An ongoing feud between two Laguna Beach councilmembers reached a new level Tuesday after Councilmember Peter Blake wrote in an email to Councilmember Toni Iseman that she’s unfit for office due to a health condition and should resign.
Mayor Bob Whalen rebuked Blake at Tuesday’s city council meeting, saying that the May 13 email violated the code of conduct policy adopted by the City Council last year. Whalen and senior city staffers were copied on the email.
“I think it’s a personal attack,” Whalen said. “To question someone’s medical history, when you have no facts to underly it, is personalizing the matter in an inappropriate way.”
Whalen stopped short of asking the City Council to officially censure Blake.
In response to Blake’s previous comments about her health, Iseman has publicly said that she lives with tremors. She doesn’t plan to resign.
“I’m glad that our mayor recognized how out of line Peter Blake’s comments were,” Iseman said. “If Peter’s behavior doesn’t change the whole town will be impacted by his irrational anger.”
Blake confirmed Wednesday that he sent the email under discussion and offered no apologies.
“I have to respectfully disagree with Mayor Whalen’s assertion that I have violated the code of conduct policy with this email to Toni,” Blake said in a prepared statement. “As I mentioned, it is my fiduciary responsibility to protect the residents from a councilperson that is incapable of governing. Toni has a cognitive impairment and in my opinion is no longer fit to serve.”
Blake added that he’s violated the Code of Conduct—which he describes as a “farce”—on many occasions and will continue to do so as he sees fit.
Whalen has been lobbied by a number of residents to crack down on Blake’s behavior on and off the dais. Whalen has repeatedly instructed Blake to keep the discussion focused on policy and stop interrupting members of the public while they’re speaking.
“Have I done that perfectly, probably not,” Whalen said. “But I have done that on a number of instances.”
American legislative bodies have established rules of conduct for their members for decades so they can debate controversial matters, said Fred Smoller, associate professor of political science at Chapman University. He added that it’s “highly unprofessional” for an elected official to comment on a colleague’s health in a derogatory manner.
“A virus has taken root in our political system where professionals think it’s appropriate to talk to other people in this way,” Smoller said.
It’s ultimately up to the voters to enforce the standards they want to see in public discourse, Smoller said.
“If it becomes the new normal this can create tremendous damage,” Smoller said. “It undermines the integrity of government.”