unreported gifts. 

On Tuesday, the SLO City Council voted 4-0 with Harmon recusing herself to opt for an appointment process, instead of a special election. In the aftermath of Tuesday’s vote, current council members, as well as other residents of San Luis Obispo, will have the opportunity to submit applications to become appointed mayor. 

Then at its Oct. 5 meeting, the council will consider appointing a new mayor. At the meeting, each applicant will have five minutes to present his/her case for becoming mayor to the council. If the council reaches a consensus on whom to appoint, the new mayor will be sworn in.

If a seated council member is appointed mayor, the move will trigger a new appointment process to fill the vacated council seat. The council could then appoint a new member at a meeting later in October or in November.

Following Harmon’s departure from her mayoral seat, Vice Mayor Erica Stewart will fill in for Harmon prior to a new mayor being seated. In addition to Stewart, the other current council members are councilwomen Carlyn Christianson, Andy Pease and Jan Marx. Christianson has served on the council consecutively since 2013; Pease received the most votes in last year’s council election; and Marx formerly served three terms as mayor.

Had the council chosen to hold a special election to fill Harmon’s seat, the vote would take place sometime between Dec. 26, 2021 and Feb. 24, 2022 and cost an estimated $150,000 to $200,000, according to a city staff report.

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