Yeesh, and I thought last year’s transfer of power on the City Council was dramatic, when then-Ward 5 Councilor Amaad Rivera snubbed colleague Kateri Walsh by voting “present,” not “yes,” when her name was offered for Council vice president.
But that was nothing compared to the dust-up at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera created when, in his capacity as the Council’s newly elected president, he issued what smells like serious payback in his appointments to the Council committees.
The biggest losers under Ferrera’s assignments: Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen, who had initially launched his own bid for the presidency but dropped it when it became apparent that Ferrera had the votes he needed, and Ward 2’s Mike Fenton, an Allen supporter who went along with the unanimous vote for Ferrera after his first choice dropped out.
The City Council has seven regular committees, each with three members, and eight special committees, which have between one and three members apiece—meaning there should be plenty of jobs to go around for the 13 city councilors. But when Ferrera announced his committee assignments last week, he found only one spot for his erstwhile rival, Allen, who was named a member of the Human Services committee.
Fenton fared even worse: Ferrera didn’t appoint him to any regular committees, sticking him on something called the “animal control advisory committee”—which, by the way, meets at a time that Fenton cannot make, a conflict he has said the new president was aware of. Fenton had been the chair of the Finance Committee, arguably the most important, and most coveted, committee.
Council presidents have historically, of course, used their power to hand out plum assignments to pals and supporters; it’s one of the main perks of the job, along with extra media exposure and the chance to use that nifty little gavel. But it’s hard to recall a president wielding that power as blatantly as Ferrera did this year—a sign, perhaps, that his reign as president will be full of fireworks.
Right now, Ferrera is dealing with some backlash for his assignments, while insisting—not especially convincingly—that he wasn’t motivated by revenge. “It was not a political process,” Ferrera told Republican reporter Pete Goonan over the weekend, while, in the same interview, explaining the explicitly political process he used to hand out committee assignments: “I had to accommodate the individuals who supported me early on first. Some councilors were last to commit to voting for me for president and they received whatever was left over.”
The councilor most “accommodated” by Ferrera: Ward 1’s Zaida Luna, who landed on four regular committees—including Human Services, which she will chair—and one special committee. Ferrera’s friend Bud Williams, who was re-elected to the Council after stepping down in 2009 to run an unsuccessful mayoral campaign, was awarded the chairmanship of Planning and Economic Development. At-large Councilor Tim Rooke, meanwhile, assumes the Finance chairmanship, as well as the chairmanships of two special committees, the Audit and School Building committees. Those are all good matches for Rooke, who serves as the Council’s strongest fiscal watchdog—but really, Ferrera couldn’t have spread out the goodies a little bit more?
Fenton and Allen are both good councilors—smart, focused, thoughtful—and by cutting them out of the committees, where most of the Council’s real work takes place, Ferrera isn’t doing the city’s electorate any favors. In particular, limiting Fenton’s and Allen’s roles is an indirect insult to their constituents, who, presumably, elected their councilors to have an influence on city business, not to spend the next year sitting in Ferrera’s Naughty Chair.
Fenton called Ferrera’s handling of the committee assignments “immature” but told the Republican that he still plans to show up for committee meetings.
Ferrera is not without his defenders. At-large Councilor Tommy Ashe—who held on to the chairmanship of the Public Health and Safety committee—assured the Republican that Ferrera’s assignments were “not a personal thing.” Rooke, meanwhile, spoke more directly to the political truth of the matter: “That’s the way business is conducted and that’s the way politics is conducted. To the victor go the spoils.”