The Signal Hill City Council unanimously voted Edward H. J. Wilson to be the city’s new mayor on March 18.
Wilson has been on the Council since 1997. This is his fourth time to serve as the leader at the center of the Council dais for a term of one year. He replaces Michael Noll. Earlier this year, Wilson announced on his website that he had suspended his campaign to run for a state-assemblymember seat.
“It is, and always will be, an honor to serve as mayor,” Wilson said in a speech during the Council meeting Tuesday night. “I do not take this position for granted.”
Wilson thanked city staff and other supporters who packed into the Council Chamber. The new mayor spoke of his dreams for the city: a hotel on Atlantic, a boutique-designer-outlet mall and restaurants with views. He added that he still hopes that Signal Hill will build a new library.
Wilson also voiced concerns about a controversial charter-amendment initiative scheduled to be on the ballot on June 3. If passed, the “Taxpayer’s Right to Know and Vote” initiative will require that two-thirds of the voters must approve all taxes, fees and assessments. It also proposes that taxes and fees expire within 10 years and that assessments expire within 20 years. Under the initiative, bonds must be repaid within 20 years.
Wilson said that the Council unanimously voted against the initiative, adding that there will be informational workshops scheduled throughout the city in which residents may learn about the proposal and how it could affect Signal Hill. He criticized the proponents of the initiative who have already filed suit against the City. Wilson acknowledged that the initiative has a “catchy title,” but he warned that there are major problems with the plan that proposes significant changes to the City’s charter. The mayor described how the initiative would not benefit Signal Hill.
Maria Harris, one of the proponents of the initiative, said later that night that she did not anticipate that Wilson was going to criticize the initiative at length during the meeting. A short, testy exchange between the mayor and Harris ensued. The mayor asked Harris to keep her remarks related to Successor Agency issues since she chose to speak during the Agency’s public-comment period designated for non-agenda topics. In turn, the Signal Hill resident criticized the mayor’s speech.
“I respectfully reject the comments made by the new Mayor Ed Wilson criticizing the ‘Right to Know’ initiative,” Harris said, “because the comments were unfair and did not provide sufficient opportunity for anyone, including the proponent, to address them directly at the time they were made.”
The conflict between Harris and Wilson wasn’t the only uncomfortable moment on Tuesday night. After the Council unanimously appointed Wilson to be mayor, Wilson entertained nominations for the role of vice mayor. Councilmember Tina Hansen nominated Councilmember Lori Woods for that position. Woods is the relative newcomer to the Council in comparison to her other colleagues. Each of the other four councilmembers began their service to the City since at least before the late 1990s. Woods has just finished her first year on the Council.
When the roll-call vote began, Woods initially voted against herself. Hansen explained to her that the councilmembers usually serve in the positions of mayor and vice mayor on a five-year-rotational basis. Woods then changed her vote, accepting the nomination and acknowledging that she is “still on a steep learning curve.” Councilmember Larry Forester, however, became upset. He voted against Woods, explaining that he should be the vice mayor, according to the historical rotation cycle.
“I take great offense and will state it publicly right here and now that I was blindsided,” Forester said as he cast the lone vote against Woods. “[The] vice mayor should have been mine. Historically, it has been mine.”
Hansen immediately apologized.
“I missed the rotation,” she said. “I’m sorry. If I did that, then that’s my mistake.”
The Council quickly restarted the process to choose a vice mayor after Hansen withdrew her nomination in favor of Woods. In turn, Woods immediately nominated Forester to serve as vice mayor, and the Council unanimously approved Forester.
Later that night, Forester acknowledged he seemed shocked during the earlier exchange. He told Woods that he thinks she would have made a “phenomenal vice mayor” and that he looks forward to serving the Council. Hansen felt compelled to explain her error, and she drew a few laughs.
“Well, all I can say is that I turn 55 in May,” she said, “so this is my early senior moment.”
A number of community leaders and organizations gathered in City Hall to also publicly recognize Noll for his service to the City. This last year marks his fifth time as the mayor of Signal Hill. In his final remarks before he resumed his role of councilmember, Noll thanked the city staff. He praised the Council for its success in balancing the budget and setting aside more money in the reserve accounts. He emphasized the Council’s priority to attract businesses to the City and ability to provide quality municipal services to the residents.
“We don’t always agree, as you can see tonight,” Noll said before he went on to describe how the Council is able to work together and successfully move forward after a vote.
Later that night, at a reception at Signal Hill Park’s Community Center, the councilmembers and dozens of well-wishers celebrated the change in leadership. They also announced that the Signal Tribune’s staff is selling and creating large street banners for sponsoring businesses and organizations in anticipation of the City’s 90th anniversary.
The next City Council meeting will take place on Tuesday, April 1 at 7pm in the Council Chamber.