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By Shawn Raymundo
Facing a slew of accusations raised by Councilmember Kathy Ward, acting Mayor Laura Ferguson could be slapped with a potential censure next week after the council on Tuesday, Nov. 17, voted to hold a special session to deliberate the formal reprimand.
During what was supposed to be the last city council meeting before the newly elected officials will be seated, councilmembers voted, 3-1, with Ferguson dissenting, to meet on Monday, Nov. 23, when they’ll pursue the censure—a largely symbolic condemnation of an elected official.
According to the city, “a censure does not levy a fine, suspension, or other penalty, but nevertheless represents the formal opinion of the City Council and, therefore, carries weight in the public arena.”
Ward proposed the council proceed with the censure hearing on numerous grounds, including perceived allegations that Ferguson has shown a lack of respect toward city management and the city attorney, as well as her fellow councilmembers and their decisions and polices.
The laundry list of accusations from Ward against Ferguson also included “accusations of misconduct and insubordination against city employees when they would not do what you wanted that was in opposition to council direction and in violation of set polices for process in San Clemente municipal code.”
Ward later referenced Ferguson’s persistent use of her political Facebook page, where she “shares emails from staff,” “disparages city council decisions” and has “consistently eroded the vote of the public’s trust in city governance.”
The move to censure Ferguson comes after she shared with San Clemente Times the findings and results of a city-initiated survey that city management wanted to keep under wraps, citing it as confidential. While not explicitly stated, that action was also perceived to be included in Ward’s accusations.
“You have shared confidential information or documents after briefings where you have been advised the information is confidential, and you have unilaterally shared it, thereby waiving privilege for the council when you have no authority to do so,” Ward said Tuesday night.
“These allegations are numerous, but I believe they will be supported by evidence of actions you have taken in the past two years while on council,” Ward later concluded.
The city is estimated to spend between $3,000 and $5,000 on special counsel engagement services with attorney Cristina Talley, who will oversee the conflict during Monday’s proceedings, when Ferguson will have due process in order to plead her case.
At the onset of the council’s discussion whether to conduct the special meeting, Ferguson—acknowledging that the agenda item was centered around her before Ward formally announced her claims—said she would wear the censure proudly if it comes to that.
“I, for one, will wear my censure, if that’s the direction that the council wishes to go … as a badge of honor, because I will always choose transparency over secrecy,” she said, before adding that she wouldn’t stop using her social media page despite criticism from her fellow councilmembers.
Ferguson also questioned why the proposal to censure her was brought up when, she stated, she hasn’t broken any laws. She continued to state that the move is politically motivated.
“I guess I just find this to be very serious if the council wants to do this to me, and it just appears that this is just politically motivated,” she said. “I’m being targeted just because I am so transparent and, again, have not broken any laws, at least to my knowledge.”
When Ferguson asked whether she would be allowed to have her own legal counsel represent her during the meeting, City Attorney Scott Smith explained that while it would be appropriate, her lawyer could only participate as a member of the public would be able to, noting that it’s a council meeting, not a court proceeding.
“It will be like any hearing before the city council,” Smith said.
The special meeting, scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m., is expected to be conducted via teleconference and livestreamed through the city’s YouTube channel.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.