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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.

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.

James Davis November 01, 2012 at 05:32 PM
This banner has been up for quite some time on the scaffolding. Still worth reviewing, but I find the timing of sending in this loaded yes or no answer letter, far more interesting than a letter that could have been sent in a while ago.
Darnisha Hunter November 01, 2012 at 06:26 PM
James I agree but it's it private land anyway? Do we really know who posted the signage? Did Mrs. Vasquez really have anything to do with it being place their to start with. I feel this is just to stir the waters of a possibly not so happy opponent with what the polls are say in favor of Mrs. Vasquez.
James Davis November 01, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Darnisha, as far as it being private land, I am not 100% certain of the technicalities. The reason I think its worth reviewing by council, is to set precedent for future elections if there is indeed a conflict of interest. This building that was funded for by grant monies and redevelopment dollars I believe vs a static property where the land and building are more clearly defined (eg. city owns land, private owner owns building) This might be more of an issue if a banner was up and a member was running for re-election and had voted in favor having this building up there in the first place? I have no clue, just throwing out hypotheticals :)
Perri Storey November 01, 2012 at 07:23 PM
This Citizen's watch dog group supports another candidate. This begs the question: If the sign was for Melendez, would this even have surfaced as an issue? Classic case of sour grapes.
Perri Storey November 01, 2012 at 08:01 PM
I agree with your astute observations. If this was a Melendez sign, this would not be an article because Jack Moore wouldn't have shaken the hornet's nest. Simple as that!
Erica King Rann November 01, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Jack Moore is a kook. This helps me figure out who I will not be voting for. I will not be voting for anyone associated with Mr. Moore's group. I bet if there was an accounting of the taxpayer dollars wasted addressing Mr. Moore's outrageous claims, and answering his ridiculous questionnaires, it would far exceed any money that he has saved our city as a "watch dog".
James Davis November 01, 2012 at 10:34 PM
I think the watch dog group has good intentions. But from the tone of some of the comments so far and anyone that hasnt commented, to be associated with them as a running candidate could have repercussions for something so trivial and low on the list of citizens concerns. At least the watch dog group is watching :) At least
Penny November 02, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Erica, I couldn't have said it better.
Terry Williams November 02, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Private land and developments can receive public benefits such as development funds, tax breaks, etc and are still privately or corporate owned. If the city doesn't own the site it's not an issue. The Hitzke Corporation is the owner, not the city of LG.

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