Mayor Tom Bates (right) and Councilman Kriss Worthington currently sit next to one another at meetings. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Mayor Tom Bates is moving away from City Councilman Kriss Worthington. Not politically. Just physically.

Bates has put an item on Tuesday’s council agenda to change the seating arrangements of city council members on the dais. Worthington currently sits on Bates’ right. The mayor wants to move him one seat away and have his ally, Councilman Laurie Capitelli, sit next to him.

When asked why he wants Worthington to move, Bates half-joked, “So I don’t strangle him.”

The last year has seen a rise in acrimony between the mayor and Worthington, who represent opposite factions on the city council. Things came to a head when Worthington ran against Bates for the mayor’s seat earlier this month.  The two often exchange testy words at meetings and, in July, Worthington led a group that interrupted a council meeting. The council was discussing whether to place a sitting ban on the November ballot but had to stop the debate after Worthington and dozens of others started dancing and singing “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

Worthington later decided to run against Bates in part because of what he saw as the mayor’s cavalier attitude towards residents.

Bates trounced Worthington in the November election carrying every precinct in Berkeley. The sitting ban, Measure S, was defeated however.

Bates said he wants to move Worthington because he often observes a lighted board on the dais that indicates the order in which city council members have signed up to speak. Worthington puts his name on and takes it off in order to manipulate the discussion, said Bates. He usually tries to get in the last word, he said.

“We are not getting along,” said Bates. “Our meetings are more hostile. I think this will be good and he won’t have an opportunity to position himself to speak last.”

If Worthington is moved away from Bates, he won’t be able to see the lighted board.

“I feel like I would like to be surrounded by Linda Maio and Laurie Capitelli to make the council flow more smoothly and evenly,” said Bates. [Maio is vice-mayor.]

Worthington laughed when he heard that Bates thought he tried to game the speaking order.

“How funny,” he said. “I cancel my button when someone else has already said what I have to say or when I see someone who pushes their button to speak who hasn’t said a single word. Then I defer to them to give them a chance to speak. I have no desire to have the last word. That is not at all true.”

Bates could not remember exactly how long Worthington had sat next to him, but thought it dated to the time vice-mayor Maudelle Shirek left the council, which was in 2005.

Despite moving Worthington further away, Bates said the two men are cordial to one another. Bates said he is is trying to work with Worthington.

In fact, Bates is adopting at least one of Worthington’s mayoral campaign platforms: moving controversial items to their own meeting. Starting in January, Bates intends to have big issues be the main topic of city council meetings rather than cramming them in on a long agenda.

Berkeley sitting ban goes to ballot after raucous meeting [07.11.12]

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...