Councilwoman Barbara Ferraro and a group of her friends staged a demonstration to protest Douglas Stern's selection by the City Council as Mayor pro tem in 2001. The newspapers and the letters to the editor were all critical of this stunt, declaring it to be in the utmost of poor taste.
What prompted her stunt was her claim that the City Council was obligated to make her mayor pro tem. She claimed that a 1983 "policy" dictated that result.
However, the Policy established by the City Council is set forth in Resolution 2000-01, January 8, 2000, which states:
"4.1 Election of Mayor. The Mayor is a member of the City Council and is annually elected by majority vote of the City Council at the first regular meeting in December, or in the case of an election year, upon certification of the election results. As a member of the City Council, the Mayor shall have all the powers of a member.That Policy is identical to that adopted as Resolution 93-20 on March 2, 1993.
4.2 Mayor Pro Tem. The Mayor Pro Tem shall be selected by a council majority vote"
Councilwoman Ferraro was claiming that a minute order of March 1, 1983 governed. It has been superceded. The city has had 5 different policies at varying times.
[Read the Rule and the different rules that have existed.]It was most unfortunate that Mrs. Ferraro engaged in this stunt and misled the public about the Policy of the City Council. The formal Resolution 2000-01 controls. [Read Rule 4.]
Protest attempts to unveil inequity
RPV: Five Burqa-clad women say the council's decision not to elect its only woman as deputy mayor is sexist.By Nick GreenIt was a scene guaranteed to elicit empathy from any freedom-loving American: five women, clad in black burqas — the shroud that to many exemplified Afghanistan's repressive Taliban regime — pleading for equity before a male-dominated government body.
Except this was a meeting Tuesday night of the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council, whose members sat with a large Stars and Stripes on the wall behind them.
And the women were clad in the confining dress in protest at what they portrayed as a sexist decision not to elect the panel's only woman as deputy mayor — an appointment that assures that person becomes mayor the following year.
“It is a symbol of what can happen when one group of people bands together to marginalize and silence another,” Marcy J.K. Tiffany told the council through the veiled garb. “Although we are, of course, a long way from forcing women in America to wear burqas, unfortunately there are times when men still treat women with backhanded disdain.”
The object of the perceived contempt, veteran Councilwoman Barbara Ferraro, sat stone-faced throughout the short presentation by four of the five women, at least two of who are active in Republican circles and political allies of Ferraro. But when it was finished, Ferraro — who served as mayor in 1998 — took the opportunity to admonish Deputy Mayor Doug Stern for the slight.
“You who say the policy is the most important thing did not follow the policy,” she said. “Your turn was coming.”
Whether the council violated established policy is unclear since it is open to interpretation, said Councilman Peter Gardiner, who suggested the council may want to clarify the language.
And in any case, the council has not always consistently adhered to the policy of rotating members into the two top slots on a seniority basis. Present Mayor John McTaggart fell afoul to the rules of succession when he was not elected mayor after serving as deputy mayor two successive years about a decade ago.
But the real reason Ferraro was not elected deputy mayor, council members have said privately — and Stern hinted at Wednesday — was her hot-headed behavior and even open hostility to people who disagreed with her or the council majority in recent months. Indeed, the depth of voter dissatisfaction with the antics of the council majority became evident last month when Mayor Marilyn Lyon was unceremoniously booted from office, a rare occurrence in a community where incumbents usually win re-election.
Stern said Wednesday in a written statement that the election of the deputy mayor “had nothing whatsoever to do with gender” and suggested it had more to do with “performance.”
But Ferraro said that explanation itself indicated a double standard.
“John's been bombastic for years,” she said. “When he says what he thinks everybody says `that's John,' but if I say what I think I'm being volatile and therefore not leadership material. . . . That's being sexist.”
After the meeting Tuesday, Tiffany rejected the suggestion that having women from an affluent community wear burqas over a relatively trivial issue smacked of political opportunism and exploited the plight of harshly oppressed women who live in mud huts. Rather, she characterized the event as a feminist “double demonstration . . . of solidarity.”
“We have brought attention to our issue and reminded the public of the long-standing suffering of our Afghan sisters,” Tiffany said. “Sitting under a burqa for 40 minutes gives you an appreciation of the misery these women have suffered.”
But professor Jim Gelvin, a Middle East scholar at UCLA, took issue with the actions.
“What a crock,” he said. “It's certainly an attention-grabber, but it might be interpreted as culturally insensitive.”
Tiffany's supposed kinship with Afghan women could also be called into question.
According to property records, she lives in a $2 million home overlooking the ocean and also co-owns a $200,000 Big Bear condominium with her husband, U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Justice Alex Kozinski, whose name has been mentioned in connection with a Supreme Court post.
