The jury is still out – Part Two

Let’s pick up from where we left off.

In his January 25th Brea Net newsletter, recapping part of the City Council meeting of June 7, council member Roy Moore wrote, “… council members Schweitzer, Garcia and Murdock knew, presumably informed by the city manager, that they were included in the executive classification, and knowingly voted themselves this raise making no reference to it during the discussion. Neither council member Simonoff nor I was aware of these facts.”

Wow, where do I begin?

I’m not a lawyer, I haven’t played one on TV and I didn’t spend the night in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

So before I launched into any wild speculations, I sent a copy of council member Moore’s newsletter to the Special Prosecutions Unit with the Orange County District Attorney.

I will say that they have been as helpful as possible considering it may be some time before any sort of formal investigation could occur.

In my mind, the fact that council member Moore felt it necessary to document the series of events surrounding the bequeathment of increased flex benefits, kicks this matter up a notch from rumor to allegation.

The biggest question remains, is what Council and/or the City Manager did regarding the flex benefits fiasco illegal or not?

How did this all get started?

Back in late 1990, Council (Blamer, Isles, Leyton, Wedin and Nelson) decided that, in addition to their modest monthly stipend, they deserved to also receive medical, dental and life insurance benefits as well.

They established a Flexible Plan (hence the lingering term flex benefits), the details of which are specified in Resolution No. 90-131.

Participation was “voluntary” but, to my knowledge, no council member then or since has not taken advantage of the benefit.

In effect, they made themselves “members” of the Public Employees’ Retirement System which required that they receive medical insurance as mandated by the Meyers-Geddes Medical and Hospital Care Act. In 1990 this amounted to another $430 a month each.

The resolution also specified that their benefits, now tied to the employees, would always be equal thereby ensuring periodic increases. And this is where it started to get real sticky. From this point forward it became almost impossible to get anyone to admit exactly what Council received as a total compensation package.

But wait, there’s more!

In early 2001 they passed another resolution (No. 01-11) superseding the decade old resolution. This new resolution detached them from the workforce employees and attached them to the Executive Managers, with the provision for matching increases still a part of the plan. Oh, and they bumped their flex benefit up to $729 a month.

Four council members voted in favor of this (Harvey, Perry, Simonoff and Moore) one council member voted against (Vargas).

[Ed. Note 02/18 – as Mr. Fullington pointed out in his comment, somewhere between 2001 and 2011 Council slipped themselves another $321 a month. Likely buried in a multi-topic Consent Item, and perhaps equally devoid of accurate accounting of fiscal impact, it may prove hard to find.]

This brings us to the June 7, 2011 meeting, the allegations made by council member Moore above and the comedy of errors that followed as Council tried desperately to do damage control.

First, council members individually requested that their raise in flex benefits be reduced from $1,600 per month back to the $1,050 they received before they “accidentally” gave themselves a raise.

Turned out this wasn’t the most brilliant approach since any one of them could reinstate the raise anytime they chose.

After discovering that the Mayor couldn’t unilaterally place an item on the agenda for discussion (he needed “approval” of at least two other members) and a lot of heated bantering back and forth, then Mayor Moore finally got it on the agenda for their December 20th meeting.

Roy pulls a rabbit out of a hat!

Mayor Moore had to call a special meeting for December 19, which he as Mayor could do funny enough. A strategically smart move on Roy’s part, as Schweitzer and O’Donnell were forced to capitulate and put the item in the Study Session agenda for the 20th.

With almost no discussion, after months of angry stonewalling, Council unanimously passed Resolution No. 2011-101, officially returning their flex benefit to $1,050 and detaching their flex benefits from the Executive Managers.

That’s not all!  Guess what happened to their $3,600 retroactive benefit?

Moore, Simonoff, Schweitzer and Garcia have all arranged to repay/return the retroactive monies they’d received. Murdock, for reasons I’m sure only he knows, has decided to keep the money.

[Ed. Note 02/18 – After this blog broke, I received a call suggesting that Murdock may have finally succumbed to public pressure and made arrangements to pay the the city back at $100 bucks a month for 36 months. I hope that’s true. What perfect timing, to retire the debt synchronous with the end of the only term he’ll have on Council.]

So, what have we learned and where do we go from here?

Frankly, we’re stuck with a lot more questions than answers. We still don’t know what was legal and what wasn’t, what was ethical and what wasn’t.

Red DiceWas failure to properly and completely disclose all fiscal impact an inadvertent error of omission in the staff report? When the error was discovered, who discovered it and why were (allegedly) only three of the five council members informed?

Was Council’s response to the matter truly in the interest of the people they serve and did it demonstrate their desire to run an open, above board and efficient city government?

Since their flex benefit is no longer tied to employees or executive staff, should it be folded into the periodic review of their stipend and be subject to the limitations in place? Of course this would eliminate the perpetual, “We make less than minimum wage.” response when asked, “How much does a city council member get paid anyway?”

I’m still waiting for the Council review and discussion of the “Goldenrod” document and Code of Ethics that has them so hamstrung they can hardly conduct business without the city manager’s blessing. Please guys, have the discussion downstairs and let the people participate.

(Note: All resolutions discussed are available for review on the city’s website. If you need help navigating the records, call the City Clerk’s Office at (714) 990-7756)

Brea kicks seniors to the curb.

It was announced yesterday that the loss of an AQMD (Air Quality Management District) grant has resulted in the suspension of on-demand transportation services predominantly used by Brea’s seniors.

The program, paid mostly by the grant and seniors kicking in a buck a ride, cost $41,000 a year… oddly a number not too far off from the recent staff salary increases and the whopping increase and bonus given to City Manager Tim O’Donnell.

No wonder residents were up in arms over Staff getting such unmerited gifts from public coffers.

Best Use Of Public Monies?

The AQMD grant was “meant to help take cars off the road with people using public transportation to run personal errands in their city and also to nearby hospitals.” (Orange County Register – 02/01/12)

The program was principally used by seniors because they were no longer driving and needed to get to doctor’s appointments and outpatient treatments at local hospitals. Let’s see, grant monies designed to fund programs that get cars off the streets being predominantly used by people who no longer own cars.

How is this even remotely consistent with the purpose of the grant? Why is anyone surprised Brea no longer gets the grant?

The big losers in all this are our seniors, who are now stuck with some sort of taxi voucher program. No details on how this will work are available at the moment and city hall is on Furlough Friday, so no one is around to answer any questions.

Closing thoughts.

I was going to suggest that it might not be a bad idea to create a Common Sense Commission to help guide Council and Staff through tricky issues like this, but then I remembered who would be nominating and appointing it’s members.

That wasn’t a cheap shot at current Commissioners and Committee Members, many of whom are well qualified and are doing their best to fill in the intelligence gap in city government. I’m just reminded of the Phil Anton nonsense and how little Council and Staff really like dealing with the truth.