[Mitch Note: Most of the time I sit down to write, I have no idea what is about to spurt out of my fingertips. I’m a lawyer in my day job and writing technical legal documents happens to be part of my daily life. In that regard, I am a professional writer, albeit of a very strict formula and format. For my columns, I get to just free stream my mind, and I challenge my fingertips to keep stride with my thoughts as I explore mental byways, cul-de-sacs and the occasional dead end.
And then, there is the work that just pops in, which I take no credit for other than to concede blatant plagiarism. And with that legal disclosure out of the way, may I present to you The Axis Of The High I.Q., a collective]
We are the Axis of the High I. Q. [Mitch Note: I think of “them” as frustrated government officials who have no first amendment rights to discuss their observations. Or maybe it was something I ate]
We have had several discussions with folks here in Simi Valley and the consensus is our local press coverage is somewhat lacking.
Local television coverage and the larger newspapers are based out of Los Angeles so it is rare to see a news item about Simi Valley unless it involves catching a murder suspect or a high-speed car chase that makes its way onto the 118. For all other stories of interest and coverage of local events we must rely on our own newspapers, the Ventura County Star and the Simi Valley Acorn. Unfortunately, the reporting is far from hard hitting.
For example, when reporting about this year’s annual State of the City address, the thrust of both papers’ articles was the University of Vermont’s research paper that found Simi Valley is the eighth-happiest city in the country… according to Twitter. Yep, this ‘fun little tidbit,” a survey from Vermont based on tweets of 140 characters or less, with gems like “Happy! Happy! Simi Valley! #YOLO” was the headline feature and a large part of the summation of the state of our city over the past year. We smell Pulitzer!
But the biggest issue with our local papers seems to be the inability to ask a good follow up question. Issues that seem confusing or contradictory within the same article could be easily clarified by asking some additional questions based on statements already received.
For example, the March 16, 2012 article in the Simi Valley Acorn “An accidental awakening” which was a nice neighbors piece on the life and career of then newly appointed Simi Valley Interim City Attorney Marge Baxter had an interesting accounting of Baxter’s reaction to being assigned to her new position.
“It came as a shock to her. “I got a call from the city manager’s office last week asking me to come in and I was told, much to my surprise, that the City Council wanted to know if I would be interested in fulfilling the interim position.””
The article also states that the last time an interim city attorney was needed, Baxter was chosen to fill in. So how does being selected again this time come as a shock or a surprise? There certainly seems to be an obvious follow up question here because without an explanation, it might appear that Baxter is simply grandstanding which we are sure was not the intended message.
But we can’t take just the Acorn to task over this because the VC Star has done the same thing. In their September 29, 2010 article “Lawyer Russell Takasugi accused in probate
documents of taking $500,000 from estate” that dealt with the accusations against Takasugi when he was working with the Law Offices of Huber &Takasugi, this was the reaction of then Simi Valley Mayoral Candidate Bob Huber to the news.
“Huber said Monday that he was “shocked” at the allegations and needed time to look
Sure seems like folks in Simi Valley are easily shocked because the article also states;
“Huber hired Takasugi as his law clerk 27 years ago. Takasugi began having ethical
problems with the state bar in 1996, records show. A total of five complaints have been
filed against him, several for failure to act competently. The most recent complaint
resulted in Takasugi being placed on a two-year probation that began in June 2009,
according to the bar. Huber said he was aware of the disciplinary problems but hoped Takasugi had learned his lesson.”
Once again, how does someone with that kind of past history with another person and recent knowledge of their wrong doings wind up being “shocked” at this news? There certainly seems to be an obvious follow up question here because without an explanation, it might appear that Huber is simply grandstanding which we are sure was not the intended message.
Just recently, we were reminded of perhaps the most glaring instance of the omission of any follow up questions and the need for them. At the most recent City Council Meeting during a discussion of the Parkside Villas Condominium Memorandum of Understanding, Mayor Huber accused Councilman Becerra of gotcha politics with the MOU issue just like Becerra’s other instance of gotcha politics months prior.
