In love and war. Hmmm. I would change the axiom. Drop love. Yes, people do behave that way but I say if you’ve used all means “necessary” to obtain your “loved” one, you aren’t going to hold onto them for long. Love eventually wilts and dies from deception. Then where are you?
Drop love, add politics. All’s fair in war and politics. But even war has a few verbotens. Is politics that dirty? All is fair? — rumors, deception, backstabbing, lies, character assassination, false media stories, threats, cheating at the ballot box, conspiring with enemies, murder, pestilence, even war? I’m not saying it’s right, this abject dirtiness of politics, and I’m not saying it is always this way or has to be, I’m just saying it’s so and we’d better recognize it and act accordingly. We see it in DC, we see it in Maywood, Lynwood and Bell, and we’re seeing it right here in River City.
The lawsuit to initiate district voting here, brought in April 2016 by Latina activist Maria Loya, the Pico Neighborhood Association, and Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, resulted in depositions being ordered, to include all our City Council members, and more. Oops! What were they thinking, to fight this? When you’ve got skeletons locked in your closet, you don’t want to hand a lawyer the keys and a strong flashlight.
Out of 24 California cities being asked in the last few years to comply with state law mandating district rather than at-large council elections, all folded and complied except two, and in Palmdale, where the city fought it hard in court, they saw much more revealed in depositions than their elected officials wanted y’all to know. Mayor Jim Ledford will be arraigned March 28 on five felony counts accusing him of illegally receiving more than $60,000 a year from local consultants and failing to publicly disclose the income on economic disclosure statements. Oh, those pesky disclosure statements, who knew, right, Tony?
Ledford has been charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and conflict of interest, and three counts of perjury. The two consultants, with conspiracy, embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds. Sounds serious. It is, prison time is no picnic, but the maximum — maximum — he could get is four years, eight months, and the two consultants four years each. So, maybe half that and time off for good behavior? Ledford has been mayor for more than 25 years. $60,000 a year in illegal payments. You do the math. Worth the gamble?
WHAT HAVE WE HERE
A 60-mile drive south to Santa Monica? Depositions also being taken from all City Council members in our district voting lawsuit. What have we learned from these depositions so far?
City Council member and former Mayor Tony Vazquez, who had reported zero income since his 2012 election — what sacrifice! a noble public servant! — admitted under questioning that he had received payments for consulting from TELACU Construction Management and Keygent LLC, to help pitch its services to school districts. From $1,000 to $8,000 per month from TELACU.
His wife, SMMUSD school board member Maria Leon-Vazquez, voted to approve contracts with those two firms worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, without disclosing the family income from them. She is now being investigated by SMMUSD and the LA County district attorney’s office. TELACU was bankrolling Centinela Valley school board campaigns and receiving millions of dollars in contracts, so their practices here should have been no surprise to anyone.
For depositions: City Manager Rick Cole, Santa Monica College board of trustees Vice Chair Dr. Margaret Quinones-Perez, union leaders, and second rounds for some Council members (Ted, Gleam, Tony), according to Kevin Shenkman, representing the plaintiffs — who opined that Cole was “the driving force to get districts in Pasadena years ago, and they’re a good example of how districts can work well for a city.”
City Council member Pam O’Connor walked out of her deposition last Aug. 11 (“Bye, guys”) after about 10 minutes, when questions turned to her role in the firing of City Communications Director Elizabeth Riel. Riel sued and it cost us, Santa Monica taxpayers, nearly $1M. O’Connor appealed to the referee in the voting case and was ordered back Oct. 11, to testify again.
All this is under the supervision and guidance of the very expensive law firm the City is using, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, whose attorneys can charge $500-$1,000 an hour or more. It’s costing us a fortune, folks, millions already, for our City Council to resist this needed conformity to state law. But they seem always to treat our City treasury like play money.
MAYOR WINTERER WAS DEPOSED
Monday, all day. Among other disclosures, according to Shenkman (the transcript is not yet available), Winterer asserted he had not looked at the 460 forms (required of any organization who contributes to a political candidate) from those groups that helped fund his campaign, including four PACs in the six-figure category. Just not curious, I guess. Even though those organizations were on opposite sides of some issues.
But then, it turns out Vazquez accepted a free plane ride to Salinas (value about $1500) without asking any questions, nor disclosing it, from a pilot hoping to pitch saving the airport, then Vazquez voted against it. This selective lack of curiosity is remarkable.
Winterer also laid blame, in his deposition, for complaints citizens may have about their City government, to the electorate itself for “not being engaged” in local politics, said Shenkman. Oscar de la Torre, founder and consultant of the Pico Youth & Family Center (PYFC), party to the lawsuit (and an outspoken foe of a City government that failed to continue funding for his PYFC), was present for Winterer’s deposition.
“They choose not to get involved,” de la Torre said Winterer reiterated. “He quoted figures from the Well Being Project, and he also made that point in his recent State of the City speech,” he said. “As examples he quoted locals who didn’t know we had a mayor, or thought it was Eric Garcetti. I thought his tone was very disdainful.”
Stay tuned, folks.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Winterer was scheduled for his deposition 2/9 but it didn’t happen until 2/26. Shenkman wouldn’t say why. Could it be true what some of us have heard, that the City is considering mediation?
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 32 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else
in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org