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Petrilla Grilled, Term Limits Skewered in Heated Council Meeting

Supporters say it will inject "new blood" into the political process and is in line with what the Founding Fathers wanted. Opponents say limits exist in the voting booth.

A council member accused a former mayor of resigning because of a "public outcry," a longtime official called a colleague “immature and uncaring,” and a businessman said he was “ashamed” of the council's actions that evening. All in all, it was an interesting night at Rancho Santa Margarita City Hall.

Following a contentious debate Wednesday, the City Council voted 3-2 to take no steps to place a term limits initiative on the 2012 ballot that would prevent council members from serving more than two terms. 

Currently, City Council members serve terms of four years at a time with no limit on how many terms they can serve. Elections are usually staggered so that every four years, two seats are open. Then, in the next election, three seats are open.

An earlier motion by Councilman Jesse Petrilla—who originally brought the issue before the council—to create an online poll to find out what locals think about term limits and to have the city staff move a discussion on the item to January was defeated 3-2.

 “I’ve always been a strong proponent of term limits,” Petrilla said. “I think it creates a fresh perspective with innovative ideas from new blood.”

Petrilla said that term limits encourage new people “to enter into public service” and that the Founding Fathers, specifically Thomas Jefferson, were in favor of it.

The council members who voted against Petrilla’s motion—Mayor Tony Beall, Jerry Holloway and Carol Gamble—raised a number of arguments against the issue, including that a ballot measure on the item would cost too much money during a rough economic time, that term limits would remove people with needed experience, and that there are more important issues to deal with.

Six people spoke out during the public comments section on the item: three in favor of term limits, two in opposition and one who proposed letting the voter’s decide. Two of those in favor of term limits were not residents of Rancho Santa Margarita.

That last individual, Dove Canyon Courtyard owner Kenney Hrabik, wanted the issue on the ballot.

“Put term limits before the voters,” Hrabik said. “When we have an impasse, this is the fair way to decide.”

Hrabik added, “Not just a vote of five sitting City Council members, but a vote of the people. The only way to keep the public trust is to let the good people of Rancho Santa Margarita decide."

Nick Alivojvodic of RSM spoke against term limits during his public comments.

“I encourage you to adopt what council member Petrilla has put forward,” Alivojvodic said. “The power of incumbency is the biggest detriment to the democratic process.”

 “How many terms in office is enough?” Alivojvodic added. “How much is enough for you guys? What type of person needs to be in a position of power for so long?”

Resident Brad McGirr, on the city's Planning Commission, disapproved of term limits, calling the issue “the removal of experience for inexperience" and replacing "competency with incompetency.“

“Let me support who I choose to support,” McGirr said. “We have term limits. It’s a called a voting machine. It’s called a ballot box.“

Councilwoman Gamble said Petrilla used the issue to try to get elected and questioned him about his reasons for supporting it.

“What I’ve heard is that when you rang people’s doorbells [running for office], this was an item that you brought up to them,” Gamble said.  “This was not an item they brought up to you.”

Petrilla said that a number of people he talked to said they were in favor of it, and at the meeting, he read a letter from a former City Council member who was in favor of term limits; Gamble pointed out that the councilwoman, Christy Riley, was an incumbent who was defeated at the voting booth.

Beall questioned Petrilla at length about Petrilla’s past attempt to collect signatures to place a term limit initiative on the ballot in 2009, as well as Petrilla’s understanding of the issue, including legalities.

“Are you concerned that by doing this, the City Council could become far less effective? That you would be removing people with extensive experience?” Beall said. “I’m sure you’ve been undergoing a pretty steep learning curve.”

“I think I was ready on Day One,” Petrilla said.

Later Beall asked if Petrilla was concerned that term limits would limit who the people could vote for.

“Isn’t it undemocratic to do this?” Beall said.

“I don’t think so,” Petrilla said.

“Why?” Beall said.

“If anything, it inspires democracy,” Petrilla said. “It encourages people who otherwise would not run to get involved in the democratic process to run for political office.”

Councilman Steve Baric, who sided with Petrilla on term limits, said that he felt the issue was a tricky one but that he wanted the voters to decide.

