McLean calls parks commission appointment a ‘breach of public trust’
Long-simmering frustrations among Santa Clarita City Council members and a dispute over a city parks commission appointment escalated to accusations Tuesday evening as one council member called the appointment a “breach of public trust” and another attributed that criticism to “bitterness.”
Councilwoman Marsha McLean questioned whether Councilman Bill Miranda knew his parks commission nominee lived outside the city prior to the council’s vote on the applicant, who later withdrew from consideration.
During council member comments at the opening of Tuesday’s meeting, Miranda read a letter from Rob Cruikshank, his recent appointee to the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission.
Cruikshank, who was appointed Jan. 9 and scheduled to be sworn in next month, was stepping down for several reasons, according to the letter. It cited further reflection on the roles and responsibilities, as well as dealing with grief within the family over the death of his father and “harsh criticisms from community members.”
The commission vacancy was created by the November death of Don Cruikshank, the appointee’s father, who had served on the commission since 2016.
“Upon reflection, I have realized that the level of commitment required to fulfill responsibilities of this position would not be possible with my demanding work schedule,” Rob Cruikshank’s letter stated, per a copy obtained by The Signal.
In his application for the seat, Rob Cruikshank listed an address within city limits as his residence. Miranda nominated Cruikshank, one of only two applicants. It is customary for each council member to nominate one member for each city commission, and then for the council to ratify the appointments. The elder Cruikshank had been Miranda’s appointee.
Prior to the council’s Jan. 9 meeting, local activist Steve Petzold submitted public comment to the council, contending Cruikshank might be ineligible for the appointment because he owns ranch property outside the city, but had listed the Santa Clarita address of his deceased father on his commission application.
Petzold’s comments were first submitted in writing, via email to all five council members, City Manager Ken Striplin and City Clerk Mary Cusick at 1:34 p.m. on the day of the council meeting. At that Jan. 9 meeting, he reiterated in spoken testimony his suspicion that Cruikshank might be ineligible to serve on the commission because he doesn’t live in the city, and suggested the council delay the appointment to investigate.
The council chose not to do that and unanimously voted to appoint Cruikshank without any public discussion of the eligibility question raised by Petzold.
In response to questions about the process, his application and his address, Rob Cruikshank wrote in an email to The Signal on Wednesday: “My decision to retract my application was purely based on an unexpected change to my work schedule, and wanting to ensure that city residents are represented by an individual who can dedicate the appropriate amount of time to this position that it deserves.”
After Tuesday’s council meeting, McLean questioned Cruikshank’s reasoning for his recusal and further questioned whether her colleagues knew about the residency issue when the appointment was made Jan. 9.
Alluding to comments she made during the meeting, McLean said she was upset because she didn’t think anything would come of what she considered a very serious “breach of public trust.”
Miranda said he hadn’t asked Cruikshank to step down, and he wouldn’t have.
And that’s apparently part of what upset McLean.
In a conversation after Tuesday’s meeting, McLean produced a copy of Cruikshank’s recusal letter with a Saugus address just outside city limits written on it, which she said was Rob Cruikshank’s real address — and contended that both Miranda and Striplin knew of the discrepancy.
When asked how she knew the discrepancy was known, she said, “Ask Ken.”
Cruikshank did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Striplin denied any knowledge of Cruikshank’s address being outside of city limits prior to the council’s vote on the appointment.
Addresses are self-reported, he said.
“We verify the addresses that we’re given, and at that point, it’s at the council’s discretion to make appointments,” Striplin said.
After the original version of this story was published online Wednesday, McLean reached out to The Signal and said she wanted to clarify that she did not intend to imply that Striplin knew of the address discrepancy before the Jan. 9 vote.
Miranda said in a phone interview Wednesday that McLean’s accusation about him having prior knowledge of the address was “absolutely not true.”
“I called (City Clerk) Mary Cusick and I asked her, ‘Are all the papers in order?’ and she said, ‘Yes,’” he said.
Miranda said he asked Cusick about the address, because the question had been raised by Petzold. Miranda said the city sent mail to the address and the applicant received it, so as far as the city was aware, his residency had been validated.
In light of the alleged breach, McLean on Tuesday wanted to agendize a discussion about the commission-appointment process, and when it became clear that she was the only one speaking up for that, she decided to go on the record, she said.
“It’s really hard for members of the public to have our trust and when that trust is broken, we need to address it,” McLean said from the dais.
McLean said a couple of times from the dais that she was “not letting this go.” However, it also appeared Tuesday that McLean did not have the votes to push the discussion forward.
After she made her request, Mayor Cameron Smyth said he was happy with the process but asked the question of the council, to which both Miranda and Councilwoman Laurene Weste indicated they were happy with the current process.
Miranda said Wednesday he had a lot of respect for McLean’s service, but that lately, she had expressed bitterness toward him and Weste, particularly since the mayor pro tem vote in December during the council’s annual reorganization meeting in which the mayor and mayor pro tem are selected for the following year.
Weste nominated Miranda for mayor pro tem in December, which Miranda seconded, leading McLean to ask rhetorically from the dais, “How did I know you were going to do that, Laurene?”
Miranda commented on that dust-up Wednesday, saying McLean has been a good representative of the community, but that he wouldn’t vote for her to be mayor again like he had in 2018.
“I feel terrible in terms of being part of, and (Weste) being part of her bitterness, I’m not quite sure why. It’s not the first time the council has not chosen someone to be mayor (in the rotation). It’s been done before a number of times before,” Miranda said.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Smyth defended the city’s process, saying it certainly isn’t unique to Santa Clarita, it’s the same idea behind voter registration and the city boasts a successful track record with its appointments.
“I certainly think that overwhelmingly, the members of our commissions and council are doing these jobs because they care about the community and for no other reason,” Smyth said.
Striplin confirmed Wednesday that, based on the direction of the council, there was not an immediate plan to agendize a discussion on the appointment process.