CITYWIDE — Leaders of the city’s largest political party are urging City Council candidates not to make promises about personnel decisions they’d make if elected in order to win endorsements.
On Monday, Board of Education member Oscar de la Torre told the Daily Press that he would attend Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights’ (SMRR) endorsement convention this Sunday with a hundred-person voting bloc. In order to gain the bloc’s support, he said, council candidates would have to, among other things, vow to fire City Manager Rod Gould.
SMRR leadership was not happy to learn this.
One hundred people could make a large difference in a convention that is typically attended by less than 500 members. The endorsement is highly sought after; six of the seven council members got SMRR endorsements prior to the last election.
“I think that’s a very bad idea,” said SMRR’s co-founder Denny Zane of de la Torre’s plan. “Pledging personnel decisions in this way is a very bad precedent and it’s a very bad direction for healthy politics in Santa Monica and I strongly urge council candidates to not make any such commitment.”
De la Torre told the Daily Press that some candidates had already said they would commit to Gould’s firing but would not provide names.
Gould has repeatedly raised concerns about financial bookkeeping at the Pico Youth and Family Center, a nonprofit organization run by de la Torre. De la Torre has denied the claims. City Council recently sided with Gould, voting to pledge less money to the organization than in years past.
Gould refused to comment when asked about de la Torre’s targeting of his job.
“I think that SMRR has always stood behind due process and decision-making about personnel should be handled by the people charged with making those decisions,” said SMRR’s co-Chair Patricia Hoffman.
Zane said that, in his memory, a personnel decision has never been brought into the SMRR endorsement process.
“And it shouldn’t start now,” he said.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown, an incumbent who’s been endorsed by SMRR consistently in the past, had strong words about the tactic.
“Since I read this morning’s front page story about an effort to extract votes from Council candidates, forcing them to pre-commit their vote on a City personnel matter, I’ve been wondering how to respond,” he said via e-mail. “Integrity and ethics require me to repudiate this effort in the strongest possible fashion. The people involved have disgraced themselves.”
McKeown notably criticized Gould earlier this year, calling for an evaluation of his work, after Gould rescinded a job offer to Elizabeth Riel, who had been active in slow-growth politics. Riel is suing City Hall, claiming that offer was rescinded because of her political involvement. At the time, McKeown sent the Daily Press a long e-mail expressing his frustrations with Gould’s handing of that matter. Still, McKeown does not support the aim of the voting bloc.
“Responsible elected officials know that personnel matters are determined by thoughtful deliberation of the entire body, and predetermined votes on such things cannot be for sale or coerced by threat,” he said.
De la Torre is calling his voting bloc the Pico Delegation. Other concerns, aside from the firing of Gould, include support for the Pico Youth and Family Center and a promise to fight gentrification.
“I’m always concerned about any bloc voting at SMRR conventions and other conventions,” Zane said. “I understand that it happens and why it happens and I think it’s generally unhealthy and should be avoided if at all possible but people do organize to try to assert their opinions and priorities. That doesn’t surprise me. But I definitely have a strong objection to trying to have city personnel decisions influenced in that way.”