By Emily Rasmussen
A divided San Juan Capistrano City Council voted no to a resolution on Tuesday, May 1 that would have formally apologized to city staff on behalf of the Council after Councilmember Pam Patterson alleged that the staff “stole $600,000,” at a City Council meeting on July 18, 2017.
The $600,000 was revenue originally allocated toward street projects that came from a landfill agreement on April 19, 2016 with the county on imported waste. However, due to unanticipated expenditure increases—namely law enforcement contract increases, decreased sales tax and delayed development fees—city staff proposed via a budget amendment to address the $1.2 million funding gap for the fiscal year 2017-18, Assistant City Manager Jacob Green said.
“Those adjustments include, among other things, retaining the estimated $600,000 in landfill revenue in the general fund rather than allocating it to street projects,” Green said.
The proposal, which city staff brought to the City Council on June 20, 2017, was approved in a 4-1 vote with Patterson opposed. At the July 18 meeting, Patterson claimed that the $600,000 was stolen by city staff.
“Based on the current state of affairs with respect to our finances, this is just another cavalier decision with respect to the people’s hard-earned money,” Patterson said on July 18. “We just—staff—basically just stole $600,000 earmarked for paving our roads to prop up the general fund. Our roads are in horrific condition. The recommendation that staff made was absolutely not the cheapest recommendation nor the best.”
City Manager Ben Siegel replied that although City Councilmembers are entitled to their opinion, the remarks were offensive.
“To allege that staff is somehow mismanaging the city’s finances and has an interest is frankly offensive and I don’t appreciate it,” Siegel said. “I don’t think it is good protocol and I don’t think it is good for the morale that I always hear is trying to be built and cultivated in this community.”
At the May 1 meeting, Mayor Sergio Farias said he brought forth the resolution to apologize to city staff on behalf the City Council because Patterson has had multiple opportunities to apologize for the accusation but has not; and that a San Juan Capistrano resident has repeatedly asked that the City Council issue an apology to the city’s staff.
Patterson said she would not apologize and would stand her ground. However, she did instead use the word “misappropriate,” throwing out her initial term of “stole.” She added that she felt the funds were misappropriated based on “misleading” information.
“I stand by what I said. I feel like that $600,000 has been misappropriated based on the representation that it can only be used on arterial streets and that turned out not to be true,” Patterson said. “So, I can speak for myself: I’m not apologizing for that statement.”
Councilmember Kerry Ferguson said that city staff did not steal or misappropriate funds because the City Council did vote to reallocate the $600,000.
“If you don’t like that we voted to do it, I don’t blame you that’s fine, you can do that,” Ferguson said. “But to sit here and say that our city manager made the decision is just not true.”
Councilmember Derek Reeve commended Siegel on his work as city manager and said the morning after the July 18 meeting that he called Siegel and apologized to him.
“I apologized for my conduct that I did not jump in and defend staff at that moment. I feel bad about that because–it’s not an excuse–but I told our city manager that I have become so conditioned for what I consider ridiculous comments from Councilmember Patterson.”
Councilmember Brian Maryott called the resolution a “waste of time.”
“If (a politician) says something inappropriate or out of line, if they feel the need to apologize, they apologize. Nobody can have the authority transferred to them,” Maryott said.
The City Council resolution failed 3-2, with Farias and Reeve in favor.