What steps, if any, the Carpinteria City Council might take to publicly rebuke Councilmember Joe Armendariz for his second major drunk-driving incident in five years was postponed for three weeks Monday night because there weren’t enough councilmembers on hand to cast three votes. Councilmember Brad Stein was sick, and Kathleen Reddington was 25 minutes late. By the time Reddington appeared, many of the 30 or so people who showed up to speak about Armendariz had left.
Reddington, according to Mayor Al Clark and Councilmember Armendariz, is often late to meetings, but usually by only 10 minutes or so. Some members of the public grumbled about having seen Reddington’s car parked in the City Hall parking lot. Reddington, who gave no explanation for her tardiness, suggested the council allow Armendariz a leave of absence so he could check himself into a rehab program rather than vote to censure him, ask him to resign, or to strip him of his committee assignments.
Two months ago, Armendariz drove off Highway 101 and crashed into a tree while driving more than twice as intoxicated as the legal limit. He sustained an injury to his neck that required two days in the hospital; no one else was harmed. As pugnacious as he is conservative, Armendariz has few friends on the council, and the votes appear to be there for some vote of public disapproval. The council lacks the legal authority to force Armendariz to step down.
In the weeks since his accident, City Council meetings have become the focus of ongoing political theatrics — much of it spearheaded by Billy Connell, better known as Carpinteria’s “Hot Dog Man.” Connell has sought to impugn Armendariz’s character by dredging up a host of inflammatory personal revelations, which if accurate, could prove embarrassing. Connell appeared Monday night poised to unleash a new volley of fresh revelations, prompting the council to hold a brief discussion with city attorney Peter Brown on how much latitude members of the public must be afforded when addressing the council. Mayor Al Clark wondered if there was “some line” speakers could not cross; Armendariz wanted to know at what point public speakers might be sued for slander, libel, or defamation. All this might be ripe for reality TV, but for small town Carpinteria, this is a violent departure from the normal conduct of political discourse. Armendariz expressed mock disappointment that Monday night’s vote had been postponed, exclaiming, “Rats! I was really looking forward to this.”
In the meantime, Greg Gandrud, the head of the county Republican Central Committee and former Carpinteria city councilmember, called on Armendariz to resign. Despite sharing many of the same conservative beliefs, there’s never been any love lost between the two. Gandrud is openly gay, and Armendariz belongs to an evangelical church. On his Facebook page, an excerpt of which was provided by Gandrud, Armendariz responded to Gandrud’s suggestion with open scorn.
First, he mocked Gandrud for inviting film crews from MTV’s gay reality series Logo into City Hall so they could capture Gandrud’s “Elizabeth Taylor impersonation.” He concluded, “I could get a third DUI and torture a kitten on live television and still be more electable than he is.” When asked about the Facebook post, Armendariz said he makes it a policy to not comment on anything Gandrud says.
The matter comes back to the Carpinteria City Council the second Monday of February.