[Noozhawk’s note: The original version of the story erroneously reported that the Carpinteria City Council adopted a resolution allowing a recall election of Councilman Joe Armendariz, which can’t happen since his term ends in December. The corrected version of the story is below.]
The Carpinteria City Council stripped City Councilman Joe Armendariz of his committee assignments, publicly reprimanded him for his conduct and asked him to resign after it passed a resolution Monday night. The motion passed 3-1, with Councilwoman Kathleen Reddington dissenting.
The City Council doesn’t have the power to remove Armendariz from his seat; he can only be taken out by the voters. The process is similar to a ballot initiative, with a petition and signatures required to be considered for an election.
Therefore, the city adopted a resolution that established a Code of Ethics, issued an official reprimand in response to Armendariz’s conduct, revoked his committee assignments, limited his activities as a representative of the city, prohibited him from driving for city business and asked him to resign.
Armendariz was charged with driving under the influence after crashing his vehicle on Dec. 2, 2011, on Highway 101 near Padaro Lane. Test results showed his blood-alcohol level was 0.18 at the time of the wreck, more than twice the legal limit, according to police.
It was his second arrest on suspicion of DUI since he has been on the City Council. Armendariz has said he intends to serve out the rest of his term ending this year and will not seek re-election.
There was a wide range of comments from Carpinteria residents on the matter Monday night, but Armendariz was not there to hear them.
“I believe that my colleagues should make these decisions without my further participation,” Armendariz said in a statement issued Monday before the meeting. “Since my accident on Dec. 2, I have done everything I can to remain sober, rehabilitate myself and recover from my addiction to alcohol. This has included regular participation in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I believe that I continue to have service that I can offer to the City of Carpinteria for the remainder of my term.”
Several members of the community agreed with him. Carpinteria resident Tom Truax said that although Armendariz’s behavior was wrong and it deserves public reprimand, his private conduct is separate from his role as a public official.
“I didn’t vote for the city councilman and I don’t agree with a lot of his policies, but I think we should be judging the matter on whether or not he is executing duties as a councilmember and whether he’s representing constituents well,” Truax said.
Carpinteria resident Mary McWhirter urged the council not to censure Armendariz or take him off any committees because she said he hasn’t been under the influence while representing the city.
“He knows he has blown it, he knows he has a problem, he’s embarrassed and ashamed,” she said, “but he’s also an excellent representative for many Carpinterians and one of the best representatives on SBCAG we’ve ever had.”
City Manager Dave Durflinger noted that according to the Carpinteria Code of Ethics, there’s no separation between private behavior and conduct on the job.
“The operation of government relies upon the public having confidence in the local government, and the purpose of the ethics code is in part to set out acts or actions that are incompatible with the best interest of the city,” Durflinger said. “The policy states that the responsibility of those in public office includes following state and local laws, this in order to foster respect for local government. The code states that responsibilities should include behavior in both public and private affairs in a manner that is above reproach and appearance of impropriety.”
Anyone driving under the influence has lost all credibility, according to Carpinteria resident Carol Leaf.
“It isn’t a disease that starts and stops when you’re at work,” she said. “Some people here feel that people who are alcoholics have two personalities — one personal and one business personality — that have never met, but that’s not how it works. Everything you do is affected by drinking too much. … He was elected by the people to represent them without impropriety, and this is a clear ethics violation.”
Armendariz has acknowledged that he can’t be positive he won’t drink again, and Mayor Al Clark said that doesn’t resemble a positive role model.
“This resolution is important to enforce so that council can reassure the public that it doesn’t support or condone this conduct, and it should distance and disassociate itself from the matter to maintain respect for local government,” he said.
Councilman Brad Stein said it’s about Armendariz being responsible for his actions.
“If I were in his position, the first thing I would’ve done (after the first DUI) is resign for the integrity of this office, the city staff and this great community,” he said.
Reddington expressed concern about the timing of the motion because Armedariz has not been formally sentenced. She advocated waiting for due process before passing a resolution.
Carpinteria resident Susan Allen said Armendariz’s behavior has nothing to do with politics.
“This has everything to do with a man who got in a car not once but twice when drunk,” she said. “We’re lucky he didn’t kill himself or anyone else.”