Town Council Election Forum Shows Questionable Application of Bylaws

By Justin HAGER

 

With elections less than a month away, the Crescenta Valley Town Council hosted a forum Thursday night for candidates to share their perspectives on various community topics. The Town Council, a private, non-governmental organization, serves as an advisory body to local government officials such as County Supervisor Kathleen Barger and the Los Angeles County Land Use Commission.

Governed by its own internal bylaws, the CVTC elections drew controversy prior to the forum due to the disqualification of current Town Council alternate Johnny Brookbank. Brookbank was formally censured by the Council earlier this year for allegedly violating the organization’s bylaws. Under those bylaws, the censure disqualified him from candidacy for the next two election cycles. However, the invocation of the bylaws to both censure and disqualify an otherwise active member of the organization was controversial given that only five of the 10 eligible councilmembers voted to disqualify Brookbank (Councilmembers Brookbank and Yu were disqualified from voting due to the conflict of interest in being candidates themselves and three other councilmembers were not present at the time of the vote).

Only two months ago, at the September public meeting, a majority of the council declined to follow specific provisions of the bylaws related to financial decisions for council events, such as elections. Council Vice President Aram Ordubegian stated that the election process was not bound by the specifics of the bylaws in an emergency situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The video of his statements and the subsequent discussions about the elections process, candidate filing fees and candidate residency requirements have never been posted on the Council website, which is the Town Council’s established practice. When asked about the absence of the video at the October meeting, members of the Council explained that a technical problem caused the recording to be lost.

Brookbank’s disqualification was prompted by emails from the community whose sources were redacted. In the same meeting in which Ordubegian made the statements about the inapplicability of the bylaws and the Council declined to follow the bylaws with regard to the elections budget process, the decision was made to censure Brookbank, and the Council declined to remove Councilmember Sophal Ear from his seat after he took a job in Phoenix, relocated himself and his family to Arizona, and publicly posted about the move on social media.

Council bylaws require councilmembers must live within the unincorporated portion of Los Angeles County-La Crescenta/Montrose. The same bylaw that the majority of the Council declined to invoke in determining the status of Councilmember Ear was invoked last week to eliminate candidate Michele Serna from candidacy after it was determined that she lived outside of the defined boundaries.

Unfortunately for the Council, Serna’s candidacy had not determined to be ineligible until after the candidate forum. As such, Serna was among six candidates who participated. A seventh candidate, Paul Barnes, was unable to join the forum.

Moderated by Grant Michals of the Crescenta Valley Community Association, the forum itself was largely uneventful and focused primarily on development concerns within the community. Candidates largely agreed that, while some growth is essential to the continued prosperity of the community, policies such as the soon-to-be-enacted SB 9 and SB 10 are bad for the community.

“I know we want to stay as a small home town feel but do need to grow, so we need to do it carefully,” said Dede Mueller, a 57-year resident with extensive ties to several local schools and Verdugo Hills Council of the Boy Scouts. “There has to be a way to sit down with the county and say, ‘We’re not doing this,’” she added, in reference to SB 9 and SB 10.

Teri “Maddie” Madsen, a music-production executive and 18-year resident, echoed Mueller’s sentiment.

“Communities need to grow. They need to bring more resources in to support businesses,” she said. “It would be great if we could set aside land for conservation and set aside land for growth.”

Frida Baghdassarian, who has multigenerational ties to the community, said, “The reason my parents settled here is because of the open air, the open space and the small-town feel … if we wanted to live in a community with high rises everywhere, we would have moved to downtown LA.”

Standout moments belong to Mueller and Ted Yu, both of whom have been actively involved in the Town Council during the previous term. Yu is the only candidate on the ballot who currently serves as an alternate (Brookbank is pursuing a write-in candidacy but will not appear on the ballot). The two candidates were the only people able to give a specific and substantive answer to a question about the proposed Eagle Canyon trail project. The question prompted the most earnest response of the evening from Madsen who said, “I’m going to be completely honest, I’m not familiar with the project.”

Madsen’s honesty carried her through the night with the most memorable quote of the evening: “I didn’t even know there was a town council for La Crescenta until last year.”

Town Council elections will take place on Saturday, Dec. 11 at St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church, 2563 Foothill Blvd. (at the corner of Rosemont Avenue) in La Crescenta. Registered voters who live in the unincorporated portions of Los Angeles County-La Crescenta/Montrose.