During its Tuesday, Dec. 8 meeting, the Signal Hill City Council rotated its mayor and vice-mayor positions as it does annually, after swearing-in three members who had been re-elected to the council on Nov. 3.
Edward Wilson will serve as mayor for a year with Keir Jones as vice mayor. The five-member council voted 3-2 for each amid much discussion about rotation schedules and fairness.
Councilmember Robert Copeland, who had been serving as mayor since March, stepped down after nine months due to the council’s decision to shift its municipal voting date from March to November to align with the statewide voting date.
In what councilmembers hailed as the largest voter turnout for a Signal Hill municipal election, residents re-elected Copeland, Wilson and Councilmember Lori Woods to the council on Nov. 3.
LA County’s election results– officially certified on Nov. 30– show that Woods garnered the most votes at 2,986 with Copeland receiving 2,679 and Wilson 2,415. Challenger Terry Rogers earned 2,284 votes and therefore could not replace one of the three existing members.
Terms of the other two councilmembers– Tina Hansen and Jones– expire in November 2022.
Hansen, who had been serving as vice mayor since March, did not become mayor as per the council’s usual rotation tradition, a decision that followed sometimes heated discussion.
The annual rotation begins with councilmembers nominating one member to be mayor. Jones nominated Wilson and Woods nominated Hansen.
In accepting her nomination, Hansen said she wanted to continue the usual rotation path from vice mayor to mayor, even though there had been some contention following her becoming vice mayor in March since it would have been Wilson’s turn as vice mayor in the council’s usual rotation pattern.
Three residents had written to the council in June contending that overstepping Wilson as vice mayor constituted systemic racism, which Wilson raised for discussion during council meetings in July.
Following those discussions, the council voted not to reorganize the council again to allow Wilson to replace Hansen as vice mayor.
During the Dec. 8 meeting, Hansen said that as mayor, she would like to use her experience to lead the city through the ongoing pandemic and also preside over forthcoming public hearings regarding Signal Hill Petroleum development projects.
Wilson said he has similar experience to Hansen, having also served five times as mayor during his 23 years on the council compared to Hansen’s 26.
Wilson added that the social-equity issues that grew out of Black Lives Matter protests since last spring will still be prevalent in 2021, especially with the council’s creation of a new Diversity Coalition Committee (DCC) that he spearheaded.
Wilson also said that controversy over the council’s commissioner appointments when he last served as mayor in 2017-when he didn’t allow other councilmembers to nominate commissioners, in accordance with the City’s charter- has had lasting positive effects in diversifying the three commissions involved.
“People are very happy with our commissioners,” he said. “All of the councilmembers voted for them.”
Wilson added that he would allow councilmembers to nominate commissioners in the next appointment round in March 2021.
Before voting on the new mayor, the council further discussed what the “usual” rotation schedule would have been if Hansen had not become vice mayor in March, seeming to agree that Wilson would have been mayor this year while noting that the schedule is somewhat loose.
Copeland said that the issue of who among them serves as mayor is almost one of semantics.
“The mayor is a tiny step ahead [of other councilmembers] in representing the city,” he said. Copeland voted for Wilson as mayor to return to the usual rotation order, he said. Jones and Wilson joined him in that majority vote, with Hansen and Woods voting for Hansen.
As mayor, Wilson then presided over the vice-mayor election. He nominated Jones, Copeland nominated Hansen.
Hansen said that if the council doesn’t elect her as vice mayor, she would likely be left out of the mayor rotation for at least five more years, which she said is “inordinate” and not equitable.
Hansen last served as mayor from March 2018 to March 2019.
Wilson said it should be Jones’s turn to be vice mayor as a new councilmember, elected in March 2019.
“It is important to stick with the rotation,” Wilson said. “There’s no reason not to. I believe that’s fair, […] not putting emphasis on a particular person.”
Wilson said the usual rotation order would have Hansen become vice mayor next year, but Hansen replied that there is no guarantee next year’s council would agree, so she is advocating for herself now.
Hansen added that she has the experience to lead the city through “dark and difficult times.”
In voting on vice mayor, Copeland said it was a difficult decision but chose Jones, as did Jones and Wilson, giving Jones the majority vote. Woods and Hansen voted for Hansen, though Woods added that Jones would make an excellent vice mayor and eventually mayor.
“We all have a lot of respect for each other,” Jones said to the other three councilmembers as Hansen temporarily left the virtual meeting, “We’re all in it together and we’ll all continue to work well together.”
Jones added that as a relatively new councilmember, he appreciated that he could learn from the experience of both Hansen and Wilson.
Wilson then read a proclamation honoring outgoing mayor Copeland, noting the latter’s “authenticity, enthusiasm and dedication,” and steady leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic, which started almost immediately after Copeland’s mayoral term began.
Woods noted that Copeland did not even get to have the usual mayor’s reception upon his election, and nor will Wilson due to the ongoing pandemic.
Returning to the meeting, Hansen commended Copeland for his “calm, cool and collected” demeanor. Jones praised Copeland’s humility in getting the job done during the chaos of the past nine months.
Copeland agreed it has been an unusual year to serve as mayor for the first time.
“I look forward to the next time I get to do it,” Copeland said. “Because I know it will be different.”