By Miriam Raftery
Photo, left: Councilmember Liana LeBaron
Updated March 6, 2022 8:30 p.m. with comments from Councilman Gastil.
March 6, 2022 (Lemon Grove) -- After weeks of contentious meetings, the Lemon Grove City Council will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, March 8 to consider a resolution for the Council majority to condemn alleged misconduct by Councilmember Liana LeBaron including disruptions at Council meetings and accusations made against staffers that the City contends are false.
The City Attorney has also sent a letter to LeBaron and other Councilmembers threatening legal action against her.
Le Baron has denied wrongdoing. An attorney representing the Project for Open Government has also weighed in, criticizing the City's actions.
LeBaron claims actions are retaliatory
LeBaron denies wrongdoing. On Facebook, she states to her constituents that the Council’s aim is to “punish me for the work I do on your behalf.” She posted the resolution, along with a letter she received from the City Attorney Kristen Steinke on March 3 which she says contain “false accusations.” To the public, she wrote, “I encourage everyone to attend the meeting.”
The resolution’s allegations
The proposed resolution accuses LeBaron of “disruptive, obstructive and inappropriate behavior at Council meetings” including shouting over colleagues and interrupting others when not recognized by the Mayor. It also alleges that she made “baseless” accusations targeting staff including fraud and hiding the truth about city finances, having a “detrimental impact on the City’s ability to attract and retain talented staff,” among other things.
The censure motion asks LeBaron to refrain from public attacks on city professionals and threatens that the city might fail to indemnify her if an aggrieved employee or former worker were to file an action against her.
LeBaron has been persistent in seeking questions on finances and procedures, at times talking over others when the Mayor would not recognize her or direct that her questions be answered by staff.
But multiple Councilmembers have complained that disruptions by LeBaron have delayed meetings and impeded Council’s ability to get things done. A recent Council meeting was adjourned early as a result of LeBaron demanding an answer to a question on procedures for groups to gain access to the rec center, a question that the City Manager would not provide. Councilmembers have united in refusing to answer any of LeBaron’s questions, according to a post made by Councliman Jerry Jones on ECM’s website.
Councilman Jones criticizes LeBaron’s conduct and timing
Jones wrote, “Lack of decorum, bullying and shouting over every member of the Council has become the norm for Le Baron…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.” He adds, “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.”
Councilman Gastil speaks out
Councilman George Gastil, in an email to friends in Lemon Grove with a copy sent to ECM, encouraged residents to attend the meeting.
" Ms.LeBaron often says that she was elected to serve the people. All five of us were elected by the people, and I have to say four of us are serious about serving the people," he states. "The people did not elect Ms. LeBaron so that she could disrupt meetings, harass staff, and swear at her fellow Council members. That is not serving anyone, and that is what needs to stop."
Attorney for Projects with Open Government slams City for “railroading” LeBaron
The fracas has drawn the attention of prominent attorney Cory Briggs, who contacted ECM to advise that he’s representing Project for Open Government , a 501c3 nonprofit, and will be requesting records to determine whether Lemon Grove officials can back up their serious claims. According to its Twitter feed, the nonprofit has a mission statement that pledges, "Working to ensure unethical and illegal conduct by government and those doing business with government is exposed and appropriate remedies are pursued." The group recently filed a lawsuit against the County of San Diego over alleged free speech and open government violations.
Briggs had strong words for Lemon Grove's efforts to discredit LeBaron, which he suggests amount to “railroading.” He stated, “It appears that the four-member majority of the City Council, aided and abetted by the City Attorney and City Manager, are trying to steal an election.” He added pointedly, “Stealing an election is a crime.”
According to Briggs, “Councilmember LeBaron is doing exactly what her constituents seek her to do: ask tough questions, tell the truth, make sure the public truly benefits, and hold officials accountable for their misdeeds. That was her platform, she got the most votes in her election, and she is delivering.”
Disclosure: Briggs also represents Chris Williams, a marijuana dispensary applicant suing the City of Lemon Grove over alleged discrminatory actions for denying his application after a physical altercation with former Councilman David Arambula, which resulted in Williams hospitalized with serious injuries. Briggs told ECM that his representation of Project for Open Government is unrelated to Williams.
City Attorney threatens restraining order, says access codes changed to City Hall
The City Attorney’s letter to LeBaron accuses her of unauthorized use of a conference room at City Hall, disrupting staff, and ignoring a prior request Feb. 25 to cease these actions. The letter claims this exposes the City to potential liability due to employee claims including one received Feb. 14.
The letter states that access codes to City Hall for all Councilmembers are being revoked as a result. The letter asks LeBaron to cease such actions, adding, “If you refuse, the City Council will proceed to seek a court order to restrain your behavior.”
How to attend special meeting Tuesday
The special meeting will be held Tuesday, March 8 at 6 p.m. at the Lemon Grove Community Center, 3146 School Lane in Lemon Grove. The resolutions is the only item on the agenda.
The meeting is in person, with no option for remote participation or viewing, despite repeated requests by the public and this media outlet for meetings to be accessible on Zoom or another virtual platform. Members of the public can request speaker cards to testify for or against the resolution.