By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
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By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
MacLean started showing up to CIG meetings, and members say he became a vocal participant in discussions of the latest city news. “He was lockstep with us on the things we held important: fiscal conservatism, open government, listen to the citizens, redevelopment, no taxes—all this kind of stuff,” Wilder says. “It seemed like he was right there with us.”
MacLean ran for city council in 2000. He lost. He ran again in 2002, alongside CIG member and popular PTA mom Patricia “Trish” Kelley as well as John Paul Ledesma, a friend of CIG who was first elected in 1998. Orange County Register editorial writer Steven Greenhut dubbed the results the “Revolution in Mission Viejo”: incumbents mayor Susan Withrow and vice mayor Sheri Butterfield lost badly, garnering less than 14 percent of the vote between the two of them. Activists who supported MacLean and Kelley were ecstatic. Alongside Ledesma and Gail Reavis, a CIG-supported candidate from 2000, their representatives would have a 4-1 majority.
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.”