One of the most significant issues facing our city is the pace and scope of development. Currently, the issue is best defined by the ongoing debate regarding Museum House. And yet, one candidate, apparently on the advice of his campaign consultant – who also happens to be the lobbyist advocating for the development of Museum House – refuses to disclose whether he is for or against the project.
Justifying his refusal to be transparent, Will O’Neill relies on a flawed interpretation of Woody’s Group Inc v City of Newport Beach for the proposition that if he were to express an opinion about the project, he would be precluded from voting on the issue were he to be elected to the City Council.
Contrary to this self-serving analysis, Woody’s does not prohibit an individual running for elected office from expressing an opinion with regard to a development project within the city. The case actually holds for the proposition that an elected official, with a commitment to a particular result, cannot be a biased advocate for or against a particular project.
As with their refusal to deal with campaign reform, Team Newport/Ellis is determined not to let the voters know where they stand on issues or who is actually pulling the strings behind the scenes.
In the Woody’s lawsuit, the Court found that Councilman Mike Henn had an overwhelming “commitment to a result” as opposed to simply expressing an opinion with regard to a prominent issue.
One can only assume that Mr. O’Neill’s reluctance to publically take a position with regard to Museum House is an acknowledgement of his overwhelming commitment to a result compatible with the desires and goals of his campaign consultant, and Museum House lobbyist, Dave Ellis.
In Woody’s, Councilman Henn was “strongly (his word) committed to overturning the planning commission’s decision” and his presentation to the city council “dominated the deliberation.” This is a long way from expressing a non-binding opinion at a candidate forum.
Unless Mr. O’Neill has some sort of undisclosed interest in the project, there is nothing, other than a self-serving agenda, that prevents him from opining on the merits of the development except his fear that his answer might alienate a large number of voters.
Mr. O’Neill has to stop hiding behind a flawed interpretation of a case not relevant to the conversation and tell the voters what he is going to do when his campaign consultant, who is also the lobbyist for Museum House, calls in the debt.
Phil Greer / Newport Beach
(Greer is a candidate for Newport Beach City Council)