Monterey Bay Partisan
By Royal Calkins
Carmel City Attorney Glen Mozingo stirred up quite a little mystery this week when he placed a notice on the City Council agenda saying there would be a discussion of “significant exposure to litigation” regarding an “allegation of tortuous and illegal conduct by a city councilman.”
Never mind that by “tortuous,” which means long and difficult, he meant “tortious,” which means actionable. That’s not what this is about. What this is about is the allegation itself and the apparent depths to which Carmel politics is sinking. The allegation of misbehavior turns out to be nothing more than an old and possible slight violation of the city’s short-term rental ordinance, but Mozingo played it as though something felonious had occurred.
Usually agenda items for closed-session matters are as vague as officials can make them. This one was highly unusual in that it referenced a council member and, by process of elimination, it had to be a certain council member, Bobby Richards. The other members are women except for Mayor Steve Dallas and he told the Monterey County Weekly that he wasn’t the councilman being accused of anything.
The agenda item prompted civic activist Georgina Armstrong in open session to ask the council twice this week what it was all about. Finally, Tuesday evening, she was offered an explanation, sort of. In response to her questions, Mozingo turned to Councilman Richards and asked how he would like to proceed. In what can only be viewed as a setup, Mozingo wanted to know if Richards prefer that Mozingo answer Armstrong publicly, during the meeting, or privately, next week.
It was an odd case of one city official putting another on the spot but it probably shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Richards is the lone council member to have voted against a new five-year contract for Mozingo, a contract that contains no limits on how much Mozingo and his underlings can bill the city.
Richards, caught off guard, said he wasn’t prepared to proceed on the spot and wished Mozingo had alerted him to the potential for a public discussion. That’s how they left it.
So what’s it all about? A Brown Act violation? Some heinous offense by Councilman Richards? Have the feds swooped into town with indictments in hand? Nope. All it is is an accusation that Richards may have violated the city’s short-term rental ordinance more than a year ago.
Richards isn’t talking but other City Hall insiders provided an outline of the matter.
Around April of 2017, Richards rented a room in his house for one night to a close friend of Mayor Dallas, fire-safety contractor Brent Sepulvado. Richards isn’t in the habit of renting out rooms but Dallas asked him to do it just this once as a favor. The price was around $200 but for reasons I have not been able to determine, Dallas’s friend didn’t pay up.
Afterward, Richards sought payment from Sepulvado but without success. So, someone, perhaps Sepulvado, wrote a letter of complaint to the city. The city’s rental ordinance does allow vacation rentals but sets limits on frequency. It was not immediately clear whether anything Richards did amounted to a violation. Voices has filed a public records request for the letter but has not received a response.
Dallas could not be reached to comment Friday. He was at the League of California Cities annual conference in Long Beach along with Mozingo and Councilwoman Carolyn Hardy, Mozingo’s leading champion on the council. They were originally scheduled to return today but opted to spend another day and return over the weekend.
Attempts to reach Sepulvado were also unsuccessful.
The city attorney for another Monterey County city and the county attorney for another California county both said Friday that they were surprised the matter was handled as it was.
“Generally, if you get a complaint about a councilman, you assign it to the appropriate staffer who then takes it up with the councilman,” said the city attorney, who asked not be be named because he needs to maintain a working relationship with Carmel officials. “If there is a violation, a correction is made and if there is a fine, the fine is assessed. I don’t believe there would be any reason to take this into closed session or to make any special effort to embarrass the councilman.”
The county attorney had a similar view.
“It sound to me like there is some friction and that it could have been handled a lot better,” he said.
Armstrong said Mozingo clearly was going after Richards and ignoring the role of his political ally, Dallas, who is up for re-election in November. She said Mozingo never should have inserted the agenda language that pointed toward Richards and, if he truly felt that was necessary, should have advised Richards in advance.
“It was a setup to make Bobby look bad,” said Armstrong.
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