It’s not even July 4th but there were plenty of fireworks in Tustin at last Tuesday’s city council meeting. Gentle readers, I direct you to the video of said meeting here and scroll ahead to abut the 44 minute mark to listen to Councilwoman Deborah Gavello’s comments directed at fellow Council member Jerry Amante, and then stay to listen to Amante’s rebuttal of her comments. But welcome to the GOP’s War on Women – Tustin edition.
Head’s up. This is going to be a long post and we buried the lede as they say.
Amante, the second mayor of Tustin to be subject of an effort to recall him from office even though the bid fell short, has ruled the Tustin City Council with an iron fist for nearly 7-1/2 years. The recall effort failed mainly because the formal petition took five tries for approval and the mistakes that the rejections were based on should have been pointed out by the city clerk after the first go-around. The grass roots efforts to recall Amante missed having the petitions approved in time for the popular Tustin Chili Cookoff which probably would have secured more than half the signatures needed to recall Amante. That said, Amante’s reputation in the city remains tainted.
A bright spot during the recall effort — Amante actually started being nicer to people he interacted with. But once the effort failed and the organizer’s destroyed the list instead of giving the Boss Tweed of Tustin a new “enemy’s list,” Amante went back to being Amante — a zebra doesn’t change its stripes.
And at the last meeting Councilwoman Gavello had enough of it.
“I’m sorry I missed the last council meeting but the city manager was made aware of my situation. Council member Amante. You pick on me. You bully me when I’m here. And now, I understand when I’m not here. I really don’t understand. The public contacts me after meetings and they hate it. Who are you trying to impress? If you’re concerned about me, you have my cell phone number. You have never called me ever.
I have had two major skin cancer surgeries and many minor ones but no call from you on how it’s recovering. Don’t pretend to care if I’m here or not. The public is not interested in your dirty laundry.
Even before I was on the council, you told a public official you would go after me and try to make my life miserable. I have met with you one and only one time in three and a half years. And you threaten me fiercely. You don’t (unintelligible) me at meetings, you make it impossible and difficult to agendize items, you cut me off when I have the floor and constantly try to undermine what I say even when it is correct. In addition you always try to get the last word in. This is your personal hatred of me. You are a childish bully. You live your life trying to go after me instead of working together for the residents of Tustin.
This isn’t about me. It’s about you. I have a mother, thank you. I have a father, thank you. I don’t need you wathcing out for me. You seem to thrive on this sort of thing.
I want to change all this starting today. I’m offering an olive branch today. Call me and we’ll go out for pie. Because I understand you like pie and I’ll treat. And let’s move forward. I forgive you if you change your behavior moving forward from this day on. Let’s work together. Let’s talk things out, you and I, like civilized human beings. The bullying needs to stop immediately. I look forward to us working together for the rest of your term.”
Councilman Amante responds at the 51 minute mark, but fast forward to the 57 minute mark for Amante’s direct comments to Gavello.
“With your permission Mr. Mayor, let me address some of the (unintelligible) and baseless comments made to the public by my colleague in regards to which the manner she is treated. Councilman Gavello (ed note: Amante called her a “councilman”) has served for more than three years on this council now three years and a quarter. In that period of time, by herself, she has racked up more absences than everyone who served in the more than seven years I’ve been on the council combined….she eclipsed them all if you had them together.
In the last couple of weeks, all of the sudden, she’s become furiously active. You can see it in publications. You can see it in her reports. You can see it in her concern, in her being engaged and only now has she managed to tell the city manager about her last absence. The other 15 were subterranean. No one knew where she was.
With respect to her complaint about agendizing materials, the councilwoman has known since the day she was sworn in. The tradition of the city has remained unchanged. There are two ways in which agendized matters reach this dais. One is, as tradition has always been, that the individual who wants to agendize an item on the council contacts the mayor, contacts the city manager and asks for an item of business to be agendized. They confer, they agree to agendize it where it fits the work load and staff can prepare the item and it gets on the agenda. The second is, if you asked for it and it hasn’t been agendized, and you think its important for public discussion, you come to the dais, you make a motion to have an item agendized that you think is important, you get a second and you pick up three votes and it gets on the agenda. That’s the way all items have always been agendized. The only time Councilwoman Gavello ever asked for a matter to be agendized when I was mayor, it got agendized. The only time she’s asked, as far as I know, since anyone else served as mayor was most recently with you Mr. Mayor, and I understand, it’s getting agendized. I don’t know what her complaint is.
