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North of the Fence: It’s All About National City’s Weird Council Meeting

In a whopping 5-hour+ marathon, the National City Council met on Tuesday, February 21st and approved a 10% raise for council members. After that, residents called for investigations into two separate issues.

10% Raise for Mayor and Councilmembers Passes 3-2

In January, the Union Tribune reported that dozens of residents attended a NC city council meeting to speak out against a proposed 32% increase in Mayor Ron Morrison’s pay.

National City Council

(Left to Right) City council member Mona Rios, Jerry Cano, Mayor Ron Morrison, Councilmember Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, Vice-Mayor Albert Mendivil (Photo by Barbara Zaragoza)

The Union Tribune noted: “Morrison remains the fourth highest-paid mayor in San Diego County. His existing compensation package, totaling $84, 822, is the 17th most generous in the state for a mayor.” (National City’s median household income is $41,437.)

Once the increase failed, a new proposal asked for a 10% raise for every council member.

In public comments on Tuesday, NC resident Dukie Valderrama said, “I am here to speak against a 10% raise… Your audit … shows that you guys spent 3.7 million dollars more than revenues you brought in… How can you sit here and talk about, when you guys got an 8% raise in ’13, a 10% raise in ’15 and now proposed another 10% raise in ’17 when you’re running a structural deficit?” (See NC Elected Officials Compensation History)

Council member Mendivil said, if passed, he wanted his extra money to go directly to the Boys and Girls Club. However, he would support the motion saying, “You’re talking about 100 dollars a month for us. 1,200 in a year… I hope we don’t have financial issues later, but if and when that time comes, it’s not gonna be because of 1,200 dollars.”

The motion passed in a 3-2 vote, with Councilmembers Sotelo-Solis and Rios voting against the raise.

Jerry Cano Walks Out

Summary: A motion was passed 3-2 that if a council member wants to put an item on the agenda, it must be approved by a majority of the council.

During the discussion, council member Jerry Cano walked out as Council member Sotelo-Solis complained, “It seems as if there are conversations being had off the dias because if you can second a motion without conversation…”

Convoluted and yet heated discussion occurred over how the city creates agenda items for its meetings. Talk first centered on whether items could be moved forward based on the number of residents wishing to speak about an item.

Resident Eddie Perez said, “With all due respect, there’s been too many items that have been of public interest that have been on the bottom of the agenda, the last items of the agenda. I’ve seen families here with very important issues that need to be discussed that you all know of. They have to wait until 10 o’clock, with children, so they leave. They can’t participate in government. ”

The council, however, voted 4-1 to continue the current practice.

The next discussion considered whether a majority of council members needed to agree before an item could be placed on the agenda.

Michelle Krug in public comments said, “There’s only 5 of you representing all of National City. If one person has a concern, I know that there is a segment of the community has that concern also.”

Council member Rios said, “…We have the right to bring forward agenda items that would be important to this community and we should continue to facilitate that because if we’re not, again that’s not democratic, and it’s not a structure that I think we want to start here. It really lacks a lot of transparency…”

Mayor Morrison disagreed, “If you take a look at the order of agendas that we have there from a large number of cities, sometimes they read a little bit different, but they’re basically all identical to ours. It’s basically a very standard form of business for a business agenda. That’s what we are. We’re not a rally or whatever else. This is a city business agenda and if you notice, they’re basically all very similar.”

Council member Rios explained that the city staff surveyed several cities and ten responded. The surveys showed cities actually have many different practices on how they construct their agenda. She then made a motion to have council members be allowed to place an item on the agenda without a majority vote of the council.

Council member Mendivil, however, asked for a substitute motion, wanting a change to the current practice and asking that agenda items have majority approval of council members.

Here’s what happened next:

Mayor Morrison expressed his opinion, saying, “…a person can every week say I want the same thing brought back. Brought back, brought back. Just keep bringing it back. And we can end up with political rallies and everything else, instead of being a council, a city business meeting.”

The substitution motion passed 3-2.

