Altadena town councilman Herbert Simmons has signed off his emails with the slogan:
"Linking Altadenans Through Technology to Make Our Community a Better and Safer Place"
If only he would follow his own words.
Instead, Simmons -- subject of an internal town council ethics investigation -- is using his website and emails in a way that does NOT make our community a better and safer place.
The town council formed an investigatory committee in August to determine if Simmons -- during his first month on the council -- had violated its ethical rules. The council as a whole has had nothing to say pending the results of the investigation. Officially, they haven’t even said it is Simmons they are investigating.
But Mr. Simmons has not followed the discreet example of his fellow councilmembers. Take a look through his Altadenans.com website and note how much space he devotes to accusations against them. (Also note how he's removed "better" from his slogan.)
We’re not going to deal with the reasons and substance behind the investigation until the council has presented them. However, Simmons has used the council’s silence to mischaracterize the investigation as an attempt to “railroad community programs,” in his own words.
In an Aug. 14 email (an edited version appears on his website), Simmons accuses councilmember Alice Wessen of “attacks upon me.” What are these “attacks?” She brought up to the council the possibility that Simmons may have violated ethics rules -- which was her duty as a councilmember -- and emailed Simmons a copy of the bylaws and ethical standards he signed off as receiving and understanding when he ran for office. Some attack.
He also intimates that Wessen’s actions were motivated by her supporting his opponent in the last election. First, as administrator of the Chaney Trail listserv, she sent both Simmons’ and his opponent’s candidate statements to her readers -- and second, if she did support his opponent, so what? It’s not a crime, Mr. Simmons.
The “programs” Simmons accuses councilmembers of trying to “railroad” are Mr. Simmons’ naming of a student and teacher of the month at local schools. Winners get, among other things, a T-shirt with Mr. Simmons's name prominently displayed in several places. Since he has recently announced several winners, it's hard to tell how his program is being "railroaded."
(As an aside, Alice Wessen is an interesting choice to accuse of trying to thwart student achievement. She manages Education Outreach for JPL and works with schools across the U.S. and the world, and with some of the poorest school districts in the U.S. on science and space education.)
Mr. Simmons’ latest volley calls for an investigation of chairman Gino Sund. Among the charges Simmons is making and for which he demands an investigation:
- A second-hand report that he was called a bad name;
- That he hasn’t been trained and hasn’t received a copy of his duties, altho’ (1) he had to sign off that he had received and understood them before he could even run for office (2) they are readily available at many places, such as the library and town council’s own website, and (3) they were sent to him electronically (we have copies of the emails).
- That the investigation of his actions has dragged on too long -- which it has -- and that Sund bears some responsibility for it;
- And finally that Simmons wasn’t introduced properly during the NAACP Centennial Event, nor was he invited to a photo op with the governor.
Perhaps Mr. Simmons thinks that having his feelings hurt rises to the level of official misconduct, but we don’t think so.
This would all be rather amusing, if a waste of the public’s time, but we feel it creates two serious problems:
First, it sends the Altadena town council back to the days when it apparently was run by circus clowns. The council has acquired a reputation over the years that has not been flattering: private agendas, unproven accusations, drama inside and outside of the council chambers, whispered (or sometimes shouted) conspiracy theories, egos run amok -- and just generally a feeling that adults were not in charge here. There is a reason why the meetings are broadcast, and not because they set a sterling example of how local government should work. The rough-and-tumble contrarian image some Altadenans take perverse pride in doesn’t travel well outside of town.
The present council, under Chairman Sund, has been working to turn that culture around, and has accomplished much. Altadena deserves to be taken seriously. The hysterical finger-pointing of Mr. Simmons and his amen corner on and off the council threatens to undo the progress that has been made and drag us back to the bad old days.
Second, a council that spends more time dealing with vendettas than handling the people’s business is not attractive to the decent, civic-minded people that Altadena needs to lead us now and in the future. Why run for this unpaid, essentially-powerless position if you’re going to spend your council time being shouted at, accused, threatened with lawsuits, investigating or being investigated? Talented councilmembers and potential candidates have told us privately that they’ve already had it if this is what it’s going to be like. That is Altadena’s loss at a critical time.
Mr. Simmons calls himself a community leader, and we want him to begin by acting like one. If he wants to serve on the town council, it means he abides by its rules and decorum, which include being silent until the investigation is completed. Mount a vigorous defense, if necessary. Abide by the council’s decision, and continue to be a leader in the community. The present course he has chosen is not that of a leader, not that of someone who professes to link people together, and certainly not good for the future of Altadena.
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