With his recall election less than a month away, City Councilman Robert A. Curtis is under growing fire from critics and colleagues who say he is guilty of using his office to serve political ends at the expense of the community.
During the past year, critics say, Curtis has introduced few proposals that seem destined for serious consideration, while his record is dotted with ideas that stir controversy and then simply disappear. Curtis vehemently denies the criticisms, calling them a "cheap shot" leveled by opponents who are eager to see him lose his council seat.
In fact, Curtis and his supporters say that he has responded to the needs of his constituents while most of his colleagues have ignored them in favor of taking direction from the Mission Viejo Co., the developer that built the planned community.
"Residents have told me that they believe Mission Viejo is already overdeveloped, and they've told me that they want the council to stand up to the Mission Viejo Co.," Curtis said. "That's something I've tried to do, despite my intimidated colleagues."
"You've got a young man who is fighting for his political life," said Councilman William S. Craycraft, Curtis' most consistent defender on the council. "Sometimes he probably grasps at straws, but on the other hand, he has certainly caused some people to think."
His critics, including a few of his colleagues, disagree.
"From the time I've met Bob, Bob's agenda has been his political base," Councilwoman Victoria C. Jaffe said Tuesday. "He tries to find which way the parade is going and then gets in front of it."
Mayor Christian W. Keena said he, too, is sick of his colleague. "I'm fed up with the shenanigans. It's just plain shenanigans. His issues have not served the community. His issues have been nothing but destructive."
In particular, Keena said, a recent proposal by Curtis to combat school overcrowding was "poorly researched. In fact, it wasn't researched at all."
Those comments, and others by Curtis' critics, represent the sharpest attacks on the councilman's record to date. Observers, including Curtis, say they reflect the growing tension between the councilman and his opponents as the recall election nears.
Three recent issues initiated by Curtis draw most of the criticism: a proposal to let the city levy special taxes to alleviate school overcrowding, a proposed building moratorium and a legal challenge to the county's developer agreement with the Mission Viejo Co.
Curtis introduced the school proposal last fall, claiming that local school districts needed help in accommodating the area's fast-growing student population. Some local school officials, however, balked at the councilman's projections, and the proposal foundered.
The other two issues came to votes earlier this month. Both failed when no council member would join Curtis in supporting them.
Curtis blames their failure on the council, not on the merits of the proposals.
"I think the majority of the City Council has not been willing to represent the majority of the residents of Mission Viejo," Curtis said. "They have been serving the Mission Viejo Co. to the detriment of the taxpayers of Mission Viejo, and they are unnerved that I am swimming against the tide."
In all three cases, Curtis' critics say his proposals have cost tax dollars while the staff researched the questions. Staff costs, while hard to estimate exactly, run in the thousands of dollars, according to some city officials.
"There's a cost in terms of time, there's a cost in terms of people's perception of government, there's a cost in terms of staff morale," Jaffe said.
Jaffe, an outspoken opponent of Curtis who frequently tangles with the councilman during meetings, echoed the views of other Curtis foes who believe that the recent proposals are meant to distract attention from the councilman's approaching recall. The special election is scheduled for Feb. 27.
"On the school overcrowding issue, it turned out that they don't have an overcrowding problem," said Helen Monroe, who heads the pro-recall Alliance for Mission Viejo. "The moratorium? Where's the issue there? There is no problem with overcrowding in Mission Viejo because the company is building exactly according to the plan.
"It's publicity, personal publicity, nothing else," Monroe added.
Curtis' supporters are more sympathetic and note that the councilman's recent actions have all taken place under the cloud of a well-financed recall campaign whose major underwriter is the Mission Viejo Co. The company has contributed more than $57,000 to the effort.
Councilman Craycraft said the proposed building moratorium helped focus local attention on the dangers of uncontrolled growth. Even though the measure did not pass--or even receive a second--it nevertheless heightened community awareness, Craycraft added.
Curtis agrees and makes no apologies for his record.
"The Mission Viejo Co. and their three stooges on the council are concerned that the Curtis minority may become a majority in the future," he said. "I am confident that I'm going to prevail."