Riverside City Councilwoman Gaby Plascencia censured for ethics violations

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Riverside leaders decided late Tuesday, June 22, to publicly censure City Councilwoman Gaby Plascencia for a pair of ethics-violation findings.

The Riverside City Council voted 6-0 to censure her, while deciding against other sanctions.

“It’s basically a statement from the council that, ‘What you did was wrong,’” said Brandon Mercer, senior deputy city attorney.

Plascencia was asked to leave the council meeting room and did not participate in the discussion. She could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday, June 23.

The findings stem from actions involving Sean Mill, Plascencia’s opponent in her successful 2019 run for the city’s Ward 5 seat.

In December, the City Council adopted a Board of Ethics finding that Plascencia, shortly after taking office, tried to use her council position for personal gain in requesting Mill be removed from the Arlington Business Partnership. The board also found, and the council confirmed, that Plascencia — Riverside’s first Latina council member — discriminated against Mill, who is White, when she attempted to remove him from the Riverside Planning Commission before his term was up.

During a January 2020 meeting, Plascencia said Mill was unethical, and that she wanted to create more ethnically diverse city commissions. She abandoned the attempt.

City Councilman Chuck Conder said Tuesday that additional sanctions were warranted. He proposed barring Plascencia from serving as mayor pro tem, but his motion died for lack of support.

Mercer said sanction options included censure, a public apology, training, removal from regional boards, removal from the mayor pro tem rotation and a restriction against travel outside the city for meetings and conferences.

In a separate but related matter, the council voted 4-2, with councilmembers Erin Edwards and Andy Melendrez dissenting, to affirm two other violations issued by the ethics board last year. The council did not sanction Plascencia for those violations.

Those violations involved findings that the council earlier tossed out.

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This time, it was determined that Plascencia transgressed the city’s “sunshine” ordinance, which requires that meeting agendas be posted 12 days in advance and permits items to be added later only in emergencies. The council also confirmed a violation that Plascencia promoted the interests of a third party by placing a union logo on her business card.

A city official earlier said that the ethics-violation findings were the first to be issued by the board since the panel began holding hearings in 2009.

Melendrez disputed the finding that Plascencia violated the “sunshine” law. He said that, at the time, a signature from one other councilmember was required to place an item on the agenda after it was posted, and she did get such support for adding in December 2019 an item concerning a discussion she sought of business-card logos.

“It really comes down to … did she follow the rules? To me, it appears, I would say definitely, that she followed the rules,” Melendrez said. “I just don’t see any violation here.”

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