Two years after the Marathon City Council passed a resolution to guide how the next mayor will be selected, the group of five tossed it out after an abrupt about-face on the dais.
The item was brought to the council by Mayor Steve Cook as a “lay down,” or document previously unseen by the rest of the council and not available to the public. Cook described the November 2019 mayoral succession vote as “fraught with confusion.”
“We followed the intent of the resolution, which was to reduce or eliminate sunshine violations and honor the will of the electorate that may not fully understand our system of government,” Cook said. “This process has successfully run its course for two years without incident. But this last transition was fraught with confusion as to whom the position of vice mayor would go. I want there to be a clear and drama-free transition of this position for years to come. I truly believe this is the way to achieve this goal. I will make a motion to add this document you all have in front of you to make the ‘tweak’ to make the verbiage clear. I just don’t want any drama.”
The 2017 resolution, not ordinance, intended to replace the previous system of a straightforward vote at the first council meeting following the election. However, previous elected officials have complained of sunshine violations as candidates jockeyed behind closed doors for the position of mayor and vice mayor. When the resolution was passed in 2017, it was a 4-1 vote, with Senmartin dissenting. The vote in 2019 to elect Cook as mayor and Councilman Luis Gonzalez as vice mayor was unanimous, 5-0.
Senmartin thanked Cook for bringing up the issue and said he also intended to address it. “You beat me to the punch,” Senmartin said.
Senmartin outlined two problems with the current resolution. First, that he was unfairly shut out from being fourth in succession. He told Cook, “I find it interesting that all of a sudden this is a mistake when there was no problem with Ms. Coldiron’s mayorship, or Mr. Bartus’ mayorship or your mayorship. But as I am now fourth in succession, now it suddenly becomes a problem.”
Cook said the reason for that was because Senmartin was in his third term (an anomaly that also applies to Councilmen John Bartus and Dan Zieg because of changes to the term limits in the charter). Which brought Senmartin to his second point.
“I think it’s now obvious to everyone in the public that the simple problem is that (Mark) Senmartin is not going to be mayor before he’s off the council and that what this is all about.”
— Councilman Dan Zieg
“If we play this out as we go forward as it stands, Vice Mayor Luis Gonzalez will become mayor in November (2020) and the following November (2021) I will be gone. That means the new person coming in will be mayor,” Senmartin said, expressing a worry that the mayor will have no council or procedural experience. Senmartin said he welcomed the ability to review the amendments to the resolution at the next meeting.
“I want the chance to discuss the specifics and have the chance to write out the flow chart. That’s what I did and that’s how we end up in uncharted territory,” he said.
At this point in the discussion, Zieg spoke up.
“I appreciate this discussion. I think it’s now obvious to everyone in the public that the simple problem is that Senmartin is not going to be mayor before he’s off the council and that’s what this is all about,” Zieg said. “So why don’t we go back to the fact that we will make a motion and vote for mayor and vice mayor each time and select the person that we think is the best. We can begin that with this next election.”
Cook: “Are you making a motion?”
Zieg: “I am not. I am offering a suggestion.”
Cook: “If you’d like to make a motion, then make a motion. But …”
Zieg: “Then I will make a motion that we get rid of resolution 2017-13 and that we put it aside and go back to the old fashioned way for selecting the mayor and vice mayor.”
City Clerk Diane Clavier called the roll and the vote was unanimous.
Bartus: “Welcome to government.”