Independent Investigation On Whether SANDAG Deceived the Public: Mayor Ron Morrison on Board of Directors

Summary: The Voice of San Diego reported that SANDAG may have deceived voters, telling them Measure A would generate $18 billion over 40 years, although they knew this was untrue. Mayor Morrison was a SANDAG Board of Director and residents wondered if he knew about the deceit.

Residents and two council members asked that the California Attorney General do an investigation. The motion failed in a 3-2 vote. A subsequent motion asked for an independent investigation without the California Attorney General, which passed unanimously.

On February 21st, Voice of San Diego reported that prior the November 2016 election, voters were told Measure A would generate about $18 billion over 40 years. Newly uncovered emails, however, revealed SANDAG staff knew as early as 2015 that the $18 billion figure was unrealistic. (The measure failed.)

21 board members said they were not informed of errors in the agency’s economic forecast. Mayor Ron Morrison was and continues to be a SANDAG board of director.

At the NC City Council meeting, a resident made a public comment asking, “Did you, Mayor, know that the measure was misleading to the residents of San Diego?… I would hope that you could answer that and, you know, I feel very deceived as a resident.”

Marcus Bush, Planning Commissioner for National City, called for an investigation of SANDAG by the State Attorney General. He said, “SANDAG is responsible for billions of dollars in regional transportation projects. National City has the highest percentage of residents that take public transit. We’re also the most walkable city, so this absolutely impacts us and our residents.”

“So there is and was errors that were admitted to. Now the question is when and how long and who knew?” Council member Sotelo-Solis said. She noted that item #14 for the SANDAG board of directors on February 24th will be looking at the staff errors.

Council member Rios concurred, “National City voted 78% because, as was mentioned earlier, we do have a large ridership. Well, maybe those 78% would not have voted had they been given the truth. We don’t know that. They were delivered a lie, so they supported that.”

Mayor Ron Morrison gave a lengthy explanation after which he said he would support an independent investigation. He also said he and other Board of Directors would be discussing the matter at the SANDAG meeting on Friday (today). However, Morrison said he would disagree going to the State Attorney General’s office. “That is a political office and certainly if it looked like criminal intent that’s where you go with something like this.”

A motion was made to have the State Attorney General investigate the matter. That motion failed in a 3-2 vote.

Council member Rios then amended the motion and asked if there could be an independent investigation without the State Attorney General. This motion passed unanimously.

Motion to investigate Brown Act Violations Fails

Summary: When a “substitute” resolution was passed without public discussion and without chamber discussion at the last council meeting, three council members may have violated clauses of the Brown Act, according to a resident and two council members.

During National City Council’s February 7th meeting, a large group of residents attended, encouraging the council to strengthen their Welcoming City Resolution. What happened next astounded many.

From Doug Porter’s reportAt the last moment, Mayor Morrison presented a “substitute” resolution that he did not share with the rest of the councilmembers beforehand, and which he did not make available to them until after he had read it aloud. Gone were the words “Welcoming”, “Immigrant” and “Refugee”. Scrubbed was an entire paragraph about not letting city police be used by ICE and US Border Patrol.

On Tuesday’s meeting, the resolution was back on the agenda — the very last item. Discussion began a little after 10pm.

Many residents came forward to speak, including the son of a Chaldean Iraqi refugee and a husband whose wife was a first generation immigrant, and her father was deported three times.

Alan Reyes, a Sweetwater High School student, told the story of his neighbor who had been deported. A hardworking man, he just came from Tijuana. “He had two little kids. They were five and six. This man would work from 5am to 6pm day-in and day-out. He would just try to provide for his family everyday.” One day, ICE came to his door and took him away.

Other comments included:

Eddie Perez: “I personally think this should be a sanctuary city… My concern is the fear that is out there in our community.” (National City Community is Latino and another 18% are of Asian descent.)

Marisol Natividad: “…You may not be separating families, but you’re not supporting any language to make your residents, your taxpayers feel welcomed in the city that they’ve been raised in.”

