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Cerritos City Council Violated Government Code By Voting to Move Election From 2024 to 2025

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April 13, 2023

By Brian Hews

Things got heated at last Monday night’s Cerritos City Council “special meeting” with Mayor Chuong Vo, Mayo pro tem Bruce Barrows, who was appointed and not elected, and Councilman Naresh Solanki, voting to move the city’s election date from April 2024 to March 2025.

The vote was 3-2, with Councilpersons Lynda Johnson and Frank Yokoyama voting not to move the election.

The three yes votes were cast despite the objections of Yokoyama and Johnson, ten angry public speakers and 12 additional complaints submitted via email to the city clerk; no speakers appeared, or any emails submitted in favor of the move, which will cost the city upwards of $100,000.

Resident Catherine Pascual started the public comment, “this is anti-democracy; when we are consolidated, there is better voter turnout, so we are trying to move to a lower turnout, you are suppressing the vote and it will cost our city extra money. Move to June 2024 or November 2024 we will get a better turnout.”

Resident Eugene Jacore [sp] said “I am mad, extremely mad.” Referring to Bruce Barrows, who was appointed, “where is it in the Charter that allows the City Council to include someone that was not elected? This is disgusting and is voter supression.”

Resident Al Reyes stated, “most of you think we work for you, but you work for us. If we are upset, we expect you to listen to everyone, not just your base. Your condescending attitude to extend the terms shows it is time for you to go; a word that sticks in my head is recall. You are up there to serve us; you have a fiduciary duty to us; you took an oath to uphold the law.”

“This is shameful and disgraceful,” stated long-time resident Alon Barlevy. What you are doing here tonight is shameful; Councilman Solanki you served five years, and now you are serving another five years? Barrows, you got to serve 47 months without an election, appointed for the whole term, we did not even do a special election, now you are extending it by 12 months? Fiscally prudent? To have an election not consolidated costs us more money; it will have lower participation; where is the prudence in that? This is shameful and disgraceful.”

Resident Mel Reyes talked about the confusion of Cerritos’ elections since 2015, “We had a March 2015 election, then an April 2017 election, then 2019 moved because of SB 415 to March 2020, then April 2022; now April 2024 will be moved to March 2025? That confuses the residents, and it has been happening since 2015.

“In 2015 and 2017, the top vote-getter got 3,500 votes; March 2020 consolidated elections, top vote getter received 6,300 votes, the voters got involved. In 2022 back down to 3,700, we see what you are doing; less voter turnout gives you a better chance to win, let democracy work, leave the election as it is now.”

Public comment was closed and City Clerk Vida Barone then stated that twelve letters were sent in by email, all objecting to the election move, not one speaker came to advocate the move, nor was a single letter sent in favoring the move.

Mayor Vo then asked for comment from the dais; Councilperson Johnson spoke first, “the report cited administrative timelines, VBM boxes, legal deadlines, and voter confusion of third-party materials as some of the reasons to move the election. Voter confusion is not a compelling reason to change; are we saying that Cerritos voters don’t know the difference between our election and the state’s? No residents have come to me calling for change, change will disenfranchise our voters. Whittier is in the same situation, they are not changing anything, no one in their city has complained. So you [Vo, Barrows, Solanki] are saying Whittier residents are smarter than Cerritos residents; Whittier is educating their residents, we should do the same.”

Councilmember Yokoyama was next up and did not hold back, “when this outrageous move was brought up, it came from a Barrows motion and a Solanki second in July 2022. Bruce [Barrows] wants me to stop saying it is political, this is political, the three of you [Barrows, Vo, and Solanki] are doing this for purely selfish political reasons.

“You want proof? Right out of the gate [City Clerk] Vida Barone was forced to make a statement not on the agenda report, that’s wrong; she said there are no legal conflicts to prevent Council from voting on this agenda item.

“But what about ethical or moral reasons?

Yokoyama continued, “I then asked City Attorney [Bill] Irkhe if there is any legal reason to move the date, he said the short answer was no. So there is no legal reason to move the election, we are moving it because those three [Barrows, Vo, and Solanki] want to move it.

“We moved the election in 2019 to 2020 because there was a legal requirement to move it; SB 415 compelled us to move it. When we moved from March 22 to April 22, Irkhe once again said we were legally required to move it.

“Today that is not the case, then why are we doing it? An earlier city clerk report said it cost $100,000 for a stand-alone election, when we consolidated, it cost much less, and there was nearly twice as many voters participating. But these three don’t care; they want to suppress the vote.

“We see this going on with Republicans across the country; they don’t care about the money; they want to suppress the vote and win. [Barrows, Vo and Solanki] are doing this to serve as the Republican majority for another year.

“When what you do only benefits you, that is the definition of selfishness. This is especially true with Barrows, who was appointed…. and now he is voting to give himself 11 more months when there is no legal requirement to move the election? Shameful. We do not have a right to extend our term.”

And Government Code 82030 justifies Yokoyama’s statement.

Under the Political Reform Act, “a public official has a disqualifying conflict of interest in a governmental decision (i.e., cannot vote on an agenda item) if it is foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial impact on his or her finances.”

If the public official’s finances are involved – for example, in the case of Vo Barrows, and Solanki voting to extend their terms eleven months nets each member at least $20,000 – then foreseeability is presumed; more than $500 is considered material.

There are exceptions to the disqualifying rule; but only one applies in the case of Barrows, Vo, and Solanki’s vote to move the election, and it is an exception that disqualifies them from voting to move the election.

Under 82030(b)(2), a financial impact is not material if the decision (moving the Cerritos election) would [only] “set or change the salary, per diem, or reimbursement for expenses received from a local government agency.

Basically, 82030(b)(2) exempts public salaries, per diems and reimbursement for expenses from a disqualifying event.

But no other taxpayer monies paid to public officials are exempt.

In the case of Barrows and Vo, monies not exempt under 82030(b)(2) is the city-provided health insurance for the two officials. The city pays for their health coverage; they do not buy their own and then receive reimbursement from the city.

That health coverage is explicitly foreseeable (in the case of Vo and Barrows voting to extend their terms), material (over $500), and is therefore not exempt under 82030(b)(2).

Consequently, Vo and Barrows’ vote to move the Cerritos election is in direct violation of 82030 and the Political Reform Act because they have a disqualifying conflict of interest in a governmental decision (moving the Cerritos election) that will have a foreseeable and material financial impact on their finances.

82030 continues, “To avoid actual bias or the appearance of possible improprieties, the public official is prohibited from participating in the decision.”

Therefore, Vo and Barrows cannot vote to move the election to 2025.

Emails into the city and elected officials went unanswered.

Below is an excerpt of the code, click on image to view larger document.