The Laguna Niguel City Council Overruled the wishes of 17% of their voters last night with the selection Gene Johns to replace the seat recently vacated by Sandy Rains last month. Johns is a former LA County Deputy and also worked with DEA for many years. The selection came after a 21 applicants were interviewed by the city council. The interviews, 10 minutes each, were the only metrics allegedly used to select the replacement to a council that oversees a 60 million dollar budget for Laguna Niguel.
A seven year resident of Laguna Niguel, Johns now works as a private investigator. During his interview, Councilmemember Oddo asked that Johns not investigate the other council members, to which he responded ‘Absolutely’.
A Controversial Decision by a Green Council
Some were upset over the matter. According to Voice of OC:
During public comment periods at previous meetings, multiple residents called for the council to appoint Jeff Von Waldburg this time around since he also ran in 2022 and came in fourth place behind Winstead with 17.2% of the vote.
Laguna Niguel resident Melissa Crew supported Von Waldburg (featured left) and said Johns is part of the current council “clique.”
“[Von Waldburg] should’ve been the logical choice if they were actually listening to the voters,” Crew told Voice of OC in a phone interview Thursday morning. “There was a complete disregard for what the voters and taxpayers wanted.”
Others were also frustrated by the city’s avoidance of holding elections to fill the vacancies, citing the cost would be over half a million dollars. Resident Adam Pilchman stated: “It wasn’t right. The didn’t follow the procedures. Our city has enough in the bank that they should have done it the right way. Let the people of Laguna Niguel vote for it. When you try to talk to these people at a meeting or gathering, it’s very quick and blunt. They should be representing us.”
Jeff Von Waldburg also interviewed for the vacant seat and was not selected.
Text Messages Showed Council Members Mocking Von Waldburg
In a public records request of the city council’s communications, messages between council members Ray Gennawey and Stephanie Oddo showed the duo sharing a statement by Jeff Von Waldburg about the resignation of Sandy Rains as mayor after she was pressured by the two to resign. In the text messages, Gennawey and Oddo mock Von Waldburg using a ‘haha’ emoji over his statement.
Jeff Von Waldburg is a Princeton graduate with a successful private business. Had the council followed protocol, he would have been the next selection for the vacant seat. In the most recent 2022 election he was the runner up behind the other city council appointment last month, Stephanie Winstead.
The Laguna Niguel city council’s charges of nepotism and clique behavior may be coming to an end due to a threatened lawsuit demanding the city transition to district elections. An issue the city is attempted to resist. The move would potentially pit the council members against each other.