As expected, the city of Cypress Council voted 4-1 to officially censure embattled Council member Frances Marquez last Monday, alleging violations in a four-page resolution that reflects the long standing disagreement between her and City Manager Peter Grant.
“The City Council determined it was necessary to take this unprecedented action to protect the City’s organizational structure and operational effectiveness,” said Cypress Mayor Paulo Morales in a statement released by its public relations firm almost immediately after the meeting.
“Sadly, Council Member Marquez has consistently failed to perform her duties in a professional manner or in accordance with local, state, and federal rules. Our residents deserve integrity from their elected representatives and the City Council felt it had no alternative at this juncture,” the mayor said in the statement.
Within 90 minutes following the end of a marathon meeting Monday, the city’s public relations firm, given a new task order on June 13, fired off a press release at 12:37 a.m. announcing the censure. The press release publicly funded release made no mention or did include any part of the statements made in the meeting by Marquez in her own defense.
Meanwhile, in the meeting itself, many residents spoke in defense of Marquez, alleging that Grant’s “shaming” of residents and Peat’s outbursts to Marquez in recent meetings were also violations of the Code of Conduct and deserved the same censure treatment.No way, said Council member Jon Peat, who said in censuring Marquez, the city was simply protecting its interest.
“This resolution will be seen by some as a political move,” said Peat, “but nothing could be further from the truth. We’re just trying to protect the city from the damaging and corrosive actions of Council member Marquez,” he said.
“Council member Marquez has put us in an untenable position,” said Peat. “As the immediate past mayor,” he continued, “I experience much of what he [current Mayor Morales] outlined first hand; and it has frankly been appalling.”
He called Marquez and “instigator,” and “not a victim.”
Mayor Pro-tem Anne Hertz-Mallari called the item “painful,” but agreed that the items in the resolution were “factual.”
Newly installed Council member Scott Minikus said the city “must follow the rule of law. When you don’t have laws, you have anarchy, internationally, and locally, and it’s scary,” he said. With all her political experience, she should have known the laws applied to policy and procedure.
“I’ll leave it at that,” he concluded.
During the oral communications portions of the meetings, however, many residents unloaded on Peat, Grant and others who they suggest have entrapped Marquez and are simply punishing her for asking too many questions they do not want to answer.
A visibly upset resident, Marilyn Reames, demanded the Council censure city manager Peter Grant and Council member Jon Peat, saying they had also clearly violated the same code of conduct.
“I absolutely believe that if Councilwoman Marquez is censured tonight and fined, that as a taxpaying resident of Cypress that our city manager, Peter Grant, and Council member Jon Peat be formally censured and fined for their public attacks on citizens of Cypress,” said Reames.
Reames cited specific areas of the code of Conduct violated by Grant and Peat.
“It was a direct violation of Point 7 and Point 5 of the Code of Conduct,” she said, pointing out instances when Grant “shamed” two citizens and citing Peat’s emotional outbursts at Marquez during previous meetings.
Another Marquez supporter, Katie Shapiro, said Cypress was merely engaging in what amounts to political theater to make Marquez a scapegoat for having the audacity to ask them to justify their actions.
“You’re using the one person [Marquez] who threw a wrench into your unchecked power,” said Shapiro, “as a scapegoat.”
“This is not about Dr. Marquez,” said Shapiro, “in the process of all this you violated the Surplus Lands Act, you championed an expensive contract with Valley Vista, you’ve given us Lexington Park, an expensive pay-to-play commodity when the playgrounds of our school kids are in horrible condition.”
“You’ve dropped the ball big time on affordable housing,” she said, suggesting how it was interesting that the Council cared so much about Public Records Act violations while ignoring the fact that the city could be compelled to pay as much as $10 million for not complying with alleged California Voting Rights Act violations.
Shapiro, and another resident, Dr. Malini Nagpal, have joined the a complained filed by Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman, who said this week that a lawsuit will be filed if Cypress does not comply.
The city council has already notified Shenkman in a written response that they believe his “cookie cutter” allegations do not apply to them, with Marquez being the only vote against a districting vote taken in closed session.
While many residents testified in favor of Marquez, at least two residents spoke in favor of the Councils pending censure of Marquez.
Harumi Lucak, a 20-year resident, said all members of city Council should follow “basic protocols,” otherwise there will be “chaos” and “threats,” especially when officials do not get their way. She urged the Council to censure Marquez.
