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Irvine Mayor Takes Power Trip

September 16, 1999|JERRY HICKS

Irvine Mayor Christina Shea deserves a defense, of sorts.

A City Council colleague has sought a district attorney investigation into whether Shea broke any laws by leaving voicemail messages threatening to get tough with the city's Police Department over her daughter's drug-related arrest. I say it's not even a close call.

Arrogance, misuse of authority, disrespect for the criminal justice system, false accusations, pettiness and an old-fashioned I'll-show-them-who's-mayor attitude do not constitute criminal conduct.

But they sure leave the mayor with a lot of explaining to do. She has most of the Police Department mad as blazes at her, with good reason.

Naturally, the mayor has tried to shift the negative spotlight away from her deeds and onto those who made them public. Wasn't it the Romans who always wanted to kill the messenger?

All this hullabaloo came to a boil Tuesday night at the City Council meeting, where close to 50 angry police officers showed up.

If you haven't followed this soap opera, a few facts:

The mayor's 21-year-old daughter, Stephanie Shea, was arrested Aug. 10 after a police officer who pulled her over for a traffic violation found methamphetamines in her vehicle.

When Mayor Shea discovered the next week that the arrest was about to hit the newspapers, she left the first of four voicemail messages with Dave Christensen, a close political ally. She also made at least two calls that week to the Police Department.

But Christensen, an ex-cop, found the messages so disturbing, he took them to the D.A. and let the media hear them and see transcripts.

The Irvine Police Officers Assn. is upset about a lot of things on those recordings.

One is that Shea accused a sergeant of lying about details of her daughter's arrest. (Police Chief Charles Brobeck, doing his best to stay above this brouhaha, says she's just flat wrong on that.)

The cops are also outraged that she took a swipe at all of them with a broad brush: "The Police Department and how they deal with people is really pathetic" . . . "If they lie about this they'll certainly lie about everybody else over there" . . . "It doesn't make me want to defend that department at all" . . . "The problem is [this case] is going to be a real attack on the Police Department and I'm not going to back down on it at all."

City Councilman Larry Agran is upset too. Shea accuses him on the voicemail of leaking the news about her daughter's arrest to the media. (He denies it.) The only "evidence" she provides in the voicemail, though, is her assertion that "this is his mode of operation." But evidence or not, Shea vows to Christensen's voicemail that "Larry Agran will meet my wrath." And " . . . he's going to have to learn a lesson."

All this strikes me as unfair, but not worthy of hanging the mayor in effigy. What is highly disturbing to me are voicemail comments where she appears to make threats that she could carry out only as an elected official of influence. Such as: " . . . it's just not going to go well for the chief [Brobeck] and Jim Blaylock [a top police commander]" and " . . . I'm going to get very tough about this" and " . . . we need to take this to task."

When you see the four voicemail messages as a whole, you get a picture of a public official unafraid to use her clout if things don't go her way. What she should have done, from the very beginning, was declare a conflict of interest and stay out altogether. Many other public officials with offspring arrested have done just that.

At Tuesday night's council meeting, Shea explained that those voicemail messages were the words of a distraught mother concerned about her daughter--and besides, her words were never meant for public consumption.

The Irvine cops were upset with Councilman Christensen too, for making all this public. But if I were an Irvine cop, I'd be glad somebody told me what my mayor was saying about me.

Victor Ray of the Police Officers Assn. board demanded an apology from the mayor, insisting that she had defamed the whole department.

Shea's response was not her finest moment. She told the police that "I do publicly apologize." But not, it seems, for what she said on the voicemail. She was apologizing that it all became a public mess.

Ray said later that "I have no idea what she was apologizing for. It wasn't to us." Mario Casas, spokesman for the police group, said afterward that the mayor "still has a lot of reconciliation left to do."

I've never been big on public apologies; there's no accurate way to gauge the sincerity behind them. But taking a look at the people the mayor has sideswiped in all this, let's start with her daughter:

On the voicemail, and in statements to the media this week, Shea has virtually confessed her daughter's guilt. Shea said her daughter was transferring the methamphetamines for a friend who was ill and that "it was a stupid thing she did."

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