“In general I support term limits,” Baric said. “I’m not going to comment or speculate as to why this item is arriving here now. From my perspective, I would like to investigate the issue.”

Baric suggested that the city staff send out some type of questionnaire to get the opinions of locals on the issue.

In a controversial statement, Petrilla also said that former Councilman and Mayor Gary Thompson resigned because Thompson bowed to pressure to do so. Petrilla later said he misspoke.

After Petrilla said that the public removed two local incumbents from office in the last election he added, “There was a third incumbent that managed to stay, and it took another outcry from the public for him to step down.”

Both Beall and Holloway disagreed with Petrilla’s comment.

“You made the statement to the effect that there were two council members that were defeated, and you said it took an outcry from the public for a third to step down? “ Beall said. “Can you tell me what you’re talking about?”

“No, I’m not going to stray from discussion here,” Petrilla said.

“Well if the suggestion is that Gary Thompson resigned because people were threatening him with being recalled … I take substantial issue with that," Beall said. "Especially knowing that Gary Thompson, who served this city well for many years, resigned for personal reasons to take care of his family.”

Thompson’s father recently passed away, and his mother is in hospice care.

Beall said, “For anyone to suggest that he resigned because of political pressure by supporters of yours who were threatening recall—I find that deeply offensive.”

“I’m going to stay on topic here,” Petrilla said.

Holloway called Petrilla’s comment “very uncaring, unprofessional, and insensitive.”

“I think it’s [because of] your youth that you don’t see the harm in making statements that are factually untrue,” Holloway said.

“If I misspoke, then I apologize,” Petrilla said, interrupting.

After the end of the meeting, when asked if he’d like to clarify his comments on Thompson, Petrilla said, “No, I misspoke.”

After discussion with the city clerk about the best time to bring the issue forward, Petrilla motioned that the city staff bring the item back for discussion in January and ask the staff to set up a Web poll to find out if residents support term limits.

The motion failed, 3-2, with Petrilla and Baric casting the dissenting votes.

Near the conclusion of the meeting, local business owner Hrabik spoke again during final public comments saying that he was “ashamed” of the actions of the City Council and their treatment of Petrilla, especially Beall’s “cross-examination” of Petrilla.

Other business

  • Council member Carol Gamble asked the council to consider creating a Business Mentor of the Year award, and officials directed city staff to look into the item. The suggestion was part of months-long independent investigation by Gamble into the process by which a business expands in Rancho Santa Margarita.
  • The evening was also the “soft opening” for the first live audio recording of the meeting. You can listen to audio of the meeting by clicking here.
  • Longtime City Manager Steven Hayman officially announced his retirement for health reasons and to spend more time with his family.
  • All City Council members were in attendance.

The next City Council meeting is Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, at 22112 El Paseo.

