It is awkward to move from a period of mourning a beloved leader to discussing issues raised by his death, but there are two issues that must be addressed in the wake of Ken Genser’s death, and they must be addressed by the City Council. Those two issues are: the City’s failure to be candid with its citizens regarding a councilmember’s 10-week absence from office, and how to fill Genser’s vacant seat on the Council.
In the months before Genser’s death, it was known that he was hospitalized, but further information was hard to come by. In mid-November, the Mirror began making inquires as to why the mayor was not on the dais and when he might return, but they were quickly met with a hush-hush, how-dare-you-ask reaction, and it was made clear that the subject was not open for discussion.
The Mirror applauds the Lookout News for breaking the story (or better, breaking the silence) about the City’s tight lips. The Lookout’s story basically reported the same roadblocks the Mirror had come up against but failed to report. It shook some trees. But it feels as though the impact of that story was overshadowed and lost with the news of Mayor Genser’s death that followed a few days later.
The basic issue is an elected official was not in office for more than 10 weeks. If L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were absent for 10 weeks but no information was provided, there would be an uproar. It is important to know that the mayor in Santa Monica’s government is not the chief executive – those duties fall mostly to the City Manager, who is hired by the City Council, as we have recently seen. The mayor chairs the City Council, meaning that the mayor has agenda-setting power.
But still, any high-ranking elected representative’s 10-week absence warrants a response. Santa Monica is a much smaller community than Los Angeles, and we have a community feeling here. But he was an elected official and a very prominent one.
Did we at the Mirror want this story reported because we wanted to shock the community with the news of his absence? No. The opposite is true. We had received phone calls and e-mails from concerned citizens who had heard rumors of a coma or death. The City, which we can see was only trying to guard Genser’s family’s privacy, was inadvertently fueling the rumor flames. That is the past. We hope that in the future, the City will simply be more candid with its citizens.
Speaking of the future, there is an open seat on Santa Monica’s City Council, and the City has some big issues to tackle. There’s Expo Phase 2, the possible Broad Museum, LUCE, a new City Manager, and dealing with the ramifications of the State’s deficit, to name a few of the hard decisions that need to be made.
There are two ways to solve the empty seat in City Hall: by council appointment or by a special election. Normally, it wouldn’t make sense to hold a special election when the general election is this coming November, not to mention the cost to a budget-tight city.
The other option is for the Council to appoint a replacement, and it appears that this is the direction the Council is heading, as it did a year ago following the death of Councilmember Herb Katz.
This week’s declaration of a vacancy is the first step in the process. At the January 26 City Council meeting, Bobby Shriver mentioned four likely candidates for the seat: Ted Winterer, Terry O’Day, Patricia Hoffman, and Oscar de la Torre. All four submitted applications for the Katz’s seat that was filled by Gleam Davis. Of course, others may announce themselves.
Winterer is a Planning Commissioner who was president (now vice president) of the Ocean Park Association; he was one of the authors of the 2008 RIFT initiative to limit commercial development, and he finished fifth in the 2008 Council race for four open seats.
O’Day is executive director of an environmental organization, and was a member of the Planning Commission. He was a leader of the fight against RIFT in 2008, and a Council candidate in 2006 when he finished fourth in the race for three open seats.
Hoffman chairs the Community Corporation of Santa Monica and is a board member of the Bayside District Corporation. She chairs Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) and ran for the Council in 2004, finishing fifth in the race for four open seats.
De la Torre is executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center, a member and former president of the SMMUSD Board of Education, and has been a major leader in the Pico Neighborhood.
Winterer and O’Day did not have SMRR support in their Council bids; de la Torre did have its support when he ran for Board of Education.
By replacing Katz with Davis a year ago, the SMRR majority on the Council went from 4-3 to 5-2. It now stands at 4-2 with Genser’s death. At Genser’s memorial, former councilmember Kelly Olsen said Genser wanted Hoffman as his replacement. This would return the council to a 5 -2 SMRR majority which isn’t so bad considering Genser was SMRR. The only small issue, should replacement SMRR be appointed, would be that two of those members would be unelected officials (appointed by SMRR-majority council).
Regardless of who the Council selects, the seat will be open in the first general election, this November, even though Genser’s term ran through 2012. The same is true of Davis’s appointed seat, although Katz’s term would have run to 2012. And the regular terms of Councilmembers Holbrook, McKeown, and O’Connor will be up this year. Five open seats this November.
It should be an interesting year.
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