San Juan Capistrano

Guest Column
$$ and Our City Council

By Roy L. Byrnes, San Juan Capistrano City Council Member

City council politics has become a new “blood sport” in San Juan Capistrano. In my opinion, this serves all of us poorly. My vision of our council is one of neighborly volunteerism. The people who serve as council members shouldn't be monied professional politicians.

Yet sadly, recent elections have transformed the landscape and the result is not good. Too much political money is flowing in, causing a problem, I think. Our council members seem to feel that they must spend huge amounts of money to mount an election effort. Larry Kramer and John Taylor each collected over $50,000 from donors, many from outside the city, when they campaigned three years ago. Recently, Mayor Sam Allevato rocked this community when he gathered over $67,000 just to prevent his name being put on a recall ballot. That doesn't even include the actual cost of a recall election campaign. His partial list of contributions includes thousands of dollars from sources with direct and indirect business with City Hall.

There is no obvious illegality here. Yet, to me it does not seem right. I'm worried about this new game of “money-politics as a blood sport.” It's a clear warning to community members seeking to serve to; “Stay away; the city council is for professional politicos only.” These days, one doesn't just seek public office, one buys it. A more direct method!

This saddens me. I'm sounding an alarm about the recent intrusion of “big money professional, Chicago-style politics” into our little town. When Mr. X donates $5,000 to a candidate, he's apt to want something in return for his money. Or he already has it.

What to do? I favor a requirement that, as each council member casts a vote, he is required to disclose what gifts he has received from the applicant. For example: “I vote in favor of Mr. X's project and, by the way, he gave me $5,000 last year.” Such a requirement would go a long way towards providing the transparency that our council members say they support.

Meanwhile, we are left to ponder this question: Why would anyone pay $67,000 for a council position that pays $350 per month? The obvious answer is troubling.

1 comment:

Rose Stone said...

I believe Dr. Byrnes has given us a good idea. While it may not unlawful to accept contributions while sitting on the city council, it is unethical. Accepting monies from a resident and then voting to rezone their property so they can sell it for more money is unethical. Compensation of any kind should be disclosed to the public. Joe the Construction company repaved the street in front of my house and now he has submitted a bid for work on local city streets. Should Joe receive the contract? Seventy thousand dollars was raised to keep Sam Allevato in office three years ago. Local developers donated thousands of dollars to keep Sam in office. Should these same developers be holding positions that are a conflict of interest? We need more transparency in our city government, not less. If a pipe line is approved for water to the events park that serves Blenheim Equestrian should residents be aware of the good ole boys club demonstrated by the last minute renewed lease approved by the old city council. These are things new residents may not know about. Those of us who have lived through the recall, and the referendum, at the expense of being ridiculed in hit mailers, and private e-mails do not think transparency is a bad idea. Well done Dr. Byrnes. Great suggestion.

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