Mike Proctor September 16, 2011 at 07:12 AM
“In general I support term limits,” Baric said. “I’m not going to comment or speculate as to why this item is arriving here now. From my perspective I would like to investigate the issue.” Baric..grow a spine and take a position, defend it, and argue it. Its a pretty simple issues, you are either for it or against it. The arguments are black and white. At least the other four know where they stand.
Chris McLaughlin September 16, 2011 at 02:58 PM
I listened to the whole audio last night. Thanks to whoever got that setup! It's much better than even a written transcript!! I agree that the Mayor and Carol were harsh on Jesse, but I also think it was more than appropriate. This idea is misguided as it is, but to not bring a well thought-out proposal, particularly given the literally years that Jesse has been trying to move this issue forward, is completely unacceptable. The stonewalling about "I don't want to talk about directly-elected Mayor anymore" was ridiculous. Don't bring some quarter-baked idea to Council and think anyone but Baric is going to humor your attempt to get City Staff to do your homework for you. I'm glad his motion got shut down, and the Mayor nailed it shut for good measure. I hope Jesse has learned a lesson about wasting our time (an hour and 50 minutes this round) on this kind of nonsense, but that's probably wishful thinking...
YoungRepub September 16, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Jesse has crossed the line attacking Gary Thompson like that. And the statement he made was completely false. Jesse is a perfect example of why we should not have term limits. Imagine 5 Jesse's on the council! Our city has never had these immature political games until Steve and Jesse showed up. Its time for this all to end and get back to the real issues. Also Jesse is not going to have to worry about term limits because i can guarantee he has proven to the people that he does not benefit our city in any way. Maybe he should go join the ASB at Tesoro High School. That seems like a better fit for him. I have had enough of this, and you will see myself and a large group of my friends knocking on 50,000 doors 4 times, wearing out 6 pairs of nikes, to provide the people with the truth about Jesse. Some of the pictures I have seen of this guy and the things he does are just disgusting. Our city deserves better.
April Josephson September 16, 2011 at 07:20 PM
Intelligent comments, Chris. I agree that we should thank our City Clerk and City Manager for their work on bringing streaming audio to the city!
LeAna Bui September 16, 2011 at 11:26 PM
Too many typos - let me start again........ Even if you believe Mr. Petrilla came to the meeting with an incomplete or "half-baked" proposal, it is not necessary to lambast him. There are a lot of things that a lot of us know nothing about. The best way to learn is to start asking questions. This may be all he was doing - asking questions to learn how best to proceed on this issue. He is not allowed to discuss such items with his fellow council members outside of a meeting so agendizing it for an opening discussion may not be such a bad idea. For those who think that this council was nonpolitical before Mr. Baric and Mr. Petrilla joined, I think you are naive. Maybe we are simply seeing the strife now because the two newcomers don't go along with the "old boys" club? Just offering an alternative view.......Just the fact that Ms. Gamble stated that she "heard" that Mr. Petrilla was asking residents about their views during his campaign suggests that she's been talking about his campaign to others behind his back. How nonpolitical is that? A lot happens behind the scenes that we do not see or hear. I've stated repeatedly that I would never vote for Tony Beall. Having said that, I have no real complaints about his performance on dais. I usually agree with his votes. Unfortunately, I am aware of some of his behavior "behind the scenes" and this affects my opinion of him. I did not, will not and would not vote for him, ever.
Chris McLaughlin September 17, 2011 at 12:01 AM
Hi LeAna, I think Jesse got grilled as hard as he did not because of asking questions, or going against the 'Old Guard' as a lot of people call it, but because he was just so unprepared. I was trying to be generous with 'quarter-baked'. It was more like one-eighth, or less. He kept on saying he just wanted to have a discussion, that it wasn't a full-on proposal, and get public input, but he doesn't need to do that during a Council meeting. The discussion amongst the other Council members should be during a meeting, and open to the public/Brown Act-compliant, but for that part, he better come prepared with all of his reasoning, data, stats at the ready and a well thought-out proposal, or I think he's going to get lambasted every time. We've got so many things more important things than term limits to deal with, and Jesse wants to eat up two hours of a City Council meeting with this political experimentation stuff. Is our city going to be the laboratory for Jesse's outlandish political ideas/aspirations for the next three years, or is he going to follow or get out of the way (because he sure isn't leading well). I agree that the Council has always been political, as far as the individual politicians trying to make a name for themselves, but was a little more homogenous until a year ago...
