Upland Solons Cite Councilwoman’s Disruptiveness In Stripping Her Of Assignments

A strong four-member majority of the Upland City Council this week stripped councilwoman Janice Elliott of three of her four remaining city or regional adjunct committee assignments, a clear sign her colleagues do not appreciate the dissent she has occasionally registered toward the direction in which the council majority and city manager Martin Thouvenell are seeking to take the city.
Almost from the outset, Elliott has been out of joint with the council. In the immediate aftermath of the November 8 election, her candidacy appeared to have failed, as the initial counting of votes showed she narrowly trailed Sid Robinson for the one position on the council that was up for election. The tallying the night of the election was not official, however, and two days later, as provisional votes and other late arriving ballots came in, she overtook Robinson. When the official results were at last available, she remained in front of Robinson in the four-person race by 309 votes, 7,622 or 28.1 percent to Robinson’s 7,313 or 26.97 percent. This was something of a temporary disappointment to two of the other members of the council, Debbie Stone and Gino Filippi, who had supported Robinson. Stone, who had last been elected to the council in 2014 and yet had two years on her council term, ran for mayor in the 2016 election, beating incumbent councilman Glenn Bozar, who had to surrender his council post because he had last been elected to the council in 2012 and was obliged to give up seeking reelection to his council position to run for mayor. The night she was sworn into office, Elliott advocated filling the vacancy on the council created by Stone’s elevation to mayor with Robinson, and by council acclamation, Robinson was appointed to the council.
That would prove the last time Elliott was in dynamic synch with her colleagues. When the time for doling out committee assignments came, she was given five posts and she expressed disappointment, which she later apologized for expressing, that the mayor seemed to be more favorably disposed to Robinson, a USC graduate, in appointing him to more prestigious committee and regional board assignments. After the finance committee met only once, Mayor Stone, acting in concert with city manager Martin Thouvenell and with the concurrence of Filippi, Robinson and councilwoman Carol Timm, dissolved the finance committee. Elliott found her committee assignments cut back to four.
Throughout the first three months of her council tenure, Elliott’s voting record was nearly indistinguishable from that of the other council members. In March, the city’s application with the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission lodged last fall for an examination of the option of shuttering the city’s then-110-year-old municipal fire department had been fully processed. With the city’s assent the Local Agency Formation Commission conducted a public hearing on the matter and voted to approve moving the city and neighboring San Antonio Heights into a county fire service zone, imposing on each city parcel owner a $152.68 annual assessment, closing out the Upland Fire Department as of July 1, and handing the city’s fire stations and equipment over to the county fire department, which is to then assume firefighting and emergency medical response duty in the city. Initially, Elliott had gone along with the rest of the council in supporting the annexation.
But Elliott was dissuaded from that position in the wake of resident dissatisfaction that followed, and she amended her stance to express sympathy and support for those protesting the county takeover of the fire department, holding informational gatherings to provide a forum for residents which she termed “town hall meetings.” To the city council, which was hoping to maintain a show of unity in “The City of Gracious Living,” Elliott’s action was offensive. They reminded her that true town hall meetings are ones officially designated by the mayor and the council as a whole. And they resented as well her dialoging with the press, doing so without checking first with the city manager or informing her council colleagues about the views she was expressing. She escalated the insult when she authored op-ed pieces that ran in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the largest circulated local daily newspaper in Upland. The position she took in those tractates did not adhere to the views of the collective council.
On May 8, in an effort to impress upon Elliott how she had deviated from what in Upland is considered to be the appropriate demeanor of those privileged to govern, the council adjourned into a closed session at which they considered a document entitled “In House Policies of the Upland City Council.” It laid out the protocol for how a good Upland City Council Member should carry on.
