No more than two people seemed to agree on any one issue at the last meeting of the Portola City Council. The meeting itself, nearly everyone would agree, was contentious and painful.
The special meeting Dec. 2 was wholly devoted to the reorganization of the council: per election results and to fill the seat recently vacated by Bill Kennedy.
At the last regular meeting, the council issued a call for candidates interested in appointment, which yielded three letters of interest: from John Larrieu (who had trailed Curt McBride by three votes in the election), from Mike Rush (former city council member in 2006) and from Bill Mainland (currently on the Portola planning commission).
Interest in the subject filled the spectator portion of council chambers with more than a dozen vocal citizens.
With three roll calls on the short agenda, musical chairs were expected; “musical” issues were not.
The first roll call yielded a bare quorum of the pre-election council: Mayor John Larrieu, Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wilson, and Curt McBride. Council member William Weaver was absent.
Even so, the beginning of the meeting proceeded smoothly, with the resolution accepting the election results passing unanimously. Election winners Juliana Mark and incumbent Curt McBride were sworn in and seated. Larrieu stepped into the audience.
The second roll call remained a three-person quorum: McBride, Wilson and Mark.
Mayor Pro Tem Wilson took over the council lead and called the candidates one at a time to read their letters of interest, to respond to any questions from the council and to respond to any questions from the audience.
Larrieu listed the city projects he has supported in his 12 years on the council as his best recommendation and received support from Portola resident Fran Roudebush during the public’s question period.
Rush portrayed himself as a 40-year resident of Portola, motivated by a desire to advance the future of Portola. He admitted that when he sat on the council the first time, he had some grievances and some private agendas, but he’d gotten past that.
He added, however, he felt appointing Larrieu was inappropriate because the people had not voted him in. He found the situation that had arisen (because of Kennedy’s resignation so close to election) “peculiar.”
“I guess that it will be for others to take to bed at night or even to their grave, if they think that they’ve done the right thing ethically,” he said.
From there, Rush went on to recite the reasons he soured on politics and went back into old issues from his days on the council, becoming increasing incensed as he went.
He admitted he was passionate, but promised to tone it down a notch.
Mark asked why he did not run in the last election. Rush said there were several reasons, one of which was not to draw votes away from her.
Commentary increasingly centered on past issues, predominantly Woodbridge, until Wilson brought the discussion back to the agenda with another question from Mark.
“My concern, Mike, is that you mentioned that you’re passionate, and I understand that and you have unleashed energy and that’s wonderful, but you said you were soured, soured by politics and soured by the council, have you changed? Are you still sour?”
Rush responded he was soured to the degree that he did not feel the council was trusted in the community. He felt he brought an individual perspective to the council that included his personal interests and side interests.
Mainland presented himself as a newcomer in comparison to Larrieu and Rush, having moved to Portola in 2000. He retired from a 40-year career as an electronics design engineer and has filled his retirement with five years on the Plumas County Grand Jury, six years on Portola’s planning commission and for the past year, a member of the airport land use commission as well.
“My normal first approach to problems is analytical and this has guided me in the public service activities described above,” he said.
Mark asked him why he did not run in the election.
He replied: “I do not have Mike’s passion for this job. I’m volunteering because it’s an activity where I think I might be able to contribute something. That’s all.”
Portola resident Larry Douglas asked Mainland what he thought was the biggest issue before Portola. Mainland thought it was the local economy, which was, in turn, tied up with the national economy.
Council member Weaver arrived late to the meeting, during the Rush presentation, apologized and asked for orientation on the agenda.
After the formal presentations by the three candidates were complete, Weaver announced he had reversed his stand taken at the prior meeting and was now calling for a special election, rather than filling the seat by appointment of the council.
His reasons for reversing his stance, he said, revolved around Wilson and Mark’s public support for the appointment of Larrieu.
“They indicated that they had a person in mind and that’s the reason I suggest we go for a special election,” Weaver said.
Wilson felt compelled to explain he was new to the council and had just expressed his feelings. He had listened to Mark’s support for her erstwhile opponent and had agreed with her assessment. He did not know Mark and had never discussed appointment with her before the meeting.
Wilson reviewed the reasons for not holding a special election: cost and months of four-person voting and potential 2-2 standoffs.
Mark professed to being even newer and said she’d spoken still as a member of the community.
Weaver replied several people had come to him, questioning events, and he felt it was only fair to the community to seek a special election.
Rush agreed and asked the council: You knew nothing about Kennedy’s resignation in advance?
There was considerable “discussion” — argument, defense — between Rush and Wilson regarding what was known and unknown about Kennedy’s resignation, an exchange that ended with Wilson praising Larrieu.
Roudebush commented publicly, speaking for appointment and in support of Larrieu. “I frankly don’t want someone representing me who’s angry all the time.” She urged the other candidates to run in two years’ time and not cost the city a special election.
Portola citizen B.J. Pearson spoke next, not as advocate for any of the candidates, he said, but because he was disturbed by the announced preference for Larrieu.
“This is supposed to be a public hearing. Even if you have an opinion, you are not supposed to give that opinion out until you have heard all the facts.
“And you did. You have flawed the process to the point that you have no other choice but to hold an election.
“I’m here to advocate for the process,” he said and applauded Weaver for his changed position.
City Attorney Steve Gross explained differences in adjudicatory or legislative decision-making: the first requires impartiality; the second allowed for the expression of opinions. There was nothing illegal about either Wilson’s or Mark’s preference.
Pearson responded he did not mean to imply their acts were illegal. “What I meant to say is that it’s unethical. Make no mistake about that.”
Larry Douglas thought it was a Brown Act violation to express an opinion before a public hearing.
More than a half-hour of discussion followed, some of it painful and all of it lengthy, regarding special elections and what the people of Portola did or did not want and involved nearly everyone in the room.
In that time, two motions were made and seconded to appoint Larrieu and ended in 2-2 stalemates.
The second shoe dropped. McBride, it turned out, had also changed his mind. He, too, wanted a special election because his phone had been ringing off the hook with people who opposed appointment.
No one could address the issue of a special election because it was not on the agenda and would require still another meeting. Once on a new agenda, it could also end in a stalemate.
In the end, the roomful of citizens decided the course. Where were all those people who wanted to spend the money for a special election? Why weren’t they here?
McBride asked for a show of hands and found only three in favor of a special election. He was willing to be swayed on the issue of appointment. He made a motion in favor of appointing Mainland to the open seat. It died for lack of a second.
He then favored Larrieu, and the appointment passed, with Weaver dissenting. Larrieu was sworn in.
After a break, the third roll call was taken and the full council unanimously chose Dan Wilson as the new mayor and Juliana Mark as mayor pro tem.
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