After nearly an hour of heated back and forth between Mayor Ulises Cabrera and interim City Attorney Steve Quintanilla, the council voted to table the discussion and move it to a future study session.

The Moreno Valley City Council Tuesday tabled an item pertaining to the duties and responsibilities of the mayor after newly elected Mayor Ulises Cabrera spent close to 40 minutes directing a number of very pointed questions at interim City Attorney Steve Quintanilla.

“The role of city council is that they are the policy makers, they are elected and they’re held accountable by the voters for making public policy decisions, and the role of the city attorney is basically a technician,” Quintanilla said in introducing the item. “It’s my challenge to figure out what the objectives of whoever I’m talking to on the council and coming up with a means for achieving that objective, you know, from a legal perspective.”

The item on the agenda involved an ordinance that was adopted last summer by the council that listed 46 items that are part of the mayor’s roles, duties and responsibilities. The text of that ordinance can be found here on page 424 of the agenda packet.

Of those 46 items, Quintanilla said one was superseded by new state law (29) and he was unsure how one would be applied (18). Of the remaining, he said it was suggested to him in conversation with council members Ed Delgado and Elena Baca-Santa Cruz—who reached out to him to discuss the matter—that 11 of the items be eliminated (1, 2, 7, 10, 11, 33, 35, 40, 41, 45 and 47), 23 be modified (6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 30, 34, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44 and 46) and 11 remain intact (3, 4, 5, 17, 24, 25, 27, 28, 31, 32 and 43).

“Did the council give you direction to specifically only talk to some members of the council and not others,” Cabrera asked Quintanilla following his presentation.

Quintanilla reiterated both Delgado and Baca-Santa Cruz reached out to him to discuss the issue and added that Councilmember Cheylynda Barnard had also reached out to him about the item, but he had to tell her that he couldn’t discuss it with her since he felt it would be a violation of the Brown Act

According to the Brown Act, any discussion of city business that includes a majority of the members of a governing body is a legal meeting and must be held in a public forum and the public must have proper notice. This provision includes email correspondence.

Quintanilla also stated that it is his job as interim city attorney to provide legal advice to the city, including council members, when asked.

“If I wake up tomorrow morning and come into the office and Councilmember Barnard comes to me and asks me questions and has a proposed policy, and she asks for my advice, I’m going to give it to her,” Quintanilla said. “If any of you come to me and you seek my advice, I’m gonna give you my advice, and sometimes that advice comes in the form of a draft staff report, just to clarify, if this is what you are planning on presenting to the city council.”

Cabrera continued to question why Quintanilla “took it upon [himself]” to prepare the report for council, to which Quintanilla continued to respond that Delgado and Baca-Santa Cruz approached him and asked him for advice, which he provided to them as he would any other member of the council.

“You do realize this is a discussion item, right,” Baca-Santa Cruz said, interrupting Cabrera’s line of questioning. “We’re supposed to be discussing it. Did you do your Brown Act training because the most basic rule of the Brown Act is that you cannot manipulate staff. This is an open item. Let’s discuss it.”

At this point Cabrera called for a five minute recess, and when the council resumed the meeting Cabrera continued his questioning of Quintanilla.

“Why couldn’t you have at least like, reached out and again, asked to at least run this by me, I mean, at a bare minimum,” Cabrera said. “This particular item directly affects me because I’m currently in the mayor seat, so I mean, don’t you think, just common courtesy, just a quick phone call just a, ‘Hey Mayor, just to let you know, I’m meeting with two other council members. I can’t tell you what it’s about or what changes are being made, but just want to let you know.’ Like, couldn’t you have just a quick phone call?”

“With all due respect Mr. Mayor, it has nothing to do with common courtesy,” Quintanilla said. “It has to do with the Brown Act.”

The council took a brief break from questions to hear from the public, with two residents speaking in support of Cabrera and two residents speaking against.

Cabrera then resumed his line of questioning, followed by brief questions from council members David Marquez and Baca-Santa Cruz, before Marquez made a motion to table the item and continue the discussion at a future study session.

The motion passed 3-2 with Barnard and Baca-Santa Cruz voting against. The next study session of the Moreno Valley City Council is scheduled for Feb. 15.

In other council action: The city council denied the zoning change appeal of the proposed Bradshaw Circle development, preventing the project from moving forward in its current form, in a 3-2 vote with council members Ed Delgado and Elena Baca-Santa Cruz voting against the denial. The council also unanimously approved an amended list of appointments after a brief and cordial discussion. You can watch a full video recording of the meeting here.

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