The Elk Grove City Council on May 13 unanimously agreed to indefinitely postpone their review of a proposal to place a November ballot measure that could eliminate the office of a directly elected mayor. They held their meeting live on the city’s website in order to practice social distancing during the coronavirus situation.
City voters have voted for a directly elected mayor since 2012, with the term for that position being two years. That system was created after voters approved Measure K in 2010.
The proposal to revert to the previous rotating mayor system, in which council members were appointed by the council to each serve a year as mayor in a ceremonial role, emerged during the council’s April 22 meeting.
Vice Mayor Steve Detrick introduced that idea at that meeting, referring to the rotating mayor process as a way to create a “more balanced playing field.”
Prior to the council’s May 13 discussion on this issue, they heard various comments from local residents.
City Clerk Jason Lindgren reported that before the meeting, he received 109 recorded phone messages, and 25 written comments that were submitted to the council. Two citizens opted to call into the council’s teleconferenced meeting.
Lindgren told the council that many of the comments followed what appeared to be a “form template,” and that the comments were received “fast and furious.”
Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly said that he was overwhelmed with the number of messages he personally received on this matter.
In her comment, Elk Grove resident Jennifer Rodriguez expressed her opposition of eliminating the directly elected mayor position.
“A city the size of Elk Grove needs to have an elected mayor,” she said. “The mayor represents our city and should be elected by the people.”
Another resident, who identified herself as “an essential worker for a nonprofit,” also spoke in favor of having an elected mayor.
“We worked hard to have that put on the ballot several years ago and I believe it is my right, responsibility and pleasure to be able to vote for the officers who conduct the affairs of our city,” he said.
Amar Shergill, an Elk Grove attorney, noted that it was less than two years ago that Detrick and his fellow Council members Pat Hume and Stephanie Nguyen were supporting Darren Suen for mayor against Ly. The incumbent won the 2018 election with 41% of the vote.
“It’s fair to say that if you had been successful in making Suen mayor, that Detrick, Hume and Nguyen would not then be trying to get rid of him during his first term,” he said.
After listening to various comments from those who opposed the proposal to eliminate the office of mayor, Hume recommended that no action be taken on the item, noting that its timing for the November election is not applicable in “any sort of elegant fashion.”
“I wanted to have a larger discussion, but it sound like that just muddies the water,” he said.
Suen also expressed his desire to not take action on this item.
“I always appreciate the dialogue on issues,” he said. “With my vote, I’m not supporting further movement of this either. We’ve got more important things to do.”
Had a measure to eliminate the office of elected mayor been placed on this November’s ballot, and approved by local voters, that measure would have dissolved the office of mayor.
Instead of the current one mayor-four council member system, the vote would have resulted in a five council member system.
The issue with that change is that the city currently has a four-district map. The approval of a five-district map would have been required before an appointment or special election to fill that seat would have been possible.
Lindgren explained a scenario that would have occurred if the office of the directly elected mayor had been eliminated.
“Without having the office of the elected mayor, the election results of November 2020 would not fill that seat that would have become vacant, reverting it back to a council seat, because that was an election contest for the office of mayor,” he said. “That election would not seat anyone.”
He emphasized that in this situation, Elk Grove would have a five-member council, with only four representatives representing the city’s current four districts.
The council, during their May 13 meeting, also postponed their review of a proposal to place the issue of whether to establish term limits for the mayor and council members on this November’s ballot.
Options included having term limits for the office of mayor, but not for council members, or vice versa, having term limits for both the mayor and council members, or not having terms limits for any of those positions.
Two sitting council members have served for more than 10 years – Hume was elected in 2006 and Detrick joined the council in 2008. Both of them do not plan to run for re-election after their terms expire. Detrick’s Council District 3 seat is up for election this November.
Subheadline: Mayoral candidates share views on elected mayor position
Following the meeting, Ly and two other 2020 candidates for mayor addressed the proposal to place a measure that would eliminate the office of elected mayor on this November’s ballot.
Those who plan to challenge Ly in this November’s mayoral election are Michelle Kile, Brian Pastor, Glen Padayachee and Justin Brown.
Ly told the Citizen that asking the same question to voters that was asked in 2010 is disrespectful to them.
“We need to respect the voters’ time and when the voters speak, we need to pay attention, and we honor that,” he said.
Kile told the Citizen that Elk Grove needs an elected mayor, no matter who wins the November election.
“Even though it carries the same weight in voting strength on the council (1/5 vote), a directly elected mayor gives the citizens of Elk Grove the ability to choose the face of Elk Grove,” she said. “If we changed to the rotating mayor appointed by the council, that member will represent the whole city, but will have only been elected by their district with the newly adopted by-district vote policy.
“When the measure was voted on in 2010, there was strong support to have the elected mayoral position, so I am pleased after discussing the issue at Wednesday’s (council) meeting – an overwhelming outspoken opposition to the idea to remove the position – that the council decided to (postpone that proposal).”
Pastor told the Citizen that not having a directly elected mayor would “take away the voice and vote of the people.”
“Converting to a system where the council members will have (the) seat as mayor will not give others in the community a fair chance at trying to improve Elk Grove,” he said. “The community as a whole should be the ones to elect its officials.
“This proposal will even cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to even try to eliminate a directly elected mayor. Back in 2010, 78% of the votes went to having a (directly) elected mayor. Being a high percentage, it most likely will have the same outcome.”
Padayachee and Brown did not respond to the Citizen’s request for comments by press time.
Mayor, others comment on meeting’s unheard public comments
During the meeting, Nguyen asked City Attorney Jonathan Hobbs if the council was bound to listening to all of the messages, despite the fact that many of those messages had the same sentiment.
Hobbs replied that the council has the “discretion (to) reasonably limit public comment.”
Ly mentioned that he was open to hearing all of the comments.
“That’s the least that we could do,” he said. “I certainly signed up for this job to hear the concerns of the community.”
Upon the inquiry of Hume, Hobbs noted that postponing this agenda item negates the need for the council to listen to all of the public comments in the meeting.
Regarding the many comments that were not read at the meeting, Elk Grove resident Jacquelyn Canoose expressed her frustration.
“Was my email not read because they did not want it on record?” she asked. “(Council members) complained that the city received many form messages and didn’t need to hear all of them. I ask you, was my message of a form letter style? I want my voice, and (the voices of) all Elk Grovians heard.”
Canoose stressed that although she previously worked on Ly’s campaigns for mayor, she has not volunteered to assist him for two years, and is “not biased” toward the mayor.
Ly later told the Citizen that he was disappointed that the council members did not express a desire to listen to all of the public comments.
“I was appalled and really disappointed that it was so easy to brush off the legitimate concerns of citizens that took the time out of their busy schedules to weigh in on this (issue), when this deliberately was done during a time in which we have a crisis on our hands, and a time in which people were not attending meetings.
“What you saw yesterday was the people rising up to voice their opinions.”