The City Council Shell Game

Conspiracy Theories Abound

(Update- We were advised by Tustin’s PIO, Lisa Woolery, that Tustin City Clerk Pam Stoker is still technically an elected official through the end of her term in 2012. After that, the City Clerk position will convert to a regular employee position serving at the pleasure of the city council.-jg) Sorry, it has been a busy week. I could blame my not reporting on the Tustin City Council meeting on the City’s faulty IT/Video system but that really was just a small part of it. So, let’s just say, it’s been a busy New Year and leave it at that. I did manage to get an interview in with John Nielsen this week. And my email account is on fire with public information requests. Oh, and the video appears to still be down. There’s a conspiracy theory in there somewhere for sure. (news flash, I just received my own personal copy of the video from the city. It must be that transparency thing-jg)

In any case, there were only three items of real interest this week on the City Council Agenda. One was the Annual Appointment of the City Treasurer, which we will save for a future article.The second was a discussion on the now-defunct redevelopment agency. The third, City Council Appointed Representatives, bears discussion.

Ellyse James of the Orange County Register wrote a recent article on the council appointments, pointing out only that the council majority, consisting of Jerry Amante, Al Murray and John Nielsen, were all appointed to boards and committees that pay stipends. Neither Deborah Gavello nor Beckie Gomez, who was handed a bone with unpaid committee appointments to the Library Board, Santa Ana Flood Protection Agency and a couple of other minor boards, were given even a passing notice. Stipends for boards, such as the Orange County Fire Authority and the Transportation Corridor Agency range anywhere from $100 to $212.50 per meeting day.

In fact, the appointment of John Nielsen to the Southern California Association of Governments means that he could net as much as $11,520 per year to attend SCAG meetings and events. He would also receive mileage for each of these he attends. And, lest you think they would never meet that often, I suggest you take a look at the SCAG calendar which appears to be quite busy. The appointment to the Orange County Fire Authority is not quite so lucrative. Al Murray will receive a maximum of $3600 for his service, if he attends up to three meetings or events per month.

The manner in which the nominations were made could not have been any more of a sham had the good old boys used a no bid contract consultant to formulate the plan. The Fair Political Practice Commission had previously ruled that nominees may not be involved in the election process to a paid board. Although the Agenda Report spelled out this complicated process whereby the nominee would not vote for themselves (and the process would somehow be streamlined this way) it was obvious to anyone with a 4th grade education that the devised procedure would not result in a fair nomination process. That’s because, the “staff recommendations” ensured that at least two of the three good old boys would remain in the room at all times. And, it looks like the council, in its so-called endeavor to remain open and transparent, violated a key rule of Roberts Rules of Order in order to keep their appointments safe.

Article XI, Sec. 66, of Roberts Rules of Order states, “The nomination need not be seconded” for a nomination to be effective. So, when Councilmember Deborah Gavello nominated Councilmember Beckie Gomez for the Fire Authority board, the nomination should have stuck. But it didn’t because that would not fit in with the plan of the good old boys. Oh yes, Article I, Section 1302 of the Tustin City Code says the City Council shall operate under Robert’s Rules of Order or such other rules they may implement (there are none).

And if this shell game wasn’t obvious by now, what occurred during the vote for the Director and Alternate Director for the Orange County Fire Authority should be on the minds of every Tustinite this year as this council conducts its business. When Mayor Nielsen was nominated by his two cronies, he left the room for the vote. The vote did not go exactly as planned as the Right voted to approve the nomination and the Left, unsurprisingly, voted against it. Here is where the shell game comes in. In a subsequent nomination, John Nielsen was again nominated by Jerry Amante. After Nielsen left the room, in one of the most unethical displays I could imagine, Boss Tweed Amante then nominated Beckie Gomez for the same position, thereby assuring a majority vote for “their man” Nielsen, for the alternate on the Orange County Fire Authority. Ah, but then, he doesn’t have to drive as far.

To add insult to injury, John Nielsen actually had the nerve to say afterward, “I think it made it more of an open process for everybody involved and it gives everyone an opportunity. It just happened to be the way it kind of fell.” Wrong. It happened exactly the way you and your cronies planned. Talking the city staff into creating the “open process”, which violated common rules of procedure and allowed ethical jumps to get what you wanted, does not make the process any less jaded just because it may pass muster (barely) with the FPPC.

Had Nielsen or any of the Gang of Three even reached out to Gomez by hailing a second on her nomination, they would have shown that they intend to run the council less as a soapbox for their brand of partisanship and more for the benefit of a diverse city. No one (not even me) really expected to see Gavello with even an unpaid committee position. Given the fact that, apparently even Beckie Gomez does not align with her, it would have been out of character for the entire city council. But, Gomez appears to be happy with her appointments to minor boards, even though she complained that the three councilmembers that support the ballot measure to do away with council stipends are the only ones to receive appointments to paid positions. “If they’re trying to save taxpayers money that’s inconsistent.” That’s about as much of an argument we are liable to see from our milktoast representative. That’s OK, Beckie. Deborah didn’t get it until it was too late either. In a midnight, slap-your-head-as-you-sit-up moment, Deborah exclaims, “Now I get it…” Perhaps Deborah needs to have a staff assistant text answers to her ala Janet Nguyen. It certainly would not have taken an explanation by the city attorney, David Kendig.

Oh, and by the way, Jerry’s shill City Clerk should at least have the courtesy to follow protocol. It isn’t nice to call for the vote for an office until it has been ascertained that there are no more nominees

. Instead,  not waiting to pander to the Gang of Three, she jumped the gun and then had to be pulled back, ever so briefly, as the question was asked if there were other nominations. That’s what we get for making her a paid Amante tout instead of an elected official.

I had sincerely hoped the change in mayors would have brought enlightenment to the Tustin City Council. I would like to have been able to start off the year with a nice article about how they stood on the dais and sang kumbaya as the American Legion posted the Colors and Father Al chanted a prayer of humility. Alas, based on what we have seen so far the council chambers, I will be regularly reporting on the bad behavior of the Gang of Three.

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