PALM SPRINGS – Mayor Robert Moon has always wanted to be something he is not – a strong mayor, one who has more authority and more prestige than his counterparts on the City Council simply because of his title.
That is not how it works.
He has sometimes attempted to act strong by raising his voice, mocking City Council colleagues, and attempting to get his way simply because, as he said, he was the mayor.
In December 2017, he snidely referred to the City Council as “Kors’ Council,” a reference to now-Mayor Pro Tem Geoff Kors. He also accused Kors of calling him nothing more than a “ribbon-cutter.” Kors denied that, but said the mayor’s post is “ceremonial.”
Who could forget the tense and uncomfortable public debate and Moon’s public temper tantrum over committee assignments in December 2017? The unexpected outburst from Moon came as the City Council debated assignments to the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) and the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Moon argued that because he is mayor, he should represent the City Council on both. Others maintained that as co-equal representatives of the city, they, too, should have a chance to sit on the pair of boards and share the workload.
Moon said he strongly objected to rotating the appointments, noting that the mayors of the membership cities traditionally serve on the CVAG Committee.
“This is entirely mayors of cities and I was elected mayor of Palm Springs,” Moon said, begging to retain the appointment. “I have never missed a meeting. I have represented the city well. … To take this away from me as the mayor of Palm Springs, elected by the people of Palm Springs is inappropriate … It would be embarrassing to me and the Coachella Valley, and it would look bad for me personally, and it would look bad for the position of mayor of Palm Springs. I really ask you not to take this away from me because I represented us well and every other seat is a mayor. So, I ask you please not to take this away from me.”
The City Council agreed that Mayor Moon would serve as the city representative to the CVAG Executive Committee for 2018 and that the City Council would reconsider the matter at a future meeting.
“I cannot accept that,” Moon said. “I have two more years as the mayor of Palm Springs. I was elected by the people to be the mayor of Palm Springs. Every single one of these mayors is on this. For you to take it away from me is unacceptable and will not stand for it lying down….All of you could have run for mayor. You did not. I did and I was elected. I highly object to this.”
Some called it embarrassing to watch a grown man, much less a mayor, beg.
A rerun of the mayor’s pleas accompanied the CVB discussion.
“The vote is to remove me under protest,” Moon said. “I do not deserve to be kicked off of this.”
The Council voted 4-1 to appoint Kors to serve as the city’s representative, and Mayor Moon as to serve as the alternate, to the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Those are just a couple of examples of how Moon considers himself a strong mayor.
If there was ever any doubt he carries no more weight than any other Councilmember, it was delivered in black and white five short months ago.
The California Voting Rights Act Community Working Group, in its Sept. 20, 2018, report to City Council recommended the city be divided into five districts. The group said five electoral districts would produce better government, be more consistent with the Palm Springs City Charter, and better advance the goals of the California Voting Rights Act.
Members of the group were: Aftab Dada, Ed Dube, Grace Garner, Dixie Miller, Stephen Moses, Alexis Ortega, Kathy Weremiuk, and Tobias Wolff.
Moon and Councilmember J.R. Roberts opposed the move to districts.
Moon has also since announced he will not seek election from District 3 in the November 2019 election. On the dais, he said both he and his husband, Bob, are turning 70 this year. They jointly decided that Moon would not seek re-election in the newly drawn district-based elections so they could spend more time doing things together.
Depending on whom he talks to, when, and how, he changes his story portraying himself as the victim.
As he did in July in an interview with Uken Report, he blames his colleagues.
“They are very, very progressive, and left-wing Democrats,” Moon told Uken Report. “I am a Democrat. I’m a very moderate to conservative Democrat. I am a life-long Democrat, but I am not a progressive Democrat. I don’t support a lot of their progressive views. And also, I push back against them trying to turn the City Council dais into a political platform on national issues. We should be focusing on potholes in the streets, the park downtown, and the quality of life in Palm Springs. I don’t want to use that dais to address national political issues. That’s what they do at every damn meeting anymore. They just don’t want me there.”
Some insiders say the mayor realized he does not now nor will he ever have the power for which he thirsts.
“The mayor of Palm Springs is elected as a member of the City Council and has no power or authority different from that of any other council member,” the group said in its report. “… the mayor is one of five co-equal City Councilmembers. The mayor also has ceremonial duties, though even those are not exclusive.”
The Palm Springs Charter explains: “The mayor shall be the head of the city for all ceremonial purposes” and “shall serve as the primary, but not exclusive, spokesperson of the City.”
Managerial authority in Palm Springs is held by the City Manager, who is accountable to the City Council as a whole.
“In meetings and discussions with members of the community, we learned that many residents of Palm Springs do not realize this fact about how the city government operates and assume that the position of mayor involves superior authority,” the group said in its report. “That is understandable — many of us grew up thinking about mayors as executives who have managerial authority. That is how the position works in most large cities. But in Palm Springs, as with the majority of cities of our size around California, the mayor is simply one member of the City Council and stands on an equal footing with other councilmembers except for ceremonial duties.”
This fact about the mayor of Palm Springs will not change with the establishment of districts.
A five-district council with a mayor selected from the council will preserve the principle that the mayor of Palm Springs is a co-equal member of the Palm Springs City Council with no greater powers or authority than any other councilmember, according to the report.
There is a lack of awareness among many members of our community concerning the ceremonial nature of the position of mayor.
“That situation undermines political accountability,” the report said. “If members of the public believe that the mayor of Palm Springs is an executive with managerial authority, they are likely to give unearned credit to mayors for good city management and impose unearned blame on them for managerial problems.”
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