Cypress City Council members censured their colleague Frances Marquez – often the dissenting voice on the dais – for the second time since June.
At last Monday’s meeting, councilmembers voted 4-1 to censure Marquez for allegedly violating various sections of the city’s civility, conduct and governance code and accused her of campaigning at Cypress High School earlier this month. Marquez was the dissenting vote.
Mayor Paulo Morales, who requested the censure, said parents from the high school complained about Marquez’s actions and said one parent called it political indoctrination.
“This is not vengeful,” said Morales. “This is something that came as a result of a number of parents bringing this to my attention.”
Marquez, along with Cypress City Council candidate Helen Le and Troy Tanaka, a candidate for the Cypress School District, went to speak to students in early September.
Marquez said they went to speak to students about civic engagement and offer them a chance to volunteer for the candidates’ campaigns as community service, adding they didn’t campaign in the classroom. Marquez is not up for election this year.
“The purpose was not to campaign, nobody was campaigning,” she said in a Wednesday phone interview.
Le also said in a Friday phone interview that they weren’t campaigning to the high school seniors they spoke to and called the censure “ridiculous.”
“Campaigning to people who aren’t even of age? … the claim that it was a campaign event is preposterous,” she said. “This looks 100% politically motivated.”
But Marquez’s council colleagues see it differently.
“When you hand out a document of yours, that expresses who you are and what office you’re running for and your position,” Morales said at last week’s meeting. “That’s campaigning.”
Le said the flyers were intended to show students who the candidates were if they were interested in volunteering and that most of the students weren’t registered voters.
She also said Moralesnever spoke to either her or Marquez before the censure.
As part of the Censure, Marquez will be fined $100, her stipend will be suspended for three months and she’ll be removed from two regional boards and a city subcommittee.
She must also apologize to the Anaheim Union High School District within a week, according to the censure resolution.
Marquez said at Monday’s meeting she talked to students about growing up in Cypress, and city issues and had no intention of violating any rules.
“Young people need to know what is happening in their communities,” Marquez said.
Morales said Marquez was given guidelines by the principal as to what was acceptable and that the councilwoman, along with the two candidates running in the 2022 election, essentially campaigned to the students.
“The big problem here is the use of public resources for campaign purposes,” Morales said. “The school district sufficiently was troubled by what took place and as I stated they canceled Friday’s scheduled classes where they were supposed to go again.”
Other council members lambasted Marquez’s actions including Jon Peat, who is running for a seat on the Cypress School District board while his wife is running for a seat on the city council.
Peat called Marquez’s action “predatory behavior.”
“We have evidence that political material was handed out so any statement to the contrary that nothing was handed out is false,” he said.
The flyers were not attached to the staff report or agenda.
Marquez said she presented the pamphlets to the school principal beforehand.
“I did not violate any policy or guidance, because there was no guidance given to us,” she said.
John Bautista, a spokesperson for the school district, did not respond to questions.
The city council was also considering censuring Marquez for allegedly violating a section of the education code that her attorney says applies only to school employees, but met in closed session and withdrew that part of the resolution.
Dale Larson, an attorney representing Marquez, sent an email to City Attorney Fred Galante before the meeting that if the resolution moves forward it could result in a defamation lawsuit.
“It is difficult to imagine a more straightforward case of defamation and libel under California law,” he wrote. “Councilmember Marquez is prepared to file a defamation and slander action and seek damages against any individual who orally imputes or supports any allegations at tonight’s Council Meeting that she violated section 7054.”
The policies Marquez was accused of violating in the city’s civility code include: “being honest and truthful”, “not disparage or undermine a city council decision ”, and acting “in a manner that reflects the belief that Council Members, City staff and others who serve the City are on the same team.”
Read the civility code here.
David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition, said in a Friday interview that the councilwoman is entitled to speak her mind, especially if she doesn’t agree with an action taken by the city.
“That’s the whole point of being an elected official,” he said. “They actually imposed a financial penalty for that. That is a significant First Amendment problem, because you should not be financially penalized for having an opinion.”
Marquez was also censured in June for allegedly violating the state’s public records act, a couple of city policies and codes, as well as for disclosing closed session information.
Marquez and her council colleagues have often bumped heads on the dais, including on issues like district elections.
“Every time I stand up for the residents,” she said. “My colleagues attack me.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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