Mayor Nancy Gardner took time out of her very busy schedule in October to do an early interview with me so I could have this column ready for the changing of the guard in December.
As most of you know, we do not elect our city’s mayor. They are chosen annually by their council peers, and in general most everyone gets an opportunity to sit in the middle chair if they want to and are embraced by their colleagues.
Nancy is finishing her one-year term; and the next Mayor is set to be Keith Curry, who will get his second chance at the seat. Keith can and does facilitate efficient meetings.
Nancy and I tried to recall when it was that Newport Beach had their last female mayor and we guessed it was Jan Debay about ten years ago. The council seats have been predominately filled with men over the years, so it is a very big deal when a woman finally gets the title.
Nancy had been reluctant to be mayor because the mayor must attend many more functions in the city, assist with setting the agenda and hold the gavel, while facilitating the council and audience who come to receive awards, comment on city actions, and sometimes thank the city for the many services that are provided. She was not seeking the extra attention that comes with being mayor. She finally decided that she assume the role in her sixth year on the council.
Nancy’s favorite part of being mayor was the response she received from children when visiting with them because their reaction was so positive, and of course she enjoyed it because her granddaughter thought it was such a big thing to tell her friends. And a big deal it is being mayor of this beautiful city. Nancy remarked that you also get your picture taken a great deal.
I am glad she made the choice to become mayor this past year because she took the job seriously, improved her communication and facilitation skills at each meeting, and made sure that each speaker was heard. She had many tough meetings to run which brought citizens in large numbers to speak up on topics ranging from the fire ring controversy to the dock tax increase, Measure EE, Charter, and the City Hall Site use. Some of these issues will surface next year as they are either unresolved or will continue to be debated, discussed, and implemented.
Mayor Gardner not only encouraged public input, but also listened and learned from the many citizens who stepped forward on behalf of their neighborhoods as well as the city as a whole. That input was helpful and useful in the many tough decisions that came before the council. Nancy places high value on public input and its use in decisions.
The tone, listening behaviors exhibited, and genuine interest in understanding the issues being discussed was very helpful in keeping the meetings focused on important city and community concerns and actions.
Nancy showed independent thinking on several major controversies, sought further knowledge, and sometimes voted no rather than lock step with other council members after hearing public comments from the many citizens stepping forward to voice different points of view and ideas for solving issues.
We need our council to disagree, listen, consider, and rethink as necessary actions before making final decisions. A variety of points of view and expertise is needed from elected leaders and community leaders. Good decision-making requires well thought out processes, information, data, and discussion before action.
I asked Nancy what qualifications she thought people who aspire to run for council should have. She believes personal success in your own life is important, as well as experience on city committees, a thorough knowledge of city issues, and knowing how to demonstrate collaborative behaviors.
Her most difficult decision as a council member has been Banning Ranch. She saw the complexities of the issue, the importance of open space to the community, traffic concerns, and the costs of cleaning up and purchasing the property. It was a decision that is still debated, and will be for years.
As Mayor Gardner moves into her last two years on the council she sees traffic, seawalls, and water quality and use issues as important decisions she would like to participate in and finish. Her vision for the city in the next five years is an emphasis on working together as a community, and being good stewards of water and the bay. The mayor thoroughly enjoyed her time as mayor but is eager to return to her regular seat and turn over the duties to the next council member. Perhaps the little extra time will give her some much needed rest and more time paddle boarding on the bay.
It is the beginning of a new council year with many discussions and decisions to be carried forward, and we all need to remember that just because we disagree it does mean we are against a person or the council or citizens. We must reframe our attitudes about public input. Sharing multiple perspectives, ideas, strategies, and solutions is our civic responsibility and it should be viewed as that not as being on the wrong side of an issue.
Let’s keep moving forward with increased involvement in our community for better decisions that impact our city’s future.