The Hollister City Council meetings are becoming increasingly contentious—and loud.
Its most recent meeting Aug.19 devolved into a series of shouting matches as councilmembers went head to head over several seemingly minor agenda items.
The meeting went on for five hours as council members waded into angry disagreements over nearly every proposal.
Most of the spats involved Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Councilmember Rolan Resendiz on one side, and the rest of the council, led by Vice Mayor Marty Richman, on the other—the division began as soon as the new council took their seats in December 2018.
When it came time for the council to receive reports this week and for Velazquez to form ad hoc committees, familiar tensions erupted once again.
Council rules authorize the mayor to appoint committee members, but Richman, unhappy with an ad hoc committee formed by Velazquez, made a motion to suspend the rules of the council altogether, effectively removing the mayor’s appointment authority. Richman’s motion was approved by his majority, including himself and councilmembers Carol Lenoir and Honor Spencer. This allowed him to make another motion to place himself and Lenoir on the committee.
City Attorney, Jason Epperson said such a move was typically reserved for emergency situations. “The city council rules can be suspended under certain circumstances immediately. Ideally it would be agendized for a future meeting. The protocol and municipal code on this particular item are vague,” said Epperson.
“We have what on the federal level would be considered a constitutional crisis,” said Epperson. “I don’t want to make it sound worse than it is, but you have some vagaries in both our protocols and our municipal code.”
Velazquez looked into the city’s camera recording the meeting and said he wanted to make sure the public knew “the council member wants to suspend the rules to get his way.”
Richman began to speak over Velazquez, demanding the council vote on his ad hoc committee appointments. Velazquez attempted to regain control of the meeting and said, “Council member, please.” in an effort to stop Richman from interrupting.
“No please! I am asking for a vote, I have a right to do so,” Richman said in a raised voice. Velazquez and Richman continued to interrupt one another, with Richman at one point throwing his arms up in the air and interjecting as Velazquez explained the role of the mayor with ad hoc committees, according to council rules.
“It doesn’t matter!” said Richman. “You only have one vote.”
Richman’s motions passed with the 3-2 that has become the norm on this split council.
The council heard a report requested by Richman about creating a ballot measure for 2020 that would ask Hollister residents to vote on term limits for councilmembers and the mayor. While the measure would not be retroactive, it would limit the amount of times a council member could run for office in future elections.
Velazquez appointed himself and councilmember Rolan Resendiz to the committee.
Richman, Spencer and Lenoir were visibly frustrated by the appointments Velazquez made to the committee on term limits.
When the next item came up on the agenda, appointing an ad hoc committee to explore a property tax sharing agreement, tensions were already brewing.
Velazquez said he was familiar with the property tax proposal after being on a previous ad hoc committee on the subject, however Richman asked to be appointed to the committee along with Lenoir because of her history on the planning commission.
Velazquez appointed himself and Lenoir to the committee. Richman made a motion to overturn the appointment, however, Epperson said the council would first have to vote to suspend the rules that gave the mayor the power to appoint ad hoc committees.
Lenoir and Spencer sat quietly at the end of the council dais, but both voted to approve Richman’s motion.
After the rules were suspended, more chaos reigned as councilmembers shouted over one another. Resendiz asked the city attorney how the council should proceed while Richman was speaking, and the two began shouting over one another.
As Velazquez attempted to bring the meeting to order Richman said of Resendiz, “He may be your ally, but he interrupted.” After the dust had settled and the 3-2 vote again decided the committee composition, Resendiz shifted in his seat.
He said to himself, loud enough for the audience to hear, “How embarrassing is that!”