The battle of the gorge


    This has been a tense week around City Hall. Everybody knew that the deadline for filing all campaign documents related to the last City Council election was last Friday at 5 p.m. With everybody looking over everybody else’s shoulder, I was curious how this was going to affect the council. Once all the filings were in, the campaign violation investigation moved up a notch and I expected to see some attacks to try and discredit City Attorney Christi Hogin and her investigation. Frankly, I thought there might be some fireworks and didn’t want to miss it.

    So I slipped out of the house Saturday morning and down to City Hall to watch a scheduled special City Council meeting. The agenda indicated they intended to review the city’s fourth quarter reports on program priorities, but anything could happen. Normally, I avoid council meetings like the plague because they’re long and tedious. More often than not, it’s the same suspects saying the same things over and over. At least on cable you can change the channel when you feel it all gorge up in your throat. But I do try to go to one occasionally, if only as penance for past sins and also to do a little research. I like to think of it as taking the temperature of the room. There are some things you just can’t get from watching it on cable.

    I was particularly interested because I knew there had been a rather testy exchange of memos earlier in the week between Councilman Walt Keller and Christi in which Walt demanded that she attend Saturday’s meeting (the meeting had originally been set for Tuesday and then at the last moment switched to Saturday) and Christi explained that she had a prior commitment on Saturday to pick up her 10-year-old daughter, who was coming back from sleep-away camp, and that she would be happy to accommodate and meet with them any other day, including Sunday.

    That did not appear to pacify Walt in the least. He came to the council meeting Saturday insisting that Christi was an essential part of this meeting, so much so that he made a motion to add a review of her office to the meeting agenda. Councilman Harry Barovsky then rose to the defense of working motherhood and insisted that a promise to a child is something that has to be kept, thereby probably earning for himself the Grateful Single Working Mom Award in perpetuity and for Walt the equally permanent Grumpy Grandpa Award.

    The public comments at the meeting of course consisted of the usual pro forma comments from the usual suspects. Art London traveled in from outside Malibu to tell us all how we should behave and to dramatically point out that he was disappointed that Christi wouldn’t be there in person to hear his endless chain of well-chosen words, indicating he didn’t like to speak to an empty chair (to which I heard one of the spectators mumble that he didn’t like to have to listen to an empty mouth).

    Gene Wood, another regular, rose during public comment to protest his rough handling at a prior meeting by our intimidating Mayor Joan House, who had wanted him to refrain from personal attacks and maintain a certain level of civility. Wood apparently was previously incensed at her overbearing presence and came well prepared this time. Looking directly at our mayor and speaking in his best off-camera-game-show-announcer-about-to-tell-us-what-was-behind-curtain-No. 3-voice, he began reading from several state high court cases in which it was clearly indicated that a citizen had a right to speak at a public meeting:

    • No matter how rude or inconsiderate he might be,
    • With no requirement that he show any civility or kindness,
    • And that she, the mayor, had no right to impose rules of decorum only, and
    • That the speech must only be of public concern.

    Then, apparently satisfying both the mayor and the audience that he obviously met all those criteria, he told a tale of standing overlooking a military graveyard in the Philippines and vowing that he would do everything in his power to make sure those people had not died in vain, which apparently included refusing to stop talking when his allotted time ran out.

    About that time, I had had it and left the room. I understand later the council, as was typical, got through about half its agenda. Christi’s presence was, of course, unnecessary, as Walt I’m sure well knew it would be. Once again, I felt the bile rising from my gut and decided it was time to take flight, get some lunch and a drink and try to wash out that bad taste you get after most City Council meetings.