Irvine’s Bitter Realities

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A quarrel over sharing the Mayor Pro Tem position at a recent Irvine city council meeting gave those who attended a display of the bitter realities of Irvine city council politics.

The tense discussion kicked off when Councilman Steven Choi claimed that the Mayor Pro Tem position is awarded as a political favor, which he thinks unnecessarily politicizes the largely ceremonial title. By the end of the night Council members were serving volleys of blame at each other over their relationship failures.

Irvine Municipal Code dictates that the city council choose its Mayor Pro Tem. In his six years of service on the city council, Choi has yet to hold the Mayor Pro Tem title.

“I may have not been qualified because I was not nice?” Choi rhetorically asked his fellow councilmembers.

Councilwoman Beth Krom said having the discussion was uncomfortable, but retorted that the Mayor Pro Tem is not a totally ceremonial position. The Mayor Pro Tem serves as Mayor in cases where the current Mayor becomes unfit to serve, she said.

“The Mayor Pro Tem and the Mayor should have an aligning vision,” Krom said.

Mayor Sukhee Kang, Mayor Pro Tem Larry Agran and councilwoman Krom hold a 3-member majority that hasn’t been broken since Choi’s election to the council.

Both Choi and Councilwoman Christina Shea said sharing the position would improve the often bitter relationships on the city council.

“The three of you have been very unfair,” Shea said.

Mayor Kang responded with the “it-takes-two-to-make-a-thing-go-right” argument. “In 12 months, Choi hasn’t made a phone call to me on anything,” Kang said. “I don’t call that building a relationship.”

Choi cited Fullerton’s decision to change its Mayor Pro Tem selection policy so the position rotates among council members on the basis of seniority. “Their City Council recognized that all council members are elected, so all should have the opportunity to serve,” Choi wrote in a memo to the city manager.

Agran countered that the Mayor should be comfortable with the Mayor Pro Tem. “Before 2007 I was never Mayor Pro Tem, and I never felt slighted,” Agran said.

When the bickering neared its end, Choi blasted the old city council schism and noted that, under any circumstance, he was always on the losing side.

“It doesn’t matter what logic I present to you,” Choi said. “You’re gonna shut your ears.”

Choi’s motion to share the Mayor Pro Tem title failed to pass. Not surprisingly, the vote was 3-2. Shea and Choi voted yes. Kang, Agran and Krom voted no.



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