Council Does Nothing Again - Part 3 (The Role of the Mayor)

Dr. Jim Gardner
Dr. Jim Gardner

So far we’ve identified two causes of the poor record of achievement by this Council – postponing decisions and spending time dealing with Planning Commission appeals. Another major contributor to their poor record this year has been the performance of Scott Voigts as the Mayor.

They like to say that the Mayor’s role in Lake Forest is only ceremonial, but that’s not true. While there is a ceremonial component to the Mayor’s role (e.g., appearing at grand openings) the real meat and potatoes of the Mayor’s role happens in the Council chambers where the Mayor presides over a 5 member Council, with nearly a dozen staff in  attendance, and has to navigate an agenda which usually has a dozen or more items. The City of Lake Forest is a multi-million dollar business, with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and a $35,000,000 annual budget. It takes a skilled hand to move the agenda forward, to deal with the disparate interests, to manage the flow of information and the flow of discourse, and to set the agenda itself so that major issues are addressed.



For all his assets, Voigts has done a poor job at the helm. Even after a year he often resembles a deer caught in the headlights, fumbling with papers, asking the City Clerk or the City Attorney what he should do next. This inability to manage the protocols of a meeting has resulted in many meetings going long beyond the normal closing time, including the record setting marathon last night which went just shy of midnight.

It’s not merely his fumbling his way through the meeting which is problematic, Voigts seems unable to control his fellow Council members. Mayor Pro Tem. McCullough gets lost in reminiscences all the time, and then she launches into a 5 or more minute discussion about items not on the agenda. Mr. Nick, when he wasn’t criticizing former Councilman Herzog, could get carried away with his speeches about how great the country is, although since Herzog resigned Nick has been much better behaved. Fortunately, Councilman Robinson almost never said anything, so the time that was lost between McCullough and Nick was made up, in part, by Robinson’s long silences. A good Mayor manages his peers, but Voigts seems lost.



Even more telling, his inability to manage his peers has resulted in the most rancorous meetings in recent history (possibly in our entire history). By failing to deal with the animosity between Council members, Voigts has allowed precious time for problem solving to be taken up by arguments, accusations, and name calling that shouldn’t ever rear their ugly head in a public meeting, but more importantly, detract from the time that should be spent on problem solving. When you are so busy fighting with each other, it’s hard to make progress on substantive issues. Even worse, several times this rancor has spilled over into the decision making, and it’s been obvious that positions were being taken by members merely to spite another member, rather than what’s in the best interests of the City.



Another role of the Mayor is to push through his/her vision for the community. Voigts has been singularly lacking in any type of vision. He has been a staunch supporter of the Sports Park, but the Sports Park was already on the schedule and funded long before he became Mayor. The only other topic he’s championed is the use of Whispering Hills as an indoor sports arena for Soccer, a sport his daughter participates in. Here we have a city with no senior center, no civic center, no dog park, no local animal shelter, and no community park while we currently have 7 soccer fields and the new sports park will give us 5 more. Can he seriously be lobbying for an indoor sports arena when the City lacks more basic services and facilities?

Councilmen Nick and Robinson have been far more articulate in championing ideas for the City, but they have been ineffective in advancing most of their projects. Nick has been unable to get his peers to support his call for transparency, sunshine ordinances, and term limits. Robinson had gotten some minor changes to our sign ordinances, but he sits there while the proportion of city spending sinks to an all-time low, and the best he can do is to schedule a workshop on how to contract with the City where 80% of the participants are from out of town. IOW, he’s done more to harm the city than to help it.

