To follow policy, or not follow policy? That question has weighed on the minds of the Menlo Park City Council since the November elections, and now has an answer. With a 3-2 vote, the council selected Kelly Fergusson to serve as mayor. Former Planning Commissioner Kirsten Keith will sit as vice mayor.
Council policy states that the title rotate among members who have served at least one year, with priority going to whoever has had the most amount of time go by since last holding the position. That left Kelly Fergusson as the likely choice if the council follows the non-binding policy.
Likely choice, but not automatic. Previous council members selected mayors contrary to the policy at least twice since it was enacted in 1993.
Planning Commissioner Henry Riggs and outgoing incumbent Heyward Robinson traded e-mails via the City Council list server on Monday, Dec. 6, debating whether the council's non-binding policy should, in fact, bind the next choice of mayor.
Mr. Riggs, who helped organize Measure L, the pension reform initiative approved by voters in November, stated Ms. Fergusson's opposition to the measure should knock her out of the running for mayor.
"Designating Kelly Fergusson as mayor is nonsensical," wrote Mr. Riggs. "She lead the opposition to Measure L, a measure supported by an unprecedented 72% of the voters, a measure guiding the most critical issue before Council, and the only issue that must not be deferred, re-studied or otherwise dodged."
Mr. Robinson's response said that's no reason to ditch a policy that was created to help minimize the influence of politics on the selection process.
Later that afternoon, Ms. Fergusson sent out an e-mail newsletter that included a section listing who the next three mayors should be, according to the policy: Herself, followed by either Peter Ohtaki or Kirsten Keith, who would each have equal seniority once Ms. Fergusson's term ends.
A vague implication of political doom for non-supporters entered into her analysis. "However, if the rotation policy is disregarded as it was in 2002 and 2005, history suggests unfavorable voter reaction (2006 Results)," she wrote.
Despite that, freshly minted Councilman Peter Ohtaki nominated colleague Andy Cohen for mayor. While making his pitch for the title, Mr. Cohen pointedly asked the city attorney if there was anything he wanted to bring to the council's attention.
City Attorney Bill McClure told the council that Mr. Cohen had asked him to investigate an e-mail sent to the council by Peter Carpenter, known for his advocacy of open government and the Brown Act.
The e-mail stated Mr. Carpenter had reliable information that "one of the Council members has engaged in a serial meeting to solicit support for that person's election as Mayor."
Mr. McClure said he had not yet had time to pursue the matter. The e-mail was sent half an hour before the council meeting began at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
Both Mr. Ohtaki and Mr. Cohen voted against Ms. Fergusson's mayoral bid.