Politics in Los Alamitos is not for the faint of heart nor the easily confused.
Almost a year after a brutal City Council race, the Council voted 3-2 on Monday to research the merit in filing an ethics complaint against a former City Council candidate who allegedly made “inflammatory” comments about political foes and current council members.
Mayor Kenneth Stephens, Councilman Troy Edgar and Councilwoman Marilynn Poe voted to have city staff research the possibility of filing an ethics complaint with the California Bar Association against Brad Sheridan, an attorney and a former council candidate. According to City Manager Jeff Stewart, Sheridan spoke at a City Council meeting in June of 2010 and alluded to the possibility that Edgar, Stephens and Poe could face criminal prosecution if they approved a trash franchise agreement with Consolidated Disposal Services after having accepted campaign donations from the company.
“While Mr. Sheridan’s comments might be considered inflammatory and included references to the possibility of a criminal inquiry by the District Attorney, the statements did not include threats that met the threshold of being reportable to the State Bar Association,” Stewart wrote in a staff report to the council this week. “Accordingly no further action was taken on the matter.”
However, Stewart’s findings did not satisfy the council majority, who voted for additional research into the matter at Monday’s Council meeting.
“I don’t remember getting anything back from the city to make that evaluation,” said Edgar. “I would like to have this evaluated again.”
Sheridan could not be reached for comment Monday night.
Councilwoman Gerri Graham-Mejia argued against an ongoing investigation into the matter.
“I don’t know why we would spend any more staff time or legal time in an attempt to injure a resident who just came forward to raise his concerns,” said Graham-Mejia. “I think it’s just a personal vendetta, and I think it’s a shame if we move forward with this. I think it’s unbecoming of us as a council and of you as a mayor.”
Graham-Mejia further suggested that the move was part of an attempt to infringe upon the free speech of a council critic.
City Attorney Sandra Levin offered her opinion that the city is not currently exposed to any legal liability in the matter, but she cautioned, “Whatever happens after this point is another story.”
In voting for additional research into the matter, Poe said she was sorry the council had not pressed the issue sooner.
“I definitely felt that there were specific threats to myself and others on the council,” added Poe.
Since Sheridan’s comments last year, the council approved a $24.5 million contract with Consolidated Disposal Services. A group of residents and political opponents subsequently sued the city over the contract, alleging that the city violated its own policies for awarding contracts and that council members had a conflict of interest in awarding the contract to a campaign donor. The lawsuit is ongoing, but an Orange County judge threw out the allegations against individual council members. The plaintiffs in the case are appealing the judge’s ruling.
The fall election season in Los Alamitos was a bitter contest between two voting blocs vying for majority control over the Council. The trash contract lawsuit was filed during the heat of the campaign season, and council candidates and their supporters filed police reports against each other, alleging that their opponents tampered with campaign signs and flyers.