Tiffany, who plans to operate a Web site beginning next month called rpvcouncilwatch.com, said Wednesday she is the daughter of blue-collar workers who has earned everything she has and must “struggle to prove myself in a man's world.”
[Publish Date: Thursday December 20]
RPV -- They came dressed from head-to-toe in black burkhas, the traditional women's garb for fundamental Muslims and a symbol of Taliban oppression for a country in the midst of war.
But these five women weren't protesting the treatment of women in Afghanistan. Rather, they were protesting a recent Rancho Palos Verdes City Council vote to install Councilman Doug Stern as mayor pro tem, a position that, by rotation, should have belonged to Councilwoman Barbara Ferraro.
"No doubt you're wondering why there are five women wearing burkhas at an RPV City Council meeting," said black-shrouded resident Marcy Tiffany. "[The burkha] is a symbol of what can happen when one group of people stands together to marginalize and silence another.
"Although we are a long way from forcing women in America to wear burkhas, unfortunately, there are times when men still treat women with back-handed disdain," she continued. "The actions of the male-dominated RPV City Council in passing over Barbara Ferraro, the council member who has the most seniority and experience, for the position of mayor pro tem, is such an instance."
"It's awful under here," said a burkha-clad Shari Uchida as she stepped to the chamber podium. "And I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think there was a good reason. American democracy and policy provide full opportunities for [women] in this country. Shame on you for your discrimination."
Council members Larry Clark, Peter Gardiner and Stern on Dec. 4 voted to position Stern as mayor pro tem, a titular post leading toward mayorship. Though council members traditionally follow a rotation whereby the council member who has waited the longest in between mayorship is chosen as mayor pro tem, amendments to the election policy in 1993 and 2000 state that the position is chosen by a majority vote. Another provision in the policy states that the person who has served longest on the council without being mayor, which would be Stern, will be chosen as mayor pro tem.
Said Gardiner, "For those interested in looking it up, the policy simply says you vote for the mayor pro tem. It occurs to me that the [rotation] hasn't always been followed. Since I was the one doing the nominating, it seemed to me we had the option [to choose] the person who has served the longest without being mayor. It made sense to me to follow the process."
Tiffany argued that the intent of the policy had been breached.
"Since 1993, this council has had a policy of electing the most senior member as mayor pro tem," she said. "This year, three councilmen refused to honor that policy and voted instead for one of their male colleagues in that position. While there may be some disagreement about whether the council is actually bound to follow this long-standing policy, there can be little question about the effect of its refusal to do so. The only woman on the council ... has been denied her opportunity to ascend to the position of ... mayor."
Tiffany then asked that Stern revoke his position as mayor pro tem and hold a new election.
Stern did not comment on the accusation of sexual discrimination at the meeting, nor did he give up his position as mayor pro tem. However, he did comment Wednesday.
"I am disappointed that Mrs. Ferraro and some of her supporters would level the charge of gender discrimination against the RPV City Council for having chosen me as mayor pro tem," he said. "That accusation is absolutely false and irresponsible. Apparently, the women who appeared at City Council and made that outrageous charge acknowledged that they have not watched the City Council and know nothing of the performance of the various council members. Had they done so, they would know that the decision to elect me mayor pro tem had nothing whatsoever to do with gender."
Clark also commented Wednesday.
"It was absolutely disgusting to hear that [we were accused of sexual discrimination]," said Clark. "Gender had no place in my thought process in the selection at all, and I don't believe in anyone else's. The spectacle last night, one, trivialized the plight of Afghani women and two, was offensive to the women in our city. Bottom line, I'm gender blind, but not performance blind."
If council members had an option to choose whomever they wanted for the position of mayor pro tem, why did three of them choose Stern over Ferraro?
"Frankly, and this isn't a reflection on Barbara personally," said Clark, "she didn't demonstrate the kind of behavior and leadership that, for me, warranted voting for her for mayor pro tem.
"I spent an extensive amount of time in the community this year," Clark continued, "and over and over I received many, many comments about Barbara's lack of decorum and demeanor in terms of her treatment of the public and selected council members."
Clark, however, reaffirmed his position of hoping all council members will work together in the future, a feeling also echoed by Stern.
Certainly, anyone who has paid attention to RPV politics in the last two years knows there is no love lost between Stern and Ferraro. RPV resident Tom Redfield provides some clues to the cause of the animosity between them.
As Ferraro's treasurer during her 1995 City Council campaign, Redfield said he grew frustrated with the actions of both her and fellow council members. In 1999, rather than renewing his position with Ferraro, Redfield chose to help Stern's campaign. Redfield acknowledges Ferraro was livid at the decision.
