Calabasas volunteers continue to gather signatures for two ballot initiatives authored by resident activist and HOA President, Jody Thomas.
Her Calabasas Right to Vote initiative was inspired by the successful efforts of Planning Commissioner Mic Farris when Thousand Oaks City Council appointed a replacement once again to fill a vacant Council seat rather than hold an election.
Likewise in Calabasas, City Council voted to appoint, rather than to call an election, to fill the seat vacated by Jonathon Wolfson. Wolfson still had a full 16 months to serve in his term when he officially announced on November 15, 2011 his intent to resign on December 15, 2011.
Not only did Calabasas City Council not call an election, they also had an opportunity to make a clean, justifiable, unbiased decision – a democratic appointment – backed by the votes of the city’s citizens. They chose to do neither; instead, they ignored the voters and used the opportunity for their own advantage.
So, what was the appointment process like? The applicants were interviewed live by Councilmembers and instructed to, “give us a pitch why you should be selected”. Other comments from the dais included references to American Idol and remarks like, “I am in awe of you”, stated indiscriminately. At times the process resembled a popularity contest with the appointers in judgment of character and desirability of the applicants. In other instances, questions were asked for example, by Councilmember Maurer, not to elicit information, but to embarrass or trip up the contestants. (See the link at the end of this article to watch for yourself).
So, who was awarded the prize?
Behaving more like a clique, three of the four Council members, Mary Sue Maurer, Fred Gaines and James Bozajian voted to appoint resident, David Shapiro.
- Did any of them know Mr. Shapiro personally? Yes, based on the comments they made.
- Did any of them have a professional or business relationship with Mr. Shapiro? Yes, most definitely.
- Was it disclosed? No, it was not disclosed by anyone – and that includes no disclosure by Mr. Shapiro.
Mr. Shapiro was Mr. Bozajian’s personal attorney. In actuality, a day before he was administered the oath of office and sworn in as the appointed Calabasas Councilmember, Mr. Shapiro filed (stamped Jan. 24, 2012 at 2:00 p.m.) a lawsuit on behalf of James Bozajian versus the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
In the, “COMPLAINT FOR DAMAGES, INJUNCTIVE RELIEF, AND DECLARATORY RELIEF – DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL” James Bozajian is the Plaintiff vs. District Attorney, Steve Cooley, individually and in his official capacity; Curtis Hazell, individually and in his official capacity, John Spillane, individually and in his official capacity; John Zajec, individually and in his official capacity; Jacquelyn Lacey [newly elected District Attorney], individually and in her official capacity, Janet Moore, individually and in her official capacity, Sharon Matsumoto, individually and in her official capacity”….
Read the lawsuit here: www.lvhf.org – Documents – Bozajian-Shapiro Lawsuit.
Because none of this was divulged, it can’t help but call into question (along with several other factors) the entire deliberation and appointment process. Was it just a kabuki dance? Was it back-room dealing; or, perhaps a political favor?
Why would Mr. Shapiro apply to be appointed when he was Mr. Bozajian’s attorney? Where is the integrity in not revealing that to the public?
Many Calabasas residents were stunned by the appointment of David Shapiro – not because anyone even knew anything about the lawsuit or relationships – but, because an election had been held only months earlier, and many residents took for granted the next highest vote getter Bob Sibilia would be appointed to the vacant council seat.
Mr. Sibilia had finished the race just 200 votes shy of Lucy Martin and Fred Gaines. He delivered votes from across the city in every single precinct/neighborhood, and in some cases even garnered more votes than the two top finishers. He was well known to residents and well vetted. His voice was the voice the residents elected as the third highest vote getter, making him the next-in-line and the obvious democratic choice.
In a further snub to the voters during the process, Councilmember Mary Sue Maurer asked Bob Sibilia, “do you think you’re entitled to this position because you came third in the election?” (Perhaps Councilmember Maurer should be reminded that the Council seat actually does belong to the voters).
Councilmember, Lucy Martin, was the lone supporter of Mr. Sibilia as “the residents’ choice” and therefore her only choice to fill the Council seat vacancy.
