LOCAL SPIN: Striking Out
Salinas City Council distracts itself over Jose Castañeda.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
It was a Salinas City Council meeting so contentious that at one point, police had to keep two attendees (he a grumpy old German man, she a ticked-off 40-something Latina) from throwing down over who gets to speak what language and when (him: Se habla American, dammit; her: bilingual is beautiful). But in the middle of it, there was a voice – one strong, shining voice – that made more sense than all the others in the packed council chambers combined.
Try not to be too shocked when I say the voice came from neither an elected official nor a city employee, no offense to elected officials or city employees.
“Hi,” he said, when the grownups finally stopped bickering long enough to let him approach the public microphone and speak. “My name is Matthew Bassetti and I’m 10 years old.”
And then he killed it, with comic timing. “I’m very sorry to have to change the subject,” he said.
Trust me, kid, nobody else was.
Young Mr. Bassetti, accompanied by his mother, probably had no idea he and a small cadre of Little League players and advocates (OK, their moms and dads) were about to get the fullest dose possible of democracy in action. They were at the Tuesday night meeting to advocate for Little League. To ask for help convincing people that Little Leaguers can play nice with each other on the grounds of the schools that apparently don’t want them there – or that are trying to make it cost prohibitive for the nonprofit, volunteer-run teams to use school fields.
“I think we need to convince schools it’s not dangerous,” Matthew said. He thanked the council for its time and excused himself – more politely than most of the adults present did.
IT’S ONLY THE PROVERBIAL ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM BECAUSE THE COUNCIL HAS ALLOWED IT TO BE.
What was the subject that needed changing? Jose Castañeda’s service on both the Alisal Union School District board and the City Council. And the “distraction” some fellow council members say it’s created; the refusal of Mayor Joe Gunter to appoint Castañeda to any boards or committees unless someone issues a legal opinion saying it’s OK for Castañeda to serve on both bodies; the disenfranchisement of Castañeda’s constituents in District 1; and a complaint Castañeda is about to forward to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division accusing the city of violating the Voting Rights Act through its refusal to let him fully participate in an office to which he was duly elected.
“It’s illegal for him to hold both offices,” readers tell me a few times a week. “Why doesn’t he just resign?”
To which I respond: “Says who?” “Why should he?” and “For Pete’s sake, stop reading the Californian.”
“It’s creating a distraction,” Councilwoman Jyl Lutes said Feb. 26, before reenacting Martin Luther nailing the Wittenberg Theses to the church door.
She read a list of requests, including that city Manager Ray Corpuz, by March 15, request and obtain opinions from the Alisal Union School District, the state Attorney General, the Monterey County Office of Education, the District Attorney and “an independent third party” as to the legality of Castañeda holding both offices.
She then wants the matter agendized either in closed or open session on March 19. Councilwoman Gloria De La Rosa seconded Lutes’ request, and I’m sure that right about now, Corpuz is sitting in his office, alternately rubbing his temples and writing those letters.
On the top of the Lutes Theses, she called the matter “the proverbial elephant in the room.” That’s only because the council has allowed it to become so.
Here’s what I believe the DA and A.G. will tell Corpuz: This is a civil matter. To get Castañeda removed from the Alisal board, an individual – not a government entity – has to file a complaint with the A.G., the A.G. has to sustain that complaint, and then that individual has to fund a lawsuit out of his or her own pocket to get Castañeda removed. I’m told a staffer from the Salinas City Library is considering filing an official complaint and funding a suit, but who knows what deep pockets that money will come from.
Castañeda, meanwhile, believes the council has violated the Brown Act’s “serial meetings” provision, in which one council member talks to another, who talks to another, who talks to another, whereby they reach consensus without ever having to reveal their actions in public.
“From the average eye, it might look like I’m on the ropes,” Castañeda says, “but they’re shooting from the hip on this and at the end, I don’t think they’re going to be happy with the outcome.”
One guy who might be happy with an outcome of the meeting? Matthew Bassetti. Castañeda planned on meeting with him and his family to see what he could do to help the team play ball.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com.