By Steven Tavares

Process, politics, personality, whatever it was nearly scuttled  the city council’s endorsement Monday night of the San Leandro school district’s plan to massively upgrade the city’s sports facilities. After consecutive near-misses, the council unanimously supported the $50 million school bond–Measure M–but not without another round of political gamesmanship by three members surrounding an obscure guideline against the body endorsing ballot initiatives.

According to Kathy Ornelas, community relations representative for the city, the new language contained in the handbook would ask members to seek consensus for the measure or proposition–for or against–before inclusion on the agenda and assuring public funds would not be used in support of the resolution. Despite the non-binding guideline, the city had weighed-in on initiatives in the past, said Ornelas, including Measures O, WW and Propositions 22 and 99. But, the new guidelines appears to run counter to what the dissident group had asked from city staff.

Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Joyce Starosciak raised the existence of the guideline within the council’s handbook Sept. 21, first regarding a proposed resolution in opposition of Proposition 23. The issue then bled into discussion of supporting Measure M. Councilmembers Bill Stepens, Diana Souza, Ursula Reed and Starosciak voted to “table” the issue until Monday’s meeting.

The vote created a potentially tumultuous response from the school board who, themselves, had postponed a vote in support of the city’s s ales tax proposal–Measure Z. In the meantime, the school board voted the next day to support the city’s sales tax measure and the Rules Committee recommended Sept. 28 to loosen the 2004 guidelines, according to staff reports. San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos also called for a suspension of the council’s 4-3 vote to table leading to Monday’s go around.

Stephens and Souza, though, found issue in the near-term with forming a consensus before the resolution is discussed. Stephens contended endorsing Measure M Monday night would immediately be in violation of the new guideline, if adopted. City Attorney Jayne Williams disagreed saying it was not a “noticing issue” since the item already appeared on Monday’s agenda. “This was tabled over process,” said Stephens referring to the council’s last meeting. “I’m not prepared to vote in convolution of the process,” he said.

“I don’t want people to say, ‘You made an exception before’,” said Souza after it was suggested to vote on endorsing Measure M before approving the new guidelines.Without resolution to argument put forth by Stephens and Souza, the council unanimously voted to approve both the guidelines and endorsement.

During the council comment, though, Starosciak thanked the city staff for making the more expansive changes to the members’ handbook causing one member to grin and wink towards a reporter in the audience. When questioned whether tabling the issue last meeting was intended to further restrict the guideline, not loosen it, she said, “I always supported allowing us to vote on ballot measures,” Starosciak said after the meeting. One city official who declined to be identified questioned her response saying, “If that was true, then why did she vote to table it last meeting?”

The roller coaster path to the simple endorsement of a ballot measure may be further proof, some say, that the business of governing is taking backseat to a wilder than usual and tight race for mayor. “In a small city you don’t usually see candidates attacking each other,” one observer told The Citizen. “But, this one is a tough one.”