By Royal Calkins
At a recent event, Salinas City Councilman Steve McShane made a point of sitting next to Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker. He used the opportunity to let her know that although he was going to run against her next year, his respect and admiration for her remained intact.
It could have been worse. He could have dropped his permanent grin and just said he was coming at her. Or he might have confessed that he had no choice in the matter because the lords and masters of the Salinas Valley have had enough of her logical approach to government and want someone in her place who believes that commerce is king.
To the casual observer, it might not seem like it but politics in Monterey County is almost a contact sport. It isn’t as mean as the national scene in these Trumpian times, but things can get down and dirty when the ag-development complex wants to replace row crops with row houses and the Jane Parkers of the world insist that consideration be given to planning principles, the water supply and common sense.
Considering all the battles she has been through, it wasn’t a big surprise when the Weekly reported this week that Parker won’t seek a fourth term next year. She is a strong person in her own quiet way but she never really enjoyed the rough-and-tumble of campaigning, especially considering how her previous campaign opponents played the game.
In her first race, Parker knocked off former Marina Mayor Ila Mettee McCutchon, who ran the city, and her campaign, like the former Army colonel she was. To Ila, a big box store, any big box store, was a thing of beauty, and a political campaign was war.
Parker’s challenger four years later was Byrl Anderson Parker, widow of the late Supervisor Jerry Smith, one of
the area’s most successful African-American politicians and one of the most fervent backers of development for development’s sake. The campaign was as unpleasant as the one before. Byrl Smith even alleged that Parker’s campaign had intentionally darkened a photo of Jerry Smith on a campaign flyer to make him look menacing.
Then, two years ago, the same people now planning to support McShane were backing former Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue, a nice enough fellow except during campaign season. The Donohue campaign tried to make Parker out to be a wild-eyed radical rather than what she is, a thoughtful progressive.
Ultimately, the approach backfired when a Donohue mailer accused Parker in giant type of having opposed the veterans cemetery at Fort Ord. Problem was, it wasn’t true. Not even a little bit. State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, who championed the cemetery project all the way to reality, jumped all over Donohue in public fashion and his campaign was sunk.
Expect more of the same when McShane takes on Parker’s choice to succeed her, Wendy Root Askew.
Askew has been a legislative aide to Parker for 10 years and is an elected member of the Monterey Peninsula school board. It’s an open seat so others will likely jump into the race but they will find Askew and McShane to have sizable head starts.
Though the primary election for Parker’s District 4 seat remains a year away, Askew and McShane already have gathered considerable support along typical Monterey County political lines. Askew has the progressives and environmentalists of the Peninsula while McShane has big ag, the development industry and, of course, the Salinas Valley Leadership Group, the political action committee headed by his former father-in-law, construction executive Don Chapin. Chapin was the money behind McShane’s semi-defunct nursery and landscape-supply outlet on Highway 68 south of Salinas.
Unfortunately for its residents, the district represented by Parker has an awkward configuration. It covers Seaside, Marina, Del Rey Oaks, Sand City, Fort Ord and – and here’s the awkward part — a slice of southwest Salinas. That’s what gives the power brokers of the Salinas Valley a foot in the door into a place where they really have no business. For years they have had a lock on the three supervisorial districts headquartered on the other side of the Lettuce Divide, but they’re greedy. Controlling four of the five seats would make them just that much more comfortable.
The Leadership Group will put up big money, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the membership will look at it as an investment. Losing isn’t an option.
Here’s hoping Parker has briefed Askew well on what to expect.
So fiction writer Glen Mozingo’s last Carmel City Council meeting in his city attorney capacity came and went Tuesday, more than a year after yours truly and others began reporting about the several parts of his resumé that simply didn’t square with reality. It took so long because a couple of council members and a third member, recently ousted from office, simply refused to believe that such an erudite fellow could possibility be telling tall tales about himself.
Word has it that the two who remain on the council, Jan Reimers and Carrie Thies, inexplicably remain loyal to Mozingo, who is resigning under considerable public pressure created by his exaggerations and fabrications.
But judgment and discernment are topics for another day. This is about another part of Mozingo’s legacy, the still secret report on the city’s investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and otherwise unprofessional behavior by Mozingo pal Steve Dallas.
As you will recall, Dallas was mayor until Dave Potter beat him the polls in November. After receiving several complaints about Dallas, the council instructed Mozingo to launch an investigation more than a year ago. He hired an outside lawyer to interview the complainants and produce a report on her findings. At the conclusion, Mozingo announced that Dallas had essentially been exonerated though there were times when he had acted unprofessionally. And that, according to Mozingo, was that.
Questions remain about Mozingo’s assignment. Some on the council believed he was supposed to get to the bottom of things and determine whether Dallas had mistreated women or, for that matter, anyone. Others have since concluded, however, that Mozingo framed the assignment narrowly, limiting it to determining whether the city faced any legal liability for Dallas’s words and actions. The truth of what had happened was of little interest.
