Freezing temperatures have paralyzed the East Coast and Midwest this week, but there were few places frostier Monday night than the Pleasant Hill City Council chamber.
That's where Councilman Jack Weir, who expected to be elevated last month from vice mayor to mayor, shared an uncomfortable dais with the three colleagues who denied him that honor.
In a 3-2 vote on Dec. 2 that Weir understandably took as a personal insult -- he'd invited friends and family to what he thought would be a celebration -- he heard outgoing Mayor Michael Harris and Councilmen Tim Flaherty and Ken Carlson oppose his election and instead vote for Flaherty. Only David Durant, who nominated Weir, supported what's been an automatic part of annual reorganization.
How automatic? You have to flip back through 24 calendars to find the last time this happened.
"Our city hasn't done this kind of thing in a long time," Durant said. "I think most cities have gotten away from playing these kinds of games."
What made the action most disturbing, Durant said, was the lack of explanation for why the three voted as they did. Durant ranks it as the strangest occurrence he's witnessed in 14 years on the council.
When I asked Harris, he conceded the public deserves an explanation and yet the matter remains cloaked in mystery.
"I've given broad, general concerns I have about leadership and what I expect from our mayor," he said, "but I've been reluctant to pose my specific concerns in public. I want to give Jack an opportunity to meet with me so I can discuss it with him."
Flaherty, who said he arrived at the Dec. 2 meeting with no preconceptions, apparently was counting on someone else to make up his mind: "I waited to see how matters unfurled. When I saw there was no majority support for Councilman Weir, I realized that was not a good decision."
Weir said he declined offers from Harris and Flaherty to meet privately with him: "I told them that if they have something to say to me, they can say it publicly. "
Residents have been less reticent to speak, including three whose public comments Monday grew progressively more intense. The first criticized a mayoral vote that defied tradition. The second threatened an initiative to formalize the mayoral selection process. The third was briefest and loudest: "We are going to do something about this. This is a democracy, and your behavior has been despicable."
Harris described the speakers as "a vocal minority who get angry when a decision is made they don't agree with." But Durant said he's heard from other unhappy constituents, and he's heard rumors of possible voter recalls. He hopes time will heal what he describes as self-inflicted wounds. The first hurdle is clearing the "trust gap" that now separates council members.
"What's happened is a disservice not only to Jack," Durant said, "but a disservice to the community. This is about the office itself and the community."
The strangest aspect of the kerfuffle, he added, is that "Mayor of Pleasant Hill" is hardly a position of power. It means ribbon-cuttings, awards dinners and the center seat at council meetings. The mayor's vote counts no more than any other council member's.
"It's largely a ceremonial role," Durant said. "I don't know if these guys understand what they opened up by making this an issue."
Well, we know this much: They created a cold wave that's chilling Pleasant Hill.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.