(Los Alamitos, 1/6/2013, by Dave Emerson) The first decision item on the Agenda for tomorrow’s 6 pm Special Los Alamitos City Council Meeting is a “revisiting” of the process that resulted in the unanimous election of Warren Kusumoto as Mayor and Richard Murphy as Vice Mayor.
“Ungracious” or simply legal?
If nothing else, the process certainly made it clear that Council Member Mejia went out of her way to avoid Brown-Act violating discussions or back-room deals prior to that election.
As the OC Breeze’s Shelley Henderson so diplomatically put it, ”Councilwoman Gerri Graham-Mejia ungraciously complained that she was not selected, and would not have an opportunity to serve as Mayor prior to the next City election in 2014.”
I’m sure glad Henderson isn’t “ungracious!” Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! But I digress. The fact that Mejia’s displeasure with not being nominated to Mayor pro tem came as a surprise to Kusumoto and Murphy made it pretty obvious none of those three, at least, were engaging in any back-room, Brown Act violating shenanigans.
A better way?
It’s often been suggested that Los Alamitos’ position of Mayor be rotated among the Council Members. I’ve been mulling that over the last few days, and surprised myself with my conclusion:
While rotating the mayor’s position among Council Members willing to serve as Mayor seems like a good idea, I’d always wondered if it was the best idea. After all, some people are better at leading a meeting than others.
I think our Council should function as a team that builds on each Council Member’s individual strengths and it’s only logical some would be better at serving as Mayor. After all, successful football teams don’t rotate everybody through the quarterback position!
However, I couldn’t shake memories of how dysfunctional our Council has been for what. . . the last ten years at least.? Then I realized how much a Mayoral rotation could actually help make the Council a more effective team, and our City more democratic:
- Rotating the Mayor means just about everyone gets a chance at being Mayor, not just those that join a tyrannical majority.
- That gives power to every elected Council Member and every voter that supported them.
- A rotation also means that it’s in every Council Member’s best interest to “play nice:” to try to address (rather than ignore) every Member’s concerns, knowing that each of them will most likely serve as Mayor at some point in time.
- That also provides a strong incentive for our Mayors not to abuse their power, as the show will be on another foot within a year.
- It reduces opportunities for the majority or any one Mayor to bully other Council Members.
- As Council Member Mejia’s honest concerns (NOT “ungracious complaints,” Ms. H!) so poignantly illustrate, it’s the right and fair thing to do.
In a word, Mayoral rotation is a small step towards forcing our elected officials to work together for the good of our community.
Which is why I think our Council needs to take steps to write it into our City’s code if not Charter.
Since “the Devil is in the details,” let me propose one possible approach:
First, to serve as Mayor, a Council Member must agree to perform certain tasks, such as:
- Respond to urgent requests from the City Manager within ___ hours.
- Attend or arrange for another Council Member to attend events as recommended by City Staff.
- Work with the City Manager to prepare the agenda so a tentative agenda can be posted 8 calendar days before the actual meeting and a final agenda at least five days before
- etc., as determined by Council, Staff, and community input
Every time a Mayor is chosen, the City Clerk will determine who is next “in line” to serve as Mayor according to the following criteria:
- Rank the Council Members who have never served as Mayor by who has served the longest total months on the City Council.
- Where there is a tie, rank the tied candidates by votes received in their most recent election.
The City Clerk then offers the Mayor’s position the Council Member ranked first.
If that Council Member accepts, the City Clerk then offers the Mayor pro tem position to the Candidate ranked second. If the Council Member ranked first declines, then the Mayorship is offered to the candidate ranked second and the pro tem position to the candidate ranked first.
And so on down the list of rankings.
The Council than votes to ratify the results.
In addition, it might be a good idea to have the last year’s Mayor move into a new “Mayor Emeritus” position for the next year, if they remain on the Council. If not, the Council Member who has most recently served as Mayor could fill the Mayor Emeritus role.
That role would be to assist the Mayor and Mayor pro tem in attending public events and to advise and consult with the Mayor on decisions needed between Council Meetings.
This would give the new Mayor the benefit of the previous Mayor’s experience and insight into decisions made under his or her term and effectively establish an “instant” emergency ad hoc committee when needed.
It also shares power and encourages Council Members to develop strong & cordial working relationships, and further shares power among all Council Members.
Those are my thoughts, offered only as a starting point for discussion. I’m sure our Council and City Staff can improve the specifics.
However, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that a Mayoral rotation combined with an Emeritus post for former Mayors who remain on the Council will go a long way towards greater teamwork, cooperation, and effectiveness.
What are your thoughts?