There is supposed to be a press conference today in Orange to publicly berate Orange Mayor Tita Smith for refusing to appoint Michael Merino to the city’s planning commission. Orange council member Dennis Bilodeau is going to ask the city council to restore the former Navy Captain his former seat on the Orange Planning Commission, claiming that Merino was denied reinstatement at the last city council meeting on November 12. Bilodeau wants to blame Mayor Smith when he really should be pointing the finger at the rest of the Republicans on the city council for failing to file a second to Bilodeau’s motion to add Merino.
Bilodeau is making this a “Smith is anti-veteran” thing when she’s the daughter of a vet and the wife of a vet. Nice try.
The press release announcing the press conference makes several claims that frankly aren’t true. From the press release:
“In January 2012 while serving on the Orange Planning Commission, Captain Merino was deployed to Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in support of the global war on terror. Upon his deployment, he requested a leave of absence from the Orange Planning Commission. This request was approved by the City Council without reservation. Upon his return from service, he requested reinstatement, but Orange Mayor Teresa “Tita” Smith refused. Per the Orange Municipal Code, the mayor has the sole authority to make appointments.”
The truth is Merino resigned the appointment prior to deployment. He quit. And even if he didn’t, while deployed, the term expired. Merino’s term expired 6/30/2013 – regardless of military duty. He had no reasonable expectation of being automatically reinstated due to his service. He did have every right to reapply for a new term, and he did. But his application/nomination was not accepted by the Orange City Council. There’s no record of a request for a leave of absence. None. Update: An email to Mr. Bilodeau’s Gmail account was filed by the city clerk and it’s reprinted below; But we stand by our earlier statement that the Mayor then and now, the city clerk and the city attorney were unaware; the date/timestamp could have been issued by anyone at the city clerk’s office.
Smith tells TheLiberalOC. “There is no question that Captain Merino would have continued as an Orange Planning Commissioner had he returned while his term was active. Any indication otherwise is false and misleading.” Smith added: “Captain Merino’s appointment expired over a year ago and neither I or the Council were inclined to give him a new term. I am deeply troubled that it appears Councilman Bilodeau is opportunistically using an issue as sacred as veteran protections to secure an appointment for a political ally.”
Bilodeau claims there’s a ton of support for Merino’s reinstatement. From the press release: Councilman Bilodeau said. “I have received an outpouring of support from not just Orange residents and veterans, but from people across our nation and internationally,” he said. “I am heartened that so many believe, like me, that our military service personnel should have their jobs and status restored upon their return from the call of duty.”
I want to see those messages but there are likely beyond the purview of a public records request. Perhaps they’ll have them at the press conference.
“I wholeheartedly support Councilman Bilodeau’s efforts” said Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer. Supervisor Spitzer is the author of the County of Orange ordinance that protects the status and pay for County employees called to active military duty.
Todd loves press conferences. I hope he reads this before he goes.
The Orange City Attorney interprets the Federal Act to apply to elected positions – if the serviceman returns while his/her term is still active – which Mr. Merino was not. And he wasn’t an employee of the city either as he resigned. And since they are referencing Spitzer’s authorship of the County ordinance, here’s the link to federal law and the county ordinance. Unless you have serious reading comprehension issues, neither applies to Merino.
http://www.justice.gov/crt/military/statute.htm and http://bos.ocgov.com/legacy3ts/newsletters/vol1issue41.htm (see 4th story down.). Neither of these two cover anything other than employees – which Merino was not. The Orange City Attorney does not interpret this to apply to appointed positions – such as planning commission – which Mr. Merino was at the time of his resignation. Merino quit. You can’t get a leave of absence from a job you resigned from.
The Mayor appoints planning commissioners upon approval of the city council; the motion to appoint Merino at the city council meeting died for lack of a second from Bilodeau’s Republican colleagues on the council; we can’t state this enough. Smith moved Merino’s nomination forward after citing her objections to the appointment, but Bilodeau can’t blame her for not being able to muster a second. And yet he wants to pout publicly about it at a press conference.
To summarize, here are the inaccuracies to Merino’s story and Bilodeau’s pitch:
1 – Merino was not denied reinstatement, that was not an option. His term had expired and been filled by another veteran, Bill Cathcart (a two-tour, decorated Vietnam War combat veteran).
2 – Mr. Merino was not deployed in January 2012 – he was deployed in September 2011. He only submitted his resignation in January 2012. Remember, Merino quit. Update: we have a request in for a copy of Merino’s resignation letter if it exists. There is a claim of a “gentlemen’s agreement” between Merino and Bill Cathcart but this agreement was done without the consent of the city council and doesn’t appear to meet any city code.
3 – There is no written record that Merino asked the mayor, City Clerk, or City attorney for a leave of absence. There is only record of his resignation. NOTE: This statement is still true. Mr. Bilodeau has since produced an email written by Mr. Merino to Bilodeau’s GMail account requesting a leave of absence and the city clerk has stamped it, but this note does not appear to have been shared with Mayor Smith or the current council until earlier this month.
4 – Mayor Smith did not refuse Merino’s reinstatement. She allowed Merino’s nomination to be brought forward by Councilman Bilodeau as a motion to appoint on November 12, 2013. The motion died for lack of a second. And while the Mayor has the sole authority to appoint, Councilman Bilodeau went around that prerogative and agendized this item. Smith could have used her power as Mayor to remove the request from the agenda, but didn’t. The motion was made by Bilodeau to appoint Merino and it died for a lack of a second. The Mayor does have the authority to appoint someone to the planning commission but it is done with the consent of the council which did not provide a vote on Mr. Merino’s appointment.
On another note, Merino has been home for well over a year since his deployment, but his name was not brought forward until the day after Veteran’s Day. Merino has run for Orange City Council before and lost. So when the press conference takes place, let’s just hope the facts are presented accurately here. Update: Mr. Merino and Mr. Bilodeau both insist Merino began the process of reinstatement nearly a year ago.