SANTA ANA — On Tuesday night the Santa Ana Code of Ethics and Conduct Ad-Hoc committee met at city hall to conduct the biennial review of the Santa Ana Code of Ethics and Conduct (COEC). More than two dozen people showed up to the meeting and many took the opportunity to address Council members Sal Tinajero and Vincent Sarmiento. The committee was chaired by Tinajero and was short a member as Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez had resigned from the committee a couple weeks ago.
The public comments primarily expressed a concern over the lack of clear consequences for violations of the COEC and the absence of an enforcement mechanism. For example:
In the private industry, Companies adopt ethics policies so that employees can be disciplined or even fired for ethical violations. And there are many examples of some powerful people being brought down by ethical violations.
Likewise, here in the City of Santa Ana, a code of ethics should be used to discipline or fire employees (whether they be elected, appointed or paid staff).
But if “employees” are never disciplined or merely slapped on the wrist, and continue to violate the ethics policy, why even have an ethics policy?
I’m here tonight because one of the Council members continues to have a problem following the ethics policy. Not long ago, that council member violated the ethics policy so egregiously that the Council was forced to act. But they fumbled it. Instead of sending a strong message to all council members, employees and residents that ethics violations will not be tolerated, you sent a message that council members can continue to violate ethics policies with impunity. The “punishment” that was meted out was instead gleefully accepted as a venue for an invitation only campaign rally.
And she continues to waste City resources making unreasonable demands, continues to put the same item on the agenda over and over, and continues to bully staff and all of you.
I propose that either you start enforcing the Code of Ethics or you abolish it, otherwise it is meaningless.
Dave Hoen – Morrison Park
This was one of the last comments made but reflects a good bit of the mood of the 25 people who showed up for the meeting held in the cramped quarters of the 8th floor conference room at city hall.
Resident and Santa Ana businessman Mike Tardiff raised the issue of a lack of a clear process to report possible COEC violations. He told the committee that he had submitted a complaint directly to the City Attorney as well as the members of the Council several months ago. He reported he has never received a response to his complaint, much less acknowledgment of its receipt.
Al Amezcua suggested that the policy needs to be revised to include a mechanism to issue or recommend consequences to violations that is transparent and independent.
Jeff Dickman expressed disappointment with the level of importance given to the work of the committee. From the changing meeting times and infrequency of meetings, to the location in a small cramped conference room, there is an appearance that the work is not taken seriously.
In fact, the location and time of the meeting posed a problem as the City Hall doors were locked shortly after 5:30 pm leaving at least five people waiting outside the doors for about 20 minutes before they were let in.
Councilman Sarmiento addressed the concerns regarding the change in meeting times. According to Sarmiento he had a family emergency that would have made him late for the first scheduled meeting. When he learned after the meeting was scheduled that Council member Alvarez had resigned from the committee his attendance on time was required for the meeting to be convened. That required the date to be changed.
There was a little bit of confusion regarding the meeting process governing how the public could dialogue with the committee. Once Tinajero clarified that, the conversation settled down to a reasoned dialogue between interested city residents and the committee.
Councilman Sarmiento told the committee that comments by community members which “paint all council members with the same brush are difficult to understand.” Resident Debbie McEwen provided him with an explanation for the cause of residents painting the Council as a whole in public comments.
The Council Meeting Decorum Rules — “Mayor Pro Tem Alvarez has rudely pointed out to commenters ‘You cannot say my name!’ when people wish to criticize her or her actions in public comments. If we cannot say your names we have to address you a group. You can blame Claudia for that,” McEwen said.
The discussion continued with residents calling for more transparency. Citing the perception of the council operating in secret and ignoring rules like the COEC as they applies to them or commissioners, the need for a clear and transparent process for handling complaints from the public was repeated multiple times.
Councilman Tinajero was asked directly who complaints should be sent to Tinajero said; “If concern of a violation arises this committee is who should be contacted.”
Councilman Sarmiento clarified that when the committee created the COEC they opted to leave out an enforcement or adjudication process because they were unable to find a perfect process that was free of political influence. The models used by other cities have commissions appointed by the Council and such a process can be perceived as politically influenced. Therefore, the policy was drafted to be “self enforcing.”
At the close of the meeting, Tinajero and Sarmiento pledged to set another meeting of the committee to further work to address the concerns that had been raised. The committee should be announcing its next meeting in a couple weeks it’s next meeting date. They also committed to providing the public with better notification of the meeting date and will set its time and location in a way that is more conducive to productive dialogue.
On the whole I have to compliment Councilmen Tinajero and Sarmiento for what appears to be a commitment for thoughtful dialogue with the community to address needed changes to the Code of Ethics and Conduct ordinance.
NOTE: Contrary to what has been reported by blogger Art Pedroza, who did not attend the meeting, there were no demands from those attending the meeting to be appointed to an ethics committee.