Auburn council breaks tradition, votes Kevin Hanley as mayor

Mike Holmes would have been the traditional candidate
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Kevin Hanley’s election as Auburn’s mayor goes against tradition, but the City Council decided in a 4-1 vote Monday that it’s best for the city for him to remain in the seat he has held for the past six months.

Hanley said he was surprised – so, too, did Councilman Mike Holmes, who would have been the mayor according to tradition.

It’s an unusual situation, as Hanley becomes the first Auburn mayor to serve back-to-back terms since James Jacobs held the role from 1956-60, according to records kept by the city clerk’s office. Auburn tradition dictates that the top two vote-getters in a City Council race are next in line to become the city’s mayor, but state law ultimately leaves the decision in the hands of the council.

Hanley began his term when Keith Nesbitt handed him the reins in May, forgoing the second half of his mayoral term in favor of giving Hanley the chance to serve the role he had yet to take on despite serving almost 10 years on council, he said. He finished third behind Mike Holmes and Bridget Powers in 2010 and 2006, and behind Alice Dowdin and Holmes in 2002.

“I think it’s pretty rare, and I was of course very grateful for Keith to give me the opportunity,” Hanley said. “I was satisfied, either way, no matter what happened last night.”

The mayor’s vote is equal to that of any other city councilmember, and it is largely a ceremonial role, but it does come with the power to appoint members to 31 different committees, commissions and task forces, which Hanley said will be one of his first orders of business.

In his speech Monday, Hanley stressed the importance of teamwork in navigating the challenges the city will face in 2013, with cutbacks in state and federal funding at the heart of it.

“We really have to be open-minded, creative and determined,” he said.

Holmes, who received the most votes in the 2010 council election, voted against Hanley being mayor, and said he was “disappointed” to not receive a nomination.

Technically, he could have nominated himself, but he said that would have gone against tradition.

“It was a surprise to everybody in the room, basically,” Holmes said. “Several people have suggested to me that in order to do that there may have been a violation of the Brown Act.

“… It appeared that this was orchestrated by more than two people. But, I don’t have any real evidence to demonstrate that. But, as I said, several people have suggested that to me.”

A violation of the Brown Act would occur if more than two council members discussed council business outside of a regular meeting, Hanley said.

Councilman Dr. Bill Kirby, who nominated Hanley for mayor, said the idea the Brown Act had been violated is “unadulterated nonsense.” He said he waited for someone to make a nomination, and after a period of “dead silence” he raised Hanley for consideration. Kirby said he didn’t even have prepared remarks to nominate Hanley.

“We’ve all been annoyed with (Holmes) over the months, yes, but did I know what was going to happen that night? No,” Kirby said. “I could probably count votes – he didn’t have enough votes, just by looking around.”

Kirby said he liked how Hanley has run the meetings and represented council to the public in the past six months.

Kirby said he lacked that same confidence in Holmes, saying he sometimes overstepped his bounds.

“I’m directly aware of a number on instances, and I know there are other council people that are too, where he has directly, in my opinion, interfered with employees and their responsibilities in a matter that is not allowed by city council people. It is only allowed by the city manager,” Kirby said, declining to elaborate due to it being a personnel issue.

Holmes acknowledges he has “worked more closely with some employees than others,” but also that he has “virtually always” included the city manager in those discussions, either by email or other communication.

“There were several occasions when I apologized to my colleagues on the City Council for going beyond where they thought that I should go,” he said. “If they can’t accept that, then that’s – this was some time ago and it hasn’t happened in the most recent past.”

Councilman Keith Nesbitt seconded Kirby’s motion. Kirby and Nesbitt were sworn in to their new four-year terms Monday, as was City Clerk Stephanie Snyder.

Powers also was sworn in as mayor pro tem by Judge Charles Wachob.

“Kevin has done an excellent job over the last six months,” she said. “I look forward to working with him and all the rest of the council members for the next year.”

Was she surprised by the break in mayoral tradition?

“I’m not surprised by a lot of things that have been happening at our City Council meetings,” Powers said.


Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews