Interview #89: Santa Ana, CA Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

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.

Santa Ana, CA Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez

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

#95: Renton, WA 3/27/17

Often, city council members are the stars of their meetings.

But sometimes, they get upstaged by more intriguing characters.

“Whereas women need to be inspired by female leaders…and women need to document and highlight their triumphs and accomplishments, I do hereby proclaim March 2017 to be Women’s History Month,” deputy city clerk Megan Gregor read the proclamation inside a council chamber whose male-to-female ratio was higher than the Space Needle.

A woman led her infant daughter to the podium. “I think your helper’s gonna get that,” observed Mayor Denis Law. The council smiled at the little girl–until Gregor handed her the paper and she promptly tossed it on the floor.

What a great moment for wome–annnnd now it’s dirty.

From here on out, the center of gravity shifted to the clerk’s desk, where Gregor plowed through a long string of numbers without breaking a sweat.

“The Finance Committee approves claims vouchers 354750 through 354751, 354754 through 354767, 354793 through 355173, 5325 through 5335, and 1006, and three wire transfers and two payroll runs,” she rattled off flawlessly.

However, the dismount was a struggle.

“With benefit withholding payments totaling four million and four hundred dollars, and–no, sorry. Let me go over that again.” She took a deep breath. “Four million, four hundred and sixty-nine…dollars, eight hundred and four….”

She wheeled around and stared bewildered at Councilmember Ed Prince. “Sorry, I’m reading it all wrong.”

“You did great,” Prince reassured her.

Even the clock has way too many digits!

But as any stage performer knows, it’s hard to get your groove back if you’re rattled.

“The downtown utility improvements project phase one in the amount of five thousand and seventeen…five hundred thousand, seventeen dollars–no,” Gregor shot a frustrated glance down the dais.

Suddenly, she threw a Hail Mary that even Russell Wilson could admire. “Five, one, seven, two, two, eight,” she laughed, simply reading off each number like a boss.

That slick move apparently infused some much-needed mojo. “An ordinance granting unto Puget Sound Energy, Inc. the franchise to construct, operate, set, erect, support, attach, connect, maintain, repair, replace, enlarge, and use facilities–” she bulldozed forward, “–for power, heat, and light in, upon, over, under, along, across, and through the area.”

BOOM! Talk about nailing one of the ugliest, most convoluted paragraphs ever to rear its head at a city council meeting! I was overjoyed, ecstatic, elated, enchanted, jubilant, joyful, and–uh, feeling…good…times.

But in the home stretch of this well-oiled machine, one council member accidentally chucked a wrench into the works.

“The item I have is a travel authorization and expense report for me to attend the Smart Cities Conference in Santa Ana,” Councilmember Carol Ann Witschi announced. “The total cost is $2,030. I need to submit this to the council tonight for approval.”

All I see is a floating head in a maroon chair.


Mayor Law glanced around. “Okay, uh….”

“Our first one!” blurted Councilmember Randy Corman. “What’s the protocol here?”

Uh-oh. How ironic that the smallest dollar amount of the night caused the biggest snafu.

“Any recommendation from the city attorney?” the mayor glanced playfully down the dais. Other council members chuckled as the city attorney threw up his hands.

It was a lock. The council unanimously voted to send Councilmember Witschi to Santa Ana–all expenses paid.

Final thoughts: The MVP was clearly Renton’s resilient deputy clerk. I give her performance a final score of five hundred six and–no, wait. Fifty and…sorry. Five or–