Three incumbents on the Rancho Mirage City Council — G. Dana Hobart, Iris Smotrich and Charles Townsend Vinci — are campaigning in lockstep as a slate, unified in thought and stance.

Their mission is clear: They want to retain whatever power they think they have amassed. They want to retain the status quo and damn any independent-thinking newcomer who might upset their playground.

Incumbents Walk In LockstepThe incumbents have relied heavily on one campaign poster that bears each of their images. They even campaign in gated communities together.

Since the public isn’t invited, no one except the incumbents, which represents a quorum, and the residents attending the meeting know what’s being said. Are they discussing city business?

Some residents have questioned whether the trio is violating The Ralph M. Brown Act that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies. The Brown Act was enacted in response to mounting public concerns over informal, undisclosed meetings held by local elected officials. City councils, county boards, and other local government bodies were avoiding public scrutiny by holding secret “workshops” and “study sessions.” The Brown Act solely applies to California city and county government agencies, boards, and councils.

The Riverside County District Attorney’s office has not returned multiple requests for comment.

Jay Wierenga, communications director for the Fair Political Practices Commission, told Uken Report that there is nothing in the Political Reform Act that prevents candidates from running as a ‘slate’ or ‘team’ or the like.

“But,” Wiergenga said, “their individual obligations as a candidate and committee to file campaign finance reporting forms remains the same. The proper reporting of contributions and expenditures, and making sure campaign finance reports are filed properly and on time, all of that is still the law and is still required.”

Just because the three are running a slate of candidates does not mean that all or none will win. There are noted instances where half the slate has won, and half did not. Similar candidates, similar positions. Particularly in local elections, success often comes down to how well particular candidates are known and liked (or disliked). That could play a huge role in Rancho Mirage where Hobart has become the target. He is ridiculed for his bluster and bombast and scorned for his bully behavior.

At least 10 elected local leaders from Cathedral City, La Quinta, Indian Wells, Palm Desert and Indio are throwing their political muscle behind one of the incumbents’ chief rivals, Katherine “Kate” Spates. These are elected leaders who have worked side-by-side with Hobart for more than 15 years who are now supporting one of his chief competitors. It begs the question as to whether they have lost confidence in Hobart’s leadership.

The local leaders to date are: Stan Henry, mayor, Cathedral City; Linda Evans, mayor, La Quinta; Kimberly Muzik, mayor, Indian Wells; Sabby Jonathan, mayor, Palm Desert; Michael Wilson; mayor, Indio; Lupe Ramos Watson,  councilwoman, Indio; Elaine Holmes, councilwoman, Indio; Steve Sanchez; councilman, La Quinta; Robert Radi, councilman, La Quinta; and Jan Harnik, councilwoman, Palm Desert.

Trusted, highly respected leaders in the Coachella Valley and Riverside County now call him “autocratic” and “psychotic.”

Ultimately, each candidate of the slate will win or lose on his or her own merits.

Also, keep mind. This isn’t a real slate. People can vote for anyone they want to, even if that just means part of the slate. Slates can make things easier for voters who can’t decide and want to take the path of least resistance, but they can easily backfire.

“One of the problems I see with slates is that they are viewed by some as heavy-handed,” which turns voters off, says James Glatthaar, a partner at the law firm Bleakley Platt & Schmidt. He’s also seen it backfire with opposition slates. “One time these three people running against a slate felt they had to form their own slate, and they really looked like The Three Stooges when they got to the annual meeting and started to disagree with each other vehemently.”

The negative of having a slate is that you could be closing the process to more independent people who might have new ideas, Glatthaar said.

Hobart, first elected to the City Council in 2002, has served longer than anyone on the City Council.

Townsend Vinci was elected to the Rancho Mirage City Council in 2014.  From 2016, he was Mayor Pro Tem and on April 20, 2017, he was sworn in as the Mayor of Rancho Mirage.

The third incumbent seeking re-election is Smotrich. She was first appointed by the Rancho Mirage City Council on July 7, 2011.  In 2012, she ran unopposed and was reappointed by the City Council to serve for a two-year term.  In 2014, she ran for office and won.