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Council Member Susan Santangelo (Photo courtesy City of Camarillo)
Thursday, June 17, 2021

By Chris Frost

Tri County Sentry

Camarillo-- The city council, Wednesday, June 9, sent the norms for professional associations for elected government officials and city professionals back to the policy committee for additional work.


The norms include the League of California Cities International City and County Management Association, the Institute for Local Government, and others, which highly recommend council norms and are common in council government to establish guiding principles. The city council sets them to promote efficient and productive council interactions and communications.


The item sparked a considerable debate and disagreements, led by Council Member Susan Santangelo, about the rotation order regarding who is chosen as the next mayor and other issues. 


"It establishes expectations and various civic matters for both the city council and staff," Assistant City Manager Carmen Nichols said. "Norms are different from normal city council policies in they are aspirational, voluntary, and non-binding. It establishes successful procedures for best practices for the current city council and future city councils."


She said the policy is referenced in the document. 


"Norms are a living document and at the discretion of the city council, and they may be revised," she said.  


Councilman Kevin Kildee said he appreciates having all the other city's norms come before him to read.


"I believe the City of Sunnyvale, what interested me is they had a glossary of terms, and they kind of explained what the terms are," he said. "I felt, in my thoughts, that it was somewhat helpful for me to have a definition of some of the terms. Some of the terms, I don't want to call them loose, but I wrote down courtesy, behavior, point of order, just kind of clarification. Not that we all don't know what that is, but I'm thinking of the future."


Councilmember Susan Santangelo said she had a lot of questions, starting with the statement in the item that said, "it's never fair to misrepresent the facts of a candidate's record or to make other assertions that are simply not true."


"I'm wondering why this was limited under the election and why we shouldn't behave that way at all times," she said. 


Mayor Charlotte Craven suggested adding something like that statement, but not under candidate, like councilmember under general.


"This one pertains to elections," she said. "I don't know why it isn't in the other ones, but it seems like it would be in two places."


Santangelo said it should be.


"What's said in number one (candidate) should be how we behave all the time," she said. 


The change will be added to the city council interaction and communication norm.


"What does actively support mean on page seven (of the document)," she asked. "I'm wondering what actively support means."


"When the policy committee looked at it, Susan, I looked at it as being supportive in either social media or some other kind of public advocacy," Councilmember Tony Trembley said. "Or in volunteering in someone's campaign or endorsing. Something like that."


Santangelo asked if donating to someone's campaign considered actively endorsing?


"I'd consider that to be sure," Trembley said. "The answer is yes. It would be demonstrating a means of support for a candidate, and that can be in a bunch of different ways. That's the way I looked at it. I suppose there may be other ways to look at it too. It can be broadly construed."


Under the selection of mayor, Santangelo said she appreciated getting the norms from the other cities, and she noticed it was similar to the City of Agoura Hills.


"I think that's great, and we shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel," she said. "I noticed, however, that this section was pretty much verbatim, except for the repetition of the phrase, subject to the discretion of the council members. We just heard these norms are voluntary and non-binding, and we know that everything is at the discretion of the council. There's a vote on whoever's nominated. I'm wondering why that phrase was inserted so many times?"


Trembley couldn't speak for everyone at the policy committee, but he felt that it was important, in his view, to take the position that the norms are always subject to the discretion of the council members.


"The policy committee went through a lot of changes on this, and there were a number of areas, including this one, where we added subject to the discretion of the council," he said. "The intent was to emphasize it was subject to the intent of the council."


Santangelo said her perception is to wonder why they have the expression, discretion of the council members regarding selecting the new mayor.


"If we adopted these norms, what order am I in," she asked. 


Craven thought they were going to put something in with district numbers.


"I guess we didn't," she said.


What happens during the next mayor and vice mayor selection is dependent upon the nominating process. 


"It talks about the order a number of times and each council member having an equal opportunity," Santangelo said. "I understand the process, but if somebody is skipped based on the rotations in the norms, then what happens to the rotation?"


Craven said Santangelo would be number three, after Vice Mayor Shawn Mulchay.


"Because he got more votes than you did," Craven said. 


"But you guys nominated me as vice mayor before Shawn," Santangelo said. 


"We never had norms before," Craven replied. 


"We had unwritten norms, and I think everyone would agree on that," Santangelo replied. "There is a basic order that has been followed traditionally and historically by this council."


Craven said she didn't want to argue about what happened at a meeting in 2019.


"Let's talk about these, setting for the future," she said. 


Santangelo said the council should spell out when they don't follow the norms.


Nichols interjected the city could look at the order if it is her suggestion.


"I prefer to have a little bit of time to talk to the city clerk and look at what that would mean in rotation," she said. 


Mulchay said the rotation is based on seating order.


"Our seating order was established by the number of votes in the election," he said. "That's why I got the seat I had, and she got the seat she had."


Craven interjected that one is the past mayor and one is the vice mayor.


"You didn't get a seat by if you had so many votes or not," she said. "It was maybe a choice as to where to put a name."


City Clerk Jeffrie Madland said if it was an election year, the council is in order.


"If you were complying with number three, you are in compliance with number three at that time," she said. "Then, if you go down to number seven; if you're moving through the rotation as you sit currently, you're still in that correct order because Tony was the past mayor, Kevin was the mayor before Tony, Sean is the vice, and councilmember Santangelo would be the next in order."


Kildee said this year was an unusual situation.


Perhaps, maybe we can drill down on this a little more," he said. "We have another rotation, I believe in December, and it would seem to me that what that rotation would be is that certain individuals would be up for the next seat. Perhaps we can implement what the suggestion is after that decision and vote on what we have in December on this."


He said another option is to drill deeper and get more clarification.


"I think it's important for all of us to understand what potentially we are going to do with this," he said. "There was always sort of a rotation, but it was a rotation that was not ever set in stone. When I was first elected, I was elected with Council Member Bill Liebman, and I got the most votes, so I was able to get into the rotation. It was kind of just kind of suggested that it was the way it was."