DOWNEY – It’s official: Council member Sean Ashton will serve as Downey’s mayor pro tem for 2017.
Things have been seemingly uneasy within the city since the council’s original vote to appoint Alex Saab mayor pro tem for the upcoming year during the mayoral transition ceremony that took place Dec. 13.
During the original vote, Saab – who has served as Downey’s mayor over the last year - nominated himself to once again take the reigns as the upcoming mayor pro tem. Saab’s motion was followed by a quick second by new council member Rick Rodriguez, who had been sworn in just moments prior.
Traditionally, the positions of mayor and mayor pro tem have rotated on a yearly basis. The mayor pro tem – who fills in for the mayor when he or she is unable to fulfill their duty for any reason –usually takes over as mayor the next year, though there have been some exceptions.
To this point council member Ashton has not had the opportunity to serve in either capacity since being elected in November of 2014.
On Dec. 13, Ashton also took the opportunity to nominate himself moments after Saab’s nomination; however, this went by the wayside as there was no second to support Ashton’s move.
Saab’s motion passed unanimously in a 4-0-1 vote with little to no discussion – and no opportunity for public comment – with Ashton abstaining.
The decision drew some backslash from the community, as some felt that Ashton had been snubbed for reasons that the council may have been withholding.
The already tense situation only intensified in the following days, as Ashton publically announced that he had filed a complaint with the city over what he alleged were two Brown Act Violations, and threatened to sue the City of Downey.
Saab and the council quickly responded, denying any Brown Act Violations and moving to address the issue at what would become Tuesday’s meeting.
Tuesday’s council meeting could easily be described as awkward as council members proceeded normally with agenda items before addressing the elephant in the room.
Ashton found a host of support in the form of several community members who spoke up for the councilman during public hearing, hailing from within and outside of his district.
When it came time for council to address the Mayor Pro Tem position, Saab made the first remarks.
“I hope all of you were able to see, to have the opportunity to view the video of the events of December 13th before jumping to any conclusions,” said Saab. “If you saw the video, you’ll see that on numerous occasions the council was given the opportunity [to] ask questions and no motion was made….”
Saab then said that he made the motion to move the meeting along before turning his attention to Ashton’s accusations.
“I do take great offense when someone makes allegations that we somehow violated the Brown Act, which I think most people don’t know the gist of the Brown act; what it is.
"There was no collusion. There was no violation. It’s just simply false.”
However, Saab also went on to say that he would be making a motion to appoint Ashton as the next mayor pro tem, despite any prior concerns.
“There has been a concern for lack of confidence for Mr. Ashton’s abilities to understand some of the basic complexities at city hall,” said Saab. “I think that the mere accusation of the Brown Act against us really reflects that because it’s just not true. It couldn’t have been further from the truth…some of the information that’s been dispelled that have been incorrect, not the greatest of ability to work with others, and there has also been some situations where I think that there was just a lack of basic understanding of some very important issues in our city which frankly I think he went the wrong way.”
Saab went on to give Ashton the nomination despite his list of concerns in an attempt to move forward, saying that he hoped that Ashton does a good job because, “Obviously we’re all here to further the best interest of our city.”
Ashton responded, saying he appreciated Saab’s comments, and that he enjoyed working with the past council and looks forward to working with the new council.
“Just to clarify where I was coming from, I don’t have a problem with you passing me up…what bothered me was that no one said anything,” said Ashton.
Ashton also clarified his Brown Act accusations.
“When two people on this council talk about anything that could be on the agenda, that’s not a Brown Act violation. You were allowed to do that,” said Ashton. “But as soon as a third person gets involved, then that becomes a Brown Act violation because then you have a majority of the council that can talk about an issue before it gets to public comment and make a decision.”
Ashton went on to apologize for “bringing this up,” but that he felt that “something needed to be done.”
“Passing me over, that’s one thing. I’ve got my big boy pants on, that’s no big deal,” said Ashton. “But the way it was done I thought was disrespectful to not me, but to the citizens of Downey…if you have issues with me being in a position that I am as far as my ability to be mayor pro tem or mayor, I would like to know what they are.
"I would love to be able to talk to you guys just to make sure that we’re all on the same page, because we do need to move forward.”
The motion to appoint Ashton as Mayor Pro Tem was made by Saab and seconded by council member Rodriguez, and was passed unanimously with a 5-0 vote.