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|New Law Firm Hired by the City of San Fernando Raises Concerns|
|Written by Diana Martinez, Editor|
|Thursday, 10 May 2012 01:21|
The City of San Fernando has hired a new law firm.
New City Attorney Maribel Medina, with the Los Angeles law firm Myers Nave, now represents the City of San Fernando and will now be overseeing city business and council meetings.
Monday's May 7, council meeting was the first meeting attended by Medina, but her first impression and legal advice already didn't sit well with residents.
As San Fernando resident Samuel Beltran comments turned to the collection of recall signatures, Medina jumped in, and interrupted him: "Mr. Mayor Pro Tem, the items have to be limited to subject matters within this council and political campaigns cannot be…."
Beltran responded, "Hold on, I've got the floor (repeating it three times)," and he was offered another minute to finish speaking.
Medina said, "The public comment has to be limited to subject matters within this council's jurisdiction. Issues relating to public campaigns are not appropriate in the council chambers during public comment."
Beltran questioned the attorney's position.
"Like I said before, what is this meeting for – to look at each other? Freedom of speech. Martin Luther King. 'Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we're free at last,'" Beltran said.
Medina did not return calls from the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol by press time.
Following a string of scandals involving council members Mario Hernandez, Maribel De La Torre and Brenda Esqueda, residents have packed council chambers asking them to resign.
Over the last six months, residents have pleaded with the council majority to step down to save the already financially strapped city the expense of a recall election. Shutting down residents from speaking freely added to raised eyebrows.
Mayor Esqueda didn't attend Monday's council meeting, indicating that her mother, who is seriously ill, wasn't doing well. However, it was noted that Esqueda's sister attended the meeting.
"Maybe she didn't get the memo," a skeptical resident noted.
The contract for the Police officers Association was on the agenda and members of the recall committee told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that they believed that Esqueda didn't want to recuse herself from the vote. Esqueda has yet to publicly admit her affair with San Fernando Police Sgt. Alvaro Castellon. Recusing herself would have been perceived as at last, a public admission.
Julian Ruelas, chair of the Recall Committee, said he didn't attend Monday's council meeting because he was out in the community collecting signatures for the recall petition. He said he and other committee members were very concerned by the Medina's action.
"We have some questions out to our attorney in regard to the new attorney restricting residents' comments," Ruelas said. "We are researching this matter and we believed that she overstepped her bounds. The public comment period is the only open forum for residents at council meetings, so we are consulting with our attorney about these concerns."
Councilmember Sylvia Ballin said she did not support hiring this firm. "This firm was the most expensive and the least experienced."
Ruelas, meanwhile, said the committee was concerned that seniors were approached and intimidated into signing a petition to remove their names from the recall petition. He said there were reports from residents that Mayor Esqueda and Castellon had approached people at a senior housing complex.
"We have received reports that concern us, no one should feel pressured. I heard from one resident who said that Mayor Esqueda falsely gave the impression that she was circulating our recall petition."
On Wednesday, May 9, the recall committee announced they have collected more than 2,250 signatures nearly a month before the deadline.
"We plan to continue circulating the petitions for additional signatures for at least the next several days as an overabundance of caution to make sure we have many more than the necessary number, and to allow San Fernando residents the opportunity to add their signatures to the list of residents demanding that the current council majority step aside and allow our community to restore integrity at City Hall," Ruelas said.
"The negative attention they have brought to our City will take years to repair, but the process must start now, and the Recall Election petitions are evidence of the community's preference for new leadership."
Ruelas acknowledged that the gathering of signatures is only "the first half of the effort."
The next step will be making sure that those who signed the petition will go to vote. He said the recall committee will also be vetting candidates.
City Clerk Elena Chavez said after she receives the petitions, she had 30 business days to verify the signatures. "Once it is confirmed we have a minimum of 2,079 valid signatures, those results are given to the council, it must come up with a (election) date."
She went on to say it would probably be sometime in July before "we know if there will be a recall election."
Ruelas anticipates the recall election would be held in the fall. The recall committee has set up a website at recallsanfernando.com.