Note: Michael Cohen of Reseda NC videoed the meeting and will post it in entirety – watch for his e-mail. He graciously provided me with a clip covering the opening statements by the petition’s signers and McCue’s initial response.
There was a general consensus among both Michael McCue’s supporters and detractors regarding his public persona and interactions – annoying, grating, verbose.
However, the real question before the SCNC Board was not whether Michael was a “pain in the ass,” as one Board Member claimed, but did Michael cross the line on several occasions and violate its code of conduct?
I will get to that.
If last night’s meeting proved anything, it was how ill-equipped and unprepared neighborhood councils are to deal with issues of conduct. I imagine many NCs would have struggled with compiling a removal motion and acting on it; SCNC should not feel alone.
The starting point of the process was flawed. The Petition for Removal is required to present the reasons in reasonable detail. Here is what it stated:
- Failure to conduct himself in a professional and civil manner at all times as a representative of SCNC.
- Failure to treat each member of the SCNC Board with respect at all times.
- Engaging in verbal attacks and accusations on SCNC Board Members.
- Using language that is abusive, threatening and/or potentially slanderous.
- Failing to present information truthfully, and knowingly misrepresenting, mischaracterizing and/or misquoting information received from others.
- Placing personal interests before the community’s interests.
In my view, the petition amounts to generalizations. I can tell you from my experience as a corporate manager that an employee performance review that failed to cite specific instances would not hold up in any proceeding.
The SCNC owed Michael a specific list of instances in advance to allow him time to adequately prepare his challenge. What occurred was a rambling, disjointed airing of grievances by several Board Members. As a result, McCue was forced into a position of mounting extemporaneous rebuttals, a situation that was sure to elicit emotional responses from him. And it did.
Actually, very few details were disclosed in the course of the evening. It was as if the Board Members assumed all the participants were fully and equally knowledgeable of McCue’s alleged misconduct. That is a very dangerous approach to take when someone’s reputation is on the line.
It is ironic that the issue described in most detail was not even covered by the general points in the petition. Much was said about McCue’s job performance as a committee chair – not holding meetings, being late in rolling out a video on leafblowers, all of which he rebutted. Failure to perform his duties was not mentioned in the petition. Ben Neumann (SCNC President) should have disallowed that portion of the discussion.
As someone who has never attended a SCNC meeting or had first hand knowledge of the conduct issues presented, I was not swayed one way or the other by either side’s arguments. It was mostly “he said, she said.” Other than the petition and an e-mail from Ben Neumann to the SCNC Board, the thread of which included a controversial e-mail from McCue, there were no other documents distributed to the public.
The e-mail from Neumann contained this paragraph:
“As a clarification, many of the procedure-related statements Michael makes in his e-mail are either incorrect, distorted or simply a very subjective presentation of the matter, omitting some important facts and exaggerating others. As I have stated before, the City Attorney has been informed about this matter from the beginning and all procedural steps required by the SCNC Bylaws have been followed.”
McCue questioned the legality of the e-mail. Ben Neumann presided over the removal proceedings – should he have expressed his opinion to the entire Board in advance? Did the e-mail violate the Brown Act? I can’t answer these questions; they are best left to experts.
I do wonder if the City Attorney’s office reviewed the content of the petition. As I mentioned earlier, it appears to be too general. It is difficult to imagine trained attorneys approving it.
Several members of the Board and the audience said it was unwise to remove McCue this close to the NC elections, and his future on the council should be decided by the voters. I agree.
There is probably a better than even chance he will win his seat back. It sets up the possibility of further confrontations which will add to the tension that already exists on the Council.
There were acrimonious statements from both sides and impassioned remarks from the audience – mostly in favor of McCue. Many people exceeded the time limit of one minute despite Ben Neumann’s efforts to cut them off.
However, the most unfortunate and shocking comment came towards the end when Lisa Sarkin angrily told the audience that their opinions did not matter. The audience responded as you would expect. Even some of her fellow board members appeared to be stunned. Please watch Mr. Cohen’s video in entirety when he distributes it, but pay special attention to Ms. Sarkin’s statement. Basically, her outburst is no different in nature from what Mr. McCue is accused of. Whether ill-advised tirades come from McCue, Sarkin or anyone else, they do not belong in a public meeting.
As was pointed out last night by a Board Member, NCs are run by volunteers who are mostly amateurs. I fully agree. We stumble and fall in dealing with complex issues. That’s how we learn.
However, there are some issues that should require professional assistance or intervention. Last night’s process should have involved the City Attorney’s office in all phases: the framing of the petition, the communication prior to the meeting, and the presence of a Deputy City Attorney at the meeting itself.
When personal reputations are at stake, you cannot leave that to amateurs and volunteers.
Link to complete video: