In the seemingly never-ending turn of events surrounding the Los Alamitos trash contract and lawsuit, City Councilman Warren Kusumoto announced today that he would no longer participate in closed-door city meetings on the topic.
Noting that he routinely disagrees with the approach favored by Mayor Kenneth Stephens, and Council Members Tory Edgar and Marilynn Poe, Kusumoto voluntarily recused himself from the council’s closed session legal discussions.
“I have consistently been the minority viewpoint, so my vote is easily overcome by the Council Majority,” Kusumoto wrote in a letter to the mayor.
In October, the city lost a lawsuit challenging the legality of its $24.5 million trash contract with Consolidated Disposal Service on the grounds that the City Council violated its own policy by not choosing the lowest responsible bidder for the lucrative contract.
While the city lost the suit and has 60 days to respond to the ruling by appealing the decision, rebidding the contract or changing its policy for awarding contracts, city officials did have one victory in the court battle – the judge rejected allegations of corruption against Stevens, Edgar and Poe. However, the plaintiffs, a group called Citizens For a Fair Trash Contract are appealing the judge’s decision. Among the plaintiffs are resident JM Ivler and former City Councilman Art DeBolt.
In his letter to the mayor, Kusumoto noted, “The Council Majority has the appearance of a Conflict of Interest in determining the best course of action…” due to the corruption allegations under appeal. He urged the council to find a way to address the court’s ruling about the contract independently from allegations of corruption.
More than a year into the lawsuit, the timing of Kusumoto’s announcement came as a surprise, said Edgar.
“I would think that if you are going to opt out, do it from the beginning,” Edgar said. “I think he is getting a lot of pressure in the community, I think a lot of people are wondering why the plaintiff (DeBolt) in this lawsuit is his biggest campaign contributor.”
Kusumoto addressed the perception of a conflict in his letter to the mayor.
“As a current council member stated, there are citizens in our community that have the belief that I should not be participating in closed sessions concerning this matter. I sincerely appreciate this council member’s candor, and I take no offense to this belief by some of our citizens.”
The city has until January to decide how to respond to the ruling. Councilwoman Gerri Graham-Mejia declared a conflict of interest early on the process because she was deposed by the plaintiffs in the case. That leaves the three council members who were also named as defendants in the case to decide how the city will respond to the ruling.