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Petrilla Wants to Serve but Council Members Want Assurances

Jesse Petrilla is questioned hard by colleagues about his ability to fulfill his obligation as a councilman while training with the California Army National Guard in Kentucky.

The question of whether rookie City Councilman Jesse Petrilla will be able to participate in budget discussions for Rancho Santa Margarita while he is at Fort Knox for 3-1/2 months with the California Army National Guard dominated city council discussion on Wednesday.

Petrilla learned two days earlier that he is to report to the Kentucky military facility on Feb. 22, and remain through June 16. He will miss the next six meetings; that’s two meetings more than he has attended in his term.

A lieutenant who will be trained to lead a tank command, Petrilla has five years remaining on his six-year commitment to the reserves.

Understandably, he desires to continue his civic duty through technological means such as teleconferencing.

The other four council members’ concern is whether would be A) available to participate in council meetings via teleconference while B) complying with the Brown Act—working from a room open to the public at Fort Knox or elsewhere—and C) being available to participate in budget meetings apart from council meetings.

Petrilla said he will be gone for 115 days. Though most training will be in a school or study environment, he said 30 days will be in field tests. He admitted there could be a conflict with council meetings but estimated probably no more than two.

However, veteran council members were less concerned about his missing council meetings and more concerned about budget meetings, a process that begins in May and takes place separately from council meetings. The 2011-12 fiscal year budget is scheduled to be approved on June 22—the first meeting following Petrilla’s return.

“The most important decision any council member has to make is the adoption of the budget,” Mayor Tony Beall said. “It’s a painstaking, very detailed process, and literally covers every penny this city spends over the year. We’ve got PowerPoint and spreadsheet presentations going on that are being changed on the fly. . . .

“From a technological standpoint it presents real obstacles. Not having been through it, you can’t imagine the level of detail. It’s an impressive process and it’s a lot. Be careful what you wish for. It’s not something I’d want to participate in over a telephone.”

Greg Simonian, attorney for the city, called the situation unique. Though his research wasn’t complete he believed there were three available options:

  • Leave Petrilla’s chair empty and continue with a four-person council;
  • Appoint a temporary council member to replace Petrilla in his absence;
  • Allow Petrilla to continue to participate in his governance role through teleconferencing.

If the last option is chosen, a number of elements would need to be satisfied to accommodate the open meeting Brown Act.

“A member of the public has to be able to sit next to council member Petrilla and be able to participate in the meetings as if he were here,” Simonian said. “If there’s a Brown Act violation there’s potential embarrassment to the entire city. . . .

"Will Fort Knox allow a council meeting with the door open?”

Petrilla says yes, but his colleagues want proof that the Army will support the councilman’s involvement 100 percent.

Holloway suggested the military might have its own designs on Petrilla’s time and simply not allow him the freedom, access or availability to participate in West Coast meetings on East Coast time. “I would only feel comfortable if we have a letter from whoever needs to write a letter [representing the military] who says it’s OK,” he said. “I’m concerned about them saying you can’t do this at all.”

Petrilla didn’t seem enthused about trying to get an official OK.

“The military is even slower than other government entities when it comes to paperwork,” Petrilla said, adding that he would be back from duty by the time a letter was received.

“I’ll only support it if you can make all the budget meetings,” Holloway responded. “It’s not fair to us to go backward if you miss something. . . . They may be able to answer something very quickly.

“If you miss two budget meetings, that’s just not fair to the public through no fault of your own. In terms of serving the needs of the public, missing a budget meeting is not the same as missing a city council meeting.”

