An Update: Councilman Vince Sarmiento, who came up with the idea for the Town Hall, called this afternoon to say the event isn’t taking the direction he hoped it would take. He said he was disappointed that City Staff is using the format for the Town Hall as this is “not what I envisioned when I proposed this.” The Councilman envisioned an open meeting for the community to attend. It’s unclear who made the decision to close the meeting to a select invitation list.
This Thursday, the Claudia Alvarez Apology Tour is scheduled to conclude with a County-Wide Community Forum on Race and Diversity hosted by the City of Santa Ana Thursday morning from 10AM to 2PM at the Santa Ana Police Community Room. Now this is an impressive event with guests from the Orange County Human Relations Commission, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Latino-Jewish Coalition — community leaders if you will. But if you’re just a member of the Orange County Community or a member of the press and you want to attend this event, you are SOL.
It’s by-invitation only.
I’ll write that again. A by-invitation only Town Hall. The city is apparently borrowing a page from the Bush/Cheney campaign for restricting access while giving the appearance of taking the high road. And that’s all this “town hall” is — bread and circuses.
The City is issuing a press release of its roster of invited guests for the Thursday morning to mid-afternoon event. The Media is not invited. Mark Lawrence from the city has a streaming video feed would be provided for members of the media.
Back in September, when this situation occured, the motion made by Council member Vince Sarmiento was to “solicit the Human Relations Commission to provide an Open Forum/Town Hall meeting regarding race relations, tolerance and civility. The city’s October 13 press release stated: “Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez, in conjunction with the City of Santa Ana, is hosting a Community Forum on Cultural Diversity and Conflict Resolution, on Thursday, October 27, 2011. The Community Forum will be held at the Santa Ana Police Community Room from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The purpose of the forum is to explore how diverse communities can resolve conflict in a culturally sensitive manner.”
Lawrence, in a phone call with me, said the Community Forum was never stated as an open event. He said it’s a community forum with community leaders invited to provide full representation on behalf of a number of community groups. We’ve already expressed our opinion of the decision to exclude the press and members of the general community from this event as horse excrement to Mr. Lawrence because that is exactly what this is.
We met with Councilman Sarmiento earlier this month and asked about this event less it be forgotten as Santa Ana’s city finances sink deeper into the abyss. And we gave the Councilman props when the October 13th press release came out even though the timing continues to strike us as odd (the middle of the day for a community forum); There was an October 20 deadline for an RSVP and I responded well in advance. But with Lawrence’s phone call, this “community forum” is anything but a Town Hall envisioned by Councilman Sarmiento and voted on by the City Council as a rebuke to the Mayor Pro Tem’s anti-Semitic comments directed at Irv Chase and his son. I have to wonder, is Irv Chase on the Invite List?
So either Sarmiento or Lawrence is lying. Which one?
So the Big Distraction comes to a whimpering close. A Mayor Pro Tem makes an anti-Semitic statement from the dias at a taxpaying property owner at a public city council meeting. Her apologies are dubbed weak sauce and she’s condemned by a number of community organizations. A vote of rebuke and punishment is agendized and a softer motion is substituted for which she’s allowed to actually break a tie vote. She gets some bad press, her wrist slapped and sits through a series of meetings to seek greater understanding why her hurtful comments were indeed hurtful. A week later, she refers to the hub-bub as “a distraction” minimizing the impact of what was said. A community forum, open Town Hall, is proposed to heal the community rift and wounds.
But you can’t come unless you’re invited.