If the councilwoman’s complaint is that I call out her absences, it is because she has not served the public. if she’s concerned because I have pointed out that she has missed 16 meetings so far, eight months worth of work, all the time taking her stipend and benefits. if she’s concerned because I talk about her lack of engagement or involvement, if she’s concerned because I call her out because she votes ‘no’ without explanation on items, if she’s concerned because I don’t think she’s been an effective councilwoman, and those are, in her mind, acts of bullying, well that’s just me following my obligation to make commentary about the quality of service by a public servant. I don’t think she has served the public well. That’s my view. Many people agree. They will judge her where we all get judged — the ballot box.
I’m not going to quit calling out your failings Councilwoman Gavello. I don’t meet with you because I don’t find you serious about public policy, not because I have personal animosity towards you. And if you can produce a person who says I made some threat to you, produce them and have them come and say so publicly. Because I don’t recall any such threats made by me to anyone so if in fact someone can tell me that I said something like that about you, you produce them and you have them come here to that podium and let them call it out publicly and we’ll deal with it there. In the interim, if you fail to serve the public in a manner that I think is appropriate for a council person, I will make comments. Thank you.”
So that said, Deborah and Jerry won’t be having pie anytime soon though we commend Gavello’s initiative concerning Amante’s pie hole. But if Amante is a lawyer, he broke a rule of asking a question he doesn’t know the answer to or forgot about. The comment to another public official about Gavello…..
In regards to Amante’s concern about Gavello’s effectiveness as a council member, we have to wonder if there are any mirrors in Amante’s office? Under Amante’s “fiscally conservative” leadership, the city hired and fired a competent city manager and paid a six figure severance to a person now serving as city manager in Carson. There’s the matter of the city’s legal fees blowing out the budget over the past several years. A dumb lawsuit with the Tustin Unified School District that’s costing taxpayers tens-of-thousands of dollars. And let’s not forget the thousands of taxpayer dollars Amante has wasted on a personal vendetta against an Old Town property owner that’s detailed here in the Our Town Tustin blog. To paraphrase Amante himself, “there are a lot of people who don’t think Amante is a good council member.”
Amante didn’t tell the truth about Gavello’s absences. On each occasion, Gavello tells us the city manager was alerted that she would miss the meeting. Again, Gavello has had two major skin cancer surgeries so she might have a legitimate doctor’s excuse to not attend a meeting. And by characterizing the absences as eights months worth of work is flat out wrong. We’ve chatted with several council members in other cities in the past 24 hours — each agree that attending council meetings is about five to 10 percent of what constitutes a council members work. There are thousands of Tustin residents who work with and interact with Councilwoman Gavello regularly who will strongly disagree with Amante’s characterization of her work and her effectiveness in representing them on the city council.
It’s not the first time Amante has been untruthful at the dais. When the recall effort failed, he falsely accused an unnamed member of the city council (Gavello) and representatives of TUSD has being behind a politically motivated recall that cost $10,000 in taxpayer dollars. The fact is neither Gavello nor members of Tustin Unified participated in the recall when their presence would have been more than welcomed.
As for Amante’s challenge to produce an elected official to verify Gavello’s charge, allow us to do so right now. Former Fullerton City Council member Pam Keller will verify Gavello’s charges. Keller is hoping to personally attend the next Tustin Council meeting to deliver this statement (she may have a family conflict and won’t know until late if she can attend) but after watching the video of this week’s meeting, she gave TheLiberalOC this statement below (must attribute this statement to TheLiberalOC blog). So when you read it, visualize Keller at the dais in Tustin City Hall addressing Amante — hopefully she can do it all in three minutes.
Keller considers this statement her response to Amante’s invitation:
“To Council Member Amante, Remember me? I’m former Fullerton Council Member and a League of California Cities-OC Division Board Member Colleague of yours, Pam Keller.
Council Member Amante, I reviewed the streaming video from the April 17th Tustin City Council Meeting and see there was a discussion on the dais between you and Councilwoman Gavello. You challenged her publicly to produce the elected official who had a conversation about her with you. You asked that the person come to the dais to discuss the matter.
Here I am.
Councilmember Amante, you know that I always stand up for what I believe in and that I am a straight shooter when I speak. I believe you have always been respectful of my opinion, whether you agree with it or not. We have always had a civil, professional relationship despite our political differences.
I am here because I am that person that spoke to you about Councilwoman Gavello and I would like to share the story with the public just as you requested. I will admit it feels awkward to talk politics across the dais. Generally, I believe the dais is best used to conduct city business. However, since I was invited to speak on the subject, I will gladly oblige.
Let’s go back to the elections of 2008. Deborah Gavello, then private citizen, contacted me and asked for advice on campaigning, city policy and other pertinent issues, as is often done during elections. I shared information with her and chatted a few times by telephone and started to get to know her. We became friends. At the same time. I was on the Board of the League of Cities (LOC) with you, Councilmember Amante.
At one point during the election campaign, I saw some nasty hit pieces came out against Deborah. I remember commenting to you in a half joking manner to “leave my girl alone.” You responded by saying, “Oh, Pam, it’s just politics.” All true—and I lived it myself during my election so I understood.
Obviously, Ms. Gavello won that election. A few days later I invited her to the LOC Dinner Meeting so she could start to meet other elected officials around the county. I saw you across the room and thought that this would be a good time to put those election politics aside and bring two new council colleagues together. I pride myself on working to bridge gaps and bring people together, and thought I could be successful helping you two get off on the right foot. After all, I was a kindergarten teacher for years and have handled bigger spats than this one!
I approached you, and please forgive me for paraphrasing these words since this was four years ago and I didn’t have a tape recorder handy, but my memory of this day is clear as crystal: I said,“OK, now that the election is over, it is time to stop the politics and learn to work with your newest councilmember. Go out for coffee and get to know each other a little better.” Your answer was a loud “NO.” Not one to be discouraged, I added that you owed it to your citizens to try and work with other council members. City business cannot get done well if the council members won’t even try to work together. At that point you became very angry and started on a tirade. Basically you said that you would not work with her. That you would put her in a corner on the dais and she can sit there for four years getting 4-1’d and do nothing the entire time she was on the council. It was a much longer tirade but I cannot remember all the words. I was literally shaking when you were finished—and you know I don’t scare easily, Councilman Amante. You have never spoken to me in that manner before or after and frankly I would not like to have that sort of interaction again.
I returned to my table where Councilmember–elect Gavello and former Mayor of Huntington Beach, Debbie Cook, were sitting and I told them both, “that didn’t work out very well.” I turned to Ms. Gavello and said, “He hates you and you might as well try working with your other colleagues because he isn’t budging.” I know Ms. Gavello was disappointed. The joy of winning an election and the ability to serve the public was very fresh.
I frankly was disappointed too—because I thought you were a better man than that. You see, your comments I watched on the video from April 17, 2012 over three years after this encounter speaking as to how you won’t meet with her because you do not think she has served the public well and you don’t think she is serious about public policy ring very false to my ears.
Councilman Amante, you won’t meet with her because of some political transgression you feel she made while campaigning. And even though what happens during the campaign is “just politics” to you, you couldn’t or wouldn’t ever get beyond that to even try to understand why Ms. Gavello is here and learn what she has to offer. You never, ever gave her a chance. I have watched several of your interactions over the four years and I will agree, that you Mr. Amante, have been a bully. Since I know you as a colleague who has passion, good work ethic and the knowledge to work on public policy across the state, I am severely disappointed that you would let down the citizens of Tustin by being a “school yard bully” instead of the grown up, professional man you should be.
Thank you for your invitation this evening Councilmember Amante. I hope I have refreshed your memory and answered all of your questions.”
In the wake of former Fullerton council member Keller’s statement, we certainly hope her busy family schedule allows her to attend the next Tustin City Council meeting and utter this statement into the microphone so it becomes a part of the city’s record. Keller has a Facebook post about making the decision to defend her friend, and we admire her for standing up to any bully. Regardless if Keller makes it to the dais in Tustin or not, Amante owes Gavello and the residents of Tustin an apology. I actually think its appalling for Amante to call out Gavello for missing meetings if she was getting cancer treatments.
As far as the pie invitation goes, might I suggest a large slice of warm dingleberry pie for Amante. With whipped cream on top.