If the City is to make any progress in this next year, it will need a Mayor who can take charge, who knows how to run a meeting, and who can move us forward with a common vision of what kind of a community we need to be. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Merijoe Axe December 11, 2013 at 04:00 PM
The fact that Robinson doesn't say much in meeting usually, made me very suspicious last night, when of a sudden he found the ability to run his mouth as he realized Nick was not going to change his vote to Hamilton, like Voigts did, suddenly we heard Robinson belt out a clear and lengthy lecture about how a special election would be costly. (so, if he cared so much why didn't he change his vote?) Voigts and his phony vote for 2 different people, 2 different times then a change over to Hamilton which he stayed with for the next 2 votes, same as Robinson, put me to mind of how the game was played as they both followed the same pattern with their appointment of Fuentes recently, in planning (that time Nick voted for her too). Robinson beat his chest and made sure we all knew that we could like him or not, he didn't care in the least-Kathryn did the same, only there seemed to be more of a mean spiritedness to his revelation than hers, Yes Dwight, we are all aware we can all jump in a lake for all you care. At least I am anyway.
Tom Cagley December 11, 2013 at 06:08 PM
Alas, just as in the Planning Commission appointment, they did not pick the most qualified candidate. In fact, he was not even in the top half of the candidates, based on his submittal. According to the compilation of Dr. Gardner of candidates' responses, Bass has done very little in 20 years in Lake Forest, other than support his children's school and work for the city for ten years. He did not list any goals he wants to achieve. This might be smart, because if he doesn't set any goals, he cannot be held accountable for failure to reach them! Or, as I've said in other blogs, if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there!
Martin Henderson (Editor) December 12, 2013 at 09:46 AM
For readers who may not know, the City Council is to appoint among themselves new mayor and mayor pro tem on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 7 p.m. Scott Voigts and Kathryn McCullough serve in those roles currently.
Jim Gardner December 12, 2013 at 10:38 AM
Hi Tom. Bass may be a decent and competent person. I don't know him so I can't comment. I can say this - the council stated they had 4 criteria - will of the people, hit the ground running, community involvement, and no attachments/ cronyism. Bass is probably able to hit the ground running because of his years of experience as a civil servant in city governments, but he come up short on the other 3 criteria. Obviously we all hope he does a good job and wish him well, and personally I will do whatever I can to support him. But this is another case in which the Council says one things and does another.
Tom Cagley December 12, 2013 at 12:06 PM
Hi, Jim. Yeah, I appreciate your comments, and mostly agree. I'm a little leery of his having worked for the City in the past. He may not have any 'cronyism' with the current elected officials, but if there are city employees he worked with/for, or supervised, the line between elected and hired becomes blurred.
Merijoe Axe December 12, 2013 at 01:50 PM
I would have liked to have heard what EXACTLY Hamilton's roles were within those 5013c's he put down that he worked for in his packet for the council members to look at...is there anyway for the public to view candidates packets? As far as Bass-nothing personal, but the LF experience he had, seems to have occurred years ago-I don't see much recently and I don't believe I've seen him at a recent council meeting-am I incorrect?
Jim Gardner December 12, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Merijoe - you can get the individual candidate applications from the City Clerk
Jim Gardner December 12, 2013 at 02:12 PM
PS - I don't know what Hamilton's role was in the 501 groups but I know he works hard and spends lots of time in his role as a Planning Commissioner. He and I often disagree, but you can't deny that he spends a lot of time trying to help make the City a better place from his perspective.
Schwab Apiaries December 13, 2013 at 11:25 AM
Quick comment on "Lack of Vision." I think its great that we have 12 soccer fields a new sports park and other fantastic baseball fields. Having access to sport facilities is critical to our children and the community. It promotes a healthy environment and allows our residence to enjoy these facilities. "work hard and play hard." However, It would be nice to see in this mega city budget, a little room for a "Dog Park," (estimated at about $60,000). And an animal shelter. ( Cost ?) I think the senior center and civic center could be accommodated at city hall. Why build another costly building unless access to this facility is an issue. I may be way off base, but animal lovers seem to have gotten the short stick on accommodations. Don't let me get started on the bird /pond issue
Merijoe Axe December 13, 2013 at 11:45 AM
From what I learned at Leadership class, the current city hall is on rented property and thats why they want to build...now why they rented when they have all this land they purchased is my question...my thoughts regarding this, are the current place they're at was all ready to move into.
Jim Gardner December 13, 2013 at 01:27 PM
Hi Schwab - I agree that having sports fields for our families with children is great. My point is that a city with no dog park, no senior center, no civic center, no local animal shelter, no community garden, etc. surely can't be considering spending precious time, money, and space on adding an indoor sports arena, for which Voigts has been pressing. As far as the senior center being attached to the civic center, I agree that this would be economically prudent, but for whatever reason, most cities have separate facilities. We are the only city that has neither.
Schwab Apiaries December 13, 2013 at 05:39 PM
I really see the need for such facilities. Especially a civic center and senior center. The dog park should be included given the space is available. The animal shelter would be a great undertaking, but would really make the city shine as an example for animal care. Other cities, Mission Viejo, Irvine, Laguna Hills, have great facilities. These questions are up for discussion and our community leaders should take them seriously. Especially since our city is projected to grow by 15% very soon.
Jim Gardner December 13, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Excellent point. We are already short of many facilities and resources which most other cities currently enjoy, and we are going to add 12,000+ more people, 2,000 more dogs, 32,000+ extra vehicle trips per day, etc. Also, we are an aging city where the proportion of senior citizens is increasing, as it is elsewhere. The senior "program" at the city is OK, but it is no substitute for what can be achieved with a true senior center as almost every other City has.
Tim December 13, 2013 at 11:50 PM
I find this article off-putting and massively critical. I am not sure we can get much done together with sledge-hammer attacks like this one. I would prefer more constructive critical approach. I really don't like Gardner's nebulous statements about "progress." My idea of progress is not more city agencies and budgets needed for such things as senior center, no civic center, no dog park, no local animal shelter, and no community park . We have many parks here in LF and their are many existing venues for the other things.
Jim Gardner December 14, 2013 at 12:41 PM
Hi Tim. Almost all my articles have lots of constructive comments, although this one doesn't, partially because Voigts has done such a poor job in those areas that I addressed. He's presided over the longest meetings in our history, had more topics postponed, got 5,000 people to sign a referendum to block his vote, etc. I don't want to go through the long list lest you worry that I am being critical. As to your comment that there "are many existing venues for the other things" please enlighten us. If you mean there are senior centers, dog parks, local animal shelters, and community gardens in our neighboring cities, then you are correct. But why should our neighbors have these things and we don't?
Tim December 14, 2013 at 04:59 PM
Hi Jim. My neighbors have quite a bit of things I may or may not particularly need or want. I am not fond of the mindset that just because other city's have something it necessitates our city expand its budget and responsibility to have the same. Likewise, I don't view it a failure of "progress" if our city does not attain parity in the pursuit of "keeping up with the Jones's." I want the city to perform it's primary duties flawlessly so that a foundation exists where the citizens enjoy life and enjoy living in a stable community.


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