Commentary: Be Straight With Us and Don't Play Games

And politicians wonder why we don't always trust or appreciate them.

Hey, I'm all for the people's right to choose and I respect our obligation to abide by those elected by majority rule. The people in political office should be supported by the populace. But c'mon, elected officials, you gotta work with us.

We can't support you if we can't understand what the heck you're saying. Most of us are not a fan of grandstanding from behind the dais. State your position, briefly and clearly, and move on. Tell the truth, don't contradict yourself, and be efficient in the way you help other politicians do business.

Wednesday night's Menifee City Council meeting was another example of how convoluted arguments and wasted breath fuel the flames of negative public opinion about those who are elected to serve.

First, we have to back up a couple months, to the city council meeting of May 21. At the end of the evening, when suggestions for future agenda items were being considered, Deputy Mayor Wallace Edgerton (above) asked for a future agenda item be brought forth on the subject of minimum lot sizes in Menifee. The motion was seconded by council member Tom Fuhrman. According to the minutes of that meeting, "It was agreed the item would be added in July or August and to return as a discussion item only, with no staff report."

Fast forward to the city council meeting of Aug. 6, when the item was placed on the agenda by staff as directed. As listed on that agenda, the item was to be a "discussion of minimum lot sizes for the city -- deputy mayor request for discussion only."

It was no surprise that Edgerton would want to discuss minimum lot sizes. With support from fellow council member Greg August (left), Edgerton was successful in getting developers from Brookfield Homes to adjust the plot plan for the newest planned phase of Audie Murphy Ranch, allowing for more lots of 5,000 square feet or more. Edgerton has been outspoken in his concern about high-density housing in the city.

What was surprising was the fact that Edgerton came to the Aug. 6 meeting prepared from the get-go to not only discuss minimum lot sizes, but to make a motion to establish a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet for future developments in the city. Not 5,000, not 10,000, but 15,000. After taking several minutes to read a four-page prepared statement, Edgerton turned a discussion item into an action item by making a motion to place for a vote on the next meeting agenda the following proposals:

-- All future housing developments must have a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet.

-- A moratorium on any further development of apartments shall take effect immediately.

Gaining the support of August and Fuhrman, Edgerton managed to get the proposal placed on the Aug. 20 agenda -- with Mayor Scott Mann and council member John Denver voting no, protesting both the idea and claiming that an item listed "for discussion only" was unfairly accelerated. There was also a heated discussion about an email Edgerton sent out to selected individuals days before the meeting, urging them to come speak in support of his planned motion. You can read about that here.

City staff did as directed, placing on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting two items:

-- Discussion and consideration of apartment structure uses in the city -- adoption of urgency ordinance No. 2014-157U imposing a 45-day moratorium.

-- Discussion and consideration of lot size minimum in the city -- adoption of urgency ordinance No. 2014-156U, imposing a 45-day moratorium on applications for residential lot sizes smaller than 15,000 square feet and 1 acre in rural residential.

Seeing that on the agenda, several people in attendance lined up to speak during the public comments section on that item. Understandably, some represented developers and the building industry (right) as well as apartment associations. But before they had a chance to argue against the proposals, Edgerton asked once again to make a comment.

That comment, stated in the form of a motion, went on for 17 minutes. It was read from another prepared statement, this one eight pages long. Try reading that motion back before calling the question, madam clerk.

Basically, the motion was a rambling diatribe of the city's recently adopted general plan -- a document required by the state and for which Edgerton voted approval. In his statement, Edgerton said an additional study should be conducted to determine whether the regulations on land development in the general plan would sufficiently protect property values of residents "10 years down the road."

In proposing this alternative to the items stated on the agenda, Edgerton said, "I was surprised to see two moratoriums on the agenda. My previous motion did not request moratoriums. That was staff's decision in presenting the items."

A ploy to make himself look like the good guy, the peacemaker? Perhaps. At any rate, his statement wasn't true. The previous motion did indeed request moratoriums on minimum lot size and apartments in the city. In fact, the title of the four-page statement Edgerton read the night of Aug. 6 -- a copy of which he provided to Menifee 24/7 -- was titled "Moratoriums on apartments and establish a minimum lot size."

