Santa Ana Council Members Take Hot Seat on Inside OC

Last week, David Nazar of PBS SoCal brought into the studio of Inside OC with Rick Reiff three members of the Santa Ana City Council to answer questions that have been raised by community groups, the Orange County Register, Voice of OC and local blogs including this one over transparency and ethics. Mayor Pulido, Councilman Vince Sarmiento, and Councilwoman Martinez spoke with Nazar on a variety of topics that have been dogging the Mayor and Council recently.

View the video by clicking on the image below.

Nazar led off his questioning of Pulido by asking him why he did not respond to his requests for an interview or comment. For the first time, Mayor Pulido departed from the mantra of “being unaware of any request by Nazar” to a new position. “The reason you got no response from me is in large part because of what was said. These are allegations, and in many many cases the allegation is so upside down that by responding sometimes you elevate the allegation,” Pulido said. “I prefer to do what we have done, which is wait some period of time, see what’s real and what’s not real and then move forward.” 

Pulido went on to say that all of his actions have been legal, and, “morally and ethically correct.” Pulido said that, “in most cases, looking at many of the critics, they’re people who for one reason or another are unhappy, but it’s not due to anything we’re doing.”

Just so we’re clear here, Mayor Pulido prefers to wait and see if allegations blow over and if they don’t, then he decides whether or not to respond. Seems like a good strategy if you are hiding in a bunker, but not so good for the purposes of transparency.

On the issue of transparency, Nazar asked Councilman Sarmiento if he sensed any intentional or unintentional lack of transparency on the part of the city? Sarmiento characterized the problem as a “communications flaw maybe on our end where we have to get more better at communicating some of the topics and some of the concerns that folks have,” as opposed to a lack of transparency. Sarmiento explained that the city recognizes the communications problems and is working to retain the services of a communications director that’s going to be able to facilitate contact with those that are legitimate media sources.”

Sarmiento went on to explain what he meant by “legitimate” media sources. “Unfortunately what we have now is we’re in a different setting and a different context. You have blogs and you have other sites that are just not all that credible, and the sources are not reliable… You can claim anything on a blog or you can claim anything on a Internet site, but is there real reliability there, is there real legitimacy there?”

I have to wonder which blogs or Internet sites Councilman Sarmiento feels are not legitimate? Is he thinking of OC Weekly, the Voice of OC? Is he maybe thinking of the Orange County Register, or even TheLiberalOC? All of these media organizations are recognized as legitimate investigative news sites.

And while we at TheLiberalOC focus a great deal on “opinion” we have delivered a great deal of legitimate investigative news stories, including many about the issues Santa Ana is facing. I would hope that Mr. Sarmiento’s definition of legitimate and balanced coverage doesn’t exclude any site that is critical of the city or the council. In fact, TheLiberalOC has faced similar barriers to communication from city hall due to a lack of response or accessibility. We would be happy to provide their side of the story. Unfortunately, we cannot read minds.

Pulido was asked about his relationship with Mike Harrah, developer of the One Broadway Plaza project and many others in the heart of downtown Santa Ana, and whether that relationship was too cozy, or if Mayor Pulido will benefit from any of those projects personally. The Mayor made it clear that he has not taken money from Harrah, and will not benefit personally from his projects. On the question of whether public money is going to the One Broadway Plaza project, Pulido ignored the question entirely and talked about how great Mike Harrah has been for Santa Ana. Based upon the most recent revision to the One Broadway Plaza development agreement the project will receive redevelopment funds.

In the 2008 election for Mayor, Councilwoman Martinez challenged mayor Pulido, claiming he had been on the council too long and that it was time for more transparency and fresh ideas. David Nazar asked Councilwoman Michele Martinez whether Mayor Pulido had “been in office too long, has his term run out, should there be new blood, fresh ideas?”  Martinez’s response demonstrates just how much the wagons have circled around Pulido over the past two years. “When it’s all said and done, it’s not the council that elects Mayor Pulido, its the voters,” Martinez said. “And the voters have been content with Mayor Pulido or else he wouldn’t be the mayor.”

What Martinez left out of her wet kiss on Miguel’s tail, was the fact that less than 50 percent of the voters supported Pulido’s election this time around. Then of course there was the more than $100,000 in campaign funds spent through independent expenditure committees on the Mayor’s behalf to trash his main opponent Alfredo Amezcua.

Nazar asked the Mayor whether he had opposed an extension of term limits for the Mayor when the terms limits were extended for council members from two to three terms. Miguel claimed to have not opposed the imposition of term limits on the mayor when the charter was amended. That is true to a certain extent, but a gross mischaracterization of what exactly happened. A proposal was made to establish term limits for the mayor and place the proposal before the voters. That motion was opposed by the mayor and it did not pass. The mayor claimed that the reason there are no term limits for mayor is that the mayor faces election every two years. The real reason is far more simple. There are no term limits for mayor because he supported the proposal to extend the terms for council members as a trade to keep mayoral term limits off the ballot. What Mayor Pulido is promoting here is a self serving bit of revisionist history.

As for the burning question as to the circumstances of former City Attorney Joseph Fletcher’s sudden departure from city service, Councilman Sarmiento offered the first clear and honest answer to the issue. “When we (the council and Fletcher) decided to part ways it wasn’t because he was retiring completely,” Sarmiento said. “I think we realized, and he did too, that the fit wasn’t good any longer… and we decided to accelerate that departure.”

In short, the council gave their City Attorney a Golden Handshake.”  This is the first time a member of the city council has acknowledged that Fletcher was in fact being shown the door after weeks of speculation.  Transparency delayed?

So watch the video yourself and feel free to leave your comments.

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