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Council Directs Staff to Craft Code of Conduct, Revisit 1991 Hate Letter

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By Jorge Casuso

June 9, 2021 -- The City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to create a code of conduct to help deter confidential information from being leaked and revisit a police investigation into a 30-year-old hate crime.

In a 6 to 0 vote, the Council directed staff to craft a "Code of Conduct and Ethics" that clearly applies to Council members and contains enforcement provisions.

The item was placed on the agenda by Mayor Sue Himmelrich after confidential information was leaked during the closed-door search for a new City Manager ("Council Expected to Hire Montebello City Manager," June 1, 2021).

"In view of the recent issue with our closed session hiring procedure," Himmelrich said, "we need a set of rules that is clear to follow and clear to enforce."

Jones of the Bay

Councilmember Phil Brock agreed, calliing it "a valuable excercise that will help clarify the ethics rules for the City Council.

"We just had a breach, and we need to have clear rules, clear guidelines to follow," Brock said.

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre said staff needs to research State statutes and opinions issued by the Attorney General that address the issue.

"There's already laws that protect closed session discussions," de la Torre said. "We can't supersede State law."

Himmelrich's request was the second time she asks that the City adopt a "Code of Conduct and Ethics." In 2015, she co-sponsored a similar item that led to the creation of the City's current code.

That code, however, does not clearly apply to council members and contains no enforcement provisions, Himmmelrich said.

The Council on Tuesday also directed staff to present to the Council the findings of an investigation launched in 1991 after an anti-Mexican hate letter was mailed to some 800 homes of Latino Santa Monica High School students.

At the time, police said the case had reached a dead end, and Interim City Attorney George Cardona told the Council that the State's statutes of limitations had "long expired."

The typed letter -- which identifies the sender as the "Samohi Association for the Advancement of Conservative White Americans" -- was mailed using a school district mailing list and a bulk mail permit ("Council to Take Up 30-Year-Old Hate Letter," June 7, 2021).

De la Torre, who placed the item on the agenda, said that while it was unlikely the perpetrator would be found, it was not too late to learn from the April 1991 letter calling Mexicans "inferior," "dumb" and "brown animals."

"It was a very hard experience to deal with that a lot of people were hurt by," de la Torre said. "The crime to this day is unsolved and there is no justice. We want to bring some resolution."

De la Torre said he would like the newly formed Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission to explore ways to use the letter and the findings of the police investigation to build more awareness of how to combat hate crime.

That awareness could help Santa Monica "become a better, more loving community and also a more unified community," said de la Torre, who had just graduated from Samohi when the letter was was mailed.

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