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If it’s good enough for Santa Paula, it’s good enough for Malibu.
That’s the essence of 51 so-called “transparency, accountability and ethics” policies and protocols proposed during a special meeting Monday by City Council members Karen Farrer and Paul Grisanti.
With little explanation but assurances that the proposals were guided by similar documents from 10 other communities, including Westlake Village, Huntington Beach, Lake Forest and, yes, Santa Paula, Farrer, newcomer Grisanti and acting city attorney John Cotti tried convincing the naysayers — namely the other newcomers, Bruce Silverstein and Steve Uhring, along with 17 or so members of the public who all spoke against the proposals — that the changes are good for the city.
One proposal warns meeting participants “to tell the truth to the best of their knowledge and ability when presenting testimony or oral”; another suggests how council members should conduct themselves in the media. There’s also a proposal to alter performance evaluations of certain city staff members and contracted officials.
To Farrer and Grisanti, some of Malibu's policies are outdated, others redundant and still others are covered by municipal law.
That Silverstein, the candidate whose reform City Hall platform earned him the most votes of the three winners in the 2020 election, is silenced in the process is not intentional, the naysayers were assured.
That Silverstein won’t have a chance to serve as mayor during his term also is not intentional.
No one in the public was buying it.
You know that movie where Captain America realizes the agency he works for “turns out to be infiltrated by the bad guys?” asked Suzanne Guldimann, longtime Malibu writer. “I felt like I woke up in that movie this morning.”
Guldimann, who also served on the Parks and Recreation Commission, said her email inbox was full of messages warning of coups and power plays relating to the changes and the idea behind them.
“It feels like these changes are being fast-tracked and I’d like to know why,” Guldimann said.
She called the changes “reactionary instead of visionary”; she called the language that takes away anyone’s opportunity to be mayor “politically motivated.”
“If you approve the changes without a full discussion, the decision will always be problematic.”
Several speakers said the timing of the meeting was suspicious, noting the agenda and supporting documents were posted on a Thursday for a meeting the following Monday. The meeting itself was capped at about 90 minutes to give the council a break before the regular Monday meeting.
“I was surprised it was being held at 4 on a Monday when many are working,” said Cami Winikoff, who also questioned why Farrer and Grisanti gave no rational explanation for the changes.
“This feels like the opposite of transparency,” Winikoff said. “That’s extremely concerning.”
“What’s most vague and unclear is the intent,” she added. “It doesn’t feel in the best interest of the community. Where are these goals aligned with community interests?”
The harshest critique may have come from Bill Sampson, who called the push to change “a hatchet job that arose from a hatchet job.”
The “original hatchet job” deprived Silverstein of serving as mayor, said Sampson.
“We then had a hatchet job where two people with obvious personal animosity toward Bruce Silverstein, conceivably both of whom have financial interests that would differ from those of us who supported Bruce, decide that they are going to create something called ‘for transparency,’” he said.
“I think it’s pretty clear from reading it that the two people on the committee want to just sign up (Mayor) Mikke (Pierson) and censure Bruce,” said Sampson. “Bruce is vocal. Bruce stands against you. That’s his right. But you just want to create an automatic impeachment.”
“You have now created a document which would prevent the highest vote getter from ever being mayor,” Sampson said.
Joe Patterson said Farrer and Grisanti should go line-by-line and explain to the public how their proposals benefit the city.
Then Silverstein and Uhring, who in December first proposed transparency, accountability and ethics policies, should do the same.
“In case you haven’t figured it out yet,” Patterson said in the direction of Farrer, Grisanti and Pierson, “the majority of the city, we don’t trust you, and this has not helped.”
Farrer addressed several of the concerns, sidestepping laying out the case for the changes, including that the changes were being rushed, saying it was Uhring who wanted to see something by early March.
Uhring said Farrer is living in an alternate universe. What he wanted to see by March, he said, was a response to the document he and Silverstein put forward back in December.
Farrer tells “a nice story,” Uhring added, but there’s “not much truth to that.”
Silverstein took the floor and said when he and Uhring proposed changes in December, the other three council members wouldn’t even discuss it when it was on the agenda.
“Instead they appointed council members Farrer and Grisanti to be the Malibu policy czars,” Silverstein said.
What the pair has come up with, Silverstein said, is really a “code of morality” where the council will treat each other with respect and courtesy.
But who sets the standards for respect and courtesy?
Some of the policies now before the council, he added, seem to violate the First, Fifth and 14th amendments.
Silverstein also noted that, under the new policies, speaking out against other council members as he does could result in his being punished by the council.
“What is disparaging? What is impertinent?” Silvertein asked. “Is my statement that it’s my opinion that some of the proposed protocols smack of fascism impertinent or disparaging? Would that subject me to censure?”
“By what right does the City Council have to create a protocol that forbids my statement of my opinion when it relates directly to a matter of city business?”
Cotti said the intent was not to attack an individual council member.
“This policy was designed to govern the relationship amongst yourselves, amongst the commissions and committees and amongst staff, nothing more than that,” he said. “To get a handle on what’s been going on the first few months of this council term.”
Cotti tried but failed to adequately explain the change in who would serve as mayor.
As he’d done several times, Uhring tried to get any explanation at all out of the proposal authors.
“Paul, why are you so reluctant to be able to clearly explain to the residents what it is you are doing? Because that’s what they want to hear.”
“It’s hard for me to explain, Steve, when the residents use up all the time talking about something they read on Nextdoor.”
“So now it’s the residents’ fault?” Uhring shot back.
“No,” responded Grisanti.
“That’s what you just said,” Uhring continued. “It’s not the residents’ fault. They’re expressing themselves. That’s their right.”
“Your job,” Uhring said, “is to make sure when you’re changing stuff they have a clear understanding of what you’re changing, why you’re changing it and why it’s good for the residents.”
Added Silverstein: “You are the masters of the document. You should explain to us where you made changes and why you made changes.”
As he’d done several times, Grisansti encouraged Silverstein to “tell us where we screwed up.”
The members tried to come up with a date for another meeting on the matter, but they couldn’t come to a consensus.
That meeting will be called at a later date.