Opinion: Village Matters

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Let (_?__) Do It!

We all have regrets in life, but I have a lingering one related to my service on the city council in the early 1990s. In those days, there was a simple rotation of mayor’s duties, and each council member was elected mayor when it seemed to be their turn. More senior members were chosen first, but eventually, a first-term council member would be mayor in the last year or two of their 4-year term. 

It removed controversy from the selection, and it was fair. I was selected as mayor in my final year—1993-94.  

But there had been an issue a couple of years before. Martha Collison had served as mayor pro tem in 1989 when Lida Lenney was mayor, and it was Martha’s turn to be mayor in 1990. Instead, she said that she didn’t want to be mayor and asked to be mayor pro tem for a second year. I understood that to mean Martha didn’t want to be mayor at all and just wanted to be mayor pro tem twice. But she cleared that up with me when it was time to select a mayor in 1991. She asked for my vote, saying that now, she had cleared her schedule just to be mayor that year. Instead, I voted for Bob Gentry as mayor. Gentry, Lenney and I were three votes supporting the interests of Treasure Island residents, and Martha was often on the other side of those votes. Now I see that my vote was a mistake—how much better it would have been to be magnanimous, how much better it would have been to help Martha achieve this honorary position and perhaps work together in a more positive way.

The orderly rotation system faltered a bit, with Steve Dicterow serving as mayor for two terms in a row in 1997 and 1998 and Elizabeth Pearson in 2005 and 2006. Still, every council member had the opportunity to serve as mayor at least once during all those years, except for Verna Rollinger, who was elected in 2008. Apparently, out of favor with a majority of the council – too much of an environmentalist and resident advocate – she was passed over in favor of other council members, all of whom had already had terms as mayor.

In recent years, we have seen the rotation system for choosing the mayor unraveling. Bob Whalen has been mayor five times in his 11 years of office, and Sue Kempf, elected in 2018 and now mayor pro tem and in line to be mayor, already served as mayor in 2021. Now we have another councilmember reaching the last year of his four-year term of office—also perhaps viewed as too much of an environmentalist and resident advocate—whose turn it is to be selected as mayor, council member George Weiss.

He’s had a hard time of it, often being on the losing end of many three/two votes—Whalen, Kempf and Blake, and now it is often Whalen, Kempf and Rounaghi. Mayor Kempf continually reprimanded him for confronting Peter Blake when he felt the former council member stepped over the line. Also, Weiss was implicated unfairly and negatively during the exit of our prior city manager, Shohreh Dupuis. She accused him of creating a hostile work environment for her and threatened to sue the city. This was belatedly explained at Tuesday’s council meeting, and it was clear that Dupuis’ claim, not the merit of her accusations about George, was the reason for council’s settlement and her leaving. Yet some columnists have been unfairly blaming George for this debacle. 

All the while, he works to give residents a voice and keep them informed. 

Who else gets out a professionally prepared email newsletter summarizing his take on items on the council agenda? 

He is thorough, conscientious and cares about Laguna’s future. He deserves support from the rest of the council.

The next mayor will be selected at the first meeting in December. It happens very quickly, with no public input. It’s usually as though the selection has already been worked out. Will the three-vote majority just select one among them? Kempf or Rounaghi? Or even Whalen for another term? Or will the council come together, be magnanimous and elect George Weiss as mayor? That would be a proud day for Laguna: a new city manager, a new city attorney and an inclusive, united council.

Ann is a landscape architect and was Laguna Beach’s mayor from 1993 to 1994. She is also a long-time board member of Village Laguna, Inc.

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