Antioch Council removes Thorpe from Economic Development Commission, votes for ballot language against card room initiative

By Nick Goodrich

On Tuesday night, February 24, 2016, the Antioch City Council made a firm statement by removing Lamar Thorpe from the Antioch Economic Development Commission, and sending the card room initiative he supported to the city ballot in June.

Thorpe, an Antioch resident and former City Council candidate, was also removed from his position as a Standby Council Member or alternate for Council Member Monica Wilson, along with his wife Patrice Guillory. Wilson’s sole remaining alternate is former Mayor Antioch Donald Freitas, President of the Antioch Historical Society.

Thorpe is one of three Antioch residents listed as proponents of the petition for an ordinance that would limit the number of card rooms in Antioch to two, requiring a vote of the people for a the second one. Funded by the Pacheco-based California Grand Casino, which helped fund a mailer against the re-opening of Kelly’s Card Room a few years ago, the initiative forced the City Council to decide to either adopt the ordinance as presented, or send it to the June ballot, incurring a cost to the city’s General Fund between $132,771 and $177,028. Thorpe openly stated in a letter to the editor that he and his wife Patrice Guillory were leaders in the effort to put the initiative before City Council.

During the Council’s last meeting on February 9th, Mayor Wade Harper and the Council Members discussed and subsequently sent the issue to the ballot in June. They reaffirmed their decision on Tuesday night and included an argument against it on a 4-0 vote, with Wilson abstaining. During the meeting, she admitted she had signed the petition for the card room initiative during its circulation, but stated that she did so in order for the ordinance to go to the ballot so that Antioch residents could have a say in the issue. Regarding her decision to abstain from the vote on Tuesday night, Wilson said “I just want to hear the voice of the voters.”

The City Council received some criticism for its decision to send the ordinance to the ballot at the city’s cost. One resident urged Council to simply adopt the ordinance as it was presented in the petition, and use the money the city would save in policing efforts. But the Council saw the initiative as a bigger issue: Would Antioch’s decisions be made by outside interests? During the last Council meeting, Harper determined that it would not, saying, “Antioch will not be bullied.”

During public comments, Tuesday evening, Wilson came under fire from several community members for her votes to abstain on the ballot language as well as for voting to remove Thorpe and Guillory as her City Council alternates.

Following the ballot measure vote, Antioch resident and one-time Council candidate Karl Dietzel took Wilson to task.

“I’m very disappointed in your double-sided decision making process,” he said.

Willie Mims, a non-resident but active member of the East County community, spoke before the Council.

“Lamar and Patrice were the victims of a bullying attack.” Mims asked, “Did any of you ask Lamar? Did any of you get his side of the story?”

In his letter to the editor published on this newspaper’s website, Thorpe defended his actions, saying that the current ordinance Antioch has in place leaves too many loopholes and was a “halfhearted effort” by the City Council to regulate gambling in the city.

However, Council Member Tony Tiscareno rebutted that statement.

“This wasn’t a truly local issue that folks brought in, this was originated by an outside agency, another casino,” he said.

The Council unanimously supported Wilson’s decision to remove both Thorpe and Guillory as alternates for City Council.

Following his removal as an alternate, the Council made Thorpe’s immediate removal from the Economic Development Commission official in a unanimous vote. Several residents spoke out both in support and in opposition of the decision, but in light of the recent events surrounding the card room initiative, City Council had made up its mind.

Thorpe spoke in his own defense, saying he was being removed because of a disagreement with the City Council over the card room issue.

In a rare display of public criticism, Council Member Mary Rocha added her concerns about Thorpe, separate from his leadership in the card room initiative effort. She spoke of a meeting in Concord at which Thorpe was publicly critical of the Antioch City Council and the city in general.

“There’s certain times that individuals have to have respect for the City,” Rocha said.

Harper added his comments about Thorpe before the Council took action.

“When you serve the City of Antioch as a Commissioner, you are representing the City of Antioch,” he said. “To prevent any further conflict of interest, I do not think he should serve on the Antioch Economic Development Commission.”

Following a motion by Mayor Pro Tem Lori Ogorchock, the Council voted unanimously to remove Thorpe from the commission, effective immediately.

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