With the two factions of the Los Alamitos City Council battling right up to the moment the dais changed hands, the last meeting of the year was as contentious as any one before it.
Monday night saw one last tug of war between both sides of the often-divided council, with the three majority members voting to switch the order of the meeting – changing it so that a number of items would be voted on before the newly elected councilmembers took office.
The minority voted against the move.
In recent years, the fractious council has been many times been split 3-2 -- between majority members Troy Edgar, Marilynn Poe and Ken Stephens, and minority members Warren Kusumoto and Gerri Graham-Mejia.
And Monday was no exception.
Critics said the meeting rearrangement was one final attempt to pass some items incoming councilmembers would not support, while proponents said it was simply part of doing the important city business first.
Art DeBolt, former councilman, said the incoming councilmembers would probably not have voted for some of the approved items, especially a decision on a pay raise for a number of city employees.
“They (the Majority) did not want the new incoming councilmembers to have the opportunity weigh," DeBolt said."
Outgoing Mayor Troy Edgar said the move wasn’t about keeping the new council from voting, and added that if the majority didn’t want the new councilmembers to weigh in, why would they allow the new councilmembers to be part of the discussion of a possible new city clerk?
In a surprising move, the tug of war continued even after the former majority had stepped down -- Kusumoto, with the support of Graham-Mejia and the two new councilmembers, called back two of the items that had already been voted in.
The new council reversed the previous council’s vote on the pay raise, deciding to hold off an salary discussion until January
The council however, voted not support Kusumoto’s call to subtract $405.10 from the money that would have been paid to the city attorney for work that Kusumoto alleged the city attorney made without the consulting the City Council.
It was a jam-packed evening.
-- Minority member Kusumoto received unanimous support from his colleagues and was named mayor.
“I do want to thank my colleagues for electing me,” Kusumoto said, “It’s sort of one of those things that I didn’t expect. I’ll do my best to lead the council and help the city move forward.”
-- The outgoing mayor pro tem, long time Councilwoman Poe, cried as she talked about her years on the council, and said she was planning to spend more time at the Los Al museum.
And she added, she and her husband had no plans to leave the city any time soon.
“We’re going to be here. They’ll bury me in the backyard, I think,” Poe said.
--Incoming councilman, Richard Murphy, who had never held public office before, cried as he thanked all the people who supported him in his campaign.
Afterward, he said he was thinking about how proud he would have made his mother, who passed away six years ago.
Murphy was also nominated and unanimously voted in as a mayor pro tem.
--Three years after he resigned after creating a national furor by forwarding an email with a picture of a watermelon patch on the White House law, former mayor Dean Grose took the oath of City Council office and thanked the residents and businesses for giving him a “second chance" to serve.
Grose said, “I’m truly grateful to have another chance to represent” the city.
--In one of his first votes as councilman, Murphy voted against the members of the former minority – Kusumoto and Mejia – on one issue and then voted with the former minority on another.
-- Graham-Mejia, a councilwoman approaching the end of her four-year term, said she was disappointed about not being nominated for the mayor or mayor pro tem position.
“I feel deeply saddened that in the entire time I’ve been on the council that I have not have the opportunity to serve (as mayor or mayor pro tem),” Mejia said.
-- Local business and civic leaders honored Stephens and Poe as they stepped down from office and honored Edgar as he ended his tenure as mayor.
-- Stephens encouraged the incoming councilman and the sitting councilmembers to keep striving for excellence by “moving the bar even higher” for what’s expected of the local government.
-- Grose asked city staff to bring back a report about possibly returning the city meetings to twice a month, instead of the current once-a-month format.
-- Murphy said he wanted a staff report on the possibility of getting the agenda out earlier.