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Finite Disappointment, Infinite Hope

Dear Montebello Community,

On Wednesday, October 23, I was removed as mayor pro tem in a special meeting called 24 hours in advance by Mayor Kimberly Cobos-Cawthorne. The Mayor along with colleagues Councilmembers Angie Jimenez and Salvador Melendez voted in the majority, while Councilmember Scarlet Peralta and I voted in the minority. Councilmember Jimenez was voted mayor pro tem in a subsequent motion along the same 3-2 split.

Councilmember Peralta asked if the organizers of the meeting could explain why the reorganization was brought forward for consideration. After taking sole responsibility for calling the meeting, the Mayor said 1) I did not attend her state of the city address; 2) I talked to the news; and 3) the Montebello Golf Players Club held a protest at her state of the city address. She did not elaborate on how these reasons justified my removal. She cryptically added there was another matter she couldn’t state for legal reasons. Councilmember Melendez stated my social media posts were a danger to the public, and Councilmember Jimenez stated I went to her publicly advertised weekly Tuesday running group uninvited and I did not thank staff enough.

The majority’s rationale was almost entirely about limiting my freedom of speech, and I believe their aim was to remove my title in hopes of reducing my platform. One of my major commitments has been increasing access to city news and information. I have kept this promise through biweekly livestreams, making myself available for conversation at a significant number of events around Montebello, and answering questions of community concern on social media. I have been open about current affairs such as the results of the recent State audit, and asked hard questions in council meetings to help my colleagues make well-informed decisions. Even when a colleague accused me of asking too many questions, I have maintained we have not asked enough.

I could go into great detail defending myself from every comment that evening, but Montebello already understands this action was scandalous. Nothing in that meeting substantiated such a symbolically significant action. Over the last several days I have watched my community express their outrage and confusion over the vote. Residents ask why this was done just weeks before the annual reorganization and to a councilmember so engaged in the community, and elected officials from local jurisdictions have shared their disappointment that the drama of our region continues to draw negative attention. Instead of defending myself at length, I want to use the energy of the moment to uplift and inform my community.

It has been a great pleasure serving as your mayor pro tem. From the day I started until the day I was removed, I worked with the intent of collaborating with my colleagues on policy issues. I am proud that in my time as mayor pro tem I supported Mayor Cobos-Cawthorne’s initiatives to bring attention to the men and women of our armed forces, Mayor Pro Tem Jimenez’s initiatives to recognize and celebrate our LGBTQIA+ community, and Councilmember Melendez’s initiative to establish a regional coalition around issues in the Rio Hondo Channel. While mayor pro tem, council orals stopped violating the Brown Act and became tools to direct staff and implement policies such as Councilmember Peralta’s Hero Pay for grocery workers, and the contemplation of a standard Community Workforce Agreement so city projects would ensure a living wage and benefits with an emphasis on local hiring practices. I partnered with community-based organizations to further their causes, successfully advocated for increased funding to ensure food security during the COVID-19 pandemic, and continuously reached out into digital spaces to keep the public updated on major issues such as COVID-19 rules, the general plan, and districting. I stood for the rights of our employees to have a true comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding urging the city to include all existing provisions, and city staff officially adopted my process of filling commissioner and committee positions through a transparent application process. I am proudest of being an advocate for the right of my community to have their emailed comments read into the record, and against reductions in the right to speak, never settling for inappropriate or conflicting legislative provisions just because we had good intentions.

What has been the most heartbreaking to hear and read since the decision that night is the fear in our community’s comments: that Montebello politics is returning to its old monstrous self. I will reveal to you it never truly went away. What you see now on the surface bubbled up from discord below. Personality clashes and perceived slights have, at times, distracted colleagues from our purpose. It has been my constant aim to avoid participating in cycles of toxicity.

I reflect on a Native American tale. A tribe elder describes to his grandson people's internal battle fought between two wolves - good and evil. In answering his grandson which will win, he says “the one you feed.” We each play a role in the atmosphere of our city. Every action and response we make has an effect. We must think carefully about what that effect will be. Will it build and strengthen us, or tear us down? I encourage all of us to feed the good wolf with characteristics of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. We can project these values with our words and actions, both in-person and online.

Now is no time to stop and sulk over injuries of the past. There is important work to be done in the immediate future.

We are several weeks into moving from at-large elections to districts. I have been appalled at the lack of outreach and engagement to inform the community about this important action. On October 13, our first public hearing on the matter, only three comments spoke on the item. None of them addressed the actual purpose of the hearing - understanding and defining “communities of interest.” A community of interest can be a neighborhood, a network, or a group of people who have common interests that would benefit from being together when district lines are drawn. You will have one more chance to tell your city council how the lines we draw ensure your new district shares your interests. A second public hearing will be held at the time and location below. It is extremely important you make your voice heard. You may not have another chance until after the lines are drawn.

Montebello Senior Center

115 S. Taylor Ave.

Saturday, November 13 at 10 a.m.

In closing, I want to extend my gratitude to family, friends, and supporters for checking in on my well-being and sharing messages of encouragement. Through this experience I found my circle of support was greater than I knew. This experience also solidified that the community supports the way I have carried out my role in office, and that the views shared Wednesday are held by a very small minority. I look forward to continuing in my role as a councilmember for my hometown of Montebello.

Yours in service,

David N. Torres, Councilmember

City of Montebello

You can read coverage of the special meeting in the Whittier Daily News' article "Montebello removes its mayor pro tem."

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