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July 22, 2021

Victorville City Council Nonsense

A report in the Press-Enterprise about an exciting city council meeting in Victorville. If the Press-Enterprise is to be believed, a man was arrested at the July 20 city council meeting for the crime of recording the meeting. This was an open Brown Act meeting, and you can watch all of it on YouTube, so where's the crime? Naturally, I had to go watch the video to understand what really happened. The very short summary is: incompetent reporting from a mediocre newspaper. The longer explanation follows.

The Victorville city council has a problem that we've seen before in other governing bodies. There's one city councilmember, Blanca Gomez, who does not want to observe the rules of procedure for the meeting. Her need to express her opinion is immediate and more important than any other matter before the city council. She does not need to ask for recognition. She does not need to express herself politely. She does not have to contribute constructively to the meeting. We've seen this many times, and the person who behaves this way never seems to realize that they could actually accomplish something if they followed the rules of the meeting. I have no data to support my opinion, but I think a lot of these people imagine they are the heroes of the downtrodden and they "prove" that fantasy to themselves over and over by being shut down my meeting chairs for failure to follow the rules of the meeting. Far from benefitting the downtrodden, of course, this behavior just wastes time and disrespects those who voted her in, hoping that she might actually accomplish something. I call elected officials who behave like this "grashites."

In the video, please skip ahead to 4:13:07 where Gomez begins to remark on the motion before the council. Mayor Jones tries to interrupt her.

Mayor Jones is the other half of this problem. Grashites do not do well in a vacuum, but put them under an imperious, arrogant chair and they thrive (and get articles in the newspaper!). Mayor Jones does not see her primary task to be overseeing a cordial and effective meeting. Her job is to keep people aware that she is imperious and arrogant. After all, the mayor of Victorville (pop. 128,000) is not a figure to be trifled with.

Unfortunately, the audio recording system in Victorville is not quite up to snuff, and whenever Jones tries to stop Gomez from speaking, Gomez leans closer to her microphone and raises her voice, so nothing can be understood. I couldn't understand these comments of Gomez, nor why Jones considered them out of order. Gomez continued to try to talk as the council was voting! That particular vote passed 3-1 with Gomez being the only No vote.

Gomez continued speaking even as Jones introduced the next item on the agenda, and didn't stop when the city manager began to speak. Minutes later when Jones called on Gomez for comments, Gomez had to ask her to clarify what agenda item they were discussing. Her need to speak over everyone else was more important than paying attention to where the meeting was going.

At 4:19:39 a bald-headed man enters the video frame and sits in the second row of the audience, first seat to the right of the central aisle. We will call him "Bald Man."

Then, shortly after the council began discussion of filling a vacancy on the planning commission at 4:20:29, another man enters and sits in the third row, second seat from the central aisle. He is wearing a fedora and a suit jacket and appears to be wearing a neck gaiter as a face mask (of the sort that is currently acceptable as an anti-COVID mask). He is holding an awake smartphone in his right hand. This will turn out to be Robert Daniel Rodriguez. If he is recording the council meeting, that seems to be secondary to his recording other things around him. Shortly after he sits down, he aims the phone (as if taking a photo or recording a video) to his right. Later we will see that there is a person sitting two seats to Rodriguez'a right, but at this point in the video they are off screen. Then at 4:22:54 Rodriguez appears to aim his phone's camera over the shoulder of Bald Man (who is just in front of and to the left of Rodriguez) as if trying to record whatever documents Bald Man has on his lap. This is probably technically legal, but it is damn rude as he is getting right into the man's personal space.

At 4:32:59 Jones is introducing the next item and pauses as she leafs through some papers. Gomez, without seeking recognition, says "I'm sorry. We're being entertained...there's discussion between your husband - to the chair - and the two women that are next to Mr. Metzler [the city manager, sitting at the dais]. That's very distracting." Jones thanked her for that, but then lectured her on seeking recognition from the chair before speaking. Gomez interrupted Jones saying "It's on video!" I've no idea what she meant by that. Jones then moves on with the meeting, not addressing the issue.

