Elk Grove City Council to ask Sacramento County Grand Jury to investigate allegations against Mayor Steve Ly
Elk Grove News, August 13, 2020
After hearing close to 75 public speakers who were limited to one rather than the normal three minutes of comment time, the Elk Grove City council decided against censuring Mayor Steve Ly following the requests of several women who have accused him and associates of harassments and threats. Instead, they will ask the Sacramento County Grand Jury to investigate the allegations.
The 4 - 0 decision with Mr. Ly abstaining came after nearly three hours of public comment and city council deliberations. The move to censure Ly was led by Elk Grove Unified School District Trustees Bobbie Singh-Allen and Nancy Chaires-Espinoza, Cosumnes Community Services District Director Jaclyn Moreno, and Linda Vue, Ly's 2016 mayoral campaign manager.
All four have accused Ly and his associates of using harassment and threats against themselves and other women in the community to advance his political agenda. In response to the ongoing controversy, at their July 22 meeting, the Elk Grove City Council put the matter on last night's agenda, and following that, Singh-Allen decided to challenge Ly in this November's mayoral election.
After hearing the public comments, most of which were in support of Ly, the council deliberations opened with Councilmember Stephanie Nguyen taking the lead. As she did at the July 22 meeting, Nguyen offered several suggestions for Ly to alleviate the situation, which has put the city council in unchartered political waters.
Among Nguyen's suggestions was that the matter should be referred to the Sacramento County Grand Jury for an impartial investigation. She also noted that a censure was a one-time event that does not necessarily address the underlying problem.
"A censure-ship to me is a one and done deal, other than being a formal reprimand, there is nothing in place to correct these continued actions or show that a person is committed to changing these behaviors," Nguyen said. "And what I want to see, Mr. Mayor, I want to see that you are committed to change, that you are going to fix this."
Nguyen also asked Ly if he had been in contact with the four women to resolve this matter. Ly said he had done so, and Nguyen offered to mediate and facilitate meetings with the individuals and said he should send formal letters of apologies and take cultural sensitivity training.
"What I am seeing is there is a lack of sensitively for some women," Nguyen said.
Nguyen also responded to a request from Moreno that the city should provide more resources for women and girls to address harassment. Nguyen noted there are already many organizations that offer those services.
"I want to caution us also on doing this citywide committee for women and girls because we are now excluding anyone that is possibly an LGBTQ class, and where do they fit in this if we make it just women and girls," she added.
Vice Mayor Steve Detrick and Councilmembers Pat Hume and Darren Suen expressed many of the same sentiments as Nguyen and agreed to request for an independent investigation by the Sacramento County Grand Jury. Hume also addressed the concerns of many speakers who said that Singh-Allen and the other women speaking against Ly were attacking the Hmong community and culture.
"It is abhorrent that this in any way is being cast as an indictment dispersion upon Hmong people," Hume said. "The Hmong are not bad people, and you, Mr. Mayor, are not a bad person."
Hume then criticized Ly saying he had deflected the criticism by having dozens of people speak on his behalf in an attempt to obscure the complaints leveled against him. Many of the pro-Ly speakers also accused Detrick and Hume of past ethics violations that they said were unaddressed.
"We've heard a lot, as I say defection, bringing up other things that happened in the past does not excuse what is being alleged currently," he said.
During his commentary, Ly acknowledged he did not realize the hurt inflicted on the aggrieved women and promised to improve.
"It is important to acknowledge and recognize their pain, and that is what I did in my statement to let them know that I believe them," he said. "What I want to do is to have an opportunity to sit down with them and figure out a pathway for all of us to heal."
Regarding cultural sensitivity training, Ly said "for me to be put in a position where I am asked to disregard and denounce my family, that makes it very difficult for me. My denouncing the Hmong patriarchy would be the equivalent of denouncing my father, my mother, my grandparents, and every ancestor who came before me."
Ly also seemingly addressed Singh-Allen, who many of the public speakers took issue with, saying she criticized the Hmong clan and patriarchy system in a published story.
"For a system that is 5,000 years old, it is troubling to hear those that may not have a good understanding, who have not had the training and anthropological studies or in sociology to make these remarks that is very hurtful," Ly said. "The community is crying, they are hurting, and I think for all electeds, I think we should be very careful what we say."
Following the meeting, Chaires-Espinoza said the city council referral for a Grand Jury investigation validated the claims laid out against Ly.
"While I was disappointed that the Council opted against censuring Mr. Ly, I’m appreciative of their recognition that they were witnessing the continuation of the attacks we’ve been describing," Chaires-Espinoza said. "I look forward to the Grand Jury investigation."
Singh-Allen, who is one of two candidates challenging Ly this November said a Grand Jury investigation is demonstrative of the seriousness of the charges.
"It is appropriate that Mayor Ly’s pattern of behavior is now going to be under a microscope," she said.
Because of the COVID19 pandemic, the functioning of the Sacramento County Grand Jury has been altered. The Grand Jury convenes typically for a one-year session starting on July 1.
This year, because of the shelter in place order issued in March, the term of the Grand Jury empaneled on July 1, 2019, has been extended six months until December 31, 2020. The next Grand Jury will start on January 1, 2021, and will likewise function for 18 months ending June 30, 2022.
It is not known if the current Grand Jury will accept the request or the new one starting on January 1. Furthermore, it is unknown if the city's request for an investigation will automatically be honored.
If the current Grand Jury investigates, it is unlikely the report will be issued before the November election. If the next Grand Jury conducts the investigation, their report would be released near the end of their term in June 2022.
Along with the referral to the Sacramento Grand Jury, the city council voted to pursue a formalized censure policy.