HomeCity Government NewsGlendale City Council, Public Roil Over Mayoral Selection

Glendale City Council, Public Roil Over Mayoral Selection

Tensions soared from both public commenters and Councilmembers alike at Tuesday’s City Council discussion centered around altering the city’s mayoral selection process.
In 2021, the Council set forth updated criteria on the mayoral selection process with seniority being the top consideration. They discussed different scenarios, landing on a solution that if multiple Councilmembers were to serve equal amounts of uninterrupted time on the Council since last serving as mayor, the decision of who would take the dais as mayor would then be determined by who received the most votes in the Councilmembers’ most recent election.
Councilman Ardy Kassakhian said the changes made in 2021 were meant to address the flawed, old system which was “prone to horse trading and back-room dealings” and led to members of the Council being skipped over.
Kassakhian said in their efforts to fix this culture, they created this new system rooted in seniority. Consequently, however, he noted, this updated method resulted in “a loophole and an unforeseen situation where someone would be skipped over and not be allowed to serve as mayor in their first or initial term in office over a four-year period.”
City Attorney Mike Garcia made clear that whatever potential changes Council makes going forward regarding the mayoral selection process, they will not apply when choosing the next mayor. That decision is scheduled to take place at next week’s Council meeting on April 2. Despite this, many public commenters made statements that pitted Councilman Ara Najarian, who is next in line for mayor under current policy, and Councilwoman Elen Asatryan, who has yet to serve as mayor, against each other.
Though it was implied by some public commenters that the goal of altering the current policy was specifically to put Asatryan in the mayoral position over Najarian, who has previously served as mayor several times, Asatryan stressed that this is not about her. Instead, she said it’s about making policy which will define the future of the city, and that the policy should be based in fairness for the next generation of future leaders.
“Just because somebody has served as mayor before does not mean that they get to supersede over someone who has not,” Asatryan said, adding that she feels giving someone the position a second or third time before someone else has the opportunity is “simply unfair.”
Kassakhian went on to say that he believes it is in the spirit of fairness to let someone who has never had the chance to serve as mayor — and who may never have the chance again — have priority over a Councilmember who has already served as mayor, yet still has seniority.
“If we maintain the course that we are on right now, we will have actually, I think, worked against the intent of this policy that I worked so hard to bring forward,” Kassakhian said.
Najarian stressed his belief in maintaining the current seniority method to avoid the “bitterness” caused by the previous selection policy, adding that he would consider adding verbiage to create more equity in the selection process, depending on staff’s feedback on the matter.
“[The old selection method] is an ugly process,” Najarian said. “You can’t say we’re skipping over anyone. Skipping over implies that there is a law in place and you’re not applying that law to that person. That is not what is occurring. We are following the rules. … We can’t go back to where we were before.”
As for being skipped over, Devine says if someone does not have the chance to serve as mayor in their first term, they have the choice to run for reelection, and if reelected, they will be guaranteed the chance to act as mayor.
“If [the selection process] is not predictable, it becomes ugly. I’ve been through it. Others have been through it,” Devine said. “It leads to hard feelings. It leads to a dysfunctional Council. It creates division. It’s not good for the residents and it’s not good for the Council.”
Additionally, Devine highlighted the option that all Councilmembers have, which is to decline the mayorship and give someone else the opportunity to serve, though Najarian said he intends to seek the mayoral role next week.
Najarian said that just because he has served as mayor four times previously does not mean he should not get to again, comparing the notion “that this is unfair” to socialism.
Acknowledging that the process has worked well in the last few years, Mayor Dan Brotman said that he is open to tweaking the ordinance based on other Councilmembers’ concerns, though he is cautious of potential issues arising from changing the ordinance too much.
Public commenter Joy McCreary urged the Council to amend the current mayoral selection policy to make it more “inclusive.”
“Every sitting Councilmember with the exception of Councilwoman Elen Asatryan has had the opportunity to serve as mayor during their first four-year term,” McCreary said. “As the policy stands, the first immigrant woman, the first Armenian woman and the youngest woman elected to the Council would be prevented from representing us as mayor.”
Similarly, a number of public commenters were in favor of the policy being amended to ensure all Councilmembers have the chance to serve as mayor, with some emphasizing the importance of supporting aspiring leaders.
On the other hand, some speakers suggested the Council is only trying to change its policy to keep Najarian from becoming mayor.
“For the record, I want to say that the animus that Mr. Kassakhian has toward me being mayor four times previously is palpable,” Najarian said.
Kassakhian responded that the honorable thing for Najarian to do would be to defer the mayorship to Asatryan, who has not yet been given the opportunity.
Public commenter Susan Broussalian said she believes the current City Council is “flip-flopping” on many issues and losing credibility with the public. Changing current mayoral selection policy would be another example of this, she said.
“Amending the municipal code from what it is today will reflect recklessness and haste amongst Councilmembers and allow politics to come back into the picture,” Broussalian said. “… Amending the rules again to accommodate Councilmembers’ needs for different reasons is ridiculous.”
The Council requested staff to return with possible solutions to address concerns brought forth during this discussion.
A subsequent discussion ensued over a specific provision to the current mayoral appointment process, which states that if the Council deems one of its members unfit to serve as mayor “including but not limited to … mental or physical incapacity significantly limiting the ability to perform mayoral duties or a criminal conviction.”
Najarian requested city staff to further clarify and specify this part of the ordinance “to make it more precise and determinable as to what actions may specifically lead to Council to intervene in the normal rotation process.”
City staff was asked to come back with options in the near future to address Council’s suggestions and concerns.

First published in the March 30 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

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