At last night’s meeting of the Santa Monica City Council, Jason Mastbaum confronted Councilmember’s de la Torre, Negrete, Parra and Brock about their conduct at the July 25 City Council meeting where they maligned city staff while defending Councilmember Brock and de la Torre’s travel budget overruns. Following Mastbaum’s testimony, which was a shortened version of the piece he wrote for Santa Monica Next last week, both Brock and de la Torre used a point of personal privilege to attack Mastbaum for “telling lies” about the Councilmembers.
However, much of what the Councilmembers said actually supported what Mastbaum wrote, and what was left mis-represented what was in the piece initially. You can watch the confrontation on YouTube here, and a full transcript of what Mastbaum, de la Torre and Brock said last night can be found at the bottom of this piece.
While Brock speaks after de la Torre, we’re going to look at what he said first. What Brock said last night confirms much of what was reported in Mastbaum’s original piece: that Brock was made well aware that he would go over his travel budget as early as January but still blamed the city staff for not informing him he would go over at the July City Council meeting.
“So all this was thoroughly discussed with both Gilbert when he came on, and the city manager and I canceled two conferences at the same time,” Brock stated last night when defending his budget overruns. However, this is a complete turnaround from what was said at the July 25 meeting.
“I was told at the end of March, after attending the CivicWell Conference in Monterey, that I had exceeded my year’s travel budget,” Brock said in July.
“I had not been aware of that in the past because we were in COVID, because we had a change of staff, we had a new staff member who was diligent about–the new administrative assistant in City Manager White’s office–who let me know that we were running over. At that point there was no way to rectify that.”
While Brock clarified last night that he had already booked rooms and the conference for Civic Well before the January meeting; Mastbaum’s article was not about Brock and to a lesser extent de la Torre going over their travel budget. It’s a story about Brock and other Councilmembers blaming city staff for the overruns by not informing the Councilmembers of either the travel policy or updates on their budget. Last night, Brock firmly stated that staff did inform him of these overruns ahead of time.
De la Torre’s statements last evening were focused that he personally did not receive an email stating he was going close to exceeding his travel budget nor did other members of the Council besides Brock.
What de la Torre is saying here may be true, but it’s also not refuting anything that Mastbaum has actually said, either last night or in his piece at Next. Both times, Mastbaum quotes de la Torre as saying, “Nobody was given a report to say ‘hey, you’re going over.’” This statement is incorrect. Phil Brock, de la Torre’s close political ally, received such an email and also, by Brock’s own account, had phone conversations and meetings about the travel budget.
Again, the point of Mastbaum’s piece and testimony is not that two Councilmembers went over their allocations for travel. That they did is well known and has been dealt with appropriately by the Council at the July 25th meeting when they voted to cover these expenses.
The point is that rather than admit to their mistake, some of the Councilmembers went out of their way to blame staff for these overruns saying they were unaware of the travel policy, the travel budget, and their current expenditures. Mastbaum’s piece shows that the Councilmembers received the travel policy in their onboarding packets, affirmed the policy in January 2021 in a motion made by Phil Brock and that at least one of them received advance notice from the city they were going over the budget. We now know this same Councilmember had phone calls and meetings to discuss that budget this year before the July 2023 meeting. These facts are not in dispute.
During last night’s meeting, Brock got into a small verbal altercation with Mastbaum claiming that Mastbaum was telling people that Brock had “perjured” himself at the July 25 meeting and offered to print up posts on Facebook to prove that Mastbaum had said this. Mastbaum has not used the term “perjury” to describe Brock’s statements although he has repeatedly used the word, “lie.” Perjury was first brought up by a supporter of Brock’s in the Wilmont Facebook Group, but Mastbaum has not used that specific legal term.
Two notes before we get to the transcript.
At one point Phil Brock literally says, “”So, I know you’ve been walking around saying that I quote unquote, perjured myself. I absolutely did,” before reacting to Mastbaum shaking his head at the podium. While the quote is accurate, we believe that Brock was intending to finish that sentence with the word “not” before he got distracted.
Also, Mastbaum says that during the several seconds of audio that are missing from the end of the Brock’s comments, he says “and your employer would appreciate it if you didn’t go around spreading lies,” to which Mastbaum replied “it seems extremely inappropriate to bring my employer into this.”
