The Partisan: Election results challenge the status quo in DRO

OPINION |

By Royal Calkins

Del Rey Oaks is a neighborly kind of place where folks take in the mail for vacationing neighbors and try to hold their tongues when the odd ducks down the street post the wrong campaign signs in the yard. There are times, though, when things tense up even in the most peaceful of villages.

Take the transition that started this week in the Del Rey Oaks City Hall, which once depended on the Canyon Del Rey speed trap to balance the books but now enjoys a steady stream of tax dollars from the marijuana dispensary down the street.

Mayor Jerry Edelen can properly take credit for putting the city on a more prudent path and, in his decade at the helm, ending much of the petty corruption that had been the legacy of previous administrations. But that hasn’t quieted his critics who fretted over his support for development of almost any kind, his preoccupation with Fort Ord redevelopment politics, the creation of a large and exceedingly well armed SWAT team in a city that could borrow a SWAT team from its neighbors if the need ever arose, and his autocratic style of running City Council meetings.

But all that’s about to end, thanks to Tuesday’s balloting. Edelen lost out to a woman who in many ways is his opposite, Alison Kerr, a devout environmentalist who drew support from progressives in the little city and beyond.

So don’t expect Edelen to throw a party for Kerr when she is sworn in in two months. In fact, based on Thursday night’s council meeting, expect Edelen to continually throw out obstacles instead. In his first post-election initiative, Edelen successfully proposed to take away the next mayor’s ability to craft the agenda for each council meeting and to spread the mayor’s appointment power among the rest of the council. Though the public pays little attention, one of the perks of being mayor in many cities is the ability to decide which council members serve on important regional bodies such as the Fort Ord Reuse Authority and which are relegated to sister cities committees or the like.

It was a contentious meeting with Edelen’s conservative constituency sparring with Kerr’s cast of supporters.

In an email exchange this week, Edelen said he wanted more formal procedural policies because he doesn’t consider Kerr a team player. He also recalled how he moved quickly to change things when he became mayor a decade ago, filling in for the even more autocratic Joe Russell.

“Del Rey Oaks has had in its past at least one ‘imperial’ mayor who ran the city pretty much by himself and considered the City Council to be an annoyance at best,” Edelen wrote.

“When I was elected, the first three things I did were to call the city staff together, direct the mayor’s parking place be removed, then cut up the mayor’s city credit card in front of the staff, and directed no City Council member would ever be issued a credit card again.

“Shortly afterwards, I told our City Council that I was instituting a policy that if any council members wanted an item placed on the agenda, they should let me know and I would place it on the agenda – unless it involved some national ‘hot-button’ Republican/ Democratic issue such as nuclear free zone, abortion, gun rights, etc.There was no need to get council members angry at each other over issues that didn’t directly affect our city.

“I also added that if I refused to agendize an issue, if two members felt very strongly about an issue and they let me know, I would defer to their wishes and go ahead and agendize the issue. The two member rule was to insure we didn’t violate the Brown Act. Three council members would have constituted a majority of the council.”

Edelen said other council members made use of his procedures when he appointed Kristin Clark as vice mayor and two council members petitioned for a vote. Clark ended up in the post anyway on a 3-2 vote.

Edelen said the “Agenda Management Policy” approved by the council Thursday is an attempt to formalize what had been an informal policy during his administration. The new appointment policy would clarify what happens when the mayor makes an appointment to an outside agency and the majority of the City Council disapproves. At its heart, though, what it really does is make it harder for Kerr to move the city from right to left.

Edelen said he wanted the policies formalized because he fears Kerr will try to undo some of what he has done.

“Honestly,” he wrote, “I got to know the new mayor when she served with me for a while on our Del Rey Oaks Citizen’s Action Group. Once she is seated, there is no way she will voluntarily be inclusive. She has stated on more than one occasion that she intends to be ‘a disruptive influence.’ That is not an attitude a leader should have.”

“I am introducing these ordinances for the good of our city.”

Before the meeting, Kerr dismissed Edelen’s concerns. She runs an internship program at the Naval Postgraduate School, has been development director at Chartwell School and has been heavily involved in numerous civic and environmental organizations. Given the length of Edelen’s tenure, she was given little chance of unseating him but pulled off a relatively easy 326-231 victory as of last count.

“The work I do at NPS is closely tied with culture change and innovation,” she wrote Thursday. “My team has helped humanitarian disaster relief efforts cross technological and social boundaries between governmental and non-governmental entities facing some of the world’s greatest recent tragedies.”

She said shifting the Defense Department “to recognize the consequences of global climate change … is one of the top national security issues we face.” She said she also wants to help “move the dial on women participating in higher numbers in science, technology, engineering and math realms.”

“Sixty percent of the Del Rey Oaks voters and I have a very different definition of ‘disruption’ than Mr Edelen,” she said. “He needs to listen to the community and allow me the same powers he enjoyed during his tenure.”

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

4 thoughts on “The Partisan: Election results challenge the status quo in DRO

  1. Alison Kerr is one of the most kind hearted people I know. She ran because the residents of DRO were incredibly frustrated, because their was no representative government. Council meeting after council meeting citizens would get up and speak their concerns, only to have the council vote in the opposite direction almost every time. Alison needs our support, she has a Mt Everest climb in front of her.

  2. You’ve got it right, Royal. Alison Kerr is a much better pick for Del Rey Oaks than the conservative incumbent. This was the first time Edelen had ever been challenged and Del Rey Oaks voters delivered a clear message: the more progressive Kerr represented their views much better than Edelen.. With a little cooperation from the current council, the future for our community is brighter than ever.

  3. In m opinion, Former mayor Edelen is a right-wing nut, who made his political position quite clear at the Veteran’s For Peace sponsored debate on the Militarization of Local Police (he was strongly in favor). His debate opponent was a representative from the local NAACP. Edelen’s arrogance, dismissive attitude, & ignorance was in full display. His argument was: DRO needs a Military Assault Vehicle in order to combat the threat of terrorism…& it got worse from that point on. I am relieved DRO no longer has a White Nationalist running the city government.

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