Back then, I and others asked Mozingo to release copies of the report pursuant to the California Public Records Act. He declined, citing attorney-client privilege. He wouldn’t even let the council members see the report, though one might suspect that Dallas was allowed a peek.
Fast forward to October. That’s when a Santa Clara County judge ordered the city of Milpitas to pay nearly $100,000 in attorney fees to the First Amendment Coalition, which had successfully sued Milpitas to get access to an investigative report into allegations of wrongdoing by the city manager there. An investigation a lot like the investigation of Dallas. A report a lot like the Dallas report.
Armed with that bit of precedent, I filed another public records request. I thought it might shake something loose, partly because I was fresh off a successful public records lawsuit of my own, one that required Carmel to turn over some records involving Mozingo’s background. (My public records lawsuit, unfortunately, cost the city more than $70,000, including more than $20,000 for my legal fees. Seems to me that Mozingo should have paid, not the city, but Carmel apparently has plenty of money for such things.)
Again, I was turned down. Mozingo, who should have declared a conflict and stayed out of it, disregarded the Milpitas ruling and said essentially that the California Public Records Act doesn’t mean what it says.
So I appealed Mozingo’s ruling to the Carmel City Council, which is now in the progress of mulling things over. I understand that Mozingo has allowed the current council to see the report. Supposedly he insisted that they could only read it in his presence. The response reportedly went something like, “Pound sand, Glen.”
Rumor has it that the council is now considering making the report public with some redaction. That’s probably OK, depending on who does the redacting.
I have heard from some quarters in the community that there is no reason to pursue the documents, which might have been true until Dallas let on in recent weeks that he may very well run for mayor again in a couple of years. One of his campaign promises at the time was transparency, so we should be able to count on him to support the idea of releasing the report. Right?
What with the amount of water that has been dumped on us of late, it would be easy to forget that this is a water-short region and that water politics is what we do best around these parts.
Speaking of which, word is that the mayors’ association of Monterey County, a layer of government that most of us know almost nothing about, is rethinking its recent vote to appoint Carmel Mayor Dave Potter to the water management district board.
For decades, that would have been a totally ho-hum matter, but the water management board is a big player at the moment because of the successful ballot measure requiring it to study and perhaps follow through on the idea of a public takeover of the private Cal Am water system.
The mayors had been expected to appoint Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson to the water board. But when newly elected Del Rey Oaks Mayor Alison Kerr, a Roberson supporter, was a few minutes late to the meeting, the more Cal Am-friendly elements among the mayors held a quick vote and elected Potter instead.
Roberson has publicly supported the water company takeover while Potter is viewed by many as a Cal Am supporter because he used to be a Monterey County supervisor and Monterey County and Cal Am were political comrades. (That analysis could be on target but it ignores the reality that Potter is a master politician who has demonstrated a capacity to surprise.)
Anyway, so the chairman of the mayors’ group, Seaside Mayor Ian Oglesby, after some lobbying by public water supporters, has agreed to call for a second vote on procedural grounds but without promising to take back his own vote for Potter.
In a recent letter to the editor of the Herald, former Del Rey Oaks Mayor Jerry Edelen opined that water board member George Riley – it is spelled that way no matter what you might have seen in the Herald – should not be allowed to vote on Cal Am takeover matters because he ran the takeover ballot measure campaign. Biased, wrote Edelen.
I’m waiting now to see if the Herald will run a letter from retired water lawyer Bill Hood. He sent Voices a copy.
Hood wrote, “If George Riley is to be recused from voting on Cal-Am matters because he is expected to always vote his bias against utility, then shouldn’t Dave Potter, a known Cal Am supporter, be recused as a person with a strong history and bias for Cal Am?”
He went on. “Shouldn’t Jeanne Byrne also be recused as she was supported in running for her position on the board by many important elected and business leaders who strongly support Cal Am, and in that she has expressed on many occasions that she is in favor of Cal-Am? Equal justice should be applied equally and fairly.”
I am hopeful that no matter the makeup of the board, the members will check their biases at the door and carry out a professional analysis of the issues. There will be many opportunities for the participants to play politics. They must hire lawyers and consultants and accountants and must carry out a thorough study of the feasibility of a Cal Am buyout. They must define “feasible,” and, if the project is deemed feasible, they must carry out an expensive and complicated takeover. Each step is fraught with opportunity for politicking and Cal Am representatives will be applying political and even financial pressure on the participants from start to finish.
Even before voters approved the takeover measure, Cal Am has worked to portray itself as a victim, the target of ruthless progressive and environmentalists. Highest water bills in the country? So what. We can’t let those liberals push us around.
It is important now that the people in charge ignore the whining and, simultaneously, avoid any temptation to shape their work any one way or the other. The potential takeover of Cal Am could be the biggest political and financial issue of all time on the Peninsula and it needs to be handled in a professional, not political, manner.
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