After six hours and 78 rounds of voting for the next mayor pro tem, Westminster City Council concluded its May 10 meeting the next morning at 1 a.m., after Councilor David DeMott received just enough votes for the number two spot on council.
The battle for mayor pro tem followed the swearing in of Westminster's new mayor, Anita Seitz, who took up the mantle after former Mayor Herb Atchison unexpectedly resigned from his post May 5. Atchison's departure left an even split on council, leading to the seemingly endless meeting that began on May 10 and ended May 11 and which exposed deep local political divisions.
There have been alliances on council among Atchison, Seitz and Councilors Kathryn Skulley and Jon Voelz and, on the other side, DeMott and Councilors Rich Seymour and Lindsey Smith. Atchison, Seitz, Skulley and Voelz were the target of a recall campaign, with recall organizers citing the four councilors' support for existing water rates. DeMott, Seymour and Smith have advocated for lowering water rates, garnering them support from the Westminster Water Warriors, the recall group.
A recent recounting of recall petitions found enough valid signatures to trigger recall elections for Atchison and Voelz. Atchison resigned soon after, resulting in the appointment of Seitz, who was Atchison's mayor pro tem.
Right before taking the oath as mayor at the May 10 meeting, Seitz addressed the polarization head on. “We are all living through a time of pronounced division at the national level, and even here in Westminster,” she said. “I recognize that my colleagues are my equals and that together, we have the ability and the responsibility to put the needs of the city before our own.” What followed that speech, though, was very different.
When it came time for council to select a new mayor pro tem, the first vote tally was three votes for Seymour and three for DeMott. Rounds two through nine followed suit, prompting council to discuss who they were voting for and why, even though the ballots were anonymous. DeMott, Smith and Seymour revealed they were voting for DeMott, while Seitz, Skulley and Voelz were voting for Seymour. That sent a couple messages: Seymour was going to stick with DeMott and Smith, even if that meant voting against himself, and that Seitz, Skulley and Voelz would avoid voting for DeMott at all costs.
The divisions between Seitz, Skulley and Voelz with DeMott are multi-faceted, from their differences around water rates and thus, the recall campaign and what it represents, to the perception that DeMott has a contentious relationship with some city staff, including with City Manager Don Tripp.
Since the mayor pro tem steps in when the mayor is absent, Seitz said to DeMott at one point in the meeting, “In that role, when you would be filling in as the mayor, as the spokesperson for the city, you would have to be willing to tamp down your personal opinions and speak for the voice of the majority of council.”
DeMott acknowledged that he disagrees with Seitz, Skulley and Voelz, and city staff on certain issues, but that wouldn't impede his duties as mayor pro tem. However, the other three weren't persuaded, and they continued voting any which way except for DeMott. In addition to all three voting for Seymour, there were also combinations of two votes for Seymour and one for Skulley, one vote for Seymour and two for Skulley, and three votes for Skulley. It wasn't enough to break the stalemate, though. DeMott, Seymour and Smith made it clear they would not budge.
On several occasions, DeMott criticized the other three councilors' recalcitrance, invoking Seitz's speech at the beginning of the meeting. “So, telling me you want to unify the council and the only way to do that is for me not to have mayor pro tem … it doesn't make sense,” he said.
Throughout the meeting, council paused voting for mayor pro tem several times to take care of other business. Eventually, after about three cumulative hours of voting, DeMott received four votes in the 78th round.
Unenthusiastically, Seitz said, “Congratulations, Councilor DeMott.” The person who, in that meeting and in previous ones, has disagreed the most with Seitz will now be her deputy.
The battle for mayor pro tem was both a culmination of existing, intensifying divisions in town, and a foreshadowing of what may come. The May 10 meeting started with public comments from 10 residents criticizing Atchison's swift resignation and Seitz's speedy appointment, a sentiment that Smith would echo later in the meeting. The divisions in the community are also on council, and a forthcoming recall election in July and municipal election in November won't make it any easier to quell.
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