The five City Councilmembers of Albany: Robert Lieber, Marge Atkinson, Jewel Okawachi, Farid Javandel, and Joanne Wile. Photo by Linjun Fan.
A dramatic fight at Albany City Council Monday over who would be the city’s mayor in 2008 culminated in two members walking out of the meeting to protest an “illegal procedure” supported by the other three.
The positions of mayor and vice mayor of Albany should rotate to different council members each year, according to a city policy enacted in the early ’80s. But there have been a few exceptions allowing a council member to serve two consecutive years as mayor.
Tension arose when current Mayor Robert Lieber proposed that the council discuss and change the mayoral rotating policy, with an obvious intent to continue his mayorship. His suggestion was immediately challenged by Councilmember Farid Javandel, who pointed out that the issue was listed on the meeting agenda not as an action item, but for information only, and that the council would violate the Brown Act law for open meetings if its members took action on the item.
“If you want to act on this, I would simply not participate in the vote because I would consider it to be illegal, ” Javandel said.
Javandel is a strong competitor of Lieber for the mayor position. He served as Albany’s vice mayor in 2006, and was expected to become its mayor in 2007 by some supporters.
“I was truly upset when Farid Javandel didn’t get this mayor’s position last year, ” said Councilmember Jewel Okawachi, who nominated Javandel to be mayor but was out-voted a year ago. ” I thought he would be an excellent mayor and probably the best person to be in this position right now. “
Irritated by Okawachi’s remarks, Councilmember Marge Atkinson, who voted for Lieber to serve as mayor last year, said that she supported Lieber to continue his mayorship.
“I personally feel that a person who has done a good job should have the opportunity to do another year, ” Atkinson said.
Lieber then moved to amend the mayoral policy, and got seconds from Atkinson and Councilmember Joanne Wile, both of whom side with Lieber and oppose large-scale commercial development on Albany’s waterfront, a hotbutton political issue before the council.
Javandel and Okawachi refused to vote on the motion.
“I am not voting, not yes, not no, not abstain, not voting, ” said Javandel. “I will not let you force me to vote.”
“I am the chair here. And you are a council member. You have three choices to make on a motion, you may abstain, you may vote a strong no, which would be very appropriate, or you may vote yes, ” said Lieber. “If you would like to leave, that would be fine. “
Then Javandel and Okawachi, the two frequent minorities in the five-member council, walked out of the council chamber in protest.
The other three members continued voting and approved the motion to change the mayor-rotating policy to allow Lieber to serve another year as mayor.
After he came back to the room, Javandel said that he wasn’t challenging Lieber’s mayorship, but opposing his violation of council procedure.
“I was disappointed that Robert didn’t have the patience to wait for two weeks to have a clean discussion where we could all vote on it, ” said Javandel. “I want to make it clear to everyone that I am not challenging the procedure because of some desire to make myself mayor. “
He didn’t second Okawachi’s nomination for him to be mayor, but nominated Atkinson instead.
Atkinson changed her mind after hearing what Javandel said, and decided to withdraw her motion.
“I am feeling very uncomfortable that our council members need to leave the room, ” said Atkinson. “I would like it to be clean, but it doesn’t feel that way right now. “
Lieber agreed with her after some hesitation. And the five members voted unanimously to postpone the voting to the council’s next meeting in mid-December.
Many in the audience were relieved at the tension lifting. A speaker from the public joked that the council drama was better anything on television. Everybody had a good laugh at the teasing.
The Councilmembers crossed allegiance lines on subsequent issues at the meeting. Lieber voted with Javandel and Okawachi to allow a senior homeowner to use vinyl siding on his house, while Atkinson and Wile opposed the motion.