City Council: Testy remarks, incumbent candidate addresses campaign

September 14, 2012
Santa Paula City Council

Remarks at the September 4 City Council meeting were testy, with one councilman running for reelection using the dais to note the council campaign is “moving into high gear” and asking citizens to contact him with concerns regarding again shortened public comment.

The Public Comment clock was turned back to 3 minutes instead of the traditional 5 minutes. At the August 20 meeting, when the council returned from their summer hiatus launched following the July 18 session, the clock was set for 5 minutes. 

Steve Smead of Santa Paula said during public comment that he, like others, has used public comment to “complain and whine,” but he was at the podium to “thank you guys for the job you guys have done... the city was in dire straights not that long ago.” Previous councils and administration “basically ignored facts” and allowed the budget to run into the red, but Smead said his recent review of city finances showed strong improvement through the making of “tough decisions,” including selling the city’s trash enterprise.

Smead noted, “Some articles,” published in the Santa Paula Times, “are apparently trying to make up issues where no issues exist,” and he was “taken aback” by some of the statements. That includes repeating a rumor growing in the community that the city is considering selling the water utility referenced in the opinion piece by Marsha Rea. 

“I was somewhat taken aback” at Rea’s opinion piece titled “Inquiring Minds Want to Know” that starts with “’There’s a rumor.’ Who writes a letter to the editor starting out with a rumor? It’s disappointing that it got into the paper,” added Smead. 

“It is really easy to find out what are the circumstances with the water utility” that Smead said is “in pretty good shape,” with related projects also being addressed or completed. “It’s actually easy to find out” the status of the utility and whether or not the city has plans to sell it.... Everybody I talked to in charge said absolutely not, they are not negotiating” for the water utility, but they are negotiating the sale of the parcel formerly used for the wastewater treatment plant. Smead said, “Maybe that’s how this person got the idea the water company is being sold... just because it’s the paper remember it’s probably not true.”

During Council/Staff Communications, Gonzales asked Fontes to address the issue. The rumor, said Fontes, “has no basis in fact, no negotiations on the administrative level and the council... it never happened.”

Fontes said he communicated with water department personnel “to assure them” the water utility is not for sale, as they “were disturbed” by statements otherwise. Fontes said he also wanted to “assure the public and this council we are where we should be as far as water projects go... again, the rumor is completely untrue.”

Rea requested to make public comment on the city’s adoption of the conflict of interest code. She asked that Fontes “perhaps offer a brief overview of what changes” were proposed, “especially as it relates to the work of consultants... we have so many now working for the city.” No one on the dais offered any comment on Rea’s remarks or asked Fontes to address her request and she returned to her seat.

Later, during the discussion centered on allowing negotiations between the city and Crown Disposal for the property that formerly held the city’s wastewater treatment plant, Martin Hernandez offered comment. A candidate for the council, Hernandez said that he and residents have expressed concern about the rapid pace of the issue, especially as “I know when the city sold the trash franchise to Crown there were allegations” that a forecasted $1.8 million budget shortfall “may have been used” to promote the sale.

When Hernandez finished his comments related to the potential sale of the property and was walking back to his seat, Councilman Jim Tovias said, “I have a question... are you saying we fabricated a deficit?” to push the sale of the trash franchise.

Hernandez noted such allegations were perhaps “a strategy to help promote that sale,” a statement that was interrupted by Tovias who again asked if Hernandez was implying a fabrication regarding the budget. Hernandez said people “that have looked at this, that are experts,” viewed the deficit as a potential shortfall rather than a given situation.

“Wow,” said Tovias when Hernandez finished his remarks.

Rea also offered comment on the projected property sale, but asked Gonzales if she could first take a “moment to respond to the very illustrious comments” made by Smead and Fontes related to her newspaper opinion piece. “Does this relate to this item?” Gonzales asked. “No,” said Rae. “No,” replied Gonzales. 

During closing Council/Staff Communications, Tovias, who is running for a second term, said, “I would just like to address the public... as the council race starts to move in high gear there are a lot of things flying around, rumor, innuendo, all types of gossip.... What I would encourage anyone to do is call me at my office,” and Tovias gave his phone and said his office is “right on 10th Street... come by and see me, I’ll give you the direct answers all the time on anything,” as would other council members. “As we move forward, rather than talking to your friends or in talking to your friends if you have any sort of concerns call my office,” said Tovias, “and I will be sure to meet you.”

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