Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly this week responded to recent, critical comments made about him by members of the City Council.
Ly is running for re-election in this November’s general election. He is being challenged by Vice Mayor Darren Suen and Tracie Stafford, who describes herself as a community advocate.
During the Aug. 26 opening of the campaign office of Suen, and Stephanie Nguyen, who is running to retain her District 4 council seat, Council Member Steve Detrick referred to the mayor as a “show horse.”
Detrick further stated that Ly is worried about how he appears in the news media and on social media, and is concerned with taking advantage of photo opportunities.
Nguyen told the Citizen that Ly has taken a self-centered approach to dealing with issues and often refuses to work with the entire council.
The councilwoman also claimed that the mayor tries to take credit for a lot of things that are a group effort of the council.
Nguyen specifically referenced a Citizen article in which Ly mentioned that he was able to rejuvenate the Costco project by pulling together an “emergency meeting” after being told that the Elk Grove Costco proposal was a “dead deal.”
That article led Nguyen to author a letter to the editor in which she stressed that Costco’s upcoming opening in Elk Grove was made possible through a “team effort from many” and not through the work of “any single individual.”
The Citizen asked Ly about Nguyen’s claims on the Costco story.
“What I wanted to highlight was the fact that I was told this (Costco project) was a dead deal,” he said. “My interest was to make it valid again. I had a meeting with the broker, I had a meeting with (developer) Louis Pappas and Thad (Johnson, a representative of Pappas Investments), as well. We had a conversation about (Costco).
“The conversation was fruitful in that it rejuvenated everything. Inaccurately, it was interpreted by a council member that feels that I said that I took all the credit. When people want to put words into my mouth and misinterpret what I say, there’s nothing I can do about that.”
The mayor said that he believes in working as a team with the council.
“I can tell you that everything that we do (as a council), it’s important that it is (done as) a partnership,” he said.
Ly said that there are two major issues that divide him from the other council members.
He identified one of those issues as the severance agreement for former City Manager Laura Gill, who resigned this May.
The council voted, 4-1, to accept her resignation. The one dissenting vote came from Ly, who was not in favor of Gill’s severance agreement.
The issue of that agreement was referred to in the Aug. 22 council meeting when Suen noted that the council was “approving (a consent) item for $30,000 for brokering a deal for a city manager, potentially.”
Ly told the Citizen that the severance buyout on Gill’s contract is $300,000.
“To say that all of this is only costing $30,000, that would be inaccurate,” he said. “It’s $300,000 to buy out the city manager’s contract, plus the involvement of the (human resources) director, the city attorney, (and the cost of a possible relocation of a new city manager).
“What was on the (City Council’s) consent agenda was the payout for the firm that will be searching for a city manager. So, that obviously is $30,000.”
“I just don’t believe that spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a severance agreement makes any logical sense. It doesn’t treat taxpayers’ monies properly.”
The other issue that Ly said divides him from the council is his desire to have Elk Grove make a change to the by-district voting system.
The mayor is the lone member of the council to support a change to that system, in which council members are only elected by voters who live within their council districts.
Ly said that he supports by-district elections for their cost-saving effects and as a way to avoid having people appointed to seats that are vacated before the expiration of elected officials’ terms.
The mayor also responded to the comment that he is concerned about taking advantage of photo opportunities.
“Being the mayor, that’s part of your responsibilities is to go to these (community) events and to show that you are there in support of it,” he said. “(It is) going there to participate, to meet the people and to take pictures with individuals.
“If anything, a photograph will show that I’m attentive to as many (events) as possible that I can physically get to. I’m happy to do that, because I love this city. I love this community.”
In addressing another criticism by Detrick regarding the mayor’s absence at last month’s Elk Grove Multicultural Festival, Ly said that he was conducting city business on that day.
“I was on city business in Grand Rapids, (Mich.) for the Mayors Innovation (Project meeting),” he said. “As a strong supporter of the Multicultural Festival and regular attendee, I’m pleased that we have a system where other members were able to fill in while I was on city business.”
The mayor noted that a lot of the comments said about him are “politically driven.”
“I say this is let’s take it on the campaign trails and let’s have real debates about this,” he said.
Ly added that he hopes to be re-elected as the city’s mayor and regain a better working relationship with the council.
“Obviously, where we are right now is not healthy,” he said. “Hopefully, after the election, we can move beyond this and get to where we were at before.”