Claremont Insider: Mad Mayor Syndrome

Monday, May 9, 2005

Mad Mayor Syndrome

What is it about Claremont that causes its mayors to be become power-drunk fools? Maybe it's the gavel.

Claremont's mayor is one of five councilmembers and is selected by a vote of the five. To hear the mayors tell it, the mayorship is a largely ceremonial position, sort of a first among equals type deal. In practice, in combination with an authoritarian city manager, the mayor controls the agenda, preventing other councilmembers from getting ideas and issues discussed in public.

The previous mayor, Paul Held, and former city manager Glenn Southard, used their agenda setting powers to manipulate meetings like a David Copperfield magic act. The two would meet privately the week before the bi-monthly council meetings and would place the most controversial matters last, to ensure that they would not be discussed until late into the evening, sometimes after 10:30pm. This made it difficult for people concerned about a particular issue to turn out in large numbers since the council meetings are on Tuesdays--worknights for the average citizen.

The mayor also sets committee appointments. Claremont, again thanks for former city manager Southard, has a system of standing council committees on various issues: public safety, community services, public information, and on. The committees are comprised of two council persons who meet with city staff to screen information on council matters for the council as a whole. The committees generally meet at midday on workdays or in some cases early in the morning. This, again, discourages the public from coming out to participate in decision-making. Although the committees are supposed to only make recommendations to the council, in the past they were used by Southard and the council to set policy in a way that bypassed public scrutiny.

Current Mayor Sandra Baldonado continues in the Southardarian tradition of manipulation and deception. For example, she has put off a review of council norms--the bylaws that govern the council's behavior--despite the fact that a majority of the council (3 of 5) favor an immediate review. Baldonaldo has also refused to allow individual council members to place items of concern on the agenda--a violation of current norms.

One can only speculate as to Baldonaldo's motives. She is generally popular with the League of Women Voters (a toothless, impotent, aging organization that exerts a great deal of influence and which has been responsible by its silence for many of problems in town). Baldonado has been quick in the past to condemn others, Councilmember McHenry, for instance, of uncivil behavior. Yet, her own behavior has been far from civil. Last year, she scolded private citizens who had come to watch a council retreat, saying that they were people who clearly had nothing better to do.

Baldonado has been equally rude to her fellow councilmembers, violating another council norm by attacking them in public, as she did with a recent hysterical rant over cat licensing. In that meeting, on 4/26/05, when the licensing proposal she supported was voted down 3-2, rather than accept the decision, she spent several minutes blaming the 3 who had voted against the measure, of being responsible for a coming rabies plague and for the depopulation of the city's birds.

Ironically, on the bird issue, the Humane Society representative at the meeting said afterwards that the bird population decline was due to home building destroying wild bird habitats, not to feral cats, as Ms. Baldonado claimed. The home building has been something that Baldonado has long pushed, along with Southard and past councils.