PASADENA — The controversy over the secret vote in which William Cathey was appointed to a vacant seat on the Board of Directors has been blown out of proportion by the news media and is nothing more than a "tempest in a teapot," several board members said Wednesday.
The board discussed the vote for the first time at a meeting Wednesday, and most members said they have no intention of voting again in public or continuing the debate over the its legality.
"I am not bothered by the fact we did the ballot. We did what was expected of us as public officials," said Director Loretta Thompson-Glickman. "If someone wants to take us to court, my response is, 'Fine.' "
Director Jo Heckman said she saw no reason to "undo what we've done. We had a legal opinion and we went by it."
'We Should Go Forward'
The board had acted on advice from City Atty. Victor Kaleta, who told members that the vote was legal.
"However we did it, we elected Bill Cathey," Heckman said. "I think we should go forward with this, and I would hope that we would read or hear no more about this because there was nothing done in a malicious way or an underhanded way or secret way."
Director Jess Hughston was the only board member who strongly criticized the vote, saying it was a clear violation of the public's right to know how officials vote.
Hughston also condemned other board members for deciding to take the secret vote without first discussing it in public.
"All of it should have been done openly," he said. "We do ourselves great harm when we make decision outside of these chambers."
Directors Rick Cole and William Thomson said they regretted that the secret vote had stirred up such a controversy. But Thomson added that he believed the issue was "a tempest in a teapot, much ado about nothing much of significance."
Although the board has apparently dropped the issue, several residents are pursuing an investigation into the legality of the vote.
"The board is trying to ease out of a difficult situation," said Frank D. Rocha, a member of the advisory board of Pasadena Citizens for Representative Government. "They took the secret vote and then they say, 'Oh no, we didn't mean that.' "
Citizens for Representative Government was one of the main groups involved in putting the issue of citywide mayoral elections on the November ballot. Rocha said that group is not involved in asking for the investigation.
Letter to Reiner
However, Rocha, along with several other residents, sent a letter last week to Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, asking for an investigation into the board's possible violation of the state's open meeting law, called the Brown Act.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Steve Sowders said Tuesday that he has not yet reviewed Rocha's complaint.
City Atty. Kaleta said his research on the legality of the vote has proved inconclusive. But he added there was certainly no "willing or knowing" violation of the law by board members, a main requirement in prosecuting the case as a misdemeanor.
The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor violation of the Brown Act is six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The secret vote took place Dec. 8, when the board was deciding whom to appoint to the seat vacated by former Director William Bogaard.
Mayor John Crowley said just before the vote that board members would not have to reveal their choice. Instead, each board member marked an unsigned ballot and put it in a large envelope.
On the first vote, the board tied with three members voting for former Board of Education President Kathryn Nack and three voting for Cathey. None of the four other candidates received any votes.
The board immediately took a second vote. This time, Cathey came out ahead, 4 to 2.
The board then took a third vote, unanimously appointing Cathey to the board.
After the meeting, Crowley said he voted for Nack on the first two ballots. Cole and Hughston said they voted for Cathey both times.
Thompson-Glickman, Thomson and Heckman have never revealed how they voted.
Board members have given a variety of reason for agreeing to the secret ballot.
Heckman, who first suggested the procedure, said she thought the secret vote would allow board members to avoid alienating candidates they may have to work with in the future.
"Why should they know whether I voted for them or not?" she asked after the vote.
Crowley said he supported the procedure because he thought it would let board members vote according to their conscience instead of for political reasons.