San Jacinto Council elects new mayor and mayor pro tem

Photo by Melissa Diaz Hernandez/The Valley Chronicle
Mayor Pro Tem Russ Utz and Mayor Crystal Ruiz were elected by their city council colleagues on Dec. 5.

■ Kyle Selby / Reporter

Crystal Ruiz is the mayor of San Jacinto once more, after a divisive vote Tuesday, Dec. 5, which also elected fellow councilman Russ Utz as mayor pro tem.
Ruiz is no stranger to the appointed position. Previously, she served her first term as mayor in 2015, and was re-elected the following year.
“Each year, in the first city council meeting in the month of December, the City Council by vote will determine which member will act as mayor and mayor pro tem for the next 12 months,” then-Mayor Scott Miller explained. “The mayor is the chairman of the council. This position is more than just ceremonial; in addition to leading meetings and public speaking, the mayor has specific functions that only the mayor can perform.”
Some of those functions include the final signing of agenda items (ordinances, meeting minutes, development maps, etc.), and the assignment of committees and ad-hoc groups.
Many San Jacinto residents attended the meeting to use their three minutes of public comment to show their support for Miller’s reinstatement.
Both Councilmen Miller and Alonso Ledezma, who will each be entering the final year of their terms, voted for each other, which was seconded by the other, respectively. Ultimately, both of those motions failed.
Utz, who joined the San Jacinto City Council just last year, was the first to motion a vote, nominating Ruiz, which was seconded by Councilman Andrew Kotyuk. Ruiz proclaimed the deciding tally with a vote for herself and was shortly crowned the new Mayor of San Jacinto, by default.
“I wish we would’ve had a discussion first,” commented Ruiz, as the city clerk roll called the members on the dais for their votes.
With Kotyuk in the running for State Assembly in 2018, and Miller and Ledezma seeking re-election after next year, Ruiz surmised that reclaiming the title of mayor was the safest choice, given the climate.
“It is a privilege and an honor to work for the citizens of San Jacinto,” Ruiz shared in a Facebook post. “The San Jacinto City Council puts our hearts and souls into this community and each of us brings with us the knowledge and experience of a lifetime. I am grateful for each council member and know we can work together to build a strong community.”
Following the votes, then-Mayor Miller offered his departing statement, before returning to his councilmanic position.
“There is no greater honor that a city council member can receive than to be elected to serve as mayor. It’s humbling to be called ‘Mr. Mayor,’” he said. “As mayor, you become the face of the city, and the public looks to you to be a strong leader and to present yourself well.”
Miller’s term as mayor focused largely on cannabis and growth ordinances, hot off the heels of Prop. 64’s being passed last November. The latter half of his closing statement hinted at a regretful reflection, suggesting he was no longer comfortable with cannabis in San Jacinto.
“So as I say my exit to being mayor, I commit to you that I will continue to fight for San Jacinto. I will not slow up, but I will move forward, because this is my city and I take ownership over this one thing,” he continued. “San Jacinto belongs to all of you, it doesn’t belong to people who want to come here with their drugs. It doesn’t belong to people who want to come here with their crime, and it doesn’t belong to people who want to take away our hope and our safety. But it belongs to the good people of San Jacinto, and I will forever and always fight for that. Thank you, and God bless you.”

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