The Porterville City Council voted on Tuesday, September 17 to strip Mayor Victoria Gurrola and Vice-Mayor Pete McCracken of their respective titles.
The largely-ceremonial move is the result of several months of controversy surrounding Gurrola’s decision to publicly honor the LGBT community from her mayoral pulpit. On June 4, 2013, the now-beleaguered councilwoman issued a proclamation declaring June LGBT Pride Month, a first ever for Porterville.
The backlash was immediate from both the public and her colleagues. Members of the religious community decried the Mayor for the unprecedented move while pro-LGBT groups around the San Joaquin Valley and the globe applauded her efforts.
McCracken did not sign onto Gurrola’s proclamation in June but later affirmed her right to issue such a statement. When the council voted in July to rescind the proclamation, McCracken did not join his three other colleagues and instead sided with Gurrola.
“My honest opinion, I feel that the three councilmembers that are instigating this are intimidated a smart, compassionate, Christian, intelligent, Latino woman who is not afraid to buck the good old boy system,” stated Brock Neeley, the Porterville resident and local LGBT activist who had originally requested the proclamation from Mayor Gurrola. Neeley and husband John Coffee were Tulare County’s first same-sex married couple.
Neeley’s request is standard protocol. The City’s website states that Porterville “honors many local and national organizations, events, and individuals for outstanding humanitarian efforts and achievements by presenting them with an official proclamation from the City Council.” Requests can be submitted online using an electronic Proclamation Request Form.
Porterville is no stranger to controversy, particularly when it comes to LGBT rights. In 2008, the city council unanimously passed a resolution supporting Proposition 8, making it the only governmental body in California to weigh in on the highly-controversial social issue. Gurrola was not on the council at the time but McCracken was. According to the Porterville Recorder, McCracken “hedged somewhat” in 2008 at the idea of the council weighing in on such a divisive social issue.
“I am going to remind everybody that during this meeting… we are not going to have any outbursts no matter what the decision is made,” Gurrola stated. The former-mayor was referring to an incident that occurred at a July council meeting.
In a heated public comment session on July 16, 2013, residents on both sides of the aisle offered impassioned pleas in support and against the embattled mayor. The meeting concluded with a majority vote (with Ward, Shelton and Hamilton in support) to rescind Gurrola’s proclamation and instead declare June 2013 as a month of “community charity and goodwill to all in Porterville.”
Immediately following the vote, LGBT protestors rushed the Council holding homemade signs—one with the words, “Haters, Liars and Bigots, oh my!” scrawled in ink—and chanting “Shame on you!” One unidentified city official responded by yelling “Chief, out! Out, get ‘em out! Lock ‘em up!”
Several of the protestors spent the night in jail for disturbing the peace.
Earlier this summer, the Tulare County Democratic Party (TCDP) commended Gurrola and the Council for “taking the notable and courageous step of honoring the contributions of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Trans-Gendered neighbors and declaring June 2013 LGBT Pride Month.”
Gurrola has previously stated that the rationale behind the move stems from her years as an educator, where she sought to ensure that young people felt included. Her proclamation in support of the LGBTQ community follows in the footsteps of both Governor Jerry Brown and President Barack Obama.
The council as a whole maintains the power to strip Gurrola and McCracken of their respective titles, per the Porterville City Charter: “The mayor and mayor pro tempore shall serve a two year term, but either may be removed at any time by a majority vote of the council.”
However, some citizens believe that while it may be permissable for the council to take such action, it is largely unnecessary. Porterville resident Nikki Edwards remarked, “I am just really sad about this huge waste of time. “Mayor Gurrola did nothing wrong. She made a gesture of kindness and inclusion that was hijacked and the whole subject has nothing to do with the governing of our city.”
Gurrola and McCracken retain their full membership on the Porterville City Council. Councilmember Cam Hamilton was selected as the new Mayor and Ward has assumed role of Vice Mayor.