A Thanksgiving message.

When I received Mayor Moore’s most recent “Brea Net” eNewsletter, my initial reaction was to take issue with a few of his comments. Roy and I have enjoyed a lengthy and spirited relationship over the years and, I’m sure, respect each other’s opinions.

One statement jumped out at me immediately, his perception that some people are prone to only criticize. While it isn’t difficult to understand how he might feel this way, I also know that most of those speaking out and holding council and staff accountable share Roy’s love and concern for this community. Out of deference to them all, but especially to Roy, here is his Thanksgiving message to the people he serves.

Hi Neighbor:

I was recently invited by the Brea Republican Women’s Federation to give an update on the state of the City of Brea. Afterward I was thinking Brea really is a great place to live and work. It is Thanksgiving week when Americans give thanks for their many blessings as they gather together with family and friends. One of our blessings is we live in Brea.

Today, when some look to criticize our city at every opportunity, let us look at the facts.  Brea is not the perfect city. It also has its problems.

When compared to many cities in Orange County which have deficit budgets, are rapidly spending their General Fund reserves, postponing capital expenditure projects, laying off employees and considering outsourcing services, Brea is doing very well.

Brea has survived the recession with balanced budgets for this year and the next. Our General Fund reserves have increased during this period. Our bond rating was recently upgraded to AA. By reacting early we were able to reduce our labor force by attrition, retirements and reorganization without resorting to layoffs.

Brea continues to have an active Capital Improvement Program upgrading streets, traffic safety enhancements, storm drains, sewers and water improvements. Recent examples being the resurfacing of Elm Street, Puente Avenue and currently St. College Blvd.

Public Safety has always been our number one priority. The recent Fire Department reorganization, where we combined the Fire Administration functions with Fullerton’s, has proven successful. Our new ladder truck has been retrofitted to add a water pumping capability. Just this week we added three new police officers to serve our community.

Businesses continue to look positively toward Brea. This past week I attended the ribbon cutting for the renovated Brea Plaza Shopping Center. Eighteen new businesses opened at the center.  The amazing thing is this renovation and the Market Place renovation (Target, Sprout’s Market) were accomplished during the recession. Businesses continue to open in the Downtown with Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor planning on opening in December. Manufacturing and commercial businesses look to locate in Brea because of its relatively small decline in housing values, lower unemployment and cooperative city government. Armada, a laser manufacturer, will soon move into the large Sekisui facility on Puente Avenue.

Although the survival of California’s redevelopment agencies remain in question as we wait for the California Supreme Court’s decision in January, we hope to complete three major projects in the near future: 1) The Tracks, a four mile hiking/biking trail utilizing the abandoned railroad right-of-way, 2) a parking garage located in the parking lot behind the former Tower Record building, and 3) a community facility to be built on the Birch Hills Golf Course.

Add to the above our Community Center, Sports Park, Senior Center, excellent schools and many other amenities and Breans have much to be thankful for.  One of them is our annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.  Please plan to join me at the Civic Center, December 8 at 6:30 p.m.

May you have a very blessed Thanksgiving. Moore next time,

Roy

Closing Thoughts.

This is Roy’s 591st eNewsletter, which means he has shared current events and provided insight into Brea issues just about every ten days since first taking office over 12 years ago. Name one other elected Brea official who has been that diligent in openly communicating with their constituency.

For that matter… name one other elected Brea official. Probably ninety-five percent of Brea’s residents would have a tough time answering that question. Sad.

If you’re not receiving Roy’s eNewsletter, you can simply email him at roym@cityofbrea.net with “Brea Net” in the subject line.

Yeah, I think we could be doing some things better, smarter, more efficiently, but Roy’s right. We also have a lot for which to be thankful.

I’m thankful for the reminder.

Who lobbied city hall?

I stepped off the elevator on the third floor and turned left as usual. Then it hit me, I must be in the wrong building! Where were those ugly low 1950’s modular couches, the memorial fountain and the dogeared copies of the Star Progress?

Then, from behind her new rosewood workstation, came the receptionist’s customary greeting, “Hi Rick, who are you here to see today?”

Someone has been doing some serious lobbying.

Overnight everything had changed. Out with the old, in with the new. Walls were washed or painted, council member’s mugshots were reframed and moved, Mr. Fox’s fountain had a new home with an Ikea rug and private seating, a conference table appeared out of nowhere and the vintage cluttered literature rack was, delightfully, nowhere to be found.

I’m all about home improvements.

But in this tight economy, with the city begging for donations at every turn, where did we come up with the money to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse? Was Ty Pennington here and I just missed him?

I thought about the cuts to kids and seniors programs, fewer concerts in the park, fewer summer movies, reduced family services and I couldn’t help wondering, “Who’s bright idea was this?”

I wondered if it was a gift from the city manager, a heartwarming way to tell the people of Brea thank you for the big raise and bonus check.

Did I miss this on the agenda?

Nope. Never on the agenda, never discussed. No public hearing needed, not a council decision apparently. Just another one of those little things that magically seems to happen when no one is looking… municipal government chugging along like it has for decades.

Bus driver! Move that bus!

I’m getting pretty tired of “business as usual” in Brea.

Yesterday’s OCR Editorial lauds Brea council members for giving back the recent raise to their flex benefits that they accidently awarded themselves several months ago… $450 a month retroactive all the way back to January.

Then the editorial slaps their hand because their action lacks the force of law.

Though Mayor Moore and council member Simonoff have been trying to get this matter onto an agenda from the moment the blooper was discovered, they’ve gotten nothing but the cold shoulder from Schweitzer, Garcia and Murdock. Now, finally, it appears that the subject might land on an agenda sometime in early January.

I hereby promise...Okay, let’s take this one step at a time.

First, it was discovered, through a public request to review city files, that there was no documentation of council members decisions – which flies in the face of all that is auditable. In a kneejerk reaction to rectify this faux pas, Finance Director Gallardo emailed council members requesting written confirmation of what purportedly had been only communicated verbally.

All five responded and I’m sitting here looking at copies of their responses, which you can check out for yourself on the website “Citizens Against Brea Government Waste.”

Yes, all five council members are rescinding the raise, but no two are taking the same approach. I placed a call to all five, to give them the opportunity to clarify their decisions, and only Moore and Simonoff were courteous enough to respond.

Individual, unbinding choices.

Mayor Moore asked to have his flex benefit returned to the previous $1,050 per month beginning November 1st, but did not return the $3,600+ he had received thanks to the retroactive benefit. This does not rescind the raise, he can ask to have it reinstated next week if he chooses.

Mayor Pro Tem Schweitzer asked that the $450 per month raise be suspended immediately, and that all payments to him including salary and flex benefit also be suspended until the retroactive payments he’d already received were returned to the general fund. This does not rescind the raise, he can ask to have it reinstated next week if he chooses.

Council member Simonoff asked that his flex benefit be reduced to only $159 per month, well below the $1,050 authorized before the $450 per month raise, not only until the retroactive payments were reimbursed but in perpetuity. He did reserve the right to alter this request. This does not rescind the raise, he can ask to have it reinstated next week if he chooses.

Council member Garcia merely asked that his flex plan amount be adjusted back to the level allowed before the raise and that his stipend be withheld until the retroactive payments were reimbursed. This does not rescind the raise, he can ask to have it reinstated next week if he chooses.

Council member Murdock simply wrote, “Please set my flexible benefits compensation at $1,050 per month.” No mention of reimbursing the $4,500 in retroactive payments already received. This does not rescind the raise, he can ask to have it reinstated next week if he chooses.

That’s right, without asking anyone’s permission and by sending a simple email to the Finance Director, any or all of our council members could kickstart the raise.

So, where does that leave us?

Pretty much hosed comes to mind. Unless council takes formal action to rescind the raise, current and future council members are free to slip their hands back into the proverbial cookie jar whenever it suits them.

I believe that this issue about the raise, which I now know was no unwitting mistake by those who voted for it, is little more than a symptom of a much greater systemic problem that we’ve heard about during matters from the audience for several years now. The majority of the Lollipop Guild pretty much sings and dances to whatever tune de jour the Wizard plays.

The real issues?

How valid is that ten city survey anyway? What is a fair and reasonable level of compensation for those “public servants” taking on the part time responsibilities typical of any small town city council? What sort of fringe benefits should come with the job and should they be tied to the executive staff compensation plan? Should there be any retirement plan after leaving office?

It’s issues like these that cause this avoidance behavior, this continued unwillingness to hold a civil discussion in a public forum where Brea’s residents can speak their piece, without fear of being insulted, demeaned or dismissed as being one of the crazies.

And they should get ‘er done before the all the pomp and political foreplay of their reorganization in December.

If this, or any council, is unwilling or unable to take back the reins of government, then let them hit the yellow brick road.