Olson chosen as new mayor of Englewood

Councilmember Othoniel Sierra weighed in as wild card

Posted 6/7/18

After nearly five months with one seat vacant, the new, full Englewood City Council took a quick and quarrel-free vote on its new mayor, but the choice for mayor pro tem was decidedly less agreeable. …

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Olson chosen as new mayor of Englewood

Councilmember Othoniel Sierra weighed in as wild card

Posted

After nearly five months with one seat vacant, the new, full Englewood City Council took a quick and quarrel-free vote on its new mayor, but the choice for mayor pro tem was decidedly less agreeable.

All seven members voted for Councilmember Linda Olson as the new mayor, a recognition that opposition would likely be quashed by a coalition that would include the new District 1 councilmember, Othoniel Sierra, who was sworn in shortly beforehand at the June 4 council meeting.

Olson's election marked the city's first mayor since District 1 Councilmember Joe Jefferson stepped down Jan. 8 to take the municipal judge seat he won in the November election. Olson is in her third four-year term on council and was elected in 2009.

The vote for Olson went through with only a brief expression of concerns by Councilmember Laurett Barrentine — who ultimately joined the others in support after mentioning issues she took with the council's handling of the city budget — but the council's characteristic jockeying began when it moved to vote on the mayor pro tem.

“I would disagree,” Barrentine said in response to Olson's call for the vote to select a new mayor pro tem. At the time, that seat was held by Councilmember Rita Russell. “The mayor pro tem was duly elected unanimously in November as per our process,” Barrentine said.

In Englewood, the mayor is the formal leader of the city council, which chooses the mayor from among its own members. The mayor pro tem serves as mayor when the mayor is absent.

Olson argued that because the council now holds seven members, it should make sure the full council approves of its leadership. Councilmember Cheryl Wink nominated Councilmember Amy Martinez for mayor pro tem — Sierra seconded that motion — and Councilmember Dave Cuesta voiced support for Russell.

Barrentine made a motion for Russell to remain, and Sierra vouched for her as well.

“I actually do like the job Russell has done over the last six months, so I'm not really sure if the change is needed,” Sierra said.

Sierra entered a council that featured a 3-3 ideological tie exemplified in its down-the-middle split in January on whom to appoint to the seat left vacant by Jefferson — Sierra was an applicant whom Wink, Martinez and Olson supported. The council's deadlock triggered the special election Sierra won May 22. In siding with Wink and Martinez in voting for Olson, and with Cuesta and Barrentine in supporting Russell, Sierra demonstrated a willingness not to vote down the line on one side or the other. After his election, he emphasized his goal of positive dialogue and bringing a “collaborative approach” to council.

Olson noted the council's policy is to vote by secret ballot if more than one person is nominated, but she added that the policy isn't law and that the council could ignore it and vote publicly. The council has held both kinds of votes the the past.

The public has “a right to know who we're supporting,” Barrentine said. Wink said the council should follow policy and be consistent going forward, which elicited a terse exchange between her and Barrentine about which policy she was talking about.

Martinez made an effort not to seem opposed to Russell, saying she understood it to be procedural that a mayor pro tem be elected after a mayor.

“Not anything negative against you,” Martinez said. She added, “I think the secret ballot is antiquated.”

Russell and Barrentine argued that the council violated its policy already by selecting Olson without a secret vote, but the city attorney clarified that a selection with only one person nominated doesn't need a secret ballot under the policy. Russell and Barrentine put forth a motion to make the vote public and forego the policy.

Throughout the arguments, Olson turned to the council the question of which way it should proceed. After a back-and-forth about how many motions were on the floor and whether that was appropriate, everyone but Wink and Olson voted to suspend the secret-ballot policy. Sierra, Russell, Barrentine and Cuesta voted against Martinez for mayor pro tem, allowing Russell to continue as mayor pro tem.

Before the hostility, the council gave a warm welcome to Sierra, whom Englewood Associate Judge Vincent Atencio swore into office. After the votes for leadership, Sierra thanked the voters of District 1, the north-northwest part of the city that includes downtown.

“I met a lot of friends, met a lot of neighbors that I haven't met over the last eight or nine years,” Sierra said of the special-election campaign. “I really appreciate everybody and the support and thoughts.”

Before the District 1 appointment process reached a gridlock in January, Barrentine, in a council meeting, chalked up the split over the choice of applicants to the difference in philosophies among the councilmembers — whether the council should concern itself with an applicant's environmental opinions, for example. How much the council should involve itself in homelessness also came up. Sierra has been a member of the Citizens Alliance for a Sustainable Englewood (CASE), a group that has asked the city to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions.

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