City Councilwoman Marina Khubesrian last week reiterated her commitment to finishing her term this year, amid demands that she resign in light of allegations that she has used fake email personas to support her causes and attack detractors in comments sent to the council.
Those demands, which themselves came in the form of public comments at last week’s City Council meeting, preceded the South Pasadena Police Department’s announcement that it had referred a related criminal complaint to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for review. The complaint filed by local resident Chris Bray claimed Khubesrian used the allegedly fictitious email addresses to repeatedly attack him through the public comment portion of meetings during controversial budget discussions earlier this year.
The complaint was emailed to the full council, several city administrators and the Police Department on Sunday, Aug. 2. As reaction increased on social media, Khubesrian had by the following Wednesday pulled out of her re-election bid.
“Obviously, it’s been a challenging week,” she said during council member comments at last week’s meeting.
The two-term councilwoman, who represents District 2, did not address the allegations at the meeting, and has declined to address them in separate interviews. During her comments last week, she became emotional as she brought up years of what she said was harassment directed at her and her family through emails and social media. Khubesrian added that she felt targeted in part because she was a woman and referenced similar criticism that she said has been lobbed at City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe.
“Honestly, the last couple years have been really toxic on this City Council and in the public,” she said. “The online bullying of me and the city manager has been incredibly unfair, and there are social media people that are relentless in posting things that are not true and accusing me and Stephanie of things that are not true. Frankly, that’s taken a huge toll on my family. We’ve had emails that are threatening in nature. We’ve had multiple emails from anonymous people that harass me for not making certain decisions.”
Khubesrian said her family has expressed fear for her mental health and her safety as a result.
Public criticism of city officials has gradually mounted this year for a variety of reasons, primarily that a budget that was prepared for adoption did not take into consideration an audit of the 2018-19 fiscal year — because that audit has yet to be completed. In an unsolicited report, Josh Betta, a former finance director for the city, cast doubt on the budget and on DeWolfe, Finance Director Karen Aceves and City Treasurer Gary Pia. Some residents who took note of the report successfully lobbied for the council to ultimately shelve the budget in favor of a continuing appropriations resolution; the council expects to adopt a modified budget once the audit is completed.
Khubesrian said last week that the outrage over the budget was just the latest expression of anger since DeWolfe was hired as the city’s chief administrator.
“Steps were taken in order to make the South Pasadena government a much more functional government, and that for some reason has upset some people,” she said. “These past two years, it’s been very difficult for several of us, especially women who are on the council and in city management. I do believe that there is a great deal of misogyny and sexism and women are targeted in positions of leadership. I’m not mad and I’m not blaming. It is what it is. I want us to face that as leaders. I want us to have conversations about it.”
Bray claimed several emails directed at him and Betta since March, and sent under the names Mel Trom and Emily Diaz-Vines, were actually sent by Khubesrian. He said he used account recovery steps to determine a phone number and another email address linked to the accounts. The emails were submitted as public comments and cast aspersions on Bray’s and Betta’s character.
Bray also alleged the councilwoman used one of the emails to threaten Councilman Michael Cacciotti last year. Cacciotti did not acknowledge any part of the saga during his own meeting comments last week.
On Thursday, Aug. 6, an SPPD announcement said Police Chief Joe Ortiz had forwarded the complaint to the District Attorney’s Office’s investigative Public Integrity Division.