MAIN LIBRARY — Members of the City Council will meet with city staff on Sunday to discuss different ways to select the mayor and decide whether or not to have council members continue to serve as liaisons to city commissions.
The annual City Council Retreat is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Main Library.
“The retreat is really not about public policy and not about setting a new direction for the city, but more about council processes, particularly those that are not working that well,” said City Manager Rod Gould.
Many residents have called on the council to change the way in which the mayor is appointed. Currently, council members nominate a colleague and then votes are taken to see who garners the most support on the dais. At times the selection has been relatively free of controversy, while at others there have been clear divisions on the council, creating a less than harmonious atmosphere.
In the most recent round, Councilman Richard Bloom was selected to serve a third term as mayor, while Councilman Kevin McKeown was left out once again even though he received the most votes in the November election.
Councilman Bobby Shriver in January called on his colleagues to explore other ways of selecting the mayor and the council agreed. Any change to the selection process, which typically occurs every two years, would have to come in the form of an amendment to the city charter, which can only be done at the ballot box.
The mayor chairs council meetings and works with the city manager to set the agenda but doesn’t have any special powers. The mayor also makes a few thousand dollars more a year than his council colleagues. According to City Hall, the mayor pulls in $15,467 annually, while a council member makes $12,888.
According to a city staff report, of 83 cities surveyed, 55 have council-appointed mayors. Of those, 41 were appointed by the council with no formal or written process (like Santa Monica), and 14 were appointed with a specified process, including: by rotation, by seniority, number of votes received, and rotating 1-year terms, among others. The mayors from 28 cities were elected.
So, the council has plenty of options to discuss.
“Awarding the mayorship to the highest vote getter or on a rotating basis, affords equal opportunities and eliminates questions of fairness; but it may, as a practical matter, result in uneven council productivity over time because not all council members are likely to have equivalent skills or support,” City Clerk Maria Stewart wrote in her report to council.
“ Similarly, selecting the major by council vote is likely to produce the selection of a chair person who has at least the general support of a majority of his or her colleagues; but it may create friction amongst council members,” she added.
Another issue up for debate is whether or not to continue assigning council members to act as liaisons to city commissions, a practice that has been done for many years and was intended to keep the council abreast of commission activities before commission meetings were broadcast on CityTV or had their agendas and minutes posted online.
A recent article in Western City Magazine focused on the ethical and legal hazards of having a council member serve as a liaison and actively participate in commission meetings. The article said a council member could have too much influence over a commission given that members are appointed by the council.
Also, more council members have decided not to serve as liaisons, while others have chosen to serve more, potentially giving those elected officials more sway.
The article raised some concerns amongst council members and the city manager, who felt it was important to bring the issue up for discussion.
Council will have the option of going with the status quo, eliminating the liaison positions or modify them so that the liaison meets with chairs or vice-chairs of commissions once or twice a year to talk about trends. Another option would be to adopt a resolution clarifying the role of a liaison and establish standards for conduct.
Council members will also discuss the appointment of emeritus members to commissions since there is no formal policy, and adopting a new annual evaluation process for the city manager, city attorney and city clerk, who are all hired by the council.