Ferraro was also involved with Gardiner's earlier School Board campaign. However, it was Redfield again, behind the group Renaissance and Revival 2001, who orchestrated recent election victories in which voters installed Gardiner and Clark, and said goodbye to two-term incumbent Mayor Marilyn Lyon, one of Ferraro's friends and a close political ally. Ferraro said she felt betrayed by both Redfield's actions and Gardiner's nominating Stern for mayor pro tem.
"Peter ran as being a consensus-builder, being a bridge between [Stern] and the rest of us," Ferraro told the Peninsula News Monday. "He ended up saying, "I'm not going to screw Doug, but I'll screw Barbara.' Some bridge-builder."
Redfield didn't pull any punches as to the council's choice for mayor pro tem.
"Under no circumstances are we interested in having our own gang or group, and there is no slate," Redfield told the News. "If Barbara Ferraro comes up with some brilliant candidate [for the next election], we'll support him or her.
"Our goal is only to improve the quality of city government and life on the Hill, no more, no less," he continued. "We've tried not to disappoint Barbara, and we hope this will be her last year [Ferraro's term ends in 2003], but her friends tell us she's on self-destruct mode. The policy to elect mayor pro tem was followed. The true reason behind [the council not choosing Ferraro] is that she's the biggest horse's a-- in town."
Ferraro said Stern has been a thorn in the side of council members since he was elected two years ago. His insistence, she said, that city business was being conducted behind closed doors irritated her and fellow council members.
"It's great to say the public has a right to know what's going on, but there was never anything going on," said Ferraro.
She added that Stern and Redfield told a number of lies during this year's election that led to Lyon's downfall, including mislabeling Lyon's stance on building in landslide-stricken areas. She said it is important to come out now before she, too, falls victim.
"It sure looks like a good old boys' club," said Ferraro. "They're not beyond that, and I think it's a good possibility they went after Marilyn for the same reason. They threw her out and made the lies stick."
Ferraro believes Stern is behind the recent changes but credits him for establishing a large electronic base to send his ideas and thoughts, many of which she characterizes as lies. She cites his e-mail list as hypocritical, saying Stern professes to want public disclosure on all matters but keeps only his supporters aware of his ideas through the Internet.
[Note: Stern is happy to add anyone to his e-mail list. All they need do is provide their e-mail address to him at Douglas.Stern@cox.net.]"Doug has been like a bully, and I kept thinking people were going to catch on. I didn't realize how many people he was sending his e-mails to with the lies and twists," she said. "So, we are going to have to [create an e-mail] list to let people know what is going on."
Tiffany at Tuesday's meeting announced she and other Ferraro supporters had created RPV Council Watch.
"RPV Council Watch is a grass-roots group of RPV residents who believe it's important for the electorate to be fully informed about the actions of the council," said Tiffany.
RPV Council Watch, said Tiffany, will have a web site and e-mail address that will be made available to the public next month.
And we had such high hopes. For a moment, it looked as if the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council had taken a turn for the better.
There was new blood taking two council seats, that of councilmen Larry Clark and Peter Gardiner. Both men were coming off brilliant election victories in November, an election in which RPV voters took charge and mandated a change in the character of their leaders.
Clark and Gardiner joined three incumbents who bring their own unique style to the council.
Those incumbents, John McTaggart, Barbara Ferraro and Doug Stern, each have their own strengths, from paying meticulous attention to detail to impressive and extensive knowledge of city history and the local school district.
So it is distressing to see council members who have so much to offer the city engage in name-calling and soap-opera antics that really have nothing to do with city business.
On Tuesday, a City Council meeting with many promising agenda items was subverted by a spectacle that pushed the limits of taste and perhaps set back any chance for these council members to work together as a team for years.
Miffed at being passed over for mayor pro tem, Ferraro helped orchestrate the scene. Halfway through the meeting, five women dressed from head to toe in fundamental Muslim clothing, burkhas, entered council chambers and explained that they wore the demeaning garb to protest Ferraro's being passed over as an act of sexual discrimination by a male-dominated council.
The act in itself was a disgrace. That a group of affluent women could equate themselves with Afghan women stripped of their livelihoods, families and dignity is inexcusable. The charges of sexism were unfounded, and the women only succeeded in embarrassing themselves and Ferraro.
When these five council members have a desire to work together, the discourse that can follow is illuminating and healthy. That very evening, the five engaged in a lengthy and valued discussion about the placement of observation booths in front of a large development. There were no raised voices, nor childish accusations. Ideas were thrown out and council members played off one another. It was the kind of discussion that makes one proud of city government.
Let's hope, for the city's sake, that council members don't lose sight of who they are and what they have been charged with doing: making decisions that are good for a majority of residents not to forward a personal agenda at the expense of Rancho Palos Verdes.