The previous instance was written about in an October 26, 2012 VC Star article “Simi mayor says councilman’s concerns about chamber calls are ‘sleazy’ politics.” Becerra raised concerns about telephone calls Huber made to the Chamber of Commerce that, as he put it, amounted to a government official using his official position “to try to influence a political decision by an organization that has a legally binding contract with the city. Just because the executive director dared to endorse somebody other than who the mayor wanted them to endorse.” Huber dismissed Becerra’s remarks as a “sleazy, totally false” political ploy intended to embarrass him two weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
Becerra was referring to calls made by Huber to the Chamber of Commerce after its CEO, Leigh Nixon, backed then council candidate Tim Shannon as a private citizen. Nixon said that a “frenzied” Huber called her to discuss the city’s $70,000 annual contract with the chamber to promote tourism and told her that “there were council members who were concerned” about the endorsement “and they had requested a hold on our city funds and will be investigating looking at revoking our contract.”
The Chamber’s Director of Operations, Michele Bennett also received a call from Mayor Huber and emailed Nixon that Huber told her “this was a serious situation because four council members had called the city manager and that our city contract check was on hold. … My head was spinning.”
The article also stated that Councilman Mike Judge “had requested that the check for the chamber be held up until the next City Council meeting so that we could sort out what all of this is about” and that Judge called to have the check held after some constituents expressed concerns to him after reading in the Simi Valley Acorn that Nixon had endorsed Shannon.
What was Huber’s reaction to the whole situation? Huber said that Nixon and Bennett misunderstood parts of his conversations with them. (A mistake if you will.) The mayor said he didn’t mention four council members to Nixon and Bennett. Instead, he said he told them he had heard four council candidates were considering boycotting the chamber’s Oct. 2 candidate forum because of Nixon’s support of Shannon. “It was a courtesy call to try to save the forum,” Huber said. All but one candidate appeared at the forum. Huber said he had “absolutely no” concerns that Nixon was supporting Shannon.
The check was held for 4 days and, according to Judge, was released when he called City Manager Laura Behjan on Oct. 1 and told her he was satisfied that there was nothing improper about it. (One day before the Chamber’s candidate forum.)
In general, people do not want to see problems without a recommended solution. So allow us to offer some of the obvious follow up questions that should have been asked here.
For Nixon and Bennett:
Was there any possibility that you could have mistaken what the Mayor was trying to tell you?
Was there anything about the Mayor’s tone that would lead you to believe that he was giving you a “courtesy call?”
Knowing that Judge put the Chamber’s check on hold, is there any doubt in your mind that the Mayor was threatening your funding?
For Mayor Huber:
Why do you think both Nixon and Bennett misunderstood what you were trying to tell them?
Why do you think that both Nixon and Bennett heard essentially the same thing in two different instances?
Did you speak to Judge about the situation with the Chamber?
Did you tell Judge to put the hold on the check?
Were you aware that Judge put the hold on the check?
Who were the four candidates and who told you they had concerns?
If you had been the one in Becerra’s shoes that heard that the Nixon and Bennett had felt another candidate was threatening the Chamber, would you remain silent to avoid gotcha politics?
Considering that you were heavily favored and the likelihood of loosing the election was slim to none, is it really possible that gotcha politics could come into play?
For Council Member Judge:
Are you in the habit of requesting holds on checks for entities that have city contracts because you receive complaints from the public?
Did you speak to Huber about the situation with the Chamber?
Did Huber tell you to hold the check?
Were you aware that Huber had called the Chamber?
But the easiest thing of all would have been to place a few quick calls to the other candidates to ask them two simple questions: Were you thinking of boycotting the Candidates Forum based on Leigh Nixon’s endorsement and, if so, did you relay that information to anyone? Based on those answers, you would have a pretty good idea of how this he said/she said really played out. [Mitch note: We now know from Candidate Randy Nemecek that former Council member Barbara Williamson called many of the candidates and encouraged them to boycott the Chamber Forum]
If a councilperson is using gotcha politics to wrongfully discredit another politician, we need to know that. If any of our elected officials are leveraging their position of power to try to influence anything, especially when it is an election and it is against an organization that brings money into our community by promoting tourism and business, we need to know that too. As the only resource of news for our city, we would hope that our local press would dig a little deeper to provide us with a more complete picture of events, especially when the issues are as import as these.
We are the Axis Of The High I.Q.
[Mitch Note: And with that, I’ve got to get ready for work. Have a great day Simi Valley!]