By Jacob Wilson/Garden Grove Journal
Who’s on first?
Negotiations between Orange County Board of Supervisors chairperson Janet Nguyen’s office and the Vietnamese American Community of Southern California broke down earlier this month over this year‘s Black April ceremony at Sid Goldstein Freedom Park in Westminster. An apparently nonnegotiable issue is who should speak first.
Nguyen’s office holds the permit for the event and the VACSC have been trying to get her permit revoked. Last month the VACSC asked the Westminster City Council to intervene. Mayor Margie Rice asked city manager Donald Lamm to meet with both parties.
Representatives from each side met with each other and Lamm on April 1. According to a report by Lamm, negotiations went very well and the two sides appeared to reach an agreement on the format of the ceremony.
But after the groups met for a five-hour private meeting the next day, the VACSC announced that they had reached an impasse. Nguyen’s office thought she should speak first. VACSC representatives wanted one of their members to speak first.
So 150 members and supporters of the VACSC gathered in Westminster’s council chambers for the April 14th council meeting. The room has a maximum capacity of 97 people. An estimated 50 more people remained outside.
Ten people addressed the council during its open communication portion. The common theme among the speakers were that an individual politician should not be in charge of the Black April event and should not be the featured speaker. Many speakers also accused Nguyen of trying to dictate terms instead of cooperating.
“I propose that Don Lamm meet with Janet Nguyen and ask her to take the offer for a joint Black April ceremony,” Neil Nguyen said. “We are open for Mr. Lamm to conduct a meeting.”
Rice interrupted Nguyen to remind him that Lamm had already conducted a meeting. She also admonished Nguyen and the VACSC for not cooperating on their end.
Brian Nguyen suggested that Janet Nguyen had a political agenda.
“On behalf of whom did Ms. Nguyen request the permit?” he asked. “Does she just want to please someone in Hanoi or San Francisco?”
A frustrated Rice interrupted again. “You don’t want to cooperate,” she said.
Westminster resident Tom Lai blamed the city for the “unnecessary conflict between the city and the (Vietnamese) community.”
“Such a conflict has been caused by the mishandling of the permit,” Lai said. “The event must be carried out by the community not an individual.”
Bruce Tran said that the council was not looking at the big picture and was committing an injustice against the community. According to Tran, the issue should have been on the agenda because …
A now seemingly angry Rice cut off Tran, stating that his three-minute time limit was over. Tran disagreed and refused to leave the podium until the city clerk confirmed that his time was up.
Rice later accused Tran of stirring up trouble in order to make a name for himself.
“I don’t think any one group should be able to order the council, especially when they are trying to make political gain,” she said.
Before closing open communication Rice quickly settled the issue of who would speak first. Neither side would speak before she did.
“You don’t tell the mayor they cannot speak first in their own city,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who the mayor is.”
Rice then pointed out that she once said the same thing to President George Bush.
Neil Nguyen approached the podium to say that the VACSC agreed that the mayor should speak first but that someone from his group should speak before Nguyen.
After a five-minute recess councilmember Andy Quach reminded the audience that the council could not take any formal action at that time because the issue was not on the agenda. He then reminded them that the council’s job was to be fair and follow the law.
“If you hold a permit, the council will not take it away from you,” he said. “Right now Supervisor Nguyen holds the permit.”
Councilmember Tyler Diep tried to get the council to vote on setting a date for a special meeting to formally address the issue.
“It’s an insurance plan,” Diep said. “We are running out of time.”
Quach appeared to agree with Diep. But Rice worried that setting a date might stall independent negotiations. Rice promised to call for a special meeting if talks continued to fail after another week.
“We’ll give you one week to work out the issue,” Rice said specifically to Reverend Van Tran of the Vietnamese Christian Reformed Church in Westminster. Tran had earlier promised to negotiate with both sides.
According to city attorney Richard Jones, a special meeting can be called by either a three-fifths vote of the council or by the Mayor. Jones also said there must be 24 hours public notice before the meeting. If she calls for a meeting, it will likely be on April 22.