Norco appoints new council member but concerns are raised – Press Enterprise


The Norco City Council has appointed a new member, but some have raised concerns about the process and whether the vote may have violated the state’s public assembly law.

Berwin Hanna was appointed to the Norco City Council on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.  The former Norco mayor and council member will take the seat once held by Ted Hoffman, who died on February 22, 2023.  (Courtesy City of Norco)
Berwin Hanna was appointed to the Norco City Council on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. The former Norco mayor and council member will take the seat once held by Ted Hoffman, who died on February 22, 2023. (Courtesy City of Norco)

Berwin Hanna, a former Norco mayor and city council member, was appointed Wednesday night, March 15, to replace Ted Hoffman, who died February 22. The vote was 3-1, with City Council member Katherine Aleman voting no.

“I want to put the issue of process, not person, first in my vote,” Aleman said during the meeting. “I do a bit of creeping about the appointment of someone without giving the public a chance to weigh in.”

The council’s agenda did not say that Hanna would be considered or that the council might select him to replace Hoffman. The agenda item said the council would consider the vacancy and decide how to replace Hoffman, either by appointing an individual or by scheduling an election.

Norco Mayor Robin Grundmeyer said during the meeting that she reached out to Hanna and spoke to him several times about filling the position ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.

Hanna could not be reached for comment on Friday.

After council members Grundmeyer, Kevin Bash, and Greg Newton discussed why they thought Hanna should be appointed, Grundmeyer moved to appoint Hanna, and Bash supported her.

Hanna will be sworn in on Wednesday, April 5 and is scheduled to serve through November 2024.

An expert on the state’s Public Session Act, the Ralph M. Brown Act, expressed concern about the council’s actions.

Hanna’s appointment was not on the council’s agenda, depriving the public of information that would allow further discussion of the matter, said David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition.

“The agenda did not adequately communicate to the public that they would appoint or even consider anyone at this meeting,” said Loy, who examined the agenda and a report that went to the council. “It raises a significant Brown Act problem when the public did not know in advance who would be considered for the city council seat.”

A similar situation occurred in October 2021 in the Moreno Valley when the council appointed a member without putting it on the agenda. The city was sued by a local resident over the matter and received a letter from the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office asking for the vote to be overturned. The council then revoked his appointment and replaced the late council member Victoria Baca with an election – which was won by Baca’s daughter, Elena Baca-Santa Cruz.

Norco spokeswoman Kelli Newton defended the city’s trial in an email on Friday.

“According to the prosecutor, this matter differs from Moreno Valley’s because it is contrary to Moreno Valley’s agenda, which asked for direction, and (its) staff report, which indicated that the city would solicit applications,” Newton said in the email. “Norco’s agenda specifically stated taking action, and the employee report specifically discussed the immediate appointment of an individual.”

Others in Norco expressed concern about the lack of information about who might be appointed and when.

“You know, my concern is that they haven’t even given anyone else a chance,” Brent Sakamoto, a Norco resident who ran for council in 2020, said by phone Friday. “They just appointed someone… It costs a lot of money to hold a special election, but they should at least have let all residents know who they have in mind so they can attend and give other people a chance.”

Sam Tavallodi, another candidate for Norco City Council in 2020, was also critical of the council.

“I don’t think our council did themselves any favors by allowing a private conversation with Berwin and voting for his appointment at the same council meeting,” Tavallodi said by phone on Friday. “I think it would have been a lot better if they made it more transparent with competition and a process.”

Loy said neither the agenda nor a city report indicated that there were any plans to vote on a candidate at the convention.

“It’s two separate statements to indicate how we will fill this councilor’s position as opposed to how we will fill the position today.” said Loi.

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