Councilmember offers apology one week after calling for investigation of city commission

Seven days after a member of the Palm Springs City Council used words such as “corruption” and “favoritism” while raising concerns about the work of a city commission, members of that commission sought to defend themselves Thursday evening, with one calling for a formal apology from the councilmember.

It wasn’t formal, but Councilmember Dennis Woods did apologize to the Measure J Oversight Commission during its regular meeting, saying, “I’m sorry if it came across as an attack. It was not meant to be that whatsoever.”

Woods shocked his fellow City Council members during their regular meeting Feb. 10, questioning how the Commission chooses recommendations for community projects using a portion of Measure J tax funds — typically $1 million each year — and specifically the involvement of Jeffrey Bernstein, the owner of a Downtown retail business and chair of the commission.

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While calling for an “independent investigation” of the Commission, Woods also questioned whether Bernstein — who announced he was running for Woods’ Council seat last month — is a member of any organization that might benefit from Measure J tax money.

“The Commission [is] asking people who have applied to pitch their projects as if they were on the Donald Trump show or something,” Woods said at the time. “Yet they eliminated some of the projects before they were given a chance to pitch. This has the potential to show favoritism and opens the process up to corruption, and it’s not a good model that we want to set.

“The Commission has a rating sheet for the projects that was not available to the public or to me. The overall rating sheet is held by the chair. That is not transparent, and that is not the protections we put into place.”

During an hour-long discussion over Zoom Thursday evening, members of the Commission, two of Woods’ fellow Council members, City Manager Justin Clifton, and city staff detailed exactly how the Commission makes its recommendations, where the rating sheet and other materials are available online, and specifically how Woods could have chosen to be involved in their decision making process.

“I’m blown away by what happened last Thursday as I’m sure everyone was,” said Commissioner Jim Gazan. “You would think you would maybe get some criticism from the public, but to get it from a member of Council, who should know better, is really unbelievable. To get that feedback from somebody from the city who has never attended one of our meetings …We don’t do these meetings in a bubble.”

“It’s not only a bit of a slap in the face of the Commission,” Gazan added as he joined others in admonishing Woods, “you are also slapping the face of city staff who works hard. I’m proud of everything we’ve done. We’ve done everything with integrity.”

Asked by Commissioner Naomi Soto for specifics regarding his concerns, Woods could provide none.

“I don’t have any real questions,” Woods said. “Getting all this up online, making sure there’s no conflict, assuring the public has access to that is all I really wanted. …We are on the right path. My comments were not in any way intended to be offensive.”

During remarks earlier in the evening, Bernstein had repeatedly apologized to members of the Commission, saying they had been “attacked in the process” of his run for elected office.

“I chose to run for City Council understanding that there would be attacks,” he told Commission members. “The commissioners on this commission are intelligent, hardworking, talented individuals. I apologize for having your integrity impugned.”

Bernstein also defended his involvement with several civic organizations, explaining that there would be no appearance of favoritism toward those organizations since none had applied for funds. He offered an open invitation for Woods to attend future meetings, and welcomed his presence Thursday night.

“Thank you Councilmember Woods for attending your first Measure J meeting,” Bernstein remarked as the discussion came to a close.

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