Jul 26, 2014
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Complaint Draws City into Flap Over Council Campaign Signage

A banner at a prominent construction site has caught the eye of a watchdog resident.

Complaint Draws City into Flap Over Council Campaign Signage

The leader of a citizen’s group whose members include City Council candidate Lou Melendez is calling on the city to review why campaign signs supporting Racquel Vasquez have been placed at a prominent redevelopment construction site.

City Manager Graham Mitchell says the issue is a free speech matter, not a city matter.

The complaint from Jack Moore asks the city to reprimand Vasquez, a Lemon Grove planning commissioner, and Citronica One developer Hitzke Development Corp.

In an Oct. 30 memo addressed to the Mayor, City Council members, and City of Lemon Grove, Moore writes:

The City Council should exercise its overview responsibility and reprimand the commissioner. If some remedial action is not taken it can be assumed that the City Council condones such influence peddling. Was campaign money involved?

The City Council should also give notice to the developer that this is unacceptable behavior, providing preference to certain candidates. The only motive would be future favoritism.

Mitchell said there is nothing illegal about the signage, and that Vasquez has not violated an ethics standard.

“I don’t think the City Council has the authority to do what Mr. Moore is asking them to do,” Mitchell said. “They can remove a planning commissioner for unethical behavior, but this doesn’t violate any city ethics codes or state ethics codes.”

Mitchell noted candidates and property owners have First Amendment rights to post campaign signs.

“Is it appropriate or not appropriate? That’s a personal call,” he said. “The city can’t judge whether it’s appropriate or not.”

[The full text of the e-mail can be read in the pdf attached in the media box.]

Moore, a longtime resident of Lemon Grove and rental property owner, formed a group in early 2011 that seeks to act as a local government oversight committee. Its initial plan was to review projects and programs related to street maintenance and repairs.

The group has offered wide-ranging criticisms of City Hall, and questions how the city manages its operations. In January, the self-formed committee sent a six-point questionnaire to Mayor Mary Sessom and City Council, with questions that ranged from pension funding and the role of the finance director to street maintenance and organizational charts.

At a City Council candidates forum Monday, Melendez referred to the group as an independent taxpayers committee.

Vasquez is one of six candidates running for two open City Council seats. The other candidates are incumbent George Gastil, who supports Vasquez, and Mark Gracyk, Matt Mendoza, Mike Richards, and Melendez.

Mitchell said the City Attorney will draft a formal memo about the matter, which will likely go to the City Council tomorrow.

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