OAKLEY -- In a surprise turn of events, Oakley's Carol Rios relinquished her position as vice mayor Tuesday, paving the way for Councilman Randy Pope to assume the coveted title.
The move places Pope in line for the mayorship next year, a role he said he had been unfairly denied last month when his colleagues bucked Oakley's tradition of rotating its elected officials through the council's No. 1 and 2 seats.
In a split vote, they appointed Rios and Mayor Kevin Romick to serve an additional year in their positions instead of moving Pope into the vice mayor's seat. The action effectively prevented him from becoming mayor before his term ends in 2014.
Pope protested the decision and asked the rest of the council to reconsider.
On Tuesday, some Oakley residents did the same: Shawn Horrocks told council members that voters hadn't chosen Pope only to have him sidelined, and Angela Lowrey emphasized that those who had given Rios the nod to serve a second consecutive term as vice mayor essentially insulted the councilman.
"Please honor him in that position," she said.
Pope faced opposition from Michael Burkholder, however, who elicited boos from the audience when he called him an "opportunist" who hadn't invested sufficient time and effort in his duties to deserve the role of vice mayor.
In the end, council members voted unanimously to give Pope his wish, although they didn't see eye to eye on whether to continue the practice of taking turns serving as mayor and vice mayor -- a convention that's been in effect since Oakley incorporated in 1999 -- or implement a new process.
Special Counsel Bill Galstan advised the group to formalize whatever method it chooses by adding it to Oakley's Municipal Code so that anyone needing to refer to a description of the procedure in the future can find it more easily in city records.
During the debate over how to decide who assumes those two roles, Councilman Doug Hardcastle argued for a proposal that would make the rotation system mandatory.
"Everybody should have that opportunity -- it's always been that way," he said.
Most of those in the audience who spoke echoed his sentiments, saying that custom has worked well.
Mayor Kevin Romick and other council members preferred a more flexible system that would allow them to deny a colleague an appointment if he or she fails to meet certain standards of leadership.
They agreed to take up the matter again at their Feb. 12 meeting.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141 or follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.