Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon said he was investigated for the past two months without his knowledge by an outside attorney, the Palm Springs Police Department and the Riverside County District Attorney’s office for allegations of videotaping meetings in his office and for eavesdropping on his colleagues via an intercom system.
“I had no idea this was going on,” Moon told Uken Report in a telephone interview on Saturday. “They all said there was nothing there, that there are no grounds for anything, and they dismissed the whole thing. That’s the first time I heard about this.”
The trumped up charges are designed as retribution for him not being as progressive as the balance of the City Council, Moon claims. They are also trying to run him out of office, he said, claiming at least two of them have created a hostile work environment.
Meantime, some onlookers say his paranoia is disrupting City Hall and say his paranoid state is reminiscent of former President Richard M. Nixon who was consumed by wiretaps and eavesdropping.
Moon, elected to a four-year term as mayor in November 2015, said the allegations stemmed from two devices he used in his office — one an intercom system and the other a security camera device that attaches to a smartphone and detects motion — when he was first elected.
As an art collector, Moon said he has decorated his mayor’s office with “very expensive art” from home. His office also houses important city documents and some personal papers.
“I could tell, when I first had the office, that somebody was coming in and using the office at night,” Moon said. “The chairs were moved around and things were disturbed on my conference table. My Keurig had been used. I asked the city manager if we had any security systems in the building, or on campus. He said ‘No.’ We have no cameras, no security systems, no alarms, no nothing.”
So, he purchased his own motion-detecting camera that captures 10-second videos. It’s called a Blink. He would turn it on when he left the office for the day. If there was motion in the office, it was captured.
The only thing the camera ever captured he said, was the cleaning person, so Moon said he deleted any and all of the videos and stopped using it. It was incapable of taping continuously, he said.
As for the intercom, Moon said he bought it to make communicating with the City Council’s administrative assistant easier due to the logistics and location of their respective offices. It saved a lot of needless running back and forth, he said.
“It’s impossible to hear the other person, unless he or she allows you to,” Moon said.
The investigation was allegedly trigged by complaints from Councilmembers Lisa Middleton and Geoff Kors, Moon claims.
Middleton and Kors declined to comment specifically for this story or Moon’s claims.
However, Kors and Councilmember Christy Holstege released the following joint statement Saturday afternoon. Their statement appears in its entirety.
“As the members of the City Council who serve on the ad hoc employment subcommittee, we have requested that a discussion item be placed on the July 11th City Council meeting relating to surveillance equipment that Mayor Moon placed in his office and the office of an employee.
“We have received multiple requests for information from Palm Springs residents and from the media. We firmly believe this process should happen in an open public meeting and in a transparent process that is available to the public.
“In response, the subcommittee will be requesting that an independent investigation be undertaken to ascertain and report on the facts so that Council can take any necessary steps to protect the city and ensure the public has accurate information about what occurred.
“We are concerned about false information that is being shared. However, due to this matter involving city employees, and because of attorney-client privileged communications, it is inappropriate for any member of Council to be sharing information publicly at this time. The attorney-client privilege can be legally waived but only by a vote of the Council which has not yet occurred. In addition, in order to ensure the integrity of an independent investigation, we will not be further commenting until the Council meeting on July 11th.
The City of Palm Springs and the City Council remains committed to the highest level of ethics and transparency and we will continue to protect and promote those values.”
End of joint statement.
Moon said the complaints coincided with his refusal to sign a proclamation for the March for Our Lives Day rally in Palm Springs. Kors signed it instead. Moon also declined to attend the really. Middleton welcomed rally-goers on the steps of City Hall in the mayor’s absence.
“I join with the many millions of Americans who are so grateful to — and in awe of — the students, Middleton told Uken Report at the time. “When they arrived at City Hall I made the following public statement: ‘On behalf of the majority of the City Council, I am honored to welcome you to City Hall. On behalf of those over 60, I am honored to welcome you to the fight.’ “
Moon said before a closed-door session on June 20, City Manager David H. Ready called him into his office. He told me that Geoff (Kors) and Lisa (Middleton) had gone to City Attorney Edward Z. Kotkin to file a complaint about me taping meetings in my office and eavesdropping on their private conversations with the executive assistant, Moon said.
Moon said Kotkin was with the city manager when he was called in.
“The city attorney was asking me these questions,” Moon recalled. “I explained what the system was. And he said, ‘Well, can I see this on your phone?’ I said, ”Sure.’ Because I didn’t know what they were going to ask me about this. Besides, the thing hadn’t been turned on in months. I didn’t have any real need for it anymore.”
Moon said he pulled out his phone to demonstrate it had was actually disabled. Moon said he also showed him the files and there was not a single 10-second video clip to be found.
“I never saved any of them,” Moon said.
Ready referred all calls to Kotkin. He did not return Uken Report’s call or email for comment Saturday.
“Neither of these systems would do what they were accusing me of doing,” Moon said. “If they had this concern, I could have shown them and if they didn’t like it I could have removed it because I wasn’t using it anymore anyway.”
Moon claimed that Ready attempted to persuade Kors and Middleton to let him handle it but they refused. “They wanted to pursue legal remedies,” Moon alleged.
Kotkin, according to Moon, did not feel comfortable investigating the matter since he works for the entire City Council so recused himself. An outside attorney was hired who wrote a report and gave it to the police who in turn gave it to the DA.
“It was Jeff Kors and Lisa Middleton who chose to take this through a legal process, rather than just letting the city manager handle it,” Moon said. And, that’s the story. I’ll swear that on a Bible. I cannot talk about what went on the in the closed session. However, when we got out of cosed session, I knew somehow they were going to use this to hurt me. So, I thought I’d better just speak publicly about what this was.”
Here is clip of what he said.
Moon claims he is being bullied because he does not agree with them.
“They are very, very progressive, and left-wing Democrats,” Moon said. “I am a Democrat. I’m a very moderate to conservative Democrat. I am a life-long Democrat, but I am not a progressive Democrat. I don’t support a lot of their progressive views. And also, I push back against them trying to turn the City Council dais into a political platform on national issues. We should be focusing on potholes in the streets, the park downtown, and the quality of life in Palm Springs. I don’t want to use that dais to address national political issues. That’s what they do at every damn meeting anymore. They just don’t want me there.”
From the outside looking in, Palm Springs is a city to be envied. The City Council was honored in June by the California Legislature LGBTQ Caucus in Sacramento for being the nation’s first elected all LGBTQ Council.
Behind the scenes lurks a hostile work environment, created by his progressive colleagues, Moon said — and reaffirmed for clarity.
“I’m a big boy, I can handle it,” Moon said. “I was in the military for 26 years. I’ve been in battle in the Middle East, I’ve been shot at. I faced bigger threats than they are. I did nothing against the rules. I did nothing against the law. They’re trying to make something out of something that wasn’t even there.”
Moon said he entered City Hall with the No. 1 goal of restoring integrity to the mayor’s office.
“When people attack my integrity, they’re really attacking the core of my very being,” Moon said. “My personal sense of ethics has always been the core of my very being. And that’s what’s being attacked here.”