Before the Carpinteria City Council finally got around to taking no official position on Measure S — Sheriff Bill Brown’s proposed half-cent jail tax — Councilmember Kathleen Reddington angrily stated she felt “harassed as a woman” by some of her male council colleagues. Her remarks came after Mayor Gregg Carty had admonished her to “be brief” in her remarks and Councilmember Brad Stein suggested she should “seek counseling.” Now in the second year of her first term, Reddington explained, “When you have four men on the council, and you’re the only woman and they’re asking you to be quiet, how else am I supposed to feel? And this is not the first time I’ve been told to be quiet. The mayor has shushed me before. No one likes to be shushed. It’s not respectful.”
Mayor Carty did not respond for comment. But Councilmember Brad Stein said city council proceedings have grown “weirder and weirder” since Reddington was elected two years ago. He charged that Reddington frequently does not listen, interrupts often, and is growing increasingly rude. In response, Reddington referred to Stein’s 20-year tenure on the council, saying, “Let’s face it; after 20 years standing in one place, you’re bound to get disgusted and bored with something. After 20 years, you’re inclined to want things your way.”
On the surface, tempers flared over a disagreement between Reddington and Mayor Carty over the council’s legal latitude to question members of the public who speak on matters outside the scope of the council’s agenda. Time, however, is allotted at all public meetings for members of the public to raise issues not on the agenda. In this case, Carpinteria activist Peggy Oki complained that battery-powered remote-control model airplanes were making life miserable for white-tailed kites that once roosted on Viola Field, an active-recreation space on the Carpinteria Bluffs. When Reddington asked if she could question Oki, Mayor Carty instructed her to keep it brief. Reddington took offense. To make her point, she instructed her fellow councilmembers and city staff to do the same several times throughout the evening.
While state law clearly limits what councilmembers can say and do in such exchanges, it does not bar them from asking anything at all. “If we take in what the public has to say, but don’t ask questions and don’t say anything, people are going to walk away feeling unheard and alienated from the political process,” said Reddington. She complained that Mayor Carty’s approach is way too restrictive. “He’s been very obstinate about it,” she said. Councilmember Stein admitted he told Reddington to seek counseling, but said he meant with the city attorney, not with a therapist. “If I hadn’t been interrupted, that’s what I would have said,” he stated. Reddington’s not buying it. “Brad had ample opportunity to clarify his remarks, and he never took it.”
Whatever underlying tensions exist within the five-person council clearly transcend political ideology and won’t likely be resolved by a visit to the city council or even a group therapist. On paper, Stein and Reddington are part of the same slow-growth majority that’s dominated Carpinteria politics for 20 years. But on Measure S, they’re on opposite sides. Reddington said she’s encouraged that Brown has earmarked some of the proceeds for prevention programs to combat recidivism. “But building new prisons is not the answer,” she said. Sharing that opinion was Councilmember Al Clark. Mayor Carty didn’t believe he should take a public position. On the other hand, Stein and Councilmember Joe Armendariz enthusiastically support the proposed new sales tax. At a previous meeting, Armendariz described it as “nearly perfect,” and Stein regards this tax as the only viable way to finance the construction of a new county jail. Of all the city councils Brown has approached for endorsements to date, Carpinteria is the only one to send him away empty-handed.