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Downey Councilman Ashton Alleges Brown Act Violations

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Sean Ashton

By Tammye McDuff

Rick Rodriquez and Blanca Pacheco were installed this past Wednesday into office at Downey’s regular council meeting. Alex Saab was also re-elected and sworn in as a continuing councilman.

Then the fireworks started, and ended with District 2 Councilman Sean Ashton alleging Brown Act violations.

The meeting was also scheduled to appoint a Mayor and Mayor pro tem for the coming year. As the Council has done in the past, there is a set rotation of council members, giving each person a turn as Mayor pro tem and as Mayor. The rotation has been questioned in the past when certain Council member’s ethics have been an issue.

The most recent of these was a couple of years back when former Mayor and Councilman Mario Guerra questioned the ability of then Councilman Luis Marquez. However, at the time, Council Roger Brossmer reminded council that there was a set protocol and that it should be observed.

But something different happened during this meeting.

Alex Saab served as Mayor for 2017 and Fernando Vasquez served at Mayor pro tem. The normal rotation would go to Fernando Vasquez as Mayor and Councilman Sean Ashton as Mayor pro tem.

But Ashton was snubbed by the council.

While the majority of the audience was in the lobby of City Hall having refreshments, council reconvened their meeting. City Manager Gilbert Livas began the discussion, “On this particular item there is no staff report, other than to conduct this item at Council’s discretion in terms of the annual rotation of the Mayor and Mayor pro tem positions.”

Saab responded by asking the Council if there were any nominations for Mayor, there were no suggestions or motions made for nominations. Likewise there was no discussion for Mayor pro tem.

Saab then commented there was no procedure stating that a certain rotation must be followed so Saab nominated himself as Mayor pro tem. The nomination was quickly seconded by newcomer Rick Rodriquez.

Before the final vote for Saab’s nomination, Ashton asked, “Isn’t there a certain protocol that discusses a Councilmember not being able to serve as Mayor or Mayor pro tem in their first term?” This question was asked because Saab had been re-elected to City Council, technically making him a new council member.

The City Attorney commented that there was no mandated agreement in the City Charter describing the rotation. Ashton then nominated himself as Mayor pro tem. There was no discussion and no second to Ashton’s nomination. The motion was approved nominating Alex Saab as Mayor pro tem with Ashton abstaining.

Later, Ashton posted a long statement on his Facebook page questioning the Mayor and Mayor pro tem process and alleging Brown Act open meeting violations.

“Good evening everyone. I have been thinking about what happened at last night’s city council meeting. First off; when I decided to run for city council two years ago, it was with the intention of wanting to help our great city. I was not interested in titles. I just wanted to improve our city. For the past two years, I have represented the city in an exemplary fashion. ”

Ashton went on, “So when the agenda item for the appointment of the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem came up on last nights meeting, I assumed that the policy that was adopted in May of 2008 and readopted in May of 2014 would be followed. When it came to appointing a Mayor Pro Tem, there was nothing said by any of the council members including myself. Then the Mayor nominated himself for Mayor Pro Tem and it was quickly seconded. This is when I decided to ask about the policy again, and now I was told by both the Mayor and the City Attorney that the policy was a “guideline”. That is when I asked to nominate myself for the Mayor Pro Tem. This is the time where I expected to hear some sort of explanation as to why they believed that I was not “ready” to serve as Mayor Pro Tem. However, to my surprise, there was silence. Then the original motion that the Mayor proposed was quickly voted on and passed 4-0-1. I felt that I had to abstain from this vote because of multiple violations of the Brown Act.”

“The Brown Act, simply put, is a set of rules that all public meetings must adhere to. Two Brown Act violations occurred in last night’s meeting. The first violation was when other council members had a meeting before they decided to vote. This meeting was an illegal closed meeting that violated the Brown Act. The second violation was when the Mayor did not allow for public comment on this item (or for the appointment of the Mayor as well). ”

“It is with a sad heart, but a heavy resolve that I decided to file with the City of Downey a letter of notification of a Brown Act violation. The City of Downey has 30 days to respond to my letter. If they do not respond or do not agree with my letter, then I will file a complaint with the District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles. In effect, I will be suing the City of Downey if the Brown Act violations are not addressed. I am prepared to spend my own money to fight this; not because I like to take people to court, but I am an elected official for the City of Downey and I must do this to protect the rights of the people of the city. If the city can do this to me, what is stopping them from doing other things that we don’t want like giving contracts to businesses that belong to family members, doing away with term limits for elected officials, or just giving themselves a raise. If you would like to view the video for yourself, please go to downeyca.org click on the city government tab, then click on the city clerk tab, then on the city council and planning commission videos tab and view the video for the 12/13/16 council meeting. The part of this meeting that this happened is toward the last 10 minutes of the video.”

“In closing, I am disappointed by the actions of my council colleagues; not because I wasn’t appointed as the Mayor Pro Tem, but because the of the illegal way they went about doing it. Especially when the Mayor just last night talked about how our government needs to be “transparent”. ”

Hews Media contacted former Mayor and Councilman Mario Guerra for comment. Guerra said, “It was a great night for the democratic process. People voted for who they thought and what they thought would be best for the city of Downey. Even the new council saw that Ashton is unfit to be mayor and they did the right thing. Mr. Ashton hadn’t even thought to ask one councilman to make a motion making him mayor pro tem. He then made it itself and it died for a lack of a second.”

Guerra went on, “Contrary to popular belief you really have to earn being mayor. It’s not automatic, both legally and morally. It should be merit based, on engagement, vision, representation. Being mayor is not just ribbon cutting or honorary. It is setting the tone, the agenda, and the leadership of our city.”

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