Council member questions mayoral election process

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The election process, more of a formality, follows a nonstandard procedure, rotating council members to the position every nine and a half months. One council member would like to change that. Meanwhile, the mayor-most-likely talks about what the future holds for the city.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

The Malibu City Council will elect a new mayor and mayor pro tem at its regular meeting Monday night.

Because Malibu operates under a council-manager form of government, the mayor’s office is rotated among the five council members approximately every nine-and-a-half months, so that each one gets to serve as mayor during their four-year term.

Barring a change to the procedure, Mayor Pro Tem John Sibert is next in line to succeed Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, with Councilmember Laura Rosenthal expected to be the next mayor pro tem. The mayor’s responsibilities include representing the city in discussions with the media, officiating at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and moderating the discussion at city council meetings, in addition to voting on council matters.

Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich said she was considering a proposal to change the rotation system. She said the short terms (nine-and-a-half months) did not give council members enough time to become familiar with key leaders in Sacramento.

“We should revisit the issue, so we could have a leader and captain of our ship, so that Sacramento could build lasting relationships with us,” Ulich said.

Malibu has a council-manager form of government, in which each of the five council members has one vote. Council-manager arrangements are common among municipal governments and generally take the form of a “weak-mayor” system, where the mayor has little real power beyond the title, or a “strong-mayor” system, where the mayor has real power as chief executive, which, in some cases, includes veto power. Malibu currently operates under a “weak-mayor” system.

Ulich said she was watching to see what happened with the city of Manhattan Beach, which she said is considering making a transition from a “weak-mayor” to a “strong-mayor” arrangement.

“We may decide we don’t want to,” Ulich said, but added that she was interested in the possibility.

Future council work

Sibert spoke of the city’s accomplishments during the past several years, as well as about what the future holds.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the last few years,” Sibert said. “In fact, over the last eight years we’ve built Bluffs Park, Trancas Park, Legacy Park, Las Flores Park. We’ve acquired the City Hall; it’s being remodeled. We’ve won two and a half million dollars to study alternatives for wastewater treatment for the Civic Center. And we’ve managed to do all that while keeping a[n] AA+ bond rating and maintaining our reserve account. The city is solvent.”

Sibert highlighted several important issues the council needs to focus on in the near future. One is working to improve water quality in Malibu Lagoon and other areas of the city. “We’ve got to deal with the regional water quality board,” he said. “We’re going to have to put some things together.”

The Regional Water Quality Control Board in November 2009 approved a ban on septic systems in the Civic Center area, which the state board upheld. The city has been conducting tests and been in discussions with the regional board on the scope of the ban and building a central wastewater treatment facility.

Another item that Sibert pointed out as important was safety issues, especially on Pacific Coast Highway. Several deaths last year brought highway safety to the forefront. “At the last city council meeting we told [city staff] to go ahead with looking at the funding for a master plan for safety on PCH,” Sibert said.

The Public Safety Commission at its last meeting discussed such a plan, which would be funded by a grant from Caltrans. The plan would encompass all aspects of the highway, including safety, aesthetics, traffic flow, bus stops, bicycle and pedestrian access.

Sibert cautioned that the issue would involve working with many different agencies. “That [involves] us, Caltrans, the county, all kinds of people. So we need to put that together.”

Finally, Sibert said the council in 2011 must keep a sharp eye on budget issues, especially considering the budget cuts on the state and county level. “[County] Supervisor [Zev] Yaroslavsky said it best: sharing red ink. The state’s going to share its red ink with the county, and the county’s going to share its red ink with us,” he said. “We’ve got those kinds of issues-but we’re still fiscally sound.”

The likelihood of adding “mayor” to his title, Sibert said, wasn’t going to change his approach to the job: “I plan on working as hard on those [issues] as I have in the past.”

Sibert added, jokingly, “I go into Starbucks and get coffee and no matter whether I’m mayor or not, I pay the same as everyone else.”