The South Pasadena City Council said goodbye Wednesday to Mayor Robert Joe and Council members Richard Schneider and Stephen Rossi, remotely swore in newly elected members Jack Donovan, Evelyn Zneimer and John Primuth, and moved swiftly to elect a new mayor.
In his first act as a Council Member, Donovan nominated Council Member Diana Mahmud, who served as mayor in 2015-16. In her first act, Zneimer voted against Mahmud while in his first, Primuth joined the majority in the 4-1 vote electing Mahmud.
“Thank you, Council members. I will do my best to serve not only you, but also the residents of this city,” Mayor Mahmud said before presiding over the unanimous election of Michael Cacciotti to serve as Mayor Pro Tem.
Mahmud did not offer any preview of her mayorship.
Reflection was reserved for Joe, who in a 14-minute State of the City message called 2020 an “extraordinary” year that featured “a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, much social activism and notable leadership changes.” He highlighted efforts of the city’s departments and commissions, and the challenges of the pandemic, police reform and housing.
The pandemic had a negative impact on the city’s finances, he acknowledged. The city made cuts, froze hiring and “in the near future, management will take further action” to respond to the decrease in sales tax while preserving services.
Halfway through the fiscal year, the city still has no adopted budget, and the State Auditor recently tagged South Pasadena as “high risk” with respect to debt burden, future pension and other post-employment benefit costs.
Despite everything, the city pushed ahead, he concluded. “We saw that out of frustration comes progress.”
The three departing members were presented with city tiles, plaques, and a proclamation.
Rossi, appointed only three months ago with a mandate to repair the city’s financial practices, drew praise for getting to work quickly. Cacciotti said Rossi was the “deciding vote” and strong force “in getting rid of a former administrator very quickly,” and in bringing on the new interim city manager.
Schneider agreed, and Mahmud praised Rossi for “jumping in with both feet.” She said his representation left the city “in much better shape than had been initially anticipated and was important to give our residents confidence in supporting” continuance of the Utility Users Tax that was approved by 75 percent of voters.
It is anticipated that Rossi will be named to continue service on the Ad Hoc Financial Commission which he created during his time on the Council.
Schneider, who has been in office nearly 14 years, said he never anticipated when he came to South Pasadena that he would end up on the Council. He thanked city staff and his current and past Council colleagues for their “collegiality, good humor and working together.”
Mahmud told Schneider she could think of no other Council member who’d worked harder to achieve “the end of the threat of a freeway through our town,” a sentiment other Council members echoed. Cacciotti reflected on the memory of working with Schneider 20 years ago to save the nature park in the Arroyo and establishing an energy efficiency/renewable energy commission.
Joe, who offered personal praise for both Rossi and Schneider, served 9 years on the Council. Mahmud said Joe spent so much time working for the city “it seems you have literally been everywhere. I can think of few if any city events that you have missed.” She said the city will plant an olive tree—a symbol of peace and friendship–in Joe’s honor in front of the senior center.
Schneider spoke of the “special relationship” he has shared with Joe, saying they can’t get together “without needling and kidding each other.”
Cacciotti spoke of his memories of Joe going back 22 years. He said “arguably, you were Mayor of South Pasadena during the most difficult, challenging time in our city’s history.” He said people had no idea just how many hours Joe has put in, especially over the past year.
“I’m just humbled,” Joe responded. “I want to thank the people of South Pasadena for giving me such a special and wonderful experience. I am so grateful for this time as a council member and will miss it, but I know there are other things for me.”
New council members were then given an opportunity to speak.
Donovan, who was sworn in by his wife, said he’s looked forward for many years to being on the Council. He thanked the people of District 2 for electing him and said he could not wait to get started.
Primuth, the new District 3 rep, said he’d met all city employees during his new council member orientation. He said in the search for a permanent city manager, the city is “committed to finding a great leader for city hall and all of our departments, someone who can provide clear, transparent, collaborative management” and who will support employees’ professional development.
The Council has placed on its schedule a Dec. 9 closed special meeting on “public employment” during which the sole agenda item will be the city manager.
Primuth also thanked the departing council members for taking on the burdens and stress of being “lightning rods in the community and still maintaining a rational, dispassionate way of solving problems.”
Zneimer thanked the voters of District 1 for “believing that I can be your voice for change to restore trust in the city.” Joe had been a “formidable opponent.” She thanked her supporters, family and volunteers who recently helped feed and provide useful items to the homeless at the Arroyo during Thanksgiving.
She then moved to “have our city attorney and her law firm be placed on the agenda for a job performance evaluation during our Dec. 16 close session,” a motion that was seconded by Donovan.