City Council elects Tom Rouse as new mayor

To the surprise of no one, City Council member Tom Rouse was nominated and unanimously approved as the new mayor of Sonoma Monday night, and David Cook, completing his first year as a council member, was elected mayor pro tem.

That, notwithstanding the voiced objection of Councilmember Steve Barbose, who had earlier called on outgoing mayor Ken Brown to recuse himself from a vote Barbose insisted was tainted by Brown’s Nov. 16 announcement at a Sonoma Valley Hospital celebration, that Rouse and Cook would soon assume their mayoral duties.

Barbose, the only council member not present at the hospital event, objected at the next council meeting on Nov. 18 that Brown had violated the Brown Act by stating an opinion as a matter of fact, suggesting that the necessary deliberation to choose a new mayor had already taken place outside public purview.

Had that been the case, it would have constituted a violation of the Ralph A. Brown Open Meeting Law, which prohibits a group of legislators or public decision makers, constituting a majority of the body, from holding policy discussions outside a public meeting.

City Attorney Jeff Walter, however, responded to a City Council query that he did not believe Brown’s comments represented a Brown Act violation, and Brown himself insisted his words were innocently exuberant and that he had talked to no other council member about the issue before hand.

Barbose was not convinced, and he repeated his call for Brown to recuse himself during an interview after the Nov. 18 meeting. But during the Dec. 2 council reorganization, Barbose raised no objection when David Cook nominated Rouse and Brown participated in the unanimous vote of approval.

Following the vote, Rouse’s wife, Michelle, one of numerous family members and friends who came to witness the passing of the gavel, rose to the podium to tell her husband, “I’m very proud of you right now. I think you’ll make a wonderful mayor.”

Rouse then thanked his fellow council members “for entrusting me with this gavel for 2014,” and explained that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all served on city councils, one going on to serve as mayor and another becoming a county supervisor.

To the audience, Rouse reviewed the difficult days while the city confronted the economic downturn and experienced the political convulsion of Measure B. But, he said, “Let’s look toward the positive. We as a city have not had to compromise at all,” a reference to the city’s robust fiscal health as other cities have struggled with deficits and layoffs.

He told the community, “Get involved, be positive, join a commission. Come back together and move on.”

He urged the council to “be more efficient” with “shorter comments” and even suggested, when there are limited agendas for council meetings, some meetings might be eliminated. “If we don’t need to have a meeting, let’s not have it.”

Rouse recognized friends from as far away as Orlando, Fla., thanked his “former bosses” in the audience, and recognized the supportive relationship he has had with out-going mayor Ken Brown who, he said, “in the eyes of many in this community is mayor for life.”

With comments completed, Rouse then opened the meeting to nominations for mayor pro tem and, after a brief awkward pause, Barbose nominated Laurie Gallian, in what some observers interpreted as an act of defiance against Brown’s pre-ordained pronouncement. Brown then nominated David Cook, who then received supportive public comments from two members of the audience, after which Gallian announced that she would decline the nomination and “support the other nominee.”

Cook was then unanimously approved as mayor pro tem, after which he observed that, “it’s been a great year. It’s been a tough year ... I want this community to know it has leadership, and that leadership is you.”

During final council comments, Barbose voiced one last expression of concern about the vote.

After congratulating the newly minted mayoral team, he added, “I don’t agree with the city attorney. I strongly believe there was a (Brown Act) violation. But I’m not going to take this to the district attorney. I don’t intend to take this any further.”

Asked after the meeting what the new mayor’s agenda would be for the coming year, Rouse said he intended to continue his personal commitment to push forward with the community swimming pool project. That specific objective aside, he added that water supply and water conservation formed his top priority. “We pay attention to water conservation during a drought year,” he said, “but we don’t pay attention when it rains. We really need to address that.”

His second priority, he said, was the city’s infrastructure, prominently including roads and sidewalks. “I want us to take a hard look at what needs to be done, what the priorities should be. It’s the question of repair versus reconstruction, which is far more expensive.”

Following up on his council comments about efficient meeting management, Rouse noted that, “We have a tendency to put great restrictions on public comments, but no restrictions on ourselves. I’d like to streamline council member comments. We sometimes get caught up talking to ourselves when we should be talking to the public ... I think the council needs to be more succinct.”