Thursday, May 13, 2010 |Members of a loose coalition of limited government activists in Mission Viejo are fed up with what they consider the betrayals by a slate of city council members they helped get elected almost a decade ago.
The group, formerly known as the Committee for Integrity in Government, used “feet in the street” efforts in 2002 to help elect Mayor Trish Kelley, Councilman John Paul Ledesma, and former Mayor Lance MacLean, according to Brad Morton, one of the group’s founding members.
As candidates, the three council members promised to radically reduce government spending. But once they gained power, Morton claims, the troika became part of what group members consider the big government problem.
For their part, the council members say they have stayed true to the ideals that they ran on and that Morton and other members of the group are continually overstepping their bounds.
Morton and others claim that they have been betrayed by each of the council members in one way or another. In the case of MacLean, who sponsored a drive to double council member salaries and secure lifetime healthcare benefits, the efforts to spend were egregious enough for the group to organize a recall election last November that removed him from office.
Also, MacLean and Kelley voted for Measure K, which would have raised the occupancy tax. Ledesma angered several group members by voting for a $600,000 Audi dealership subsidy in 2003. Kelley reversed her vote on opening up the consent calendar to public comments, which she said led to abuse by the group’s members.
The group officially disbanded in 2005, but in 2009 members came together to elect Councilwoman Cathy Schlicht. And this year they are the driving force behind the “Right to Vote” initiative, a measure on the June ballot that if passed will strip the council’s ultimate authority over some land use zoning changes.
Morton said the ballot initiative is an example of group members having learned their lesson about trusting candidates, something they vow not to do again.
The council members say they have nothing to be sorry for.
Kelley, for whom group member Larry Gilbert was volunteer campaign manager, says she remains fiscally conservative and that the group’s members are obsessed with micromanaging the city council. She said the group thinks it gets to “govern by proxy” if it gets someone elected.
“I really don’t understand how a group could put that expectation on a council member,” Kelley said. “We helped elect you and now we want to control you.”
Kelley says the group had enough of her when she refused to fire members of city staff on a “hit list” put together by group member and former council member candidate Dale Tyler. According to Kelley, the list included the former city manager, the deputy city manager, the chief of police and the director of the library.
But Tyler says Kelley made a personal promise to him to “take care of the city manager problem.” The then city manager, Dan Joseph, angered group members when he purchased a $6,000 desk for himself using city funds.
Tyler said they never wanted a detailed level of control, just the end results that the council members promised as candidates.
“If you promise that you’re going to reduce the size of government, and you don’t reduce government, and in repeated conversations you promise to solve the problem and you don’t do it…these are high level promises, not minutia,” Tyler said.
Councilman Frank Ury agreed with Kelley’s assessment of the group, adding that the group is against everything “good” for the city and just wants to save, save, save – a policy he called “an intellectual zero.”
“They’re kind of like financial hoarders,” Ury said.
Group members counter that they are willing to see city dollars spent, but just on the right things. Morton said he has a list of 150 cracked streets in need of repair, which in some cases is so severe water seeps into the dirt below the asphalt. He attributes the disrepair to an elongated maintenance cycle, which at one time was five years but has since been reduced to seven.
The group dissolved in 2005 over disagreement regarding Ury’s candidacy. Schlicht, the only council member who remains in good standing with the group, supported Ury, while other members balked. The support would eventually come to haunt Schlicht, as she and Ury quickly became bitter opponents at the dais.
“I thought he (Frank) was going to be transparent, a mover and a shaker,” Schlicht said. “It was my biggest mistake as a watchdog.”
Though the group hasn’t officially reformed, Morton says members will fight on for a cause that harkens back to the city’s founding because – as a built out planned community – Mission Viejo can’t afford any more “luxury” spending.