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By Tammye McDuff
On December 13th Downey City Council made their selections for Mayor [Fernando Vasquez] and Mayor Pro Tem [Alex Saab] for 2017. This decision was voted on with no public comments or discussions. As the Council has done in the past, there is a set rotation of council members, giving each person a turn as mayor pro tem and as mayor. This has been a matter of routine, but not mandated in the City Charter.
Councilman Sean Ashton was passed over for his ‘turn’ as Mayor Pro Tem, he felt this was a violation of the Brown Act and filed suit. Since that time City Hall has received 72 letters demanding the new positions of Mayor and Mayor ProTem be rescinded. At their last meeting for 2016 the item was set before the Council once again.
Many residents from the cities of Downey and Bellflower were in attendance. One Downey residents says she was heartbroken that the natural order of the rotating schedule was not adhered to. Resident Art Montoya added, “We were left in shock as we watched what happened. The interaction that I have had with Mr. Ashton has always been positive and helpful. He holds multiple town hall meetings, is very personable and easy to connect with. He deserves the change to prove himself as Mayor Pro Tem.”
One visiting Bellflower resident called the actions of Downey Council shady,” This stinks of old fashioned back door deals and private handshakes about who can and cannot be mayor or pro tem. I can’t call you honorable because of possible funny business going on behind the scenes. It appears that some shenanigans have gone on behind closed doors. There should be an iron clad rule on rotation where common sense dictates each councilmember be treated fairly. No member should hold the high seat twice, when not everyone has had their opportunity on rotation.” He went on to say the decision reeked of collusion and incompetence with the City Council being a septic tank … where the big chunks rise to the top.
Kimberly Hayes is a long time Downey resident and has known the Ashton family for years, “I have known the Ashton’s years, our children have gone to school together. Sean is a stand up guy and is always there to lend a hand. I am upset that not only does it appear this Council passed him over, but by doing so you have passed over all those residents in District Two.” Hayes continued stating by bouncing the ‘Mayorship’ between two people, is playing the ‘good old boys club’ game.
“Rarely do politically bodies have the opportunity for a second chance,” says Bryan Hayman, resident from District One, “This council has the chance to do the right thing. Just the past year we had the scandal of Councilman Marquez and here is the beginning of yet another one. But was shocked when I read that this action had taken place denying Mr. Ashton a chance at Mayor Pro Tem.”
Hayman goes on to say that it was more than petty politics, but rather political cunning by a former Councilman that continues to pull the strings in this city and with each of the council members. Hayman noted an ad that was taken out in the Downey Patriot. This ad had the City Seal in the middle and was surrounded with business cards from all four of Council members except for Ashton’s. “As I understood it Mr. Ashton could not afford to have his business card in placed in the ad, so in his place a card from a former councilman was placed! The gall of this individual is appalling.”
Finally after public discussion was finished, a motion was made by Mayor Fernando Vasquez to resend the nomination of Alex Saab as Mayor Pro Tem. Saab said “I hope that everyone was able to view the video from the December 13th meeting. Everyone was given the opportunity to make motions or discuss but no one brought it up. I do take great offense when someone says that we have violated the Brown Act. There was no collusion or violation. There has been a concern with the lack of confidence in Mr. Ashton’s ability to understand the complexities of city hall. No one doubts his commitment to the city. I am going to make the motion that Ashton be Pro Tem and hope that he does a good job. We want to move forward into 2017. We all voted to do what was best for our residents.”
Ashton thanked Saab for his comments and clarified that he did not have opposition with being passed over. When he began question the actions taken was when former Mayor and Council Mario Guerra had placed a public comment on Facebook applauding the nomination of Saab and Vasquez, stating:
“I am also excited to see the first vote by our new council working together was to elect Fernando Vasquez as our new Mayor and Alex Saab as our Mayor Pro Tem. Alex did an amazing job as Mayor this year and our city is best served with those who commit and honor their office. This is great news for Downey. We are in great hands and our future is bright. Congrats are warranted to our great City of Downey.”
Ashton explained when two people talk about anything that could be on the Council agenda, that is not a violation, however when a third person is involved it becomes a violation, constituting a majority of Council. He concluded by stating that if the Council questioned his abilities then, he was open to discussing the issue. Sean Ashton was nominated as Mayor Pro Tem with a unanimous vote.