A Lodi resident has drafted an initiative to change the selection of mayor from a council vote to a district rotation, and if enough signatures are collected to get the initiative on the ballot, the city will have to hold a special election this November.
Spencer Rhoads, who had an unsuccessful bid for the Lodi City Council last November, spoke about the initiative he authored during a council shirtsleeve session on Tuesday morning. Rhoads believes the change is needed following the city’s move from at-large to district elections last year.
The switch came after the threat of litigation by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which argued that the city’s Latino vote was being diluted in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.
Since the creation of districts, the city has not opted to change its protocol for selecting the mayor.
Under Rhoads’ proposal, the mayorship would rotate between the city’s five districts, in numerical order. He revised his original intuitive that was submitted to the city clerk.
City Manager Steve Schwabauer raised questions about the initiative when it was first submitted. According to Schwabauer, the wording of the first draft would not leave any sitting council member eligible to serve in the role as mayor until 2020.
In the current version of the initiative Rhoads has amended that and other issues.
Rhoads said he was motivated to create the measure to ensure fairness for district representation.
Last December, Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce was skipped over for mayor for the second time during her tenure on the council.
“An entire district can elect someone to represent their district but never have their representative serve as a mayor because of a vote of their peers,” Rhoads said on Tuesday.
Councilman Alan Nakanishi defended the council’s right to select a mayor through a vote.
He argued that a rotation would force council members to serve as mayor, and that the choice to serve as mayor should be at the discretion of individual council members.
“We are elected to be city councilors, not to be the mayor. When I was mayor I spent 27 hours every week on top of a 40-hour job. That is a lot of time. Some people can not commit to the time it takes to be mayor,” Nakanishi said.
He added that with the city split into districts, it’s in the best interests of Lodi residents to have the council vote for a mayor to represent the city as a whole.
Rhoads countered that with the creation of districts, the city needs to look to the future of the district system.
“Lodi is too small to have districts. We were mandated by MALDEF to create districts which are only going to lead to the politicization of district elections,” Nakanishi said. “The city council should not be politicized, it’s for the city.”
Councilman Bob Johnson echoed Nakanishi’s thoughts.
“I see this as the tip of the iceberg, I have been on the council for fifteen years, and we looked at the city as a whole, I hate to think people are going to be pushed into tunnel vision to think about their district,” Johnson said.
Johnson believes that both the districts and the rotation of mayor will force council members to become one-sided on issues and become district-centric.
Despite the concerns of council members, resident Alex Aliferis felt that the initiative would take out the political motivation of selecting a mayor. He also believes that a rotating mayor would reduce the special interests of the council.
“This is about taking the politics out of selecting a mayor,” Aliferis said.
Councilman Doug Kuehne said it was ironic to hear members of the community speak with such conviction over the selection of mayor.
“Between Alan and Bob, there is about 30 years of council experience. With this initiative, there is a chance that newly elected council members will serve as mayor, and I gotta tell you there is a learning curve to doing this,” Kuehne said.
Kuehne pointed out that while the initiative would allow each district to be represented as part of the rotation there would be no guarantee that each member on the council would serve as mayor.
“We have five council members that serve four-year terms, with no guarantee of re-election. That seems problematic to me,” Kuehne said.
If initiative supporters are successful in collecting the required signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, the City of Lodi will be responsible for paying the cost of a special election to take place in November of this year.
The estimated cost of a special election can range from $260,000 to $360,000 in a non-election year, according to San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters Melinda Dubroff.
About 3,200 signatures (10 percent of registered voters in Lodi) will be need to get the initiative on the ballot.