During its Tuesday, March 23 meeting, the Signal Hill City Council agreed to a proposed mayor and vice-mayor annual rotation schedule through 2029.
Each year, the five-member council nominates and votes for a new city mayor and vice mayor from among its members, as per Section 302 of the Signal Hill City Charter. Usually the member serving as vice mayor becomes mayor at the next rotation.
However, in recent years, council members have both changed the expected rotation order and also called it into question, citing racial and gender biases.
In March 2017, then vice-mayor Tina Hansen deferred her expected turn as mayor so she could instead preside as mayor in 2018, when the new Signal Hill Public Library was scheduled to be completed. The new library was actually completed in 2019.
See related story: Hansen replaces Wilson as mayor; Forester is new vice mayor
Though Hansen was mayor in 2018, Councilmember Lori Woods nominated her as vice mayor in March 2020, setting her up to be mayor again in 2021.
However, then-councilmember Edward Wilson cast the sole vote against Hansen as vice mayor, noting that she had served as mayor recently and it was his turn in the rotation cycle to be vice mayor in 2020 and then mayor in 2021.
“To be consistent with how we’ve done things in the past,” Wilson had said, “I would be next in the rotation.”
Hansen acknowledged that she was recently mayor but 2020 would have been her normal year to rotate in as vice mayor and she is also the senior councilmember by two years. The council voted her in as vice mayor in a 4-1 vote.
In June 2020, three residents wrote to the council contending that overstepping Wilson, who is African American, as vice mayor constitutes systemic racism – a charge Wilson raised for discussion during council meetings in July.
Despite those discussions, the council voted not to reorganize the council again, as Wilson asked, to allow him to replace Hansen as vice mayor.
However, after the November 2020 elections and new mayoral rotation in December, the council selected Wilson as mayor for 2021 in a 3-2 vote, overstepping Hansen.
The council had 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 for 2021.
And though Councilmember Robert Copeland nominated Hansen as vice mayor, the council voted for Keir Jones, whom Wilson nominated, also in a 3-2 vote.
Hansen said she would likely be left out of the mayor rotation for at least five more years, which she said is an “inordinate” amount of time and not equitable.
On Jan. 12, Hansen called the December mayoral decision an example of gender bias since the three male councilmembers had voted for Wilson while Hansen and Woods, who are female, had voted for Hansen.
Though Hansen acknowledged gender was not the sole reason she wasn’t selected as mayor, she said the male-female vote split creates that perception, which she likened to how Wilson had discussed race perception last summer.
“Once perception is out there, it takes work to overcome it,” Hansen said. “Gender bias is alive and well in today’s society.”
Gender bias needs to first be recognized to be overcome, Hansen added, noting that her 16-year-old daughter – after watching the council vote – had told her men still need to learn to accept women as leaders.
“It’s important […] to have the difficult conversations so we can continue to do better,” Hansen told the council, adding that most of them also have daughters and need to be aware of the perception their votes create.
She suggested a recommended rotation schedule to help reduce potential bias in the future. The schedule would not become law but provide structure for future meetings, she added.
Wilson agreed to agendize the item.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the council agreed to that proposed rotation schedule in a 4-0 vote. Wilson was absent.
Hansen said the proposed schedule will help avoid confusion or dissension about the mayoral rotation going forward.
“I don’t think we need another long, drawn-out, confrontational, contentious set of meetings about the rotation,” she said, referring to the council’s mayor-rotation discussions in 2020.
The schedule lists all five current council members rotating in order to serve as vice mayor and then mayor each year. Current Vice Mayor Keir Jones will serve as mayor for most of 2022, with Hansen as vice mayor, according to the schedule. Hansen will then serve as mayor in 2023, with Woods as vice mayor.
Hansen stressed that the schedule is not codified in the city’s charter.
“It’s just a proposal, which means it can be changed,” she said, adding that the council will have to update the schedule when new members join.
Hansen said in her 27 years on council she has seen new members rotated into the fourth position – allowing them to be mayor during their last term-year – or the fifth position, requiring them to be reelected to a second term before becoming mayor.
She and Jones are completing their four-year terms next year, potentially allowing two new members into the council after the November 2022 election. The remaining three councilmembers’ terms expire in November 2024.
Woods said it’s also important that the proposed schedule is flexible in case a member has a health or family issue necessitating a change in the mayoral order.
“In a perfect world,” Woods summed up, “this is what our plan will be for the foreseeable future.”