Mayoral Controversy Over Women Commission Appointments Sparks Public Records Act Request

Newly appointed Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian speaks at first City Council meeting as mayor. Photo by Steve Whitmore

A month after the newly appointed mayor of South Pasadena approved the appointment and re-appointment of 18 women to voluntary commissions, raising the ire of many residents in the process, she has now added the names of three men.

The controversy continues to boil, however, as a local attorney has filed a California Public Records Act request with the city, seeking information as to the qualifications of those women appointed.

Conversely, at the most recent Women Involved in Political Action (WISPPA) meeting, many were in strong support of the mayor’s appointments.

So Pas attorney Edward E. Corey – who was in good standing and wanted to serve another term on the city’s Finance Commission and was not re-appointed – has filed a California Public Records Act request with the city on Friday, Jan. 11, for the resumes and written qualifications of all the people who applied to be on the commissions.

Corey, whose legal specialty is complicated real estate transactions and business law, and also served as the chief operating officer for the Tournament of Roses for many years, said he’s filing the request because newly appointed Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian indicated that all the people she appointed and re-appointed were highly qualified.

“The article in the paper suggested the mayor chose these candidates based on their specific skill sets suitable for the job,” Corey said in an interview with The Review. “It seems only appropriate that we get the applications and qualifications for these people that were appointed.” Corey was replaced by a woman.

Moreover, local resident Chris Bray said in an email to The Review and others that he had wished the city would have informed those that wanted to volunteer about the bias toward women. “Late last year, the South Pasadena City Council solicited volunteers for service on commissions,” Bray said in the email. “It would have been polite to mention the plan to only appoint women. You asked people to serve without mentioning that you wouldn’t accept their service. I won’t be alone in remembering that, the next time you ask for volunteers.”

The three men were Amin Al-Sarraf, appointed to the Public Safety Commission; Mark E. Smeaton, re-appointed to the Design Review Board; and William J. Kelly to the Natural Resources & Environmental Commission, according to city officials. The other three were Zhen Tao to the Finance Commission and Dollie Chapman and Karen Tamis to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Many were upset after the Dec. 19 meeting when Khubesrian made the appointments. One called it “irregular” while others went so far as to characterize the sweeping appointments as “discriminatory” and “disrespectful.” Some said they were “disgusted” with the process.

At that council meeting, Khubesrian was sworn in as mayor of South Pasadena as part of the council’s routine rotation. The mayoral position is ceremonial and is not a separately elected position. Each councilmember rotates into the mayor and mayor pro tem slot for a year.

One of Khubesrian’s first actions was to appoint and re-appoint 16 women to commissions. She also appointed two women to partial terms on commissions. All the commissions are voluntary.

Some men that were already serving on commissions in good standing, and wanting to continue to serve the city, were denied the opportunity when their re-appointment was rejected. They were replaced with women.

Appointments to voluntary commissions such as the Animal Commission or the Cultural Heritage Commission are usually routine. Re-appointments to commissions also are usually routine matters.

Khubesrian has defended her appointments from the beginning, saying the chosen volunteers are all highly qualified. She defended her appointments again in a recent email to The Review.

“All my appointments were made with the considerations of skill sets, expertise, and perspectives offered by the pool of applicants for a particular commission,” Khubesrian said in an email to The Review. “Some commissions had more applicants than others or needed special skillsets. For some commissions, the best applicants at this time were folks applying for re-appointments and for others they were new applicants. As I said, where possible, I tried to appoint at least two women to each commission, keeping the above stated priorities in mind. I’m very grateful that so many women in our community stepped up this year to serve their city. I applaud all residents who want to volunteer to serve. I encourage all residents who wish to serve to send in applications. All applications are kept on file for two years and appointments are made annually. I think it’s great our residents are eager to participate, and my goal is to offer that opportunity to as many of them as possible.”

Khubesrian went on to say in an earlier email that all commission appointments have to be approved by council members and are not just under her purview. She recommends and the council agrees or not. In this case, they agreed to all of the mayor’s recommendations.

“Commission terms are set for three years so that the people’s elected body has the authority to decide what is in the best interest of the entire community at that time and be held accountable by the electorate for its stewardship of the city,” Khubesrian said. “By voting unanimously to approve my proposed appointments, the City Council made a strong statement of support for the strategy I’ve outlined and prioritized to form the advisory teams that will best serve our city.” 

“The City Council values all of our volunteers and thanks them for their time and service to our city,” she said.