Adam Elmahrek over at Voice of OC has been covering the curious case of the sudden departure of Santa Ana City Attorney Joe Fletcher. His departure came after several postponements of his annual performance review. Over the past year, Fletcher has arguably been responsible for allowing the Santa Ana City Council to make several major errors related to open meeting laws, and city campaign finance and conflict of interest regulations. As a result, the City Council has had to reconsider some actions, and in other cases, simply ignore regulations rather than face possible lawsuits from developers. Elmahrek writes:
Santa Ana City Attorney Joe Fletcher is leaving the city’s employ on Dec. 31 with $142,000 in severance pay along with a pension, unused sick and vacation pay and, if he chooses, unemployment benefits.
That much is clear. But much remains unclear.
First, no one at City Hall will actually say whether Fletcher retired or was fired.
One of my favorite parts of Elmaherk’s story was his recollection of his conversation with Mayor Miguel Pulido and Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez about the inconsistencies of the statements regarding Fletcher’s departure.
When confronted with the contradiction, Pulido responded with a blank stare. Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez uttered more words, but did little to clear up the confusion.
“You have all the information in your hands,” Alvarez said. “We don’t give money away for free — so figure it out.”
It seems clear to me that the council members who got caught violation regulations regarding campaign finance and conflict rules sought to blame the Fletcher for their own errors in judgment. Members Tinajero and Martinez made this perfectly clear when their improper votes were revealed publicly. From their statements:
“We will direct our city staff to increase their vigilance in future matters like this one so as to avoid any possible conflicts of interest,” said Tinajero.
“City staff did not apprise the Council that a conflict existed,” said Martinez.
The problem here is that there was no way in this case for staff to have known about the campaign contributions in question, because neither Martinez or Tinajero had reported the contributions to staff. The same situation applied to the contributions received by Martinez and Tinajero that tainted their votes on the Station District Prioject. This mess, and others, led me to write about Santa Ana’s Joe Fletcher and the Gang That Can’t Get Their Conflicts Straight.
I have to say that I am not sad to see Fletcher leave. That said, he should not be held accountable for the failure of members of the city council to adhere to laws and regulations. His mistake was in not educating them about those laws and how to comply. It has appeared to me that his approach was to guide the council from the perspective of how to get around the law, rather than following it. The dance that the council is doing now regarding Fletcher’s departure is VERY INTERESTING, BUT STUPID.