A Double Standard on Civility

I’ll start by saying attending a Santa Ana city council meeting in person is nothing like watching the streamed meeting on the web.  Chris Prevatt and I attended Monday’s meeting and listened to more than an hour of public comments ranging from the proposed Sunshine Ordinance, some discussion of the Grand Jury Report on PBID, and speaker after speaker critical of the lawsuit filed by Commissioner Max Madrid and multiple comments directed at Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez’s attempt to “reimagine” Measure D as having reset her council term at zero in 2008.

Having attended several Irvine City Council meetings, I’ve always been struck how even with a divided city council, there’s a strong measure of respect for the members of the public who speak and address city leaders in Irvine.  In short, all city council members pay attention to what’s being said, they take notes, and sometimes direct staff to communicate the the speaker afterwards to address a particular concern.  In Santa Ana, this isn’t the case.  Mayor Pulido got up no fewer than three times to talk with other city council members.  Councilman Sarmiento got up twice.  Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alavrez paid attention during comments about the PBID and Sunshine Ordinance but during comments critical of the Madrid lawsuit, she either chatted with Mayor Pulido or was writing notes.  Council member Michele Martinez got up at least four times to walk towards the back of the room.  Councilman Sal Tinajero paid attention unless the Mayor came down to speak with him.  Councilmember David Benavides paid attention to just about every speaker unless the council members on either side of him spoke with him.

I asked some of the regulars at the meeting, “Is it always like this?”  And I was told, “yes.”

If this were a drinking game and you did a shot every time a council member left their seat during public comments, you’d need a cab home in about 30 minutes.

Claudio Gallegos, the last speaker and a former blogger here, was cut off by Mayor Pulido at least twice and warned about making “personal attacks” when a review of his comments showed nothing more than criticism of the situation with Councilmember Carlos Bustamante and Mayor Pro Tem Alvarez’s efforts to remain a candidate for re-election. Pulido warned Gallegos to keep his comments to items on the agenda when other speakers addressed issues of crime on the public bus system which wasn’t agendized. And other speakers were frankly far more harsh to the Mayor Pro Tem than Gallegos was.

But the Mayor’s enforcement of “no personal attacks” fell short when it came to the closing remarks of Mayor Pro Tem Alvarez who went after Councilmember Bustamante and Benevides, accusing them of arranging a line of speakers against her efforts to pull papers for Ward 5 and verbally attacked the city clerk from a number of fronts.

Pulido failed to reign in Alvarez and instead, her council peers stepped up to criticize her remarks against them and city staff.  The video can be seen here, but it won’t play on my system so I can’t tell you where to fast forward but its towards the end of the meeting, so we’ll rely on this excellent recap from the OC Register:

Alvarez contended during her comments that attacks on her, as well as an opinion Huizar cited, are the result of “shenanigans” at City Hall, and a “political agenda” that swayed the official.

“There have been a lot of issues taking place at the city clerk’s office that have not been open to the public,” she said, maintaining that Councilman David Benavides had invited speakers to address the council on the lawsuit over Measure D, while pointing out blog reports of attacks on her by Benavides and Bustamante.

“Why is it that some council members have an issue with getting a fair, ethical, objective ruling by a court that will apply to everyone equally? Why is it that that’s an issue?” she said. “All we have is an opinion of a city clerk who has refused to look at an opposing opinion.”

She questioned who authorized the opinion, and why an outside firm prepared it.

“The very office in the city of Santa Ana, that’s supposed to be the most objective,” she said, “the one you rely on to hold fair elections, has fallen subject to the influence of Council members Bustamante and Benavides.”

Huizar on Tuesday declined to comment, citing pending the litigation.

Martinez called Alvarez’s comments about Huizar “uncalled for.”

Benavides said it’s a duty of the city to defend staff in court.

“We have stopped other speakers from lodging personal attacks,” Benavides said. “And we need to hold ourselves to the same standard.”

Sarmiento said that the issue of Measure D needs to be addressed in court, and that outside counsel is needed because of the constitutional issues raised.

He took Alvarez to task, as well.

“There’s a difference between asking a question civilly and dressing someone down publicly,” he said, citing his concerns about creating a hostile work environment. “I would hope there’d be some leadership on this council from the mayor, to say, we can’t treat our staff this way.”

Pulido said he’s sometimes criticized for cutting speakers short, and tries to lead by example.

“I may defer too much to council members,” he said.

Alvarez said she needs to be able to ask questions to do her job.

“If for whatever reason the city clerk is offended by my comments, I apologize, but it doesn’t change my view.”

Let’s address some of the claims made by the Mayor Pro Tem.  She claims proof that Benavides and Bustamante organized a posse of speakers against her.  The only thing that remotely comes close is a Facebook message posted on Council member Benavides Facebook page encouraging support for the city clerk after news broke that Madrid filed a lawsuit.  Bustamante was not there to defend himself and probably has bigger things to worry about than Alvarez’s legal fight, but its clever of her to use Bustamante’s current unsavory felony sex changes to her own political advantage.