Hekatonkhires September 17, 2011 at 12:23 AM
Politicians will never give up their seat unless they are: - Voted out - Resign from some scandal - Termed out They often use these lines to justify never leaving: * If I'm doing a good job, why should I leave? There's a built in arrogance with this statement in that he (or she) believes that he is the ONLY one that can do a good job. RSM has many successful business and community leaders that can do the job. * Voters can always vote me out. In RSM, they say, look at Jesse and Steve, perfect examples. Well, no everyone can raise $50K and have the political connections to host fundraisers with big name friends on the invite. Not everyone knows how to run a successful campaign. When lots of people run, the votes are diluted, and guess who has the advantage - the incumbents. No everyone is in the newspaper every week. * A new person has a steep learning curve. Didn't the incumbent when he or she first get on the council? * Term limits would take away the voters right to choose who they want. Let the voters exercise their right and decide if they want term limits. * Sacramento is all screwed up because of term limits. Sacramento is screwed up because knuckleheads run the place and don't believe in living within your means. Most of them don't know what they're doing? Ever talk to one? TERM LIMITS: - Level the playing field - End politicians feeding at the through - Get fresh ideas. - Often smarter people up serving TERM LIMITS PLEASE
LeAna Bui September 17, 2011 at 12:53 AM
Hi Chris: I guess I view it differently. If Mr. Petrilla was unsure of the next step (which I would certainly be if I was unlucky enough to serve on this Council), then a question to staff in an e-mail would be where i would start. I don't know that this is what he did. I think he believe he did some research by asking voters during his campaign about this idea to get a feel for the community thought. Obviously, we can all agree that that is not enough research, but isn't the staff there to research possible ideas? Maybe Mr. Petrilla simply wanted to get an idea of where his co-council members are on this subject before investing significant time and resources to it. I, for one, am very glad our council is less homogenous. I think these discussions are good and should continue. While the meeting sounded somewhat heated (especially regarding Thompson), it didn't sound overtly rancorous, but I was not there so I can't judge. Reasonable people disagree and people who work in these jobs usually have strong opinions and are usually pretty strong in their convictions. I'm okay with that as long as we treat each other with respect.
RSM Dad September 17, 2011 at 12:58 AM
Petrilla tried to get a petition certified to put term limits on the ballot and he didn't even come close to getting enough signatures to submit it. So now he abuses the office he now holds, and wants to waste valuable tax dollars to put forward this same initiative that is doomed to fail. And then he spends 2 hours on it and refuses to answer the other council members' questions or provide any research or rationale why this is such a critical issue that it needs to happen now. And Baric goes along with it. What is wrong with this picture?
Kenney Hrabik September 17, 2011 at 01:26 AM
Term limits should of been put before the voters. It is wrong for three sitting councilmen, with a vested interest, to decide whats best for 50,000 of us in the community. They denied our right to vote on this important matter. Putting it to a vote was only way to keep the public trust. I don't buy it cost's too much. $8500. They just approved $14000 for speech writing for the mayor.
RSM Dad September 17, 2011 at 01:51 AM
Kenney, What kind of BS is that? If you think this is so important, then why don't you do an initiative petition and prove it? Just because you and Jesse thinbk this is a big issue doesn't make it so. You are just bitter because you didn't get picked to sit in Gamble's seat. As far as I am concerned, I don't want one dime of city money spent on this and my vote and voice counts just as much as yours.
Hekatonkhires September 17, 2011 at 01:51 AM
What is the public benefit of term limits? - Maybe others can do a better job on Chiquita Ridge than those on the council who were set to approve a large contract without knowing the big picture first. - Maybe others would not award contracts to people who donate or manage campaigns for those on the council - Maybe others would focus on the city and not try to be a political big-wig serving on the Republican Central Committee - Maybe others would not look to running for Assembly and instead be happy with just us little people in RSM - Maybe others would not spend city staff time and money investing Capo School District - Maybe the people of RSM would vote for term limts and have others in RSM serve on the council TERM LIMITS PLEASE
Hekatonkhires September 17, 2011 at 02:06 AM
Not sure if Councilman Petrilla's has ever had a full-time job before city council. He may be a 20-something year-old playing politics with very polished politicians who jump on his inexperience. He may bring ill-conceived agenda items to city council. He sound brash by saying he was ready to be a councilman from day 1. But, hmmm, this happened without term limits. What do you have to lose? TERM LIMITS PLEASE
