Mayor says councilmember’s email violated code of conduct

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Laguna Beach Councilmembers Peter Blake and Toni Iseman. File photo

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.”

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21 COMMENTS

  1. I suspect a political motive from Peter. Toni has represented Laguna locals and has always been willing to listen. Peter’s rudeness is a real put-off!

  2. I wrote in my email that Toni has a cognitive impairment. Anyone who doesn’t know it should watch Council meetings. Start with the May 12th meeting. Do you see someone who’s mentally fit to run a town of 23,000 residents with a hundred million dollar budget? She appears confused and is only capable of speaking after she’s received her marching orders from her handlers at Village Laguna. Is this acceptable? Playing dumb served Toni for years as a political ploy to stall and derail any plans that didn’t fall into Village Laguna’s obstructionist playbook. Lately, she’s not smart enough to play dumb and is embarrassing herself and her followers. I want to serve with Councilmembers who are visionaries and capable of moving our community forward and not career politicians who are pawns to those who’ve yielded power for decades.

  3. I watched the City Council Meeting on Tuesday, and was appalled that Councilman Blake wasn’t censured for writing a letter as demeaning as the one he sent to Councilwoman Iseman. Freedom of speech (first amendment) does NOT include slander. Does Councilwoman Iseman call out Councilman Blake for his dyslexia, which results in his difficulty reading the research and back story material on every agenda item? No. She does not, nor should she. Councilman Blake does attend and listen to meetings, and while it would be useful for him to be able to read up on agenda items—the voters decided that his bluster was what they wanted. Whatever. However, for the rest of the CC members to say nothing and not move to censure an attack on a fellow council person shows a pathetic, sheep-like, prey behavior. Man up, City Council. Laguna is a community that does not support intimidation nor attacks on one another. We are watching you, and holding you accountable—not just Mayor Whalen.

  4. I have attended many city council meetings, and it’s quite obvious Toni Iseman has health issues, not to mention her outrageous comments regarding residents who do not share her positions. I was personally offended by her April 16, 2019 tyranny comments regarding residents who supported the American flag lettering on the police cars. Toni Iseman was the lone dissenting vote. I’m thankful Peter Blake exercises common sense, and represents the issues that are presented to him by residents.

  5. Thank you Daniel Langhorn for reporting on this serious issue. And thank you Mayor Whalen for acknowledging publicly that CC Peter Blake violated the code of conduct all of our city officials adopted in 2019. I wish I could thank Council members Kempf and Dicterow for stepping up to support the Mayor’s recognition of the offense and his violation accusation against CC Blake but unfortunately neither of these two elected’s showed us they would stand behind their vote to adopt the Decorum and Civility Policy nor enforce it. Shame on both of them. What kind of professional leadership is this? And CC Dicterow, why do you lead the KINDNESS program here in Laguna and then sit back and watch a fellow city public servant (or anyone for that matter) being verbally abused without saying word?

    As for CC Blake’s refusal to accept responsibility for his actions and in fact expressing even more belligerence when challenged, sadly this is all we can expect from him. He has proven that voters made a big mistake by putting him in office. We now have “Tuesday Night Live” from Laguna Beach, complete with Blake on camera making faces, laughing when constituents speak or yelling out during their time. For well over a year, residents have become increasingly concerned about the angry and aggressive public outbursts and intimidation tactics Blake unleashes on residents who wish to engage civically and with whom he disagrees. Such displays have been a topic of concern by many residents ever since he took office. A substantial number of public videos and city public communication’s exists addressing this behavior. He is quoted as saying he is a bully. I believe most people in our town would certainly agree with him. I know I do. Quite frankly, he scares me.

    His continued public professional and personal verbal attacks on co-council member Toni Iseman has been unbearable to witness. He singled her out during the 2018 campaign and it appears that his obsession with her seems to grow as each day goes by. The recent letter he sent to Iseman demanding medical information and her resignation is unacceptable. I’m sure our other City Council members would not want to be subject to this same demand by Blake. It’s time they step up and move to offiicially censure him now. One has to question who is really unfit to be serving on our City Council. I say Peter Blake is unfit and should resign immediately.

