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The Santa Ana City Council Monday night appointed an ad hoc committee to review possible term limits for the mayor’s office, a proposal that could end the long tenure of Mayor Miguel Pulido.
The council voted 6-0, with Councilman Carlos Bustamante absent, to appoint council members Vincent Sarmiento, David Benavides and Michele Martinez to the committee. The panel will coordinate with city staff in drafting a term limit ballot measure for the November election.
The mayor now can serve an unlimited number of two-year terms. Martinez proposed a limit of six terms at two years each. Under Martinez’s proposal, Pulido would only be able to serve one more term as the limit would apply retroactively, she said.
A mayoral term limit would restore balance to the council’s authority over the city bureaucracy, Martinez argued. Although she said the term-limit is about curbing the influence of the mayor’s office in general, she singled Pulido out for excluding council members in the decision-making process.
“There is no parity when there’s no term limit on the mayor and there are term limits on the council members,” Martinez said. “Most of the staff, when it’s all said and done, defer to the mayor.”
A push to effectively oust Pulido would show that the veteran politician has lost his grip on the fractious seven-member council. While the overriding assumption has been that Pulido pulls all the important levers at City Hall, there have been several instances over the past year of Martinez and other council members challenging him.
Councilman Sal Tinajero said the latest dispute arose from staffing decisions. While Tinajero declined to be specific, sources close to City Hall have said that the horse-trading leading to the appointment of Police Chief Paul Walters as city manager included the fate of two vacant deputy city manager positions.
“What you’re seeing here is a City Council that is saying wait a minute, you’re no more powerful than we are,” Tinajero said.
Jill Arthur, executive director of public affairs, is seen as Pulido’s eyes and ears within city government and was to be excluded from receiving a deputy city manager position, sources have said. Some council members have long been wary of Arthur’s gradual consolidation of authority at City Hall in the wake of the retirement of top bureaucrats, particularly former longtime City Manager Dave Ream.
While the deputy city manager positions haven’t been filled, Walters said he brought in part-time consultant Robyn Uptegraff to assist with some city operations. Uptegraff, who Walters said worked for The Irvine Co. for 12 years, served as the city’s planning chief in the 1990s.
Some have said that Uptegraff is a vestige of Ream’s management team, which served under Pulido for many years. Walters said that Uptegraff is not a candidate for a deputy city manager position.
Walters explained that the council has authority to appoint only three positions within city government: the city manager, city clerk and city attorney. The deputy city manager positions would be appointed by Walters, but the council would have the final decision via council votes to approve the appointments, he said.
The process to appoint the deputy city managers, which starts by choosing a recruitment firm to search for candidates, has yet to begin, Walters said. “We’re just in the early stages of going down that road,” he said.
The measure, which would require City Council approval to be placed on the ballot, must be submitted to the Orange County registrar of voters by Aug. 10, according to City Attorney Sonia Carvalho.
Pulido did not comment on the issue during the meeting.