Gleam Davis

Santa Monica’s new mayor wants to encourage civility and keep residents informed of what City Hall is doing in a political climate she said is often marked by tribalism and misinformation.

City Council selected Mayor Gleam Davis to serve for one year in a 4-3 vote. (Terry O’Day will serve as Mayor Pro Tempore.) Davis said she aims to continue the work Council has done to address issues like homelessness, crime, housing and transportation, although she warned that a looming recession could change Council’s priorities.

What Davis wants to take initiative on is educating residents about how local government impacts their lives and foster an open, respectful dialogue about problems that matter to people. The key to achieving both goals, she said, is improving communication between City Hall and the rest of Santa Monica.

“I’m hoping to continue on the path our communications team has established of making sure the community knows not only what we’re doing but why we’re doing it, and that everyone feels they have an opportunity to be heard,” she said.

Tackling misinformation is a part of better communication, she said. A recent citywide survey revealed that about 60 percent of residents get their information about the City of Santa Monica through social media. That’s a problem, Davis said, because social media platforms don’t verify information.

She said she would like to publicize a program the Santa Monica Public Library conducts on how to discern what’s true or false on social media and encourage people who have questions about what they see on social media to reach out to City staff or check the City’s website, which is due for a revamp in 2019.

“I think we’re going to do better on making a lot of information available to people about topics they care about,” she said.

Davis said City Hall’s focus on data-driven programming will also keep residents informed.

“When we put out information that says a program is working, it’s not just anecdotal and we can provide hard data to people,” she said.

Davis said the ongoing California Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the City could make Santa Monica more divided and reduce residents’ voice in local government. Last Friday, a judge ordered the City to stop holding at-large elections and move to a district-based system to prevent underrepresentation of minorities on Council.

Counsel on both sides will continue to litigate the case, Davis said.

“If we go to district elections, instead of getting to vote for councilmembers every two years and all seven of them over a four year period, you’ll get to vote for one councilmember every four years,” she said. “To me, that’s actually reducing people’s voice in government and marginalizing a lot of the people this lawsuit purports to try and help.”

Moving to district-based elections would balkanize the city, Davis said, only increasing the tribalism she believes has permeated government from the federal to the local level.

“If I represented just one district, my accountability stops at those borders, and I think that … leads to balkanization and a kind of government function none of us really want,” she said. “I think it’s important for every councilmember to have to answer to every voter.”

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