It didn’t take long for the newly seated city council to stir things up and create a little controversy while violating the Brown Act at the same time. Tuesday’s Tustin City Councill meeting demonstrated their ignorance when it comes to conducting city business. Of course, John Nielsen wasn’t there to guide them and it was left up to Mayor Murray to carry the ball. We did not expect much from Murray and that is what we got.
Chad Ortlieb, an Orange city planner and Old Town Tustin resident who previously spoke on the subject of the Wilcox Manor, showed up during public comments to complain about the apparent gross errors of the Fab 5 in handling the continuance of the Wilcox Manor CUP application last meeting. If you recall at last month’s meeting, Ortlieb appeared to question whether any type of event center was appropriate for the Old Town residential neighborhood. His discussion at that meeting generated a flurry of activity on the dais as councilmembers, looking like Keystone Cops, raced for the door saying they had to recuse themselves from any discussion. It also raised with us, at the time, the question of why the item would be continued for eight months. It was pretty obvious to us the reason the councilmembers were in such a hurry to exit the dais.
So, Ortlieb came back this month to ask the question we have wondered all along: Why an eight month delay? He also asked a few other questions concerning the validity of the application itself and whether city staff were playing footsie with the applicants to accommodate them. To their credit, this time the city council remained in their seats. From Ortlieb:
The rights of Tustin residents to have the council decide the continuance of the Wilcox Manor project were violated. At one point, in the meeting, councilmember Gomez asked the city attorney. ‘Does this item require action?’ The city attorney’s response was, ‘No. It’s already been agendized as continued’. Staff did not have the right to remove the continuance from the council’s consideration. The consideration is exclusively the council’s purview. If you want to take a look at Government Code section 94955, I think that’s a good starting point. But, to ask the question, can the city council continue something to a date, but have staff continue it for the council without any direction by the council? The answer is, no. Had the project been advertised differently, without staff saying it’s continued, a different public attendance and public participation could have resulted. The council had the right to deny the continuance request and even a right to make a decision on the project at that meeting. For the record, I don’t believe that a continuance to September is reasonable. Confusing matters is that, even though there was no quorum, the council, applicant representative and staff all conducted council business and spoke regarding the project. But, nobody else from the public was extended that opportunity. One of the attorneys present should have noticed the lack of a quorum. Also, just to pose the question, why did the applicant attorney show up if the matter was continued automatically by staff?
Ortlieb goes on to say the project should be re-noticed and advertised to the public with the city council subsequently deciding what, if any, extension will be allowed. He went on to say that the use [as a non-profit venue] was never allowed in the type of zoning the residence is in to begin with. He also stated that staff should never have considered the CUP as the type of venue is not allowed. “Staff should not be allowed to set land use policy of this magnitude even for a non-profit use.” Ortlieb further said the consideration by the city council was improper in the first case. Even though the original CUP went before the city planning commission, the applicants substantially changed the application request before it landed in front of the city council. That, according to Ortlieb, meant the application should have gone before the planning commission one more time.
Of course, we agree. As we had pointed out, Linburgh McPherson and Michael Demoratz, the trustees and owners of the Wilcox Manor, have misled the city during this entire adventure. They originally told the planning commission they had set up off-site parking when, in fact, they had done nothing of the sort. They amassed huge support at the planning commission meeting last year by busing in representatives from non-profits that had used the facility. The trouble is, most of those non-profits were from outside of the city where parking, trash and crowds would have no impact on them. The fact that several councilmembers have directly benefited from the use of the facility for fundraising as well, was not lost on the many residents who reside near the Manor.
The primary issue at this point was whether the staff had the right to automatically continue a matter before the council, on behalf of the council. We don’t think they did. We never got a good look at the audience for last month’s meeting but it seems to us that, even if one person who wished to speak was there, they should have been given that opportunity before a continuance was granted. Eight months is a long time for a continuance and, quite frankly, it appears as though the city council majority (we won’t count Gomez in this) was hoping that the lapse in time would allow them to return a favorable vote for the owners without raising eyebrows. To that effect, the city attorney bumbled his way through some sad explanation that it would be right for the councilmembers to recuse themselves, thereby eliminating the ability to act on the matter, but that one of the conflicted could subsequently return to the dais after drawing straws. How could there not still be a conflict for that councilmember? Better to have required a new application.
