We all kind of waited, holding our breath to see how the first real substantive council meeting would go. None of us was sure what Bruce Silverstein would do. Would he hold it together? Would he lose it? Once again, Bruce proved himself up to the task. One of the first items was to approve the agenda, which is printed in advance and lays out the order of things for the meeting being chaired by the mayor, Mikke Pierson. And then it began. “Point of order, Mr. Mayor,” said Silverstein in a raspy voice that reminded me of that long gone but not forgotten U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy—except, as I remember it, McCarthy was a bit more polite. The attack went on endlessly. In Silverstein’s opinion, the agenda was all wrong because item 7 should be combined with item 6.A., or was it 11? Because it was modified by item 10... until we all started getting a headache. I’m sure you all get the idea. And besides, Silverstein said it was all illegal and improper anyway, citing chapter and verse from endless city council policies and other documents but in a show of good faith he would be willing to do it the easy way and withdraw all his objections and save lots of time, providing they agreed to do it his way. That’s when Farrer, Pierson and Grisanti made a mistake and went along with his request in an effort to move the meeting along. The mistake was they don’t know how to handle obstreperous council members and they thought by offering him a hand he wouldn’t try to bite off their entire arm. Sadly, they were very wrong, which they will find out soon enough. I’ve been in many courtroom battles with lawyers who love the sound of their own voices and the brilliance of their own arguments. That’s what judges are for and I expect, despite Silverstein’s oratorical brilliance, much admired by himself, etc., etc., the judge would have said, “Motion denied. Now, move on Mr. Silverstein, now.” Mikke Pierson is a decent man, conscientious and trying hard to be fair, but he will find out soon enough that advocates are not trying to be fair and if there is one definite thing you can say about Bruce Silverstein is that he is an advocate. “Fair” to an advocate is only one thing: “winning,” whatever that may mean. It’s not governing, it’s winning.
So, finally getting past the issue of the agenda, they then heard from 28-plus members of the Malibu public. Most were not happy with the new council members—although a few were—but the primary complaint was that they wanted the council to get over this warfare and move on and do their job. They told the council there are real issues to be dealt with: COVID-19, homelessness, PCH safety, budget, land use, coastal issues and many more. That meant they expected them to try to find some consensus on the council, to try to listen to each other, to try to disagree agreeably, and to stop these vicious attacks on the city manager, Reva Feldman, both in social media and at the meetings.
There is a real danger for all of us with these attacks on Reva Feldman. I understand that both Silverstein and Uhring ran on a platform of replacing Reva Feldman as city manager. They have a perfect right to try to do that if they can get the three votes. What they don’t have a right to do is to launch and continue an attack on her personally, to constantly harass her on social media and to make all kinds of charges of corruption to get her to quit. These attacks are leading the city into all types of potential liability. I’d suggest the council sit down with some employment lawyers and get some advice as to what you can and can’t do in an employment situation and find out about “hostile workplaces” because the council has an obligation to protect the citizens of this city. Silverstein may be a crackerjack corporate lawyer but when you start to make accusations all over social media about a person’s competence and honesty, you better be prepared to prove it, because if you don’t, you’re looking at the possibility of punitive damages, and I mean personally. Additionally, the city is, I believe, in some sort of liability insurance group with other cities, and the last thing any group wants is some out-of-control city council creating potential liability for the overall group. I’m writing this column as a warning to Silverstein, Uhring and others participating in this vendetta as well as to the city, which I believe are seriously at risk unless they act affirmatively to try and stop these attacks. This sounds to me like very intentional conduct, which might mean the city is not covered by insurance. Also, typically, lawsuits against the city or against its council members have coverage if they’re within the scope of their official duties, but not for things outside the scope of their official duties, so charges made on social media may not be covered and anyone sued may have to pay for their own attorney’s fees, which in some of these can easily run into seven figures. These types of litigation didn’t exist when I left the practice over 33 years ago, but check around, employment cases today can be very expensive time bombs, as any good corporate lawyer knows. So, let’s be sensible and stop putting the city at risk because in trial any jury always contains some jurors who work for some government agencies and Malibu is generally perceived as a very high end, exclusive and somewhat snotty city, which means any trial starts with us trying to dig out of that hole.