By Tim Whyte
Am I a bad person if I enjoyed Tuesday night’s Santa Clarita Tribal Council meeting?
Oops. Check that. CITY Council. It was the City Council, NOT “Tribal Council.” Sorry! Honest mistake, really. This wasn’t an episode of “Survivor.” It just looked like one, minus the torches, and I was on the edge of my seat.
In a nutshell: Marsha McLean was next in line to be mayor, but Bob Kellar nominated Cameron Smyth instead, and Laurene Weste seconded the motion, but then an irate McLean nominated herself, and (deep breath…) Bill Miranda seconded THAT motion, and the discussion and vote that ensued, while an embarrassment to the city, can only be described as high drama and great theater.
Of course, I don’t think that was the council’s goal.
It was their annual “organizational” session, in which the five elected council members decide who will be their ceremonial leader for the following year and serve as mayor. There’s a tradition under which the gavel rotates among all five council members, and each year the previous year’s mayor pro tem ascends to become mayor.
The rotation has for the most part remained intact through the city’s history, and in my first stint with The Mighty Signal there was one notable, legendary exception.
It was 1999. The council was often divided 3-2 on the bigger issues, with Jill Klajic and Jan Heidt in the minority versus a majority that consisted of Jo Anne Darcy, Frank Ferry and Laurene Weste. (Having served as mayor this year, Weste is the only one of those five still on the council. In 1999, she and Ferry were the “new” council members.)
Darcy (1931-2017), was the closest thing Santa Clarita ever had to royalty (may she rest in peace). She had served as mayor in 1999. At the beginning of the annual reorganization meeting in December 1999, Darcy presented each of her four fellow council members with a gift to commemorate their year together. The gifts? Each council member got a paperweight, which was a little smaller than a brick. If memory serves, they were Lucite and Darcy had them engraved.
Turns out they made for great projectiles.
Once the gifts were given and the reflections on the past year were done, the council took up the business of choosing the mayor for the year 2000. If the council stuck by its tradition of “rotating” the role, Klajic would have been due. But Klajic, an outspoken anti-growth activist, was something of a controversial figure. Ferry, Weste and Darcy did not support the notion of Klajic serving as their leader and the city’s highest-profile representative.
So, they took a bold step, one that had not been taken before and has not been replicated since: They appointed Darcy to a second consecutive one-year term as mayor.
Klajic was steamed.
So steamed, in fact, that she “returned” the gift Darcy had given her. Accounts vary — Klajic’s allies said she merely shoved the paperweight across the dais back toward Darcy, saying something along the lines of, “Here, you can have your gift back.”
Klajic’s opponents said it was more like she “threw” the paperweight at Darcy.
My recollection? It was more than a shove, but less than a “throw.” It was a lob. There was a distinct “thud” when it landed on the dais in front of Darcy.
It was an instant local legend, the stuff of lore, with the story getting juicier every time it was retold. The paperweight lob heard ’round the world escalated in the retelling, to the point where one would get the impression that Klajic, sporting a throwing arm that would make Aaron Rodgers weep, mercilessly rifled that Lucite brick and hit sweet old Jo Anne Darcy right between the eyes.
The truth was less interesting, but still pretty damn interesting. And, as sports talk show host Colin Cowherd likes to say, “I’m in the Interesting Business.”
Which brings me to this year’s reorganization meeting. “Interesting” is putting it lightly. For those who haven’t seen it yet, let me summarize:
Kellar nominates Smyth, rather than McLean, then says very little the rest of the way, almost as if he had said to himself, “Well. Gonna dump a little gasoline here and toss a match on it, then see what happens!”
Fireworks. That’s what happens.
Weste seconds Kellar’s motion. McLean, ticked off at Kellar and Weste, nominates herself. Miranda, who apparently didn’t get the memo about the plan to install Smyth as mayor instead of McLean, seconds McLean’s motion.
The five argue. Hilarity ensues, although I don’t think any of the council members thought it was at all funny.
McLean tells Kellar that what he and Weste did was “unmerited” and “rude” and could only be explained by some kind of personal vendetta. She felt blindsided. Kellar responds that he tried to call her earlier in the day to, you know, alert her that she probably wasn’t going to be mayor and stuff, but apparently she didn’t check her voice mail before the meeting.
It goes to a vote. McLean and Miranda vote yes on her self-nomination. Kellar and Smyth vote no, with Smyth invoking the “never-vote-against-yourself” rule of politics.
Weste, facing the chore of breaking a 2-2 tie — which I am betting was NOT part of the plan — invokes the memory of Rodney King and says she just wants everyone to get along. She decides the best way to promote harmony is to vote for McLean, despite being the one who seconded Kellar’s motion.
Smyth, bus-sized tire tracks running right up the back of his suit coat, launches into a bit of a rant that can best be summed up as, “Thanks for making ME look like the A-hole.”
They then nominate Smyth as mayor pro tem, and he’s approved, for the most part without further incident except for McLean lamenting out loud that no one (uh, including her…) bothered to nominate Miranda for mayor pro tem, leaving him as the only council member never to be nominated for one of the council’s two special titles.
McLean was sworn in as mayor, then brought the episode to a perfect end, saying, “Can we eat cake now?”
And, presumably, they ate cake. But that part was off-camera.
If you’re in the Interesting Business, this was pure gold. But thankfully, on Tuesday night, one thing remained missing from the ceremonies:
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays.