There was no drama, no alternate strategies and in the end, it was no contest.
By unanimous vote, Tony Beall was elected by the newly elected City Council as the mayor of Rancho Santa Margarita.
There was no other candidate to even consider for mayor in the Wednesday night meeting. Not surprisingly, Carol Gamble made the motion that Beall continue in his role as mayor, citing his receiving the highest number of votes in city history in last month’s general election.
The position of mayor is annually selected by the council. Until last year, no councilmember has ever served consecutive terms. Now, Beall is on his third.
Beall, Gamble and Brad McGirr were elected to the council, with McGirr being the only first-timer in the group.
The second for Beall’s return as mayor came from a surprising end of the dais: Jesse Petrilla.
"Our city is doing fine and there's no need to change things up," said Petrilla.
Petrilla, who has challenged Beall on the dais previously, had endorsed Kenney Hrabik in the recent election, and Hrabik was an ardent critic of Beall’s. Hrabik collected 21.2 percent of the vote (6,121 votes) to Beall's 45 percent (13,011).
Following his selection, Beall said he would like to “return the favor” to Gamble and suggested she be the new mayor pro tempore. Gamble was the city’s first mayor pro tem in 2000, after the incorporation of Rancho Santa Margarita as a city.
Gamble was approved, 5-0. Traditionally, the mayor pro tem serves a year and becomes mayor the following year, and until 2011, no one had served consecutive years as mayor.
Baric, elected two years ago with Petrilla, has been the mayor pro tem the past year. He appeared unmoved by the result.
"I’m willing to serve in any way my colleagues want me to serve," Baric said afterward. "Tony’s done a great job and having continuity in that position works out great. Carol brings a lot of experience to being mayor pro tem, so I think it’s great. I’m happy to serve in any capacity."
Although choosing the two top positions on the council took virtually no time at all, there were some speed bumps when it came to approving each council member's appointee to the Planning Commission—which involves approving permits for businesses to come to Rancho Santa Margarita, businesses that want to expand their operations, and dealing with various traffic-related issues.
For an appointee to be overturned, there needed to be a four-fifths vote of opposition. There were two votes of nonsupport to appointees by Beall and Baric.
Beall appointed businesswoman April Josephson and Baric reappointed his current commissioner, Peter Whittingham, to the two-year term.
It was Beall who raised initial opposition to Whittingham, citing his involvement with Hrabik in the Voters Bill of Rights fiasco. Whittingham and Hrabik circulated emails—and eventually spoke before the council—citing the city's poor business environment based on a national study, although RSM was never included in the study that laid the foundation for their premise. The duo touted six items in a petition but none of them actually addressed business in Rancho Santa Margarita.
The voters' "rights" ranged from the legitimate—term limits and the removal of councilmember benefits—to the silly, such as publishing on the front page of the city website the official photo of every council member in city history and what they were paid. It also included the absurd—up to seven days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine for violating any portion of the document.
"There were a lot of statements and actions taken by this planning commissioner in conjunction with another individual based on statements that were not true, that did damage to our city and to our business community and I cannot in good faith support this nomination and I urge everyone to reject it," Beall said in his objection to Whittingham.
Baric then explained his position in nominating Whittingham for a second two-year term.
"I thought long and hard about what was said within the contents of the email and I had a number of discussions with the mayor about them and I didn’t agree with them and I talked to Mr. Whittingham about it," Baric said. "And I also thought about whether or not I would appoint him for a second term. Then I thought about the first freedom in the Bill of Rights, the freedom of speech—the freedom to air your opinions—and to punish Mr. Whittingham for what amounted to his opinions whether they were right or wrong in the eyes of the mayor or anyone else is something I had to move beyond.
"So I had to look at Mr. Whittingham's record on the Planning Commission, had he done anything that was unbecoming or unprofessional as a commissioner or unprofessional? He served the last year as a chairman of the Planning Commisison, he brings a lot of experience to the position. I’ve talked to him about his comments on a number of occasions. I’m confident he’ll serve and focus on the business of the Planning Commission rather than anything else, and that’s why I brought him forward and nominated him."
Coincidentally, McGirr criticized Whittingham at the subsequent Planning Commission meeting. But when it came time to object to Whittingham's appointment to the commission, only Beall and Gamble voted against the appointment.
When the vote for Josephson came up, Petrilla and Baric both said they were abstaining.
The other planning commissioners will be:
- Michael Vaughn, the choice of McGirr.
- Mark McQuaid, the choice of Gamble.
- Kent Hayden, the choice of Petrilla.
McQuaid, an electrical engineer, was Gamble's appointment on the very first planning commission. Vaughn serves as general counsel for Applied Medical. Hayden, a businessman, has been on the commission the past two years.