No one said the job was easy. Yet, with growing concerns about the city’s leadership, major budget issues, a downturn in the local economy due to the coronavirus and the startling news that a city councilmember has resigned after admitting to creating fraudulent emails, the current mayor, Robert “Bob” Joe, is seeking a third term on the City Council in November as South Pasadena faces enormous scrutiny from the public.
If re-elected, Joe, who is running against City Clerk Evelyn Zneimer in District 1, wants to help restore order in city government and bring back community trust.
“This year, when I began serving as mayor, has been unparalleled,” explained Joe, a two-time mayor who was initially elected to the council in 2011. “The city has been faced with the pandemic, serious budget issues, protests and a lack of confidence in government. These developments complicate the city’s pre-existing fiscal and operational challenges.”
The fake emails created by former City Councilmember Dr. Marina Khubesian were designed to retaliate against her critics in the form of public comments during council meetings. The aliases praised the work of some city workers and discredited those expressing concern over South Pasadena’s current financial woes. Raising the issue of the emails was resident Chris Bray, whose findings were turned over to the South Pasadena Police Department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.
“I alone was responsible for sending the emails from two email accounts using fictitious names in May and June this year,” wrote Khubesrian in a message to the community last Saturday before resigning from her council seat on Tuesday. “While this happened during a time of great personal stress and when I was facing a serious health issue, there is absolutely no excuse for my conduct. I also had some serious reactions to a medication I was taking and had a lot of increased anxiety that was exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Frankly, I am extremely remorseful, embarrassed and mortified by my actions.”
It’s going to take some work to repair a broken local government and raise morale at City Hall, but Joe sees some real hope for the future “through these difficult times,” he said, adding: “If re-elected, I pledge to initiate efforts to achieve stability and to show respect for residents, commissions and staff members.”
Regarding Khubesrian’s actions to resign her council seat, Joe offered in a statement: “The City Council received notice of Councilmember Khubesrian’s resignation on Saturday, August 15, 2020, when she released her statement to the press on the same day. As a result, the Council can confirm that Dr. Khubesrian’s resignation is effective August 18, 2020.”
Meanwhile, Joe believes his leadership experience is significant, and will help to bring back prosperity to a shaken city. After a career that included positions with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, he retired to begin a life of public service.
“Prior to my election to the City Council, I had already served as a City-Council appointee on four commissions, including Parks and Recreation and Transportation, Joe said. “I had also volunteered for eight years as a coach for Region 214 of the American Youth Soccer Organization. I know the city well, having lived here for forty years. My most important experience, however, is my decade of serving on the South Pasadena City Council.”
He was elected nine years ago and re-elected in 2015, serving twice as mayor over that span. “This has formed me into a public servant who cares and who wants to help people,” Joe explained. “I have the background and knowledge to tackle today’s challenges and move the city forward.”
Asked what’s working well in South Pasadena city government and where challenges remain, beyond what has taken place in recent weeks, Joe stressed, “We have good, qualified employees. They continue to work with dedication and commitment. All balance staggered work schedules and practice virus-prevention protocols. Some must work from home. The frontline workers in public works, public safety, the library, the senior center, planning and in other departments keep the city operating. At the same time, they maintain their rapid response time for emergencies, issue permits and approvals in an expedited manner and continue to meet residents’ needs. Our strengths as a community have enabled us to maintain and augment services during the pandemic.”
Among the city’s positives, according to the mayor, include:
• Lunches are delivered to seniors, and Dial-A-Ride is available.
• Public safety response times have been maintained while ensuring safety for all.
• Library staff members offer a popular pick-up service for books and other materials, and more than 1,000 participants signed up for the virtual summer reading program.
• Public Works is keeping to its maintenance and repair schedules and responds quickly to emergencies.
• Community recreation classes continue in modified formats.
• The city has expanded its outreach to the community. This includes increasing our electronic communications along with providing regular COVID-19 updates.
“We have added council meetings to the twice-monthly schedule to provide these vital reports,” explained Joe. “Our own fire and police chiefs have presented to the public. The working relationships I have developed with those in higher office made it possible for the public to receive updates from Congresswoman Judy Chu, State Senator Anthony Portantino, Assemblymember Chris Holden and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.”
Improvements and necessary, and among the challenges outside of bringing back community trust, stressed Joe, are to:
• Succeed in spite of the pandemic.
• Develop a process for financial review.
• Implement revenue-generating measures to offset CalPERS pension costs.
• Inform citizens of how revenue from the city’s Utility Users Tax (UUT) is used to fund all city departments and how important this tax is to the city’s financial stability. “I fully support passage of the UUT renewal in the Nov. 3 General Election,” said Joe.
• Achieve coordination among city departments for the benefit of all.
• Support small businesses so they can survive the pandemic.
“I’d like to see the City Council work more effectively together,” he insisted, recognizing some of the city’s shortcomings. “I want to strengthen city administration.” Completing a traffic and transportation plan is something I’d like to see the City Council accomplish. In addition, we need to address and discuss public safety concerns. Two other priorities are to support small businesses so they’ll be able to remain viable and to protect tenants impacted by the pandemic. Due to our resiliency, our city is in a better position than most places. Residents and employees have already demonstrated this by creating programs that will benefit the common good. For example, the nonprofit DUDES organization and Girl Friday developed a program to deliver groceries and other items to seniors during the pandemic.”
Joe has been at the forefront as faith-based organizations have stepped up their food services since the coronavirus set it back in March. “One club is sewing protective masks and distributing them at no charge,” he said. “Our Senior Center, library, community services and other departments have adapted their services to meet the needs.”
The 75-year-old mayor believes city government is the lifeblood of the community. “They depend on the city for water, fire protection, street and sidewalk repair, and public safety,” he said. “Even now, we also provide family and educational services through the library, parks and community services.”
He recognizes that people often say they value South Pasadena for its small-town feel, top schools, and progressive spirit. “The city is all of those things, but right now I see the city as coming back from rehab,” said Joe, reflecting on the current turmoil. “My philosophy is that public service is all about helping others. If re-elected, I will continue to face these unprecedented challenges and determine what will benefit the common good.”