By Mark Gutglueck
The extent to which identity politics has intruded upon the governmental process in Redlands was given further illustration as the mayoral succession controversy that has existed since 2020 wound down to a still not entirely certain denouement this week.
Eddie Tejeda, whose anticipated appointment to the mayoralty was delayed for two years because of the interference of Councilwoman Denise Davis, took possession of the gavel early in the meeting, which began with Tejeda, Davis, Councilwoman Jenna Guzman Lowery, Mick Gallagher and Mayor Paul Barich as its five members. Gallagher, who had been appointed early this year to replace former Councilman Paul Foster following his January 3 resignation, did not seek election in November. Barich ran unopposed and Davis gained reelection in November, defeating three challengers. Also elected this year was former Planning Commissioner Mario Saucedo.
After a ceremonial celebration at the beginning of the meeting in which Gallagher was saluted for his service on the council and Davis, Barich and Saucedo were sworn in, the council took up the appointment of the mayor and mayor pro tem, which traditionally takes place in Redlands following the installation of the council following an election.Barich nominated Tejeda as mayor. Davis, recognizing there is not sufficient support for her assuming the mayor’s post at present, nominated Barich. Barich responded, saying, “I’m flattered, but I’d like to turn it over to Mr. Tejeda at this time.” There were no further nominations for mayor. Accordingly, without a vote taking place, City Clerk Jeanne Donaldson declared Tejeda mayor.
Tejeda then nominated Barich as mayor pro tem. Guzman-Lowery nominated Davis for pro tem. Davis cas the lone vote in opposition to naming Barich Mayor Pro Tem. A vote was taken with regard to Davis’s mayor pro tem nomination. Davis and Guzman-Lowery voted for Davis, but Saucedo, Tejeda and Barich voted against her appointment.
With Tejeda presiding over the meeting, the council later took up a scheduled second vote confirming the council’s decision on December 6 to adopt a new ordinance changing Chapter 2.02 of the Redlands Municipal Code relating to how the mayor and mayor pro tem are to be selected and how long their respective terms in office are to be.
The issue had grown into a difficult one, with the contretemps rooted in the clash between Councilwoman Davis’s advocacy for what she references as both “inclusivity” and “tolerance” being reflected in the city’s operations and the traditional approach Redlands officials took in designating the council’s officers. Essentially, Redlands, because it does not have a directly elected mayor, followed a tradition of elevating into the mayor’s position one of the council members based upon two criteria. One of those was having experience in office/seniority that would give the holder of the mayor’s gavel sufficient understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order or basic parliamentary procedure to allow him or her to conduct an orderly meeting. The other consideration was that it was preferred that the mayor, because the holder of that honorific is called upon to officiate at groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings and other celebratory civic functions that often occur on weekdays during normal business hours, have a flexible enough work schedule or be retired in order to be able to frequently participate in those events.
Davis, for a number of reasons, found herself at odds with that tradition. A lesbian whose inception as a politician grew primarily out of her Lesbian Bisexual Gay Transsexual Queer agenda advocacy, Davis has a patented stock in trade of promoting and celebrating tolerance and inclusion as the core of her social/political philosophy.
Her council colleagues, in a show of welcome at the time she was installed onto the council in December 2018 the month after her initial election, took the extraordinary step of elevating her immediately to the post of mayor pro tem – the assistant mayor or vice mayor who stands in for the mayor during his or her absence. This was done despite the consideration that she had no previous experience as an elected official and thus had yet to master parliamentary procedure. The gesture was intended as one meant to signal to Davis that the city council – which was otherwise composed of heterosexuals – was accepting of her and her values of inclusion and tolerance and prepared to work with her as a coequal.
Conferring upon her the enhanced status of mayor pro tem in a way that broke with tradition, however, appears to have engendered in Davis a sense of entitlement, one that was exacerbated by her political ambition.
A Democrat, Davis is also a member of Emerge California, a collective of Democratic women chartered with the purpose of empowering self-identified women leaders within the Democratic Party in successfully running for elected office. It is no coincidence that Davis, a graduate of Redlands University, chose the Redlands City Council as the venue for her first stab at achieving elected office. Like Pete Aguilar, who was a member of the Redlands City Council from 2006 to 2010 and Redlands mayor from 2010 until 2014, at which point he successfully ran for Congress, where he now holds the fourth highest ranking position among Democratic members of the House of Representatives as the chairman the Democratic Caucus, Davis sees the Redlands City Council as an excellent platform from which to launch an effort for higher office. It is well recognized that she is intent on seeking a position in the California Legislature or in U.S. Congress, if and when an opening in the form of a retiring or termed-out Democratic legislator presents itself. In this way, Davis from the time she was elected to the council has been in ticket-punching mode, seeking to enhance her political résumé, with titles and council committee or regional joint powers committee assignments.
