Oxnard Council: Debates Starr Voter Initiatives Language, Places on Ballot. In Dispute.

By George Miller

On Wednesday July 15, The Oxnard City Council was forced by a judge to place three of Aaron Starr’s Moving Oxnard Forward’s voter initiatives on the ballot. This they did at a special meeting on Friday, July 17, 2020. But, there were complications, in that initiative proponents believed the city’s revised ballot language to be prejudicial and not neutral. City officials quickly dismissed these objections and the council voted to put the initiatives on the ballot as is. Just about everyone agreed they should be on the ballot, but not on the wording.

Initiatives as they appeared on the agenda:

1. “Expansion Of Duties of Elected City Treasurer By Appointing the City Treasurer as Director of Finance and Giving the City Treasurer Additional Duties Pursuant to that New Role: Authority Over City’s Finance Department; Selection and Oversight of Internal Auditor; Establishment, Preparation and Submittal of Monthly Financial Reports; Establishment, Preparation and Submittal of Monthly Performance Measurements for City Departments; and Preparation and Submittal ofAnnual City Budget;”
2. “Early Termination of Measure O Sales Tax If Specific Pavement Standards For City Streets and Alleys Are Not Met; Extension Of Measure O Sales Tax For Additional Five Year Periods If Specific Pavement Standards Are Met;” and
3. “New Requirements Regarding The Way In Which City Council Meetings, Council Committees And Other City Legislative Bodies Are Run.

 

Language of proposed initiative summaries appearing in the agenda package was quite different from these and from the 1-15-20 proposed wording by the city. A comparison appears at the end of this article.

 

The Council made it difficult for the public to participate in the meeting:

  1. Chambers are closed to public, due to COVID-19 orders, so public can only be heard by making a reservation in advance to phone in their views.
  2. Meeting was held on only a one day notice on a Friday at 1 pm in the middle of the summer.
  3. No starting time was given for the public meeting- only that the closed meeting would begin at 1 pm and then the public meeting after that, whenever that is. So, people had to sit and wait to see when it ended so they could watch the public meeting and speak.

These voter initiatives were previously rejected by the council, possibly illegally as it turned out, when Ventura County Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh ruled that on Wednesday and ordered that they be placed on the ballot.

This meeting was to place the initiatives on the ballot. But, then the City erected still another hurdle. It turns out that they rewrote the summary descriptions originally done for January 15, in a way that the initiator and others believe is prejudicial.The Assistant City Attorney Rozell claimed that the consultant report caused them to re-evaluate the wording and that it is now fair, neutral and accurate. So, to him, the consultant, a former Assistant City Manager from hundreds of miles away, understood all this better than the entire Oxnard staff and Council. Maybe they should hire him.

No actions were reported from the closed session on City of Oxnard v. Aaron Starr, Ventura County Superior Court Case No. 56-2020-00539039-CU-MC-VTA .

Asst. City Atty. Ken Rozell presented:

On 1-17-20 city filed challenge to legitimacy of these three initiatives. He said Starr didn’t respond until June 10. The hearing finally took place on 7-15-20.  COVID crisis slowed things down. He selectively read a section of VC Superior Court Judge Walsh’s opinion, which said the briefing didn’t take place (Rozell blamed Starr for this) , then COVID shut down courts and time ran out for a pre-election decision. He implied that Walsh would have ruled on it if there had been time.

Starr’s wife later told Citizens Journal that she didn’t believe Walsh could have legally stopped it, given the nature and content of the initiatives. She described Rozelle’s account as “spin.”

Rozell recommended changes to Measure O sunset initiative, which they changed still again (illegible, hand marked up copy shown at the meeting [see below. It’s a little easier to read here.]). 

Hard-to-read screen shot from 7-17-20 Oxnard Council meeting video

Public Comments

Gabe Teran- If someone goes through election code law, it is incumbent on Council to do it. Confusion on ballot language. Voters: do your research. Mathematical impossibility to get to Pavement Index (road quality) without more funding.

Angel Garcia- Measures are gravely concerning. Unprecedented financial crisis due to COVID-19.

George Miller- “atrocious” handling of these initiatives. They must be put on the ballot or approved as is. They must be worded in a non-prejudicial way. You are breaking the law by not doing that. You have lied, litigated and stalled, with our money and our time.Public should hold you accountable.

Alicia Percell- Was before council on 1-15, You decided not to place on ballot. Initiative language was already written. Law said initiatives needed to be worded true, neutral, accurate. Former ones OK but not great. Resolutions don’t match what Mayor Flynn read. You are exposed legally. Wording is not true, not impartial, it is prejudicial. You changed streets language again. Omitted street repair. Measure O is not a special tax like you implied. Use the 1-15-20 initiative language. You spoke in platitudes about being open and transparent (but she implied they are not).

Phil Molina, City Treasurer- (Was physically present at the podium) Treasurer initiative is addressing transparency and City Treasurer, not reducing City Manager oversight or funding, but would  take over budgeting.  He read initiative, concluded that its proposed language is not objective, not professional, not appropriate.

Oxnard City Treasurer Phil Molina reads and comments favorably on the City Treasurer duties initiative at 7-17-20 special Council meeting,

 

Pat Brown- I agree with Angel Garcia. We don’t have the money right now. Impossible to get it done in time specified. Don’t want to. Don’t agree that Alicia Percell should be allowed to comment. Treasurer doesn’t need to be director of finance, even if he is qualified. Not appropriate.