Chris McLaughlin September 17, 2011 at 03:51 AM
Hi Kenney, Seriously, you don't think the City Council is expressly empowered with deciding on a day-to-day basis what's best for our community of 50K people?? What do you think they are for then?? I clearly heard on the audio playback the way the Mayor broke down the path for any citizen to bring this policy to reality in our city. You could basically do what Jesse started, but actually follow through on it instead of stopping at the City spending just $15K on your folly. Then it would be put to the voters, probably not pass, and you'd still be saying that all the people who didn't actually vote would have voted for it had they voted, so it really should be enacted, and we'd be right back where we are now, but several thousand dollars poorer as a City, and we'd waste valuable time and effort that could have been working together to improve our city and its residents' quality of life.
Chris McLaughlin September 17, 2011 at 04:29 AM
Lots of money on a failed initiative? Loss of focus on stuff that matters right now??
Chris McLaughlin September 17, 2011 at 05:01 AM
I guess on that point he succeeded greatly. He now knows that a majority of this colleagues want nothing to do with term limits, and don't want to spend any (more) time and resources looking into it. I wonder how he'll spin that in the election next year when Beall, Holloway, and Gamble are up for re-election. I would like a little more political diversity on the Council, too, but not to the extent of procedural bickering during the meetings. Everyone should have their chance to make their statements, ask questions, and have a vote held on their motions. Jesse got all of that this week. Everyone should answer all the questions they're asked as honestly and completely as possible, which I don't think you can say about Jesse. The way Jesse was refusing to answer questions or discuss his directly-elected Mayor proposal any further, and trying to speak out of order/over the Mayor, was not helpful. I think he didn't want to admit that he hadn't done his prep work, and I don't think that is all City Staff's job. The City Staff can help answer questions about their respective roles within city government, like how much stuff will cost, and draft stuff and carry out activites mandated by Council, but doing basic research is not their responsibility. Jesse hasn't had a full-time job in as long as anyone can remember, and has been wanting this for years. What's his excuse for not having his ducks in a row??
April Josephson September 17, 2011 at 06:55 AM
The statement made by Hekatonkhires: "Politicians will never give up their seat unless they are: - Voted out - Resign from some scandal - Termed out" isn't accurate according to the history of the city of RSM. With only five council seats, we have already had a turnover of six council members in 11 years. It may not suit your argument, but the truth is, we have had four council members voluntarily retire from council in RSM. Between that and the three of five current council members who have beaten incumbents, theoretical term limits arguments don't hold water here.
RSM Dad September 18, 2011 at 04:52 PM
Mr. Leonard sums it up pretty well I would say. For Petrilla, and it appears Baric too, this is all about higher office aspirations and partisan politics. I don't think either one of them really care about this city unless they can exploit their positions for some political gain. Any politician that wants higher office needs to show he did "something". Since neither one has brought anything to the plate that is substantive to the real issues facing our city, they create issues that don't exist. This is all part of the politician playbook. Watch how fast both of them announce their run for a higher office position as soon as the right opportunity materializes. I personally like people like Beall, Holloway and Gamble representing our city. People who have never sought higher office, never even discussed higher office, and have only focused on the issues of the city. You don't see any of them running off to the Republican Party convention to politic with the rest of the politicians.
Martin Henderson (Editor) September 19, 2011 at 12:06 AM
Dove Canyon Oldtimer, unless you can document some of your accusations, they would appear to be libelous which is a violation of Patch’s Terms of Service, and so they have been taken down.
Jack Leonard September 19, 2011 at 12:40 AM
LeAna, well before the "heard" Mr. Petrilla was asking about term limits, he was promoting a term limit initiative as early as 2009. It would have only taken 3,000 votes to get it on an initiative at that time, but his personal efforts failed, yet cost the City around $15,000 last indicated. His most recent city council agenda item was prepared to spend priority resources; staff time, consultant time, surveyor time, and no less $$'s than last time (when all is accounted for), even in a "no cost" November 2012 election. At this time, it is simply WRONG to PRIORITIZE and repeat the process of 2009, when critical efforts should be spent on the search and selection process for a new city manager; establishing a master plan,scope and budget for the Chiquita Ridge parcels, with a MUCH NEEDED sports complex; seeking and retaining businesses; combatting a recent 58% foreclosure/short-sale image; even selecting a mayor pro-tem... when the City of RSM is already overtaxed on limited resources available to RSM governance. Why could not/would not councilman Petrilla's fact-finding, shared knowledge efforts of 2009's city limit initiative, when asked, many times by other councilmembers at last Wednesday's meeting, get answered directly instead of side-stepping with questions? The reasons were obvious to most in attendance. Please join us at future City Council meetings! Audio streaming does not come close to recognizing "visual" posturing (and embarrassement)!
