Santa Ana City Council Members Often No-Shows at Committee Meetings

A resident stands outside Santa Ana's City Council Chambers. (Photo by: Violeta Vaqueiro

The year was 2012, and the Santa Ana City Council’s newly ascendant majority was reveling in their so-called “Santa Ana Spring,” a breaking free of Mayor Miguel Pulido’s iron grip on the business of City Hall.

Among the hallmarks of this effort was the establishment of council committees on a range of issues — from public safety and neighborhood improvement to finance and technology. They were open to the public and lauded by council members as a concrete example of a more transparent city government.

“It’s basically returning government back to the people,” said Councilman David Benavides during his campaign for mayor that year.

Benavides ended up losing to Pulido in the November election. But he and the new council majority wrestled control of appointments to committees away from the mayor.

“It goes back to what we were talking about, decentralizing power bit by bit,” Councilman Sal Tinajero said in December 2012. It was Tinajero who coined the term Santa Ana Spring in reference to the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.

Fast-forward four years and the committee meetings heralded as signs of a more transparent era are mostly cancelled because council members don’t show up. Since the beginning of the year, 12 out of the 22 scheduled committee meetings have been cancelled, according to the city’s website.

This reality has been particularly galling to Chris Schmidt, a Santa Ana resident and active City Hall watcher. Early in the year, Schmidt learned the city was considering eliminating the police department’s animal service officers.

He didn’t like this idea and wanted to make his feelings known to council members. He was pleased when he saw it was on the agenda of the March 22 Public Safety and Neighborhood Improvement Committee. On the day of the meeting, Schmidt went down to City Hall only to find out that it had been cancelled.

So he waited until the committee’s next scheduled meeting on May 24. But that meeting was cancelled too, as was the following meeting, scheduled for July 26.

“I finally gave up,” Schmidt wrote in an email to Voice of OC. “The residents of Santa Ana should be given the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding public safety in their neighborhoods, but apparently our city council members don’t want to hear our concerns.”

Three of the seven council members – Tinajero, Roman Reyna, and Angelica Amezcua — didn’t return phone calls for comment. Pulido hung up on a reporter.

Council members who did comment were quick to acknowledge their absences at the meetings and, for the most part, blamed it on their busy schedules. Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who over the years has been the most active council member when it comes to serving on committees, said the missed meetings are among the downsides of a part-time council.

“Once upon a time I would be very critical of my colleagues for not stepping up,” said Martinez, who has backed off from serving on the committees since beginning her run for the 1st District county supervisor seat against incumbent Supervisor Andrew Do. “Now I realize I have no room to talk – they have families to feed.”

Martinez went on to say that a city as large and complex as Santa Ana should have a full-time council. “You get what you pay for,” she said.

Santa Ana council members are paid $8,100 per year, plus benefits, and do not get any extra stipends for serving on committees. The mayor receives $9,000 plus benefits. A measure that will go before voters on the November ballot calls for their pay to be bumped to $18,600, including for the mayor.

Benavides and Vincent Sarmiento echoed Martinez’s sentiments regarding the many commitments of council members, but weren’t as emphatic about the need for a full-time council.

They described the committee situation as somewhat temporary due to Martinez’s run for supervisor and Amezcua stepping down from her seat after just one term. As a result, committees that previously had three members are now down to two.

“When you have a committee of two if one person can’t show, then you have a committee of one and no meeting,” Benavides said.

Sarmiento wants the committees to continue, saying they allow for more public comment and give council members the opportunity to go more in-depth on issues than they can during regular council meetings. But going forward there needs to be wider involvement, he said, pointing to what he described as Martinez’s perhaps over-involvement in the past and Pulido’s lack of participation.

“We hope we can start including the mayor in these committees,” Sarmiento said. “It’s better to have seven [council members participating] than six.”

Please contact David Washburn directly at dwashburn@voiceofoc.org.

  • Citizens for Animal Shelter, O

    “Early in the year, Schmidt learned the city was considering eliminating the police department’s animal service officers.”
    1. Santa Ana has been #2 in most animals killed at the county animal shelter, second only to Anaheim which is #1.
    2. Unfortunately, it has not been unusual to see dogs running loose in Santa Ana. I have personally see it and called the S.A. Police. I recently received this msg from a resident: “I
    hate to say it but the people who own the dogs don’t care , the
    neighbors don’t care and the city police gave me total attitude like I
    was bothering them. I will try to bring some food there tomorrow and
    water I don’t know what to do, every
    street corner had a lose dog. I wear glasses and thought I saw the dog I
    was looking for but it ended up being two new dogs on the run. I tried
    to catch them but the dog was barking at me. I feel like u, better to be
    taken to the shelter instead of hit by a darn car or killed by some
    mean kids”
    3. I have personally contacted SA council member Michelle Martinez and Matt Stockton, OC Supervisor Andrew Do’s policy adviser (Santa Ana is in his District) requesting low cost spay/neuter assistance because it is one of the BEST ways to stop the stray animals and needless killing at the shelter. Neither have done so to date. I have also spoken with S.A. police officer Rose suggesting methods of educating the residents of S.A.
    4. For the last eight years a committee of 6 assistant city managers, which was supposedly representing ALL 18 cities which contracted with the county for animal services, met onsite at the county animal shelter..NO minutes are taken and the public is BANNED from attending. It was formerly called the FOAB committee and now is renamed the City Managers Association Animal Care Committee. Membership has now expanded and Robert Carroll represents Santa Ana at these meetings. David Belmer from Anaheim is the Chair of the Committee, but same management still remains at the county shelter.
    5. I have repeatedly requested attendance at these “secret” meeting for myself and other constiuents, but to date have been denied by the Board of Supervisors and the CEO, Frank Kim and county officials….and the same management remains in charge at the shelter which allowed it to detoriate to the condition which caused the negative Orange County Grand Jury and Performance audit reports.

    THER IS CONCURRENTLY NO TRANSPARENCY, which has caused repeated Public Requests from the constituents.

    .

  • Jasenn

    Fine them $500 for each missed meeting and then see how many don’t show up. This is a civic service they were elected to perform.

  • angie blas

    Measure PP allows to raise their salary from $200 to $1000 for every council member and Mayor for every meeting they attend.
    They are using Section code 36516 to establish their raise, however, if SantAna is divided by 6 Wards, the equation of population per every Ward is not over 250,000

  • LFOldTimer

    Someone should inform Michelle Martinez that many states have bare-boned part-time legislatures. Some examples are Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Montana and Utah. They do just fine. If they can do it so can Santa Ana.

    A full time council in Santa Ana would be just another way for politicians who have limited success on the outside to jump aboard the gravy train. It would be a huge mistake for the residents of Santa Ana to approve such a deal. They would regret it. It would be a 1500% pay raise for the council members and nothing more would get accomplished. In fact, they would have to dream up stuff to do that would only multiply the bureaucracy and add to the tax burden.

    Please, don’t listen to her.