Mayors in Santa Monica are not chosen by the people directly. The City Council, whose members are elected by the voters, choose a mayor from among themselves. However, the City Council has directed staff to review alternative practices as to how the mayor of the City of Santa Monica is selected to the post. The directive came from a 5 to 1 vote at the council’s first meeting of 2011 on Jan. 11.
At the request of Council member Bobby Shriver, the panel considered a proposal to have the staff “review practices for the direct election of the mayor.” The Council ultimately directed staff to look into various alternatives of the mayoral selection process based upon the practices of other California cities similarly-sized to Santa Monica.
Shriver made the case that the significance of the mayoral position warrants consideration of it being a separately elected office. However, after council discussion, Shriver’s request and motion was expanded to instruct staff to look into several options on mayoral selection methods.
“Calling people on the telephone and saying you are the mayor had a much bigger impact than calling people and saying you are a councilman,” he said prior to the motion’s expansion. “The word (mayor) itself is an ‘elected-by-the-people’ type of a word.”
In order for the mayor’s office to be a separately elected position, an amendment would have to be made to the City’s charter, which currently mandates the mayor to be appointed by a council vote. Among the chief responsibilities of the City’s mayor is to chair all council meetings. Otherwise, the mayor’s duties are largely ceremonial, whereas the executive functions of the City belong the City Manager (currently Rod Gould) who is hired by the council.
Responding to Shriver’s request and subsequent motion to have staff consider and present options of the alternatives of mayoral selection was Mayor Richard Bloom, who specifically pointed out a separate election for the position may not be the most fiscally ideal decision.
“One thing we are not talking about here is that this type of election comes with a financial cost,” Mayor Bloom stated, adding perspective from the recent runoff election for mayor in the City of Inglewood, which roughly has the same population as Santa Monica. “The general election (in Inglewood), I am told, ran $150,000. The runoff election, which would be a common occurrence here in Santa Monica, was an additional $77,000. There is a significant financial cost to this decision if we are to make it.”
Several residents and community members expressed their opinions about whether they supported or opposed Shriver’s request.
“I don’t know if I’d vote for it if we actually put it on the ballot, but I do think it warrants consideration. You are reflecting a concern of the community that we do have fair selection of our mayor,” city resident Chris Gutierrez told the Council during public comment. “If nothing else … (it) could help you all in understanding what does happen in other cities in California.”
While Ms. Gutierrez was open to the Council researching alternatives into the mayoral selection process, former Mayor Feinstein said having a separate election for the office, despite its existence in cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland, is not consistent with representative democracy.
“I oppose this entirely. This is a solution in search of a problem,” he told the Council during public comment. “Currently, our elections are semi-proportional. Electing everyone at once, in two separate globs, makes it easier for us to group ourselves in different groupings to reflect our diversity and group around certain candidates.
“Having a single winner-take-all mayor is … more money in politics, less representative and less proportional. I don’t want to lose my democracy to have a ‘separately elected mayor.’”
Putting unique perspective on the matter was Council member Kevin McKeown, who suggested it would be best to consider a myriad of options available to them in determining how the mayor is selected to the post.
“The way that we select mayor is one of many ways it can be done. It behooves us to explore the options and think them all through,” McKeown said, pointing out besides a separate election, a mayor may be appointed via rotation, top-vote-getter, or seniority.
McKeown also added a separate election for mayor impacts how a potential candidate would decide how to run for office.
“If we had a separate election for mayor … you’d have to choose whether to run for mayor, all-or-nothing … or run for council member, where, as former Mayor Feinstein pointed out, is kind of a proportional representation system, because three or four people get in, so different constituencies get to have a say.”
Council member Gleam Davis expressed her reservations of a separately elected mayor out of concern it may create division among the Council.
“Someone who can stand up and go ’I was elected mayor,’ that creates a mandate. I see that as being a more divisive dynamic among the council,” Davis stated. “But I am willing to explore other ways of selecting the mayor.”
Opposing the motion was Council member Pam O’Connor, who stated the current model is most ideal for the City.
Since 1946, the City has operated as a “Council-Manager” form of government, with all seven members of the panel elected by the public at-large.
Prior to Mayor Bloom’s appointment to the office, Shriver was selected mayor in May 2010, shortly after the passing of Ken Genser earlier that year.
Council member Bob Holbrook was not present at the Jan. 11 council meeting.