Guest Opinion: The Drama of April 11, 2022

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The Seal Beach Council meeting of April 11, will be long remembered in this community. April 11, was the meeting at which the City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding (3-1) that allows the city to engage an unqualified business, plus minimal information that was hand fed to them a few days before this council meeting.

The council has been subject to manipulation on this matter for many months and it worked.

We could almost hold them blameless except that one councilmember felt cognitive dissonance about the facts and rationale they were given and questioned the urgency to approve.

There had been no open council discussion at all and were relying exclusively on the staff’s set of facts. The general public had also been kept in the dark.

The one brave councilmember also understood that the council should never grant a special favor to one of their members without solidly proving that this is the best solution for the city.

Seal Beach can be proud of Councilmember Schelly Sustarsic who voted against the memorandum. This writer believes approval was a mistake and will work to explain why this is the case.

This presentation is the writer’s interpretation of the information collected thus far in discussions with persons who were touched by the manipulation process.

The drama begins when Councilmember Varipapa became interested in pickleball at the Seal Beach Tennis and Pickleball Center.

At some point in his pickleball experience he decided that there were some deficiencies in the general management and operation of the pickleball courts.

Instead of proceeding in the standard and forthright manner of a councilmember, which is to advise council and the City Manager of potential problems that that may need attention, he decided that he was the solution to all the problems.

After this conclusion he withheld his views and his personal objectives from the council.

Everything that he and those who supported him did to bring his goal into reality became secret. The council was never advised of anything going on related to pickleball until the days before the April 11, meeting.

Also one must conclude that Mr. Varipapa recruited City Manager Jill Ingram to support his personal interests because a number of events related to the pickleball facility involved staff. Only Jill can direct staff. Council members must always restrain any feelings of authority towards staff.

One such action is that the Parks and Recreation Manager suddenly hired Todd Okamura to be a pickleball teaching pro at the center.

Todd is associated with the Seal Beach Pickleball Association (SBPA) and thus with Mr. Varipapa. Brenda Dannielson, the current activities manager of the center, asked the parks manager why did you hire Todd, he’s isn’t sufficiently qualified for the position.

The parks manager’s response was, he’s fine it’ll work out. The parks manager, on his own, is not qualified to select pickleball teaching pros.

Yet another example is that Brenda was called by the parks manager a month prior to the vote and instructed her to add an SBPA event to the pickleball calendar.

Brenda responded that she already has an event on the schedule for this date.

She was told to cancel her event and put SBPA on the calendar. Someone at city hall didn’t seem to care that her livelihood was being affected.

During this project there was a lot of preparation work required so we must assume that Mr. Varipapa teamed up with Jill to fill in the many details.

For example, a rationale for using his group even though it’s never operated a pickleball facility.

A set of services for the center and decisions about who will pay for what. Furthermore, which type of agreement should be used between SBPA and City of Seal Beach.

Since we know of no proposal that was ever submitted, no references ever presented, nor were any negotiations on pricing and responsibilities discussed with city council, we can only assume this project required Jill’s support.

And finally, Jill’s recommendation memo to councilmembers which she personally took each councilmember though supports the idea of her involvement.

The concluding steps in Mr. Varipapa’s plan included minimizing attention focused on the memorandum vote.

That was handled by placing the item on the consent calendar. This is where minor items that require little or no attention at a council meeting end up.

The pro-SBPA group was recruited to send supporting emails while the non-supporting group did not know the matter was coming up before the council on the 11th.

It was pure luck that a small opposition showed up for the meeting. This meeting was the finale and goal of the project. Mr. Varipapa with the help of Jill and resources she managed had manipulated this situation as carefully as they could.

Most of the councilmembers did not seem to take note that the process for bringing this item to a vote was highly unusual.

It had been conducted without their knowledge or participation and they were being guided to contract with a fellow councilman.

How can we say this was not a manipulation? Consider what was done in terms of utilizing city resources to benefit one councilman.

How can it not be manipulation when the other council members are deliberately kept from learning what kind of project is in process at city hall? Is it ethical to have city staff misguide the present Activities Manager?

There are many actions that and non-actions that do not fit if the project were constructive and beneficial to the City of Seal Beach.

What now? In this writer’s opinion, Mr. Varipapa needs to resign. His actions have undercut his credibility. How does he earn respect after this?

Jill Ingram has shown that she can be pressured to act in ways the city manager should never agree to. She now presents a major problem for the city.

The members of the city council who voted for this improper MOU need to reflect on their role.

They were elected to serve to improve and benefit the City of Seal Beach. Benefiting other individuals is not a goal.

I further recommend that a council vote to rescind the vote on the Memorandum of Understanding` be taken as soon as possible.

Ray Ybaben was a member of the Seal Beach City Council from 2005-2008.