In a small but significant discussion item, scheduled towards the end of last Tuesday’s meeting shortly after midnight, City Council voted to reject a proposal made by Mayor Gleam Davis to amend Rule 9(b) of the Council Rules of Procedure concerning the selection of Mayor and Mayor Pro Tempore.
After a contentious mayor selection following the 2022 election, Council changed its system from a nomination process to a rotation based on seniority. As written, the current rules are not subject to suspension and can only be changed via a repeal or amendment. Mayor Gleam Davis proposed altering the rule last month by deleting the language that precludes suspension of the rule.
The seemingly administrative item triggered a flurry of criticism from individuals who felt it was a stealth attack on the upcoming Mayorship of current councilman Phil Brock, a notion Davis denied up front.
“Apparently I have set off a conspiracy theory around the city.” She added, “So let me start out by saying this is not intended in any way to affect mayoral rotation which we adopted earlier in the year, end of story.”
In December of last year, the Council elected Davis to serve as mayor for one year, with Brock serving the second year. One month later, in January 2023, the Council voted six to one to change the system going forward to “select the longest continuously serving Councilmember, whether initially elected or appointed, to serve as Mayor for a one-year term.”
Based on Rule 9(b), the rotation will be Brock following Davis, then Councilmembers Christine Parra, Oscar de la Torre, Mayor Pro Tempore Lana Negrete, Caroline Torosis and finally Jesse Zwick, assuming they are still members of council when their turn comes up. If not, then it would skip to the next in rotation.
Council action is still required to formally acknowledge the next individual in the queue as Mayor but there would be no choice in the matter if the rules are in place.
Amending the council legislation to change the system requires four affirmative votes and it would need to be listed on the agenda prior to the change in mayorship. If the rule were subject to suspension, it would require five votes (a supermajority) to approve.
Regardless of selection, the City Charter provides the power to remove a Mayor at any time with a simple majority.
“This happened to come up on the day that Councilmember [John] Lee in the city of Los Angeles was identified as being the target of a fraud investigation and that his indictment was imminent,” Davis explained.
However, the Council cannot preemptively alter the rotation without the longer-term process of organizing an amendment.
“And it struck me that by not allowing a supermajority of the council to address the issue of the rotational rule, we could have, in theory — and that doesn’t relate to anybody who’s sitting up here now, but I can’t predict the future any better than anyone else — in theory, have a situation where someone who could be indicted or under investigation for criminal conduct or unethical conduct could be in the main rotation,” Davis said.
Speaking exclusively to the Daily Press, Davis remarked, “Because it has the potential to be controversial. I decided that I should only put my name on it so that whatever blowback there was, was directed solely at me.”
However, unsurprisingly, the proposal was met with disdain and contempt from a number of councilmembers. It failed on a 4-3 vote with Brock, Oscar de la Torre, Christine Parra and Lana Negrete opposing. Jesse Zwick and Caroline Torosis were in favor.
“Voting against the requirement of five votes versus four to remove the mayor in Santa Monica is crucial to uphold the democratic process,” Negrete said. “The existing rule requiring a council majority allows council to remove the mayor at any time, which might be necessary in case of malfeasance or incompetence.
“Requiring a supermajority of five would make it excessively difficult to remove a mayor even in such a situation, potentially leading to a lack of accountability. It’s important to strike a balance between ensuring the stability of leadership and upholding the principle of democratic decision making. The current system with four votes already provides a mechanism for removal and altering it to demand a supermajority of five votes may hinder council’s ability to respond to urgent and legitimate concerns about mayoral performance,” Negrete told the Daily Press.
“This was simple clean up language which would have more accurately implemented Council’s direction for a rotational mayor based on seniority,” Torosis told the Daily Press. “It would not have changed anything about the current rotation,” she added.