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November 30, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Who will be Menlo Park's next mayor? Who will be Menlo Park's next mayor? (November 30, 2005)

** According to policy, Fergusson or Cohen should pick up gavel.

By Rory Brown

Almanac Staff Writer

At its next meeting, the Menlo Park City Council will choose a new mayor, but if history repeats itself, the decision is likely to be a controversial one.

Under Menlo Park policy, either Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson or Councilman Andy Cohen should become the city's next mayor, taking the gavel from Mickie Winkler.

Established in 1993, the policy calls for preference to council members who have not been mayor, but have served on the council for at least a year. Only Ms. Fergusson and Mr. Cohen fall into that category. Both have served on the council since 2004; and, their three colleagues have already served as mayor.

But the policy lacks the force of law, so at the December 6 council meeting, a council majority can disregard it.

Mayor Pro Tem Nicholas Jellins, who was voted mayor the last time the policy was disregarded, may once again be voted to the mayoral seat by Ms. Winkler and Ms. Duboc, as the three council members make up what is widely-perceived as a "pro-development" council majority.

In December 2002, Mr. Jellins was appointed to the mayoral seat for the second time when, according to the policy, then-Councilman Chuck Kinney should have been appointed. Under the policy, if everyone who has served a year on the council has already been mayor, the member who was mayor longest ago is chosen.

Mr. Jellins is currently the city's mayor pro tem, and the council member who holds that position often fills the mayoral seat the following year.

When asked if he would accept a mayoral nomination at the upcoming meeting, Mr. Jellins replied, "I don't know."

Ms. Fergusson said she would be "honored" to receive a nomination to be the city's next mayor.

"The policy is clear, and I hope my colleagues do the right thing," she said. "A rotation of the mayoral seat is a system that is based in fairness."

Mr. Cohen said he is aware of the policy, and finds "the spirit of it compelling and valid."

"I have no idea at this point, but there's a good chance [the policy] will not be followed," he said.

Mayor Winkler and Ms. Duboc, both of whom voted for Mr. Jellins in 2002, say it's important for council members to choose a mayor they are comfortable with.

"We'll have to see what happens December 6," said Mayor Winkler. "But it's perfectly legitimate for council members to elect a mayor they have confidence in."

She added that she "suspects there will be controversy" at the council meeting, but did not elaborate.

The mayor's duties include presiding over City Council meetings. The city manager also consults the mayor in setting council meeting agendas.

"The mayor holds a ceremonial post," said Ms. Duboc. "[Council members] are elected by the electorate, and the mayor is the spokesperson for the council."

"We have no policy -- the mayor is who the majority of the council is comfortable with being our leader," she added.

In December 2000, Mr. Jellins was the only member of the council who had not been appointed mayor. He was widely perceived as being the one outsider on a five-person "slow-growth" council that was hesitant in approving large-scale development projects.

Council members Mary Jo Borak and Steve Schmidt opted to disregard the policy, voting against Mr. Jellins.

With supporting votes from then-council members Paul Collacchi and Mr. Kinney, Mr. Jellins won the appointment.

Several weeks before Mr. Jellins was appointed mayor, the council agreed to curb the mayor's power to independently make appointments to regional organizations.

"Before he became mayor, the council really clipped [Mr. Jellins'] wings," said Mayor Winkler.

Ms. Duboc said the council set a bad precedent in restricting Mr. Jellins' power, and she would have liked to see the council members appoint someone they supported as a leader.

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