Piedmont’s new mayor appointed without a hitch; vice mayor…not so much

Mayor Teddy Gray King (center), flanked by vice mayors Jen Cavenaugh and Tim Rood

Teddy Gray King accepts mayoral appointment, underscoring pandemic and fiscal responsibilities

Saying that maintaining Piedmont’s strong fiscal position and pressing ahead with the city’s moves toward greater social justice and equity are priorities, Teddy Gray King was chosen Monday night as Piedmont’s new mayor, shortly after Robert McBain took his leave from the mayor’s chair, and from the council altogether.

King’s most immediate and pressing task, she said, will be helping lead the city’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It calls for us to be our best selves, and our most proactive selves,” said King, noting that kids and seniors are taking the brunt of the worsening health crisis and the isolation it has created.

Council compromises over vice mayor appointment

The 4-0 vote to name King Piedmont’s new mayor for two years (Councilman Tim Rood missed parts of Monday’s meeting because of a work conflict) was utterly without drama. That was not the case with selecting the new vice mayor to succeed King, though, as a stalemate over whether to choose Rood or Councilwoman Jen Cavenaugh ultimately led to an unusual compromise — Rood and Cavenaugh, in that order, will split the two-year vice mayor’s term. Rood will serve the first year of that term as vice mayor, and Cavenaugh the second year, from December 2021 until December 2022.

King first proposed that the vice mayoral decision be postponed until the next council meeting on Dec. 21, given that Rood couldn’t fully participate in Monday’s meeting. “If anyone else was in this position, I’d try to do the same thing,” King said.

Newly christened Councilwoman Conna McCarthy also wanted to postpone a vice mayoral selection. But Councilmembers Cavenaugh and Betsy Smegal Andersen wanted to move ahead. Andersen said the mayoral selection went according to tradition, and that there was no reason not to do the same with the vice mayor’s spot. In the absence of any written rules about selecting a vice mayor, Andersen said, tradition should win out.

Selecting a vice mayor has, since the 1980s, been done with council seniority being the first criteria, and vote total in the previous election as the second. (Editor’s note: A previous version of this story had the criteria reversed. Updated 12/11/20.)

Cavenaugh said she “hoped and expected” to be named the new vice mayor Monday night. Cavenaugh led the vote count in the Nov. 3 election.

Andersen said she didn’t know why Rood wasn’t part of the vice mayor “rotation” a few years ago, and called that “a missed opportunity.” Rood was elected in 2014.

And while Cavenaugh said she thought the tradition was its own form of process, McCarthy said she disagreed, and that the council’s advancement process was unclear.

Andersen nominated Cavenaugh to be selected as vice mayor; she and Cavenaugh voted yes, while King and McCarthy voted no (Rood was absent from the meeting at that point). Shortly thereafter, the council also deadlocked 2-2 on whether to make Rood vice mayor, with King and McCarthy voting yes.

Andersen then suggested Rood and Cavenaugh could split that two years, with Rood taking the first year and Cavenaugh the second. Andersen called it an “elegant solution” that would reward two deserving council members. That motion was approved by a 3-to-1 vote, with Cavenaugh dissenting.   

Both Cavenaugh and McCarthy were sworn in to their council terms Monday night —- Cavenaugh to her second term, and new member McCarthy to her first. Both Cavenaugh and McCarthy won election on Nov. 3 to four-year council terms.

After the vice mayor decision was made, Cavenaugh made opening remarks citing David Perez of Piedmont, who died recently from COVID-19, and various local front-line health professionals from Piedmont working during the pandemic, as well as the need for local action on climate change and inclusionary housing.

“The good news is that we have the right leadership in place,” Cavenaugh said. “We all know change is coming, and we are positioned to be the positive change agent that is required.”

McCarthy said she’s ready to take the lessons she’s learned from many people to be a community leader. The main teacher, she said, was her own father, former California Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy.

“Tonight, I am very proud to sit in his reflection” she said.

McBain bids a fond farewell

At meeting’s end, McBain said his goodbyes after eight years on the city council, the last three-plus years as mayor. He said he was proud of helping the city right its financial ship following the Great Recession, and for helping create conditions that have helped Piedmont attract first-rate city staff.

