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December 9, 2023

Hollister council erupts into loud argument a week after facilitation

It looks like the mediator didn’t help things at the Hollister City Council.

The council meeting Monday erupted into a loud, tense argument after a public speaker accused the mayor of “deception” and “untruthful” communications on social media. It prompted a response from Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, which led to objections from other council members, particularly Marty Richman.

It came a week after the council spent portions of a Saturday and Sunday meeting with a facilitator, who cost taxpayers $3,500, due to previous unruly behavior among the elected officials.

The loud argument prompted the council to take a break about an hour and five minutes into the meeting, while one of the participants in the debate, Richman, refused to go on break and continued making points while other members walked away.

It all started when former District 4 council candidate Salvador Mora accused the mayor of communicating “deceiving information” and “continuously making city staff members look bad without any proof.”

“Anytime somebody on social media asks you to provide proof, you respond with a question or state something else,” Mora said. “For almost five years now, you never provided any blueprint for doing it right.”

Mora also likened Velazquez to a “used car salesman” with his tactics and said he wasn’t a very good one at that.

While Mora had been finishing his allotted three minutes, the buzzer started going off, indicating his time was up. As he kept talking, making allegations about Councilman Rolan Resendiz’s past, the mayor spoke over him to let him know his time was up.

Then Velazquez began his response. As Councilwoman Carol Lenoir made it known she didn’t think the mayor should respond to public comment – which is not intended for debate involving the council and exists for the public to share their views, positive or negative – the mayor continued to talk.

“I absolutely can,” the mayor shot back. “I looked into this.”

He said he didn’t appreciate the insinuation from Mora while others in the room called a point of order.

“Everybody has the right to their opinion,” he said. “Just because you don’t like my opinion doesn’t mean I’m lying.”

Velazquez kept going, calling Mora’s statements slander.

“You as a person who ran for office should have more respect than just to come up here and attack someone that can’t respond,” Velazquez said.

That set off Richman.

“I object,” Richman exclaimed. “I object.”

As the mayor tried to refute Richman’s objection, Richman repeatedly called a point of order as the two spoke over each other.

“You’re not supposed to go into this,” Richman argued. “I’m sorry. The rules apply to everyone. I object!”

Resendiz, who has been the mayor’s ally in his first five months since being elected, then said he wanted to also respond and supported the mayor’s contention that a response is allowed.

Resendiz spoke while Richman continually tried to stop the two. Resendiz responded to Mora’s statement mentioning the councilman’s use of the term “cockroaches” to describe others, and Resendiz clarified he was describing special interests and lobbyists, not staff members.

Richman then took the mic and said he wanted equal time.

“Now I’ll make a comment since you saw fit to make yours,” Richman said. “This is exactly what goes on. The mayor has a set of rules for himself and everybody else.”

He went on: “Every time he gets on there (Facebook), he accuses the staff and former members of the city council of being on the take. Every time someone asks him to prove it, he does not prove it!”

Richman continually stated how the “rules apply to everybody.”

“No one elected you emperor here,” Richman told the mayor.

When Richman went on, Velazquez tried to stop him.

“We’re going to move on,” Velazquez said. “You made your comments.”

Richman rebutted, saying he’s entitled to equal time and requesting a vote among council members for his equal time. There was no vote, and some council members requested a break.

As they went on break, Richman kept going.

“I am not taking a break, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “I’m staying here. What’s going on here is the mayor has a set of rules for himself and everyone else.”

Velazquez turned his attention elsewhere and then asked if any students in the audience needed signatures to show they attended the meeting.

The episode lasted about five minutes excluding Mora’s comments. The blow-up came after a paid facilitator met with council members April 27 and April 28 on sessions to encourage goal setting and visioning, and not the arguments that have occurred under the current council that started five months ago.