Janice Luna Reynoso: “When you’re taking language out, that specific language, when you take out immigrant, when you take out refugee, you’re also taking out culture, you’re taking out our values.”

Student Representative Jose Estrada said from the dais that he had gone back to Sweetwater High School to report on the council meeting. The reaction, he said, “They felt betrayed. There’s no other way to put it. They felt betrayed that despite the overwhelming public support that was here at the council chambers at the last meeting.”

Mark Lane then said when a “substitute” resolution was passed without public discussion and without chamber discussion, three council members may have violated clauses of the Brown Act. His full statement bears repeating:

Council member Rios explained that she had asked the item to be placed on the agenda. “That process was different than any resolution that has come before me in the seven years I’ve been here… One of the things was that a motion was seconded without it even being read. So how do you second a motion when you don’t even know what that motion is?”

Rios said she and residents deserved an answer. “We were given two pieces of paper that were marked out and incomplete and in a matter of minutes, my colleagues chose to vote on that. I would like to hear from them to understand why they felt that was necessary…”

Council member Mendivil said that he didn’t want to put the Mayor under the bus, but he had gotten a little confused. Then he offered, “This man, President Trump, who is now our President. (Some residents cut in — “He’s not my president”) He’s on a mission. It’s my belief that agitating him, by protest, insulting him, insulting his family and all this — that’s only going to strengthen his resolve to do exactly what, and again that’s my belief…. So I invite anyone who believes in the power of prayer, that’s what I do. Because we need to change his heart and we’re not going to change his heart in the manner we’re doing it now.”

Mayor Morrison also explained his reasoning.

“It was mentioned a while ago that the idea of ‘immigrants’ and ‘refugees’ was taken out of the original and the interesting thing is I’m looking at the original and ‘immigrants’ and ‘refugees’ is used seven times. You know what it was in the substitute? The exact same seven times. In the exact same place. Did not remove a single one…

“The main thing that was changed was the idea of creating a welcoming community and because welcoming community has become a term, a definition, and so we have an outside group that’s pushing for groups to become a welcoming city…

“…I don’t want an outside group dictating and defining what National City is in our viewpoints. And so, by us defining that we would not create a welcoming community, but that we continue to be a community that supports all its residents and visitors with their constitutional rights and due process, you know, says much more than becoming a welcoming community and therefore joining a list. That just did not make any sense.”

Mayor Morrison additionally said, “It was a strike and some additions, because we did add in there constitutional rights and due process.”

A resident asked, “We?”

Rebutting the Mayor, Council member Sotelo-Solis said it wasn’t outside groups. “No, actually they’re here. They are our constituents.”

Then, she made a motion to investigate her three colleagues for possible Brown Act violations.

Council member Mendivil responded, “Wow. There is no way that there was any Brown Act violation. I have nothing to fear. Why would I vote to have an investigation for something frivolous like this. If we did have an investigation, nothing would come of it. This is getting so political. It’s a sad day in National City.”

Mayor Morrison said, “I’m not going to support this. If anyone has evidence, but this idea of making allegations for the sake of allegations because you feel that way is not the way to do things.”

A vote was taken at about 11:15pm. The motion failed 3-2.

Here are some brief highlights:

To view the full city council meeting, click here.

Quick Hits

  • Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina wrote a letter to the New York Times editor about lifeguards and cross border cooperation, in response to an article about the U.S.-Mexico Border. He said, “…one area of positive binational cooperation is the way that ocean lifeguards from Tijuana work with their counterparts in my city and the California Department of Parks and Recreation to rescue migrants and recreational swimmers who are swept up in rip currents in and around the border fence.”
  • The new National City Aquatic Center will open with a community celebration on Saturday, February 25th at Pepper Park (3300 Goesno Place, National City). Family friendly festivities will take place from 11am to 2pm with dance, musical performances, free food and refreshments.

Hector Gastelum Otay Water DistrictHector Gastelum Otay Water DistrictHector Gastellum

(First published in San Diego Free Press)


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