John Perry, a retired assistant superintendent and former board member of the CTA, has been appointed to take Roy Byrnes' place at the dais. Photo: Allison Jarrell
John Perry, a retired assistant superintendent and former board member of the CTA, has been appointed to take Roy Byrnes’ place at the dais. Photo: Allison Jarrell

By Allison Jarrell

Just weeks after Councilman Roy Byrnes announced his retirement, the San Juan Capistrano City Council appointed resident John Perry to fill his seat at the council’s Feb. 10 meeting by a 3-1 vote, with Councilman Sam Allevato dissenting.

Mayor Derek Reeve, Mayor Pro-tem Pam Patterson and Councilwoman Kerry Ferguson ultimately agreed on Perry because of his background in finance and budgets, and his similar thinking when it comes to dealing with one of the city’s recurring issues—water.

Prior to being appointed, Perry, a 24-year resident of San Juan, worked as an assistant superintendent, overseeing the finances, maintenance and operations of La Habra Elementary, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified and Orange Unified School District.

In 2010, he helped start the Capistrano Taxpayers Association after the City Council adopted a new water rate scheduled that he viewed as illegal. Perry said after his letters to the city were repeatedly ignored, the group reluctantly filed suit.

“It was something that needed to be corrected,” Perry said.

Perry has since resigned from the CTA board, leaving the group last year because he said he felt his work was done. But some residents at Tuesday’s council meeting, including Councilman Sam Allevato, saw the transition from the CTA to the dais as “calculated.”

In addition, several residents who spoke during public comment wondered how ethical it was for the City Council to elect someone involved with lawsuits against the town.

“We can’t afford you Mr. Perry,” Allevato said in reference to Perry’s involvement with the CTA. “Stop suing the constituents you want to represent.”

But Perry says he isn’t an active member of the suit and has no financial interest in those matters.

“I won’t receive any direct benefit, other than maybe to get my water rates adjusted,” Perry said.

Criteria for the Ideal Candidate

At the City Council’s Jan. 20 meeting, former mayor Roy Byrnes announced his intent to retire from the dais, saying that he had accomplished what he had originally set out to do. Following that announcement, the decision was made at the council’s Feb. 3 meeting to expedite the replacement process by appointing a resident to fill the vacancy on Feb. 10.

Following a brief application process, the council was given a week to make the decision. Ten applicants sought the position: Steve Behmerwold, Troy Bourne, William Bunker, Evan Chaffee, Danny Glasgow, Larry Kramer, David Swerdlin, John Taylor, Rob Williams and Perry.

After each of the 10 spoke about their background and priorities at the Tuesday meeting, the council discussed their criteria for selecting a candidate. Reeve made it clear that his goals included selecting someone with experience in water, finance and who shared similar views with Byrnes.

Perry said his goals while on the council—his seat expires in 2016—are to focus on financial management, working on the city’s budget and, not surprisingly, carefully examining the city’s water options.

“Since 2004 I have diligently studied water,” Perry said. “Our water rates are higher than surrounding cities. My passion is going to be to find a solution to the water problem, as far as can be done. What I’ve learned about water concerns me greatly. It’s a never-ending struggle to develop water resources and meet the needs of an expanding community with a finite water source.”

A Democratic Process?

The majority of public comments and letters sent to the city were in favor of appointing former Councilman Larry Kramer, as Kramer was the fourth highest vote-getter in the November 2014 election. However, Mayor Derek Reeve said that just because Kramer was the next highest vote-getter, doesn’t mean he was necessarily the next most popular choice among voters. Reeve also noted that with more than 900 votes between Kramer and Councilwoman Kerry Ferguson, the election was a “blood bath” and a clear move by the community to choose candidates from a different political faction.

With 2,788 votes in the November election, Kramer lost reelection by 902 votes to councilmember Kerry Ferguson. Allevato argued that the democratic thing to do would be to appoint Kramer.

“The fact of the matter is he came in fourth, 3.7 percent less than third,” Allevato said.

But Reeve countered that “you should not have an automatic appointment just because you finished fourth.”

“It appears that the three of you are selecting a person of like mindedness, and the overall input of the community is being ignored,” Allevato said before dissenting.

Reeve acknowledged that he did in fact receive many emails and letters in favor of appointing Kramer, but Ferguson noted that there are many other people in the community who didn’t send letters voicing support for Kramer.

Looking Ahead

For those wondering what kind of council member Perry will be, he doesn’t intend on giving up his status as a full-time watchdog. Perry describes himself as a passionate activist, and being accused of being a bomb-thrower hasn’t swayed him from fighting for what he believes in.

Most recently, Perry was involved with the referendums against the Spieker and the Urban Village development, both of which were overturned. Perry said he was against the scope of the projects. Rather, he said he’s interested in “sensible development” that improves the quality of life in San Juan.

But Perry views his new role on the council as a time to listen to both sides of each issue, while continuing his goal of giving back to the community. He said he tries to be fair, and always does his research.

“Winston Churchill reportedly said, ‘It takes courage to stand up and speak out. But it takes more courage to sit down and listen.’ It’s my time to listen,” Perry said. “I’ve spoken out, I’ve done everything I can do, and now it’s my time to give back.”

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