It may be too little, too late—or, to be quite honest, way too little and definitely way too late—but Councilman Don Kuehne has certainly drawn a line in the sand. He is angry with the recall effort and he is willing to fight it, fists flying.
Kuehne isn't, however, really fighting the good fight.
Kuehne has come to epitomize a council that ran the city into the ground. The council's actions this past December and January were inexcusable and profoundly detrimental to the city. The case for recall centers around it, and it is arguably a very easy case to make—and win. Moreover, it proved to residents that Kuehne was not going to be part of a reform caucus moving forward.
Kuehne is largely defiant and unwilling to accept his role in the horrendous condition the city finds itself in. Kuehne has suggested that he was battling the corruption behind closed doors but voted with the majority because it was good for the city. That premise is false—and has proven to clearly be so—and it reveals the greatest fallacy in Kuehne's defense.
Kuehne implores that he was the "lone voice" and likened his role on the council to a member on a corporate board of directors. The perspective explains a lot. It is a distorted view of public service, but it wouldn't be so alarming if it weren't so apparent that Kuehne truly believes it. Such strong conviction is more aligned with delusion than confusion, and you cannot educate away delusion.
Kuehne, of course, would not have been a lone voice. Numerous residents, a respected editorial board and a county grand jury all repeatedly presented concerns of what was, at the very least, an unacceptable appearance of conflicts of interest. Kuehne's failure to speak out, vote no or make any effort to stem the tide of wrongdoing—in other words, to fulfill his duty as representative of the people—is evidence enough to support his recall from office.
Kuehne is defending a record of gross negligence, lax oversight and a complete unwillingness to listen to his constituents. It is a difficult record to summon support for a rebellion, to be sure.
At Tuesday's city council meeting, Kuehne voted against a special election to fill the vacancy resulting from former mayor Ed Balico's abrupt resignation last month. Kuehne argued that the council had lost 22 years of local government experience in the past few months and that that valuable experience needed to be replaced. (Balico served 10 years and former councilmembers Kris Valstad and Joe Eddy McDonald, who both lost by wide margins in the November election, served eight and four years, respectively.)
If Kuehne is suggesting that it is in the city's best interest to appoint experienced politicians—such as Balico, Valstad and McDonald—who collectively brought this city to the brink of a financial disaster, his divorce from reality is too great to rescue.
Interim City Manager Fred Deltorchio received a hearty applause following his report to the council on Tuesday evening. People weren't applauding the bad news—costly dead-end contracts approved only recently, a list of vacant homes the city mindlessly purchased, an overworked staff threatened by layoffs—but the honesty, transparency and respect Deltorchio offered the community with his frank assessment.
Councilman John Delgado listened to Deltorchio's report with the earnestness of a college intern. Mayor Joanne Ward subtly nodded, recognizing the wrongs in retrospect, and biting her lip as audience members groaned as the bad news piled up.
But Kuehne looked away. He stared at the wall in the back of the chambers. He didn't muster any signs of remorse, or even relief that critical issues have at least been discovered and were being remedied, as Deltorchio reiterated that staff was prepared to deal with the worst. Kuehne's mind is on the battlefield.
The former city manager is being paid a quarter-million dollars to stay at home this year, the result of another perverse decision by Kuehne and Ward, and which may prove to be the nail in their political coffins. Meanwhile, there will likely be layoffs at city hall, the human element of what was an avoidable tragedy. Kuehne’s rebel call will fall on deaf ears.
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