‘Not our finest hour’: Sebastopol council selects leadership for 2022

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer , SoCoNews, December 9, 2021

city hall sebastopol

After a back-and-forth discussion that some people called a show of theatrics, the Sebastopol City Council ultimately selected Patrick Slayter as mayor and Neysa Hinton as vice mayor at the Dec. 7 Sebastopol City Council meeting.

Una Glass gave her final remarks as mayor and nominated her vice mayor Councilmember Sarah Glade Gurney to take her place as mayor. The nomination gained unanimous approval of the council and compliments from the public.

Newly-elected mayor Gurney then called for nominations for vice mayor and proposed that Councilmember Diana Rich step into the role. Despite nods from the community, Gurney was met with silence from the council when she sought a second on her motion and the motion failed.

The proceedings became increasingly awkward when Slayter nominated Councilmember Neysa Hinton as vice mayor. One member of the community attending spoke and objected to Hinton’s nomination, for reasons involving the electromagnetic spectrum, and a couple more attendees chimed in to support Rich as vice mayor.

Speaker Kyle Falbo questioned why the second nomination wasn’t issued when the call first went out and instead there was a whole public comment process leading up to a failed vote.

“So, let’s get done with theatrics and move on and get ourselves a vice mayor and get to the reason 75 people are here tonight,” he said, referring to the rest of the eventful agenda.

Guided by Larry McLaughlin, Sebastopol’s city manager and attorney, Gurney reopened nominations so the selections of Rich and Hinton could be discussed in the open.

Rich was not deterred from the sudden competition. “I have great respect for Neysa Hinton. Councilmember Hinton has a fabulous background and would bring and has brought, historically, many, many wonderful skills and value added to the city council,” she said.

Rich continued that she would appreciate the chance to be vice mayor alongside Gurney, “but I will of course bow to the majority decision here because I have great respect for all of my wonderful city council members, including the incredible Councilmember Hinton.”

“I feel the exact same way. I think that it’s the will of the council,” Hinton shared next. She noted this year would be her “normal rotation,” but acknowledged that Rich joined the council when the same year Hinton was re-elected. She said there were also difficult issues on the horizon and, “I feel like as I’ve completed my fifth year on the council that that could be helpful, but I yield to the colleagues.” She said she would support whoever came to fill the position.

Glass resonated with the concept of rotating leadership and “turns” on the council. “I’m really torn about this, but I felt like it is Neysa’s turn and she’s been here for already five years,” she said. “But I feel like Councilmember Rich will get her turn in the very near future, but the other thing is, I don’t know how she can slice and dice herself any thinner,” Glass said, ultimately in support of Hinton’s succession.

Gurney challenged the rotation concept. “I would like to disabuse the council of this notion of rotation. There is no such thing as rotation, as the last five years of history would demonstrate when Councilmember Slayter, Councilmember Glass and Councilmember Hinton assumed both of those roles.” She added that it wouldn’t be mathematically possible to do so given the staggered elections to join the council.

She called for a second on Hinton’s nomination and after a beat of silence and repeating the question, Glass seconded the motion. In the roll call vote to appoint Hinton as vice mayor, the council gave all ayes except Gurney and Rich.

Gurney swiftly congratulated Hinton as vice mayor and asked McLaughlin for information on the process for a motion to reconsider her own election for mayor. She confirmed with McLaughlin that she could immediately resign as mayor if she wanted.

“I do not intend to be the mayor this next year in this circumstance and someone else needs to assume that responsibility,” she said. “We will have a roll call vote on this and if I do not succeed, I will resign.”

All voted to reconsider her mayorship, with Hinton’s vote as the only vote against it. Back to mayoral nominations, there was a moment of silence before Gurney nominated Slayter, seconded by Hinton with no other proposed candidates.

“This is theatrics beyond which I’ve ever experienced in all the years I’ve been mayor and I have to do what I’m doing for my own success next year and this city’s success next year. And I wish my successor good luck. I don’t want to be the leader when I don’t have the confidence of this group to select a vice mayor. Otherwise, I think it would have been a fine year,” Gurney said.

When Rich asked if anyone asked Slayter if he would be willing to take the role, Gurney replied that he had the opportunity to speak but didn’t. One by one, each council member voted to elect him.

“This is really, really awkward and really, really uncomfortable and not at all collaborative. I guess I’m going to say yes,” said Rich.

Slayter gained full approval of the council except his own vote of dissent. “Congratulations, Patrick, you are the next mayor by the vote of this body, so you get to handle the meeting from here on out,” Gurney said. “Best wishes.”

Slayter unceremoniously took on from there to the next step, in which City Clerk and Assistant City Manager Mary Gourley presented a plaque for outgoing mayor Glass recognizing her public service.

“This is not our finest hour in any way. It leaves me feeling pretty sour. But we have a lot of work ahead of us. This is going to be quite a year — starting tonight, starting last week, starting a couple of meetings before that,” Slayter said in his opening remarks as the incoming mayor. “The position of mayor is someone who runs the meetings, who signs the letters, who sets the tone. And I’d like to set a tone of professionalism, of collaboration and honestly, we’re looking to set a council retreat and given the occurrences of the last half hour, I think we have some things to talk about.”

Patrick Slayter is Sebastopol’s new mayor. Neysa Hinton is the new vice mayor.

This article was produced by SoCoNews. See more news at soconews.org