I ran (sat, mostly) the gamut of swearings-in of new and re-elected city officials this week, and, believe it or not, there have been some pleasant surprises. I attended the Huntington Beach council meeting on Monday night, Garden Grove’s shindig on Tuesday and hit Westminster on Wednesday.
Often, these events are royal grinds; politicians thanking everyone they ever met and bloviating about how they are going to lower taxes and add services. There were some of that this week as well, but also some encouraging signs that – just perhaps – we can expect better leadership at the local level than perhaps is common from Washington.
At Monday’s Huntington Beach meeting, some of the more intriguing comments came from outgoing mayor Jim Katapodis. A gregarious fellow who enjoys speaking in public, he thanked numerous people and even jested that “Who knows? Maybe I’ll be back here in two years.”
Katapodis is taking a position with the State of California as a law enforcement consultant, meaning he needs to spend a lot of time in Sacramento. But seeing how much he seems to enjoy his public service – he lamented at one point about how he was now a “nobody” – I wouldn’t bet against seeing him back in the local public limelight someday.
At Garden Grove’s council meeting Tuesday, everyone was all smiles, and the biggest grin seemed to come from City Manager Scott Stiles. City managers are professionals who seek to advance the community with a minimum of friction and drama. However, some city councils seem to specialize in F&D.
The new, expanded seven-member council appears to be a gathering of responsible, serious people and the presence of three women on the panel may damp down the macho rivalries that have sometimes turned council meetings into battles of competing egos.
I’ve been advocating for a seven-member, by-district council for years. I’ve long felt that it provided for the potential for better representation not only for geographical areas but ethnic groups. We’ll see how it works out, but there’s no going back now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the district concept arise in Huntington Beach and Westminster before long.
Newly-minted council member Kim Nguyen showed a welcome flash of humor Tuesday when she extended special thanks to her dog, who missed out on a lot of walks while Nguyen was campaigning. Anyone with a sense of humor is an asset to a deliberative body. As Jerome Lawrence wrote, “When you lose you ability to laugh, you lose your ability to think straight.”
Also displaying a good wit was new Westminster council member Kimberly Ho on Wednesday night. She told the tale of how she injured her ankle while canvassing, and was forced to hobble along on crutches.
According to her, during early door-to-door campaigning, she only got a good response from about 10 percent of the people she spoke to. But after she added the crutches, the rate went up to 90 percent.
“They were pity votes,” she said. “But I’ll take them!”
It’s too early to tell, but the council meetings look to be more interesting for a while. Of course, doing the public’s business is the most important thing, but doing it with a bit of a wink and a smile makes the whole process more enjoyable for everyone. Otherwise, take pity on the poor journalist who has to sit through all of this.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears each week.