I had the opportunity to attend this week’s Newport Beach City Council meeting and was surprised to find that there was an item on the consent calendar that would restrict which community groups could get access to City owned community rooms where the rental fees were waived
For many years an assortment of groups have hosted City Council candidate forums where the meeting rooms at the OASIS or other neighborhood community centers were used.
This past month the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club hosted a forum that included all candidates running for City Council as well as all candidates running for Newport Mesa School Board. Both these boards are nonpartisan and the forum was done as a service to the community.
So it was a shock to me to find that certain members of the City Council had specifically decided that clubs like the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club would not be allowed to have access to the facilities even though they were offering a public service.
Councilmember Peotter, who had contributed to the drafting of the item, spoke of the use of public funds for partisan organizations. Mayor Pro Tem Muldoon strongly supported this position and maintained that waiving fees and offering videotaping of candidates forums was using tax payer funds to push a political agenda, without concern about what the meeting was about.
I think that restricting certain groups because they do not suit the interests of the politicians in charge is not a valid reason to prevent political clubs from accessing city facilities. The criteria for who can use the facilities should be fair and rational and made transparently.
The manner in which this item was brought before the City Council can be described as surreptitious at best. That is not the way we expect our local elected leaders to conduct themselves.