Council appoints Breeden as new board member

Council appoints Breeden as new board memberBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

After stepping down from her third term as Ridgecrest Mayor, Peggy Breeden was appointed to the Ridgecrest City Council during Wednesday’s special meeting.

Councilmember Mike Mower resigned late last month, announcing that he and his wife were moving to Iowa. With the seat empty and the next election nearly two years away, council decided to solicit applications and make an appointment.

The evening’s meeting began with introductions from six applicants (one applicant – Alice Jordan – had withdrawn her candidacy). Three hopefuls – Breeden, Marshall “Chip” Holloway and Steve Morgan – were council veterans; the other three – John P. “Skip” Gorman, William Jinkins and Christian West – relative political newcomers.

Candidates gave their credentials and addressed some of the city’s hotter topics – groundwater, Pinney Pool and the proposed casino project – before public comment. Council chambers were open to the public for the first time for some weeks since COVID-19 closures.

Members of the public voiced their support for the more experienced candidates, particularly Morgan, who came in third place last election with some 3,700 votes behind Councilmembers Kyle Blades and Solomon Rajaratnam. Others supported candidates like Jinkins and West and a fresher, younger image for the city.

Member of the public Tom Wiknich, a former member of council and mayoral candidate, raised a potential conflict-of-interest concern as some candidates – namely Breeden and Holloway – donated to Mayor Eric Bruen’s election campaign.

“It’s pretty clear that if you received contributions in the prior 12 months from any of these applicants – you shouldn’t be involved in making the decision,” said Wiknich. He added that even if it wasn’t illegal for Bruen to vote on an appointment, elected officials should still avoid the appearance of partiality.

Wiknich cited Section 84308 of the Fair Political Practices Commission code saying that any officer who receives more than $250 from a party is disqualified from making decisions regarding that party.

City legal counsel Lloyd Pilchen said the restriction only applied to appointees, not elected officials, as Section 84308 names elected city councils as agencies exempt from coverage.

Bruen said he contacted legal counsel as soon as he learned the names of the applicants, and that he was looking at the decision, fairly and transparently.

“I’m not going to be able to change public perception of me, nor do I seek to,” said Bruen. “I seek to do the best for this community.”

Following public comment, candidates were asked additional question by the council – specifically how they might address the city’s revenue issues. Most all applicants recognized the city’s dire financial straits and favored another temporary tax measure along the lines of Measure L and Measure V.

Councilmember Scott Hayman, who asked no further questions saying he was “ready to nominate,” quickly moved to nominate Breeden to the position and was seconded by Rajaratnam.

“I don’t think there’s another individual that can step into the position and take off running from the start,” said Hayman, citing Breeden’s familiarity with the city’s struggles with employee compensation, fire services, community pool and groundwater issues.

“We’ve talked all night about people who have experience – and that’s not lost on me.” said Blades. “It’s good, solid experience. They’ve made good decisions, even if they’ve made some mistakes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look at someone else. Just hanging our hat on whether someone has done this job before … I don’t like it and I don’t think the public will like it.”

Blades, who was also appointed late in 2019, said it only took him a few months to come up to speed on city issues. He said he had nothing against Breeden – who was mayor when he was appointed – as a candidate, but would have liked to further consider the possibility of other candidates.

“I was hoping we could talk about candidates a little more before we just went ahead and made a motion – but one is on the floor and it’s seconded, so here we are,” he said.

Council approved Breeden’s appointment 3-1, with Blades as the dissenting vote.

Breeden was sworn in that evening. Her first act as a new councilmember was to encourage the other candidates, particularly the newcomers, to continue attending meetings, sitting on committees, and to stay involved with the city and community in the future.

The council will resume its regular meeting schedule Wednesday, March 3, 6 p.m. at City Hall. See ridgecrest-ca.gov/212/city-council for more information.

Story First Published: 2021-02-26