Mayor Kit Bobko was rumored be making an unexpected appearance for the final agenda item concerning his recent head-to-head battle with the majority of his colleagues about an unofficial press release concerning the hiring of a full-time police chief at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.
Mayor pro tem Michael DiVirgilio confirmed the rumors within seconds of calling the meeting to order, adding that Bobko previously warned the council that he would not be in attendance for the first meeting of September, but would try to make an appearance for the final agenda item.
“I heard from him an hour ago and he said he was trying to make it here for the end of the meeting,” DiVirgilio said.
The evening’s excitement was in response to a personal press release Bobko composed over a month ago announcing his support for Cecil Rhambo, an assistant sheriff at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, one of two final candidates for Hermosa Beach Police Chief. After the original outrage over the release, council members Jeff Duclos, Howard Fishman and Peter Tucker debated censuring Bobko for his unofficial action. Staff was directed to prepare a resolution censuring Bobko.
An agenda item Tuesday night called for the council reverse course. The discussion that ensued considered the merits of doing so.
“I’m asking you to leave it,” Stop Oil Activist Mike Collins said earlier in the evening. “Have a discussion and a debate the people of Hermosa Beach can watch, I think it’s pretty important.”
Bobko submitted a letter of apology to the council in which he also urged his colleagues to put the put the matter to rest.
“[I] believe this matter is too important to leave unresolved for a moment longer than is necessary,” he wrote. “I write out of respect for the residents of our City, and the collegiality of this Council, because I believe we must put aside our political disagreements and come together to do the work the residents of Hermosa Beach elected us to do. I offer this letter as a first step in that direction.
“I understand and appreciate your concerns raised at our last meeting about my personalpress release endorsing one of the two finalists for our Police Chief. With the clarity of hindsight I see that expressing my opinion publicly was a departure from our traditional selection process, and that it surprised you. I certainly did not mean to surprise or embarrass anyone by airing my opinion publicly. I very much regret if I did.
“With this in mind, I ask that you reconsider the Motion of Censure because it has become a distraction for us and taken our attention away from our work on behalf of our residents. It was never my intention to take our focus as a Council away from the important issues facing our City, and to the extent that my press release has allowed that to happen, I wish to apologize.
“Councilman Tucker said at our last meeting that it was important for us to put this distraction behind us and “get along.” I agree. It is important for us to come together as a Council to serve Hermosa Beach and spend our time and effort paving streets, repairing our decrepit sewer system, and improving the streetscape on Aviation and PCH. We all know how much we have to do, and this Motion does not help us accomplish any of it.
“Gentlemen, I am sorry I cannot be there with you to discuss this matter, and I hope in my absence you will accept this letter in the spirit of reconciliation in which it is intended. I respectfully ask you to put the Motion of Censure to rest, and let’s move forward together doing the important work the residents of Hermosa Beach expect us to do
Collins said he was not swayed by the mayor’s letter.
“I do not think mayor’s behavior was in isolation… it’s actually a pattern,” said Collins. “…He behaved like a child, when you called him on the carpet, he was sophomoric, he threw his pen down invoked the name of the Easter bunny, tooth flossing and I believe Mussolini, and you moved towards censure because he refused to apologize. And then there’s the letter, it’s inauthentic, disingenuous and falls very, very short of a true apology. The only apology is that you may have taken offence to that and if you did, well then he’s sorry. And he said his behavior didn’t result in the decision Tom made- maybe it did- maybe Tom chose the candidate that he chose just to spite Kit Bobko’s request. Kit said his behavior didn’t influence the behavior… If Tom would have chosen the person [he] wanted would [he] apologize? I don’t think so”
Council members Peter Tucker, Michael DiVirgilio and Howard Fishman voted to end the censuring issue and continue with other city matters.
“I think what is before us is pretty self explanatory,” said Tucker. “There’s a letter attached and I will say I did meet with Bobko on the 23rd and after that meeting we received the letter, and I think the letter says what it says… I’m happy to support this and put my vote towards removing this from the agenda on the 24th.”
Fishman, who was originally for the mayor’s censuring, added a third vote for the motion.
“The message was sent, an apology was accepted, so I’ll support the motion,” he said.
Councilmen Jeff Duclos kept silent. Bobko never appeared at the meeting.
Later, shortly after midnight, DiVirgilio sent out his own personal press release.
“I am pleased that my colleagues joined me in ending this troublesome public censorship effort; returning dignity to the City Council body,” the release said. “Elected officials and the public must be able to ask questions and challenge municipal staff. Tonight’s vote re-affirmed our commitment to free speech; ultimately protecting Hermosa Beach from the political corruption that grows in its absence.”
In an interview Wednesday morning, DiVirgilio said that he wrote the release because no debate was allowed on the item during the meeting, and he felt he wanted to make a comment on the matter.
“I don’t think we want to be in the business of censuring people even if it did make us unhappy,” DiVirgilio said. “I don’t think we want to be in the business of censorship of minority opinions. The source of corruption is when people are prevented from speaking their minds… at the end of the day free speech is what’s most important about all of this.”