Irvine council gets a civics lesson

What was to be a discussion about political campaign ethics at Tuesday’s Irvine City Council meeting turned into a lecture on sensible procedure, with a student chastising the panel.

UC Irvine student Luis Aleman, a 19-year old sophomore double-majoring in political science and economics, used his three minutes of public commentary time to wag his finger at the council for using its time and resources debating campaign material.

His statement was a preemptive strike at the anticipated discussion of the campaign ethics item on the agenda. Councilwoman Christina Shea raised the issue mostly over concerns about a campaign mailer titled “Irvine Community News and Views.”

The campaign material has the look and format of a newspaper and supports a slate of Democratic candidates that includes incumbent Councilman Larry Agran, mayoral candidate Mary Ann Gaido, and council candidate Melissa Fox. All three are listed as contributing paid advertisement in the mailer.

“Leave it to a politician to whine about what politicians say,” Aleman said from the podium after noting that the slate mailing is a constitutional 1st Amendment issue. “If you’re in the arena, you take the hit, you take the blows, but don’t bring it in here. Don’t whine about getting a little dirt on your face. It’s all part of the process. It’s what happens in every election. It’s whole bunch ado about nothing.”

Aleman was one of eight public speakers on the issue. His rapid-fire comments were met with applause from the modest gathering in attendance in the council chambers.

“People are believing this is a real newspaper,” said Councilwoman Shea. “In my opinion [the content] has crossed the line from honest information, this News and Views, to certain sections really being just plain misinformation.”

She went on to cite the Irvine City Code of Ethics and the council’s own voluntary guidelines on campaign ethics. She made a motion for the city attorney to “tighten up language in our ethics ordinance to assure we would adhere to higher standards.”

Mayor Steven Choi pointed out that while the mailer in question may meet the legal requirements of campaign laws, “making deceptive comments, frankly, cheats the public. Some innocent people will be trapped and deceived. I think that is the purpose of this kind of slanderous and false information in this fake newspaper.”

Councilwoman Beth Krom said it’s “the pot calling the kettle black kind of conversation,” before alleging that Choi used similar deceptive publication strategies in past elections.

“That young man who testified, I think he had it right on,” said Agran from the dais. “For the most part, political campaigning should be left out of council chambers. However, since the door has been opened on this …"

The veteran councilman then launched into a four-page slide show attacking a local developer, a law firm, and the OC Weekly questioning whether they participated in unethical campaign financing.

“Well, I guess it’s political season, huh?” Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway retorted before his own rebuke of content within the News and Views mailer.

Lalloway forcefully described an item mentioning housing sales to foreign residents as “disturbing” and “shocking” while maintaining that the content includes “horrible racist comments.”

Noting that the council’s own code of campaign ethics is voluntary and not binding in any legal form, Krom expressed her surprise the item was placed on the agenda.

“I think the young man who spoke,” Krom said toward the end of the hour and 20-minute partisan squabble, “was probably the person everybody should have listened to the most.”