Council Decision: Who’ll Take Khubesrian’s Place?

The South Pasadena City Council is expected to decide at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 2, who will finish former colleague Marina Khubesrian’s term on the panel.
Whatever decision is made, the District 2 seat is eventually expected to go to longtime local resident Jack Donovan starting in December, as he was the only candidate who had filed to run for the seat in this fall’s election. Khubesrian announced she wouldn’t seek re-election about a week before resigning from the council entirely.

Applications for the temporary post are due by 3 p.m. today, Aug. 28, with all applications required to be emailed to the city clerk’s office. The council will consider registered voters residing within the district, and will fill the seat by majority vote.
There was some debate among council members last week whether to even fill the seat, given the proximity of November’s election. A majority eventually decided to choose a temporary council member because of a handful of looming, potentially contentious decisions.
“What if we have a standoff, 2-2?” Councilman Michael Cacciotti asked at last week’s meeting. “We’ve got to get another council member to represent [District 2 residents] in there. They deserve it.”
Khubesrian resigned earlier this month in the wake of an ongoing controversy in which she admitted to using false personas while sending numerous emails that were admitted into the record as public comment at meetings in June. Those emails harshly criticized a local resident and a former finance director and defended the city manager and finance director during budget discussions.
“I am very sad. I certainly don’t condone what she’s done,” Mayor Pro Tem Diana Mahmud said last week. “She has taken responsibility. It was wrong for her to do what she did and she has appropriately, I think, resigned not only to benefit herself but also the city and City Council so that we can move forward.
“I think we would be remiss in not recognizing that although she made some serious mistakes, she also did a lot of good for the city working on specific issues,” Mahmud added. “I think it would be unfair if we simply allowed her resignation to be accepted without noting the good that she did.”
Khubesrian’s comments appeared to have been precipitated by a growing rift between city officials and members of the public regarding their confidence in the budget that had been proposed for the current fiscal year. The city has yet to complete an audit of the 2018-19 fiscal year, much less begin the analysis of the following year, and a report prepared by the former finance director casts doubt on the credibility of the city’s financial projections as a result.
That former official, Josh Betta, continues to needle the city on the prolonged audit. Khubesrian’s surreptitious comments targeted him after Betta had provided the unsolicited report to members of the public and local media.
The council still needs to adopt a budget for the current year, after settling on a continuing appropriations resolution in June; the city is maintaining operational expenditures from the prior year’s budget, but is not undertaking any new endeavors. Adding to the urgency of crafting a sound budget is the coronavirus pandemic, which is expected to short the city millions in sales tax revenue. The city also is asking voters to renew the user utility tax in November.
Mahmud last week advocated for keeping the District 2 seat open until the election; Donovan at that point was noncommittal as to whether he would apply for the early appointment, and Mahmud voiced concern that an appointee would amount to little more than a lame duck for barely three months.
“This is a highly unusual circumstance in that we know, barring an avalanche of write-in candidates — barring the emergence of a very strong write-in candidate who manages to garner more than 50% of the vote — we know who is going to succeed on Dec. 2,” Mahmud said, referencing the planned swearing-in date of election victors.
Mahmud was outvoted on the motion, which called for an expedited application and appointment process. The city, by code, had to open applications to the public and could not arbitrarily appoint someone — Donovan, for example.
“By doing an appointment, we need to do it right away or not at all, because there’s not much time at all,” Mayor Bob Joe said.