Cypress city council members censured their colleague, Councilwoman Frances Marquez, this week for allegedly violating the state’s public records act, a couple of city policies and codes, as well as for disclosing closed session information.
The council voted 4-1 at their meeting Monday night to formally reprimand Marquez, who was the dissenting vote despite push back from some residents.
Mayor Paulo Morales, who agendized the censure, said at the meeting that Marquez had put the city in an “untenable” position and that her censure is an action that has been unprecedented in “Cypress’ 66 year history.”
“The ongoing malfeasance of Councilmember Marquez and her failure to meet the minimum professional standards of civility in her elected role betray the sacred oath of office that each one of us takes when we embark into public service,” Morales said.
On Monday night, she pushed back against the censure and shared her experience being on the council.
“The work environment as a council member has been hostile, especially over the past seven months. It began when I went to human resources on January 17 to discuss being bullied and harassed,” Marquez said.
Marquez has most recently come under fire from colleagues on the dais for allegedly not turning over all her records as part of a public records request.
[Read: Cypress Moves to Censure Dissenting Council Member While Facing Transparency Lawsuit]
Morales claimed Marquez has still not fully fulfilled the records requests and has opened up the city to litigation, although Marquez holds that she has submitted all requested information.
“I’ve had three requests in the past two months,” Marquez said. “Everything has been submitted. There’s no basis for censure, no prejudice for the city, no lawsuit, no non-compliance.”
Marquez, who was elected in 2020, added that the city never trained her on California’s Public Records Act and how to properly respond to records requests.
At the same time, the council’s own actions of voting behind closed doors in March to reject a letter demanding the city switch to district elections has already landed the city in a lawsuit for allegedly violating the state’s open government meeting law, the Brown Act.
Marquez was the dissenting vote in the closed door session and has publicly accused the council of not wanting to switch their election system because they’re worried they’ll possibly be put in the same district and have to run against each other.
The lawsuit spurred the public records request Marquez has been accused of failing to corroborate with.
[Read: Cypress Officials Face Lawsuit For Allegedly Violating State’s Open Meeting Law]
It is also expected to spark a costly legal battle that other cities have lost to the Southwest Voter Education Project – represented by Malibu based attorney Kevin Shenkman, who sent the demand letter claiming their current election system violates state law.
[Read: Could Two of OC’s Smaller Cities Buck California’s Trend Toward District Elections?]
This is not the first time the council has tried to censure Marquez, who is often the dissenting voice on the council.
On Feb. 14, the council decided not to take action on a discussion item regarding placing a resolution on a future meeting agenda to censure Marquez for allegedly disclosing closed session information.
But on Monday, the city council ended up censuring Marquez for allegedly not responding to public records requests, disclosing closed session information, violating the city’s civility, conduct and governance policy, violating the city’s code of conduct and the city charter.
Click here to view the censure resolution.
Morales claimed Marquez has been harassing city staff and creating a hostile work environment, while she claims the exact opposite.
He also claimed that Marquez has repeatedly made unsubstantiated allegations against the City Manager Peter Grant, the city council and city staff of “illegal and immoral conduct.”
Marquez said that she has been ordered to conduct business solely through Grant, not allowed to communicate with city staff and that staff has been ordered not to brief her on meeting agenda items.
Although Morales said the city code allows the council to impose penalties on the censured member — like fines, revocation of privileges and removal from office for violating the city charter — the council did not implement any of those penalties toward Marquez.
“Folks, we are not asking for any of that. None. We’re simply asking for decorum,” Morales said.
Along with Morales, every other council member spoke in favor of Marquez’s censure at the meeting and council members said they encourage debate and questions, but there are rules that must be followed.
Councilman Jon Peat said the censure is not a political move but about how the council treats each other, the city staff and residents.
“Councilmember Marquez is not a victim of bullying, harassment or retaliation. Rather, she has been the instigator of such behavior towards each of us, our staff, the city clerk, the city attorney and the city manager,” Peat said.
Marquez said she went to human resources after a meeting where Peat yelled at her “at the top of his lungs.”
Residents came out or phoned in to Monday’s meeting to sound off on the censure – some of whom spoke against the censure of Marquez and defended the councilwoman.
“I’m laughing because this is what happens when you have somebody that challenges the status quo,” resident Katie Shapiro said at the meeting. “This proclamation reads like a high school group of bullies that are after the kid that’s succeeding. The language is so ridiculous that I think, ‘Are these adult people that are in charge of our city leadership?’”
Shapiro has also signed on to a second letter demanding the city council to move to district elections, claiming that the at-large election system disenfranchises Asian American voters and violates California’s Voting Rights Act.
Other residents spoke in favor of the censure, saying that Marquez blatantly violated California state law and city rules and her actions require consequences.
“When there is a request or order to follow protocol, you then hear cries of discrimination, or words like harassed, biased, disrespected, and bullied,” said Harumi, a Cypress resident, in favor of censure.
“Over the years, there have often been polite debates – sometimes heated debates – on this Cypress City Council. That’s okay, because we need to hear different views. What is not okay is chaos and threats when you don’t get your way.”
Other residents said that Marquez has been their only voice on the dais and that a censure is not the answer.
“I want Dr. Marquez to know that you are the best thing that’s ever happened to the city of Cypress,” Cypress resident Marilyn Reames said at the meeting, calling the censure “a political hit job.”
“She was voted on to the city council because she has a refreshing voice that people want to hear. They know that when she speaks, she speaks on behalf of them. There’s nobody in her pocket.”
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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