Council Responds To Claims, Defends Planning Commissioner

West Covina planning commissioner, city council attacked with claims of “double dipping” and financial mismanagement

In an abnormal move, four West Covina council members responded to allegations made during public comment about themselves and planning commissioner Glenn Kennedy in their council communications.

Public comment at the Aug. 20 meeting was not followed by a response from the city manager or city council immediately following the comments, as it normally would when major issues, like SB 54 or the homeless, are brought up.

Instead, all of the council’s comments were held until a majority of the chambers laid empty at the tail end of the meeting.

Their comments were in reference to three residents that made claims against Kennedy, stating that his position as a planning commissioner is in conflict with his position as a consultant to the West Covina Police Officer Association.

These residents took particular issue with his position on circulating a petition to get a tax proposed by the POA on the ballot.

“A conflict of interest exists even if no unethical or improper act is a result of a planning commissioner’s actions,” resident Shirley Buchanan said.

She then continued to list out how she perceived this to be a conflict of interest. She added that Kennedy had received $9,000 from the West Covina police’s political action committee as of Dec. 31, 2018. She cited this number as coming from the PAC’s 460 form.

“This personal consultant fee, with a specific purpose, might adversely affect his duty to make decisions as a planning commissioner for the benefit of the West Covina police association,” Buchanan added. “In addition, his association with the city council on city planning issues may also be perceived as influential in a vote.”

She then asked that he remove himself from the planning commission if he is to continue to work with the police officer association’s political action committee.

Resident Angie Gillingham also made claims about Kennedy and brought up the removal of Jerri Potras from the human resources commission, without naming Potras, when asking if Kennedy would be removed. Gillingham also cited a 460 form that she handed to council.

“This commissioner is being paid handsomely by the West Covina PD,” Gillingham said. “$5,500 for his support of the tax increase and removal of the existing audit committee.”

She then added that the audit committee had been stonewalled in asking for information, specifically about fire department overtime before asking Shewmaker how she felt about the initiative and whether she shares Kennedy’s view.

She then asked if Shewmaker would remove Kennedy if their views on the potential tax were different, before making another claim in reference to council member Letty Lopez.

“Councilwoman Mrs. Lopez-Viado had appointed a resident as an HR commissioner, just a few months later Mrs. Lopez-Viado removed that resident from the HR commission because the resident was not representing her views,” Gillingham added.

She then asked again if Shewmaker’s views align with Kennedy’s:

She concluded her comment by asking for the tax increase to be put on the agenda.

Among several other grievances, resident Elsie Messman spoke about spending issues and the tax. She also questioned the intentions of Kennedy, but most of her points were on the other issues.

“Politicians have a habit of lying to get what they want,” Messman said. “I’d like to know if Mr. Kennedy’s idea to increase the tax [is] to support the city or benefit himself.”

Following this, one resident spoke in defense of Kennedy.

Resident John Shewmaker, father of appointed council member Jessica Shewmaker, began his comment by mentioning that Kennedy was currently in the hospital in relation to a cancer surgery and that he wishes him well.

Shewmaker then spoke on the attacks made against Kennedy and stated that there would only be one situation where Kennedy would have to recuse himself.

“Kennedy assured me that the next time the West Covina Police Officers Association or the West Covina Firefighters Association comes before the planning commission for a variance, or a building, or a project they have,” Shewmaker said. “That he will recuse himself because that’s the only thing he can do as a planning commissioner. He has no authority over anything else.”

He also mentioned that while people have claimed that mayor pro tem Tony Wu runs the city, that he guesses Wu does not run the city because Wu is against the tax initiative and there are a “whole bunch of people who want something else.”

The other comments made were general in regards to the audit committee and spending issues, with the exception of Herb Redholtz, who asked council if they were going to honor the legacy of Phil Kaufman by dedicating a building or something to him, and another resident who asked the council to set a consistent policy about overnight parking.

Of note for the other comments were points made by resident and audit committee member Jim Grivich. He said that he was distressed to read that a city official said the city had a revenue problem after appearing before the city for years saying the city had a spending problem.

He also said the city has had a 5 percent increase in revenue each year for the last five years as opposed to the Consumer Price Index’s less than 2 percent raise each year.

His points would also later be addressed at the end of the meeting, alongside Potras’ request for council input, by council member Shewmaker when the council members decided to utilize their own version of public comment.

While in the past, council communications has usually served as little more than where council requests new reports if any communications were held at all, Lopez used the time to respond to claims that were made.

Lopez addressed Gillingham’s claims and spoke on why she removed Potras from the human resources commission, adding that she felt Potras was crossing a line by making comments about human resource decisions, as a human resources commissioner.

She also referred to several posts Potras made as often one sided and said that it would be clear what position Potras had on human resource issues before it came to a vote because of her publicly voiced opinions.

Lopez also said she had a long conversation with Potras and was “surprised she didn’t share that there [public comment].”

Potras did not bring up her removal from the human resource commission, however.

The comment Lopez is referring to was from Gillingham, but the context of Lopez’s comments appear to address the claims made against her as coming from Potras.

Either way, Gillingham did not mention the discussion that Potras and Lopez had, and Lopez used council communications to elaborate on the removal.

She then incidentally made a claim of her own by implication.

“I removed her a few months ago,” Lopez said. “Of course, little games start playing.”