Upon being made mayor pro tem in 2018, Davis had a wishful glimpse of her future: the possibility that two years hence, in 2020, her colleagues might entrust her with the mayor’s gavel.
Such was not in the cards, however.
One complicating consideration was that two years before she was elected to the council, Eddie Tejeda had proceeded her to a berth on that panel. If the election of Davis, a lesbian, to the Redlands City Council was a significant social, cultural or political milestone, Tejeda’s election was of substantial importance as well, if not quite as unique. Latino members of the Redlands City Council were comparatively rare, with Norman Martinez having been elected to the council in the 1950 and 1960s and his brother, Oddie Martinez, following in his path to become a member of the council in the 1970s and ultimately the city’s first Latino mayor. The last Hispanic member of the city council prior to Tejeda was Aguilar, and before Aguilar was Gilberto Gil, who served from 1993 to 1997 and again from 2003 to 2007. Tejeda was reelected to the council in 2020, at which point his four years on the council made him the logical mayoral heir apparent, given the consideration that the one member of the council at that time with the most seniority who had not yet served as mayor was Barich, whose business commitments made his accepting the mayoral post problematic.
At the December 15, 2020 meeting where the mayoral selection for 2020 to 2022 was scheduled to be made, Davis asked for the council to consider her proposal for the establishment of a regimented mayoral selection process, one which called for not two-year mayoral and mayoral pro tem terms but rather one-year terms. Additionally, she proposed that the system include an assignment schedule and sequencing of responsibility by which the mayor’s slot would be filled by the individual who had most recently served as mayor pro tem. In making the pitch for the system she was proposing, Davis was essentially seeking to propel herself into the mayoral position. The council, which had been primed to follow what was essentially tradition and most likely elevate Tejeda to the mayoral post, was caught flatfooted by Davis’s proposal. The council members agreed to defer the mayoral appointment while they contemplated the scope and merit of the procedure Davis had articulated and took the opportunity to consult with city residents about their perspective and take up the consideration of who should be mayor in January 2019.
Davis thereupon networked with her support network in the community to put pressure on the three male members of the council who made up a majority of the panel – then-Mayor Paul Foster, Barich and Tejeda – in a way that would lead to her appointment as mayor. Redlands’ history was replete with “backroom conversations” which inevitably led to “backroom deals” by which “rich White men” had “perpetuated the status quo” to “marginalize… women and minorities” while “suppress[ing] minority votes” to “prevent” anyone other than themselves “from assuming leadership roles,” she charged.
Her proposal, she said, would “guarantee minority representation and diverse leadership… rooted in equity.” She saluted the city’s shift to by-district elections in 2018, which she said was long overdue since it meant that each of the city’s five “representatives are elected equally. Therefore, each should have an equal chance to serve as mayor and mayor pro tem.” She said her proposal, with its one-year mayoral and mayoral pro tem terms instead of the current two-year terms would double the degree of diversity and fair distribution of the city’s leadership.
She pointed out that in all of Redlands history there had only been three women mayors, but failed to note that the city had only had two Latino mayors and that her proposal as she was framing it would in all likelihood, if it were to achieve the goal she was apparently setting for the city, result in keeping the Hispanic Tejeda from taking up the mayoral gavel as he was about to just before she intervened with her mayoral succession proposal.
As might have been anticipated, Tejeda, who under the existing and traditional system stood next in line to be mayor, objected to the imposition of her selection strategy with its implied favoritism toward distaff members at the exclusion of its agnate members as part of a deliberate strategy to undo what she implied were generations of inequity and a lack of diversity, one which would thus logically lead to her immediate selection as mayor and Tejeda’s immediate exclusion from that municipal leadership role. Tejeda’s reaction provoked from her the observation that he “obviously had ambitions to be in a leadership role himself.” In this way, she seemed to impute malevolence to Tejeda’s ambition, while making no such association with her own ambition.
Many of those observing the process noted that the terms Davis had layered into the selection process appeared calculated to give her the first opportunity to be mayor. As she represents District 1 and the rotation, as she originally proposed it was to move in numerical order, she would be the recipient of the mayoral gavel with the first rotation, it was widely noted. Nor was it lost on city’s political cognoscenti that she was simultaneously proposing that the Redlands mayor pro tem be automatically promoted into the mayor’s slot when the city’s change of council officers took place, and that she was, at that point, the mayor pro tem.
Ultimately, in January 2021, when the council took up her proposed succession procedure and the mayoral succession question, the council failed to adopt her suggestions with regard to an automatically rotating one-year duration mayoral term. When Councilwoman Guzman-Lowery nominated Davis for mayor, Davis seconded the nomination, but her selection failed on a 2-to-3 vote, with Foster, Barich and Tejeda opposed. Tejeda, who had been derided by Davis for his mayoral ambition, nominated Barich, which Foster seconded. Barich, who was reluctant to accept the assignment because of his professional commitments, nevertheless did so, as he was taken aback by Davis’s bareknuckle political tactics against Tejeda. Barich was elected mayor, by a 4-to-1 vote, with Guzman-Lowery dissenting.
