Disparate Treatment of Council by Staff
Montebello City Hall has internal issues of disparate and unequal treatment by staff to council. Recent events resulted in Councilmember Scarlet Peralta proposing a policy to ensure all councilmembers receive the same information and opportunities. My colleagues voted unanimously to uphold this principle of equal treatment.
On December 8, the last council meeting of 2021, two examples of disparate and unequal treatment came to light:
1) City council, the city treasurer, and staff attended a national convention of retailers and developers in Las Vegas with the purpose of identifying and attracting business to Montebello. Councilmember Peralta and I noticed several missed opportunities on this trip. Colleagues from our neighboring cities attended business meetings arranged by staff and carried with them marketing materials containing their city's demographic and economic information for talking points. I noted to her that council’s direction to create a dedicated economic development division discussed at the 2021 strategic planning session could have assisted in scheduling meetings. Councilmember Peralta planned to speak on additional ways we could take better advantage of future opportunities at the following council meeting.
At the December 8 meeting, we found out our colleagues had in fact been invited to meetings and given materials. At the following council meeting, Councilmember Peralta and I discovered:
City staff invited three councilmembers and the city treasurer for rounds of meetings to attract businesses to Montebello. Councilmember Peralta received a text message so late in the day she was not able to accommodate the sudden notice. I was left in the dark never receiving notice or invitation. I was not even aware of the chance to represent our city in front of businesses and share my vision for shopping, dining, and development.
Staff also provided our colleagues marketing materials. At the council meeting we were stunned when, during her travel report, Mayor Pro Tem Jimenez produced a full-color fold-out brochure staff had prepared and given to her, the Mayor, and Councilmember Melendez. At the meeting, city staff did not explain why we did not receive the same materials that were given to everyone else.
This taxpayer-funded Las Vegas trip would have been more productive but for the fact we were not treated the same as the other three councilmembers. You can watch the discussion and realization of the above circumstances unfold at 03:43:00 to 03:59:00.
2) As early as 1975, Montebello has enjoyed a sister city relationship with Ensenada, Mexico. In November, dignitaries from Ensenada, including its mayor, came to Montebello to commemorate the transfer of four Montebello Bus Line buses to their local Rotary club. As this was a transfer of city resources, not personal property, it would have been appropriate that staff notify the council of the occasion. Councilmember Peralta and I were excluded from honoring their visit and commemorating the international collaboration. In defending the reason why we were excluded, Mayor Pro Tem Jimenez, offering her perspective on the issue, said “we are not friends.”
These are just two of the most recent clear-cut examples of disparate treatment that wastes taxpayer dollars and creates an environment contrary to professionalism. As your elected representative, I have had to fight for the most basic dignities. For example, information requested of city staff such as 1) a monthly report of city finances, or 2) the reason why staff determined we would not engage translation services (particularly for COVID-19 and districting information) have either been vehemently denied or ignored. Councilmembers you elected to make decisions on your behalf are being cut off from basic (and sometimes legally required) information needed to make informed decisions.
The language of the proposed policy for equal treatment, the discussion by the City Council, and further input into decorum at council meetings can be found at 04:04:00 – 04:18:00.
At the December 8 meeting, city staff did not comment on why Councilmember Peralta and I were not afforded the same consideration for the marketing materials, nor a notification for the commemorative international transfer of public resources.
Now, city staff has provided comment by way of the writeup in this week’s agenda. Staff initiated, without receiving policy direction from the city council, a recommendation that "only" two council members attend the conference of national retailers. This recommendation is buried in the body of Agenda Item 11 instead of using the standard protocol of listing all recommendations for the council at the top of the item.
The actions of this administration are unprecedented. For the second time in the city’s 101-year history, staff (the body which runs day-to-day operations) has taken up the task of limiting the role of your city council (the policy-making body) which has been voted in by Montebello residents.
To be clear - the council, working together with staff, has paved a progressive way forward thanks to the confidence of Montebello residents in passing Measure H (resulting in an additional $7 million dollars per year in revenue), and the historic windfall of almost $17 million+ in COVID-related relief funds. However, this positive momentum does not mean we should look away from or gloss over conditions in need of improvement.
"It has sometimes been observed that what leaders do for their people today is government and politics; but what they do for the people of tomorrow, that is statesmanship." -Queen Elizabeth II
I am calling upon Mayor Cobos-Cawthorne and my colleagues to lead by example, and ensure that current and future city councilmembers continue to have the access and flexibility needed to carry out the vision of our community. Just over one month ago, by a roll call vote, Mayor Cobos-Cawthorne, Mayor Pro Tem Jimenez, and Councilmembers Melendez, Peralta, and I voted for a policy that supports the principle that all councilmembers be treated equally.
We must work to ensure all councilmembers have an active role in representing the city and developing a business-friendly atmosphere for the benefit of our community.