Mastbaum says he took it as a very clear implied threat by Brock to try get him in trouble with his employer if he doesn’t lay off of this topic.
My name is Jason Mastbaum and I’m here to set the record straight on Phil and Oscars’ travel budgets overruns. During the July 25, council meeting discussion on these travel budget overruns Phil repeatedly blamed staff for not warning him he would be going over and were already almost over. Oscar claimed, “Nobody was given a report to say ‘hey, you’re going over.'” Christine claimed, “Nobody was letting us know. ‘Hey, by the way, heads up, you’re $1,000 away.” She also accused staff of not onboarding her properly. Lana claimed, “This is just a circumstance where there was poor systems in place. Before that weren’t alerting council members to what was left.” But as the email on the screen clearly shows, staff first warned Phil in January that he was at risk of going over but before it happened. Phil also promptly responded to this email from staff. Another PRA request shows that all council members received the city’s travel policy as part of their onboarding materials. And then a January 2021 meeting Phil moved an Oscar interesting and voted yes on a motion to confirm the travel policy they now blame staff for not telling them about. So, despite the claims that the contrary, the facts show the fault for Phil and Oscar’s travel budget overruns is clearly with them and not with our hard working and unfairly maligned city staff. Thank you.
Oscar de la Torre
Point of personal privilege.
Sure. Councilmember de la Torre.
Oscar de la Torre
Yes. You know, I appreciate you writing this email because right there when it says, you know, just in our defense, I mean, if you read that I can’t read it all. It says current available budget is 2857 with a pending flight and the hotel anyway, what it says here is that Stephanie mentioned that once you exceed your budget, you will have to see an item you know, so that requesting the use of the funds from your colleagues on the council. So, first of all, just for the record, you’re saying that somehow we were all informed personally, I don’t see any email that says that told me was that
Mr. Masbaum, you don’t get you don’t get to respond. I’m sorry.
Oscar de la Torre
Yeah, you don’t get the response. So what you need to do is just listen to the facts. Okay? And so you have no one no one informed me personally, for example, “Hey, Oscar, your budget is this and if we do another conference or whatever your budget will be that therefore you will go over.” What what that email says is is that there is a way to rectify if there is an overreach and the and the way to rectify it is to do exactly what we did, to come to the council to ask our colleagues we have a line item in the budget. For example, if the police department goes over, you know, there’s in let’s say in you know, in one line item, they can move money from another line item because we allocate the entire line item to the police budget. The same thing here is you have a process where you can correct an overage. And that’s exactly what we did. We follow the rules. We corrected the overage, you know, and we didn’t get specific information in terms of what that overage might have been so we just want to clarify that because the facts that you are presenting right now, you’re seeing something else and you’re lying to us. You know and that’s not right. It’s not right to to like to lie to people, you know, you should stick to the facts and the facts see right there that we that there wasn’t a specific email to every council member saying what their budget is and what they’ve gone over. But it did explain that you can fix an overage by coming back to your colleagues on the council. Take that line item, make rectify it and accept that that’s exactly what we did. We follow the rules. I just want to state that for the record. Thank you very much, Mayor.
All right, Councilmember Brock.
Mr. Mastbaum, what you neglected to do when you asked for public records request to search into councilmember de la Torre and my records are realizing that I happened to have a phone and in person meetings with the city manager every two weeks. So all this was thoroughly discussed with both Gilbert when he came on, and the city manager and I canceled two conferences at the same time. So, I know you’ve been walking around saying that I quote unquote, perjured myself. I absolutely did. That’s what you wrote on Facebook. I can print it up and look and show it to you right now.
Councilmember Brock, this is an opportunity for you to make clarifying comments.
So simply. Everything I did, I did in good faith. We had no city council secretary for approximately six months. And we didn’t, were not informed of our travel budget. So you can be smug. Your allies of the city council can show that yes, the city and you also know that the Civic Well Conference for instance,…those conferences were already prepaid. At that point there was no way to cancel them. I reined in the expenses and made sure I did the best I can. You can shake your head but it doesn’t make you right. So I urge you and I’ve said this to you before, if you have a question about anything I’ve done. You’re welcome to call me. You’re welcome to sit down and talk with me. But like Councilmember de la Torre <audio cuts out for several seconds as noted above> The fact that you’re going around printing lies either. Thank you.