PLEASANT HILL -- Some residents are criticizing three council members whom they suspect privately plotted to buck tradition and torpedo former Vice Mayor Jack Weir's bid to become mayor.
On Dec. 2, Councilmen Michael Harris, Ken Carlson and Tim Flaherty opposed Councilman David Durant's nomination of Weir to serve as mayor for the next year. The council subsequently elected Flaherty mayor by a vote of 3-2.
In a Dec. 5 letter to City Attorney Janet Coleson, Pleasant Hill resident Mary Fouts accused the three council members of colluding before the meeting to block Weir's nomination. Fouts asked Coleson to investigate whether Harris, Carlson and Flaherty violated the Brown Act, the state's open meeting law which prohibits a majority of any legislative body from deliberating an issue or deciding how to vote outside of a properly noticed public meeting.
Even if the majority never met in person or communicated in pairs, they could still be in violation of the law.
"All three acted exactly the same -- no comment, silence, nothing," Fouts said. "They were clearly all three on the same page on this and that points to all three getting together in some means to agree to act in stereo."
Coleson has not responded to Fouts' letter.
Harris said he asked Carlson if he would be willing to nominate someone for mayor, but didn't talk to any other council members before the meeting.
"My action was independent. I did not violate the Brown Act and my vote was an independent vote and not in any way in collusion with other council members," Harris said.
Carlson and Flaherty could not be reached for comment.
In emails to the city, several residents blasted Flaherty, Harris and Carlson for deviating from the traditional council rotation, failing to explain their vote and denying residents an opportunity to speak during the meeting.
"I did not vote for Jack Weir, and he often has a different opinion from mine, but he still deserved to be mayor," resident Karen Yapp wrote. "It was clear to me, after reviewing the tape of the council meeting, that three of the council members knew what was about to happen. Although it may be impossible to prove this, it seems highly unlikely that the three council members would have come to the same decision without a prior discussion."
Despite the embarrassing snub, Weir said he is trying to put the episode behind him and focus on working constructively with the rest of the council.
"They don't owe me an explanation, but they owe the people of Pleasant Hill an explanation," he said.
Like Pleasant Hill, most Contra Costa County cities without elected mayors abide by an unwritten custom of elevating the vice mayor to the mayor's seat. But the drama playing out in Pleasant Hill may lead other cities to rethink that informal process. Last week, Concord Councilman Edi Birsan asked his colleagues to examine formalizing the council rotation to avoid such a situation in the future.
Weir said he wants Pleasant Hill to come up with an official policy, but Harris doesn't.
"I don't think it's time to do that," he said. "I think it's an appropriate subject for discussion, but I think there's some wisdom in allowing the council to decide who they want to be mayor and vice mayor based on their evaluation of the various people on the council at the time the election happens."
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.