Unprecedented mayhem in San Mateo ends in dramatic fashion – SFGATE

San Mateo City Hall in San Mateo, Calif. After infighting on the San Mateo City Council left the town without a mayor, the councilmembers finally appointed one during yet another tumultuous meeting Monday night.
A week after infighting on the San Mateo City Council left the city without a mayor for the first time in its 128-year history, the councilmembers finally appointed one of their own to the position during yet another tumultuous meeting Monday night. 
The outcome was one many in the community had hoped for. Councilmember Amourence Lee, the only member on the council with any prior experience on the body, was appointed mayor after a raucous meeting — the third in just seven days — that lasted about six hours. But Lee’s appointment looked far from guaranteed just hours earlier, and the meeting had no shortage of twists and turns.
At the heart of the drama was a disagreement over whether the mayor and deputy mayor should be appointed before the five-person body selected a replacement for former Councilmember Diane Papan, who left her seat vacant after being elected to the state Assembly last month. Newly elected Councilmembers Rob Newsom and Lisa Diaz Nash wanted to appoint Papan’s replacement before picking a mayor and deputy mayor, while Lee and Councilmember Adam Loraine — another newly elected member — wanted to do the opposite. 
San Mateo’s city charter mandates that the council appoint two of its own to serve as mayor and deputy mayor at the first regularly scheduled council meeting following a general municipal election; this year, that meeting fell on Dec. 5, when Newsom and Nash unexpectedly blocked Lee’s appointment. They said they wanted to wait until a fifth councilmember had been appointed before selecting a mayor and deputy mayor. That locked the four-person council in a 2-2 stalemate, one that persisted through a hastily convened special meeting to address the matter on Dec. 7. 
The issue is so messy because the two appointments, in this case, are intertwined. Under normal circumstances, the mayor unilaterally fills a vacancy if the council cannot agree on a possible replacement candidate after 30 days. But without a mayor in place to break a potential deadlock, no one was sure what would happen if at least three members of the council could not come to consensus on who should fill Papan’s seat.
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After publicly interviewing eight potential replacements for Papan on Monday night, the four members seemed to agree that two of the candidates looked like viable options. The first was Rich Hedges, a longtime fixture in San Mateo known for his service on several city and county boards. The second was Cliff Robbins, an experienced business attorney. During the council’s first attempt to appoint Papan’s replacement, Newsom and Nash cast their ballots for Robbins, but Lee and Loraine abstained from voting — depriving Robbins of the necessary three votes to be appointed to the council.
That’s when Lee made a dramatic announcement. She said she had been approached during the last week by two unnamed individuals who said that, if she helped Robbins get appointed to the council, she could be assured that the council would choose her to be mayor. Lee first made this announcement in the Dec. 7 meeting, but this was the first time she revealed which candidate the individuals allegedly wanted her to appoint. Nash, visibly disgusted by Lee suggesting a backroom deal of some sort, pressed her to reveal the names of the two individuals, but she refused. 
The council then invited Robbins back to the dais to address Lee’s allegations, which he vehemently denied any involvement in. He urged Lee to name the two individuals and even mused over a potential defamation lawsuit against the city. 
“If you’ve got facts, you lay them out there,” he said. 
Lee, again, refused. She said the vacancy appointment process had been “poisoned” and urged her colleagues to appoint her as mayor before selecting Papan’s replacement. Nash said she was stunned that the council was potentially implicating Robbins in impropriety without any proof, and that she didn’t want to move forward with a mayoral appointment until Lee revealed the names of the two people she claimed had approached her. Newsom, who said in past meetings he’d back Lee for mayor after the fifth council member was appointed, told her that her behavior Monday night had given him second thoughts about his past support. Loraine stayed mostly silent throughout the exchange. 
Eventually, Lee backed down from seeking to be appointed mayor before the vacancy vote, and made a motion to appoint Hedges, the other apparent finalist. Newsom, Loraine and Lee voted to appoint him, giving him the necessary three votes. It was a surprising move given that there was hardly any discussion over which candidate — Hedges or Robbins — would be a better fit for the role. Rather, it seemed like the council voted to appoint Hedges as a way to prevent more gridlock. 
Nash voted against Hedges’ appointment, saying she thought he was qualified but couldn’t vote for him based on what had just transpired. 
“This is not the way any council member should be elected or appointed,” she said. “I cannot vote ‘yes.'” 
Regardless, the chamber audience gave Hedges a standing ovation while Robbins noticeably remained seated. Hedges was immediately sworn in and took his place on the dais. From there, Lee was unanimously appointed mayor and Hedges — in what he described as an act of “healing” — made a motion to appoint Nash as deputy mayor, which was seconded by Lee. The council then voted unanimously to appoint Nash to the position. 
During Hedges’ 10-minute presentation to the council, he talked about his past successes in city politics. Those included desegregating a city pool in Kansas City (decades ago), and eliminating “costly” Federal Emergency Management Agency insurance from several homes in the San Mateo area. He concluded his presentation by quoting the opening lines from the Charles Dickens novel “A Tale of Two Cities” and reciting a Bible passage from the book of Hebrews that encourages strangers to be kind to one another.
The council’s next regularly scheduled meeting — and the first meeting since last month’s general election that will begin with five members, a mayor and deputy mayor — is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. 
“First, I want to thank my kids, for being my north star, and my family … and my tribe of courageous young woman and momma bears, who propel me and fuel me,” Lee said after being appointed.” Your loving community is my foundation, and this wouldn’t be possible without you all.”