Councilwoman Betty Rexford has become the focus of a regular mob scene in Poway
By Gerold Firl
December 9, 2009 (Poway) --We don't often get to witness an old-fashioned political hatchet job these days, especially out in plain sight. But it's happening right now in the bucolic halls of urban Poway. The ugly lineaments of hardball dirty politics are flapping in the breeze for all to see. If you can stand the whiff of corruption hovering over this travesty, it's well worth the time of any citizen who's interesting in improving the state of American politics. This is how we shouldn't run a government, and it's the responsibility of every responsible voter to recognize these tactics.
Normally, one doesn't associate Poway with sleaze. But don't confuse the excellence of the Poway school system with the mediocrity and corruption of city politics. Poway municipal finances have been buoyed for years by development fees boosted by sky-high real estate values. Those revenues previously covered a multitude of sins, but now they're dropping, as Poway is virtually built-out. As the gravy train has throttled back, the incompetent bureaucrats who feed at the public trough are feeling peckish, and perhaps that explains the nasty turn they've taken.
Councilwoman Betty Rexford has become the focus of a regular mob scene in Poway. It started when the other four council members took advantage of her absence from a City Council meeting (she was out of town with her son, who was dying of cancer) to throw her under the bus as an offering to their own political careers. They started by asking for her resignation. That cold-blooded cut was supposed to kill a couple of birds with a single cast: if they could take advantage of her weakened condition to intimidate her into resigning, then they would get to appoint her replacement. That appointee would then have the incumbents' advantage in the upcoming 2010 elections. In Poway, incumbent Councilmembers are almost always re-elected. They're like County Supervisors that way. Forcing Betty out allows them to pack the council with their own cronies, without the risk of an election. And elections are tricky. Every once in a while the voters will put inconvenient candidates in office. Safer if the council majority can pick a crony.
But that wasn't the only motive, and the City Councilmembers weren't the only players in this nasty bit of mummery. Upon the recommendation of city attorney Lisa Foster and city manager Rod Gould, Poway had elected to settle a lawsuit with a couple of disgruntled residents who live in Rexford's neighborhood. Those plaintiffs were actually the originators of the “Blame Betty” strategy. Their lawsuit named not only the city of Poway, but also Betty Rexford personally. The legal geniuses at City Hall realized they could use that same strategy to their advantage. By linking the settlement of the Basile/Cannon lawsuit to the call for Rexford's resignation, the administration hoped to deflect attention away from wrongdoing by the city.
Misdirection of this kind can be very effective, even though in this case there was no factual basis for the linkage. The complaints were directed at the Building Department, and Betty Rexford has no authority over the Building Department. Building is under the authority of City Manager Rod Gould, and Gould had already instructed his people to avoid communication with Rexford. Furthermore, Rexford had recused herself from Council meetings involving the complaints from her neighbors. Any wrongdoing on the part of Building and Planning is Gould's responsibility, but scapegoating Betty proved to be good camouflage.
If everything had gone according to plan, Betty would have already quit, and Councilmembers Boyack, Higgenson, Cunningham and Kruse would already have picked her replacement. But Betty didn't quit. She didn't believe she had done anything wrong, and was disinclined to cooperate with the whole sacrificial victim thing. She had never agreed to settle the lawsuit, preferring to take it to trial, but when the City decided to settle, the attorney for the Rexford's homeowner insurance went along for the ride. It made sense for them; the City was liable for the lion's share, about $400,000, but the Rexford's insurance company got off for a mere $40,000. That's a lot cheaper than even a short trial, so when Betty told them she didn't want to settle, they told her she'd have to sue her own insurance company to compel them to contest the case. Case closed.
So we see why the idea of a political hatchet job looked so attractive to the City Council and City Manager. Having Betty take the fall meant Rod Gould could avoid taking responsibility for the way his administration had mishandled this building permit dispute, and cost the city roughly half a million dollars. It also provided an opportunity for the City Council to get their hand-picked BFF [best friend forever] up on the bench with them. The only problem was, Betty Rexford just wouldn't cooperate. She still wasn't being a team player.
