(3/25/08) Editorial – Should Nancy Pay? I’m Not So Sure

City Clerk Nancy Shollenberger announced today that she would reimburse the City for expenses incurred due to her error on the Sample ballot. She gave no indication as to whether she will also take financial responsibility for the City’s Court costs if the election is challenged, or if the resolution of the challenge is that a new election be held, if she will reimburse the City for those costs.  I guess we cross that bridge when we come to it.  Other City Clerks have lost their jobs over similar issues.  Ms. Shollenberger’s error has again exposed the City to potentially major expense, just as her error from 1993 to 2001 did, when she failed to make sure City ordinances had been published. Shollenberger denies responsibility for that, stating it wasn’t her job to publish.  Maybe not, but Government Code requires the City Clerk to keep a record of ordinances, including stamping the record with the information that it was published.  So did she just not keep the book for eight years?  Or did the book just fail to include one of the requirements of the Code?  If she’s required to record the publication of the ordinances, wouldn’t you think once in eight years she’d ask, hey, that got published, right? Two such major errors, along with other smaller ones through the years, indicate that the exemplary record Ms. Shollenberger claims, isn’t quite what it’s made out to be.  Ms. Shollenberger has worked long and hard for this City, but as the Pasadena Star News said in their City Clerk endorsement of Karma Bell, it’s time for a change. 

But I’m now questioning my original assertion that it was appropriate for the City Clerk to reimburse the City for her mistake.  It might set a very bad precedent if the City accepts Shollenberger’s check.  What if another City employee makes another error, and the City legally has no case for requesting reimbursement?  Some Sierra Madreans won’t care if the City has no case, in there minds, if Nancy had to pay, this person should have to pay.  Despite the fact that Nancy really doesn’t have to pay the City back, she’s choosing to.  But you know how this town gets.  Somebody is going to be upset and demand that heads roll.  There’s another thing to consider, too.  By offering to pay, Nancy is accepting financial responsibility for the error.  If additional costs are incurred because of a challenge, and Nancy fails to offer to reimburse for that, then the City’s hand is kind of forced.  If she has indicated by her payment that she feels she should be held financially responsible for this correction of the error, it’s kind of incumbent upon them at that point to try to get Nancy to accept responsibility for that correction of the error, even to the point of possibly filing suit.  And there will be some members of the community that will be upset if the Council chooses not to take that course of action. But I’m not sure it’s a case they can win.  So then the Council will be considering involving themselves in action they probably can’t win, just because it’s the logical course of action based on shaky precedent.   I think the Council should think long and hard about the appropriate course of action before accepting the City Clerk’s offer to reimburse.