Tuesday night’s meeting of the Milpitas City Council was the City had seen in quite a while.
Undoubtedly one of the most controversial agenda items of the evening was when, in a move initiated by Mayor Jose Esteves that sparked an emotional debate amongst City staff and elected officials alike, Mark Tiernan was removed from his position on the Planning Commission.
The loss of Tiernan’s position came just days after in next year’s election.
There has been tension between Esteves and Tiernan for months, ever since a story, written by an anonymous political columnist known only as “The Fly,” appeared in Metro Silicon Valley newspaper and on website SanJoseInside.com on Aug. 17.
In the article, The Fly claimed that Tiernan had told him he believed the Mayor had instigated a “coup” back in July to keep him from being re-elected as chair of the Planning Commission. Tiernan when the former chair stepped down, and was up for re-election as chair in July, but The Fly alleged Tiernan told him he believed Mayor Esteves “strong-armed” other commissioners into instead.
In Tuesday night’s council meeting packet, Esteves explained his move by saying, “Commissioners should be held to a high standard with respect to accuracy of information given out,” and called Tiernan’s remarks in Metro “inappropriate.”
When Tuesday’s meeting began, and it came time to approve the agenda, Councilmember Debbie Giordano voted to have the item removed from the agenda, citing a technicality. Giordano had previously tried to remove the item from the agenda as well on Nov. 28 during a subcommittee meeting, stating the Mayor had not sufficiently explained his reasons for wanting Tiernan voted out. However, Mayor Esteves put the item back on the agenda for Tuesday night.
The council was required to vote on whether or not to remove the item from the agenda, but the move failed, 2-3, with Giordano and Vice-Mayor Pete McHugh voting for its removal, and Councilmembers Althea Polanski and Armando Gomez, as well as Mayor Esteves, voting to keep it on the schedule.
When the item came up on the agenda later in the evening, a tense debate on several sides followed.
Vice-Mayor McHugh started the discussion off in defense of Tiernan, citing his good attendance record at Planning Commission meetings, his previous service as chair of the commission, and his work in establishing and leading the Conditional Use Permit Streamlining subcommittee—which works to streamline the process for new businesses in Milpitas to open—as reasons he should be allowed to continue his term, which was due to end in December, 2012.
McHugh also brought up concerns about an e-mail he said he and several other councilmembers had received from Carmen Montano, a former councilmember and planning commissioner, claiming Mayor Esteves had indicated he wanted to appoint her as Tiernan’s replacement on the Planning Commission, and asking for their support in his doing so. The e-mail was dated Monday, a full 24 hours before the vote to remove Tiernan was scheduled to take place. Mayor Esteves denied speaking with Montano about the position.
“While this may not be technically illegal, I do not believe that it was ethical,” McHugh said in reference to Montano’s claim. “I am disappointed with the Mayor’s conduct.”
Wrapping up his remarks, McHugh said he thought the vote to remove Tiernan due to his remarks to Metro was “inappropriate for an isolated incident.”
Giordano followed McHugh with passionate remarks against the vote as well, saying it was unfair for the Mayor to work behind the scenes to try and get Tiernan ousted, while Tiernan himself remained clueless as to what was in the works.
“The Mayor has shown poor leadership. This is appalling,” she said, and indicated she would be voting against Tiernan’s removal.
The next to speak was Polanski.
“I’m torn,” she said, but indicated she agreed with Mayor Esteves that, because the Planning Commission is the most powerful of all City commissions, that those that serve on it should be held to a higher level of behavior and decorum.
Mayor Esteves spoke next.
“It’s my job to clean up,” he said. “There’s no room for conflict,” to which Giordano asked why Tiernan’s removal was just added to the agenda in November, considering the article was published in August. Esteves responded by saying he had been waiting for Tiernan to publicly correct his statements to Metro.
Giordano then asked why Commissioner Noella Tabladillo wasn’t also being removed, considering the article in Metro also quotes her as stating “Milpitas is not a third-world country,” and openly calling Tiernan a “self-absorbed a***ole.” Esteves said he planned to speak with her about the article later. Tabladillo’s term on the Planning Commission ends this month.
Councilmember Armando Gomez said, simply, planning commissioners should be held to a higher standard.
Then, Tiernan was given the opportunity to speak in his defense.
He started off by saying, “I am here because I criticized the mayor.”
Tiernan confirmed he had received a phone call while he was in Oregon from someone identifying himself as a reporter for Metro Silicon Valley asking about the vote that took place in July in which Mandal was elected chair of the Planning Commission instead of him.
At that time, Giordano asked him about his public argument with Tabladillo, which was quoted by The Fly.
“She was upset, she made a comment, and she later apologized to me for it,” Tiernan responded.
Tiernan then said he had apologized to the Mayor for his remarks in Metro, and claimed that what was actually printed in the article was “peppered with inaccuracies.” However, he did not point out any specific parts of the article in which he may have been misquoted.
At that time, Mayor Esteves made a motion to have Tiernan officially removed from his position on the Planning Commission. The motion was seconded by Polanski.
Giordano then made a last-ditch effort to once again stop the vote, again citing a technicality that Mayor Esteves had lumped the motion in with a discussion item over appointing new planning commissioners to replace those whose terms were expiring, which was not happening. However, City Attorney Mike Ogaz said the motion was fine as it was and could proceed.
In the end, Tiernan was removed by a 3-2 vote, with Giordano and McHugh dissenting.
The Council meeting was immediately adjourned following the vote, just before 11:30 p.m.
Additional reporting by Frank De Smidt.
In the interest of full disclosure, Milpitas Patch would like to point out that Frank De Smidt and Mark Tiernan serve together in the Milpitas Rotary Club.