The Emeryville City Council convened on Monday via zoom for one of their final meetings of 2022. It was also the final meeting for Councilmembers Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue who both finished off their second four year terms.
Emeryville has been slow to reinstitute in-person or some form of hybrid council meetings. A format that would allow citizen input by the vast majority of people, particularly parents, who lack the time and resources to attend evening meeting that often run over four hours.
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced plans to officially end the COVID-19 State of Emergency on February 28, 2023. This legislation contains provisions that allow for remote meeting teleconferencing under a modified version of the Brown Act until this date.
Some cities are moving toward a “hybrid” approach that allows speakers to participate both remotely and in-person.
Kalimah Priforce & David Mourra Officially Sworn in [2:14:00]
The city officially certified the results of the City Council Election acknowledging the victories of Kalimah Priforce & David Mourra. Priforce and Mourra won a fairly tight five-candidate race for two open seats.
Priforce jumped out to an early lead on election day and never looked back. Mourra maintained a slim lead over Sukhdeep Kaur and Brooke Westling that gradually expanded with each update on the Alameda County Elections website. The final tally had Mourra over Westling by 167 votes.
Emeryville has 6,904 registered voter with nearly 70% of these registered as Democrats.
Mourra was sworn in by new City Clerk April Richardson. Priforce was sworn in by his godmother Cathie Wright-Lewis who was deputized to perform the ceremony and joined remotely from Brooklyn, NY.
Wright-Lewis read a heartfelt poem acknowledging the odds Priforce overcame to achieve the stature of an elected official. “Made of Brooklyn grit and a Haitian heart of gold, what true kings are made of you’ve always been told”
Priforce expressed appreciation to his family from the east coast who stayed up past midnight to observe and participate in the ceremony.
Bauters’ Re-Appointment as Mayor Stirs Controversy [2:27:44]
Mourra and Priforce’s first official order of business was to appoint a member of council to a one-year term as Mayor.
Like many smaller cities, Emeryville appoints its Mayor from among its councilmembers and generally rotates the position among them annually. The role of Mayor does not have any additional voting power but the position comes with additional public obligations and time-commitments.
Bauters initially nominated councilmember Ally Medina who was serving as Vice-Mayor but Medina declined citing professional obligations (Medina previously served a one-year term as Mayor in 2019). Medina in turn nominated Bauters who does not have to juggle the career and family obligations of the other councilmembers. The motion was seconded by newly sworn-in councilmember David Mourra.
Serving back-to-back terms as Mayor is unprecedented in recent decades. Notable council-watcher Betsy Cooley implied that she was unfamiliar with this happening in her 35 years of observing city politics. A span that goes back to legendary Councilmember Nora Davis’ first term in 1987. “We’ve had a rotating mayor for the entire time I’ve been here,” Cooley Noted. “But there have always been exceptions.”
Another member of the public utilized public comment to voice opposition to Bauters’ second term. While on mute, Medina began demonstrably laughing and making gestures apparently mocking the anonymous but well-known speaker [2:31:10].
The following speaker called Medina out for her lack of professionalism. “I’m just kind of concerned why the public isn’t involved in this decision,” noted th speaker who identified herself as Yolanda Harris. “Is this a real business meeting? Are you all friends? I mean, how are you all operating this because this is my first time in your [govt.] body but I’m looking at all your facial expressions your body languages your comments your accolades throughout this whole process … this is serious and we’re the public why the public isn’t speaking. Where is the voice of the people? I know you all like each other you probably know each other work well but we are talking about how we serve the people the public and I just feel that the public should have a say to how you are switching these roles around like this. You all are elected officials … and adults. Adults!” she reiterated.
Welch stepped in to try to reason that the people were indeed given a choice for Mayor. “The public did get a vote when they elected us,” she attempted to justify. Welch’s statement is inaccurate as Bauters and Medina were both appointed to their second term in 2020 when no challengers opted to file. Welch was elected last year in a Special Election after Christian Patz departed Emeryville for a job opportunity.
Welch is a relatively newcomer to the city and to council and likely unfamiliar with its recent history. This is likely a contributor to her not being elevated to the role of mayorship.
“People are upset. It doesn’t feel right. It seems like this decision was made prior to this meeting.”
— Councilmember Kalimah Priforce
“I’m getting tons of messages,” Priforce spoke out when called upon. “People are upset. It doesn’t feel right. It seems like this decision was made prior to this meeting.” Priforce likened Bauters to a little-league player not wanting to give up the baseball bat after striking out. “You have to give others a chance to play.”
Bauters in fact screened the possibility of a second, back-to-back term in an earlier Bay Area Reporter story noting “Not everyone can or wants to do it for family or job reasons.”
Orchestrating acts such as this outside the purview of the public is a Brown Act Violation as it erodes public trust in local institutions.
Medina fired back in an emotion laden response [2:47:42]. “I find it somewhat offensive to have a man tell me that it’s really all about Mayor Bauters’ ethics and morals. This a political decision that I after six years of serving an office have made with my judgment as what is best for the people of Emeryville.” Medina then called out Priforce for enlisting allies outside of Emeryville (Yolanda Harris identified herself as a SF resident in a prior public comment). “Be well aware that with a simple public records act request we can look at all of your text messages and confirm who is and who is not from Emeryville,” she chided.
A subsequent unanimous vote reaffirmed the initial motion with Priforce ultimately voting “aye.” Welch was elevated to Vice Mayor which would put her in line to be mayor next year based on the city’s unwritten but “traditional” protocols.
Bauters has dominated Emeryville Politics for years and his fellow councilmembers have mostly sheepishly followed along with whatever initiatives he proposes. It appears the city might actually see an occasional dissenting voice which has been lacking on council since 2016.
Notes & updates: We’ve added a direct quote from B. Cooley above to provide clarity to her public comment.
After conferring with the Emeryville City Clerk, the last time a councilmember served back-to-back 1-year terms as Mayor was in 1997-1998 (Ken Bukowski).