SAN MARCOS — The latest City Council squabble ended with the unanimous adoption of the “code of conduct” placed on the agenda by Councilman Mike Preston on Jan. 27.
Originally introduced as a “code of ethics,” the self-policing code compels each council member to respect the individual, honor the public trust and to employ honest and open communication.
This controversial agenda item came on the heels of a tumultuous meeting just two weeks prior. Preston’s wife, Luann Hulsizer, had accused Mayor Jim Desmond of abusing his power to stop her crusade against the election campaign of Councilwoman Rebecca Jones last fall. Preston defended his wife at the meeting, while Desmond rejected Hulsizer’s accusation.
The day of the council meeting, the North County Times printed a letter sent by Preston, which drew comparisons between the mayor and impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Further muddying the waters was Preston’s involvement with the All Veterans Memorial in San Marcos, dedicated Jan. 31. The Web flyer he published to the city’s Web site invited those interested in purchasing a commemorative tile to go to Preston’s personal Web site, a site containing politically charged material. Desmond and Preston debated the ethicality of this at the council meeting.
“This is why we need a code of ethics, so that we’re clear on the same page about what’s ethical and what isn’t,” Preston stated.
Several speakers took the opportunity to chastise Preston on this and other issues.
“Based upon your history, Mr. Preston, you are absolutely the wrong person to be proposing ethics standards,” Lori Drake said.
“This proposal is nothing more than a transparent attempt to embarrass the mayor and members of the council by forcing them to vote for and against ethics,” Kirk Effinger said.
Laura Meyers described Preston as a councilman at odds with the people on virtually every issue, from his support of siting a Wal-Mart in San Marcos several years ago to his opposition to the Sprinter and Palomar Station.
“I believe that all of this ethics rhetoric is simply posturing on Mr. Preston’s part to distract the voters from looking closely at his own record and behavior,” Meyers said.
The code’s only supporters in the audience were Hulsizer and perennial council critics Susan Wait and Nina Patterson.
“After 15 years, I couldn’t be happier,” Wait said. “I am absolutely thrilled with this.”
Councilwoman Jones came to the meeting already decided. Reading from a prepared statement, she moved that the code be tabled for 180 days so that the city attorney and city manager could determine if it was really necessary.
Councilman Chris Orlando rejected that motion out of hand, stressing that waiting 180 days wouldn’t stop the political squabble. He said he was disappointed that, in a time of fiscal crisis, this was the council’s sole new business item.
“I hope the irony is not lost on anybody that we’re talking about a code of ethics when any semblance of decorum has been trampled tonight,” Orlando said.
“This bickering is not good for the city of San Marcos,” Desmond agreed. He then proposed that the code of ethics be termed a code of conduct and that the council adopt a slightly modified version proposed by the city attorney. Preston agreed readily, saying he was happy to see any of the language refined as the council saw fit. The final vote was 5-0.
“Let me just say, I love the irony of the mayor’s motion and Mr. Preston’s second,” Orlando said. “I think that is a fitting closure to the discussion.”
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