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Laguna Beach

 Volume 13, Issue 75  |  September 17, 2021


Council censures Blake for violations to Rules of Decorum and Civility

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council unanimously agreed this week to censure Councilmember Peter Blake.

After about two hours of discussion and public comment on Tuesday (March 9), Council voted 4-0-1 for the censure, with Blake choosing to abstain. 

“This is a kangaroo court and I don’t have to vote,” Blake concluded. 

There is zero chance the censure will stop him or what little restraint he has, Blake said. He argued that he was defending himself and that his comments were in response to remarks made toward him first. If those types of disparaging comments about him continue, he will continue to counter, Blake said.

“This will continue and you can censure me 100 times between now and the date we meet back at the ballot box,” Blake said. “It means nothing.”

He used to be a calm person, Blake said. But once he got into politics, he was pushed into becoming a person that had to fight back. 

“Most people, when they watched me during the campaign, they understood why I had to fight the way I had to fight,” because he was up against bullies, Blake said. “It’s not like I played Mr. Statesman and then became Mr. Monster; I was Mr. Monster from the day this started. And there were people in this community that had had enough, and they saw someone that was going to fight on their behalf and that’s all I’ve ever done.”

Since getting elected, he said he’s behaved as the same person who voters knew during the campaign, and he’s retaliated when he felt the need to defend himself. The censure is an attempt to put a stain on his reputation, Blake said.

“They have the nerve to call me a bully. All I’ve ever done is defend myself and defend the rights of the people that voted for me,” Blake said. “I am their voice and I have to, some way or another, speak up for these people who haven’t had a voice for a long time.”

Council censurces Peter Blake

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Submitted photo

Councilmember Peter Blake

Councilmember George Weiss requested the censure based on two categories of “unprofessional acts” that violate the Rules of Decorum and Civility policy. In his request, Weiss notes several instances during city meetings, posts on social media, and comments on newspaper articles when Blake used slurs or other offensive, disparaging, or derogatory language.

Weiss reasoned that Council members should be held to a higher standard.

There are plenty of unprovoked examples, Councilmember Toni Iseman said. They can’t excuse his behavior, she said.

This is the first time the Council has had to enforce the civility policy since its adoption in 2019. 

This is also reportedly the first time in the city’s history that a Laguna Beach City Council member has been censured. A handful of longtime residents and former council members told Stu News Laguna that this is the first case for censure they can remember.

A censure by City Council is to be “treated as an official expression of disapproval or criticism.” There is no fine, suspension, loss of compensation or benefits, or any other form of penalty or discipline. 

“I hope we just put this behind us,” said Mayor Bob Whalen, although he admitted that he didn’t think the censure was going to change much.

“I agree with Peter on a lot of political issues, so this is not about trying to quell his speech or his viewpoints or take political sides,” Whalen said. “It’s really just about how you communicate your views and how you treat people who come before the council.”

Over his two decades in the political realm, Whalen has noticed a change in civility.

“It’s gotten extraordinarily ugly,” over the last few years, Whalen said.

“I guess I’m the person that gave birth to this, in a way, because I put together these policies of rules of decorum and civility,” Whalen said. “I thought it was the right thing to do. I think we should have standards.”

It’s important that they stand by the policy, Whalen said. As elected officials they should rise above any of the “nastiness” or negative comments directed at them. Some can ignore it and let it roll of their back, but there are a lot of ugly and unfair things said about all elected officials. 

“Peter’s taken the brunt of a lot of it, and, I think, some of it unfairly,” Whalen said.

There is some “sport” in trying to antagonize and get a reaction from him, Whalen said.

There has been yelling and offensive remarks on both sides, agreed Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf.

“People have baited him a bit and he’s baited other people, so it’s a two-way street,” Kempf said. “We’re a beautiful city, we have a beautiful community, but…we’ve got a toxic stew going on here for a number of reasons.”

Kempf said she told Blake she doesn’t like the language he has used, and suggested he stay off social media and not to engage in the “back and forth,” which is not useful. There can be constructive conversations and disagreements without the “nasty blowouts,” she said. 

“I don’t like it. I want this to stop, I don’t think it’s going to stop, but I can only control what I do,” Kempf said.

Council centures vehicles

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Signs opposing Blake’s behavior were hung on vehicles parked outside city hall during Tuesday’s Council meeting

On Tuesday, more than two dozen people spoke during public comment, most in support of the censure.

They called Blake’s behavior “boorish,” “repugnant,” “vile,” “appalling,” and “childish.” Council members, or other city leaders, should have self-control when dealing and responding to the public, most agreed.

His behavior discourages public input and bullies the residents until they’re too scared to speak up, several noted. Some said they have been the target of Blake’s attacks, which are often personal insults or name-calling.

Many admitted that the action will likely do nothing to curtail Blake’s behavior, but tolerating it is unacceptable.

“What you don’t condemn, you condone,” Michael Morris said. 

Residents have endured enough over the past two years and censure is the right action. Council allowed it to fester and exacerbate, he said.

“The ballot box is not the ultimate solution here,” Morris said. “The people who are always apologizing for despots say that.”

Responding to comments calling the censure and the discussion a waste of time, Johanna Felder noted that it’s what led up to the censure request and Blake’s behavior that caused it. This type of behavior is designed to be noticed, she said, and that’s what has happened.

A few speakers commented on how the censure, and the behavior that led up to the Council’s action, reflects on the city. Laguna Beach deserves better, several agreed. This may offer an opportunity to look at the civility policy and write in some more substantive language.

Campaigning during an election in Laguna Beach shouldn’t include personal attacks or offensive insults. It’s embarrassing, several people agreed.

“We all kind of need to own some of this,” Kempf said. “We can’t even have a civil election in this town. What a joke.”

During the discussion, Blake interrupted a few times, causing Whalen to mute him and a few public speakers, in order to try and keep the comments on topic. Blake was allowed to respond to a few speakers during public testimony as well as after public comments closed.

Speakers opposed to the censure argued that the action essentially censures the residents who voted for him. He gives a voice to them and they deserve to be heard, noted a few speakers. 

Although they may not agree with his style, Blake shakes things up and that’s what they wanted, Bill Shopoff said. Iseman can take care of herself if she feels Blake abused her in some way, he said.

“I don’t always love Councilmember Blake’s style, but I do love, ultimately, the messaging,” Shopoff said.

Several called Weiss and others advocating for censure hypocrites, pointing out their own comments or behavior in the past. The censure is political theater or shenanigans, or an attempt to “cancel” Blake, several stated.

“This is not for the best for Laguna Beach,” India Hynes said. “This, really, is just a political move and only hurts our town.”

This should have been handled off the dais, Cindy Shopoff said. “Go offline and act like adults and handle this in the back room, where it should be handled.”

Others said this should be handled at the ballot box during the next election.

A few noted that the timing, while the city is in the middle of recruiting a new city manager, including Cindy Shopoff.

“This couldn’t have been a worse time to do this,” Kempf said. 

The candidate pool is definitely watching this, she said.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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