AVALON — This island town has a new mayor this week, but the dispute over the selection process for the city's ceremonial leader continues.
George Scott, who served as mayor from 1980 to 1982, was the surprise choice for a one-year term and will replace Gilbert Saldana. The 3-2 vote at Monday night's council meeting came on just the second ballot after all five council members were nominated, three by themselves.
Before nominations were taken, the council unanimously agreed to rescind a policy adopted last year that was supposed to eliminate disputes over which council members were eligible for the mayor's job. Instead, the policy had been interpreted differently by each council member.
The policy in question read: "A member of the 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 rotation order. In the case of multiple new members, their order will be determined by the election total."
Part-time City Atty. Michael Jenkins, who wrote the policy but was not asked to explain it at the meeting, said that if the policy had been followed, outgoing Mayor Pro Tem Irene Strobel would have become mayor.
The method of selecting the mayor may end up being decided by the voters. Councilman Hugh T. (Bud) Smith, who presented a petition with more than 250 signatures supporting him for mayor, said that if the council does not put the issue on the ballot, he will try to put an initiative on the ballot calling for direct election by voters.
Signatures of 10% of the city's 1,685 registered voters would be needed by Dec. 10 to qualify the initiative for the April, 1986, municipal election, according to City Clerk Shirley Davy.
If a direct election for mayor were held, Smith and other officials said, it is not certain when it would be held or how long the mayor's term would be. The term had been two years until last year, when Saldana was reappointed for one year as a compromise candidate because neither of the two front-runners could get three votes.
Meanwhile, the selection of mayor was like a highly touted boxing match that goes only two rounds.
With no policy to direct them, the council members moved ahead and all five were nominated. First, Strobel nominated Smith, then Scott nominated himself, and Councilman W. F. (Oley) Olsen nominated himself. Strobel then nominated herself and--so incumbent Saldana wouldn't feel left out--Smith nominated him.
After the laughter from the audience subsided--the meeting had been moved from City Hall to a school auditorium because of the large crowd--the roll call for Smith began.
He got only two yea votes, his and Strobel's.
Then the roll call began for Scott. The vote was 2-2, with Smith joining Scott. Just as the crowd of about 60 was settling in for what was expected to be a long night, Saldana, in a surprise move, gave Scott the third vote he needed.
Saldana jumped up, embraced Scott and handed over the gavel and middle seat.
After thanking the audience for its support, Saldana tried to explain his vote: "It's a tough battle and a frustrating situation. Everybody wants this job. But you end up voting for who you think represents you well."
Saldana was unanimously selected mayor pro tem, to serve in Scott's absence.
After the meeting Saldana said he had told Smith he would not support him, primarily because of Smith's attempts to put the matter on the ballot, but said he would support whomever Smith did.
Saldana said he did not come into the meeting intending to vote for Scott, but when Smith cast his vote, Saldana followed.
Smith later said he realized before the meeting that he did not have three votes and thought Scott or Saldana were the only ones who could get three.
Scott, 54, a newspaper distributor who has been on the council since 1972, diplomatically said later, "This is the best council I have ever worked with. Everyone on the council is working on a project. They think independently. No one is sitting on anyone else's lap. We disagree, but then we brush it off and go have a drink together."
Scott, who normally attends council meetings coatless with an open-collar shirt and can be seen along Front Street wearing a cowboy hat, presented a more formal image the night of the election. He said he had worn a tie to the meeting because "when you're mayor you should."