The blog posts Alvarez referred to on New Santa Ana, not surprisingly, did not accurately reflect what happened at that meeting when the subject of removing the Mayor Pro Tem status from Alvarez was discussed.  But since New Santa Ana is the only outlet that shows Alvarez any love at all isn’t surprising.  In fact, after comments from Alavrez apologizing for her anti-Semitic tirade against developer Irv Chase, Benavides withdrew a motion to have a committee appointment stripped from Alvarez citing her effectiveness on the committee.  Council member Bustamante was highly critical of Alvarez’s actions, but the person most responsible for inflaming the situation last summer was Alvarez herself who made the anti-Semitic remarks against the Chase family and failed miserably at repeated apology attempts until the media attention against her forced an intervention of sorts with Santa Ana political leaders. The original premise of that blog post was — surprise – inaccurate.

Councilman Sarmiento’s alternative proposal for a slap on the wrist and a county wide tolerance seminar was instead voted in, eliminating the original motion by Benavides and Bustamante.  Alvarez and city staff then took what was supposed to be an open community forum and turned it into a by-invitation only political event for which taxpayers footed a significant portion of the bill.

This is a long way of explaining that speakers who spoke out against the Madrid lawsuit did so because they felt they had to, not because Benavides or Bustamante told them to.  We’ll also note not a single speaker came and spoke in support of a continued Alvarez candidacy.  Those who do support her hide in anonymity behind cowardly comments on the county’s political blogs, failing instead to step up to the Microphone and voice their support while instead taking potshots from the cheapseats. Stay classy pendejos.

Alvarez said:  “Why is it that some council members have an issue with getting a fair, ethical, objective ruling by a court that will apply to everyone equally? Why is it that that’s an issue?” she said. “All we have is an opinion of a city clerk who has refused to look at an opposing opinion.”

Actually, it’s not the opinion of the city clerk.  It’s the determination by outside counsel the city hired to examine the law, compare it with other county and state laws who instructed the city clerk to inform the Mayor Pro Tem she isn’t eligible.

Alavrez’s claims that the city clerk has been politically compromised by Council members Benavides and Bustamante has no basis in proof. The city clerk gave Alavrez a ruling she doesn’t like.  The city clerk and the city manager did look at an opposing opinion — from Alvarez.  And the answer was “no.”  It will only be a fair, objective and ehtical ruling in Alvarez’s eyes if the decision goes in her favor.

From Alavrez: “If for whatever reason the city clerk is offended by my comments, I apologize, but it doesn’t change my view.”

Alvarez is the mistress of the non-apologetic apology.  Just ask Irv and Ryan Chase.  What about an apology to the members of the public who spoke out passionately against the lawsuit?  Alvarez said unidentified persons have gone to Senator Lou Correa’s office asking for Madrid to be fired while offering not a shread of proof.  Madrid, as a vetern, was beyond reproach, she said.  So perhaps this means Paco Barragan and Glen Stroud, a former city commissioner who spoke second last Monday, should also be beyond reproach?  Just asking?

And if or when the Madrid lawsuit fails, the city should seek legal fees from Madrid.  Alvarez isn’t on the hook for the legal bills but Madrid is. What happens if he has to pay the city tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars as has been suggested by Council member Benavides?

The rant by Alvarez is akin to a spoiled child being told “no” and whining her way to get what she wants.  Residents should aks Alvarez to sit in the corner.

Alavrez is geting her wish.  The lawsuit is going to be heard next week.  There are multiple scenarios that can emerge from this and her path to a legal remedy to run for city council is narrow.  With the entry of Roman Reyna and Karina Onofre in the race for Ward 5, and solid blocks of voters in other parts of the city against the Mayor Pro Tem, there’s a solid chance even if allowed to run, Alvarez could lose.

But Alvarez’s solution to her situation was sitting next to her on the dais.  Mayor Pulido is facing a council-led initative to term him out after his fall and from all appearances, he has lost control of the alliances that were there in 2010.  His failure to reign in Alvarez during her rants against her colleagues and city staff showed more weakness and a lack of control.  If the courts tell Alvarez she can’t run for Ward 5, there is nothing stopping her from facing off against Pulido in November.  It would be a huge bet on her part, but Pulido has never been weaker than he is now.

While this blog is often critical of individual members of the Santa Ana city council on a number of fronts, we tip our hats to Council members Benavides, Sarmiento and Martinez for standing up to Alvarez and defending Maria Huizar.

Next week’s ruling will be telling.



  1 comment for “A Double Standard on Civility

  1. cook
    July 18, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    “We’ll also note not a single speaker came and spoke in support of a continued Alvarez candidacy”

    Even tho I didn’t speak support in of a continued Alvarez candidacy, I did speak at the 5pm closed session public comments that in my opinion Measure “D” allows for 3 terms for all qualified candidates starting in Nov. 2008. And I read from a Supreme Court ruling dated Feb. 2010 that to have the term limit apply retroactively is a violation of both constitutions.

    And at the end of the night for 85b public comments, term limits, that I favor dumping term limits in favor of letting the voters decide.
    I will say this, after all the give and take, back and forth, from the residents and council, and some court sites shown to me by others before the meeting, I am confused on some items that were not explained and I see that only a court can solve the current question on term limits.

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