Ironically, had Davis gone along with making Tejeda mayor in 2020, she very likely would have acceded to the mayoral position this year.
This week, on Tuesday night, however, she was not able to overcome the determination on the part of Barich, Saucedo and Tejeda that Tejeda be granted the mayoral privilege at last.
Davis’s last shot was that she might convert the mayoral term into a single year, thus making it possible for her to assume the mayor’s post in December 2023. That possibility was left open because at the city council’s December 6 meeting, the council as it was then composed voted 3-to-2, with Davis, Guzman-Lowery and Barich prevailing and Tejeda and Gallagher in opposition, to create a rotation system for selecting the mayor, an item that had been set before the council at Davis’s request. That vote had given first approval, what in municipal parlance is referred to as a first reading, to the new ordinance which would confer upon the council member with the most seniority who had yet to serve as mayor the honor of being mayor. Further, under that proposed ordinance, the title of mayor pro tem would be bestowed upon the next most senior member of the council who had not been mayor. Going forward, the practice would be to then elevate the mayor pro tem to be the next mayor. Davis’s stated preference in introducing the ordinance was that the mayoral term would run not two years but a single year.
This week, the mayoral succession ordinance given first reading on December 6 came back for a second reading, which was necessary for its final approval. Up for consideration was whether the ordinance would go into effect as approved on December 6, whether it would be modified in any of its particulars or whether, upon further contemplation, it might not be given final approval and would be therefore rescinded.
According to Davis and several of her supporters who addressed the council, the way in which the mayor and mayor pro tem have been historically chosen limits equal representation. Rather, they said, the method of mayoral selection Davis is championing ensures equity among the council members, affording four of the council’s members an opportunity to serve in the mayoral role during the span of a four-year term.
Davis asserted that other cities used the rotation scheme and that Redlands should therefore adopt it.
“I can’t emphasize enough how successful I’ve seen this be in other cities,” Davis said. “I’m confident it could be successful here if we just gave it a chance.”
She noted that on December 6, Barich had shown himself to be in favor of the rotational model.
“That’s one step forward,” Davis said, but asserted that having two-year mayoral terms was wrongheaded. “If we really want representation and to give people an opportunity, the one-year model is the model to go with.”
Barich took issue with limiting a mayor to a single one-year term and he accused Davis of orchestrating the numerous endorsements of the one-year term by inducing her supporters to lobby the council to that effect.
“Denise, with all due respect, it seems like you stacked the deck,” Barich said. “You know these people very well. I could have gotten people to call in.”
Barich said “50 or 60 people” had told him privately that they believe the current mayoral selection methodology is good. He said the residents of the city have the ability to vote for members of the city council, and the choice of who the mayor is to be is the prerogative of the city council.
“This is our say, to determine how we elect a mayor,” Barich said. “I personally think the way we have it now is fine.”
Davis responded, “It’s not fine for a multitude of reasons that have been expressed. Let’s back up ten minutes. You said you were fine with the rotation model. Is that not the case anymore?”
Barich said, “I’ll go along with the rotation, but I just don’t like the one year [term].” Barich said there was a learning curve to being mayor and it took him time to assimilate the responsibilities and duties he had as mayor.
Davis said she would reluctantly accept a two-year term if that was the only way to establish having a rotational mayor.
“I’m trying to get a compromise to get us something better than what we have right now,” she said. “There’s an unexpected, ambiguous process that we have for selecting the mayor and mayor pro tem. It’s often been biased. It’s often been based on backroom conversations. It’s a surprise to some people and it’s just not fair to the council and public. I think we all deserve a clear, transparent process for who’s next in line.”
It appeared to some that Davis was militating to get the one-year term in place to speed up her ascendancy into the mayoral post. Tejeda remarked upon that, pointing out that he had abided for the entire time he was on the council by the two-year mayoral term and that now that he was mayor, Davis was seeking to change the rules and limit the time he would be mayor to a single year.
“I was here in 2016 and served my time,” Tejeda said. “2018 came around. You were selected the mayor pro tem through that same process. We all supported that because it was something special that happened, right? There was a special moment in the history of our community, and we supported you. We said, ‘You know what? Yes. You can be the mayor pro tem.’ At that point it was either my turn or Councilmember Barich’s turn. You were arguing about the process being shady and all this other stuff. It’s not shady. There’s a reason why whatever happened today happened. We judged – all of us up here – who would be the better fit to be the mayor.”
Davis retorted, “Not all of us.”
