Saturday, April 18, 2015

Torrance Removes Plourde: Reflection

The Arthur Plourde controversy gave otherwise bored city council attendees something to watch and learn from.

I had strong reservations about what to expect from the city council.
The final agenda item for the April 14 meeting convinced me that something big was going to happen
12C. City Manager - Consider removal of Arthur Plourde from the Library Commission.
Recommendation of the City Manager that City Council consider the removal of Arthur Plourde from the Library Commission for advocating a personal agenda while representing himself as a City Commissioner and thereby exceeding the scope of his duties as a Library Commissioner.
Wow! What could Arthur have done to deserve to be removed from the Library Commission?
Arthur J. Plourde
Torrance Library Commissioner Arthur Plourde has become the first official dismissed from a volunteer position on a city advisory panel in at least 40 years.

I spoke with former Mayor Frank Scotto and he informed me that former mayor Dan Walker was removed from the Civil Service Commission in the mid-1980s. The reporter needed to do a little more digging.

Plourde, who attended all of three commission meetings after his January appointment before running afoul of his colleagues, was removed Tuesday on a 6-0 vote of the panel, which criticized Plourde for “advocating a personal agenda .... exceeding the scope of his duties.”

Plourde, 69, is a retired aerospace engineer and Tea Party member who objected to the expenditure of taxpayer funds for foreign-language library materials he believed violated the state and U.S. constitutions.

There is nothing wrong with the city of Torrance spending money to purchase books in another language. Nothing at all. I found this issue tedious and even a little embarrassing. I commented that behavior such as these outbursts give the Tea Party Movement a bad name. Contrary to the media and local political establishment perspectives, the Tea Party is all about getting government back to its constitutional basics. A modest proposal of limited government protecting individual liberty, based on enumerated powers should engage all Americans.

“There is no reason for the taxpayers to pay for this kind of stuff,” he said Wednesday in an interview with the Daily Breeze.

City officials disagreed, saying that Plourde “misconstrues” the applicable section of the state constitution, while noting that English is considered the official language of the state.

Having attended and viewed the council meeting, I found myself agreeing with even the most disagreeable member of the council, Tim Goodrich, whose myopic pursuit of Community Choice Aggregation smacks of personal agenda as much as Plourde's pursuit of foreign-language materials in the library.

Plourde also was accused of requesting a sidewalk repair and, on a separate occasion, requesting a bus driver lift his clothing so he could be assured the driver was wearing a seat belt. On both occasions he allegedly identified himself as a city commissioner.

Such behavior cannot go unpunished in the city. Individual commissioners are not even supposed to wear their badges to local events, Mayor Furey told me.

He also was described as being “loud and accusatory,” while pounding his fist on the table, at the March Library Commission meeting.

I have great respect for Plourde. His volunteerism in the local community, from blood donations to his patriotism, inspire many people. Yet he has also developed a tough reputation for stating his mind on issues, never mind what anyone else may think.

That prompted complaints to city officials from two of his fellow commissioners and resulted in a closed-door discussion with Mayor Pat Furey and Councilwoman Heidi Ashcraft, who had nominated him for the panel, Plourde said.

Plourde, whose surname is of French origin, defended himself and his position in a rambling presentation to the City Council peppered with references to a 1907 speech by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Nick Green's negative take on Plourde's presentation did not bear witness with the facts. He was coherent in explaining his concern about the primacy of the English language, as stipulated in the California State Constitution. No one should begrudge Plourde sharing a strong opinion on a matter. His pursuit of this issue, against the chief intents of the Library Commission and the consternation of his colleagues, demonstrated that his agenda conflicted with the needs of the group and the city.

The rest of the Daily Breeze column explained that one councilmember, Heidi Ashcraft, recused herself from the administrative matter. She had nominated him to the commission, and she had sent out an email to the entire city council and staff that she agreed with the agenda item to discuss his removal, a violation of the Brown Act.

Ashcraft did the right thing, and this violation is ultimately a small matter.

Final Reflection

I do not sense a big conspiracy after all.

After speaking with former as well as current councilmembers, including former Mayor Frank Scotto and current  members Geoff Rizzo, Heidi Ashcraft, Mayor Pat Furey, and Mike Griffiths, I had a better appreciation and perspective of the whole affair. Furey gave  me a half an hour of his time explaining his reasons for removing Plourde, as well as  the prior steps taken by staff to work with Plourde, in spite of his confrontational and abrasive manner.

The city of Torrance does not have a long record of politicization in connection with commission appointments, although incumbent members have lost reappointment opportunities in the past. Nick Green did mention one attempted removal from former Mayor Dan Walker against Tom Brewer, yet the public outcry pushed back and Walker relented. A 2006 grassroots effort threw Walker and some of his colleagues out of office that year, following rising complaints of overdevelopment and cronyism.

As for Plourde, Furey and Ashcraft asked him to step down or consider another commission. Weideman affirmed that his decision was not political or partisan, but a recognition of the fact that Plourde was acting outside the scope of his commissioner duties.

Once again, the reality of local civic decisions requires more scrutiny than the local press or attending residents have immediate access to.


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