Lopez followed up that statement by stating that Potras recently filed a California Fair Political Practices Commission complaint against her and added that she was also cleared by the FPPC.

“These are the little things, that when they nitpick and they hit you in all angles,” Lopez said. “There’s different things that occur that I don’t publicly say.”

She then further addressed Gillingham’s claim that Potras was removed for not having the same views by saying she was open to opinions and information.

“I listen to all sides, whether they are in agreement or disagreement, agree or disagree with me, I don’t mind taking any information,” Lopez added. “I’m open to anybody.”

Lopez’s final comments, after mayor pro tem Tony Wu, addressed the “double dipping” claim by stating that the stipend she received as a council member came out to cents for the hours she put in.

Wu agreed with Lopez and mentioned how several lawsuits have been filed against him. He also cited one instance when a lawsuit was filed because he went on a trip to West Covina’s sister city in China for city business.

“They sue[d] me more than one time,” Wu said. “I never mention this.”

He then added that he wanted to share with residents that the job is sometimes tough with all the attacks, but that they are doing their best.

In addressing the “double dipping” claim, he said he received about $500 and no insurance.

Following this, council member Shewmaker made her case for why she chose Kennedy to become planning commissioner and addressed the various claims made.

“This is one of the few times in the 13 years that I’ve been an elected official that I’m actually going to respond to a public comment,” Shewmaker said. “I’ve always seen it as, just that public comment.”

Shewmaker followed this by addressing the attacks made on Kennedy.

“I found tonight and the accusations against Glenn Kennedy to be absolutely disgusting,” Shewmaker said. “This is a person who has been involved in our community his entire life.”

She said that she understands people are against the initiative. but that it was pushed for by the POA and not the council. She also explained that she appointed Kennedy because she knew that he has done what he felt was best for the city of West Covina his entire life.

“If anybody who got up here and spoke about him had paid any attention to him, they would have known he’s wanted this tax for years,” Shewmaker said. “Years.”

She then stated she would not give her position on this issue at this time.

“As for where I stand on it, at this point, none of your business,” Shewmaker said in response to Potras and those asking for council to put it on the agenda. “I say that because this tax initiative is being put out by the POA. When and if they gather enough signatures, then I will share where my opinion is. This is for the community to decide. Not me.”

Potras, in her public comment, had urged council to provide their input on this initiative.

“I don’t care what your campaign promises were, this needs to have your input,” Potras said. “You represent us, you have to balance the business interest with the taxpayer resident interest with the employee interest. This ordinance is flawed and should not make it to ballot.”

Shewmaker further clarified why it was not an item on the agenda either.

“I’m not going to influence people who then decide to vote in support of it, sign the petition, or not based on my name. This is a police officer association and West Covina Fire[fighters] Association initiative. That’s why it is not before us,” Shewmaker added. “It is not an issue for us at this time.”

She then thanked council for appointing and supporting her, which broke some of the tension from the previous comments with laughter, before addressing a couple of other issues regarding staff reports.

Her final comment addressed points raised by Grivich about the rise in revenue for the city. She compared the city to school districts and said that when it looks like schools got huge amounts of money that it was to gain back funding levels.

“School districts weren’t getting ‘extra’ money, they were getting money that we were cut year after year,” she added. “The city lost redevelopment, and we can talk about whether some funds that were in redevelopment should have been there, back and forth all day. The simple fact is the city lost a lot of that money.”

While she agreed with Grivich’s point that there has been financial mismanagement in the past, she looked for more time to fix the city’s finances.

“There is a lot that goes into the numbers where they’re at, and again I’m not saying there wasn’t bad decisions made, because there definitely has been,” Shewmaker said. “On the same token, this is a new council with new ideas trying to get this straightened out for the city, and I would hope that they will give us longer than six months and one budget to do that.”

Mayor Lloyd Johnson also spoke in support of Kennedy and mentioned that the commissioner was first appointed by him.

“Before Glenn Kennedy became her planning commissioner, he was my community services commissioner for four years, almost,” Johnson said.

To directly answer the residents that asked for Kennedy’s removal, Johnson said that he would not remove Kennedy for this.

“There’s no way I would have said, “Hey Glenn, you have to pick or choose,” Johnson added. “There’s no way that I would replace him.”

Johnson said he agreed with Shewmaker that what Kennedy does on his own time is not in conflict between his job and what he has to vote on.

Council member Dario Castellanos made no comment as his colleagues spoke, and the meeting adjourned with a few residents outside.

Clarification: Aug. 23, 2:07 p.m.:

Residents used two figures at the council meeting in reference to compensation that Glenn Kennedy received for working with the West Covina Police Officers Association: $5,500 and $9,000.

Resident Angie Gillingham used the combined total for the 2019 statement of $5,500.

$5,500 for his support of the tax increase and removal of the existing audit committee.

Resident Shirley Buchanan used the combined total of the available 2018 and 2019 statements of $9,000.

She added that Kennedy had received $9,000 from the West Covina police’s political action committee as of Dec. 31, 2018. She cited this number as coming from the PAC’s 460 form.

Upon review of the West Covina Police Officers Association PAC’s 460 forms Glenn Kennedy’s compensation is consistent with what was said.

The 2018 statement covers a period from Oct. 21 to Dec. 31, where Kennedy received $3,500 for consulting services, and the 2019 statement covers a period from Jan. 1 to Jun. 30, where Kennedy received a payment of $2,500 and a payment of $3,000.