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Michele Martinez has been on the Santa Ana council for 12 years and is the current mayor pro tem. That means she runs the meetings when the mayor is gone, and it turns out that she has a significant philosophical difference on how to do things. We talk about her approach to public comment and the linguistic changes that have happened in her council chamber.
Q: You were first elected in 2006, which was also the year I created my first municipal affairs program, the “Planning and Zoning Commission Chronicles.” In retrospect, it was terrible. But can you think of any changes that have happened to the Santa Ana council meetings during these 12 years?
A: One of the first things that my colleagues and myself did was to get translation services for those that wished to come and speak before the council. Before that, our mayor would translate for those that would come and speak Spanish. We just thought that was kind of unfair.
Q: Was translation something he wanted to do or was he given that task?
A: Well by default, he knows Spanish fluently and as the mayor he would just do it because we had no one, nor did we ever dedicate the funding to pay for someone. If he weren’t there and there isn’t someone else to translate, a staff member or someone else in the public would translate on behalf of that person.
Q: One time, you and Mayor Miguel Pulido were absent and the other council members excused you but refused to excuse him. What does that mean–does an unexcused absence go on the mayor’s permanent record?
A: Obviously, he won’t get paid for that council meeting.
Q: Ah. Is the mayor frequently gone for important votes?
A: True. There are times where he doesn’t want to take action on certain items, so he won’t attend. I always give ample notice and I inform everyone why I can’t attend. The mayor chooses not to do that. He’ll contact the clerk very last minute and never give his rationale. The mayor doesn’t like controversy and I think everyone knows that about him.
Q: Well, I don’t like controversy either so–I’m kidding, I love controversy. That’s why I’ll bring up this: in December 2016 there was a meeting of four council members, including you and the mayor. The other three council members were absent. The subject of the meeting was disciplining the city manager. You needed four votes to put him on administrative leave and you coincidentally had those four votes. Were you sensitive to the perception that this meeting was about power and not process?
A: The mayor in this case doesn’t need four members of the council. He can do a special meeting at any given time without consent of the council. So the mayor chose to have that meeting. There’s been inconsistencies as it pertains to the process. We need to have some kind of protocol so there is no blame game and we’re consistent.
Q: Can you speculate why the decision to discipline the city manager could not have waited until a meeting with all seven council members?
A: Obviously it could. Yeah. The mayor chose to do it at that specific time because it benefited him.
Q: I just realized that when the mayor leaves early from meetings, he doesn’t hear all the public comments that he pushed to the end. Did you realize that?
A: Oh, yes. I realize it every single time. He does leave most times before public comment and I believe that’s wrong. We should all be able to listen, including the mayor.
Follow Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez on Twitter: @Michele714