League of California Cities

Los Angeles County Division Cities Virtually Transition in Newly Elected City Officials

The swearing in of new mayors and council members is normally a widely attended event. Family, friends, and residents often pack the council chambers as witness to their newly elected officials taking oath to begin their term in service to the community. However, in the age of COVID-19 and under stay-at-home orders, the scene of this once typical event looks quite different.Henry-Lo-Monterey-Park-1-(1).jpg

The recent March elections meant cities needed to seat new city officials while also practicing physical distancing and protecting the community. The cities of La Verne, Paramount, Monterey Park, and Glendale, in Los Angeles County, each found their own virtual approach to work within the stay-at-home guidelines and still honor the tradition of taking oath of office.

The City of La Verne’s council chambers contained a smattering of empty chairs dispersed throughout the room, each with ample space from one another. The room’s floor to ceiling windows paralleled the sidewalk outside where a small number of onlookers — mostly friends and family members of the newly elected — cheered and celebrated while practicing physical distancing.

The city live-streamed the swearing-in of their new mayor and two new council members, along with a farewell to the outgoing mayor. After they were sworn in, the name plates on the dais were changed as usual, but unlike swearing-in ceremonies in the past, this time there was no celebratory reception. Instead, the city plans to honor the newcomers with a reception in the future when it is once again safe to hold that type of gathering.

The City of Paramount had something unique to recognize after the March election resulted in an all-female council — the only one in Los Angeles County — which is also comprised primarily of Latinas. Paramount would normally celebrate this transition with a packed chamber, fanfare, and speeches. As early physical distancing efforts went into effect, the city changed the plans to seat the new council members without an audience, however even that had to be altered when the stay-at-home orders began.

The city had 36 hours to readjust and shift the entire process to a teleconference system. Three staff members operated the ceremony from the council chambers, while the newly elected were sworn in by the city clerk over video.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in the 27 years I’ve been with the city,” said Paramount City Manager John Moreno. “However, during these times, cities are the most nimble form of government, able to be prepared and react quickly to these evolving challenges.”

The City of Monterey Park seated three new council members using a teleconferencing system as well. Newly elected Henry Lo sat at his kitchen table with his laptop to take the oath administered by the city clerk. The installment was televised on the city's television station and website.

In the City of Glendale, Sen. Anthony Portantino administered the swearing-in ceremony to the newly elected officials over Zoom with only the mayor and a few city staff in attendance at the city council chambers. With the backdrop of empty red chairs, Sen. Portantino stood at the podium and gave the oath of office to the city’s three newly elected officials. Each new council member raised their right hand to video cameras at home to recite the oath and begin their service during these uncertain times.

These are just a few examples of how cities are using virtual solutions to quickly adapt and ensure city operations continue even during stay-at-home orders. Despite empty chambers and lack of outward excitement from family, friends, and the community, the recently elected officials are still willing to step into their new roles and perhaps hope to celebrate another day.

This story was featured in the CA Cities Advocate Newsletter on April 29, 2020
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