At 4:39:15 Rodriguez leaves his seat, heading toward the back of the room via the central aisle. At 4:39:44 he returns to the same seat. After getting seated, he takes up some papers in his left hand. This suggests that he went to the back of the room to get a copy of the agenda and was now looking at it, but all you can see is that it's papers. It's difficult to tell (the video resolution is only 720 and the ZOOM logo overlays the area where Rodriguez is seated) if he is reading the agenda or holding it up so that council members cannot see what little of his face remains visible.

At 4:40:44 Gomez stands up while the city manager is answering her question. She walks over to stand behind Jones and appears to be looking at something on the dais in front of whoever is to our right (the mayor's left) of Jones. Jones doesn't react to this and it appears to be irrelevant to our story, but it was strange. Gomez immediately returned to her seat.

At 4:42:55 Gomez rises from her seat again, but this time walks to our left, off the dais and off screen. A moment later we see her walk across the bottom of the screen to sit next to Rodriguez. At that point Jones interrupted to point out Gomez had left the dais without her permission. You can see Gomez gesturing, and Bald Man turned around briefly to glance, so it seems that Gomez and Rodriguez may be in conversation. I have never been in any California government meeting where a board member left the dais to talk privately to someone in the audience while the meeting was in full operation. After a minute or so, Gomez rises and walks to the left and off screen again. At 4:44:01 Gomez is back in her seat on the dais. A few moments later, as the mayor pro tem was asking a question, Gomez interrupts to ask Jones if she will recognize that she has returned to the dais. If you make it your mission to offend every member of the council, you will not make much progress toward any other goals.

At 4:45:35 the camera pulls back a bit so that now we can see the tops of the backs of the seats in the row where Rodriguez is seated. This allows us to see that someone is seated two seats to the right of Rodriguez. While the city manager was answering the mayor pro tem's question (which she had to repeat because of Gomez's earlier interruption) Gomez interrupted again. "Thank you for moving the camera. I appreciate that targeting. I'm watching." Jones began, "Member Gomez..." whereupon Gomez raised her voice so Jones could not be understood. Gomez: "No, I'm going to put it on the record. I see what you guys are doing." [Grashites live in a world where they are surrounded by conspiracies.] Gomez continued: "You, [some unintelligible name], and all of the [unclear] are driving that man back there." Gomez continued speaking and gesturing, but since she had raised her voice and gotten closer to the microphone, it was mostly garbled and I could make no sense of it. Then it seems Gomez's microphone was shut off. Jones asked the city manager to continue. Gomez continued to rant and either they turned her microphone back on or she yelled loud enough to be heard clearly on others microphones. "You guys are all on camera," Gomez shouted. At 4:47:42 Jones says that Gomez is not recognized, so it seems she must have been speaking again, but her microphone was turned off so we couldn't hear what she said. Gomez continued gesturing and then spoke loud enough to be heard saying "Nobody says anything to you. If I'm..." Here Jones spoke over Gomez, so Gomez's speech became unintelligible until she said "You have to be honest don't you. So correct yourself when you're talking [something in Spanish]". Jones was speaking at the same time. Jones denied speaking to someone. Gomez responded "I don't recognize you either, woman. Yes, I'm speaking to you." Jones said Gomez was "very much out of order." Gomez responded "You are out of order." Gomez continued to speak unintelligibly with a raised voice while Jones spoke. Jones repeated the Gomez had not been recognized. Gomez responded "You haven't been recognized." Jones asked Gomez to bring herself to order. Gomez responded "You shall bring yourself to order." Jones apologized to the city manager who had been trying to answer a question. Gomez said "There's no need to apologize for your behavior."

While discussing an agenda item on translation services, Jones made a motion. That's at 4:51:55. After getting a second, Jones recognized Gomez who offered a substitute motion. But she then she continued on with commentary on her substitute motion instead of waiting for a second. Jones stopped her saying "The motion, not commentary, just the motion." Gomez responded "Well, you do it all the time, so I'm following after your..." Jones interrupted her. There was no second, so Gomez's motion died.

