HAWTHORNE — After experimenting twice with a mayor elected by the voters, the City Council voted 3 to 1 this week to find out if the electorate wants to return to a system where the council members choose a mayor from among themselves.
The move was prompted by controversy over how to fill a vacancy that occurs when an incumbent councilman is elected mayor, as has happened twice in two years.
If voters uphold the current system, the council wants to know if any similar vacancy should be filled by special election or appointment.
Both questions will appear on the April 8 special election ballot, but only the vote on electing a mayor will be binding.
The vote on how to fill vacancies created when a council member is elected mayor can only be advisory in cities like Hawthorne, where state law, rather than a city charter, determines municipal rules and regulations, according to City Atty. Michael Adamson.
"All it is, is an advisory vote, so it doesn't hurt us to put it on the ballot," said council member Chuck Bookhammer.
The council voted 4 to 0 to place the advisory measure on the ballot.
But opposition surfaced on the binding question of whether to elect a mayor.
Mayor Betty Ainsworth, saying she had not studied all the implications, cast the lone vote against putting the measure on the April 8 ballot.
Bookhammer said that putting the mayoral question up again was not a reflection on Ainsworth or Guy Hocker, the city's first elected mayor.
"With the complications we have had in the last two elections, it would be advisable to give the voters another chance" to decide the issue, he said.
The special election was called after Ainsworth vacated her council seat upon being elected mayor Nov. 5 and the council decided not to appoint Ginny McGinnis Lambert, who finished third in the race for two council vacancies.
Lambert, who announced that she will run in the special election, has maintained that she should have been appointed, citing the situation that developed when a similar vacancy was filled in 1983.
When Hocker became the city's first elected mayor in 1983, the council voted to appoint Bookhammer, who finished a close third in the election for two council seats, far ahead of the fourth place finisher. In the fall elections, Lambert edged out fourth-place finisher Dick Mansfield by 41 votes.
Supporters of Lambert argued that the council had set a precedent in 1983 when it appointed Bookhammer. The close finish in 1985 and its contrast with the 1983 returns was cited by Bookhammer and Councilman Steve Andersen as a significant factor in deciding not to appoint Lambert.
The ballot question about the mayor's election reads: "Shall the electors elect a mayor and four City Council members?" Two other related questions will appear: "Shall the term of office be two years?" and "Shall the term of office be four years?"
Adamson said that if both questions about the term of office were answered yes by a majority, the term with the larger number of votes would take effect.
The advisory question reads: "When a vacancy on the City Council is created by the election of an incumbent City Council member to the office of mayor, shall the City Council fill the vacancy by special election rather than by appointment?"
In 1980, after a petition drive put the measure calling for an elected mayor on the ballot, Hawthorne voters decided they wanted to abandon the system in which five elected council members choose a mayor among themselves in favor of the elected-mayor system. The vote was 3,400 in favor with 1,307 opposed. Voters opted for a two-year term for mayor with 2,809 voting for it and 1,275 voting against. A total of 1,186 voted for the four-year term with 2,453 opposed.