Inquiry into campaign event is ordered by council majority

THE CONTROVERSIAL campaign event at Westminster City Hall will be investigated.

By Jim Tortolano/Orange County Tribune

Where is the line between permitted political speech and holding a campaign event for an office-seeker on the steps of the city hall? 

On Friday, the Westminster City Council spent hours arguing over an event held on June 24 in which Councilmember Chi Charlie Nguyen announced his candidacy for the position of mayor at the civic center.

The council majority finally chose to further investigate.

Was the event a violation of state law?  Nguyen and his supporters said no. A majority of the city council said it probably was.

California Government Code Sec. 8314 states:

“It is unlawful for any elected state or local officer, including any state or local employee, or consultant to use or permit others to use public resources for a campaign activity, or personal or other purposes which are not authorized by law.”

The two sides differed as to how the code should be viewed with respect to the event in question.

In a memo from City Manager Christine Cordon penned by City Attorney Christian Bettenhausen, it was stated that there was no city policy prohibiting such activity there. In summary, the memo declares that “political speech … is a highly protected form of speech under the First Amendment. It does not fall under within a lesser category of  speech simply because the speaker is a politician.”

However, the memo doesn’t specifically address whether the state code applies in this case.

After hours of public comments, argument and – often – repetition of the same points, the council finally decided on a 3-2 vote (with Nguyen and Mayor Ta voting no) to have a police officer document the incident and refer the matter to the state attorney general and/or county district attorney.

Lengthy discussion included accusations that city officials might have been “bullied” into compliance as well as arguments that there was an attempt to deprive Nguyen of his constitutional rights.

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