  6. Listening to the City Council meeting on Tuesday was painful. The first public comment speaker was screamed at by Blake and had to be told by the mayor to be quiet. About 3 speakers later Blake again screamed at a resident trying to make a comment. This continued through out the meeting and culminated in the vile letter addressed to Iseman. And the Council sat quiet. What is it going to take for Kempf, Dicterow and Whalen to speak up and formally censure this completely out of order and out of control behavior? Their silence indicates acceptance/approval of this bullying intimidation of residents, speakers and fellow council members. Their FIRST responsibility is to represent residents who elected them. Residents are asking for censure and control over Blake’s bullying which he is doing to silence voices in opposition to his. This is not what you were elected to do Council. Take a moral stand and censure Blake NOW. He is the true virus that has infected Laguna.

  7. I believe the biggest mistake Laguna Beach voters have made in the forty years I have lived here was to elect
    Blake to the City Council. It was widely thought since he was of the art community that it would translate to being a good addition to City Council. Completely wrong about that call and next election he’s out as far as I’m
    concerned.

  8. Blake’s behavior is appalling as is Whalen’s refusal to censure him. I’m hoping that Toni will sue on grounds of liable and character defamation. This is also a case that the ACLU should pick up.

  9. Mayor Whalen is using the code of conduct as an excuse and political cover. The appropriate sections of the Municipal code of conduct which is the legal document pertaining citizens, city officials and employees as well as Roberts Rules of Oder which is required by the code are all that are necessary in order to rein the boorish deportment by councilman Blake. What kind of a man would insult and demean citizens and a council member? We know what kind that is. But what kind of men would not take a stronger action other than, in my view, nervously trying to thread the needle with words and inactions that did not even come close to being proportionate to the egregious affronts by Blake. This latest of bullying, slandering and attempting to intimidate and Toni Izeman should have been the last straw but timidity of the Mayor and silence by the Mayor pro tem is continuing to heighten the toxic and hostile atmosphere caused by one person. Blake talks about fiduciary responsibility as a reason for being a boor and then he votes for expenditures with no knowledge of what the revenue is likely to be in the next two to three years. Perhaps he does not understand the meaning of the word.

  10. Does not Blake’s deportment rise to the level of boorishness? Do you not remember his demeaning of a candidate for the design review committee? Calling citizens liars? Or is his demand for the resignation of a council member “because I have a fiduciary responsibility” not enough to rise to the level of that description to say nothing of his constant attacks Village Laguna? Please answer.

    Thanks

  11. Numerous residents have emailed, called and spoken directly to the council about the fear and intimidation they’ve experienced as a result of being ridiculed, mocked and insulted by a sitting member of our city council. To hear that the same is happening on the council itself was shocking. After 18 months of rude, personal attacks on residents–in apparent violation of the Rules of Decorum and Civility–I was relieved to see the Mayor address this ongoing issue. Thank you for your leadership. I hope the other council members will support the mayor and as a group, call for formal censure. We cannot engage in civil discourse if the council isn’t civil anymore.

  12. Laguna Beach having a kindness program is about as silly as Melania promoting an anti-bullying program. Oh, wait …
    #lagunatics2019

  13. Peter Blake. You use this “cognitive impairment” diagnosis with anyone who disagrees with you. Last year when I tried to have a conversation with you and we didn’t agree you said this to me too. If you are going to make public accusations and demand medical information of a co-council member, I ask that you submit yours as well. In fact, I’d like to see a psychological evaluation too. Clearly, residents including myself have concerns about your angry outbursts at constituents as meeting videos and written public communications to city council members document.

  14. David, I hear you. More an more Lagunian’s are expressing the same after experiencing his decisive leadership. I question if he really was ever the part of the art community folks thought or did he just use this to build his own art dealer brand and business? Talk to local artists, they aren’t any better off now then they were during the years Blake boasts that he was a major player and I don’t see him fighting for them now – just developers. He states that he does his business on the internet and in LA, NY and internationally as brick and mortar business is over I’m not sure what his art gallery even contributes to our local sales tax revenue if he is a middle man and ships artwork out of or between other cities. Do you? I mean, if he ships out of NY, doesn’t the sales tax go to NY? And he is adamant that he does no shopping in our town. This isn’t a supportive community leader by my standards.

  15. More stupidity from the outspoken minority in Laguna Beach, pushed by a mayor who desperately wants to be re-elected. Blake privately addressed Iseman regarding what he perceived as health issues that may impact her ability to be a decision maker in town. Iseman published it to Whalen who then took the email public. None of Blake’s actions had any impact on the governance of the City nor disrupted that goal. “Code of Conduct” should not be an issue and there are a slew of published cases that easily demonstrate that Whalen’s admonishment was in violation of Blake’s 1st Amendment rights. There is a certain point when the silent majority in Laguna will rise to make sure that their 1st Amendment rights and the 1st Amendment rights of the officials they chose to elect are no longer quashed by the annoying drone of VL and its puppets.

