Duck—Here Comes the Mud
When not rummaging through her purse, Mayor Gayle Washburn and the council majority showed exceptional interest in Councilman Steve Conaway’s (left) remarks.
By Jean McLeod — Wednesday, September 26th, 2012
Can’t we all just get along?
The September 25, 2012 Fillmore City Council Meeting began after an hours-worth of speakers addressed the Council on a variety of topics during the public comment section. There were numerous complaints about the political atmosphere in Fillmore, and comments on pie sales, graffiti cleanup, sidewalk sales and much more. The agenda items included approving a letter to the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC), a proposal for the Council to go paperless, a committee to address the budget, City Manager recruitment, implementing a Code of Conduct and what action to take on a possible Brown Act violation. It was this last agenda item that created a great deal of finger pointing and accusations.
The fireworks began with a discussion on whether the Council should ask the staff to prepare pertinent information on establishing a Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics. Mayor Gayle Washburn began the discussion stating Fillmore is very divided and at this time the Council does not have a Code of Conduct. She went on to say that in the past there had been a Code of Conduct, but at the time it was abused and used to prevent some opinions from coming forward. She continued and then stated….”I’ve been personally attacked by another council member.” She then asked “Do we want to put it down on paper or can we trust that we will treat each other with respect?”
Council Member Steve Conaway responded, “…in 2008 the Council voted to repeal the Code of Conduct…I was the only council member to vote not to repeal the Code of Ethics.” He went on to say that he supported putting it on the agenda. To which Washburn responded, “…since you (Conaway) mention that (supporting a Code of Conduct) that gave you a license to violate it?” Conaway responded, “I don’t appreciate the little spin you put on that, and I do support it being brought back.” Washburn then accused Conaway of illegal conduct when during a recent council meeting Conaway stepped down from the dais and addressed the Council as a citizen, calling it a Brown Act violation.
The Brown Act is an act of the California State Legislature passed in 1953 that sets rules that apply to California city councils, county boards, and other local government bodies. It guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings and what can or can’t be disclosed from a closed sessions without the full agreement of the Council. Also, Council Member Jamey Brooks wanted everyone to understand the Council does not follow Robert’s Rule of Order, but follows Rosenberg’s Rule of Order. Both are rules for proper procedure in conducting meetings. Robert’s Rules of Order was first written in 1876 and is a bit complex. It has been revised numerous times with the eleventh revision in 2011. Rosenberg’s Rule of Order is a contemporary writing and simple enough for most people to understand.
Brooks went on to say that Conaway accused the mayor of trying to get former City Attorney Ted Schneider fired and stated, “You have been unethical every month” and to accuse the mayor of something like that is illegal. Brooks said he didn’t support a Code of Conduct, but he would be ethical.
Conaway recommended a vote to move forward with adding a Code of Ethics, to which Council Member Brian Sipes seconded, but it was then modified with a suggestion that new City Attorney Tiffany Israel bring some drafts of Codes of Ethics to the Council to review.
This was the first council meeting for the new City Attorney who lives in Orange County and has practiced law for 16 years after graduating from San Diego School of Law. In addition to Fillmore she also represents the City of Lawndale.
Israel explained that a Brown Act violation is disclosure of what was said during a closed session and that the Council may chose to wave keeping what was discussed private and allow the public to be informed. The Council then stated that there was a disclosure that was not waved and was published by the Fillmore Gazette, pertaining to the legal fee bids submitted by law firms applying for the City Attorney position.
Brooks then asked the City Attorney to ask each Council Member if they had released the information regarding the proposal on the City Attorney’s position, which she did. When asked council members Washburn, Brooks, Sipes and A. Eduardo Gonzalez responded No they had not. Council Member Steve Conaway was then asked and he responded, “This was all political drama for political purposes.” He refused to say yes or no and wanted no part of the political theatre.
Brooks than asked Israel what procedures can be taken if a council member violates a rule. To which she responded “Admonishment or censure.” Brooks than said he would like to take this to the next level, stating “He (Conaway) took it to a paper and had it published…this is not insignificant. I would like to see him banned from all closed sessions.” To which Washburn replied, “I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this. A verbal admonishment is enough.” Sipes said he agreed with Brooks and Gonzalez added, “I think an action requires consequences. I am very concerned about this and I think something should be done.” Washburn then asked, “Do you want to proceed with the censure?” It was then suggested that Attorney Julie Scott, who acted as Special Council and gave information on California Public Records Act and Freedom of Information Act to the Council at the request of resigning City Manager Yvonne Quiring, handle the legal proceedings. She was asked what her hourly rate was and was told $150 an hour. At this point former Council Member Patti Walker jetted up to the podium and volunteered to pay the first $500 in legal fees. Just after that, a city resident, David Weeks, addressed the council and asked why the Council would put out City money to continue with this. He asked if Fillmore was being sued and if not, then why should the City be spending the money on this? Another thing to consider is that Conaway vacates his Council seat in a little over a month, so what would be gained by the added expense?
At this point Brooks said “I wish to admonish Mr. Conaway for a Brown act violation.” A vote was taken with Sipes the only No vote.
Laurie Hernandez again addressed the Council and asked if the questions she had asked at the last council meeting were on that nights agenda and were they going to be answered. She then said, “The City deserves to have a City Manager who is qualified.” Israel responded to Hernandez by telling her a letter would be sent to her by former City Manager Yvonne Quiring to answer her questions. Hernandez than replied that she was told it would be on this meetings agenda and that the Council had agreed to it. Hernandez was again told that a letter would be sent to her to answer her questions.
Rick Neal, owner of a local business who is running for a council seat, addressed the Council with his concerns in hiring of a new city manager. He suggested the Council look for someone who has worked in a small town similar to Fillmore, is approachable, will interact with the community both socially and professionally, will hold themselves to the highest of standards. He also said they should be able to lead by example and hold their team to a similar standards, someone who is capable of training staff members and communicating the councils’ vision to them.
As the meeting progressed, Brooks, who sits on the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC), asked that the Council send a letter to VCTC along with Santa Paula Council Members who are also sending a letter requesting the VCTC reconsider the decision of divesting itself of administration from bus and transportation service. This change will affect the VISTA Route 126 service and the Fillmore and Santa Paula Dial-A-Ride and is scheduled to happen July 1, 2013. Brooks explained that the expected replacement system has union drivers which are paid at a much higher rate than what is being used now, which will be reflected in the cost of the fare/rates and he is not sure that Fillmore residents could afford the increase. Hwy 126 between Fillmore and Santa Paula has the highest participation in Ventura County and “we can not afford to lose that service” Brooks stated.
Also, the Film Commission has issued three film permits within the past two months; one is for the TV show “The Mentalist” which brought in $4,030 in General Fees and $7,425 in Public Safety Fees and a Lifetime project “Road Trip” by Michael Crawford which took out two permits, paying General Fees of $2,400 and $1,830 and Public Safety Fees of $4,500 and $1,650. Location scouts were also in town and are considering doing a Jeep commercial.
Leslie Klinchuch, with Chevron announced two future tours of the site cleanup and gave an update on the progress being made. Klinchuch said there was a great deal more concrete and underground pipe than expected and when that is completed the soil will be addressed. There will be two site tours on Thursday Oct 18th at 3:00pm and at 5:30pm. At 67 Telegraph Rd. Chevron and the Environmental Protection Agency will be there.
Raelene Chaney announced the holiday season is just around the corner and it’s time to order your Grad Nite Live Pies. She also informed the Council that Marie Calendars has raise their price and the pies are now $13 each. The number to order is 805 524-4909.