Another vacancy on Sonoma City Council as Amy Harrington announces resignation

The two-term councilwoman is the the latest of three Sonoma council members to walk away from public office in the past six months citing the demands of career and home life.|

Two-term Sonoma Councilwoman Amy Harrington announced Monday that she would resign her elected post, becoming the latest of three council members to walk away from public office in the past six months citing the demands of career and home life.

Harrington, 44, a married mother of two teenage daughters and a managing partner in a small Bay Area law firm, said on Monday that she felt a sense of “relief” in reaching her decision. She gave official notice of her July 1 resignation prior to the evening council meeting.

“I just don’t have time for a part-time job that is this demanding,” she said. “I need back some of my life as a ‘normal’ person.”

Her San Francisco-based firm, Harrington Law, P.C., focuses on trusts and estates. She was first elected to the council in 2016 and was reelected in 2020.

Her departure punctuates a period of near-complete turnover in the Sonoma council, which until this year had boasted one of the youngest memberships countywide.

Mayor Logan Harvey, 33, resigned in early June, announcing he was relocating for a job opportunity, pursuing a promotion in Seattle.

Councilwoman Rachel Hundley, 38, stepped down in January 2021, citing the challenge of balancing her responsibilities as an elected representative and the obligations of her day job as a public law attorney.

Of the current incumbents, only Madolyn Agrimonti, 74, was in office before last November. Agrimonti, first elected in 2014, was selected by the council on Monday to serve as the city’s new mayor. Jack Ding, 61, who was elected in November, will serve as vice mayor.

The four member council, including Harrington and newcomer Kelso Barnett, 40, who in March was named to fill Hundley’s seat, also appointed longtime Sonoma Planning Commissioner Bob Felder, 80, to fill Harvey’s council seat, effective immediately.

The current period of turmoil on the Sonoma City Council began last fall. Then-Mayor David Cook, 55, was arrested in October 2020 on suspicion of child molestation. He finished his term by skipping his final two meetings and pleaded no contest in April to felony molestation charges. He is expected to be sentenced in July.

Logan’s resignation announcement in May, especially, revived public discussion of the economic difficulties in recruiting and retaining younger city council members in the county, where most receive only a small stipend.

Sonoma City Council members are offered a monthly stipend that totals $3,600 annually. The city also offers council members access to city-paid health care coverage. The compensation is equal to the package offered to Santa Rosa council members.

In Rohnert Park, council members receive $5,809 annually and in Windsor, $7,120. Council members in Cloverdale make only $600 annually and in Petaluma $155. By comparison, the average city council member in Napa makes $29,320 and the mayor $40,490.

Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers, in a May 17 Facebook post citing Harvey’s departure and the resignation weeks earlier of Cloverdale Mayor Jason Turner — also a work-fueled decision — called for his city to revisit the issue of council member pay.

“If I look at only my recurring council meetings, regional boards and commissions, and subcommittee meetings — and ignore the time it takes to read our packets, meet with and respond to staff and constituents, return phone calls, or engage the community, 19.75 hours of my week is already encumbered,” he said in the post.

Past and current Sonoma council members gave a similar accounting, estimating the job takes up 15-25 hours each week on council business.

Harrington and Ding ran unopposed for at-large seats in November. Harrington said she stepped forward only after it was obvious no one else was going to.

“The timing didn’t seem right for me to walk away during the height of COVID and the threat the pandemic posed to our city’s budget and future,” she said Monday.

She cited her 2011 cancer diagnosis and treatment as a baseline that helped her reach the decision to resign.

“That experience made me take stock of what was important to me. My takeaways then were to make sure the people in your life know you love them and to do the things that inspire and challenge you now. There is no time to wait.”

With the pandemic ebbing and the city in a strong fiscal position, she said, “now is the right time for me to step aside. I know that there are incredible members of our community who have considered running for the city council and I encourage them to do so.”

The Sonoma City Council has three options for filling empty seats: call a special election; launch an appointment process in which the remaining council members would select a replacement from a field of applicants; or make an immediate appointment to fill the vacancy.

Given two vacancies, the council on Monday opted to make an immediate appointment in Felder’s case. He was selected over three other candidates: recent MBA graduate and Bolt Staffing CFO Calvin Sanders; former Sonoma Valley Unified School District trustee Sandra Lowe; longtime Sonoma Valley Healthcare District board member Mike Nugent.

After brief discussion, Agrimonti nominated Felder, citing his experience in public service, including 12 years as a planning commissioner, two years on the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission and five years on the board of directors at Vintage House senior center.

Barnett supported the motion for Felder. “We are in a unique period of time and I know that Bob would bring to the council the experience and gravitas that Sonoma needs right now,” he said.

The 3-1 appointment saw Ding as the lone no vote. He described his stance as a “symbolic no for democracy,” voicing his wish for a less rushed appointment process and consideration of all four candidates.

“I will do my best to serve the city of Sonoma during this important time,” Felder said as he took his seat. “The city is facing some hard work and crucial decisions in the months ahead. With all of my contact in the city and my experience, I feel confident that I can do a good job in the role.”

Felder said on Tuesday that he does not intend to run for election when his term ends in 2022.

Because the council cannot have the majority of its members appointed, according to city bylaws, a special election will be needed to fill Harrington’s seat.

“I urge community members to run for council for the right reason – to represent the people and businesses of Sonoma,” said Agrimonti. “If you want to run for any other reason, it is not going to work.”

That election will take place on Nov. 2, according to interim City Manager David Kiff. He said the cost typically runs $23,000 to $39,000 depending on how many other measures or races are also on the ballot. At this point the city has no other measures or races planned for this year.

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