From the other side of the podium
Newly elected Oxnard City Councilman Bert Perello gets down to business
By Shane Cohn 07/11/2013
Sure, this is called democracy.
But when postal worker Bert Perello was elected to the Oxnard’s fifth council seat, the people of Oxnard witnessed a meritocracy.
Perello is not a youngster with an aggressive street team, nor does he come from a position of authority or influence. He is not an ex-cop, a lawyer, a teacher, a businessman or a wealthy landowner.
Perello, 62, is a blue-collar man from El Rio who works six days a week delivering mail. And still, for year after year, Perello not only attended City Council meetings, but showed up on Tuesday nights armed to the teeth with facts and figures to grill the City Council on oversights and ask the questions that brought harrumphs from the audience and ink from the press.
As his name became synonymous with “watchdog,” “critic” and likely some less flattering words from city officials, his name also began to stick with Oxnard residents as somebody who was sticking up for the little guys. And during the June special election held due to Tim Flynn’s mayoral win, Perello was elected by the people in a landslide victory.
Now, a month later, the VCReporter talked with Perello about his new seat.
VCReporter: What has been the biggest surprise for you now that you’re on the other side of the podium?
Perello: The absolute biggest surprise for me has been that I can ask a follow-up question to questions that are not being asked the first time around. I went from being on the other side of the podium and asking a question, and having no elected official carry my question forward. Now I can ask a question of the staff directly involved with an issue and, if the answer seems evasive, I get to ask a follow-up question and nobody rocks my boat for having a question. They do say the meetings go a long time because I’m asking questions, but I look at the rest of my councilmembers and the matters before us, and in my own mind, I think there needs to be a lot more questions being asked before approvals are given, or before the Council moves off of that item to the next item.
Why do you think these important questions aren’t being asked?
I can only guess. I think that there is an assumption that staff knows what is going on and they are more informed and more aware and, more specifically, they know a lot more than the elected officials. But in my opinion, the responsibility of asking the questions to keep staff on their toes is the responsibility of the elected officials. We’re not there simply to rubber-stamp. If we don’t ask questions, it appears to me that is what happens. There are questions that have been generated in respect to millions of dollars of items on specific agenda items. I’ve always thought there should have been a lot more questions asked about how the public’s money is being spent. When something doesn’t make sense or, worse, when the answer comes back that isn’t clear and could be deemed evasive, there has got to be some follow-up questions asked.
At the June 11 Council meeting, your first as a councilman, there was a discussion around 2 a.m. about putting liens on people’s property for as little as $125, and you brought up the point that it was rather silly to be discussing liens in this amount when there was something much bigger at stake that has strangely been ignored by councilmembers of late: recovering the post-supplemental retirement benefits taken by some of the city’s top officials and the two $10,000 loans issued to the former city manager, mentioned as unlawful in the 2010 DA investigation. Is this what we can expect from Bert Perello? Are you going to get that money back?
That’s not the only thing. But at the minimum, it has to be addressed. . . . I will go after this money as aggressively as the city of Oxnard is going after these liens they’re placing on your property, in some cases as little as $125. I decided last week, I want that $300 post-supplemental retirement benefit and two $10,000 loans, all of which the district attorney of Ventura County, Greg Totten, deemed as illegal acts, I want that agendized and I want to go after the money. Does the City Council want to look into actions about pilfering the public purse? You don’t have the right to take for your own benefit. The questions raised in the discussion are very serious and very important, and I think it’s on the minds of lots of residents in Oxnard. I ran on not just this issue, but that things have got to change. This is one of the things that have been swept under the rug, in my opinion, by all parties concerned, by this administration and elected officials alike. Editor’s note: This matter was discussed on July 9 to be placed on a future agenda.
Why has it taken so long to agendize this? Are you finding that the “dilly, dally and delay” claim about city staff in the DA’s report was accurate?
The “dilly, dally and delay” claim comes out of the district attorney’s report, from the investigators that interviewed employees of the city of Oxnard. It comes right out of the investigator’s reports. Those are documents available at the city of Oxnard and not things I made up . . .. In that particular case, there are some questions that have been asked by the public and now elected officials, and those questions have not been addressed. And I think that is part of it. That has been something that allowed people to get by or get away with, and that has got to change.
Can you make a vow to the residents of the city of Oxnard that you will get that money back?
I will promise you this: I will not let the issue die. The way our government works is, majority rules. There needs to be three votes on the City Council to go after the money. I will not let this issue die . . .. What has been allowed to happen has not been right.