Too much information Altadena TC’s ‘Star Chamber’ calls for the ouster of one of its own, The King of Caltech Filmmaker profiles eight custodians who keep great institutions running
In what one longtime former member called a “star chamber” decision, an Altadena Town Council committee voted unanimously to oust a fellow board member.
Meeting in secret closed session on Nov. 5, the six members present of the eight-person Investigating Committee voted to expel Town Councilman Herbert Simmons for allegedly misrepresenting the advisory board in promoting his private student- and teacher-of-the-month awards programs.
Simmons was elected in June to the 16-member council, which has no spending authority and is strictly advisory to the unincorporated area’s LA County supervisor, Michael Antonovich. Over the summer, Simmons visited several businesses and asked them to support his teacher and student of the month programs. Council members claim that during those visits and in subsequent letters Simmons represented the program as a Town Council program. Simmons later apologized and returned the money, only about $200.
“Gotta love all this star chamber stuff,” wrote former Council member Steve Lamb, who served on the council from 1989 until last year, referring to secret courts in medieval England, in which the accused had no juries, witnesses or right to appeal.
“Doesn’t sound like any reasonable person’s idea of due process to me, but it’s a foregone conclusion that they will vote you out,” Lamb wrote, after Simmons informed him that he was not allowed to speak in his own defense before the committee voted to boot him from the board.
The full Town Council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Altadena Community Center, 730 E. Altadena Drive.
“We have to handle it like a personnel matter and we cannot disclose anything,” said Town Council Chairman Gino Sund. “We don’t come under the Brown Act [the state’s Open Meeting Law],” Sund said. The Town Council, he said, “comes under Roberts’ Rules, which says not to talk about any actions you take. If we did, we could expose ourselves to a slander suit.”
Apparently Sund is correct about the Brown Act: “Usually the town councils in LA County are not subject to the Brown Act, because they were not established by the actions of the county Board of Supervisors,” said First Amendment expert Terry Francke. “They are not government agencies, despite the fact that in some cases their members are elected.”
But along with being an advocate for students and teachers, Simmons is also a big fan of the Brown Act, going so far as to introduce a motion that would force the Town Council to abide by it. His motion was voted down in a September meeting.
“Many people have asked the question: What did you do to tick the council off?” said Simmons, who makes his living as an artist and real estate investor. “My answer is, ‘I informed you.’”
According to Simmons, the Town Council may have violated its own bylaws by not presenting him with a written copy of the charges being made against him, which he asked for on Sept. 18.
“This request was ignored,” Simmons said. “I have noticed from the very beginning that the Altadena Town Council never had all the facts, nor did they attempt to obtain them.”
Said Lamb: “They don’t like Simmons because he went out and walked his census tract and met people and beat their sheriff’s support group candidate. The majority of the people on the council now belong to that group.”
The King of Caltech
In the Oscar-winning film “Good Will Hunting,” Matt Damon played a genius janitor at MIT who knew how to break down some of the most complex math equations known to man.
It turns out that in real life, the janitors at some of America’s finest educational institutions also have surprisingly deep minds — including veteran Caltech custodian Luis Cardenas, who eloquently explains how he learned to live without his right arm after being the victim of a drunken driver.
Cardenas is one of eight university custodians nationwide whose stories are profiled in the new documentary “The Philosopher Kings,” created by Pasadena-based filmmaker Patrick Shen and his company, Transcendental Media. The message of the 70-minute documentary is that even those who are little respected or invisible in our culture due to jobs that are deemed “low” status have opinions that are just as valuable as those atop the pillars of society.
Anyone interested in seeing the film can attend a free screening at noon Friday in Beckman Auditorium on the Caltech campus, located at 332 S. Michigan Ave. in Pasadena. Shen and Cardenas are scheduled to be there and will host a question and answer session after the screening.