“People like to work in a good environment, be part of a winning team,” McBain said. “And I think we have both of these.”

Council members were effusive in their praise for McBain, citing his background as an investment bank helping get the city’s financial picture turned around over the past eight years. They also said they appreciated his steady hand, patience and sense of humor.

“I feel like you’ve been a mentor to me, in the greatest sense,” said King, who credited McBain’s financial acumen for helping the city regain its fiscal footing.

Rood said he appreciated McBain’s “dignified, collegial spirit,” and that he helped all council members bring their strengths to the fore. And when McBain became mayor in August 2017, when then-Mayor Jeff Wieler resigned from the council over comments he’s posted on social media, Rood said, “I feel the way you handled that situation was the embodiment of grace under pressure.”

About a dozen callers praised McBain for his service, as well. One of them was now-retired former City Administrator Paul Benoit.

“The advice you gave to me was always backed up by wisdom, common sense and a great sense of humor, and a love of community,” said Benoit, who left the city in July 2019 after five years at City Hall.


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Contact Sam Richards at sam.richards4344@gmail.com

5 thoughts on “Piedmont’s new mayor appointed without a hitch; vice mayor…not so much

  1. As newly elected Mayor King is an advocate of “Good Governance,” much of the controversy of her unprecedented actions Monday night would be cleared up if she would state when Mr. Rood expressed interest to her about Vice-Mayor. Was this recently behind the scenes or in public when Ms. King was elevated to the Vice-Mayor’s chair for an unprecedented 39 month run because of the resignation of the Mayor at that time?

  2. “A sort of manipulated portrayal of moving forward in equity” – in this case, spun as a triumph of precedent over tradition. But consider the opportunity lost – the Mayor could have elevated Councilman Rood to equal status by sharing the office. Think of the message that would have sent in the midst of our current political climate, let alone the acknowledgement of equity. Perhaps Councilman Rood didn’t want to be mayor, in which case he can clarify this “manipulated portrayal” by acknowledging this when he next addresses Council. Otherwise, he seems to have played a part in this side-step of equity.

  3. “This being Piedmont, no tradition is written down” – in this case, unfortunately, this lack of written protocol (but assumption that such an accepted tradition would be upheld) can leave space for confusion and a seeming lack of transparency to whatever that was that we saw Monday evening in regards to the vice mayor appointment. Where did this sudden shift come from? Additionally, as a long time Piedmont resident who wants to see Piedmont truly embrace and act on changing systems that don’t serve absolutely everyone, what happened Monday felt like a sort of manipulated portrayal of moving forward in equity, and I myself felt blindsided by the “process.”

  4. The protocol used by City Council for four decades to elect the mayor was followed at the 12/7 Council meeting. Then shockingly the election of the vice-mayor which uses the same protocol was not applied by action of newly elected Mayor King. This is the first occurrence of this break in protocol in nearly forty years. If a change or clarification of the existing protocol was needed Monday night, then the protocol should be scheduled at the next Council meeting for discussion before the vote for vice-mayor.

    This was a display of bad governance Monday night as apparently a personal agenda by the new mayor replaced equal treatment of all Council members

  5. Sam – I don’t think you are quoting the right “yardstick”. Piedmont elects a single councilmember every 2, 4 and 6 years and assuming they are re-elected, on the basis of seniority, they become vice mayor and mayor the last 4 years of their second term, 2 as vice and 2 as mayor. Every 8 years, two councilmembers are elected and to resolve the question of seniority , the councilmember with the largest vote total in that first election becomes vice and mayor in his or her second. Spoils to the least anonymous. This being Piedmont, none of this tradition is written down and it generally only comes up every 8 years. The new mayor has decided to reward her colleague with a 1-year appointment as vice mayor. Well intended, but there are real assets to the tradition. Both John Chiang and Bob McBain engaged in long-term projects and new policy development that spanned their second 4 years and their “grooming” as vice I would say made them more effective as mayor. The new Council will face some long-term issues – building of the new pool, implementation of the Facilities Maintenance Plan with the new Director of Public Works, revised long-term financial planning with the defeat of Measure TT – so an experienced vice mayor will be important. Fortunately Jennifer Cavenaugh is a quick study. Good luck to the new City Council.

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