Valley secessionists claim there is a move afoot in the city council chambers to replace Alex Padilla as council president and in Padilla’s northeast Valley district to recall the 28-year-old councilman from office. The flap stems from Padilla’s decision last week to remove City Councilman Hal Bernson of Granada Hills from the panel weighing the pros and cons of secession. Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE, said Thursday he’d heard from at least two council members who said they were considering a special vote to replace Padilla as president of the council, a position he won 9-5 in July, beating out 14-year veteran Councilwoman Ruth Galanter. Close also said Valley VOTE is seriously considering whether to help voters in Padilla’s district organize a recall drive. For 20 years Bernson served as a member of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), the nine-member panel scrutinizing Valley VOTE’s application for a breakup. But last Wednesday Padilla abruptly removed him from the panel and replaced him with City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, a staunch opponent of secession whose district includes portions of the Valley. Padilla appointed Bernson a LAFCO alternate, which means he cannot vote on secession-related issues unless Miscikowski is absent. Bernson said he intends to have the city ethics commission look into whether Padilla overstepped his legal bounds as the city’s number-two man. But for secessionists the issue is more than just a legal one. They say Padilla, opposed to a breakup, has reneged on a campaign promise to remain neutral on the issue. “This is slap in the face for Valley residents and those who want to see the issue on the ballot next year,” said Close. “To have Alex do this is unforgivable.” In the past Valley VOTE has declined to release a list of its financial contributors, claiming its intentions were primarily educational, not political. If the organization were to become involved in the recall of a city councilman, that status could change. Padilla said he appointed Miscikowski because of her experience heading a city commission and work on the city’s budget safety committee. “I think her experience is very valuable,” said Padilla. ” I also think she’s very moderate in her approaches.” Ali Sar, Bernson’s head of media relations, declined to comment on whether a petition for a recall was a real possibility. “We can’t comment on something we have no knowledge of,” Sar said. Although both Padilla and Miscikowski say her appointment was not a political quid pro quo, secessionists say it represents a clear attempt by Padilla to return a political favor and at the same time, punch a hole in their cause. While Bernson’s official position on secession is said to be neutral, he’s long pushed to fast-track a decision to put a secession initiative on the ballot in 2002. Miscikowski has said she would oppose secession as a voter, but as a councilwoman would remain neutral. LAFCO commissioners are appointed for four-year terms. Bernson’s term was set to expire in May. Padilla downplayed the notion that he was trying to derail the process.. “I believe in the democratic process,” said Padilla. “LAFCO is structured the way that it is for a reason and we all play by those rules. I will highlight that the city is in a time of change, and sometimes change makes people uncomfortable.” Close said Valley VOTE would likely make a decision on whether to partake in a recall effort over the next couple of weeks. He said the voters would only need 11,000 signatures for a recall.
SECESSION—Secessionists Seething Over Padilla’s LAFCO Move