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Commissioners Call Out Whittingham For Getting Political

Planning Commissioners Jim Eakin and Brad McGirr think Peter Whittingham should stick to business and not politics. Eakin says commissioners owe the residents "a higher standard."

It's a rare occasion when someone on the Planning Commission calls out another commissioner, but it happened twice when the five-man group met on Wednesday at City Hall.

The last 13 minutes of the 52-minute meeting turned out to be quite stirring as Jim Eakin, sitting to commission chair Peter Whittingham's right, and Brad McGirr, sitting to Whittingham's left, were diplomatically critical of Whittingham.

In particular, they were bothered that Whittingham—who sits in an appointed position by current Mayor Pro Tempore Steve Baric—had attached himself to the so-called Voters' Bill of Rights petition that is afoot and alleges that the city has a poor business environment.

"I don't appreciate the comments that are inconsistent with the intent of this commission, the good faith goals of this commission, and I would certainly hope they would not go on," McGirr said. "I don't think it's appropriate."

McGirr opened his comments by saying that he knew what time of year it was, a reference to the political posturing that will accompany election campaigns.

Whittingham and the other person most active in the movement, Dove Canyon Courtyard owner Kenney Hrabik, have taken possession of Form 501 from the city clerk; filling it out is the first step toward launching a campaign for city council.

McGirr, Whittingham and Hrabik were all finalists for Gary Thompson's vacated council seat that was appointed to Carol Gamble. Eakin applied but was not one of the top six.

The Bill of Rights, in its current form, is a petition to put term limits for city councilmembers and the elimination of their health benefits on the ballot in the November general election. It has not yet been certified, Whittingham said Wednesday.

However, earlier this year when trying to raise awareness for the Voters' Bill of Rights, which originally included six items, none of which actually had anything to do with the city's business environment, it was done so with a written introduction—circulated via e-mail as well as in-person—that blamed the city's poor business climate for the need for change:

"Rancho Santa Margarita is a great place to grow up. An awesome hometown. Unfortunately, according to national sources, El Centro, Bakersfield, Philadelphia and even New Orleans are more job friendly. New Orleans! ... With some quick changes, our Council can make our government reflect our neighborhoods—conservative, job-friendly, and welcoming to small businesses."

The Milken Institute was the national source eventually cited, however it did not use statistics from Rancho Santa Margarita but instead used figures from Orange County (Anaheim, Irvine, Santa Ana).

A second item referenced by Eakin claimed that funds earmarked for councilmember benefits could instead go toward "protecting our kids from predators and fixing the traffic that adds hours to our commute every month."

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Neither Eakin, nor McGirr, were aware of traffic congestion issues in RSM, coincidentally on a night in which the council voted 5-0 to take on more oversight of traffic issues in the city.

"We have a $1.2 million surplus, $19 million in reserves, we've been voted the safest city, we have In-N-Out, Cinepolis, BJ's, Crown Books ... I want it known that as a commission, that we have a pro business climate," Eakin said. "I don't know what the economies of Philadelphia and New Orleans are, but I think we're doing great in Rancho Santa Margarita."

Actually, there are several other businesses that have opened in RSM since this council was seated, including Sears Appliance Showroom, ACT Learning Labs, Marque Urgent Care, and Embarcadero restaurant. Additionally, other businesses that have declared their intent to open in RSM—but not mentioned by Eakin—include restaurants Bruxie and Mi Casa and Wal-Mart Neighborhood Grocery.

Cinepolis Luxury Theaters has committed $7 million to renovate the old Edwards 6 Theater; it hopes to open by the end of summer.

Eakin was also critical, and cited flaws, of a letter dated March 16 that he quoted thusly: "It was time to close the loopholes and spend our tax dollars on protecting our kids from predators and fixing the traffic that adds hours to our commutes every month."

So, too, was McGirr.

"I must say that in the last few months I am somewhat frustrated and frankly somewhat offended by some of the things that I have seen that have gone out in the press and have been published and are now in the public record across the hall...," he said. "I challenge anyone to cite one occasion where we've turned down a business that has come to this city, come to this commission, seeking a Conditional Use Permit. ... We've actually modified the conditions to expand the opportunities for businesses."

Whittingham did not respond from the dais, other than to say thank you to each commissioner.

"I'm not going to respond to that," Whittingham told Patch afterward. "It's not the appropriate forum."

