The Altadena Town Council will meet in closed session Tuesday night, before its regular meeting, to consider mounting an investigation into possible ethical violations.New councilmember Herbert Simmons (CT 4602) claims in an email that the meeting is "an attempt to secretly stop me .. from bringing positive changes and ideas to Altadena." Simmons, in a series of emails and personal visits to local businesses over the past month, has been soliciting funds for educational awards and a "a new website that will link Altadenans together and keep everyone informed of current issues and events." In these emails and solicitations, he has used his title and position on the Altadena Town Council, which some council members feel may be a violation of its bylaws and ethical standards.
Council chair Gino Sund has emailed us that the reason for the closed session is that "We are trying to prevent the unfortunate spectacle of ATC's previous administration when they publicly named multiple Councilpersons as having violated the ethical standards without a shred of evidence or fact. I think that we should investigate all charges, allegations and problems in private, to see if there is anything to them before they are made public. This is to protect a Councilmember's good name from baseless charges, and to help protect the reputation of ATC. "
"Mandatory Town Meeting"
On July 28, Simmons sent out an email, subject headed "Mandatory Town Meeting - All Citizens of Census Tract 4602 Required to Attend!" In it, he announces an Aug. 30 event at the Altadena Community Center to introduce:
a new website that will link Altadenans together and keep everyone informed of current issues and events. This website will also be available for advertising for local businesses. If you own a local business and are interested in advertising, please e-mail me with your information and we can discuss details at that time.
I have provided this website as a courtesy to communicate for everyone in Census Tract 4602 .. Though it is a public service, it is not publicly funded. We are accepting donations towards the costs of maintaining the website. We appreciate any contributions. Please send any contributions to Councilman Herbert Simmons at P.O. Box 40923, Pasadena, CA 91114.
Simmons also wrote that "Student of the Month and Teacher of the Month programs" will be unveiled at the event.
Simmons, who calls the event "an informal Town Meeting," promised:
It is signed:
"Food, music, and entertainment will be provided ... You elected me, you are supporting me, so now come out and get your support's worth. Let's talk, let's eat, let's dance. BYOB. Just kidding. But feel free to bring a bottle of wine and some glasses. Don't be fooled - it is a celebration as well. :-)"
Hon. Herbert Simmons
Altadena Town Council - Census Tract 4602
"Linking Altadenans Through Technology to Make Our Community a Better and Safer Place"
Simmons confirmed to Altadenablog that he sent the email, but backed off on the "BYOB" request, citing liability issues, and wrote "Since this event is on August 30, it would be ideal for you to publish this towards the end of August."
UPDATE 8/18 12:30 AM: One of our net-savvy friends found the site: altadenans.com, which includes a list of helpful links that duplicates our "Top Links" category, with the addition of us.
Student and Teacher of the Month Program
On Aug. 8, Simmons sent out another email:
I invite you to be a part of this historic moment. As I put the finishing touches on my first programs as your newly elected Councilmember - the Student of the Month and Teacher of the Month programs for our schools in Altadena - I would like to extend sponsorship opportunities not only to local business owners, but to individuals as well. If you would like to contribute $25 to one or both of the programs, you will be individually recognized on the Student of the Month T-shirts, the Teacher of the Month T-shirts, or both.The email says that the program will recognize "one student and one teacher per month from each participating school in Altadena for their exceptional work." The recognized students and teachers "will be rewarded with a certificate, a T-shirt with all sponsors and your name listed on the back, and various gifts provided by local business sponsors... Contributions in any amount will be greatly appreciated and can be sent to me, Councilman Herbert Simmons, at P. O. Box 40923, Pasadena, CA 91114. Thank you for your support and I look forward to seeing you on August 30th."
This email is also signed:
Hon. Herbert SimmonsOne response to this email (which appeared in the local newsgroups) said:
Altadena Town Council - Census Tract 4602
I think this is a wonderful idea, but I am uncomfortable just sending you the money (I believe that you are an honest man, but so did the people who invested with Bernie Madoff). I would like to see some public disclosure of this program before investing, i.e., is there a special account established for this, how will you provide accounting of donations and awards, etc.? Please do not take offense, I just think it is important to know all of the details before making a commitment such as this.In response, Simmons wrote:
Please forgive me - I do understand your concern. I have spoken to my banker and I will have a separate account set up for the Student of the Month and Teacher of the Month programs by this Thursday. Donations can be made payable to "Altadena Student and Teacher of the Month Programs" after that time. I will notify you when the account is active.In addition to the email solicitations, Simmons has also been personally soliciting local businesses for support, according to some business owners. One business owner Altadenablog interviewed said that Simmons identified himself as a councilmember, and the business owner was surprised to find that the "student/teacher of the month" was not a Town Council program.
A similar email was sent to Town Council members, also soliciting their financial support.
Councilmembers, public raise concerns
Following that email and responses from residents, some town council members expressed concern about Simmons' activities. Council rules say that only the treasurer (who is presently Tecumseh Shackelford) "is responsible for handling all matters of money and finance for the Council," and that "A member must observe the Altadena Town Council ethical standards whenever he/she ... identifies himself/herself as, or is referenced as, a member of the Council or Committee." Article X of the Council's standards say that "misrepresentation of the Town Council and/or its officers to outside persons or groups of persons" are grounds for removal from office.
In response to questions about the appropriateness of his program, and after the town council's executive committee meeting on Tues., Aug. 11, Simmons sent out an email Aug. 14 subject headed "Please Read: ATC Attempt to Railroad Student/Teacher of the Month Programs of Altadena."
In the email, Simmons accuses the town council's executive committee of "attempting to thwart my Student of the Month and Teacher of the Month programs ..." He also says:
Though these programs have the support of Superintendent Edwin Diaz of PUSD, the principals of all ten schools in Altadena, the Altadena community, and several local businesses, the Altadena Town Council Executive Committee does not find my individual efforts appropriate. I have made it clear in my communications that these programs are not affiliated with the Altadena Town Council. I have also included a disclaimer stating that they are solely of my individual initiative. I stated that these programs are currently operating under a for-profit corporation and that contributions are not tax-deductible. All funds received will benefit the Altadena Student and Teacher of the Month Programs.(Altadenablog has called Supt. Diaz's office to confirm PUSD's support of Simmons' program. The call was not returned as of press time. We also have an email out to Simmons asking, among other things, where he stated that the programs are operating under a for-profit corporation.)
In the Aug. 14 email, Simmons also said:
The Student of the Month and Teacher of the Month programs were created by myself as a newly elected Councilmember of Census Tract 4602 and I do not need anything nor am I asking for anything from the Altadena Town Council. I have created this program on my own, and have not represented the Council in the process. It is my gift to the community. In no time in any correspondence have I used the Altadena Town Council or its letterhead. In fact, I have clearly stated that the programs are not endorsed by, or affiliated with, the Altadena Town Council. It has only been offered that other Councilmembers have an opportunity to add their names to a positive cause to help teachers and students be the best they can be.In the email, Simmons also accused councilmember Alice Wessen of unspecified "attacks upon me." and says that the closed session should be opened. He also urged people to attend the meeting to speak out in support of his student/teacher program.
Simmons reserved the Community Center last Sat., Aug. 15, from 4-9 PM, according to center director Greg Robinson. According to Robinson and an employee who helped set up microphones and the podium for the meeting room, nobody attended the meeting. The community center meeting room is available for free to tenants of the building, which includes the Town Council as a whole, but not to individual members. It can also be rented. Robinson was asked under which auspices Simmons reserved the meeting room on Aug. 15 and Aug. 30, and said he would look into it. He had not responded as of press time.