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Bureaucratic Tweak or Effort to Block Next Mayor?

By Jorge Casuso

October 20, 2023 -- A proposed tweak to a rule dictating how a mayor is chosen could jeopardize a City Council vote to make Councilmember Phil Brock Santa Monica's next mayor.

The discussion item placed by Mayor Gleam Davis on Tuesday's agenda asks the Council to delete one sentence from the Council Rules of Procedure for selecting a Mayor and Mayor Pro Tempore.

The sentence Davis proposes to delete reads: “This provision shall not be subject to a suspension of the Council Rules, and shall be implemented until duly repealed or amended by the Council.”

The rule approved by the Council in January switched the process from a mayor elected by a majority of the Council to a rotating system based on seniority.

Under both systems, Brock would become Santa Monica Mayor after a newly elected Council is seated in December.

On December 5, 2022, the Council elected Davis to serve as mayor for one year, with Brock serving the second year ("Davis, Brock to Serve Year Each as Mayor," December 6, 2022).

One month later, on January 10, 2023, the Council voted 6 to 1 to "select the longest continuously serving Councilmember, whether initially elected or appointed, to serve as Mayor for a 1-year term."

The rule, which kicked in after the Council's vote to split the term, would also result in Brock serving as Santa Monica's next mayor.

Brock -- along with Councilmembers Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra -- were elected in November 2020 after voters mounted a revolt at the polls ("Santa Monica Voters Usher in a New Era," November 6, 2020).

With the exception of Davis, that makes them the longest-serving members of the Council.

However, under the new rule, "if two or more Councilmembers were elected at the same election, the Councilmember receiving the higher number of votes shall be considered as having served longer."

Brock was the top vote getter in the 2020 Council race that swept three incumbents out of office, as many in one race as had been defeated in the past 26 years.

Brock and Councilmember Lana Negrete have asked City Attorney Doug Sloan to provide a written assessment of Davis' proposed amendment and the implications it could have.

Davis did not respond to a request for comment on why she is proposing the change.

That hasn't stopped speculation that deleting the single sentence from the rules would pave the way for the Council to choose a mayor other than Brock to serve the upcoming term.

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre, who proposed the change to a rotating mayor, believes Davis' amendment is a bad idea.

"Why are we wasting time on this?" de la Torrre said. "This is very obvious that some people (on the Council) want power, want control. People should share power."

De la Torre contends that the rotating system "takes away all the drama and backstabbing" in electing a mayor "that doesn't lead to teamwork"

It also loosens the grip of "one group monopolizing the seat forever," he said, referring to SMMR which has controlled the Council for most of the past 40 years.

"It's not healthy to have one group in power for so long," de la Torre said.

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