Yucca Valley Council Refuses To Endorse Leone’s Town Commission Nominations

Robert Leone, who returned to the town council last month after a four-and-a-half year hiatus following a special election to choose resigned councilman Isaac Hagerman’s replacement, was unable to get either of his commission choices approved by his colleagues.
After outdistancing Michael Hildebrand and Jennifer Collins in the March 5 election, Leone was due to make his appointment to the park, recreation and cultural commission and planning commission. Those appointees will serve terms concurrent with Hagerman’s underlying term which Leone will now fill. That term will end in December 2014, with an election due in November 2014. Approval of a council member’s commission appointments has traditionally been a formality in Yucca Valley, where council members normally ratify one another’s appointments with little question or fanfare.
Right off, however, Leone ran into opposition when he nominated Curt Duffy to replace Hildebrand as a member of the planning commission. Not one member of the council seconded Leone’s motion to elevate Duffy. With that issue temporarily unresolved, Leone went on nominate former councilwoman Lori Herbel to the park, recreation and cultural commission. Councilman George Huntington seconded Leone’s motion, but no vote on her appointment was taken. Leone wanted Herbel to replace Collins.
When it became clear that the council would not accept Duffy, Leone relented and nominated Hildebrand to remain on the commission for the next 19 months. That motion passed unanimously.
Councilwoman Dawn Rowe said that Leone had not given adequate consideration to the several qualified applicants for the positions and that she wanted to resist a nomination process that was pre-determined and not transparent.
Mayor Merl Abel said he wanted to avoid the specter of a backroom deal that would hang over the council if it had gone along with Leone’s nominations. Huntington suggested that Duffy had not been a resident of Yucca Valley long enough to merit appointment to the planning commission.
Whereas Rowe and Abel’s statements hinted that the balance of the council’s support of Leone’s nominations would have been improper, Leone was of the opinion that his fellow council members’ stony silence in the face of his nomination of Duffy and their collective unwillingness to support either of his preferred appointments indicated connivance on their part.
“I find it very strange that all of them were on the same page and I could not even get a second to my motion so we could at least discuss Curt Duffy’s merits,” Leone said. “I think he is a very capable and intelligent person who will make decisions on a fiscal level as well as with regard to good land use. He availed himself to the town and we did not even hold a serious discussion about his qualifications. I think George Huntington said he doesn’t live here or hasn’t lived here that long. Well, he does live here and he owns a home here. I have been on the council before and I never encountered that before. It makes you wonder if a Brown Act violation took place. I don’t know that I can go that far, to say there was some behind-the-scenes collusion that took place. I don’t want to say that and I am not saying that. I am going to have to work with the rest of the council for the next 20 months and I don’t want to accuse them. It just makes you wonder why they were suddenly very silent when I made my nomination.”
The Brown Act is California’s open meeting law which prohibits a quorum of elected officials from discussing public business or arriving at a decision outside the forum of an official public hearing.
Leone said he moved to keep Hildebrand on the planning commission when it became obvious he would not be able to get Duffy approved. He said he could live with Hildebrand remaining in place.  “He’s a nice young man,” Leone said of Hildebrand. “Why not retain him? He has grown into the position. Charles McHenry was another possible choice, but he would have been a new person on the commission and would have had to backfill a lot of information.”
In an unexpected development, Hildebrand on April 8 tendered  his resignation from the planning commission, citing his increased work schedule.
So, while Leone said he would have been comfortable with Hildebrand remaining as planning commissioner, he was not prepared to keep Collins as his appointment to the parks, recreation and cultural commission.
“A lot of negative things against me came out of her mouth during the election campaign,” Leone said. “She directly accused me of things that I know were not true. She seems to be against what I stand for. That is why I wanted Lori Herbel.”
Leone said the difficulty he is having getting his commission appointments approved is probably attributable to his problematic relationship with the town manager, Mark Nuami.
He said he believes the town council has fallen too heavily Nuami’s sway and are allowing him to set the agenda for the town rather than adhering to their elected duty of developing a vision for the community and setting policy for local governance and having the city manager execute on that vision and policy.
“I just got elected to fill out the rest of Isaac Hagerman’s term for the next 19 months,” Leone said. “I think the people want a change from what we have. Mark Nuami is a bright young man and he has a lot of pull with the council. Unfortunately, a lot of his moves are duplicating the same baggage as he had in Fontana, where he was mayor. He wants to select people for the two commissions using the power of his office. I think he is running the town into the ground. He is pulling the town in a direction people don’t want to go. The town council is going along with him. They have given him a raise to almost $300,000. That has upset a lot of people in a town where the median income is somewhere between $35,000 to $42,000. At the same time the town is cutting programs. I think people believe we are spending our money on a lot of the wrong things.”
Leone said he will work to fill the two vacant commission spots as soon as possible.
“I am accepting applications for the planning commission and the parks, recreation and cultural commission, pending printed notification in the newspaper,” Leone said.

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