AVALON — When the Gabrielino Indians lived on Santa Catalina Island, warriors who wanted to become chief had a contest--usually to the death--to determine who should become the leader.
There are no more Gabrielinos in Avalon, but there are still too many Indians who want to be chief.
On May 6 City Council members will appoint one of their own as mayor, but first they will have to agree on the meaning of a policy adopted last June because of past disputes involving mayoral succession. The only agreement so far is that the policy is vague, at best.
All five council members, including Mayor Gilbert Saldana, say they wouldn't mind having the job that pays only $100 a month. And there are five different interpretations offered on how the new mayor should be selected.
Attorney to Explain
Part-time City Atty. Michael Jenkins, who said he has not reviewed the policy since it was written, said he will be at the May 6 meeting to try to explain its meaning.
"Basically, it is up in the air as to who should be mayor," said Councilman W. F. (Oley) Olsen, who diplomatically says, "If the council so nominates me I will be happy to serve."
The policy reads:
"The member of council nominated for mayor pro tem shall be that member who has served the longest as a council member since last being mayor, or who has served the longest and not been mayor. The incumbent mayor pro tem shall be nominated for mayor.
"New council members shall be placed ahead of the mayor serving at the time of election in the rotation order. In the case of multiple new members, their order will be determined by the election total."
Irene Strobel, the current mayor pro tem, said that under the policy she should be appointed mayor.
'No Grand Illusions'
"It would be nice to be mayor, no doubt about it," said Strobel, who would become Avalon's first woman mayor if appointed. "But I have no grand illusions that I am going to walk in easily."
However, other council members said the policy does not apply to the current office holders because it was adopted after the appointments were made.
Under that thinking, Olsen said he should be appointed.
Olsen was elected in 1982 and has never been mayor. "I think whoever comes up with three votes will become mayor," he said. "If the council wants to ignore the policy, it's a very simple thing to do. We do it all the time."
Councilman George Scott, who has been in office since 1972 and served as mayor from 1980 to 1982, said he could be appointed because he has served the longest on the council since last being mayor.
'It Can Be Anybody'
"I'd like to be mayor," he said. "The policy is so vague, it can be anybody."
Scott also downplayed a recent petition with more than 150 signatures pushing Councilman Hugh T. (Bud) Smith for mayor. Scott said a petition with 400 signatures asking that he be appointed mayor in 1972, when he was the top vote-getter, was ignored.
Smith said he, too, would like to be mayor, and that the voters should elect the mayor. But he said he doesn't see that happening because the council wants to keep that power.
"It's the greed of the individual council members who each want to be mayor for at least a year," he said. Smith said he is also in favor of two-year terms for mayor.
It was Smith's election in last year's municipal election--when Saldana and Scott were also reelected--that renewed the controversy over how the mayor is appointed. Smith had served on the council from 1974 to 1982, and was mayor from 1978 to 1980.
Saldana a Compromise
Smith received the most votes (677) of the three candidates in the April election and some voters felt he should have been appointed mayor then. Other candidates emerged, and as a compromise, Saldana, who had just completed a two-year term, was reappointed mayor for another year.
After that, the City Council decided to adopt its policy that was suppose to eliminate future controversy over who should be mayor.
Quintin Leonhardi, an unsuccessful council candidate last year who circulated the petition to get Smith appointed mayor, warned the council not to ignore the wishes of the voters.
"The voters of Avalon made it adequately clear the high esteem they hold for Mr. Bud Smith," Leonhardi said in a letter accompanying the petition. "It was obvious had the voters been allowed to select our mayor, Mr. Smith would have been elected hands down.
"Do not repeat the mistake made April 17, 1984, when you decided to rule rather than serve the people of Avalon, as per your campaign promises, and elected Gilbert Saldana as mayor."
25% of Voters Signed
Leonhardi said he does not yet know what action he would take if the council does not appoint Smith, but he said his petition represents 25% of the people who vote.
Meanwhile, Saldana--who made national headlines three years ago as the "boy mayor" when at the age of 23 he was the youngest mayor in the country--sits quietly, privately hoping that he will again emerge as the compromise choice.
"If the job is offerred, sure, I'll take it," he said. "Anybody that is on the council has the ability to become mayor.
"I've been a compromise the last two years. I don't feel I've done that bad a job. I've been able to communicate with all the members of the council. But if I was elected one more year, then that would be it. That would be four years. I don't think I would want to go beyond that."