Council campaign ‘circus’ in full swing

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Some community members have cried foul over an Ozzie Silna-funded telephone survey, saying its intention was to sway voters against the incumbents.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

In what has been called a “circus” of a week in the 2004 City Council election campaign, four complaints were filed with the city’s Campaign Watch Commission regarding advertisements and flyers, the commission itself has been criticized, community members have cried foul over an allegedly biased phone survey and the firing of two planning commissioners has been brought to the forefront once again.

The Campaign Watch Commission was set up by Xandra Kayden, who was hired by the city as an ethics consultant, to oversee the ethical conduct of the campaign.

A complaint filed by Councilmember Andy Stern and a similar one filed by Councilmember Jeff Jennings took exception to a statement in an advertisement for John Mazza’s campaign that stated re-electing Jennings and Mayor Ken Kearsley was a risk. It went on to state, “They fired Malibu Planning Commissioners [Robert] Adler and [Deirdre] Roney when they would not support the City Council’s decision to approve the Malibu Bay Company Development Agreement.” Stern and Jennings said the advertisement implied Kearsley and Jennings fired the commissioners, when, in fact, Stern and Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Barovsky fired their respective planning commissioners, which is the only possibility by municipal law. The commission ruled in favor of Jennings and Stern.

Mazza said when he used the word “they,” he was referring to the council as a whole and not specifically to Jennings and Kearsley. He jokingly said in the future he will not use pronouns to avoid any confusion.

Stern made an additional statement in his complaint that he did not fire Adler for the reasons stated in Mazza’s advertisement, but rather because Adler violated the Brown Act through an action he took at the Dec. 1 Planning Commission meeting.

In response, Adler and former Planning Commissioner Richard Carrigan, who had resigned in protest to the firings, wrote letters to Kayden in defense of Mazza. Adler said in a Sunday interview that he has spoken to a municipal law firm about the matter, which agreed that there had never been a Brown Act violation at the Dec. 1 meeting. He said he plans to bring the matter to the District Attorney’s office, because he said it would reach the same conclusion once it studied the tape of the meeting. It was reported last month that the D.A. was already investigating the meeting.

Mazza also filed a complaint in regard to flyers issued by Kearsley’s campaign. Mazza said they contained three false statements: that Kearsley’s council vote on the Malibu Bay Agreement was a vote to bring the issue to the people in the form of Measure M (Mazza said Kearsley’s vote was simply a vote of approval); that Malibu Community Action Network testified in favor of the Coastal Commission against Malibu (Mazza said CAN did not even exist yet during the Coastal Commission hearing in question); and that two of the CAN-endorsed candidates favored the Coastal Commission’s Local Coastal Program.

The Campaign Watch Commission ruled against Mazza’s complaint about the Malibu Bay vote, stating that had the council not voted for the agreement, Measure M would never have existed. The commission voted in favor of Mazza’s second complaint. It did not take a stance on the third complaint, citing that Kearsley’s statement was “characteristic of campaign rhetoric.”

Mazza said he disagreed with most of the commission’s decisions. He added that it was unfair he was never asked to respond to Jennings’ complaint. Kayden said he was not asked because it was essentially the same as Stern’s. In addition, Mazza said it was inconsistent that the commission would not take a stance on a complaint by candidate Walt Keller over a letter from property rights activist Anne Hoffman because Hoffman is not a candidate, but it accepted Stern’s. Kayden said the commission was actually only considering Jennings’ complaint.

“I am an ethical person and stand behind my ads,” Mazza said following the decision. “It’s a shame that the system has been apparently gamed. I do not believe that Barovsky-style Chicago politics of divisiveness belong in Malibu, and I ask that the city and the FPPC investigate whether the ethics committee has followed proper procedures.”

Kearsley said he was pleased with the commission’s decision, and he regretted that he was not more specific on the issue that it found in favor of Mazza. He said that he should have written that Malibu CAN leaders like Ozzie Silna testified on behalf of the Coastal Commission.

The commission later this week will take up an additional complaint by Jennings against a Malibu CAN advertisement.

Kayden said she also received a complaint from political activist Lloyd Ahern regarding a telephone survey that he said attempted, through its questions, to place the incumbents in a bad light. Kayden said the commission would not take up his complaint, since Ahern is not a candidate, but she said she would not be surprised if a candidate complained about it.

Silna funded the survey in question. He said he estimated the cost would be from $10,000 to $15,000, but he would not know until the poll was finished. He said it was done through his campaign consultant so he could get an idea of what issues people were concerned about, helping him in his independent expenditure campaign on behalf of Mazza, Keller and Jay Liebig. Silna said it was nonsense that it was a push poll, since he only had several hundred people called. He said if his intention were to sway the vote, he would have had everybody in Malibu telephoned.

Malibu CAN President Steve Uhring said the recent events have taken the spotlight away from the real issue of the campaign.

“We’ve got a circus in town,” he said. “and we’re spending more time paying attention to the circus than to who’s running for council.”

Also, Silna attorney Betty Ann Downing sent a letter to City Attorney Christi Hogin that alleged the Campaign Watch Commission was a threat to free speech. Hogin responded in a memo that the threat was invalid since the commission had no enforcement capability, and could not restrict any candidate’s speech whether it was true or false. In addition, Downing sent a letter to Kayden requesting that she cease her “continued attacks … and mischaracterizations of his [Silna’s] activities.” Kayden said she would not respond to the letter, because it was a direct personal attack.