El Monte council members storm out of meeting, want to censure mayor

On Tuesday, July 22, 2015, Council members Bart Patel, left, and Norma Macias, center, left the dais with half a dozen agenda items unaddressed. They walked out amid frustration over Mayor Andre Quintero, right, refusing to nominate someone they supported to a city commission, they said.

EL MONTE>> Political discord here has gone from bad to worse this week, with two City Council members storming out of a council meeting and one taking steps to officially censure the mayor, accusing him of racism.

The abrupt departures of Council members Bart Patel and Norma Macias from the dais Tuesday night left half a dozen agenda items unaddressed. They walked out amid frustration over Mayor Andre Quintero’s refusal to nominate someone they supported to a city commission, they said.

“The mayor is playing a dictator and refusing to share power and authority with the rest of his colleagues,” Patel said. “He is punishing me and others who don’t agree with his world view.”

Quintero and Patel have sparred on and off the dais for more than a year. Both are up for re-election in November and have spent months building support and drawing battle lines.

Last week, Patel launched one of the biggest attacks yet by initiating steps to officially censure Quintero.

He maintains the mayor deserves official reprimand by the council for making racist remarks to Patel, bullying and intimidating fellow council members and the public at large, and violating the Brown Act.

“Specifically, Mayor Quintero commented that I did not belong on the council because I am ‘Asian’ and El Monte is a ‘Mexican town,’ ” according to Patel’s written request for censure, obtained by this news organization.

Quintero called the accusation laughable, as he is of Colombian heritage, not Mexican, and has supported Asian candidates in the past, namely Filipina Verna de los Reyes, who ran for the City Council in 2011.

“If he is willing to lie to the community about how much he owes the city, then he is willing to lie about whatever he wants,” Quintero said.

Quintero’s comment is in reference to a $55,000 loan El Monte made to Patel in 1996, before he was on the council, to renovate a hotel he owns. The city says he still owes the full debt, which has grown to $70,000 with interest, but Patel said he has repaid it in full.

“It doesn’t surprise me that he would try to damage my name to distract from his personal troubles,” Quintero said.

Quintero has publicly suggested the city initiate litigation against Patel and he placed the matter on the council’s closed session agenda — another reason Patel has called for his censure.

Patel alleges Quintero’s public call for legal action constituted a violation of the Brown Act by revealing closed session activities.

But Quintero maintains details regarding the loan were already publicly released in several news reports, including in this publication, and he is fully allowed to place items on the closed session agenda, which is also public.

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Patel and Quintero will both have the opportunity to present their arguments during the censure process.

Because a censure is a formal reprimand that has reputational consequences, the process attempts to take some of the politics out of it, otherwise council members would censure one another all the time, city attorney Richard Padilla said.

City Manager Jesus Gomez will first determine whether there is substantial evidence to go forward with a disciplinary hearing.

“Basically he’ll decide whether this is political gamesmanship or does this have merit,” Padilla explained.

The censure request would then go forward to an independent hearing officer, who would hold a sort-of quasi trial and determine if there is “clear and convincing proof” of wrongdoing. Following that process, it would go to the council.

While some of Patel’s accusations are specific, others are more broad and may involve interpretation.

“Over the last 15 months, Mayor Quintero has bullied not just myself, but other members of the City Council through verbal attacks and intimidation in closed session,” the censure request alleges. “He has attacked members of the public both during and after City Council meetings. Such bullying could cause members of the public to refrain from utilizing their rights of expression at public City Council meetings.”

That is precisely why Macias said she joined Patel in walking out of Tuesday’s meeting.

“All I wanted to do was speak in a Democratic process. We were all elected and we are all entitled to our opinion, but he wants to shut us up,” Macias said. “He is a bully, he tries to intimidate us and tries to overextend his authority as mayor at every chance he gets.”

For decades, each council member in El Monte was allowed to name a member of the city’s various commissions. But, according to state law, in general law cities with directly elected mayors such as El Monte, the mayor has the power to name all city commissioners.

Quintero started exercising that authority last year, to the frustration of his colleagues. And Tuesday night, it reached a boiling point.

“Let the record reflect that two of our members have left, effectively adjourning the meeting, total contempt for the law, total contempt for this community,” Quintero said as Patel and Macias left the dais.

And Quintero said it is Patel and his political allies who are causing the lack of decorum on the dais.

“He has such a lack of integrity he is willing to lie about money he owes to the city,” Quintero said. “They aren’t sharing grievances about the city, they are just taking political potshots.”

Patel acknowledged that the city is suffering as a result of the discord.

“It is really sad what is happening. We are not working as efficiently or as effectively for the community,” he said.