Tuesday’s Arcadia City Council meeting began by declaring the results of the general municipal election and swearing in newly elected council members but the meeting became tense and contentious when the time came to elect a new mayor and mayor pro tem.
First, outgoing Mayor April Verlato summarized her time as mayor. “Obviously, it ended a little differently than I thought it would.” Unfortunately, the mayor’s time in office came to an end amid a global pandemic. For this reason, Verlato opted to recognize some of the generous community donors that have stepped forward over the last six weeks to provide masks, gowns, hand sanitizer, gloves, cash, and meals to Methodist and first responders — including her high school intern who put together a group of donors.
Outgoing Councilmember Peter Amundson, who lost his District 4 re-election bid to Paul Cheng, commended Verlato for doing “a great job in the midst of this pandemic.”
Amundson then proceeded to summarize his time in office: “It’s been quite an honor to be a servant to the people of my hometown.” Amundson continued, “It’s what you can give that really matters.”
City Manager Dominic Lazzaretto commented that under normal circumstances representatives from local elected officials, like Representative Judy Chu’s office, would be in attendance to present Verlato and Amundson with plaques and celebrate their time in office. Lazzaretto indicated that such a celebration would be scheduled for a later date when it is safe to do so.
The Oath of Office was then administered to City Clerk Gene Glasco, newly elected Councilmember Cheng, and re-elected Councilmember Verlato.
During his remarks, Cheng said: “Peter Amundson is such a motivation to the city. I wanted to thank him for just being a colleague throughout the entire process.” He also expressed a desire to be mentored by the former councilmember. Cheng ended his remarks by sharing the traits he admires in each of his colleagues.
Glasco then proceeded to call for nominations for mayor, at which point the meeting turned somewhat contentious.
Before all nominations could be introduced, Councilmember Beck proposed a motion to shorten the term of mayor to ten months instead of the usual 12. Under Beck’s proposal, the next mayor, presumptively Mayor Pro Tem Roger Chandler, would serve until March 16, 2021 (315 days), Beck would then assume the mayorship and serve until Jan. 18, 2022 (308 days), Tay would serve as mayor after Beck and be in office until Dec. 6, 2022 (322 days). Beck argued that this “would take politics out of it and hurt feelings, etcetera.”
After some confusion and conferring with the city attorney, it was found that council could only amend the timetable to select the mayor for the next term, not the next three years. Once Beck amended his motion, Mayor Verlato asked Chandler for comment. A disgruntled Chandler flatly said he did not like the idea, did not want to change and found the whole idea “ridiculous.”
Mayor Verlato seconded Beck’s motion so it could be taken to vote but Chandler introduced a substitute motion to keep the mayor’s term at one year. The motion was seconded by Tay which allowed it to take precedent over Beck’s motion.
The substitute motion was then taken to a vote. In a 3-2 vote the substitute motion passed; Beck and Verlato were the only ones to dissent.
With the term of mayor established at one year, Verlato then asked Chandler about his ability to serve as mayor, as he had been nominated by Tay earlier in the meeting.
“I know you’ve expressed to me in the past that you don’t have the physical ability to serve as mayor,” Verlato began. She then explained that during her time as mayor, she had appointed Chandler as the liaison to the Planning Commission and the Museum Commission. However, according the Verlato, Chandler “didn’t appear at a single one.”
Chandler interrupted the Mayor Verlato mid-question by saying “knock off all that nonsense.”
Verlato persisted and asked Chandler about his “intent is to serve as mayor in that [he’s] not physically able to make it to all these things.”
A vexed Chandler defended his nomination: “I’ve been the mayor before … I’m doing fine I’m not on a crawler.”
For her part, Verlato continued to press Chandler on the issue. He eventually retorted, “So what’s your point? That’s got nothing to do with anything. This is nothing but chicanery … cooked up by two of you.” Chandler also accused Verlato of “master manipulation.”
Unfazed, Verlato once again asked Chandler if he committed to appear at all events and meetings. Chandler refused to make any commitment to Verlato and said his commitment is to the community.
After the contentious row, Verlato dropped the issued and called for a vote. Beck, the first member called abstained. Chandler, Cheng and Tay predictably voted “yes” in favor of Chandler. Verlato voted “a very hurt yes.” With four yes votes and one abstention, Chandler will serve as Arcadia mayor through April 2021.
Chandler then nominated Tay for the position of mayor pro tem and Verlato nominated Beck. Cheng, Tay and Chandler voted for Tay while Beck and Verlato voted for Beck. In her vote, Verlato reminded everyone that Beck was next in line to be mayor pro tem “by the order that was already established.” With a 3-2 vote, Tay will serve as mayor pro tem through April 2021.
In his remarks as newly-elected mayor, Chandler said he appreciates the appointment and wants “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” to be Arcadia’s collective motto during these difficult times.
For his part, Tay said he will be there if Chandler is unable to attend an event or meeting and wants to make sure “everybody comes together.”
After Tay finished Chandler opened the floor up for Cheng to make additional comments. When Cheng finished, Chandler proceeded to ask for public comments, prompting Lazaretto to step in and ask Verlato and Beck if they had anything to say.
Verlato responded, “I think our mayor’s made it clear how unified this council is by skipping over Councilmember Beck and myself during the comment period.” Verlato ironically concluded: “So thank you. Thank you for showing some real leadership. I’ve got the message.”
Beck also took up the city manager’s offer and explained why he abstained from voting for Chandler. Directing his comments to the mayor, Beck explained, “Yes, it’s your turn to be mayor; so that’s why I didn’t vote no. But I abstained because a ‘yes’ vote would mean that I acquiesce in some of the things that are going on before tonight and tonight.”
According to Beck, he attempted to speak with Chandler over the phone about succession but Beck’s calls and voicemails were never returned. Beck concluded that this “political power play tonight” will harm the chemistry held within the council before the meeting.
Beck also explained that he didn’t vote in favor of Councilmember Tay becoming the mayor pro tem because Tay was mayor a year ago and he was not next in line to serve as mayor pro tem.