“The City of Upland is committed to serving our community and improving the quality of life while celebrating our heritage and diversity,” the protocol stated. “Become knowledgeable about city operations and services so that as council members [you] can effectively evaluate the answers. Weigh both sides of the issue and deal with facts not hearsay. If a city council person has a grievance with another council member, they must discuss it with that person. If the matter is unresolved, go to the city manager and that council person and the manager can speak together with them. Under no circumstances should a council member go to the general public and discuss personal matters or conflicts between council members.” It also states, “Social media is a great way to communicate meetings and tell about council meetings, final decisions of council, events, etc. but if a vote has been made by the council, a councilmember should support the decision of the whole council whether they agree or not on social media and at any public meetings. Monitor your posts carefully. Only the mayor with a majority vote of the council can call for ‘town hall meetings.’ If a councilmember wishes to meet with constituents, call it a ‘coffee’ or another name so that the citizens are not confused about the opinion you are espousing. It is advisable to have several people oversee any informational or newspaper articles that are submitted. The city manager should be aware of your article and submittal.”
While Stone, Filippi, Timm and Robinson signed the document, Elliott did not.
Shortly after the meeting, Elliott went to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and lodged a complaint, asserting the presentation of the protocol during the closed session constituted a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law. This subjected the city council and city manager Martin Thouvenell to no little embarrassment.
This week, the council struck back. At Thouvenell’s recommendation, a resolution calling for the removal of Elliott from the San Bernardino County Interagency Council on Homelessness and her replacement with Eric Gavin; her removal from the Upland Municipal Investments Committee and her replacement with councilwoman Carol Timm; and her removal from the Inland Empire Utility Agency and her replacement with councilman Gino Filippi was prepared.
At the meeting, Julie Bridge asserted Elliott has been “On a path of retaliation.” Bridge said that what should have been “a professional, polite business meeting on March 24 relating “to the posting of issues on Upland social media that were totally incorrect” went awry. “The mayor and staff tried to tell you your posts were not correct information and you would not listen or change your postings,” Bridge said to Elliott. “Unfortunately many of your postings were filled with inaccurate statistics that misled people into thinking you had knowledge that somehow the city was hiding something from the citizens. As a result of how you felt after that meeting, you went spiraling out of control to get the mayor’s attention. You involved so many respected people in our town and complained you weren’t getting enough attention and should be on every committee, even though your learning curve was far below the rest.”
Elliot did this, Bridge said, “in an effort to get things done your way and to support your theory that you were being unfairly treated. After that we all started to get hordes of phone calls and messages about your erratic behavior and it has not stopped to this day. The people that you reached out to were shocked at what you were doing and all encouraged you not to overreact, to be reasonable and put things in their proper perspective. You listened to no one. If you don’t get your way, you run to the press and post on the internet how mistreated you are. You are just being a bully. Every single day since March 25, many of us have been working on major damage control caused by you. I’ve seen the writing and posts of all other city council members and I use them to stay informed and I do value what they say. You’ve often posted things that are one-sided, and that gets the people in an uproar. Your posts have been misleading and inflammatory. It’s just that simple. You have been on an unexplainable destructive warpath, one where you will stop at nothing to get any amount of attention. You outright accused the city council and city staff of all being in collusion and hiding something. I want to know what you found out. Accusing the staff and city council of not telling the truth and not being transparent is offensive to them, and wrong and misleading to the public. What is it you know that no one else knows? You just don’t get your facts right. You wanted money to have an external fraud audit even though the city books are audited yearly. When your request was unsupported, you took it upon yourself to conduct your own research and found nothing wrong. Yet, you didn’t make a peep about that. You continue to mislead more of our citizens.”
Jim Richardson said, “As citizens, we’re seeking to build partnerships with City Hall and we require clarity, candor and honesty from you guys. We need people to say what they mean and to stand for what they say. We don’t need people up there playing games. We elected a slate of people who promised to work together for our benefit to finally make the tough choices that the last council avoided. The remnants out there still deny there is any solution. That’s where councilmember Elliott draws information and direction from. Given the actions taken since her dissatisfaction with the mayor’s committee appointments, we’ve seen a scorched earth kamikaze mission [such] that the words blame every single one of you guys. I understand that your decision is not easy or made in haste or with any emotion. You’re not removing her from office. There is no conspiracy. There is widespread agreement among people who don’t even know one another that have reached the same conclusion. We deserve a functional leader in every capacity, not demanding her way or war. This is categorically not a personal issue I have with her, nor anyone I’m aware of has with her. It happens to be her that’s the subject of conversation. It’s her action and her judgment I oppose. I have no wish to censor or block anything she says. In honesty, if anyone conducted themselves as recklessly as this, I’d be just as vocal. As an Upland resident, I have a right to better representation on any committee. The person seated up there is not the one I campaigned for.” Richardson said Elliot had “changed her position” with regard to certain issues. He said that in launching the Brown Act violation “assault” against her colleagues she had failed. He encouraged the council to do the “tough but right thing,” i.e., remove Elliott from the committees she was on.
