CITY HALL — The power to select a mayor from among Santa Monica’s seven City Council members could end up in the hands of the voters, if a proposal by Councilman Bobby Shriver gains traction.
He’s planning to ask his colleagues to consider undoing the current system, under which council members are responsible for selecting a mayor, and giving the choice to the people instead.
Details of the proposal are not yet available, but Shriver said he plans to bring the idea before the council on Tuesday for a preliminary discussion.
If a majority agrees to look into it, City Hall staff would return with more information at a later meeting, and the council would then have the option of voting to place a specific proposal on the ballot.
Because a change in the method used to select a mayor would be an amendment to the city charter, a citywide election would be the only way to enact the change, according to City Clerk Maria Stewart.
Either a majority of City Council members or a resident who submits a petition containing the names of at least 15 percent of registered Santa Monica voters could qualify the proposal for the ballot, she said.
Shriver’s proposal comes after varying degrees of contention arose during each of the last two mayoral decisions.
In May, it took eight voting rounds for a slim 4-3 majority to select Shriver as the fill-in mayor for Ken Genser, who died in January of 2010. Following November’s election, the choice of Richard Bloom, who is now in his third stint as mayor, in particular prompted criticism from supporters of Councilman Kevin McKeown, who has received the most votes in his last two elections but has never served as mayor during his 12 years on the council.
Shriver, who has received the most votes of any candidate both times he has been elected, said the proposal has nothing to do with sour grapes after he was denied a full term as mayor last month.
He said it’s about common sense.
“People think the word ‘mayor’ means you’re elected by the people. That’s the definition of the word, therefore I think the charter should be amended to reflect that popular understanding,” he said. “When you say to people ‘I’m the mayor,’ they think you’ve been elected by the people and I want that to be true.”
He said he’s not contemplating any expansion of the mayor’s mainly ceremonial role.
It’s unclear what level of support the proposal will receive on the dais.
Councilman Terry O’Day on Wednesday said he was open to considering alternate ways to select the mayor, but carefully avoided saying whether he would support Shriver’s idea.
“The current process is certainly difficult and often can get a new council out to a rough start,” he said of the current system. “But I think it’s important to keep in mind that our city government structure is a city manager government, and that the role of the mayor is an agenda setting and ceremonial [one] and it’s a collegial role. It’s about leading colleagues to work together and find solutions and what we have as a process now really reflects those three priorities.”
Reached on Wednesday, Bloom said only: “Rather than speculate about what’s going to be proposed I’d like to know what it is that Bobby would like us to consider before I comment on it.”
For his part, McKeown said he believes there’s a problem with “a self-selected mayor’s club … passing the seat amongst themselves.”
“I’d agree the collegial system that worked for decades has now failed us, but I’m not sure what would be a better option. We should explore [changing] it,” he said.
The idea of a popularly elected mayor in Santa Monica is not new.
In 2002, voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have given residents the job of picking a mayor, though that measure would have made several more sweeping changes, such as giving the mayor veto authority, establishing seven City Council districts and requiring municipal primary elections. Thirty-six percent of voters supported the proposal and 64 percent opposed it.