Dove Canyon Oldtimer September 19, 2011 at 01:04 AM
Martin, The comments were fact, and I have the proof. For now I will defer to your policy and save the proof for a later day. Kenney is not what he would like you and others in the public to think. His day is coming.
Martin Henderson (Editor) September 19, 2011 at 01:26 AM
His day may, indeed, be coming, but it shouldn't be as an anonymous attack without the kind of documentation that would otherwise make the comments libelous; you would expect the same courtesy. Mr. Hrabik has posted his opinion under his real name, and you have apparently created an anonymous name specifically for the occasion (and, for what it's worth, he's commenting about term limits and you're addressing character and his business dealings with the city). I'm glad you can appreciate our stance. Statements of fact are always encouraged, but I would also ask that you take a deep breath before hitting the submit button; his kids may go to school with your kids, his clients may do business with your clients, and at the end of the day, there are going to be two sides to any story; the truth, usually, is somewhere in the middle. In the end, let's keep things civil and well-thought out, and dismiss some of the knee-jerk anger; it will make it easier on everyone.
Chris McLaughlin September 19, 2011 at 05:17 AM
I think some of things Dove Canyon Oldtimer accused Kenney Hrabik of could probably be fairly easily verified. The CUP process with that marathon final appeal City Council meeting is definitely in the running for the most contentious in this city ever, if it's not the most. How many appeals end with someone standing up and shouting at the dais while giving the middle finger to all of Council with both hands/fists?? The amount the city had to spend on that CUP process for Dove Canyon Courtyard should be public record, I would think, and shouldn't be that hard to calculate/estimate.
Kid Chicago October 02, 2011 at 12:31 AM
Before COX gets another extension, let's pencil in video feeds for the next tel-com contract.
Kid Chicago October 02, 2011 at 12:35 AM
Good for you! It's about time your generation gets off their a**, put the iPod down and drop the entitlement attitude and become PART of the process. You'll see first hand how hard it is, per person, to keep a democratic republic going especially when you have so many different opinions. Good for you YoungRepub! GO FOR IT!!!!!!
Kid Chicago October 02, 2011 at 12:39 AM
What was half-baked is when the city council had "no opinion" i.e. no leadership...when LAFCO wanted RSM to annex Coto!
Judy October 04, 2011 at 01:48 AM
Martin, I wish you had a political forum on your Patch website to discuss (blog) local politics. Since the last elections, Rancho politics has been a hot topic, unfortunately. The city council is no longer about governing the city with civility and putting the interests of the people first. The council is stuck in a political vertigo with no end in sight. Jesse may have garnered the majority of the votes, but thus far his election has apparently been an unstabilizing force on the council. The appointment process has also exposed the seedy politics practiced by those already in office. A venue to discuss the latest political upheaval would be let others in the city know what's really going on.
Martin Henderson (Editor) October 04, 2011 at 12:21 PM
Forums are likely on their way, Judy, but I don't know what kind of timeline Patch is working with. For now, I suppose carrying the dialogue from one story to the next will have to do, but in a forum setting it probably could be a lot more structured toward specific issues. At the end of the year Patch will again have its top 10 stories of the year; where do you think the City Council Shenanigans rank?
Judy October 05, 2011 at 02:26 AM
Thank you for considering my suggestion, Martin. I think it would also be enlightening if the city council candidates had a chance to respond to important questions or issues that you or others would ask. My top story is when Rancho honored our fallen hero. City politics would not come close to that.
Martin Henderson (Editor) October 05, 2011 at 08:13 AM
Judy, I think you've made a very insightful choice. The funeral service for Cpl. Jordan Stanton was a huge moment for the community as its members—Cub Scouts, war veterans, housewives and the children they pulled out of class—assembled along the roadway for the Cpl. Stanton's hearse was one of the greatest moments in the city's short history. A hundred years from now, it will still be one of the greatest moments. Only nine more to go. ...

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