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By Elijah McKee

February 17, 2022 — Sixty-two — that is the number of times Mayor Racquel Vasquez hit her gavel during Lemon Grove’s City Council meeting on February 15, 2022. In the end, the meeting was adjourned early and scheduled to resume two days later at 6 p.m.

These calls to order, as well as numerous recesses, were in response to Councilmember Liana LeBaron asking questions or making points of clarification about the task at hand. These tensions on the City Council have mounted for many months now; on Tuesday, the context was an initial one-year lease agreement with the Urban League of San Diego County. 

However, the room was on edge from the start. After Councilmember LeBaron thanked a public commenter, Mayor Vasquez called her out for being out of order. Minutes later, the Mayor read from the Lemon Grove Municipal Code about how meetings should be orderly and stated that those who disrupt them are subject to criminal repercussions. 

"There’s nothing criminal about thanking a member of the public,” attorney Cory Briggs advised ECM. For over 20 years, Briggs has specialized in government accountability and public interest litigation. Currently, he is representing San Diegans for Open Government in a lawsuit against the city of San Diego over failure to comply with public records requests.

Later in the contentious meeting, Councilmember LeBaron took issue with how the Mayor was speaking favorably about the City’s financial health, and jumped in to list a myriad of problems facing the City. She spoke without being recognized by the meeting’s chair, the Mayor, and refused repeated requests to stop. This prompted one of the many recesses called. 

When the meeting resumed, City Attorney Kristen Steinke reminded the City Council that the Brown Act prohibits discussing things not on the agenda. However, Briggs said otherwise.

“The Brown Act prohibits council action on items not on the agenda. It doesn’t prohibit a councilmember from talking about something that is not on the agenda,” Briggs clarified.

Yet the finale to the meeting that brought down the curtain was a simple question dispute. 

Councilmember LeBaron wanted to know through what process the Urban League’s proposed lease of the Recreation Center was allowed to be put on the agenda, and if that procedure would be the same for other organizations that may want to use the rec center.

As context, her question followed a string of emails in which LeBaron has sought to put reopening the rec center on the agenda at the request of residents, without success..

City Manager Lydia Romero explained that the Urban League presentation on proposed youth programs during the council meeting came out of her discussions with the organization and the approval of the Mayor. 

When Councilmember LeBaron pressed for more information, the Mayor tried to move along to other Councilmembers’ questions. Councilmember LeBaron protested, inisiting that the city manager should answer her question.

On this point, Briggs explained, “The city manager is legally allowed to blow off any member of the city council. Unless a majority of the council tells the city manager to grow up and act professionally, the city manager need not answer anyone’s question.”

Not a single member came to LeBaron’s defense, however. 

A recess was called, after which she again persisted on her question even after the Mayor called for a vote and the Urban League agenda item passed, with LeBaron opposed.

The mayor declared LeBaron "out of control and out of order." LeBaron countered by claiming the mayor was violating Lemon Grove’s policies and procedures.

Out came the gavel, and the meeting was abruptly adjourned after just one hour.

A full video recording of the meeting is available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eulJdDN2v8

Conducting the business of the City of Lemon Grove is scheduled to continue this evening. Will the frustration across the dais follow suit?

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My Perspective

The meeting ended not with a simple question but with a refusal by Le Baron to comply with the presiding officer’s direction to move on and let other Council members speak. Lack of decorum, bullying and shouting over every member of the Council has become the norm for Le Baron. You don’t have a discussion with her you have to have a shouting match to get a word in edgewise. _________________________ It’s not the questions but the combative and disrespectful style and disruptive presence on Lemon Grove’s Council that has caused the rift between Le Baron and the rest of Council. Keeping in mind that there have been bitter disagreements between the others of us in the recent past. I even ran against the Mayor in the last election. We are all together in condemning this obstructive, disrespectful, disruptive, and bullying behavior. _________________________ Le Baron’s constant lists of requests are not in line with the Council’s policy of setting an annual work plan. It’s not the questions but the timing and manor. She can ask any time, but these things are better addressed on an annual basis with our goal setting policy and budget development. This is why she gets no response from the rest of us. Good policy is not made by responding to every squeaky wheel between this annual process without good cause. None of her requests have risen to a level of urgency and she was on Council at our last goal setting process. Where was she then? All of her requests have a dollar figure attached and as much as Le Baron claims to protect taxpayers’ dollars, she has no understanding of finance, budgeting, planning or management. Many of Le Baron’s requests are already on the work plan or are ongoing directives of the Council. Recreation services for example. We all want that and Council as directed staff to look for outside resources and partnerships. The Urban League is an example of that. _________________________ Her constant outbursts and diatribes with no nexus to the agenda item are indeed a Brown Act issue. They turn a discussion away from the agendized business at hand and disrupt the Council’s ability to get its work done. The intent of the Brown Act is that the public be aware of what business is being done by their elected representatives, it’s not just about taking action. Her attempts to hijack our meetings with her well-rehearsed talking points have become a regular thing. It is the responsibility of the mayor to keep these meetings focused and orderly and working to complete the agendized business of the City. The law allows the mayor lot of discretion in this area. _________________________ With regard the question asked of the city manager. The question was asked and answered several times. Just because the question was asked poorly and the answer wasn’t what was desired, doesn’t mean it wasn’t answered. A better question would have been, “have any legitimate organizations, with credentials, made a similar proposal?” I never got to ask that question because Le Baron refused to yield the floor. I did ask that privately and the simple answer was no. To attack an organization like the Urban League is embarrassing. To do all of this for the benefit of her cronies is disgusting. Watch the tape and you will see her friend talk about efforts she’s taken to organize recreational events without a formal proposal to the city and without evidence of any kind of a 501c (non-profit) status, insurance or legitimate business to back the efforts _________________________ Forgive the odd editing as this site does not allow for paragraphs.