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Campaign Infraction?

| City Council, Gazette, News | April 3, 2014

By Jessica Vidal

Running for Santa Clarita City Council puts the spotlight on the candidates, who open up their lives to scrutiny from citizens and opponents alike. Their actions are often put under the microscope and there is always someone fishing for a reason to hurt a candidate’s popularity, especially when the election draws near.

The 2014 Santa Clarita City Council election is scheduled for April 8, a little less than a week away. With the campaigning coming to a close, some are looking for missteps by their opponents, such as catching candidates slipping up when it comes to campaign rules and regulations.
Sources reported that Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean, running for reelection this year, sent out mailers without an address and is speculated to have campaigned during a city council meeting last Tuesday, March 25. With the date drawing nearer, temptations to increase voter turnout and sway ballot results tempt the candidates, but it is hard to gauge how much of it is true and how much is simply trying to reduce an opponent’s chances of winning.

McLean’s mailers are reported to have been without an address, a violation of Government Code 84305, stating, “No candidate or committee shall send a mass mailing unless the name, street address, and city of the candidate or committee are shown on the outside of each piece of mail in the mass mailing.”

When confronted with the issue, McLean countered, saying, “The address was inadvertently left off of one of my mailers. It was a printing error. When I realized the error, I called the FPPC (California Fair Political Practices Commission) and reported the incident.”

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Although a violation was made, McLean realized the mistake and corrected it before it was brought to the attention of the public. However, although the mailers were reported, they still made it into the hands of citizens and doing what they were intended to do, address or not, which is help her campaign.

Another reported violation made by McLean was reported to have happened during the City Council meeting. The meeting, lasting a total of more than six hours, was mainly focused on the billboard contract and where the most concentrated amount of time was spent. During this segment, McLean spoke of the contract and it was then that she began to campaign.

During the City Council meeting McLean said, “I am a resident of Santa Clarita. I’ve been a community activist for 30 years working to the benefit of this community. … I am committed to look at all sides of an issue and make a decision that I think is a benefit to the majority of the citizens. … The project is what it is, you either like it or you don’t. … This is the project: taking down 62, 118 faces, brightly lit billboards, of which many shine directly into people’s homes, and replacing them with three double-sided digital boards, of which none will shine into people’s homes,  a condition that I placed into the contract, that if any one of them can be seen from someone’s home after shielding, it can’t be lit … $400,000 to $600,000 extra money annually into the city’s budget, which, by a condition I placed into the contract, will be used for city community projects … $30,000 to be used for the formation of the first ever Small Business Marketing Committee, to benefit all small businesses in Santa Clarita, a condition that I had placed into the contract. … If any of you know me at all, you know that I am protective, overly protective, obsessed with protecting open space and if I thought any of this was going to harm a wildlife corridor, the light was going to spill out anywhere that was going to harm animals and such, I would not have voted the first time for this project.”

Later in the meeting McLean spoke again on the subject.

“There are four people up here; Frank is leaving, and I’m the only one up here that’s up for re-election, and I was told in a personal phone call today, I won’t divulge who it was, but I was encouraged to vote no to avoid a glossy ‘hit-piece’ being sent out on me,” she said. “So, all the people that are listening, when that hit-piece hits your mail, just understand what it is. That’s all I have to say. I just don’t feel comfortable stating who it is, I prefer not to. But, if pressed by somebody, I would.”

Duane Harte, a candidate running for City Council, said he didn’t have much to say.

Harte did say, however, “I think it is up to the council whether they think that was appropriate; she was saying what she felt needed to be said.”

Maria Gutzeit, present during the meeting, is sure that Mayor Pro Tem McLean was campaigning.
“I do think she campaigned, I was there when it happened,” said Gutzeit. “Having been in public office for so long, you just don’t see that. It was really inappropriate for her to use the public time to promote the campaign. I was really surprised that she did that, you just don’t mention campaigns or use public television to promote yourself. It was a televised event, it was a televised reminder to the citizens that she was running, which is a huge advantage for her over the challengers. It is or should be forbidden to do that.”
Alan Ferdman, a candidate also running for City Council and present during the meeting also expressed discontent with McLean’s comments.

“She was [campaigning] and it was inappropriate,” said Ferdman. “When she mentioned she was running for City Council and some of her perceptions about the election, that sounded like campaigning to me. At the time, it should have been the city attorney’s job to stop her or come up and tell her that it was not a legal thing to do. You cannot use government resources to campaign. You’re being videoed and telecast and, as an elected official, are not allowed to use those resources.”

McLean responded to the allegations about her campaigning during the billboard discussion at the City Council meeting.

“When any project is brought forth to the City Council, it is and has been my goal to make it as beneficial to the residents and to the City as possible,” said McLean.  “I asked that certain conditions be placed in the contract, in open session, at the first public hearing, and they were agreed to by the project proponent.”

Other candidates were contacted but had not responded by press time.

McLean’s actions have been put under the spotlight since the city council meeting. Speculations about the regulations being broken have brought up questions about the true regulations of campaigning and government codes. Overall, candidates have to understand these terms in order to avoid mistakes or misinterpretation from the public.

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