The Mission Viejo City Council early Tuesday denied Councilwoman Cathy Schlicht’s motion that she be reimbursed $70 for mileage and parking expenses she incurred when she went to court in a case she filed against the city.
Council debate on the issue dragged on until well after midnight, with council members hurling insults across the dais. At one point Schlicht and Mayor Trish Kelley shouted at each other, each accusing the other of being out of order.
Kelley, Councilman Frank Ury and their supporters called Schlicht’s lawsuit frivolous. “Nobody’s attacking you at all Cathy,” Ury said. “We just don’t care about what you think.”
Schlicht sued the city over its ballot argument against Measure D — dubbed the Right to Vote initiative — which will go before voters in the June primary election. If passed, the measure would require that zoning changes be put on the ballot, effectively taking zoning control out of the hands of city council.
In her lawsuit, Schlicht said that the ballot argument against the measure, authored by Ury, was misleading. Judge Luis Rodriguez granted removal of two sentences and one word from the argument. Both Schlicht and Ury claim victory.
Schlicht insisted that she be reimbursed the $70 in parking and mileage fees because she was at the court hearing in the interest of the public and as a council member. City Attorney William Curley, however, said that Schlicht filed the challenge as a private citizen and that attorneys he dispatched to the hearing could provide transcripts that would prove that to be the case.
“That is unambiguous, the whole transcript will support that,” Curley said.
Schlicht has never filed an expense report with the city in the past, citing ideological grounds. Her request for reimbursement was, by her own claim, political. She said she did it to show the failure of city staff to accept her challenge to the ballot argument and to “highlight the abuse” of council members charging the city for expenses.
“It was the city clerk who failed in her duties,” Schlicht said. “The city clerk didn’t see anything wrong, the city manager apparently didn’t see anything wrong, the city attorney didn’t see anything wrong.”
The abuses of the expense reporting Schlicht cited included nearly $3,500 that Kelley claimed for attendance of events like spelling bees and holiday Christmas parties. “Yes I’m a fiscal conservative, I’m trying to throw some light on what’s happening here,” Schlicht said.
She then went on to say the city attorney “has a dog in the fight” because he charged the city $40,000 for his firm’s services.
“If you people want to get upset, get upset at that,” Schlicht said to audience members in the chambers who had at times mocked her during the meeting. She said her legal fees were “way under $10,000 dollars.”
She also cited council policy, saying it stipulates that “public resources should only be used when there is a substantial benefit to the city.” She said the suit wound up being a substantial benefit to the city because it struck Ury’s “lies” and “fraudulent statements” from the ballot argument.
Curley said the court had not found that there were lies or fraudulent statements as Schlicht claims and that Schlicht was overestimating her victory.
“Three out of 29 isn’t one heck of a high batting average,” Curley said.
— ADAM ELMAHREK