Santa Ana City Attorney Sonia Carvalho adjourned Tuesday’s city council meeting in the middle of public comment while people were still waiting — some for four hours — to address a half-empty dais.
The reason: Mayor Miguel Pulido and council members Michele Martinez, Vicente Sarmiento and David Benavides left early.
Carvalho advised the three remaining councilmembers, Sal Tinajero, Juan Villegas and Jose Solorio, to stay and hear the rest of the public speakers, although the meeting was forced to officially end at 9:01 p.m. because the council no longer had quorum. Before most of the council left, they had gone through all items on the agenda.
A quorum in Santa Ana is four members of the city council out of seven.
Assistant City Manager Jorge Garcia said in an email it was “not common” for council meetings to end because of a lack of council members.
“However, staff took all necessary steps once a lack of quorum was determined to exist,” Garcia said.
The forced adjournment stirred sighs from the audience in the council chambers.
“How dare you disappear when we come to tell you something. How can we possibly communicate with you if you’re all gone?” asked Santa Ana resident Billy Leigh during the unofficial public comment. “I had planned to say something, but I’m so disappointed in all of you.”
Councilwoman Michele Martinez said in an email she left the meeting due to a personal matter and informed Pulido about it after the council approved the last item on the agenda. Martinez did not announce this in public.
“I did not realize the rest of them left. When I departed, they had a quorum,” Martinez said.
Councilman David Benavides said in an email he was still recovering from a recent emergency appendectomy and “stayed as long as I physically could.”
“I was not feeling well,” Benavides wrote.
As of Wednesday evening, Pulido and Sarmiento did not respond to requests for comment.
Santa Ana resident Peter Katz, a frequent presence at the council meetings, said in a text message the forced adjournment “was discourteous, to say the least.”
“This has been a problem for a long time. Even when they are there, they often are distracted by their cell phone conversations or buried in the paperwork in front of them,” Katz said, adding that Santa Ana should forego its practice of hearing public comment at the end of meetings, typically at a late hour, because it reduces the number of speakers willing to stay.
Santa Ana resident Connie Hamilton said after the meeting it’s not unusual for council members to leave meetings early, though “tonight was pretty bad.”
“They’ve done this sort of thing for years. They did get better for a while, but I guess tonight was proof that nothing really changes,” Hamilton said. “They seem to have a disconnect with how they’re perceived.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @photherecord.