Santa Monica may have a new mayor when City Council meets Tuesday for its first meeting of 2021.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich was selected by a 5 – 2 vote margin to serve as Mayor for two years during a Dec. 8 City Council meeting. But residents have since voiced concerns of potential Brown Act violations, so council will redo a vote on Tuesday, Jan. 12 after public comment.

Multiple rounds of voting were necessary before Council broke with the previous precedent of year-long mayoral terms and selected Himmelrich as mayor and Councilmember Kristin McCowan as Mayor Pro Tempore for a two-year term as well.

Prior to any discussion or voting for the selection of the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem positions, McCowan stated on the public record that, out of concern that she may inadvertently have violated the Brown Act, she had called the Interim City Attorney George Cardona and informed him of certain conversations that she had with other councilmembers regarding the election of a Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem.

“She was concerned that she might have violated the Brown Act. She continued that, in accordance with the Interim City Attorney’s advice, she would disclose these conversations on the record, in advance of the Council’s discussion and vote,” Cardona said in an email addressed to Olga Zurawska, a resident who submitted a formal demand to cure or correct what she alleges is a violation of the Brown Act.

Because McCowan disclosed the information she had discussed with three other councilmembers on the record at the Dec. 8, 2020 council meeting, Cardona states in the letter, that disclosure resulted in both the public and all councilmembers being aware of the information she had discussed prior to any proceedings to select the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem. “All councilmembers, therefore, could take the disclosed discussions into account when acting to nominate and vote for the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem, and had the ability, if they so chose, to raise these discussions as a basis for supporting or opposing any particular candidate for Mayor or Mayor Pro Tem.”

As a result, city staff believes the selection of the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem at the open and public Dec. 8, 2020 meeting occurred in substantial compliance with the Brown Act, and that there is, therefore, no basis to nullify the selection of the Mayor or Mayor Pro Tem, Cardona added in the letter that’s available online. “Nevertheless, in the interests of providing still further assurance that the selection of the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem has occurred at an open and public meeting, the City will conduct a reselection of the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem at the January 12, 2021 council meeting. This will address any concern that either the public or the other councilmembers did not have sufficient time to respond to the disclosures made by Councilmember McCowan at the December 8, 2020 meeting.”

A number of public comments received from the public in the time since have suggested that Councilmember McCowan should be precluded from participation to ensure that there is a punishment for her engaging in the discussions alleged to have resulted in a serial meeting in violation of the Brown Act, Cardona noted. “Councilmember McCowan, however, promptly and voluntarily disclosed the discussions once she realized that they might have violated the Brown Act. Such voluntary disclosure is something that should be encouraged to provide public transparency and further the goals of the Brown Act. There may be instances where punishment remains appropriate despite such a voluntary disclosure, but this does not appear to be such a case.”

Brennon@smdp.