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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.

Acting Mayor Laura Ferguson, pictured here from a December 2019 council meeting, is facing a potential censure over a slew of allegations raised by fellow Councilmember Kathy Ward. Photo: Shawn Raymundo

“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.

SR_1Shawn Raymundo
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.

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comments (8)

  • Ward is the perpetrator and in my opinion very corrupt.

  • Wow.. Ward you are disgusting!

  • I fully support this. If you think Ward is the problem, then you are missing that the rest of the city council supports this. And you probably have not seen the issues first hand in the meetings.

    The problem is that Laura has appointed herself the overseer of the council and city. She thinks that she knows best. If she loses a vote, she goes off on her own to rectify what she thinks is an injustice. That means she complains on social media, makes public emails that were never meant to be public, goes off-topic in council meetings to justify her actions, or discloses confidential information to whoever she thinks will further her own needs. None of this is why she was elected. She was elected to serve the City of San Clemente. That means that she should vote the way she thinks best serves the city and then respect the decision of the rest of the council when her views are not adopted. It does not mean she should go off to execute on her own agenda just because others do not agree with her.

    The city survey data is a perfect example. I do not disagree that this information should be public, but I trust that the rest of the council and the city staff would make it public at the appropriate time. Laura should have had the same trust (and note that she did not disclose the survey to the public at large but disclosed it to a newspaper that furthers her interests of her getting the highest visibility). The California Supreme Court has recognized that exactly this type of information will need to be confidential until decisions are actually made on the information. Times Mirror Co. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal. 3d 1325 (Jul. 21, 1991). Interestingly, the U.S. Supreme Court has also recognized that communications between government employees should be confidential as well because otherwise, government workers cannot have open and honest communications. “Human experience teaches that those who expect public dissemination of their remarks may well temper candor with a concern for appearances . . . to the detriment of the decisionmaking process.” United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974). Laura careless disregards this professional courtesy by making public city employees’ internal emails. It is no wonder that no one wants to communicate with her over email.

    I hope that instead of Laura wearing this censure with honor, that she realizes she will better serve San Clemente by working with the city staff and the rest of the council and stop thinking only she knows best.

  • Linda was arm-in-arm with Alan, the wanna be cult leader hungry for power, at rallies. Next she will be drinking kool-aid in a glass wrapped with her censure badge of honor at meetings. Her role is to serve “all” the citizens of San Clemente, not to divide them with disparaging e-mails (under the cover of transparency) and activities.

    One of her roles as city council member is to keep some information regarding the city confidential. For instance, is her forever lasting commitment to transparency include blasting out e-mails that Camp Pendleton will practice a secret Amphibious Mission off the islands of San Clemente? Will her
    e-mails disclose the capabilities and functions of the the practice secret mission? Will she identify the date and time of the secret mission in her e-mails, so the world will know?

    Lastly, Linda is entering into a dangerous game of “zero sum” with colleagues, city employees, and citizens of San Clemente because they disagree with her viewpoints and votes. As she’s playing her “zero sum” game with people who don’t agreed with her, the citizens of San Clemente and the city’s business will be left in peril.

  • Council practice is to have a vote of the council members–in closed session–if one or more of the members wants something private to be discussed in open session. Personnel and legal issues generally are discussed privately until such a point as it’s prudent to discuss.

    This didn’t happen with MPT Ferguson. She basically ignored the other council members and gleefully talked about a potential law suit by James Makshanoff.

    What no one else talks about are the past and present members of the city that MPT Ferguson are grooming for their own law suits against the city. What, did no one mention this? Laura has felt eminently wronged, and yet didn’t have the cojones or the proof to sue James, Erik, and whoever else made her a perpetual victim.

    Should the same transparency be used for the employees considering law suits now? Should they be “outed”? No, of course not because that would be as stupid as blurting out closed session legal and personnel matters.

    The funny thing is, at the end of the day we basically all want the same thing–things that have been described so many times that I don’t need to mention it. But Laura has decided that it must be done her way and on her timeline.

    The last council meeting was painful to watch. Playing with the microphone was a JV league maneuver, but not surprising. Everyone wants transparency, but a working relationship with the rest of the council is also required. Even with Chris. If other council members can do it, so can you Laura.

  • The thing that concerns me the most about this all is that Ms. Ferguson does not seem to get it. She thinks that “transparency” lets her do anything that she wants. But that is not even close to how this is supposed to work. She was elected to the San Clemente City Council. That consists of five council members that collectively make decisions for the city. Despite what Ms. Ferguson thinks, being a council member does not give her the right or authority to act as an individual on behalf of San Clemente. Yet that is exactly what she does now.

    The ironic part is that I think her motivation is largely genuine and that she wants what is best for San Clemente. The problem is that the best thing for San Clemente is not up to her. The citizens of our city empower the entire council to decide that. When she goes around the council, she is just putting her own selfish beliefs ahead of the city and its citizens. This needs to stop.

    I have never paid much attention to San Clemente politics until this year, which is exactly what I want. I have always felt that the city generally did a good job more or less. If I do not notice the government, they are doing a great job. The first time I listened into a meeting was a special meeting in April/May about whether to open tennis/pickleball courts. Ms. Ferguson stated that it was her belief that children were not susceptible to COVID-19 and did not need to follow the stay at home order. This was unbelievable to me. Since then, I occasionally listen to meetings and consistently feel she is just out of touch even if she has good intentions. For example, in the last meeting, she did not support continuing to fund opposition to a toll road being built through our city but she had no problem with San Clemente citizens spending hundreds of thousands of our dollars supporting political rallies in the city. Notably, she also attends/supports the rallies that cost our city this money this past year. Instead of “wear[ing] censure … as a badge of honor,” I wish she would recognize that she is not representing San Clemente, especially when most everyone else thinks she is out of line. She is supposed to represent the entire city, not only what she personally believes in.

  • Ferguson should be ashamed. She tries to block San Clemente’s fight against the toll road through the middle of the city based on cost but then argues for using hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize political rallies that she attends. This is sickening. How do you want the city to spend your money? On what benefits Ferguson? Or on blocking a highway going over San Clemente High School? Don’t believe me? Check the last council meeting on YouTube.

  • This censure motion is an absolute joke. This is exactly the reason I could not bring myself to support or vote for Gene James. We have all sorts of very important issues facing San Clemente currently. Homelessness, crime and the latest threat to our small business community as a result of Newsom’s recent unconstitutional lock down/curfew order come to mind.

    But what does Gene do? He decides once again to align himself with our fearless firefighter who’s so afraid of the Rona he won’t appear at an in-person council meeting and the other clueless member of San Clemente’s dynamic duo to quickly “censure” Mayor Pro Tem Ferguson before the new council is seated. This is right out of a “Mean Girls” episode. Hey, Gene, why don’t you and your newfound friends on the council let the voters decide whether Laura should be censured when she’s up for re-election in 2022. This symbolic nonsense is just a waste of time and resources.

    I doubt if Laura had the votes, she’d waste valuable time asking allies on the council to censure you as a result of all of the negative things that came out about you during the campaign (true or not) or things you may do or say in the future that she dislikes. A military decoration comes to mind. I have no idea if the controversy over your military service is true or not, but when you go “full mean girl,” what does truth matter? Never go “full mean girl” Gene. It’s a really bad look. I would expect this from your new friends, Gene but you should re-think this immaturity and vindictiveness before you lose all credibility.

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