Lawrence (Larry) McCook February 11, 2011 at 02:59 PM
This deployment is not totally unexpected. I wish Jesse a great training class and a speedy return. It is also not unexpected that he may be deployed to a year of active duty during his four year council period. Wednesday night I addressed The RSM City Council in regard to a temporary replacement. The RSM voters gave former councilman Blais and myself close to 11,000 votes combined It seems to honor the will of the RSM voters that a temporary council assignment should go to the 1st Runner Up Blais and if he does not want to accept this temporary assignment then to myself being the 2nd Runner Up. As the RSM City Attorney Simonian said "this a once in a lifetime situation". Still serving my Country, Larry McCook
Jack Leonard February 11, 2011 at 07:25 PM
PART 1. Newly elected councilman Petrilla, while running for office in 2010, used his position with the national guard, prior to any active service, as a key point requesting community support to vote him into office. His platform also included a strong position to reduce city spending and cut waste. Wednesday night, during a regularly scheduled city council meeting, he strongly proposed a special city council session early next week, and before being deployed to Ft. Knox for approximately 3 1/2 months, in an effort to gain a majority vote from his peers, in support of continuing to actively stay involved. A relatively inexpensive amount of time and effort, to date, has been spent evaluating the costs and options of Petrilla's proposal, and by next week, with somewhat more taxpayer costs by the city taxpayers, will provide better direction associated with the feasibility and costs of councilman Petrilla's proposal.
Jack Leonard February 11, 2011 at 07:30 PM
Part 2. Fortunately, the current city council majority chose not to hold a special council meeting,but did direct staff to pursue the feasibility, benefits, and hopefully costs for Petrilla's proposal, along with two alternative choices; 1) Leave Petrilla’s chair empty and continue with a four-person council. 2) Appoint a temporary council member to replace Petrilla in his absence. 3) Allow Petrilla to continue to participate in his governance role through teleconferencing. I thank councilman Petrilla for his interest in serving his city and his Country, but realizing, that interest is best provided by taking seriously the position, not positions before him. Time served for his Country was a strong winning point in his campaign for City Council. Go with that committment; residents of RSM will respect you for it. Let's not drag out the time, costs and resources of an already tight budget and understaffed city government. In the best interest of taxpayers in the City of Rancho Santa Margarita, I reach out to our citizens to support a LEAVE THE POSITION VACANT for the next few council meetings and only then determine if a fifth appointed council member is critical moving forward into May and June to support a crucial budget planning series of meetings. If needed at that time, may I suggest one of our city's FOUNDING council members, with a desire to preserve and sustain that which they helped create, well before the city's incorporation in November of 1999.
Donnamarie CarenzaKline February 11, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Shame on everyone! This man is serving OUR country! He was chosen by the community to represent RSM and won by many votes! Simply appointing one our our founding council members is not going to be someone that shares the same prospective that Mr Petrilla shares and was elected in to office in RSM to represent change and his point of views. Shame on anyone that sees him serving our country as a negative and not supportive of trying to accomodate his duty requirements to serve our nation and fulfill his elected position. Military people are protected, and it is sad if it has to come to that!
Jack Leonard February 11, 2011 at 08:39 PM
And with that respect, first and foremost is to have city council work as a 4 member council, leaving his chair open until his return.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook February 11, 2011 at 11:01 PM
Though I do not feel that Mrs. Carenza-Kline comment was directed to me, I just want to make my views perfectly clear. There is no one in Rancho Santa Margaria more supportive of our military and military service than myself! I work 365 days per year in support of our military! I have a number of close friends who are currently deployed for our country. I am also an active member with long time active involvement with the The American Legion of The United States of America. I applaud Jesse Petrilla's military service to our country!
April Josephson February 11, 2011 at 11:53 PM
Donnamarie, I respectfully disagree with you. I support Jesse in his military obligations and want him to be successful in his city endeavors. I thank him for his service and wish him well. However, I believe that neither the Army nor the citizens of RSM are best served by someone attempting to serve two such demanding masters at the same time. He is not doing anyone justice by stretching himself so thin. The obligation to participate in active Army service is not the city's—it is personal to Jesse. It wasn't the voters' choice for him to leave for almost 4 months. My opinion is that he should recognize that, take care of his service to the best of his capabilities, and come back to council with a clean slate. Don't make commitments to the city or the Army to pull all-nighters to do both as he said on Wednesday. It is not in the best interest of our nation or our city to have someone burn the candle at both ends in such important matters. If it was about being in KY for 1-2 regular council meetings, Teleconferencing is a viable alternative—apart from the budget discussions. I am looking at a much bigger picture. What he is asking is an inadequate substitute for his presence, especially given his lack of institutional knowledge and the depth of presentations/discussions in the budget sessions. It puts a significant, unnecessary burden on city staff and costs the taxpayers not just substantial money, but by not getting the best representation possible during his absence.

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