Larry Barberini- Near the end of long-going, expensive litigation over ballot measures. The gist of the measures can be distorted by how they are described. I will vote on these. Wary of scare tactics on Measure O. It would be a while before it would be ended if City did not comply. The new language is akin to state AG ‘s prejudicial, unfair language- especially the Measure O one. Need fair, not one-sided, description.

Larry Stein- Measure O is a General Fund tax, not a special tax. Much is actually used for pensions. Was promoted to provide special services, but not done that way. It is a general fund measure. The council (committee) meetings on Tuesday afternoons are not convenient for the public, failure to hear questions, and inadequate time is unacceptable, not working.

Council Comments

Ramirez- we don’t have a lot of good options. Wear your masks, get back to normal. City is in a precarious position. Must understand what we are voting for. Read 1-15-20 report on impact of measures. I support. Don’t have good choices. Don’t be misled- not good measures.

MacDonald- Word limitation of initiative summary? Limited to 75 words, per Rozelle. Not convinced that these initiatives are good for city. Read the consultant reports. Judge Walsh says we have to put on ballot- I support.

Perello- Who creates language? Rozelle- different ways. Titles by City Atty. Done 4/19. Ballot questions- one draft in January. Council did not vote on them., We “revisited” questions and now have fair and accurate descriptions. Perello- I don’t believe these are prejudicial. Support action.

Madrigal- It should go to voters.

Lopez- Not agree with measures, but need to go on ballot. Be well-informed

Basua- These are the most reckless measures I have seen in my career. No choice- must put on ballot.

Flynn- Judge ordered placed on ballot, because he had insufficient time to rule on it. Agrees with other council members’ statements that public needs to be informed., We are giving it without any alterations (untrue). Proponents claim that City is trying to bamboozle the public with the language. Roze;le claims the consultant report led to a revision of understanding and language.  Says it is true and not prejudicial. Flynn- re: timing of meeting: ballot initiative says no meeting to be held before 5 pm.  Claims Congress, State, hold meetings in daytime. Friday 1pm, when council was available.

Vote- 7-0 approved unanimously.

Meeting adjourned.

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Reference: 1-15-20 City Council meeting:

Oxnard Attempts to Spike Starr Initiatives; Ponders Electrical Supply

Oxnard Attempts to Spike Starr Initiatives; Ponders Electrical Supply

By George Miller- A very contentious 1-15 -20 Oxnard Council special meeting featured mostly strong opposition to the Aaron Starr-led Moving Oxnard Forward voter initiatives. Open discussion was bracketed by before and after closed sessions to discuss and determine next steps on the Russ Branson consultant’s report on 3 of the 4  initiatives. The open […]

 

Reference: A comparison of 1-15-20 and 7-17-20 proposed city initiative summary language was done by Alicia Percell of Moving Oxnard Forward:

Keeping the Promise for Oxnard Streets BEFORE on January 15:
Shall an ordinance be adopted to require early termination of the Measure O half cent sales tax if specific pavement standards for city streets and alleys are not met and allow for the extension of the Measure O half cent sales tax for additional five year periods if specific pavement standards are met?
Keeping the Promise for Oxnard Streets AFTER on July 17:
Shall the initiative ordinance to mandate revisions to Measure O (adopted by Oxnard voters in 2008) to either end funding early for City services such as fire, emergency response, street paving/pothole repair, youth recreation, after school and anti-gang prevention programs, parks/open space preservation, senior services, and code compliance, or override the currently-approved expiration date, be adopted?
—————————————————————————————
Fiscal Transparency and Accountability  BEFORE on January 15:
Shall an ordinance be adopted to designate the elected City Treasurer the City’s Director of Finance and give the City Treasurer authority over the City’s Finance Department; selection and oversight of Internal Auditor; establishment, preparation and submittal of monthly financial reports and monthly performance measurements for City Departments; and preparation and submittal of the annual City budget?
Fiscal Transparency and Accountability AFTER on July 17:
Shall the initiative ordinance to increase the powers of the City Treasurer, prohibit the City Council from reducing the powers of the City Treasurer, reduce oversight authority of the City Manager and Director of Finance, mandate the City Treasurer’s assumption of professional responsibilities with authority over the City’s $523,000,000 Budget, $256,000,000 Investment Portfolio, Finance Department, preparation and submittal of the annual municipal budget, and professional financial operations of the City, be adopted?
—————————————————————————————
Open Meetings BEFORE on January 15:
Shall an ordinance be adopted to require meetings of City legislative bodies to use Robert’s Rules of Order, limit meeting start times, alter existing rules for public comment, and utilize prerecorded staff presentations?
Open Meetings AFTER on July 17:
Shall the initiative ordinance mandating all meetings of City legislative bodies to exclusively utilize prerecorded videotaped staff presentations, use Robert’s Rules of Order, purchase guidebooks and training from a professional Parliamentarian on meeting procedures, restrict meeting start times, and alter existing rules for public comment, be adopted?

 

 


George Miller is Publisher/Co-Founder of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard.

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One Response to Oxnard Council: Debates Starr Voter Initiatives Language, Places on Ballot. In Dispute.

  1. Eileen Tracy July 21, 2020 at 9:59 am

    Oxnard Council will JUST not give it a break! So DISHONEST! Aaron Starr is certainly more HONEST and THOROUGH than anyone I’ve ever known.
    I wonder why the Council doesn’t GET IT!!

    Reply

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