Clearly, the appointment process was revealing and so was the Council’s choice:
- Was Mr. Shapiro at least well known to the electorate? No.
- Mr. Shapiro was an unknown quantity in terms of policies or positions. He had never received a single vote or run in any election. He had no established track record of speaking or being a presence at Council meetings or weighing in on major issues impacting the city’s residents. So, neither the Council nor the public had opportunity to hear him speak on major community issues. His appointment was prima facie evidence of cronyism on the part of the Council.
So, then how does the Calabasas Right to Vote initiative work? It assures that when an unexpected vacancy occurs on Council, a Special Election will be called at the next regularly scheduled election so the residents of Calabasas can vote in their own Councilmembers. A provision in the initiative allows for an interim appointment, but only until the Special Election.
Supporting this initiative would seem to be a no-brainer. Of course, citizens should elect their own representatives…and the elected officials in Calabasas support this too, right?
Well, according to Ms. Thomas, Councilmember Lucy Martin is the only official thus far to sign up for Calabasas voters and their right to elect their own leaders.
So, why would any elected official oppose or be against their own constituents’ right to vote?
In fact, opponents of the initiative have even promulgated misleading claims that an election will cost the City upwards of $50,000 under a pretense that it’s too expensive.
The truth however, is that there are many variables that dictate the cost of adding a Special Council ballot to a regularly scheduled election. “In the case of Mr. Shapiro’s appointment,” says Thomas, “the City could have piggy-backed on the June primary and held an election to fill the seat for a mere $5,000.”
Making any assertion that democracy is too expensive to conduct in Calabasas is incredulous, and even more so in the context of elected officials’ track record of “spending” and even boasting publicly about “how much money” the city purportedly has. Residents may be insistent that their right to vote is more important than spending $15,000 annually on rotating artwork at cityhall or hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on “pet projects” or wasting tens of thousands of dollars on “legal fees” to persecute a select group of seniors.
Let’s also not forget that Calabasas Councilmembers have not been giving up their seats in droves either over the past 20 years …just the opposite.
Only two Councilmembers have vacated their terms early, so clearly, any argument perpetuating cost as the motive for not supporting the peoples’ right to vote over crony appointments is unfounded.
Furthermore, anointing anyone with the status and power of an elected official for an extended period of time can cast a lot of shadows. So, who is the appointed Council member beholden to first – the officials who appointed him – or the residents who did not elect him or vote for his authority over their lives?
Serving as an appointed councilmember under the pretense of an elected official generates a lot of benefits, advantages and an uneven playing field if there is no Special Election and the appointee runs for office during the eventual return of the next election cycle – which is exactly what is happening in Calabasas right now. Although an appointee cannot run as an incumbent, many residents may not even remember or even be aware he was appointed. It also discourages the participation of more homeowners in the election process and that is never a good thing.
City Councilship is not something that should be awarded as a prize, payback or a political favor. It belongs to the people and to their “right to vote.”
As for the Calabasas Term Limits initiative, it calls for Councilmembers to serve no more than two consecutive four-year terms. The initiative does not impose a lifetime ban, rather, a candidate must sit out for one four year term before running again. A similar Ordinance has been in force in the city of Malibu since 2000, and the City of Thousand Oaks just passed their Term Limits initiative by a resounding 78% in November.
To get the initiatives on an upcoming ballot, residents must gather signatures from 10% of the City’s 14,500 registered voters. “Our goal is gather 2,000 signatures and we’re well on our way. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, as many residents are shocked to discover that a vote is not currently required to fill an unexpected vacancy on Council,” said Thomas.
After the signatures have been verified by the County, the Council will then have 30 days to place the Right to Vote initiative on the agenda. At that point they will have the option to adopt the initiative as written (as the City of Thousand Oaks did this past July), delay the decision by ordering a fiscal impact report, or direct the initiative to be put to the voters at the next election. In the case of the Term Limits initiative, state law mandates the initiative be decided by voters.
More information can be found online at calabasasrighttovote.org and calabasastermlimits.org.
Follow this link to watch the appointment process for yourself.