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Signal Hill City Council conducts business despite mayor misconduct

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Anita W. Harris | Signal Tribune
Scott Williams (left) speaks at the Signal Hill City Council meeting on Nov. 28 after being introduced as the new finance director by Signal Hill Mayor Edward Wilson (right).

Calls for change peppered the Signal Hill City Council’s Nov. 28 meeting in the wake of Mayor Edward Wilson’s Nov. 17 arrest on domestic-violence charges. Members of the public spoke on Wilson’s character and requested his resignation, and two councilmembers asked to agendize items at the next meeting on council reorganization and a code-of-conduct policy.

Despite this distraction, the council carried on business as usual, adopting ordinances regulating marijuana. It also approved a voter-participation plan, a commemorative-brick program at the new dog park and a contract for landscape maintenance.

On another note, Wilson introduced Scott Williams, who had been serving as the City’s acting finance director, as the new administrative services and finance director with the finance department.

Mayoral conduct
As reported in the Press Telegram and Signal Tribune newspapers, on Nov. 17, Wilson and his partner Deborah Betance were both arrested on domestic-violence charges at the Hotel Maya in Long Beach.

Though both were released the same day on bail, some Signal Hill residents and councilmembers took issue with the public nature of the incident and its reflection on the City.

One member of the public, who identified herself as Rebecca Hinderer of Long Beach, spoke in support of Wilson.
“I just wanted to say that Ed is a dear friend of mine and a pillar in the community,” she said. “A lot of people in life say that they want to do wonderful things for their community or to help people or to progress society in general, and I think that when it comes to Ed Wilson, and you look at his history, he’s definitely been on the forefront of making things happen and a guiding light for me and a bunch of other people in our community. When it comes to women and our rights and who we are and feeling that we’re strong, he stands by that, and respect for women is paramount for Ed Wilson.”

Earlier, just after the pledge of allegiance, Wilson had taken the opportunity to publicly apologize.

“The Press Telegram and the Signal Hill Tribune [sic] both reported on an incident that is very embarrassing on a personal level, and I am truly sorry for any embarrassment or hardship to the City that this situation may have caused,” he said. “As reported, no charges have been filed. I’d like to say more, much more. However, on the advice of counsel, I am unable to comment further at this time.”

However, two Signal Hill residents— Gary Dudley and Gwen Hutchison— addressed the council to express their dismay with Wilson’s conduct and invited him to resign.

“I appreciate what you said, Ed, and I appreciate what the lady [Hinderer] said,” Dudley said. “But, I think when we elected you to council, and they appointed you mayor, that it was your job to represent [!] the City, and you’ve embarrassed the City. And I would like for you to resign.”

Hutchison concurred, but she also invited the mayor to get personal help.

“Your reputation precedes you as far as unsavory behavior in the neighborhood and around town,” she said. “I appreciate your apology. I, too, think you should resign. And [!] if you refuse to resign, I do recommend that you try to get some counseling. You need it.”

Some councilmembers also felt change was necessary. During new business later in the meeting, Councilmember Larry Forester asked staff to agendize an item for the council’s next meeting on Dec. 12.

“The mayor had only been accused, in public, of domestic violence,” he said. “He has disrespected the City by doing this in public. I call on the council [!] that we agendize for the next council meeting, Dec. 12, a council reorganization.”

Vice Mayor Tina Hansen asked for a previously back-burnered agenda item on conduct to be revisited, as well.

“I think we need to move the code-of-conduct [policy] back on the agenda,” she said. “I think it’s time to bring it forward and make a decision on it so it’s there when we need it.”

During new business for the council as Successor Agency, Councilmember Lori Woods expressed her support for her fellow councilmembers’ positions.

“I concur with both Councilmember Forester’s recommendation [!] and also with Vice Mayor Hansen recommendation for a future agenda item,” she said.

Marijuana ordinances
Pursuant to its Nov. 14 meeting, the council conducted a second reading of two ordinance amendments regarding marijuana activities in the City, with Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, taking effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

The ordinance amendments prohibit all commercial marijuana activities within the City and regulate personal cultivation of plants as allowed by law by prohibiting outdoor cultivation and establishing reasonable regulations for indoor cultivation. These include limiting indoor cultivation to residences, requiring a no-fee permit and limiting plants to six at any one time, as per the State law.

Before the council voted to adopt the amendments, Woods expressed a reservation that about whether the language differentiating business use from personal use of marijuana cultivation was strong enough.

“I can anticipate that someone operating a business within the City will use their business facility for their personal ability to grow six plants,” she said. “I just would like to see some sort of language [!] that makes it very clear that personal growth in non-residential [areas] will also be enforced.”

Community Development Director Scott Charney read parts of the code to assure the council that such language was indeed present.

