The Hollister City Council is becoming increasingly notorious for arguments on and off the council dais.
The council hired an organizational consultant in the spring, but things just got worse after that. Most recently the city attorney has been asked to hire a professional mediator to referee the growing antagonism among council members.
At the Sept. 3 council meeting, council member Rolan Resendiz read to the audience the complaint that he filed in May against fellow council members Marty Richman and Honor Spencer.
In a copy of the complaint obtained by the Free Lance, Resendiz detailed three loud arguments with Spencer and one with Richman. Resendiz sent the complaint to City Attorney Jason Epperson, with a request for mediation.
Epperson said at the Sept. 3 meeting that some kind of mediation was in the works.
On April 28, all council members attended a retreat where they met with Rex Osborn, a speaker who specializes in leadership development for the company More Than Talk LLC. The retreat cost $3,500, according to Deputy City Clerk Nova Romero.
More Than Talk’s website said Osborn specializes in “keynote speaking engagements for all types of clients, including corporate gatherings and celebrations, association conferences, industry conferences and executive retreats. Training topics range from leadership development, social issues, mediation/conflict resolution, mandated training such as sexual harassment and discrimination, and organizational corporate culture change.”
The council meetings this summer regularly devolved into shouting matches—with council member Resendiz and Mayor Ignacio Velazquez on one side and council members Richman, Spencer and Carol Lenoir on the other. Resendiz and Velazquez are vocal about their call for slower growth within the city, and even stronger disagreement comes in Resendiz’s use of social media.
Politics may be as big a factor as policy for the contentious council members. Spencer has announced her candidacy for mayor and Velazquez previously told the Free Lance that he plans to run for a fifth term.
Spencer and Lenoir spoke about Resendiz’s Facebook posts at the Sept. 3 meeting. The posts alleged that the three council members were influenced by developers. Spencer used her time to speak to recite Resendiz’s post.
“They voted on Monday in a shocking vote to build more houses,” Resendiz’s post said. “They also will vote at the next city council meeting to stop me from posting on social media. They want to shut me up and build more homes.”
To rebut Spencer, Resendiz used his time to read the complaint he sent to the city attorney. He alleged in the complaint that Spencer told him that she was going to “kick my ass,” following the May 6 council meeting.
In reference to this instance, Velazquez said during the Sept. 3 meeting that he had been present and heard Spencer make the comments. Spencer did not dispute that she made the comments, but said at the Sept. 3 meeting that the comments were not meant as threats
There were two other similar instances cited in the complaint. Resendiz also cited an instance with Richman following the same May meeting; he alleged that Richman
Richman acknowledged to the Free Lance that he used foul language toward Resendiz, but said it was not meant as a threat. Richman said he used that language because he felt it was a private conversation between himself and Resendiz. Richman believed that the outbursts at the meetings stemmed from the frustration of the comments made on Facebook.
“It’s certainly out of hand, and I’m not an innocent bystander,” Richman said about the council’s fighting. “I’m going to try to do better.”
City Manager Bill Avera said it was the mayor’s responsibility to keep the council meetings on track. “I think [Velazquez] has tried in the past to make sure everyone remains civil up there. It really is sort of his responsibility, but with this
Avera said that a group retreat or goal-setting workshops like the one the council attended in April, is not “necessarily uncommon,” but that it had never been done by the City of Hollister before.
Each agenda item sparks raucous debate among council members, and Avera believes it affects the ability of city staff to do their jobs. He said there are no unifying goals for staff. Avera said the More Than Talk speaker had been hired to get the council members to work together.
“I think the citizens deserve a council that can get through a meeting,” Avera told the Free Lance. “You might not agree on everything, but you absolutely need to respect one another.”