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More City Council Blunders

Dr. Jim Gardner
Dr. Jim Gardner

If you have nothing better to do, and you’re a fan of comedy, you should watch the latest City Council meeting video. It’s available at the City’s website. You can go to the City’s website, click on “City Services”, then “Agendas”, then “Current Agendas”, and finally “City Council Regular Meetings 2/18/2014”. The video will open in the right hand corner. Scroll down the agenda to item 12 (Planning Commission Interviews) and click and that should move the video to the appropriate place. But the funny part comes later, after the applicants have finished their interviews, and the Council begins to vote.

It starts off relatively harmless. The City Clerk hands out ballots and the Council members start to vote. But then, no one seems to know what to do next. Apparently, even though they’ve done this 4 times in the past year, neither the staff nor the council members know what to do next. At least this time we’re spared the hysterical ruminations by Councilwoman McCullough that she doesn’t understand what to do. That’s what happened at the last appointment meeting (Dec 10) when they were picking a replacement for Council member Herzog. McCullough got so confused that she said she wasted her vote by choosing someone she thought no one else would vote for. That didn’t make any sense to anyone, apparently not even to Mrs. McCullough, who then changed midstream and decided that she would abstain from any future voting that night.

Strangely enough, each Council member selected a different applicant for the PC post. The likelihood of that happening by chance is small, but not impossible, so there's no need to look for collusion or Brown Act violations. But then no one knew what to do next.

  • Do they go forward and then eliminate the 5 people not mentioned?
  • Do they eliminate the 5 people they already mentioned and go ahead and select from the 5 they didn’t mention?
  • Do they go ahead and do whatever they want, and then go back and see who showed up in the first 2 ballots and select from them?
  • Or maybe it’s time for a break?

It’s hard to imagine that the Board of Directors of a multi-million dollar corporation, with staff in attendance who collectively earn $1.5 Million a year, were at a loss for what to do! Maybe our new Mayor can be excused for getting stumped, but surely the City Attorney or the General Manager are versed in government procedures. Surely there is some reason why in December they went in random order but in Feb they went in alphabetical order. Why in December they had a large detailed process laid out, and then failed to follow it, while in Feb they had no process laid out? Why in December applicants were curtailed as soon as they showed up and given the bum’s rush into a separate room, but in Feb they were merely asked to go outside? Do they just make this stuff up as they go along?

In the final analysis, collectively they decided to combine all the people mentioned in the first 2 ballots, and then select from those 6 people (Cagley, Campos, DeAlmeida, Everhart, Ludden, and Okano).

If you’re wondering why former Mayor Marcia Rudolph wasn’t among the final applicants, even though her BFF Kathy McCullough sat on the Council, the reason was clear – Mrs. McCullough indicated she didn’t feel comfortable voting for Mrs. Rudolph given their close relationship. It was a rare example of public disclosure from a Council that normally never mentions possible conflicts of interest. Indeed, the City’s code of ethical conduct specifically says –

“Safeguard ability to make independent, objective, fair and impartial judgments by scrupulously avoiding financial and social relationships and transactions that may compromise, or give the appearance of compromising, objectivity, independence, and honesty.”

So Mrs. McCullough is to be applauded for going out of her way not to “give the appearance” of voting for her BFF because of their “social relationship.” The same can’t be said for Councilman Bass. It turns out that Tom Ludden, the man whom Bass voted for, has been a 15 year friend with Bass, but Bass did not reveal this nor did he refrain from voting for him. Contrast that behavior with Mrs. McCullough who not only disclosed the relationship but also refrained from voting for her. It’s a sharp contrast.

Perhaps Councilman Bass just forgot to mention it? That’s not likely. Just before they voted, I took the opportunity of using the Public Forum section of the meeting to specifically call upon any Council member to reveal any relationship that might color their vote. So Bass was forewarned.

Perhaps Councilman Bass doesn’t consider Ludden a friend, even though Ludden lists him as a “friend…for 15 years.” That’s possible, and it would explain Bass’ lack of disclosure.

Or perhaps Councilman Bass isn’t aware of the ethical code. Most of the violations of the code of ethics which happen at the Council level involve the exchange of money. These examples have been listed so many times on The Patch I hesitate to repeat them one more time. So it’s possible Bass thinks that’s it’s only the financial relationships that are relevant, and not the social relationships.

Bear in mind, with several of the last appointments, there were exchanges of money involved (for both Scott Voigts and Dwight Robinson) and no one did anything about it. So if no one is going to do anything about appointments which seem to be based on financial relationships, Bass may think “Why would they care about votes based on social relationships?”  Apparently the people who wrote the code of ethical conduct that you swore to uphold also cared, because they specifically mention “social relationships”. And we care, Mr. Bass, we care.

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.