While some who spoke at the council meeting supported Elliott, the council did not find their statements persuasive.
In her remarks, Mayor Stone took responsibility for having placed the item to remove Elliott from the three committees on the agenda.
“I want to make absolutely clear why I put his on the agenda in the first place,” Stone said, going on to read a statement prepared for her by the city’s publicist, Steve Lambert. “Committee assignments are not a right,” Stone read. “They are a responsibility, a responsibility councilmember Elliott has shown she is incapable of handling. Every committee councilmember Elliott is on is in disarray and I am tired of fielding calls emails and texts regarding her conduct and disruptive behavior. She has alienated other committee members and our city staff does not want to deal with her. Councilmember Elliott has misused her position to misinform, mislead and confuse the public about matters vital to our future as a community. She has consistently posted misstatements regarding the constitutionality of the Proposition 218 process, inappropriately released confidential information regarding the performance review of our acting city manager and repeatedly misrepresented the city’s financial position, falsely claiming among other things that we have a 34 percent surplus when in fact we have a very modest 17 percent surplus. By her own admissions, committee assignments are very important to her political resume as she looks forward to reelection. This is not what committee work is about. It’s about serving our community in a thoughtful, honorable and honest way. We expect those that serve on committees to understand subject matters enough to make informed decisions and recommendations. How can someone who serves on an investment committee not understand a budget surplus? That alone disqualifies councilmember Elliott from that committee. As for the homeless committee, Eric Gavin is immensely more qualified to serve in that position. Serving on a committee requires a councilmember do his or her homework and not shoot from the hip. Councilmember Elliott coauthored the ballot argument in favor of Measure E, then changed her mind and actively campaigned against it. At the LAFCO hearing, she testified vigorously in favor of the fire annexation, then changed her mind. The list goes on. About the only thing councilmember Elliott is consistent on is playing the sympathy card. Let’s make this clear: None of this is about a vendetta. As mayor, I appreciate differing points of view. At the end of the day, that helps us get to where we need to be, but I will not sit back while a councilmember actively and aggressively disrupts the work of city staff and puts her own personal political agenda ahead of what’s in the best interest of our city.”
Stone then made a motion to remove Elliott from three committees in accordance with the resolution on the agenda. Councilman Gino Filippi seconded the motion. Elliott then offered a statement saying she did not believe she merited removal from the committees. Filippi followed that up with his statement.
“From my perspective, a lot of this upset is certainly unnecessary and the discord is unfortunate for not just the members of this board but some of the employees, the city manager and the residents and that’s as transparent as it gets and I’ll go further because I am troubled by a couple of things,” Filippi said. “Number one is disclosure of employee information that occurred during a closed meeting. That happened, folks. Councilmember Elliott accused councilmember Robinson of being on too many committees. She came to one of these meetings and actually apologized. What troubles me is this keeps churning. We don’t need it. We’ve been making progress here for over a year in keeping this city away from bankruptcy and moving it toward financial stability. That’s why we’re here. It’s not easy, but things like this are certainly distracting and it cheats the public from services that they deserve and they expect. That’s transparency, folks. We can’t talk about what a great city manager we have here in open session, but he had complaints about the behavior of a city council member interfering with employees and other groups.”
Four votes were required to displace Elliott from the panels, as the city regulations spell out such removals cannot be made on a simple 3-2 majority, as is the case with most other council actions.
The council voted 4-1, with Elliott dissenting, to remove her from the committees. She remains a board member of the West End Consolidated Water Company.  -Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply