Councilwoman Laurie Ender took the gavel Tuesday to start her year as Santa Clarita’s mayor, but in a stinging rebuke of Councilman Bob Kellar, the council selected Frank Ferry for vice mayor.
Had the five-person council followed its traditional rotation, it would have been Kellar’s turn to serve in the No. 2 spot. The vice mayor – aka mayor pro-tem – is in line to become mayor the following year.
But when Ender called for nominations for vice mayor, Ferry quickly spoke up and said: “I nominate myself, Frank Ferry, for pro-tem.”
A hush fell over the otherwise jubilant spectators who’d seen the meeting open with Christmas carols from the Silver Toned Singers. The annual gavel-passing ceremony is normally a brief and festive affair punctuated with uplifting speeches, wall-mountable scrolls and cake.
Outgoing mayor Marsha McLean seconded Ferry’s nomination. Ender called for additional nominations and no one spoke.
Kellar cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he preferred to respect the rotation.
“There is no rotation,” Ferry said afterward. “That’s a (misnomer).”
While the council typically honors the rotation, there have been exceptions. In the late 1990s, the council passed over Jill Klajic when she believed it was her turn. Klajic had been off the council for two years, out of the rotation. In 2000 the rotation was set aside, allowing Jo Anne Darcy to serve two consecutive mayoral terms. And more recently in 2004 when Kellar was mayor, the council bypassed McLean when she felt it was her turn.
“Ask them,” Kellar said of the reasons behind Tuesday’s decision. “I haven’t discussed it with them.”
“Obviously they all concurred,” he added. “I respect their decision.”
Kellar has been particularly outspoken in recent years on hot-button issues such as illegal immigration, where he takes a hard line. Following his speech at a January 2010 rally that drew national attention, the City Council chambers were packed on more than one occasion with anti-illegal immigration activists who sang Kellar’s praises and accused the other council members of being soft on the issue.
Even on less polarizing topics, Kellar has found himself increasingly at odds with the rest of the council. For instance, he cast the lone dissenting vote when the council circumvented the Planning Commission’s recommendation on a historic preservation ordinance and sent it back to staff for further review.
Ferry was first elected to the council in 1998. Sidestepping questions about passing over Kellar, he said he’s got a new lease on life after a near-death experience a year ago and wants to serve.
“I’m coming off a year when it didn’t look like I was going to live,” Ferry said. “I look forward to serving as mayor in the future.”
Ferry, 46, almost died in December 2010 following pancreatic surgery. Toxins entered his kidneys and he was put into a medically induced coma. A Catholic priest read his last rites, but Ferry recovered.
Ender and Kellar are up for reelection in April, and both have said they will seek another term. It would be Ender’s second term and Kellar’s fourth.
Ender was named mayor Tuesday on a 5-0 vote.
The mayor presides over meetings and signs certain city correspondence but has no more voting authority than any other council member.
Kellar has served as mayor twice since his first election to the council in 2000, most recently in 2008. Ferry has also wielded the gavel twice, most recently in 2009. Ferry passed on what would have been his turn in 2007, handing the mayoralty to McLean that year.