“Is it my turn?” Tejada asked. “Yes or no? According to seniority, is it my turn?”
Begrudgingly, Davis said, “According to seniority, yes.”
“That’s what your model was based on, correct?” Tejeda asked.
“There’s a number of ways,” said Davis, “but that’s not what happened tonight.”
“It isn’t,” said Tejeda. “But you were already mayor pro tem, correct?”
“I was, but I didn’t become mayor,” responded Davis. “I’m saying this is not a good system. We can have a better system.”
Tejeda said, “Okay. So, I will divulge why I was not supportive of you being mayor, if that’s okay.”
Davis said, “I don’t think that is relevant. We’re talking about process This doesn’t need to be personal.”
“You are making it personal in that you’re shaming us for being men and having control of what’s going on up here,” Tejeda said, asserting that there was no chauvinistic male conspiracy to limit the leadership opportunities of others. “That’s not what’s happening. It’s only a question because someone is asking us to consider the question [of whether the traditional mayoral selection process is unfair]. It was a question in 2020, and I thought, ‘Okay.’ We all spoke our piece on it and then it was more shaming us for being men controlling the system. That’s what it was. And I thought, ‘Wow! Seriously?’”
Davis said, “I’m definitely not shaming anyone for being a man.”
“I feel shame for being a man, the way you were speaking,” Tejada said. “I have a right to feel that way, based on what you were saying.”
Saucedo asked, “Who will make the determination on what district this rotation starts on?”
Davis indicated she was no longer advocating that the rotation run from District 1 to District 2 to District 3 to District 4 to District 5.
“It’s not a district rotation,” she said. “It’s based on seniority, continuous years of service on the council.”
Tejeda expressed the view that Davis’s fight for inclusion favored the inclusion of one subset of society over another subset of society.
“The north side of this community has waited a long time to have a council member followed by a mayor to represent our side of town since before I was elected,” Tejeda said.
In Redlands, the north side of the city is less affluent than its south end. The north side is more heavily populated with Latinos than the other parts of the city.
“The last person to be elected from north Redlands was actually a relative of our deputy [police] chief, [Travis] Martinez, way back when,” Tejeda said. “I didn’t hear any talk about equity about the Latino community being served, how many Latinos have served on the city council. It’s always one sort of way to look at it. You can look at equity a lot of different ways. It isn’t fair for my constituency, who has always cried, ‘There are southsiders controlling our destiny in Redlands and nothing on the north side.’ That’s why I’m speaking out. It’s important for us to have that two years. If two years is good for you, I’ll support what you’ve got right here [i.e., the rotational mayor system], because that’s what everybody else has served. Councilmember Barich served two years. Before that it was other councilmembers. We’ve had, yes, three ladies who have served on the city council as mayors. One of them served three consecutive two-year terms [as mayor] because her colleagues decided she was best fit for the job. That’s how it used to work until somebody had an issue with that. I want to do this peacefully. I would hope you guys would understand where I’m coming from with this and respect the fact that our district, District 2, has not been represented. Please respect the fact that everyone else has had the opportunity to serve two years, and that is why I support that everyone who is going to serve in this capacity has two years. I can tell you that if it stays this way, your term will be next, Councilmember Davis. I’m sorry that other people feel there’s some shady business going on back there,” he said, pointing to the meeting room where the council meets in closed sessions, “but that’s just not the case. For that to be implied hurts me. I have to stay quiet, because if I open my mouth, it’s like, ‘Shame on him for saying that.’ I should be able to speak my piece and my truth. I’ve waited up here on that side of the dais for quite a long time, just like everybody else.”
Councilwoman Guzman-Lowery said she believed the rotational model offers a means of “preventing less transparent ways of making decisions. What is being referenced in terms of tonight’s feeling of being blindsided is it is evident decisions get made at prior meetings or decisions get made during phone calls and none of us are blind to that. The thing about a rotational model [is it] would create a very transparent and expected process for what comes next.”
Tejeda reiterated that the men on the council had been accused of engaging in backdoor deals, which he said was not accurate. At that point Guzman-Lowery seemed to back off from her suggestion that backroom deals had been or were being made.
“I never used the word shady,” Guzman-Lowery said, a tacit admission that Davis, who had used the term, had overstated her case.
Tejeda then pointedly illustrated his objection to Davis’s suggestion that he bear the brunt of the reform of the system she was advocating by being the first of the city’s mayors in recent memory to be limited to a one-year term. Tejeda said that he would nominate Davis to be the mayor in 2024 and “Once you become the mayor, I would vote for your yearly rotational model.”
Ultimately, the council adopted the resolution and ordinance with wording that is to specify that a new mayor be appointed in December of even-numbered years using a rotational system whereby the member of the council with the longest continuing service without having served as mayor is to be appointed mayor.
By Mark Gutglueck