The San Juan Capistrano City Council this week unanimously approved a new policy introduced by Councilman Mark Nielson that clarifies how the mayor can represent the city. However, before he voted yes, Mayor Londres Uso accused Nielson of playing politics.
In the past, the council had relied on pieces of municipal code that described the role of the Mayor under the city manager form of municipal government. The new policy is essentially a gathering of these pieces into one document.
Among other things, the new policy makes it clear that the mayor cannot represent the city in such things as meetings with developers without council authorization.
Nielsen said it was not intended to be a shot at the sitting mayor and that it was simply a clarification. “Part of what has caused some problems in the past is lack of clarity — lack of transparency,” Nielsen said.
Uso said he doesn’t buy that explanation. In a conversation before the meeting Tuesday, Uso told me that he suspected Nielsen introduced the policy to undermine his influence in the city. “I don’t really understand,” Uso said. “Other than if it was maybe a personal thing against me.”
Uso pointed out the irony of Nielsen introducing the policy under Uso’s term and said Nielsen violated the tenets of the new policy often when he served as mayor.
“Nielsen met regularly as the mayor with our attorney during the MTBE issues, and sometimes without staff,” Uso said, referring to issues regarding leaks of the fuel additive from Chevron gas stations.
Uso went on to say there has long been an unspoken policy that the mayor can do certain things that other council members can’t. But he wouldn’t clarify what the unspoken policy was.
“What’s the old saying?” Uso said from the dais, emphasizing his suspicions that Nielson was up to something. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean somebody isn’t after you.”
Uso said that the policy introduction had to be looked at under the circumstances of his appointment as mayor. A few months ago, Nielsen “desperately” wanted to be the mayor, Uso said.
Although Nielsen didn’t deny the MTBE meetings, he cut Uso short, saying the mayor was dangerously close to violating the Brown Act. Nielsen also said he took offense to Uso’s statement that he “desperately” wanted to be mayor.
“I really am offended that your putting false words in my mouth that you know are false words,” Nielsen said.
The rest of council liked the idea.
Councilman Sam Allevato said that he was glad to see something “in black and white” that clearly delineates the mayor’s role. He also sought to clarify that the mayor could meet with anyone on his own, so long as he made it clear he wasn’t representing the city.
“It doesn’t put you on any kind of choker,” Allevato said.
Councilman Tom Hribar complained about Uso’s conduct of the council. When Nielsen was mayor the council members had their fair share of the discussion, Hribar said. Under Uso, he said, the discussion goes from “council member to the mayor to council member to the mayor to council member to the mayor.”
Despite Uso’s suspicion about the timing of the policy’s introduction, he said he would support it and was glad to be done with it.
“I think that the council commented enough on this for everyone forever,” Uso said.
— ADAM ELMAHREK