Another resident Carolyn Balagot, however, agreed with Lucak’s assumption, but then turned the words around, saying it was instead the Council creating chaos and making threats to Marquez. And, she said, it is all captured on videotape for the world to see.
“Chaos and threats are unacceptable,” she agreed, but said Grant and Peat were the offenders and deserved the very same fate as Marquez. “I witnessed it,” she said, “it’s on the record, it’s on video. I think there should be an official reprimand to the one elected and one city employee who also violated the code of conduct.”
Wayne Comeau, a long-time resident, said the entire in-fighting on the Council was a “microcosm of the whole county.
“It’s embarrassing,” he said, “that our city Council can’t get together and agree, or reach a compromise. I hope you don’t do this censure.”
Comeau said censuring Marquez will do little except “foment more problems. I’d say let it go and try to get along,” he said, suggesting the Council take the lead offered by an article on ‘kindness’ published in the Event-News Enterprise.
“I’m shocked. I’m just shocked,” said Helen Lee, at “how un-even-handed our Council has been.” Lee said Marquez, even as a rookie on the council, “has championed a diversity of groups that have too often been underrepresented.”
Moreover, she said the Valley Vista contract does perhaps deserve additional scrutiny. “There’s just such a history of trash contracts and corruption,” said Lee, “and it’s not over.”
Not mentioned in the meeting, the city’s press release pointed out that this was the first time in the city’s 66-year history that another member had been formally censured.
Since it was the first time in history as proclaimed in the press release, the city had to create a new framework for the discussion.
The Council allowed more than thirty minutes of combined explanations about Marquez conducted by various officials yet gave Marquez a mere two minutes to defend herself, and then another two minutes after the vote to argue for a reversal.
Marquez suggested the censure proceeding was a mere example of the mistreatment she has received at the hands of a city manager infuriated with her for merely asking questions and having to justify his actions.
“This is an example of how I’ve been treated,” said Marquez, noting that since she railed against Valley Vista in a special meeting called near Christmas, the city manager, supported by the other four members of the Council, has retaliated against her.
“The work environment as a Council member has been especially hostile for the past seven months,” she said, noting that she had visited with the city’s human resources department on January 17 after “Council member Peat screamed at the top of his lungs (at me) in front of the whole community. “I wanted to see if I had any options,” she said.
On January 22, she said, not Grant, but City Attorney Galante called to her inform her that there would be a special meeting regarding her “civil rights and harassment complaint. I never filed a written complaint,” she said, “and was never going to sue the city.”
“The city manager and my colleagues used it as a possible excuse as a possible threat of litigation to meet without me to create a document that has false claims, just like the document tonight.”
Accordingly, on June 13, the ENE asked Galante to explain what exactly constitutes a violation of the city charter, whether or not there were any judicial protections or defense mechanisms for the accused to determine exactly what is a violation and what process would be required for any member of the Council to “forfeit” their office.
“I have not been asked to look into the issues you described regarding forfeiture, so I am unable to respond,” said Galante in an email exchange. “The censure resolution is a process available to cities and I believe it is explained in the City’s ordinances and policies previously approved,” he added.
On January 26, Grant had a letter hand-delivered to Marquez which Grant declared because of her seeking help, she had violated the charter, and thus could not be afforded the same privileges as other members. She was ordered to go through Grant for every interaction.
“I’m not allowed to communicate with city staff and city staff was ordered to quit calling me to brief me on agenda items,” she said.
“Councilmember Marquez, that is your two minutes,” said Morales. “I hope this (censure) provides you with the opportunity to reflect and seek the additional resources to support your growth as an elected official,” he said.
The Council voted 4-1 to officially “censure” Marquez, with Marquez the lone dissenting vote, and although Marquez again tried to explain her position with her additional two minute window to speak, again focusing on the many specific instances she felt marginalized and unfairly singled out, but the four members refused to overturn their decision.
“This is a political hit job,” said Reames, “that’s what it is. I’m not a political person, I’m a 71-year-old grandmother who only got involved in Council meetings to try and get a safe entry to our senior community (Ovation), which remains a danger because nothing has been done.”
Marquez is the only Council member who has tried to help, she said, and in doing so, made her realize that Marquez is a “dedicated, amazing woman. I am stunned at the number of vitriolic and horrific comments that are made by people that have a political agenda in this community and it is heartbreaking,” said Reames. “There’s something really fishy, awful and smelly going on here,” she said.