Ortlieb was left standing at the podium as the good Mayor thanked him for speaking and sent him packing. It should be interesting how concerned citizens react when the CUP is brought before the city council in September. As we told you before, we aren’t going anywhere and we plan on reminding our readers when the issue comes up again. At the very least, the city council should take a hint and refuse to hear the highly-modified CUP application when it comes before them. What should really happen is the applicants should be directed to start from ground zero with the city planning commission. The planning commission, of course, should research the issue as we believe Orlieb is correct in his assertion that the type of events McPherson and Dmoratz have been holding, have been illegal all along.
Like you, we thought this embarrassing saga of the Tustin City Council was over. John and the Fab Four had been sworn in, Deborah Gavello and her arch-nemesis Jerry “Boss Tweed” Amante had been ceremoniously swept from the dais with kind words and lots of resolutions. We had hope that, perhaps, the acerbic cloud of dissension was about to dissipate. So, we have to wonder why and at whose direction the city attorney, David Kendig, decided to take one last swipe at former councilwoman Gavello.
In an email, dated a scant three days after the installation of the new city council, Kendig decided to send an email to Gavello demanding she change her website as she is no longer a member of the city council and her website bills her as such. To add insult to stupidity, he also demanded she remove the city logo from her website as it was “unauthorized”.
From the Email:
On Dec 9, 2012, at 9:12 AM, David E. Kendig <DKendig@wss-law.com> wrote:
Good morning, Deborah,
It has been brought to my attention that your website (www.DeborahforTustin.com) still refers to you as a Councilmember. Since you left office last Tuesday, it is time to immediately remove that website, remove your former title from the website, or change the website to correctly reference your current status. In addition, in reviewing that complaint, I observed that the website contains a facsimile of the official City seal on one of the link buttons. Such use of the City logo is prohibited by the Tustin City Code, so that also must be removed from the website immediately.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
City Attorney, City of Tustin
Yes, I am still laughing over the fact that, when we brought this illegal use of the logo up to the city in regard to then candidate Allan Bernstien’s blatant illegal use of the logo and misrepresentation as a city councilmember, Kendig sheepishly had the city clerk send out a reminder to everyone.
Now, one could say that Kendig was just doing his job. I mean, it was a whole three days since Deborah was gone. We certainly don’t want Gavello to be confused with the Podiatrist Councilman. Never mind that, among the various websites of city councilmembers, hers was the most accurate and up-to-date, making sure her constituents were kept informed was a hallmark of her tenure. Much of the information she placed up there was in direct conflict with the so-called transparency page the city public information officer kept on the city website. And, she was a master of demonstrating the idiocy of the city council in video clips that can still be found on YouTube.
“I can see calling me after a month, if it hadn’t been taken down. But three days? I asked my webmaster to remove the information the day after I left office”, said Gavello in an email interview. Since then, her entire website has been replaced with one big “thank you” to her constituents.
So, did Kendig do his job or was he just harrassing his former boss?
Perhaps, if we look at Councilman John Nielsen’s website, we can get an answer:
I am proud to be your Mayor this year, and am gratified and encouraged by the support I have already received in my campaign including friends, and neighbors I have worked with through the many years of my family’s involvement in our community, including, Tustin Dolphins, Tustin PONY League, Tustin Eastern Little League, NJB, AYSO Soccer, SoCal Waterpolo and numerous sports, events and activities for our local public schools, where my children graduated from Tustin High.
Yes, right on the home page of his website, he bills himself as Mayor of Tustin, even though it has been over a week since Councilmember Al Murray was elected to be mayor. So, where was the email to Nielsen for illegally calling himself “Mayor” when he left the position? Well, it is not the first time Nielsen has told an untruth. We doubt it will be the last.
What the entire episode demonstrates is that the inept lawyer Kendig will continue to be the pandering lapdog for what we expect will be an equally inept city council. We could hope for nothing less in the coming year.
As a closer, Gavello also explained that she had asked her fellow councilmembers to go out to bid on the city attorney services rather than continue the no-bid contract ad infinitum. “but Beckie [Gomez] wouldn’t help me on going out to bid on this”.
Did you really expect her to?
As the year comes to a close, the new Tustin City Council is tying up loose ends and preparing for another year. Among other things, they will have one last opportunity before year end to discuss the lawsuits between the city and the school district. Here is an opportunity to turn thing around and stop the idiocy that has overshadowed the council chamber for the past couple of years.
Open session will also see the awarding of the contract for construction of the Legacy Fire Station and a land swap deal for the District and the Army Reserve which is asking to rebuild a reserved center on the old MCAS property. Sidewalks and street improvements are also on the agenda.
