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Electing Our Mayor Possible

| City Council, News | December 21, 2017

Ojai did it. Goleta did it. Santa Clarita could do it, too, but for now, it’s just hypothetical.

It’s changing the city government from a ceremonial mayor to directly electing one.

In November, Goleta voters decided they wanted to do away with the ceremonial mayor who rotates annually and, instead, elect a mayor who serves a two-year term. Two years earlier, Ojai did the same thing, and in November elected its first mayor.

No one is saying Santa Clarita will follow suit. In fact, some City Council watchers firmly believe it’s not happening because the council members would only go for it if they believed they could get elected mayor.

“I don’t think (Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha) McLean or (Mayor Laurene) Weste could,” said one, adding that Councilmember Cameron Smyth probably would favor it.

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Smyth said he welcomes the conversation but repeated that he’s “agnostic” about the concept, and said he finds it cynical that someone would suggest Weste or McLean are like that.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence,” he said. “I’ve known Laurene and Marsha to do what I know they think is right for the city.”

For it to happen, the people must vote for it. There are two ways to bring the vote to the people: by initiative/referendum or, in the cases of Ojai and Goleta, by the city council placing the matter on the ballot.

The state’s Government and Election codes spell out how voters could place an initiative or referendum on the ballot and what wording would be required. Basically, it would be a referendum on the City Council’s decision to rotate the mayor position annually. Petitioners would need at least 10 percent of the city’s registered voters to sign for the question to be placed on the ballot. The petitioners would have to write how they want the council to be structured, how long a mayor would serve, how many council members and any term limits, to name some considerations.

A famous example was Proposition 13, which was an initiative that acted as a referendum on the way the state taxed real property.

If the council placed the matter on the ballot, voters would have to answer three questions: Do they want to elect four councilmembers and a mayor; would the mayor’s term be four years; or would the mayor’s term be two years? If a majority answers yes to the first question, the mayor’s length of term would be determined by which length got the most yes votes (in Ojai, 68 percent favored two years; in Goleta, it was 59 percent).

In either case, no special election is required. The matter could be placed on a ballot for a regularly scheduled election, such as Nov. 6. The city would not have to convert to district voting. Neither Ojai nor Goleta has council districts.

Nor would this require a complete overhaul of the city government. Santa Clarita is a general-law city with a council-manager type of government. That means the state’s Government Code defines the city’s powers, and the city manager supervises the city’s operations. Changing to a directly elected mayor does not require the city to become a charter city such as Los Angeles.

Nor does it require eliminating the city manager. In Goleta, the mayor is a member of the city council with the same powers as the other council members. The differences are that the mayor could be paid a different amount and would make appointments to boards, commissions and committees. But those would need the council’s approval. So, an elected mayor could make more money and could appoint somebody to replace current City Manager Ken Striplin; the council could say no.

In fact, Ojai’s first directly-elected mayor, Johnny Johnston, was previously the city manager.

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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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