While Jones was discussing her original motion, Gomez (without seeking recognition, of course) asked "So, can you modify your motion and say that?" Jones said she was not recognized. Jones explained that she was commenting on her pending motion. Gomez replied "Oh, you're commenting. Got it." At 4:53:57 Gomez interrupts Jones again starting to say "Which is easy when you..." but Jones spoke over her. Then Gomez interrupted again saying "I'd like to modify your motion to add exactly what you said, because you've brought a point that is not part of the motion." Jones said Gomez was not recognized. Gomez said "So then your a bunch of talk." After more discussion, Gomez again spoke without seeking recognition at 4:55:22 saying "There is no timeline, so whenever you guys want..." Jones interrupted her saying "Member Gomez has not been recognized and will suspend and bring herself to order." Gomez responded "You can suspend and bring yourself to order."

Gomez is actually recognized at 4:55:38. She began to read the staff recommendation from the agenda. Jones interrupted her, saying "We're talking about the pending motion." "Is this not the pending motion?" Gomez asks. She's been so caught up in her own childish theatrics she has failed to notice Jones made a motion that was different than staff's recommendation. But, you know, there's no need to actually know what's going on if you are a hero of the downtrodden. Jones explains that her motion was different than the recommendation. Gomez asked Jones to repeat her motion which she did.

Amidst that, at 4:55:59 we can see that Rodriguez swings his phone around to the right and extends his arm, apparently trying to photograph the man two seats to his right. That man waves him away, then pushes his hand. Rodriguez pushes his phone close to the guy again. The man seems to speak to someone off screen and then holds up his hand, seemingly trying to block the lens on Rodriguez's phone. Rodriguez is not discouraged.

Jones interrupts her discussion with Gomez saying "Mr Jones! The gentleman. There will be no communication in the...Mr. De Bortnowsky, does a member of the audience have a right to record another member of the audience?" Mr. De Bortnowsky, the city attorney, answered that "Right now that looks like they're disturbing the meeting and you could ask them to leave if they're going to be disruptive."

Jones says "The gentleman in the mask will cease at this moment or I'm going to ask you to leave." At about the same time Rodriguez reached over to the man on his right and appears to touch or nearly touch his chest. Gomez says "He's been recording." Jones says "My husband does not record." Ah! So now we learn that the man two seats to the right of Rodriguez is Mr. Jones, the First Gentleman of Victorville. We can see he has his phone out too. Later he slips it inside his pocket. Gomez says "I know. He's on my camera. Don't worry about...I HAVE HIM RECORDING. DON'T WORRY 'BOUT IT. Don't worry about it, I got it on my camera. Doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. I got it. Both of them are recording." Jones directs a deputy to look at Rodriguez's phone to "see if he's been recording." This whole back and forth does make it sound as if Victorville council members think recording their meetings is not permitted. The deputy appears on screen at 4:57:35. Gomez gets up from her seat and walks to our left, off screen. Jones calls a 5-minute recess. Video ceases and resumes at 4:59:54 where we see Rodriguez and three deputies now standing in the central aisle with Gomez between them. Jones tries to continue the meeting while this now much more obvious disruption is occurring right in front of the dais. Gomez has her phone out and appears to be photographing the deputies, as is Rodriguez. Then, as a vote is being taken, Rodriguez and Gomez appear to cooperate with the deputies and walk toward the back of the room and off screen.

Remaining items on the agenda were skipped and the council returned to a closed session that had begun before this open session. The subject was the employee evaluation of the city manager. Gomez was absent from the closed session. Jones adjourned the meeting solely by gaveling without saying a word. Is that valid?

BTW, if you're looking for the agenda, the link on the city's website doesn't work. This is a link that works. And this links to the agenda packet for this July 20, 2021 meeting. There is nothing written on the agenda nor in City Council Policy and Procedures Manual to suggest that recording of meetings is prohibited. The only mention in the manual is to specify that it must not disrupt the meeting.

Filed under California,Politics | permalink | July 22, 2021 at 02:02 PM

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