During the past year or so The Signal’s Editorial Department has made two causes our primary goals: To battle negative campaigning and to promote civic engagement.
Civic engagement means everyday people preserving democracy through its everyday use – by stepping up with one’s voice, one’s actions and one’s time to serve the public selflessly, to challenge elected leaders constructively, to self-inform and civilly debate with the goal of making our community the best it can be.
Standing contrary to vigorous civic engagement is any elected official who considers his or her selection by voters for a given office to be permission, or even encouragement, for meddling in other offices, usurping citizens’ rights to make decisions regarding those positions.
Sadly, the Santa Clarita Valley has a long history of elected representatives with such delusions. Most recently departed from the annals of SCV reigns is retired Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, who once fancied himself the Santa Clarita Valley’s “kingmaker” – and whose endorsements swung a lot of nonpartisan elections in favor of Republican candidates touched by his magic wand.
We at The Signal believe partisan politics have no place in local nonpartisan issues, particularly in this era of hyper-politicized politics that have turned Congress into a prize fight and the California Legislature into an insane asylum.
Sen. Scott Wilk disagrees with us on this issue. We have endorsed him more than once and generally agree he is representing us well in the Legislature, but in nonpartisan elections he is out-McKeoning McKeon as he meddles in issues as party-neutral as Santa Clarita city commissioner for Parks and Recreation.
Wilk’s fingerprints were all over the shoddy selection process displayed by City Council members in January when they turned their backs on the public and chose Wilk-ordained Bill Miranda for the City Council seat vacated by Assemblyman Dante Acosta.
In an unnecessarily rushed process that shut out even a citizens committee of advisers from making recommendations, the four council members effectively bypassed most of the 49 interested applicants with interviews of no more than three minutes each. City Councilman Bob Kellar favored another applicant.
We have nothing against Miranda, although he failed to join in any of our civic engagement events designed to introduce the applicants to the public. “It wasn’t part of the process,” he initially responded when The Signal asked him in January about his absence from those events.
‘Part of the process’
Indeed, the most important “part of the process” is apparently securing a reference letter from Scott Wilk.
More recently Miranda, having learned his lesson well, named Wilk-endorsed Victor Lindenheim to a seat on the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission. One commission position each is appointed by the five council members.
Miranda called Lindenheim and personally urged him to apply, although the longtime director of the Golden State Gateway Coalition and expert in transportation said he never considered the job before he received Miranda’s call.
Meanwhile, nine other people submitted applications for the commission position. At least one, a four-year resident of Newhall who responded to a city ad on Facebook, tried to contact Miranda several times and was finally told her application had been received and she would be called if Miranda wanted more information.
The call never came.
Undaunted by Lindenheim’s appointment, the Newhall mom said she wrote to Miranda asking for “some insight on what would make me a better candidate.”
The next day, April 13, she said she saw The Signal article “New parks commissioner recruited by councilman.”
“I do feel like I have a lot to offer,” said the resident, asking that her name be withheld because she “didn’t want to make enemies at City Hall.”
“I just wanted a chance for an interview,” she said. “I realized after I saw that (article) I didn’t have a chance. Why was (the ad) posted on Facebook if no one had a chance?”
Lindenheim will likely be a fine parks commissioner. But this woman wanted a fair opportunity for consideration, and Wilk’s dynasty-building shut her out of that chance.
There’s nothing illegal in the senator’s very successful effort to sway officials in local, nonpartisan positions, although city commissioner is the lowest we’ve seen an elected official stoop in the bid to make over local government in his or her image.
Recently his wife, Vanessa, a longtime Santa Clarita Valley activist for education and senior issues, was seated on the Santa Clarita Arts Commission.
But city government is only one of the places where the choices of elected or appointed officials bear Scott Wilk’s fingerprints. His influence has also been felt in selections for College of the Canyons and Hart District board members.
Please don’t think we’re making assumptions in this account. Wilk, who has recently abandoned his “R-Santa Clarita” partisan label on his press releases in favor of “R-Antelope Valley,” has told us flat-out that he will wield influence where he can and that he is free to do so.
After all, elections just get more and more expensive, and Wilk has accumulated power in his party and money in his campaign coffers.
We do find local elected officials’ eagerness to comply with the senator’s wishes shameful and wonder if their weakness may backfire on Wilk’s efforts to retain power for his party during this time of Democratic dominance in California.
But our main concern is a self-appointed Wilk dynasty’s effect on civic engagement in the Santa Clarita Valley – on citizens’ belief and trust in the system and thus on their willingness to participate in it. Upon that willingness rides the future of democracy in the SCV.
As Miranda demonstrated in his choice for commissioner, those loyal to the dynasty won’t – perhaps can’t – be loyal to the people. And an elected legislator’s goals all too often are self-protection and self-empowerment. Surely no one can dispute that point in this era of gross political polarization.
Dynasty building shuts out the people from the political process, resulting in alienation and lack of civic engagement. That, in turn, stifles diversity and kills democracy.
Surely we in the Santa Clarita Valley demand better than that.
Participation in The Signal’s public forum for City Council in January and in its Measure H debate in February demonstrated residents in this valley do want grassroots involvement in their government. Let’s stand up for that – and stand up against dynasty-building that would stifle such involvement.
We have school board elections this November, and the following November a City Council election, along with school board and state and national elections. Let’s throw off the power of those who would usurp our voices and exercise our democratic choices for the next two rounds of local elections.