Morton named Palo Alto vice mayor | January 9, 2009 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 9, 2009

Morton named Palo Alto vice mayor

Sharp-tongued accountant joins Mayor Peter Drekmeier to lead City Council in 2009

by Gennady Sheyner

Jack Morton, a Canadian-born accountant with an independent streak, was elected by the City Council to be Palo Alto's vice mayor in 2009, joining Peter Drekmeier, who was elected mayor (see profile on page 3).

Morton's election to vice mayor provided the only moments of suspense in what was otherwise a largely ceremonial evening in the council chambers. Morton — who is in his eighth and final year on the council — edged out Councilman Pat Burt by a 5-3 vote for the second highest position on the council. Councilman Sid Espinosa was absent.

Drekmeier and councilmen Yiaway Yeh, Greg Schmidt and John Barton all voted for Morton (who also voted for himself). They cited his number-crunching skills, his experience as chairman of the council's Finance Committee and his departure from the council at the end of the year as among the reasons he should be elected.

"He has served on the council with distinction for seven years," said Barton, who nominated Morton. "He's been a hardworking council member, and it's important that each and every one of us who is a member of the council has an opportunity to take a leadership role."

Outgoing Mayor Larry Klein agreed with the compliments about Morton but challenged Barton's rationale on rotating council leadership. Klein said a council member should not be named to a leadership position simply because that person hadn't had a chance to serve in one previously. He joined Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto in voting for Burt, who also voted for himself.

"I must disagree with the idea that the standard should be 'Everyone should have a term,'" Klein said. "The standard should be, 'Who is best qualified to serve in a situation where the mayor has a conflict or is out of town?'"

Klein and Kishimoto both lauded Burt for his 10-year service on the Planning and Transportation Commission and his experience as a technologically savvy business owner. Kishimoto, who nominated Burt, said these skills would come in particularly handy in 2009 as the city continues to deal with the Stanford Hospital and Stanford Shopping Center expansions, as well as other proposed developments.

"He knows land-use and transportation issues inside and out and he can really help guide the council to design the best process so that we can come to a decision," Kishimoto said.

But Morton, who is known for his provocative comments and dismay over meetings that run past midnight, ultimately won the vote, earning a standing ovation from Burt and the rest of the council.

In his first speech from the vice mayor's chair, Morton compared himself to Vice President-elect Joe Biden: "Like Joe, I highly value speaking one's mind," he said, to laughter.

Then, serious, Morton stressed the need for maintaining Palo Alto's array of services and recreational programs despite budget challenges. While "sustainability" is vitally important, Palo Alto's diverse array of programs and services contribute to the city's "livability" and make it a great place in which to live, he said.

"I'm very pleased to stand behind Peter as he pushes us forward to be more concerned than even we have been over the past few years about the environment," Morton said. "Periodically, I'm going to whisper in his ear, 'It's not only sustainability, it's livability.' Because that's what makes Palo Alto special."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at