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Palm Spring Mayor Calls It Quits

Amid angry rhetoric and a left-ward shift, Robert Moon waxes and wanes

By Laura Hauther, January 27, 2019 5:37 pm

Lamenting his town’s shift to the left, Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon has decided not to seek re-election. (Facebook)

Palm Spring Mayor Robert Moon will not seek re-election this year, citing growing political and personal rifts within the city council. An exchange of verbal fisticuffs between the two played out in local media outlets after the Mayor’s announcement.

In an interview with the Desert Sun, Moon complained of being treated poorly by the “other council members strictly because I don’t share their progressive values…The council, like the Democratic Party, is moving so far to the left that I’m just not comfortable with it anymore.”

He followed that up with a text message to local news channel KESQ, writing, “I love pubic service but do not like partisan politics.”

These accusations prompted several council members to send written responses to KESQ.

Council member Lisa Middleton wrote: “It is unfortunate that within media reports the Mayor has chosen to criticize not only his colleagues, but also the Democratic Party.”

Council member J.R. Roberts piled on: “I was disappointed to know that Rob felt that way. I for one went out of my way to work closely with him on the issues he cared about. That wasn’t always easy as it clear Rob never really saw himself as part of the team. Most of his actions and comments were in a vacuum and didn’t include the rest of the council.”

Council member Christy Holstege griped that “(Moon used) his unique position and power to routinely criticize our city, demean his colleagues, and disparage our residents, using his powerful voice (given and entrusted to him by the PEOPLE of Palm Springs) to spread attacks and misinformation in the media. Our city and our residents deserve better.”

Moon describes himself as a moderate. After spending 26 years in the Navy he was appointed to the nine-member Measure J Commission for three years. The Commission decides on the use of voter-approved dedicated sales tax funds for improving services and amenities in Palm Springs. He is the third openly gay mayor of Palm Springs.

Moon cites several reasons for calling it a day

Moon cited several reasons for his departure, ranging from the political to the personal. In June 2017, the council issued a proclamation supporting the Paris Agreement on global warming after President Trump withdrew from the accord. After Moon and former council member Chris Mills voted against the proclamation, Moon told KESQ, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for our council to use the dais to make what I feel is a political statement.”

Council member Geoff Kors brought the resolution to the council after the Mayor refused to join a nationwide effort to have local governments refute Trump’s action.

The Mayor also dissented when the Palm Springs City Council voted 3-2 to switch to district elections with voters choosing five council members who will share the mayor’s chair on an annual rotating basis. Currently, the city has four council members and an at-large mayor.

The change will lower the costs of running for a council seat, with candidates campaigning in a much smaller area. This is expected, proponents say, to encourage a more diverse range of candidates to get into city politics.

Voters in three of the districts will get to vote on a new council person this year; the other two districts will have to wait until 2021.

Moon thought the measure should have been included on the ballot last November for the residents of Palm Springs to vote on. He told the Desert Sun, “I decided that I wanted to go out as the last directly elected mayor of Palm Springs.”

Moon was also troubled by the firestorm over the security camera and intercom system he installed in his City Hall office. He considers the investigation a partisan move, saying it went forward “strictly because I don’t share their progressive values. This investigation is still going on.”

Moon claims he never used the equipment to record meetings or eavesdrop, but the council believes Moon’s actions might run afoul of the Brown Act as well as violating California’s two-party consent rules, requiring the consent of all persons being recorded.

The Brown Act bans a quorum of City Council members from discussing government business without a public notice. This is to prevent elected officials making decisions without public knowledge or input.

An outside law firm was engaged at a cost of $85,000 to investigate Moon’s actions after the Riverside County District Attorney declined to prosecute and suggested using administrative or civil means to handle the case.

All this is happening on the heels of a corruption scandal that emerged in February of 2017 when former Mayor Steve Pougnet was accused of taking bribes from real estate developers. Moon in was elected in 2015 as Mayor when Pougnet, after two terms, declined to run again. Charges filed by the Riverside County District Attorney’s office against Pougnet include nine counts of receiving bribes, eight counts of conflict of interest as a public official, and three counts of perjury.

Laura Hauther

Laura Hauther is a veteran reporter for KPFK and has written for several LA weekly newspapers.
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