Members of the Altadena Town Council say that the current chair is hard to reach and disengaged -- but at the same time, she is working to keep her seat despite lack of support
by Timothy Rutt
They’re also saying that the flap over the elections at the July 16 council meeting was orchestrated to malign her designated successor in a public forum, thus clearing the way for Broadous to continue as chair.
Executive committee delayed
“I won’t go so far as to say Bernardean doesn’t care about Altadena, but ultimately what she cares about is herself and her ego and not being elected as continuing chair ... has a drastic effect on her ego,” said former councilman Ken Roberts. Roberts was one of the outgoing councilmembers who passed over Broadous in favor of nominating Diane Marcussen, CT 4613, as chair for the 2013-2014 term
The month following a town council election, the first action after certain ceremonial and housekeeping items is to seat the new councilmembers, followed by choosing the officers for the year, called the executive committee. Before the meeting, a committee of outgoing councilmembers talks to existing and incoming councilmembers to sound out candidates for chair, vice-chair, treasurer, corresponding secretary, and recording secretary, as well as see who the other councilmembers would support in those roles. The officers’ slate is then presented to the council as a whole, which usually rubber-stamps the selection. It is an internal process, conducted publicly. This year the selection committee was Roberts, Doug Colliflower, and Greg Middleton.
According to Roberts, several unusual things happened in the July 16 meeting:
- The swearing-in of new councilmembers, rather than being near the top of the meeting, was moved to the eighth item, nearer to the end. It was later moved up closer to the beginning of the meeting after this was pointed out during the meeting itself.
- There was an agenda item for public comments on the officer’s slate -- which several councilmembers have said has never happened before. (The July 2012 and 2011 agendas do not have a public comment scheduled for this item).
- Rather than the selection committee making a report and delivering the slate to the council, Broadous made the verbal report herself from the selection committee’s written copy, which Roberts says he provided to her on request the day before -- leaving Roberts and fellow committee member Doug Colliflower silent at the podium during their own presentation.
“There has never been, in my years on the council ... public comment about the executive team,” Roberts said. “That is really internal to the council, but brought up in a public forum because it’s a public meeting.”
That unusual agenda, Roberts said, was drawn up by the chair: Broadous.
Election process disputes
During the public comment period on the executive slate, the sole comment came from three-time election chair Eric Pierce. Pierce, a community volunteer who is not on the town council, said that Marcussen and councilman Brent Musson opposed Pierce’s ideas to publicize the election and tried to prevent the election from going forward. Pierce said that, based on their actions, they may not be fit candidates as officers.
There was a flurry of election emails between councilmembers and Pierce in April, before the election. Pierce’s committee wanted to make some changes in the election bylaws, and wanted to launch a separate election website and social media accounts. Marcussen and Musson both said that they were concerned that Pierce was going off the rails, because the council at the time -- including Broadous -- did not want to turn to social media and didn’t want official election information out of the control of the council.
Later, Broadous, on her own, gave Pierce the go-ahead to start the website and social media, and to purchase signs.
Marcussen and Musson denied that their actions were improper -- they were, they say, necessary oversight of the election committee, which they felt trying to do things beyond its authority. While Marcussen says that the council was not on top of things as it should have been, “I think it’s ridiculous that I would try to stop an election -- it’s ludicrous.”
Musson said that didn’t want to put the stop to the election, but at the same time felt Pierce was trying to go above his authority as election chair by establishing a website, Facebook page, and Twitter account separate from town council.
Musson also said that he was timing Pierce’s comments during the July 16 meeting. While public comments are usually restricted to three minutes -- subject to being gaveled off by the chair -- Pierce went on for seven minutes, Musson said.
One of the acknowledged problems was that the council’s official website was not updated to include the package of documents for potential candidates in a timely manner. Musson said that, at the time, there was nobody really in charge of the council’s website.
Musson said that he was in charge of updating the website during the 2011-2012 session, but once he was made recording secretary for the 2012-2013 term, he told the council that he could not continue. According to Musson, Broadous, who is part-time faculty in the Pan-African Studies department at Cal State Northridge, suggested a CSUN student to run the website. Musson said that the student asked Musson for all of his sign-on information, including his password. Musson said that he refused to turn that over, fearing it was an attempt to shut him out of website access. The volunteer later apparently quit administering the website.
(Pierce told Altadenablog that Musson instructed him to supply him with the candidate package so it could be put electronically on the website. Musson said that he told that to Pierce in 2012, but not this year, as he was no longer responsible for the website.)
Even though the unusual public comment period for executive committee was on the agenda that was distributed before the July 16 council meeting, Pierce said that he had not arranged it with Broadous beforehand -- he submitted a “request to make public comment” card during the course of the meeting.
Roberts has another theory: “Internally, what she did was very strategic in allowing Eric to to come up here with the potential of frankly disrupting the process ... if Diane wasn’t elected, Bernardean would maintain her role, not because of the support of other members. Basically, her thing was open Pandora’s door, discredit Diane ... now Bernardean is trying to retain her position without working at it by trying to discredit Diane.
“I think it was very one-sided. I think it was very unfair to [Diane]. [Marcussen] did not seek out that position -- we actually sought her out because she was, in the opinion of the nominating committee ... the best one for the job.”
Musson, who like Broadous represents CT 4610, said that he was also targeted because “[Broadous} and I have been at odds since she first came on.” One source of conflict was writing the agenda: Musson said that, early on in her term, she asked Musson to write the monthly meeting agendas. Musson said he responded that, according to Robert’s Rules of Order, the chair or vice-chair needs to set meeting agenda, not the recording secretary. Musson said that his refusal became a source of conflict between them.
Broadous was named chair right after winning her seat for CT4610 in 2012. While it is unusual for a first-termer to become chair, Roberts said that Broadous’ experience with the West Altadena Project Area Committee (WAPAC) showed that she could run a meeting and was the best candidate at the time.
But some councilmembers, current and past, have said that she is hard to communicate with. According to Roberts, the chair needs to be easy to reach by phone or email, and Broadous is not. Roberts and Musson both said that she only uses the computer at the Altadena Community Center for emails, and that it may take a week to get a response to a phone message.
Musson said that’s a problem, because “90 percent of [Town Council] communication is by email.”
Marcussen agreed: “It’s totally common knowledge that she’s been extremely hard to get ahold of, which in this environment causes there to be, in my opinion, a lack of leadership ... when there are communications going on in the town council on any subject.”
Planning hearings skipped
Since Broadous became chair, there have also been some problems with setting up hearings on planning issues in a timely manner, according to Sussy Nemer. Nemer, field deputy for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, said that it was “a lot more difficult for county staff to get on the agenda to do presentations .. unlike under [previous chairs] Sandra [Thomas], Gino [Sund}, and Ken [Balder], there are more situations where the town council had to ask for a continuance on planning items.”
One of the major functions of the council is to hear planning issues and send recommendations to the county before a final decision is made. In some cases, Nemer said, persons with planning items skipped the council completely and went right on to county planning because they couldn’t wait for a continuance to allow the town council to hear it.
Nemer said that she had also set aside a regular weekly teleconference with Broadous, but the chair frequently missed it. “I’m willing to say that we had a teleconference, and it didn’t work out,” Nemer said. Along with the hearing extensions that weren’t granted, “ ... those are things I think are unique this year, and the product of somebody very busy.”
In the course of writing this story, we have sent an email to Broadous, and left a message with her public number available on the Town Council website asking her to comment. The number on the town council site is a Google Talk number, which requires a computer with an internet connection to connect. She has not responded by press time.