Was it a City Council meeting Monday or was it open-mike night?
Members of the public — including a group of Pepperdine University journalism students eager to cover the dog-eat-dog world of local government — may have been a bit confused at one point.
On a night with a rather light agenda, the item that generated the liveliest debate was one most council members professed to care very little about: their seating arrangement at the council table.
Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Van Horn, hoping to return the council to the tradition of seating the outgoing mayor at the far end of the council table, asked her colleagues to revise the current seating policy. That tradition was thrown out of whack when former Mayor Jeff Jennings lost his seat last year, leaving the council without an outgoing mayor.
The male members of the council poked fun at spending time on such a matter. Then each weighed in with his own preference.
Councilwoman Joan House, at first, seemed to regard the subject at least as seriously as Van Horn. But even she cracked a couple of chair jokes before the discussion was over.
House, who as mayor last year recommended the seating policy that was the subject of the proposed revision, said she favored continuing the existing arrangement, which was modeled from policies in the state legislature and the U.S. Congress.
“It is more or less imitating that which open democracy has used before,” she said.
Councilman Tom Hasse said he thought the seating should mirror the city’s mayoral rotation policy, with the outgoing mayor sitting the farthest from the current mayor.
Mayor Walt Keller said, “I don’t think this is worth all the debate we’re having,” and he added that he did not care how the seating was arranged moments before voting against Councilman Harry Barovsky’s motion to continue the existing seating policy.
At one point, four out of five council members were speaking at once, and Keller interrupted to rein in the discussion. “I’m sorry, we’re losing this meeting,” he said.
With a subject matter ripe for comedy, the council members could not be blamed for hamming it up, but only Hasse and Van Horn mercifully spared the public chair jokes. Barovsky and House joked about “musical chairs” and “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Keller shared a strangely indecipherable tidbit involving his father and chairs.
At his turn at bat, Hasse, speaking directly to the Pepperdine students, said, “You can see the vital issues confronting Malibu.”
Eventually, the council members unanimously voted to move the outgoing mayor to the far right end of the council table. And with that, the council members remained where they were seated, presumably reserving this new policy for a future date.