Items 1 & 2 – Conference with Legal Counsel, Initiation and Exposure to Litigation
Item 3 – Conference with Legal Counsel, Existing Litigation – Tustin Unified School District v. City of Tustin
Item 3 – Award of Construction Contract, Tustin Legacy Fire Station – Staff recommendation to award bid to lowest bidder, Erickson-Hall Construction Company for $4.1 million dollars.
Item 4 – Approve Cooperative Agreement with OCTA for SLPP funding of projects – Four projects including one held jointly with Santa Ana are slated for funding under this program. All funding is matched by M1-M2 funds.
Item 6 – Annual Review and Adoption of Investment Policy – With Deborah Gavello out of the way, the city council is free to continue to allow George Jeffries to illegally invest funds in accounts he should not be investing in. Of course, never mind the fact that the city appears to be Jeffries only client these days. He is way past is prime and city manager Jeff Parker should be looking at succession planning in this area.
Item 8 – Tustin Response to EA/DFNSI for Army Reserve Center – Apparently the city is not happy with the proposed exchange of property with the District and the subsequent construction of the Army Reserve Center on Barranca Parkway. They are proposing the Army either swap land for another parcel off Redhill and Warner or submit their plans to the city to ensure compliance with federal and state clean water acts. This is pretty laughable seeing as how the city is already on the losing end of a lawsuit with the Tustin Unified School District over these same issues. One has to wonder how much taxpayer money this city council will squander in lawsuits with the U.S. Army. OK, you really have to read the letter here to understand the joke.
Item 9 – 2013 Mayoral Appointments List – The annual list of council appointments to various boards and authorities can be found here. Most of these are of little consequence to the proposed members as they have no fiscal impact. However, if you thought city council members would not be compensated for their time, guess again. Even though Measure HH did away with city council compensation, it did not do away with board and authority remuneration. Beckie Gomez, who is probably still incensed that her gladhanding did not even net her the pro tem position, is the sole loser here with virtually no paid positions to her credit. At least she is consistent.
On the other hand, the Fab Four will net handy stipends of anywhere from $9,000 to $15,300 per year for attending meetings for everything from transporation to sewage. In many cases, this will be on top of health and retirement benefits. It looks like former mayor John Nielsen will pick up some nice change as he is slated for a couple of these jobs. He will need it as I hear he was recently terminated from his employment. Rumor also has it a moving van was seen near his home of record. Laughably, Nielsen has also been nominated by Mayor Al Murray to be the liaison for Tustin Unified School District. I guess Murray is even less interested in resolving the problems with the school district than Amante was.
In the final meeting of the old year, the city council has chosen to live the words from a famous George M. Cohan song, Always Leave Them Laughing When You Say Goodbye. We look forward to many new laughs from the Fab Four and their misguided DINO in 2013.
It seems the past few months have been tough on the City’s video production department. Once again, we attempted to access the video only to find it has not been posted yet. It is too bad because there was actually, from what we hear, quite a bit to report on. We did hear that the council discussed the absence policy and it was voted 3-1, with Gomez dissenting, to send it back to staff for development. As we said before, the policy will have little effect and was simply another bullying tool for a forgetful Jerry Amante.
And Amante, of course, had another of the Gooderham shills show up at the meeting to pooh-pooh Deborah for her absences. Steve Gooderham said he believed Gavello to be derelict in her duties. Really? As far as I know, she is still conducting council business which, as we all know, is mostly conducted outside of the council chambers. So, perhaps Steve and his wife Pam, who both are diehard Jerry fans by the way, can come up with some specific instances where she is derelict. Maybe they can borrow Jerry’s iPad for an interactive presentation, since they paid for it. Maybe, they could run for City Council.
Also on the agenda was the telecommute policy. In a recent email conversation with Deborah Gavello, I learned that, after a discussion on the pros and cons with the city manager, she had specifically asked not to agendize the item. So, where this even came from, I don’t know, other than possibly Jerry again in his desire to take down Deborah. In any case, the council did the right thing to receive and file the issue as the agenda report made it clear there would be too much difficulty in dealing with the issue while maintaining compliance with the Brown Act.
The only other thing we heard was there was a young Boy Scout who had the longest award sash anyone has ever seen. I heard 131 awards and he should be very proud of his accomplishments. I am sure our own Boy Scout (I am being serious here), John Nielsen was beaming. Congratulations to all of those who received presentations. If we ever get to see the video, maybe we will publish names to go along with our report.