    To Mayor Whalen – sucking the toes of VL won’t get you re-elected; ask Jane Egly.

  16. Trish, “residents have emailed, called, and spoken directly to the council about the fear and intimidation they’ve experienced as a result of being ridiculed, mocked, and insulted by a sitting member of our city council?” Did you mean to say that ruthless political activists are incensed because they can no longer run roughshod over the Council? Finally, all of you Council gadflies have someone who stands up to you! How many times have you come up and rehashed the same email I sent you? It’s like a golden oldie. I’m still waiting for you to fill out the questionnaire I sent you that describes your qualifications on urban planning amongst other matters that you like to opine on with spun facts and zero experience.

  17. I am appalled by Peter Blake’s disgustingly rude attack on Toni Iseman. Toni, on the other hand, is most gracious in dealing with such boorish behavior. I believe it is Peter Blake who has never contributed anything of significance for the good of Laguna residents. How can we endure such a mean-spirited person until the end of his term?

  18. I meant to say: I believe it is time to recall Peter Blake who has never contributed anything of significance for the good of Laguna Beach residents.

  19. Once again, Councilman Blake’s smugness, lack of decorum or civility, and his vile and highly transparent attempts to disparage fellow Councilwoman Toni Iseman, a longtime and honored city servant, with unsubstantiated claims of a cognitive impairment that in his opinion, makes her unfit for office. And he has once again put Mayor Whalen and the rest of the City Council in the position of once again being forced to satisfactorily address Mr. Blake’s intentional misdeeds.

    First and foremost, it’s highly unprofessional for an elected official to comment on a colleague’s health in a derogatory manner. Blake’s claim that Iseman is “no longer fit to serve” is not only unprofessional, but it’s also unsubstantiated. And any knowledge Blake may have on her medical history or condition, along with his public sharing of that information, may be considered significant violations of HIPPA laws in California and carry criminal penalties for said violations.

    In case you are wondering just what Mild Cognitive Condition is, here is a link to the Mayo Clinic that defines Mild Cognitive Impairment: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment/symptoms-causes/syc-20354578
    Blake, after having been rebuked several times for his behavior on and off the dais, most recently by Mayor Whalen at Tuesday’s council meeting, Blake made no apology. In fact, he chose to double down by adding that he did, in fact violate the Council’s Code of Conduct and then described that code as a farce. He went on to further state that he will continue to violate the Code “as he sees fit.”

    Blake has become a prime example of a virus that has permeated the body politic at the highest levels, and he has intentionally patterned himself after the one sitting in the highest office in the land. Blake seems hell-bent of undermining and damaging whatever is left of the integrity of our City Council.

    It is clear to most of the residents here in Laguna Beach, along with the casual observers, that Mayor Whalen has lost all control pertaining to Councilman Blake. And after ongoing public outcries by residents, Whalen’s refusal thus far, to censure Blake demonstrates the lack of leadership necessary to hold the position of Mayor. It is for that reason alone that I ask that Mayor Whalen voluntarily step down from his current position as Mayor, and a vote of censure be held at the next city council meeting.

    And just in case the Mayor or others on the Council think that they can kick the Blake can down the road to the next election, the resident of Laguna Beach are facing some of the most important issues this City has faced in decades. And we will not tolerate Blake shenanigans any further.

    A Recall Referendum is well on its way, and much further along than Blake is willing to believe. So Mr. Blake had better have an epitome and change his evil ways and change them fast, or the citizens of Laguna Beach will number his days and change his seating arrangement permanently.

  20. Robert Smith: Councilman Blake’s first amendment rights, huh? Just as a reminder, here’s the exact wording of the first amendment: >Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.< Pleases note that last clause: "the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." As I read these posts, this is just what people are doing here–petitioning our CC to do something–censure. Many of us have full-time, corporate jobs that we take time away from to watch (or attend) CC meetings because we care about our beloved City and how our fellow residents are treated. The first amendment does NOT allow for slander or libel. The courts have even ruled against hate speech as well, and Blake is trending in that direction in his posts here, and definitely in his letter to Councilperson Iseman. We, the people, have the patriotic right to demand better behavior from our CC and specifically, Councilman Blake.

  21. If Blake is suffering from Dyslexia then it could be argued that he has a serious cognitive impairment that could lead to mistakes in voting for important issues affecting our town. Don’t attack Toni Iseman for a health issue or something Karmic could boomerang on you. Try to be a DOG fearing man.

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