By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
The jubilation didn’t last long.
“There are two different personalities here: the Lance before the election, and the Lance after,” Connie Lee says. “Not even an evolution. Just . . . different.”
Near the top of CIG’s enemies list was city manager Dan Joseph, who was believed to be a shill for the council majority that the group despised. At MacLean’s first-ever closed-session council meeting, Ledesma moved to have Joseph fired. MacLean objected. Perhaps more symbolically damaging, MacLean had said during his campaign that he would take Joseph’s desk, which had been purchased for $6,000 in taxpayer money, and put it on eBay. After the election, MacLean claimed he’d just been joking about the whole thing. Recall proponents, even today, bring the desk up as a reason to oust him.
“Let’s think about that for a second,” MacLean says about the desk. “The desk has been paid for, it’s sitting there, and he’s using it. I could put it on eBay. What do you think I could get for that desk? A thousand bucks? That means we’ve lost $5000, and now I’ve got to buy another desk for the city manager to work off. What did I prove? I won an argument of principle, but I just sold the taxpayers out in terms of being fiscally responsible.”
The disagreements with his former supporters just got more acrimonious from there. MacLean backed a deal to provide a tax credit for an auto dealership; critics called it “corporate welfare.” He proposed the gym that he thought the city needed; the idea was defeated in a 3-2 vote amid a hail of charges that MacLean’s “pet project” was a waste of money. The council proposed a tax increase on hotel guests be put to a citywide vote; when MacLean volunteered to write the ballot argument in favor, his former supporters took it as a betrayal of his “no new taxes” campaign promises.
As some of MacLean’s original proponents abandoned him, he took on a new role that brought more responsibility—and more controversy. Shortly after MacLean’s election, the city council appointed him to the board of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (F/ETCA) to help oversee the controversial Highway 241 toll road extension. He worked his way up to be chairman of the F/ETCA. Last year, at a packed U.S. Department of Commerce hearing on the toll road—where the F/ETCA’s plan was eventually rejected—activists booed MacLean as he advocated the project. MacLean sees a parallel between what happened to the toll road and what’s happening to him now.
“It’s continual nitpicking. It’s Chinese water torture. Drip-drip-drip,” he says. “It’s a farce. But it’s a means to an end.”
MacLean says his “deliberative” approach to making decisions clashes with the demands of the CIG crowd. A few weeks after being elected, he says, Reavis and her husband met him at a bagel shop and asked him to solicit her approval for any proposals he wanted to put on the council’s agenda. He says he rejected the idea. “They were very upset because I didn’t take my orders from them,” MacLean says. “They felt I turned on them. I didn’t turn on them. I’m just not their puppet.”
Reavis says the meeting never happened. She does, however, think MacLean, Ury and Kelley have all insulted their supporters since entering office. “I think it’s a character flaw if you don’t have loyalty,” Reavis says. “I do not for the life of me understand what motivates people who freely take your nourishment, your help up the ladder, and then turn around and do the things they’ve done.”
CIG disbanded in 2004 as some members decided to support Ury in his first run for council while others backed Brad Morton. The fallout of that election left some of the activists not speaking to one another. When Kelley, Ledesma and MacLean ran for re-election in 2006, the fragmented activist community divided its support among seven challengers. Even with split-vote opposition, MacLean appeared to have lost his seat on election night, only to win the next day by only 94 votes once the absentee ballots had been counted.
The ex-CIG rifts endured until recently, with Schlicht’s campaign and, now, the MacLean recall. “There’s something about a common enemy that brings people together,” Lee says.
* * *
The day after being served the intent-to-recall notice, MacLean has dropped any semblance of the amusement he showed at the meeting. Sitting at a coffee shop across the street from the civic center, he wears a pinkish-red collared shirt patterned with a single palm tree running up the front. Sunglasses hang from the his unbuttoned collar; his face is tanned near-orange and framed by silver-haired sideburns. The 6-foot-5-inch, 220-pound MacLean looks like one of those cool-dude Orange County business guys who surf to stay chill. But today, MacLean is not chill.
Eyes darting around, hands fidgeting, he rattles off the exact circumstances surrounding each vote he has taken that is mentioned in the recall letter. He’s a deficit spender? No, he says: The fact that expenditures exceeded revenues in the last fiscal year simply means the council used money saved up from past-year windfalls to pay for city improvements in 2008. He’s a tax-raiser? No, taxes never went up, and he merely wanted to allow voters to decide whether to approve an increase. He supported a 100 percent pay raise for council members? Well, yes, but all that meant was doubling a $500-per-month stipend that hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since 1988.