At this point, the hatchet job was in arrears. Betty was still on the City Council, and showing no signs of leaving until her term ended in November 2010. In that election, anything could happen. Voters might elect another councilcritter who wasn't a “team player”, who asked uncomfortable questions, maybe even someone who put the interests of ordinary citizens above Wal-Mart and the developers. Things were getting worrisome.
It was time to crank up the pressure another notch. Enter Steve Vaus (aka “”Buck Howdy the Singing Cowboy”), who was just the man for the job. He became the frontman for RecallRexford.com. This passel of concerned citizens declared their intention to force a recall, but urged Betty to be a good sport and just quit, to save the citizens of Poway the expense of a special election. When she didn't quit, they started gathering signatures. When she still refused to cave in, they started bringing speakers to the City Council meetings to insult and revile Mrs. Rexford during public oral commentary. As time went on they cranked up the vitriol, until it got to the point where Rexford would leave the chamber during their harangues. The complaints they kept repeating were pure fantasy, but whatever they lacked in fact they made up for with rancor and spite.
Probably the clearest indication of the dishonesty of the vilification and recall campaign has been the fire truck fairy tale. The posse made it the centerpiece of their smear campaign, but it's a ludicrous fabrication, and demonstrably false. Check the so-called documentation on their website. [http://recallrexford.com/] It's a textbook example of innuendo passed off as fact and sensationalism substituted for substance. The blatant dishonesty of the whole narrative seems to assume that citizens are too dumb and lazy to figure out the con – and of course, the whole concept of the political hatchet job is predicated on voters not paying attention, and not caring enough to discern the truth.
Allegations of overly strict adherence to building codes aren't particularly sexy. But the accusation that Betty used her influence to get a fire truck parked in front of her house during the Cedar Fire is salaciously sensational. Vaus and his mob claimed that other houses burned down because of Betty. That Betty hogged a firetruck all for herself, even though other areas needed it more, and her abuse of power thereby made her an arsonist. Vaus even claims to have hard evidence to support this accusation. But upon investigation, the whole fantasy comes crashing down. His website is plastered with accusations, but as soon as you read the so-called “evidence”, it becomes apparent that there is absolutely no factual basis to his claims. When I asked Steve Vaus to provide the name of the person or persons who lost their house(s) because of Betty, Vaus was unable to provide that information. That's because it's all a lie. The lie is so transparent it's pathetic, but perhaps what is even more pathetic is the fact that many people are willing (eager even) to accept such vile and stupid smears as gospel.
Rexford's intransigence eventually brought King Termite out of the woodwork. San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric has made quite a reputation for himself as a bully and a cheat. His Byzantine tactics have made him the GOP Commissar for San Diego, but his attempted purge was no more successful than the previous flacks. He called Rexford to urge her to quit, and when the personal touch didn't work, sent one of his minions to vent at the open mike. Poway City Council meetings have become ludicrous spectacles, as the singing cowboy and his clown posse have turned it into Nasty Night at the Improv. Krvaric informed Rexford that he and Mrs. Mayor-to-be Merrilee Boyack have a candidate all lined up to take Rexford's seat, and they didn't appreciate her lack of cooperation. But Rexford is one stubborn Betty, and the more they try and push her out, the less amenable she becomes to playing her appointed role.
Last we heard, the posse had collected about half of the 5647 signatures needed to force a recall. They still have a couple of months to get the rest, and claim they'll get them easily. We'll see. There have been plenty of voters who seem eager to jump on the bandwagon, but not every Powegian is so gullible. Some see through the lies, others just don't like the rude and vicious manners of the Vigilance Committee.
If the Rexford recall succeeds, that is democracy in action. We can live with that result. But when a political hatchet job succeeds, that is democracy lobotomized. The real question is, are we really dumb enough to fall for it?
Gerold Firl is an inventor, engineer, and scientist. He has lived in Poway since 1984.
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