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September 2021 Letters to Council on At-Large Mayor Idea

San Mateo United Letter:

Dear Mayor Rodgriguez and City Council Members:


San Mateo’s community leaders have been watching with keen interest as the districting process has begun to take shape.


Under the stringent timeline to move things forward, it is troubling that the idea of an at-large mayor has been floated to the Council. Given the short time frame, we must make important decisions on how to create districts. It is counterproductive to add the complexity of having two critical issues to consider at once. Getting the districts right is the priority. Whether we decide on five or seven districts, the composition of these areas will be essential to maintaining a balanced City Council. Adding the dynamics of a mayor at large would add complexity and impact this process in ways that the electorate cannot understand. The people support the yearly rotation of councilors as mayor!


The presence of an at-large mayor would change the dynamics of the council as there would no longer be any shared leadership. The at-large mayor would have a special status that would disrupt the equality of the council.

The numerous negatives associated with such a position outweigh the few shaky reasons to spend another moment in contemplation of this prospect.


It’s been expressed that an at-large mayor could get more done to “bring money to” or otherwise benefit San Mateo. This is simply untrue. One only needs to examine our history to see the great things which have been accomplished by councilmembers because they took the time to involve themselves with organizations like the League of California Cities, the MTC, etc., to delve into issues and work to represent San Mateo, regardless of their positions. (Two examples include the drive and dedication of former councilmembers Jane Baker and Sue Lempert.)


Further, an at-large mayor flies in the face of what districting is meant to achieve. Equity in representation is not created when those who would seek to run for mayor find themselves sidelined by a mayoral campaign that is far more expensive than a council campaign race in their own district.


Other than the personal interests of some, one reason provided for the idea is to encourage cooperation across districts. This is a false assumption as the presence of an at-large mayor would hinder the cooperation of councilors. The shared environment gives each councilor an equal opportunity to lead and that sharing does more to encourage cooperation than the presence of a permanent at-large mayor. The unequal status of the councilors and the at-large mayor set up a hierarchy that is more likely to hamper cooperation and stifle the voices of the underrepresented that the move to district elections is intended to lift up.


As you know, the City of San Bruno is the only city in our county with an at-large mayor, and with only 3 mayors serving in 20 years, they are now seeking to return to a rotating mayor. It’s also noteworthy that their mayoral position receives no more compensation than the other council members there, so the rotating position makes more sense all around.


Both our Mayor and Vice-Mayor have voiced that our current rotating mayor system “works well” for San Mateo. Taking the time to study this limiting alternative is akin to ‘fixing what ain’t broke.’ Out of concern for what’s best for our city and considering the given timeline to achieve what’s required, we urge you to speak in favor of immediately setting aside this idea of an at-large mayor in order to place the focus on the legitimate aspects of the goals to successfully complete San Mateo’s districting process.


SMUHA Officers Michael Nash, President Cynthia Newton, 1st Vice President Richard Neve, 2nd Vice President Joanne Bennett, Treasurer Lisa Taner, Secretary Anna Kuhre, President Emeritus

BHNA Board Letter:


Dear Mayor Rodriguez and City Council Members,


  Our Beresford Hillsdale Neighborhood Association members have been following the steps of City Staff and Council in regard to the necessity of going forward with district elections for future City Council hopefuls.


  We understand the process to determine the number of districts and where they should occur is arduous at best, especially given the compressed timeframe.  Compounding this work was the suggestion of adding the idea to consider an at-large mayor – something San Mateo has done very well without. 


  Residents of the City of San Bruno, the only city in our county which operates with an at-large mayor, are unhappy with this choice.  Why would we spend another moment considering whether to replicate that?


  Over the past few weeks, Council has already received numerous resident emails which echo the sentiments expressed by both Mayor Rodriguez and Vice-Mayor Bonilla - that an at-large mayor is not what’s best for San Mateo.  It’s not equitable, it’s not necessary, it’s not a benefit to those considering a future campaign and it’s a waste of valuable time.


  By now, you have additionally received a letter from the San Mateo United Homeowners Association detailing its reasoning and express intent of seeking that Council set aside the at-large mayor notion.  This letter was also shared with our association and has our full support.  The Board of the Beresford Hillsdale Neighborhood Association also respectfully requests that Council scrap any further discussion of this subject in order to attend to the real work at hand.  Let’s keep the focus on doing the best job possible to create our new districts without unnecessary distractions.


The Board of the Beresford Hillsdale Neighborhood Association

Beresford Hillsdale Neighborhood Association
PO Box 6764
San Mateo, CA 94403
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