Confused yet? There's more.

In Wednesday night's record-setting speech/motion, Edgerton (left, with mayor Scott Mann in a previous meeting) said the additional study was needed because the city's general plan -- five years in the making -- was approved under pressure as the state deadline for approval was approaching.

"The original Menifee administration and city council lacked both sufficient academic training and hands-on experience to lead a new city," Edgerton said in his comments before finalizing the motion. "While one council person did have experience, the political dynamic was such that the elected official who was informally in charge had some administrative experience but no academic achievements beyond high school."

The council person with experience? Edgerton. A veteran of 17 years on the Long Beach City Council before coming to Menifee, the 80-year-old Edgerton served on Menifee's first city council. In fact, he was appointed the city's first mayor by virtue of receiving the most votes (the mayor's seat is now an at-large position).

So who is Edgerton criticizing -- everyone but himself? And why take pot shots at an unnamed elected official for an apparent lack of experience?

Seconds later, his voice rising for dramatic effect, Edgerton said the following:

"It was perhaps this lack of experience on the city council's part that led to the hiring of a city manager who had also never been a city manager."

Wait minute. Whose fault is that, really? Here's some information from the May 20, 2009 Menifee 24/7 news article covering one of the early city council meetings:

The Menifee City Council voted Tuesday to appoint George Wentz as the City's first permanent City Manager. Mr. Wentz has served as Menifee's interim City Manager since the City's incorporation in 2008.

Mayor Wallace Edgerton said the City of Menifee is pleased to have a City Manager of such caliber.

"We are fortunate to be able to retain the services of an experienced Manager such as Mr. Wentz who already has served the community and Council well," Mayor Edgerton said. "We look forward to his stellar management and service to the people of Menifee in the years to come as our new City grows."


It sure doesn't sound like Edgerton was against the hiring of Wentz. In fact, he was among the group who negotiated Wentz's contract, then joined the vote approving him.

Moreover, who's the city manager now? Rob Johnson, who had never served previously as a city manager either. Edgerton voted to approve his hiring -- as well as bring in as consultant a former city manager, Shawn Nelson, to be paid $126,000 on a limited contract to serve as mentor to Johnson.

As it turned out, it appears Johnson needed no mentor. He has performed well in his duties. As for Edgerton ... well, you'll excuse me if I'm just a bit confused.

Just give it to us straight, Wally. We don't need 17-minute speeches and statements that contradict one another. The voters don't need theatrics to help them make up their mind on issues. Neither do the other council members.

My hope is that in the future, our politicians will say what they mean -- briefly -- and explain the real reasons why.

Bottom line: With the moratoriums off the table, the council voted unanimously in asking staff to solicit proposals for the format and cost of a study on the effects of Menifee's housing element on the long-term tax base. If the study suggests that amendments be made to a general plan that was approved just eight months ago, those changes would be considered at a later date.

Sorry this commentary ran so long. I hope it didn't take you 17 minutes to read it. But as Edgerton would say, I needed to make a comment.




4 Comments:

  1. Thanks for this article, Doug. I think it's really important to get the word out about what goes on at these meetings and to keep folks accountable to what they say. I look forward to reading more pieces like this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Maybe we don't trust politicians because they will do anything they want, not what their constituents ask/vote for them to do. I was always told you could take the most honest person and put them in office, they would be so dishonest the church would eject them from their parish. I have seen it done many times over, they will do what the person/business that pays them the most wants.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The comments of JD Dare are posted here today only because it is the only way we have of replying. The reason JD Dare's previous comments weren't posted is because this person doesn't use a complete Google name with full first and last name, as required by our policy.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The city records council meetings and posts them on the city's website. Those of you that don't have time to attend the meetings in person may watch these videos at your convenience, they are very informative. Thank you Menifee 24/7, for a great job reporting on this issue.

    ReplyDelete

Loading