“The Administration has decided to say let's do damage control and not give anyone an opportunity to expose more,” Councilman Mel Rapozo said. “That's what it is. It's clear and plain.”
The Council was scheduled to question Mike about about his plans for TVR enforcement — a presentation Mike cut short two weeks ago when he dashed off to catch a plane.
Instead, the Council got County Attorney Al Castillo, who said he had advised Mike to skip the session. If Mike did attend, Al said, he might need to invoke the Fifth Amendment.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura hotly contested whether Mike could refuse to answer any questions, even those that didn't deal with a possible Council investigation into TVR abuses.
Mel said he had never before seen a department head fail to show up. “That to me is disrespectful, to say I'm not coming to talk about anything.”
Chairman Jay Furfaro advised Al to confer again with Mike. But though the agenda item was postponed for a few hours, Mike came.
Instead, the Council got Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung, who pressed for an executive session (ES) to “explain the legal complexities of the TVR law” before the Council engaged in open discussion on enforcement.
Mel was dubious. “The appearance is like we're kind of hiding something.”
Ian said that anything discussed in public could be used against the county, which is currently being sued for denying one TVR permit on ag land, and holding contested case hearings on other denials. “We have to formulate a valid position before we engage in open discussion so we have a strategy for litigation,” Ian said.
Councilman Gary Hooser noted that litigation was always going on. Typically, the County Attorney typically sits next to whomever is being questioned and interjects if things start to stray. “Why can't we do it that way?” Gary asked.
To which Ian replied: “I want you to understand there are concerns here and I would rather do that in private.
Ian said it was important for the Council to be aware of the all the legal issues “before engaging in open dialog and criticism of the planning director and criticism of the Administration for not going after TVRs. Because we are. We're enforcing to the point of pending applications, getting through that batch before we move on. Things move in steps.”
Mel said the day's events “make it clear the 3.17 (Council investigation) is needed. This problem is bigger than I think we all even imagined. It bothers me tremendously that this body would be disrespected.”
“It's sad we can't talk to our planning director about a front-burner issue in the community,” Gary said. “It seems something big is out of whack in this county. We should ask the mayor to come forward and take responsibility and brief us in the future.”
JoAnn also expressed disappointment at how things had unfolded. “I'm very bothered by the way the Administration has been responding. It's both disrespectful and not very artful and not very diplomatic.”
Mel said the Council had merely wanted to ask Mike, “What's your plan? When's it going to happen?” Instead, Mike "went running to the county attorney" and the discussion was moved to a closed session. “And in the meantime, the public gets left out.”