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Is Santa Clarita Ready to Directly Elect its Mayor?
November, 2004 - Issue #2
Mayor Bob Kellar, here at an event celebrating the grand opening of Consumer
Mayor Bob Kellar, here at an event celebrating the grand opening of Consumer's Furniture, was elected to his position by the city council.
Currently, the position of mayor of the City of Santa Clarita is rotated among the five elected sitting city council members on an annual basis. This has been the tradition since the city incorporated in 1987, though there have always been rumblings of having a mayor elected by the people rather than the other councilmembers. After recent decisions in council rotation seemingly broke away from precedent and left Council Member Marsha McLean without a better title or recourse, local politicians and voters alike have discussed the pros and cons of having a Mayor of Santa Clarita elected by the voters.

Gail Ortiz, public information officer for the City of Santa Clarita, argues that "the variety of leadership [given by current and former mayors] has been very positive for Santa Clarita. The current system of rotating councilmembers into the mayor-ship is working well; if it is not broke, why fix it? But the final decision is left up to the voters." In examples from all around the state, the final decision has been left to voters who have to make a big decision. Are the benefits of having a directly-elected mayor (greater identity between the citizens and the town's most visible public servant; greater control over the local chief executive officer of government) more astounding than the cons (the potential for political gridlock in disagreements between the mayor and council members; another layer to the bureaucratic monster)?

Numerous cities throughout the state have been undertaking a similar discussion in the last few years. According to the California League of Cities, of the 478 incorporated cities in the state, 147 have directly elected mayors. Fitting into this category are Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego. Before you think that these cities are too large to be compared to the SCV, realize that Santa Clarita and the cities just mentioned are among the top 10 percent of largest cities by population in the state.

But even in cities with a directly elected mayor, the duties and responsibilities vary from place to place. Los Angeles has a Strong-mayor council form of government, giving Mayor Hahn significant power over the direction of the council and over all happenings within the city. This is unlike the City of San Diego, which, at least until the upcoming November election, has a Council-manager form over government identical to that of Santa Clarita, only with a directly elected mayor. San Diego residents will vote on November 2 on whether or not to effectively eliminate the Council-manager system, replacing it with the Strong-mayor form of governance.

Still, Santa Clarita isn't alone in using a council-manager system. Five of the nation's largest 11 cities use this mode for their local government, including Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio and San Jose. This shows that while the SCV may continue to grow, that doesn't have to equate to a new way of running the city. These examples also provide strong reasoning for maintaining the status quo that has served this area well for the past 17 years.

If however, the voters of Santa Clarita deemed it necessary to modify our current system to include a directly elected mayor, it is likely it would come along with sweeping changing in local governance. The mayor would likely be delegated powers in addition to running the normal meeting, possibly including veto power on the council or additional powers in management of the city. Directly elected mayors can also be given administrative hiring/firing powers and the responsibility of drafting the city's budget. The city manager would also report directly to the mayor rather than the entire city council under this proposal.

Whatever the direction for the future of Santa Clarita, the government leadership, whether a mayor, city council or city manager, will leave the final decision up to the voters. And the day that vote comes, it will not be one to miss - nor should any election be for that matter. Remember to vote November 2.
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