Tom Cagley February 21, 2014 at 10:55 AM
Jim: Nice recap. While I'm disappointed in the way the Council conducted the vote, based on their recent history, I'm not surprised. I'm also not surprised at the failure of Bass to disclose his relationship with Ludden. He can't be excused if he doesn't know the code of ethics, they are posted on LF's home page, and very clear to read. I recall chatting with you about his election to the Council and I was uncomfortable with his relationship with the city staff. I sensed then, and nothing has changed that, his concerns are more with the employees than with the citizens. Ludden's appointment is just further proof that the City Council is not interested in quality people being on commissions. As you had noted in blogs leading up to the selection, to be successful one must have the right connections. Sadly, regarding the ethics, this is a problem across the County. Nelson gets a 'free' car from AQMD and has no shame in collecting nearly $10K a year from the taxpayers as an auto allowance, which he does not use; Bates could care less about this district, as long as she can continue to run successful campaigns.
Merijoe Axe February 21, 2014 at 10:59 AM
The fact that they've had to do this theater 4 times in the last year should tell everyone in Lake Forest something...yikes.
Jim Gardner February 21, 2014 at 11:32 AM
Hi Tom. I suspect Ludden is a "quality" person from what I've heard about him, but he certainly doesn't stand out as a Planning Commission appointment where there were at least a half dozen better qualified people on the list. Similarly, Planning Commissioner Fuentes seems like a very nice lady, but she is clearly out of her depth when sitting on a Planning Commission.
LFLegalEagle February 21, 2014 at 02:06 PM
I am disturbed by Bass' failure to disclose the social relationship with Ludden when it is clearly specified in the code of ethics, especially in the light of what appears to be wide-spread and long-standing violations by other Council members.
Tom Cagley February 21, 2014 at 03:32 PM
Legal Eagle: If you know how this can be pursued, a complaint about a violation of the ethics code, I'd like to hear it. Voights did the same thing when he waxed eloquently about his relationship with Mrs. Fuentes, then voted for her to be on the planning commission.
Jim Gardner February 21, 2014 at 03:54 PM
Tom. Not only did Voigts wax eloquently about his relationship with Fuentes, he received $1000 for his campaign from "Committee to Elect Tom Fuentes". As far as I can tell, the Council itself must decide to take up the issue of mis-conduct, and given that 3 of them (Voigts, Robinson, and McCullough) have quite a history of accepting money for their campaigns from vested interest groups and individuals, it's unlikely they would want to start pointing fingers. What they do is not illegal, so there is no recourse to the DA or the courts.
Jim Gardner February 21, 2014 at 03:55 PM
All is not lost. Voigts, McCullough and Bass all come up for re-election, so if people think ethics is an important issue for them, they can vote these 3 out of office.
Tom Cagley February 21, 2014 at 05:32 PM
Jim: I just listened to the last portion of the City Council meeting. Good heavens. There were a couple of things that really caught my attention. First, back when I was studying civil engineering at Purdue, a quadrant meant "fours," but I found out listening to the staff and Voigts it means thirds! As in, the areas where they will roughly divide the city for the city traffic meetings. I am puzzled as to why Nick wants a report on the Irvine's campaign contribution limits. I know they are readily available, but what is the relevance. I think the Council is still playing ostrich in ignoring the growth in and around the "Great Park." Finally, I support Mayor Pro Tem Nick's desire to have the LF Community Foundation be an agenda item. It is obvious that McCullough thinks it is only about the military because Nick, borrowing from the speech I made before the Council last fall, said that with the CF in place, more support could be given to such as a Military Support Committee. McCullough completely misunderstood what the "colonel" (Not certain who that was) said, but it is not relevant to the Community Foundation. And, please my friend, be more "pacific" when addressing items to the Council so that you'll not confuse McCullough! :)
Jim Gardner February 21, 2014 at 07:59 PM
McCullough is an embarrassment at almost every meeting. She is a nice old lady and often means well, but she is clearly out of place trying to make decisions for a city of 80,000 people with an annual budget of $35Million+. Hopefully she will be gone in November. Nick is trying to get the Council to adopt the Irvine strict campaign finance rules. Given the behavior of Voigts, Robinson, and McCullough he is probably fighting a losing battle, but give him credit for trying. BTW - I heard from several people that McCullough is going around saying that you are opposed to the Community Foundation (CF) and don't want the Military Support Committee to be hosted by the CF.
Tom Cagley February 21, 2014 at 10:45 PM
By "you" do you mean me, the retired Army Colonel who spoke to the council about activating the CF way back in October? I hope not. I think the CF should be activated for a lot of reasons! As I understand it, mostly from you and Laguna Niguel, the CF supports a lot of different organizations; it gives people a place to park their donations in a tax free fund. Lord help us! :)
Jim Gardner February 22, 2014 at 09:51 AM
Yes. Mrs. McCullough was referring to you Col. Tom Cagley. I told the people who mentioned this to me that I found it difficult to believe since you had spoken in favor of the Community Foundation and all of our conversations subsequent have been in favor of the Foundation, not only as a way to get the Military Support Committee off the ground but for the general well-being it could foster.
Tom Cagley February 22, 2014 at 11:15 AM
Well, I'm not certain where she is getting that idea from. As I've told you on numerous occasions, I think the CF should be activated, and not just for support for the military adoption. I've never met her husband, and don't think I've ever said anything more than 'hello' to her.
Merijoe Axe February 22, 2014 at 11:25 AM
And, it will be up to people like me and you to spread the word about these new and old nominees for city council right before the election, seeing as alot of people vote based on names they recognize and election signs are "not allowed" in this city-cause it would dirty it up. Spreading the word is allowed, isn't it?
Merijoe Axe February 22, 2014 at 11:32 AM
LFLegalEagle you sound biased- like you are one of Voight's sycophants. Say it aint so. Maybe you wish it was you on city council, not Bass.
LFLegalEagle February 22, 2014 at 01:20 PM
Merijoe - wrong on both accounts. I am not a fan of Voigts nor do I wish to be on the Council.

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