Chris McLaughlin April 06, 2012 at 02:06 PM
I wonder what Whittingham thinks the appropriate forum is...
Nancy Thompson April 06, 2012 at 03:24 PM
I wonder why they are calling him out...... do they all have to be on the same page?
Sharon Y. April 06, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Nancy, I suspect because he sent false and mis- leading information about the city he represents, he lied.... Do you think it is okay for him to lie?
J.P. April 06, 2012 at 03:52 PM
If a political candidate is corrupt and willing to lie to voters in order to get elected, then you know that candidate will be corrupt and lie to voters after he is elected! I appreciate that the RSM planning commissioners called out Mr. Whittingham for trying to deceive the voters.
April Josephson April 06, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Chris, my question exactly. I was at the meeting and was surprised that there was no response. To me this is the best forum to correct misstatements that one's name is attached to publicly, especially when brought up by not one, but two other commission members.
Gina April 07, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Chris you are so correct. I think that would be a good opportunity for him to address their questions. I don't know much about the email that was sent out but if the Bill of Rights mandates term limits and removes their pension (I mean health benefits) sounds like a great idea. I guess we have to wait until November.
April Josephson April 07, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Based on what I heard on Wednesday night, I looked into this further. The March 16th document—which was signed by Mr. Whittingham— is full of erroneous and misleading information, and is a matter of public record. After listening to Mr. Eakin and Mr. McGirr, I am particularly disturbed by the traffic implications of this document, which have nothing to do with the proposed ballot measure, and are inaccurate to boot. The commissioners brought up an excellent point, in that Mr. Whittingham is chair of what is about to become RSM's traffic commission, and knew that when he signed this misrepresentative document. IMO, this raises ethical red flags. It really bothers me that he did not address them in public.
RSM5kids April 07, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Unlike national or state politics where we can judge a candidate by their record or how they respond in a debate or interview, with local politics, the voters are left with very little insight into the character of the candidates. This article (and the great videos) clearly show that Whittingham is lacking in character and integrity. Eakin and McGirr were obviously irritated but showed a lot of restraint in calling Whittingham out for playing politics instead of doing his job. I don't know Eakin but I do know McGirr. Nice to know that the city has leaders.
Stamper April 07, 2012 at 09:43 PM
OK I'll be the first to admit that i don't follow city politics that much, but I've been reading more of these articles on patch, and I'm really confused about a lot of things. I don't get why Peter Whittingham (a city official, right?) would go around saying that RSM is not job friendly. Isn't he aware of all the new businesses that are coming to RSM? And what's this about bad traffic that adds hours to our commute? Sure, there are a couple red lights that are longer than they should be, but HOURS? Really??? He's making our city look bad, and I don't like that. I tell all my friends how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful area and how much i like the fact that I can do most of my my shopping and errands in RSM. And then heres a city official saying that we have a bad city. Seriously, if someone who is supposed to be doing what's best for our city is saying all these lies, how are we supposed to have confidence in our city leaders? I would have thought that a city leader would be more informed. Even I know better. Is he up for reelection this year? can we vote him out?
Sharon Y. April 07, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Stamper- Peter is a planning commissioner and is running in November for council, keep that in mind when you vote, he is promoting this book of lies w/ a man name Kenny who owns a business in town. Steve Baric who was elcted by a very narrow margin in the last election appointed Peter to the planning commission . I did a little google research on Peter and found he works for Curt Pringle and is a lobbyist and supports the High speed rail boondoggle, I think playing fast and lose with the truth and facts is the norm for this guy and his employer, I for one will not be supporting him or Kenny in the next election or Mr. Baric in the future. The city of RSM has been a model of good government for years, why fix it if it ain't broke:)
Flannery4 April 08, 2012 at 12:17 AM
I don't really care if he favors the bullet train because that doesn't effect RSM. But I do care if he's playing politics when he should be working for the city. I've asked this before, but no one seems to know anything. How do we find out who is running for city council? Is there a list of people we can see? There are people that I hope run, and others I hope don't.
Martin Henderson (Editor) April 08, 2012 at 01:55 AM
There are three people who have taken possession of Form 501, which is a candidate intention form; just because you take possession of one does not commit you to running. But filling it out is the first step toward running for office. There are three people who have received Form 501 thus far: Glenn Acosta, Peter Whittingham and Kenney Hrabik, who told me last week that he still had not decided whether he was going to run. The nomination period is July 16-Aug. 10, which is when the real-deal commitments will be firmed up. Right now, potential candidates could be testing the waters, trying to find out which way the wind blows, or laying the foundation for a campaign run. Some clearly think, and this much was expressed at the city council meeting and certainly implied at the planning commission meeting, that some of these emails and petitions that are part of the discussion, are part of the foundation being laid by Whittingham and Hrabik. As councilman Jerry Holloway said at the meeting, it's the oldest political trick in the book: create a problem and present yourself as the answer to the problem.
Glenn Acosta April 08, 2012 at 02:40 AM
Flannery4, I am running for city council. In addition to a 501 form, I also submitted a 410 form, which is used for forming a campaign committee and allowing the candidate to start fundraising. I believe Ms. Carol Gamble also filed a 501 form. Each candidate has their own style, message points, and ways of running a campaign. For me, I will run a positive campaign, presenting my qualifications and what I can do to make our city better. For example, I will use my city council salary to start a college scholarship to help RSM kids. I also have ideas on how to best develop the city’s new property off Antonio Parkway (known as Chiquita Ridge) so we can build new sports facilities for our kids. I guess I’m old fashioned. I look at things in terms of: • How would I like to be remembered? • What contributions did I make? • How did I make a difference or make our community better? My standard of honorable public service are the men and women in uniform, whose service, dedication, and sacrifice keep our country safe. They are the pinnacle of honor. Happy Easter and Happy Passover, Glenn
Mike Whiting April 09, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Interesting article. From what I have witnessed over the past several months, it would appear that there are a few people who have taken to stirring up trouble where no trouble actually exists. I'm not sure if this term is used here in California, but where I grew up they would call these people Rabble Rousers. I agree that a candidate's CHARACTER means everything in politics, especially local politics. Based upon this article, it seems clear that the head of planning commission is sorely lacking in this quality.

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