Letter: City Violates Spirit of Neutrality Law

The following guest view “letter” was offered to myself and the Mission Viejo Dispatch by Mission Viejo resident Brian Skalsky. As the Dispatch published it first I am going to cut and paste, and post it from their web site.

For those not following Measure D, the Right to Vote initiative-Ordinance in Mission Viejo, let me open by providing an email that I just sent to our city manager Dennis Wilberg and senior staff at the OC Register.

“Dennis. You are so close to Frank Ury that you have not considered your repeated requests.

Not once, in any of your recent emails, have you asked me to post the Measure D ballot text, nor the argument in favor of the Right to Vote Ordinance. Yet six times you have asked me to post the “Court Approved Ballot Argument.” The Coins in my pocket have two sides.

As to your comment about my post of “your opinion” let me remind you that the purpose of blogs is to create dialogue based on our opinions. Yes, at times, we break news stories but that is not our main function.

In this case we surely have scooped the Register who has yet to publish a single word of this court case and subsequent $40,000 legal tab which was discussed by the mayor on Monday evening. In fact the cost of these elections was pointed out by yourself as you discussed the budget amendment.

I guess the Register does not wish to rock the boat as they need your crumbs for future news reporting. Today’s OUR TOWNS mentions bleacher covers yet fails to comment on the budget adjustments which, as pointed out by you and the mayor, have been impacted by two special elections this year. I guess the Register does not feel the lawsuit being a story worthy of coverage while you plead with me to post it on the Juice blog. How many times have you asked the Register to post the Measure D text?

Perhaps you should read “Stanson Vs. Mott” and not simply accept Bill Curley’s spin. In your capacity as city manager you may have crossed the line exposing the city to yet another lawsuit by your City Newsletter, city blog and most recent TWT.”

I have just received a one word response from Dennis Wilberg. The word was “noted.”

From the Dispatch. www.missionviejodispatch.com

Letter: City Violates Spirit Of Neutrality Law

by MissionViejoDispatch.com on April 7, 2010
On Friday April 2, the city sent out an e-newsletter to its list serve which included: a notice about the upcoming bunny days, a section on cultural arts programs in the city, and several other things, one of which had to do with the recent court ruling on Measure D. It stated, “The city is pleased to report” on a recent court ruling and only provided an argument against Measure D. The city did not even attempt to provide a neutral argument and allow residents to decide for themselves how they should vote on Measure D. The residents of Mission Viejo are smart enough to figure out how they will vote on their own. The vast majority of residents are active in their community, vote regularly, and do not need to be told how to vote from a city newsletter.

If the city is going to send information out about upcoming Ballot Measures, as a purveyor of information that is not allowed to take sides on election issues, they must present both sides of the argument or none at all. The city is walking a fine line with the April 2 newsletter, especially when compared to the spirit of California Gov. Code 54964.

California Gov. Code 54964 states the following:

(a) An officer, employee, or consultant of a local agency may not expend or authorize the expenditure of any of the funds of the local agency to support or oppose the approval or rejection of a ballot measure, or the election or defeat of a candidate, by the voters.
(Click here to view t0 the rest of the Gov. Code 54964.)

A plain reading of the April 2 newsletter clearly shows the city only presented one side of the argument. The city took the time to write the newsletter and publicly distribute the information. Anyone reading this newsletter can read between the lines and see the city is supporting a particular view on a ballot measure, regardless of what side of Measure D you may fall on. Whether you support of oppose Measure D, it was not proper for the city to provide only one view on a ballot measure in this newsletter. The city provided Mr. Ury’s ballot statement and then a single link to the registrar of voters for any additional information on the subject. As a resident and City Commissioner, I expect the city to either present both sides of the argument or simply provide a link to the registrar of voters, so that residents may form their own conclusions.

Lastly, I was involved with a coalition of people to prevent the development of the Casta Del Sol Golf Course. This coalition was comprised of the Home Owners Associations that surrounded the golf course as well as other concerned residents. At the time in 2008, the development of the golf course was a very real concern.

Mr. Ury’s ballot statement is misleading. Yes, parts of the golf course are situated on a flood plain, however Sunrise, the group wanting to develop the golf course, was not looking to develop the area in the flood plain. They were looking to develop the significant portion of land that is not a part of the flood plain. That is an undeniable fact that is not addressed in Mr. Ury’s ballot statement. For more information on the Casta Del Sol Golf Course issue, as it was presented in 2008, you can view the website I developed with the advice and consent of the coalition that wanted to save the golf course from high density development. The bottom-line is that even though the city’s newsletter is not a violation of the law, because the city did not overtly say they were advocating for a particular result, it is clearly a violation of the spirit of what the law was intended to prevent. The law was intended to prevent local governments from using taxpayer money to support or oppose ballot measures, particular candidates, etc. It was improper for the City of Mission Viejo to publish the information about Measure D in the manner it did with the April 2 city newsletter because the city took sides on a ballot measure.

 Brian Skalsky


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