Councilman TimBen Boydston
At the request of Councilman TimBen Boydston, on Tuesday the Santa Clarita City Council will debate the way it selects the mayor each year.
Like many other cities in Los Angeles County, Santa Clarita has a five-person council that picks among itself to fill the position of “mayor” for 12 months starting in December. The mayor has no more and no less voting authority than the other four council members; the mayor merely chairs the council meetings and attends ribbon cuttings. In a somewhat esoteric sense, the mayor tends to set the “tone” for the city during his or her “year.”
The selection process was taken for granted during the early years of cityhood, but the process ran aground in 1999 and left a degree of confusion in its wake.
Obtuse as the issue may be, it spawned one of the most storied chapters in Santa Clarita’s 25-year history.
In December 1987 when the first city council was seated, the title of “mayor” went to the top vote-getter, Buck McKeon. (That’s why December is the month the mayor is chosen, rather than April, when new elections are held.) The following December it went to the second-highest vote-getter, Jan Heidt.
Then an odd thing happened. Jo Anne Darcy garnered the third-highest number of votes in the 1987 election, but No. 4 Carl Boyer III was named Santa Clarita’s third mayor instead of Darcy.
If Santa Clarita had a mayoral “rotation” based on the number of votes, it was thrown off-kilter nearly from the get-go.
And yet for the next decade, it was assumed Santa Clarita used a “rotation” system. Whenever a new person was elected to the council, he or she was fitted into the rotation and eventually took the gavel.
That is, until 1999.
In that year, had a rotation been in effect, it would have been then-Councilwoman Jill Klajic’s turn to be mayor.
The council was sharply divided. It’s an oversimplification, but in essence Klajic and Heidt were in one corner, while Darcy and newcomers Frank Ferry and Laurene Weste occupied the other.
It was December 1999 and Darcy’s third, non-consecutive year as mayor was over. She gave little thank-you gifts to her four council cohorts – four paperweights.
When the time came to name a new mayor, Klajic couldn’t get the three votes she needed.
Over the guffaws from the audience, a majority of council members voted to return Darcy to an unprecedented second consecutive term as mayor (her fourth overall).
What happened next is open to interpretation.
Most observers said she threw it at her; defenders said she merely shoved it in Darcy’s direction. Either way, Klajic returned the paperweight Darcy had given her.
If a strict rotation was in effect up to that point, now it was totally kaput.
(Klajic didn’t seek reelection in 2000 and moved away; Heidt retired from the council and then tried a comeback in 2002 but finished fourth in a race for three seats.)
From then on – as was always truly the case – the mayor was selected by a majority vote of the council.
Had a rotation been in place, Councilwoman Marsha McLean might have been mayor in December 2005 (she had to wait until December 2006), and Councilman Bob Kellar might have been mayor pro-tem in December 2011. (As luck or political will would have it, Kellar became mayor in December 2012 anyway.)
And yet, much of the public believes – and to some degree the City Council functions as if – some sort of mayoral rotation exists. “Everyone knew” it was Kellar’s turn to be mayor this year, just as “everyone knew” it was former Councilwoman Laurie Ender’s turn to be mayor before him.
Frank Ferry’s self-nomination as mayor pro-tem in December 2011, and his ascendancy to the mayor’s seat in April when Ender lost her re-election bid, cast away any lingering puzzlement about a rotation. (There isn’t one.)
Should there be a rotation? Or should the council members be able to name the mayor on a majority vote?
Stated differently, will TimBen Boydston – who has remarked that he was duly elected by the people of Santa Clarita, just like the other council members – ever become mayor if it doesn’t happen automatically? Or will the other four council members always have the voting power to deny him the title?
The answers will come Tuesday – on a majority vote of the council. No paperweights allowed.