By Councilmember Laura Ferguson
I am writing this column before the Dec. 1 induction of two new councilmembers. I look forward to working with them to bring fiscal responsibility and transparency to the city. It is clear that after trying to work with the outgoing current council, this was impossible to accomplish. New days bring new hope.
My hopes for 2021 include seeing COVID-19 behind us, making inroads into the homeless issues and doing what we can to safely reopen the city hall and council meetings.
On Nov. 23, the majority faction of the city council orchestrated a six-hour marathon kangaroo court to censure me for doing my job of holding city management and the city attorney accountable, voicing my opinions publicly, disseminating information, distributing non-privileged documents, and announcing closed-session votes to the public after the city attorney failed to do so.
No crimes were even mentioned. I was censured without evidence and proper due process, a cornerstone of our Constitutional rights. The goal was to embarrass, humiliate me, and harass me using city funds, two city-retained attorneys and staff time for purely political purposes.
This stunt underscores the complete disregard the city has shown to taxpayers.
It is troubling that during a pandemic, when revenue is down and we have many issues to tackle, the majority faction used taxpayer funds to pay for their personal political vendetta against me and against transparency.
If there is ever a time to unify our community, it is now.
For two years, I frustrated the majority faction because, according to them, I did not go along to get along, they dislike me and my opinions, which are also the opinions of a large number of our constituents.
Because I was not contrite, when asked to publicly pledge to conform to their will in order for the censure proceeding to be dismissed, and did not testify (which was not allowed), the city council decided censure was necessary.
There is no censure policy or ordinance in San Clemente, which rendered the entire censure proceeding unconstitutional and an infringement on my Constitutional rights of free speech and due process.
It also interfered with the rights of representation of every San Clemente constituent who voted to elect me to the city council. The majority and the city attorney simply made up the rules as they went along and reached a pre-ordained 3-1 vote to censure me, using two city-paid attorneys, while not offering me any legal assistance.
One of the charges they sustained was that I improperly released the results of a “confidential” voter opinion poll. The city manager commissioned this $25,000 taxpayer-funded survey in January, outside of the public eye.
The opinion poll was paid by our city attorney’s outside contract law firm, Best, Best and Krieger (BB&K), and the city then reimbursed BB&K under a legal billing titled “public policy” on the April 22 warrant register.
The city council never deliberated on the survey or the polling questions or answers. The city could not legally keep the results “confidential.” Releasing it fulfilled the legal requirement for transparency. Withholding the document was illegal and bad public policy.
The majority could have avoided this charade and simply stated their displeasure on or off the record. I am the only councilmember censured in the 92-year history of San Clemente. I need to be the last. Enough said.
It’s December, and we have much to look forward to. This holiday season, we should all feel and give blessings and joy living in the world’s greatest beach city.
I look forward to working with all the great people of San Clemente to bring back Puttin’ on the Glitz, the Ocean Festival, the Fiesta, the Del Mar Car Show, and so many other festivals and special events that bring our residents so much joy.
I look forward to continuing to seek a restructuring of the city management to assure openness and transparency, expedited permit approvals, and hiring a great city manager who understands and respects the role and rule of law to lead and help all of the residents of San Clemente.
I hope the new year brings all sides together. I will work with everyone to make life even better than it is today, and life is pretty darn good in San Clemente.
It is an honor to serve the residents and business owners of San Clemente. As always, please reach out to me at email@example.com or 949.606.4537 if you have a concern about a city matter.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!
Laura Ferguson was elected in 2018 and served the San Clemente City Council this year as the mayor pro tem and acting mayor.