By Ted AYALA
The discussion on how to fill the vacancy left by Rafi Manoukian’s election to the position of Glendale city treasurer was clouded by nagging questions over racist, Islamophobic and homophobic comments allegedly posted online by newly elected Glendale City Councilmember Zareh Sinanyan.
The allegations, which surfaced early last month, have dogged Sinanyan, alienating members of the community. Some took to the council dais on Tuesday night to express their concern over those remarks, casting doubt as to whether the elected official who possibly uttered such comments can impartially lead a community made up of various ethnic groups and creeds.
Glendale High School freshman Zehra Siddiqui, who read from the Koran at the mayor’s prayer breakfast last month, asked for people to treat each other with respect.
“If we don’t treat others with courtesy, we’re putting the world a step behind from where we should be,” she said.
“When I saw [Sinanyan’s alleged] comments, I was shocked that anybody would be saying these things, especially anybody with such an esteemed title [as that of councilmember],” she said. “The youth of Glendale should have people with such titles as role models. It’s important for these so-called role models to take responsibility for their actions – whether good or bad.”
“What was most appalling,” said Sarah Aujero, better known as the person that manages the Twitter account of Meatball the Bear, “was when [Sinanyan] was confronted multiple times and asked [if he wrote the comments], a rebuttal attack, instead, was made against those that publicized the news and against those on the city council who inquired about the revelations. A real answer was skirted entirely.”
She also echoed Sinanyan’s inauguration speech from the preceding night by saying it was time for him to bring “transparency and accountability” to the allegations.
Sam Manoukian, a Sinanyan supporter, countered the councilmember’s critics.
“To stand up here and take cheap shots at any of the councilmembers is unacceptable,” Manoukian said. “The community has already spoken.”
Sinayan, who looked tense throughout the comments made by the public, refused to acknowledge his detractors during the meeting.
City Attorney Mike Garcia detailed for council the options that stood before them in respect to filling the vacancy of the former Manoukian seat. According to Garcia, a special election could be consolidated with a forthcoming council election this November. His department recommended that it would be prudent for the council to appoint an interim holder of the seat until the special election could be arranged.
Garcia’s recommendation was to consolidate the special election with the June 2014 state election, which would save the city several hundreds of thousands of dollars in operational costs and in ballot materials. Elections in late summer, he explained, are traditionally sagged with low voter turnout, making an early summer election preferable.
Other options include directly calling a special election from between May 7 to May 28, with an election following in July into September.
“No matter what cheap election we do,” said Mayor Weaver, “we’re going to be spending approximately $350,000.”
“Under our charter,” said City Manager Scott Ochoa, “we’re going to have an interim election no matter what. If you were to appoint somebody who would have an interest in running [in a future election], that person would be running as an incumbent, thus making for an unlevel playing field.”
Mayor Weaver spoke in favor of a special election for June 2014 with former mayor Frank Quintero as the caretaker councilmember until a special election can be held.
“I know he’ll never ever run again,” he said. “He knows what we’re doing now. He can get us through the next budget cycle. To me, logically, it ought to be Frank Quintero. I spoke to him and he’s already agreed to do it.”
Councilmember Ara Najarian expanded on Weaver’s suggestion by offering a plan that would open up the seat to the five current former mayors of the city. He added that they would be “players” who would be ready “to get up to speed” with the crucial issues facing the city.
Najarian also mooted the name of former mayor Sheldon Baker, a suggestion which Weaver was firmly against.
“I’ll be voting for Mr. Quintero, thank you,” he said. “I don’t even know who told [Baker] about this or why he wants to do this.”
Council ultimately voted in favor of holding off on the decision until next week’s meeting.