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Peter Morales, 35, brandished a pocket knife during the Orange City Council meeting and was arrested Tuesday night during a heated public discussion on how to fill a council vacancy.
The Council has until Feb. 9 to decide whether it will appoint someone to the seat which was left vacant with two years left on its term by former Councilman Mark Murphy, who was elected Mayor Nov. 6. The council’s alternative is to let voters fill the vacancy in a special election.
A special election is estimated by city staff to cost up to $450,000.
During the public hearing, Morales came out against one of the former Council candidates, Beatriz “Betty” Valencia, for the possible appointment.
“(Valencia) is not the ear, the mouth, or the symbol that she claims to be of the Hispanic community … I will not see it on this Council,” said Morales to the Council.
In a video uploaded to YouTube, Morales finished his remarks by calling the person filming him a “loser” before walking to the back of the chambers. When the person filming followed him, Morales brandished a knife while looking at the camera and opened the blade.
People in the chambers could be heard shouting “He has a knife!” before Morales disappeared from view, followed by a police officer. Murphy then tried to calm the audience, a majority of which had stood up, while all the council members remained seated.
“He spits hate and vitriol and has a knife. How is that not concerning?” one person shouted at the Council.
“These are the people that support you,” shouted another.
“If you’d have a seat, I believe it’s taken care of,” Murphy replied from the dais.
Orange Police Sgt. Phil McMullin said Morales was released from county jail Tuesday night with a weapon citation.
In a phone interview, Valencia wouldn’t directly comment on Morales, but said although she’s not “homegrown,” being a Mexican-American immigrant, “I got here as fast as I could.”
Many of the roughly 140 people at the meeting showed support for Valencia — who would have been the historically-conservative council’s first gay and Latina member — as the logical choice for the appointment because she came in third in the “at-large” election for two council seats behind incumbent Kimberlee Nichols, who was reelected, and Chip Monaco, who replaced the termed-out Fred Whitaker. Valencia carried nearly 11,000 votes, according to the county Registrar of Voters.
None of the council members during discussion indicated whether they were for or against a special election or appointment. The Council also hasn’t indicated who, if anyone, they might be considering for an appointment.
“I’ve heard a lot of misinformation, it’s almost amusing,” Murphy said before opening it up to public comment. “I just want to be clear to anyone thinking we’re going to appoint somebody tonight, none of that’s going to happen tonight.”
The city faced this same situation in 2000 when Murphy left his Council seat vacant when elected mayor that year. The Council was then faced with a decision between an appointment and a special election.
When some members of the Council indicated they wouldn’t appoint Carolyn Cavecche, who like Valencia came in third in that year’s citywide election for two Council seats, then-Councilman Dan Slater said at a Dec. 12 meeting that anything less than appointing Cavecche would be considered “a backroom deal.”
The Council ultimately left it to voters in 2001, and Cavecche won in the special election.
When asked whether or not Valencia would consider legal action if the city decided to appoint someone and it wasn’t her:
“I haven’t thought as far as that,” she said. “I have faith that the City Council will do the just thing.”
Voice of OC staff reporter Spencer Custodio contributed to this story.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.