Last May, South Pasadena Councilman Michael Cacciotti got what he describes as the “most unusual” email he’s ever received in his nearly twenty years on City Council. It accused him of corruption, of being politically beholden to other’s interests, of harassing the city manager and finance director. It had a menacing tone. “I’ll be watching,” the message concludes. “Tread carefully, Sir!”
The full text of the message can be found at the end of this article.
“I felt uneasy about it,” Cacciotti told the South Pasadenan News Monday. “It disturbed me. I couldn’t sleep for a couple nights.” He wondered if he’d offended someone, but it was signed with a name that Cacciotti did not recognize — “Mel Trom,” who in the email describes himself as a New Yorker who moved to South Pasadena “a few years ago…dug into the history of South Pasadena politics (and) watched past council meetings going back 10 years.”
Cacciotti forwarded the email to a handful of friends to get their reaction. Some said it sounded like a threat, advised him to go to the police and to “be careful.”
After a few days, his sense of distress dissipated, and he moved on.
Then a strange thing happened; Mel Trom showed up again, this time filing a written public comment to be read at a June 24 city council session. The comment argued against the city’s controversial decision to postpone adoption of the 2020-2021 budget. ‘Mel Trom’ praised the work of the city in general and of the city manager and finance director in particular; and warned “the old guard is desperate to hang on.”
Cacciotti has not yet asked anyone to investigate the email, but may yet do so. People can set up fake accounts, he notes “and use them to bully people. These types of things should not be allowed. It subverts and perverts the democratic system.”
“The national civil discourse is going into the pits,” he reflected. “It may be time to call people out.”
Also filing a comment with the city June 24 was ‘Emily Diaz-Vines’. This person relayed second-hand, questionable reports about the personal life of a former city employee whose recent in-depth financial report work in part prompted the city’s decision to delay the budget.
This elicited a response from Chris Bray, a South Pasadena citizen who himself has offered public comment at city council meetings, including one in which he had a testy exchange with then Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian.
In a reaction email sent to ‘Emily Diaz-Vines’, and copied to the City Council, Bray called her out on the personal attack against the former city official, and used a set of derogatory terms to describe Diaz-Vines who like Trom, he noted, “doesn’t show up in Internet searches as an actual local resident.”
‘Emily Diaz-Vines’ responded on June 27 with an email sent to city council members, the local press, and the nonprofit group ‘Vecinos de South Pasadena’. In it ‘Emily Diaz-Vines’ uses a set of derogatory terms to describe Bray. ‘Emily Diaz-Vines’ said she is a 17-year-old student reporter in South Pasadena. She goes on to relay more claims about the former city employee and offers a strident defense of the city manager and city finance director.
More recently, Bray has done further research and now believes an elected city official may be connected to the creation of both the Trom and Diaz-Vines emails. He has forwarded his work to the city in the form of both a criminal complaint and as a violation under the city’s recently adopted Code of Ethics.
Mr. Bray has sent his results to the city in the form of both a criminal complaint to the South Pasadena Police Department and as an ethical violation to the city council.
This issue is now in the hands of the South Pasadena Police.
As of this report, the city council nor the police have responded to inquiries seeking the status of these complaints. More to follow on this series of events as information is confirmed.
TEXT OF EMAIL RECEIVED BY SOUTH PASADENA CITY COUNCILMAN MICHAEL CACCIOTTI
From: Mel Trom <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: May 11, 2020 at 6:11:48 PM PDT
To: Michael Cacciotti <(removed>, Michael Cacciotti <(removed)>
Subject: A Pattern of Ethical Breaches that is Harmful to the Stability of this City
Hon. Michael Cacciotti:
I’m very concerned about a pattern of corruption and ethical breaches on the South Pasadena City Council and am pondering the best course of action to take. Do I reach out to the press with my story? Do I ask the City Council for an investigation under the newly adopted Code of Ethics for councilmembers and commissioners?
I moved to South Pasadena a few years ago. Had I stayed in NYC, I would be running for a council seat there. I’m a political hobbyist. My wife would say a political junkie. I pay close attention to your council meetings. I’ve gone to some WISPPA meetings. I’ve dug into the history of South Pasadena politics. In fact, I’ve watched past council meetings going back 10 years.
Here’s the deal. You are repeating the same mistake you made when you and your 3 buddies on the council traded the favor of the Police Chief position for your political gain and expediency while you royally screwed over your city. You forced a key personnel decision that was not yours to make. It was corruption plain and simple. It was also a massive ethical breach. I know why you did it. I’m not going to go into that here. I also know that the trade backfired badly when it all came out to the light of day. The mess you helped make of the SPPD is still being cleaned up and paid for by this city.
There were 4 of you involved. The other 3 paid a price and are no longer on the council. You are the only one still on the council. Why is that?
The ladies love to talk. I know how a few played judge and jury and decided to give you a pass. Of course you had to promise them loyalty and contrition of a lesson well learned.
You did not learn from your mistake however. This concerns me. It concerns me a great deal. I see you headed down a path that is once again destabilizing and harmful for this city. I see you gunning for OUR city manager and finance director. I see you being a hypocrite, subjecting them to harassment and questioning that you spared their predecessors. They are running circles around their predecessors and you look like a desperate man.
Look, I get mistakes. I get forgiveness. But what I see happening is a politician who did not learn from his mistake and is repeating the pattern of politically motivated personnel decisions to appease his loyalists and wealthy donors. The status quo is strong with you. You don’t have what it takes to move past cronyism. You had the chance to appoint a commissioner to the recently formed MTIC who shares your values but you chose to appoint the status quo candidate that does not share your vision. This was a real disappointment.
You’ve turned into a career politician hanging on to relevance whose opinions and decisions are corrupted by his debt to his loyalists. Are they now demanding pay back for their forgiveness of that original sin, that original ethical breach for which you were never formally investigated and publicly censured?
I truly hope you can regain your composure and reflect on your trajectory. I’m not betting on it though given your history. I will be watching and asking questions. Tread carefully, Sir! I like what I see happening at city hall. I like the way the city manager and top brass are taking care of us during this time of horrific crisis. I like the service I get from all the departments I have contacted. Some of these have been test contacts and this crew has passed with flying colors. Your biases are showing front and center, dear Hon. Michael Cacciotti.
Vigilant South Pasadena Resident