Woods also read parts of the code to assure the public that medical-marijuana possession would not be prohibited and that the purpose of the new regulations was to allow time to study the effects of commercial-marijuana activities in other cities.

“It should not be viewed as being uncompassionate toward those who need medical marijuana, because there are plenty of dispensaries already located in the neighboring community of Long Beach,” she said. “We’re in no way trying to prohibit what the law allows for use, just taking a little stronger stance and allowing ourselves more time to do further study.”

She also emphasized that the permits required for indoor cultivation of marijuana for personal use are for safety reasons.

“Should our police or fire [responders] go into a situation, [!] they will know [!] they’re not going into an unknown situation; they’re not going into potential volatile chemicals,” she said. “That’s how we’re approaching it as a City. We’re not going to rush into the unknown, [but] take our time to study what’s going on industry-wide, what’s going on after Jan. 1, and I think it’s a very cautioned and a very dedicated approach.”

The council voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance amendments.

Election date
The council further approved adopting a Signal Hill voter-participation encouragement plan pursuant to State law SB 415 requiring local municipal election dates to conform to statewide election dates in order to increase voter participation.

The council had agreed at its Oct. 24 meeting to submit the required plan indicating consolidation to the statewide primary election date of March in even-numbered years— with the first being March 2022— but also to allow Signal Hill voters to decide during the next municipal election in March 2019 on whether to change the date, and, if so, to which date— the November statewide general election or the March primary election date.

Before the council could approve the plan, City Attorney Dave Aleshire offered another alternative practiced in a different city. He said the council could amend the City charter with a provision, allowing it to change the voting date by resolution.

“There are charter cities that don’t have the actual election dates in the charter,” he said. “They simply allow the council to set the date.”

However, the council declined this option.

“We’re asking the residents what they want in our City,” Hansen said. “It will be really interesting to see how the State could ask us to change our charter when our charter requires a vote of our residents.”

Councilmembers asked staff about what would happen if Signal Hill voters declined to change the date, contradicting State law.

“The Attorney General has opined that charter cities are subject to this measure, but the Attorney General opinion is not conclusive with courts,” Aleshire responded. “There may be other cities that [!] take the position that their charter prevails.”

As an example of this, Wilson shared part of a letter sent to him by the City of Arcadia asking for support for charter cities to maintain local control.

“They’re asking us to support a letter to challenge SB 415,” he said.

The council voted to adopt the plan with a modification clarifying that the council intends to uphold the City charter.

“The City’s intent is to follow State law at this juncture [and] to find out what the residents desire, as per our charter, and then to follow that,” Hansen said.

Dog-park bricks
Aly Mancini, community services director, presented the council with details of a commemorative-brick and sponsorship program for the planned dog park on California Avenue near Spring Street, to be managed by the Signal Hill Community Foundation.

She noted that the Hilltop commemorative-brick program had raised $125,000 for the new Signal Hill library. The new program would offset project costs of the dog park and will generate additional revenue that the foundation would use for future park amenities, programs, services and events.

The bricks would be placed at the entrance and various other places in the dog park. Purchasers would have the choice of 10 standard phrases to select for engraving on the bricks.

In response to councilmember questions about one of the phrases— “At the bridge” — resident and Signal Tribune associate publisher Steve Strichart explained that it refers to what some pet owners believe happens to their pets after they die.

“When one of your pets passes on, it goes to the Rainbow Bridge. It does not cross,” he said. “It’s in a beautiful place. Anything that was wrong with the dog— missing a limb, sick, whatever— is all cured,” he said. “And they wait there for us. And when we pass, we and our pets cross the Rainbow Bridge together.”

The council approved finalizing the program.

Maintenance contract
The council agreed to authorize a three-year landscape maintenance contract, in the amount of about $42,000 annually, for the California Crown neighborhood to BrightView Landscape Services.

Kelli Tunnicliff, public works director, explained that the current contract with a different company would expire on Dec. 13. A request for proposals in June had drawn two bidders, of which BrightView was one.

Wilson recused himself from voting since he is a resident of that neighborhood, but the other councilmembers approved the contract.

Finance director
Wilson introduced Scott Williams as the new Administrative Services Officer and Director of Finance with the City’s Finance Department. Williams had been serving in an acting capacity in these roles since January.

“Scott’s personal mission and vision is to be a resource to the City team by providing relevant financial information, analysis and recommendations to make informed ethical and forward-thinking decisions,” Wilson read from a statement.

Williams graciously accepted his official role.

“When I arrived here a year ago, I very quickly realized the city is a special place,” he said. “I get to work with and for a great team, and I am profoundly thankful to be a part of what’s going on here.”

The next Signal Hill City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 7pm in the council chamber at 2175 Cherry Ave.

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Signal Hill City Council conducts business despite mayor misconduct