When I arrived in the Moreno Valley council chambers on Thursday, the first speaker was approaching the lectern. Roy Bleckert’s angry opening salvo to the City Council began: “Would you please stop making our city a circus sideshow?”
In case you haven’t been keeping up, since Oct. 19 MoVal leaders have basically been tossing banana peels in their own path and sliding down the sidewalk, arms flailing.
That’s the day when, with the five-seat council down temporarily to three members due to deaths, two of the council members decided to ram through an appointment on the fly.
All the agenda said was that the council would give direction on how to proceed, interim City Attorney Steve Quintanilla reminded them.
“And my direction to the city clerk at this time is that we appoint. And we can do that tonight,” Marquez contended. Jempson was sworn in on the spot.
Since then it’s been raining hellfire. The mayor walked out of an Oct. 27 meeting. Pressure to rescind the Oct. 19 actions grew, including a lawsuit. Then the Riverside County DA weighed in, demanding the “illegal action” be rescinded within 30 days.
I attended Thursday’s special meeting to witness the magic myself.
Speakers heaped Carbrera and Marquez with scorn and told Jempson she ought to resign.
“Step down. Get out of there. Nobody voted for you before and nobody voted for you now,” said Elena Santa Cruz, referring to the 2020 election, in which Baca outpolled Jempson 2-to-1. “Everything has been an embarrassment ever since that night when you were sitting in the parking lot waiting for them to call you in.”
In the front row was Ed Delgado. He won a Nov. 2 special election to fill a council seat vacant since Carla Thornton’s death in January and will serve through November 2022, the rest of her term. The election results were certified earlier Thursday.
After the open session, a closed session was set for a personnel issue: an evaluation of Quintanilla followed by his “discipline/dismissal/release.”
Rather than seat Delgado immediately, Cabrera said the council ought to hold off until the next meeting, and also should go ahead into closed session now before taking up the Jempson matter.
Conveniently, that would potentially result in three votes — Cabrera, Jempson and Marquez — to fire Quintanilla.
From the audience came catcalls of “snake!” and “liar!”
Mayor Gutierrez said it was his understanding that Delgado had already been sworn in by the city clerk privately. Delgado rose, got a standing ovation, stepped forward for a public swearing-in and took a seat on the dais.
Next came reconsideration of the Oct. 19 action. Jempson had to leave the dais since the matter directly involved her.
Cabrera agreed the council needed to undo the action. But he asked if it was necessary to do so immediately, or even within 30 days. “Say we go to 40 days. Wouldn’t a court consider the matter moot?” he asked.
The city, and perhaps individual council members, would still be on the hook, Quintanilla said.
You couldn’t help but think Cabrera might want to preserve his council majority as long as possible, although his explanation was that he’d rather have an orderly process that would include appointing a replacement for Jempson.
Marquez, an elected official in a city of 215,000, seemed to shrug the whole thing off.
“So what if there was a Brown Act violation?” Marquez said. “We’re not all legal-minded people up here. Let the process go. Let us look into appointments.”
He added casually that he’s seen “a lot of criminal acts” by colleagues during his time on the council. (I suppose if that’s your attitude, what’s one more?)
Delgado moved to rescind the Oct. 19 action, and that passed 4-0.
Quintanilla announced that the vote “formally removed LaDonna Jempson from the City Council,” which might have seemed self-evident.
“Why are you telling us this after?” Marquez demanded. Cabrera asked if it was possible to reconsider the vote. Told that that would require a majority, he dropped it.
Jempson, who had said only two days earlier “it would take the court to get me out,” did not return to the room.
This bumbling only gave speakers more fodder to work with before the council went into closed session to debate Quintanilla’s fate.
“What you just saw is council members who don’t know what they’re doing,” Donovan Saadiq said. “We’re on public access TV and people in the IE’s second-largest city can say, ‘These people representing us are complete idiots.’”
“This man told you this is a Brown Act violation,” Saadiq continued. “And now you want to fire the dude.”
The council — Cabrera, Delgado, Gutierrez, Marquez — was upstairs for exactly an hour. When they came down and resumed their places, Gutierrez asked Quintanilla formally, “Any reportable action?”
Quintanilla replied with good humor: “I’m pleased to announce there was no reportable action taken in closed session.”
At that, the meeting ended.
“It means we’re keeping our city attorney,” Gutierrez told me. The next council meeting is Dec. 7, and “it should be a regular meeting, no turmoil,” he said with a smile.
I congratulated Delgado. “Hopefully there’ll be boring meetings and you won’t have anything to write about,” he said. Our hopes may differ.
On my way out, I noticed two empty spaces in the wall of council member portraits. Obviously they haven’t shot Delgado yet, but Jempson’s portrait had already been removed.
“American Idol” runner-up Alejandro Aranda is returning to his hometown of Pomona for a Dec. 18 concert at the Fox. While tickets are $22.50 to $25, a promo code meant that early buyers paid precisely $9.09. Aranda hasn’t forgotten the 909.
David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, as you might wish to forget. Email email@example.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.