TheLiberalOC, with a verbal invitation from Councilman Vince Sarmiento, went to the Claudia Alvarez Apology Tour at the Santa Ana Police Station and we were denied access. City official Mark Lawrence punted to Acting City Manager and Police Chief Paul Walters who said he could not offer access as “this Town Hall is a private event.” All conversations with Chief Walters, Mark Lawrence and Jose Gonzalez were civil and respectful, but we’ve noted this event does nothing to promote the notion that Santa Ana city government is transparent.
Walters said the event “isn’t costing the city a cent.” Spokesman Jose Gonzalez said local businesses were hosting the tables and Mayor Pro Tem Alvarez was buying lunch. However, we noted no fewer than seven city employees at the event and have to wonder who’s covering their costs as well as the cost of the city staffers in organizing and managing the event. And none of the business sponsors were identified prior to the meeting.
Update: The Chase’s did not attend the event; hat tip to Andrew Galvin at the OC Register. We did not see either Irv or Ryan Chase but it’s possible they got there early. We counted about 40 people in attendance. While the press isn’t invited, George Collins who runs a small blog in Santa Ana is in attendance and asked a question, and Planning Commissioner Sean Mill who contributes regularly is also in attendance. New Santa Ana blogger Art Pedroza and his wife Camille were invited, but Gonzalez and Lawrence insisted it was a mistake and he would not have been admitted.
When the press was denied is a mystery. In watching the program, the content is excellent. It’s something everyone should see.
But the notion that this is a Open Town Hall that Councilman Sarmiento proposed and was voted on by the council, this program is not. The general public, many of whom expressed themselves at City Council meetings, should have been allowed to come here personally. The invite list was clearly designed to make this event as politically safe for the Mayor Pro Tem as possible. The suggestion that the event hasn’t cost the city a cent doesn’t ring true when you see the number of staffers working the event the cost of streaming the meeting and the security in the building. And it’s also clear that Councilman Sarmiento’s invitation or influence over this event carried no weight whatsoever which is a shame considering this forum is his idea. It’s been hijacked.
Now we’re sorry we’re missing out on lunch paid for my the Mayor Pro Tem; and our food taster is out sick today. We just hope she didn’t order ham sandwiches, carnitas, or shrimp salad.
UPDATE: We finally got a portion of our public records requests related to the forum. We have the Invitation and Invitation Distribution List, and the list of people who attended. When you look at the invitation to the event, you will see that it was sent out on official city letterhead. This fact kind of contradicts the assertion made by Chief Walters that the Forum was a “Private Event.”