Politics takes center stage in signing of gun violence petition

The Claremont City Council’s discussion on gun violence took an unexpected turn on Tuesday night when the council’s 3-2 vote effectively gave Mayor Pro Tem Joe Lyons the power to sign the Mayors Against Illegal Guns petition should Mayor Opanyi Nasiali decline.

The discussion on signing the Mayors Against Illegal Guns petition was first brought before council in March because then Mayor Larry Schroeder wanted council approval before doing so on his own accord.

“We appoint a mayor every year by the council and I believe that the mayor should take direction from this council. It’s not an independently elected mayor,” Mr. Schroeder noted. “That person, when signing policy or signing procedure, should take the majority view of the council.”

After 2 hours of public comment last night, Councilmember Larry Schroeder made a motion to direct Mr. Nasiali to sign onto the petition, despite his personal beliefs against it. Mr. Schroeder’s reasoning, as stated before, was that because the Claremont mayor is more of an honorary title—selected by the council and not voted into office—he or she should heed the will of the council majority.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Lyons seconded Mr. Schroeder’s motion, stating his belief that gun violence is clearly a local issue, while Councilmember Corey Calaycay joined Mr. Nasiali in voting no because he felt the response to the Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) petition is not so clear cut, at least not for all of the Claremont constituents.

“When we take a position as a council in the name of the city of Claremont, the city of Claremont is roughly 35,000 residents, and that’s putting everybody on record in favor of something,” Mr. Calaycay said. “It’s not for the city to put all of the residents on record.”

Councilmember Sam Pedroza, though supportive of the principles set forth by the MAIG petition and believing that gun violence is indeed a local issue, abstained from the initial vote because he did not support forcing his personal viewpoint on Mr. Nasiali.

“To me, that sets a really bad precedent. Not just on this issue but on any other issue that comes before this council and future councils, as well,” Mr. Pedroza stated.

As Mr. Schroeder’s initial motion died because of a lack of majority, Mr. Pedroza proposed to instead “authorize” the mayor to sign the petition should he we wish to do so and approve future mayors the ability to do so as well. Again, Mr. Lyons seconded and, consistent with their previous vote, Mr. Calaycay and Mr. Nasiali voted no. Mr. Schroeder added the approval needed to pass the vote.

“It’s better than nothing,” Mr. Schroeder gave as his reasoning.

The zinger came next. City Attorney Sonia Carvalho interpreted what the council had effectively approved. Ms. Carvalho pointed out that in this context, because Claremont’s mayor is elected by the council, “authorizing” the mayor to sign the petition is similar to authorizing him to sign a contract on the council’s behalf. Should the mayor not act on that authorization, because he is opposed to the issue or otherwise, “then the duties fall to the mayor pro tem,” according to Ms. Carvalho.

“It’s a choice for the mayor to make…but if he is unavailable or refuses for any reason to carry out your authorization, then under the government code the mayor pro tem can step into his shoes,” Ms. Carvalho reiterated. “It’s a personal choice.”

Carolyn Gonzales—a Claremont resident who urged the council against the petition—questioned the validity of Ms. Carvalho’s interpretation.

“Her interpretation changed the intent of Sam’s motion,” Ms. Gonzales asserted. “The end result was no different than what was said in the first place, and that resolution died. Sam’s intent was distorted.”

Claudia Strauss, supportive of the petition, was equally perplexed by what had taken place.

“I feel a little uncomfortable with the idea that the mayor pro tem can step in,” Ms. Strauss admitted. “I won’t go against legal counsel, but this is education for all of us.”

In general, however, Ms. Strauss said she was heartened by the night’s discussion.

“I take heart in the fact that a majority of the council and the audience came forward in support of the idea of a petition against gun violence,” she said. “The only difference in opinion was if this [local government] is the right place for the discussion.”

Before voting no, Mr. Nasiali reiterated his belief that gun violence should be handled at the state or national level. He also reminded the audience and his fellow council members that he was not the one to bring the issue forward for council discussion.

Mr. Lyons says he will refrain from details on whether or not he will sign the petition until Mr. Nasiali formally rejects to do so himself. During the council’s comments, however, he did note, “If I were sitting in that chair, I would sign this particular document on behalf of the people of Claremont who I think are in the vast majority in favor of the kinds of requests that are being made in it.”

—Beth Hartnett



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