By CHARLES ANDREWS
YA SNOOZE, YA LOSE
At the end of last week’s column, I wrote: “What was I going to write about? That same City Council, whose members are now revealing some interesting things as they are being interrogated over a lawsuit to bring district voting here.”
But I got waylaid by my emotions over the weight and horror of the never ending slaughter of innocents by guns in this country, an unspeakable product of political corruption and corporate greed.
I promised to get around next week to local corruption, and reveal some interesting testimony coming from depositions of Council members over the lawsuit over voting rights in Santa Monica.
But since then — all heck broke loose. The Daily Press and other news outlets have reported different aspects. Our Kate Cagle’s story yesterday included an interview with Council member Tony Vazquez.
The LA Times ran a long investigative piece in their California section Sunday. So I got scooped, because I waited. That spot on my mantle I had all cleared and dusted off for my Pulitzer? Guess I’ll have to put the bowling trophy back up.
You can read Kate’s story online (“City Councilman responds to apparent conflict of interest“), and the Times investigation last Sunday by Benjamin Oreskes and Adam Elmahrek (“Did school official’s votes violate law?”).
Some people here complain that our local papers don’t do investigative reporting — actually, they always unfairly single out the SMDP — but there’s why.
The LA Times put two reporters on it, probably
exclusively, full time, for more than a day or two. The Daily Press is operating with one
full time reporter, covering everything, daily — when does she have time for something like this? (And yet she did an excellent job covering it as a daily assignment.)
HERE’S THE BARE BONES
For those of you just climbing on board. A long, long time ago, just after WWII, Santa Monica voted to elect its City Council members at large, city-wide.
There are indications that vote was intended to give control to the more wealthy, more white parts of town, and the vote pretty much went along racial lines.
Years later the state of California says uh-uh, you can’t do that (CA Voting Rights Act), if there is any evidence it results in racial discrimination.
Maria Loya (wife of Oscar de la Torre) of the Pico Neighborhood Association claims that it does, and always has, and has sued the City of Santa Monica, asking for a change to district voting.
Having established a credible case, Loya’s lawyers are empowered to depose — take testimony, under oath — all the sitting City Council members. Here’s where it gets interesting.
As we have seen demonstrated by the Robert Mueller probe of Russian tampering with our elections, once an investigator has the power to depose, to learn the relevant facts, almost any reasonable path is allowed.
That’s why looking into Russian interference may require Mueller to investigate Trump’s financial dealings (we can only pray). And why Loya’s lawsuit may uncover some really interesting things along the way about the members of our City Council. It already has.
The depositions began last fall and are continuing.
All but Mayor Ted Winterer have been deposed, and several will be brought back for more questions, according to Loya’s lead lawyer Kevin Shenkman.
Facts and evidence are being gathered. Innocent until proven guilty, y’all, seriously, don’t forget. But Vazquez has some ‘splainin’ to do, many feel, because of the shakey ‘splainin’ he’s already offered.
Turns out Vazquez receives income through his consulting firm, Vazquez and Associates, and two of his client companies, TELACU and Keygent, were awarded large contracts ($400,000 plus) with our school district (SMMUSD) — voted for by his wife, Maria Leon-Vazquez, a school board member.
Vazquez has received $2,500 to almost $10,000 a month for his services for some years, from both firms combined.
But Vazquez said he saw no problem with his work and hers intersecting.
Discussing a meeting that took place between then-SMMUSD Superintendent Sandra Lyon, and Vazquez and several members of the TELACU team, this was his reasoning (from the deposition transcript):
Kevin Shenkman: So correct me if I’m wrong. When this meeting occurred, your wife is a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu School Board, right?
Tony Vazquez: Yes.
KS: Okay. Do you view that as a potential conflict?
TV: No. Because, one, I wasn’t pitching it. And actually at that meeting she wasn’t there.
KS: Your wife wasn’t there.
KS: Ms. Lyon, she knew who you were; she knew who your wife was, right?
KS: Okay. She knew that your wife, along with six other people, is responsible for making determinations as to her employment status, right?
TV: Oh, yeah.
KS: You don’t see a problem with that?
TV: Matter of fact, when we had those conversations — when I’ve had those conversations with my wife, she said that, if it ever — it never got that far, but if it ever got to a point where it was brought before the board to vote, that she was going to recuse herself anyways.
TV: Just — even though I think legally, in talking to their attorneys, they didn’t see a problem. But she — you know, more of a perception issue for her.
WHAT KIND OF REASONING IS THAT?
And, it turns out, after this deposition was taken last fall, Maria Leon-Vazquez did vote to approve some fat contracts with TELACU and did not recuse herself.
So Vazquez switched his rationale by the time he talked with Cagle.
“Longtime City Councilman Tony Vazquez said his wife, a Santa Monica-Malibu School Board member, did not realize she was voting for contracts that benefitted his consulting clients when she approved certain consent calendar items at district meetings.
“‘She didn’t even know she was voting on these things,’ Vazquez said.
‘You’ve seen the ones we get at City Council, these consent calendars for the school board are pretty thick.’” Sounds like DC Republicans voting on a savage health care bill they haven’t even read yet.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Really, Tony?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Bad officials are the ones elected by good citizens who do not vote.” — George Jean Nathan
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 31 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org