SANTA ANA — On Tuesday night, hundreds of Santa Ana residents showed up to the City Council meeting to express their feelings on the conduct of Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez. There were those who supported Alvarez, showering her with baskets of fruit to express their appreciation for her efforts to change the Downtown PBID tax assessment on property owners. There were also those who came to demand that Alvarez be held accountable for her anti-Semitic and hurtful comments made at the August 24th meeting of the Council where she compared the business practices of Downtown property owner Irving Chase, and his son Ryan to ethnic cleansing. Alvarez also used an analogy that compared renting from Irv Chase to renting from Hitler.
There were five possible outcomes outlined in Agenda Item 85A submitted by members David Benavides and Carlos Bustamante. They included the removal of Alvarez from her positions on the Public Safety Committee, the Orange County Water District Board, her removal as Mayor Pro Tem, a formal rebuke of her comments, and request that she resign from the City Council. The motion, introduced by Benavides, and seconded by Bustamante, would have rebuked Alvarez for her comments and removed her from the position of Mayor Pro Tem. That motion, never got the chance to be considered.
After Benavides and Bustamante had their opportunity to speak, Councilman Vince Sarmiento made a substitute motion to simply rebuke Alvarez for her comments. Parliamentary procedure enthusiasts could argue that the procedure wasn’t conducted entirely by the procedures outlined in Robert’s Rules of Order but the bottom line was that Sarmiento and Mayor Miguel Pulido didn’t want to record a vote on removing Alvarez as Mayor Pro Tem, so they manipulated the process so they wouldn’t have to.
The real injustice to the City Code of Ethics and Conduct was the way the vote on their substitute motion went down. For an action of the City Council to pass, four votes are needed. Sarmiento and Pulido were joined by Sal Tinajero in supporting a rebuke of Alvarez’s comments, Benavides, Bustamante, and Michele Martinez sought stronger action. Alvarez broke the tie on her own punishment and voted in favor of the action proposed by Sarmiento and Pulido.
Say you have a teenager who does something wrong and their needs to be a punishment issued. Would you let the teenager decide whether they get a strong scolding and grounding for a week, or just the scolding? In the case of the Banana Peel Republic of Santa Ana, you let the teenager decide.
What is most disturbing about what happened is that this was the opportunity for the City Council to demonstrate whether the Code of Ethics was worth the paper it is written on. Ethics, as dictated by Roberts Rules of Order make it clear that while Alvarez could not be prevented from voting on her own discipline, she should not have, and certainly should not have been the deciding vote.
This rule is hidden in Robert’s Rules, which is the set of rules under which local government bodies, including Santa Ana, operate. Here is what it says in §45 (Voting Procedure), in the first subsection on Rights and Obligations in Voting (I’m quoting from the Perseus Publishing tenth edition, pp.394-395):
No member should vote on a question in which he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest not common to other members of the organization. For example, if a motion proposes that the organization enter into a contract with a commercial firm of which a member of the organization is an officer and from which contract he would derive personal pecuniary profit, the members should abstain from voting on the motion. However, no member can be compelled to refrain from voting in such circumstances.
The rule of abstaining from voting on a question of direct personal interest does not mean that a member should not vote for himself for an office or other position to which members generally are eligible, or should not vote when other members are included with him in a motion. If a member never voted on a question affecting himself, it would be impossible for a society to vote to hold a banquet, or for the majority to prevent a small minority from preferring charges against them and suspending or expelling them..
Claudia Alvarez was allowed to choose her own punishment for breaking the Code of Ethics and Conduct by breaking ethical standards to do so.
The quote of the night however goes to Councilman Sal Tinajero who explained his failure to respond at the time to the comments Alvarez made on August 24th. Tinajero said that he had expected Alvarez to be harsh in her comments that evening and after making his own comments he went to his happy place, and did not realize what she had said until he had viewed the recording of the meeting.
While I believe that a disgusting display of ethical failure was perpetuated last night due to the lack of leadership on the part of Miguel Pulido and with the able assistance of Council members Sarmiento and Tinajero Councilman Benavides put it best; “the vote has been cast and the decision has been made.”