San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 09/23/16 – 10:40 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> At least two sets of debates are planned at City Hall, after the City Council overruled City Manager Mark Scott’s decision not to allow any debates.

Scott told the council by email last Friday that he had told anyone requesting to hold a pre-election debate at City Hall — as had been allowed in every previous election going back decades — that it wouldn’t be allowed, out of a concern about a conflict of interest since the city put two measures on the ballot.

The City Council could vote to reverse him if they want, Scott said in his email.

In response, several council members blasted Scott for trying to shut down free speech, while others defended him as implementing the implied direction of a council that had said not to spend any money educating the public about the city charter ballot measure.

But council members were unanimous in the vote to allow pre-election debates at City Hall and on the public access channel, waiving fees for both.

“The actual statement from Mr. Scott is that there is a council discretion to overturn his decision, so I think he left it completely wide open for the council to make the ultimate decision,” Councilman John Valdivia said. “This is unacceptable on behalf of what Mr. Scott is attempting to do.”

Scott was not at the meeting, but in an email he said it seemed “smart to stay completely arms length” because the city was behind both Measure L, to replace the city charter, and Measure P, to replace the city’s marijuana ban with a regulatory scheme.

“It’s necessary to take precaution and care that you don’t cross over the line into endorsement and you stick within the parameters of education,” City Attorney Gary Saenz said. “Sometimes that’s hard to do. I personally encountered a forum – or a couple of forums, actually – when I was campaigning and there was a conflict of interest that I believe tainted the discussions.”

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