Uncovering The Simple Truth.

It should have been a simple records request. It could have been a simple records request. It turned out to be anything but.

Here’s the backstory.

green_mugAbout a year ago, not long after he created the “Green Brea 2012” website, ex-Mayor Schweitzer launched his “One Ton Challenge” to encourage Breans to reduce their annual carbon footprint by a metric ton. Seeing a pattern developing, I decided to give it a year, then check back to see how much was accomplished.

As you would expect, the website and Mayor were retired at the same time. The website, which offered nothing of value when launched, was never changed, not one pixel, then Schweitzer pulled the plug a few weeks ago. Time will tell if Schweitzer’s legacy is one of equally unproductive wing flapping.

Getting answers ought to be easy.

On January 14 I filed a simple CPRA (California Public Records Act) request seeking documentation of the number of participants and reduction(s) in carbon footprints achieved in the Mayor’s One Ton Challenge.

Sounds pretty basic, right?

On January 24, the absolute last day the City Clerk could respond without violating CPRA guidelines, I was told, “… due to unusual circumstances, an extension of the statutory 10-day determination period is reasonably necessary for the proper processing of your request.  Specifically, there is a need to search for, collect and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of records pertaining to your request.

pubrec_200Are you kidding? Unusual circumstances? What circumstances? Voluminous amount of records? It turns out that was a baldfaced lie, there were no voluminous records. I don’t believe they found anything because they didn’t look very hard, if at all.

I might speculate that, having come up with zip, they figured it could take at least another ten days to fabricate something.

I reminded Ms. Balz that participants registered through the city’s website and were to report their results in order to receive the Mayor’s recognition. I also reminded her that Cindie Ryan’s Marketing Department, responsible for the website, should easily be able to provide the data requested.

After all, if the esteemed ex-Mayor and others can brag again and again about what great successes they’re having, wouldn’t it stand to reason that someone prepared a report detailing the program’s accomplishments? Apparently not.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…

duck1It could be a cheap imitation of a duck!

The City Clerk’s next response, received in less than 24 hours (not 10 days later after culling through mythical voluminous records) included five documents, obviously from Cindie Ryan in the Marketing Department, all from the early concept development and promotion of the program… none of which included a single thing fulfilling my request.

It’s like Ms. Balz asked Ms. Ryan if she had anything and Ms. Ryan sent the only stuff she saved, assuming it had to answered my inquiry. I can imagine what happened next.

Without looking at the documents (a quick glance was all that was required to verify they were worthless), Ms. Balz attached them to an email, clicked send and thought, “Maybe now he’ll shut up and get off my back,”

No such luck. I wrote back, encouraging Ms. Balz to press on to find documents that actually satisfied my inquiry. At the end of the day she responded, sending me copies of the only three application forms received… yeah, you read that right… only three. I’ll get back to the One Ton Challenge in a minute.

This is why we needed Measure U!

Measure U, amongst other things, was designed to reinforce citizen’s rights ensuring that speedy access to public records is not thwarted by public officials or employees.

The more city hall plays their semantical games claiming requests are either too broad or too narrow in scope resulting in the production of thousands of records… or none; the more city hall routinely gives itself extensions because they were on holiday or because they encountered voluminous records that actually didn’t exist; the more city hall stacks the deck against inquiring citizens, likely violating CPRA guidelines in the process, and discourages citizens from exercising their rights… the more we need to support citizen initiatives like Measure U.

We passed Measure T, now it seems that the City Attorney is about to start lobbying for amendments and maybe even legal challenge to see how much of the citizen’s desires can be rendered impotent. You’ll not want to miss the next Council meeting for that dog and pony show.

Back to the One Ton Challenge.

Three, remember? Only three signups. Brace yourself, this would be funny a la SNL Weekend Update if it wasn’t so incredibly sad.

  • The three lone “applications” included two City of Brea employees and the wife of a City of Brea employee. Yes, they all live in Brea. No, there isn’t what anyone would consider a legitimate “private” citizen amongst them. They represent roughly 0.000075% of the population.
  • Collectively, per the documents they provided, only one of the three reached the 1 ton goal, the other two fell short. In fact, extended to the full year savings, three people collectively only saved as much as the goal for two people.
  • coolplanetEven though the Challenge only reached a tiny fraction of the population and they missed the mark by 33%, the “Climate Registry” saw fit to honor Brea with their Cool Planet Award citing the One ton Challenge as one of the contributing factors. I wonder what they were told about the program’s success?
  • The Mayor’s challenge was designed without the ability to audit progress or quantify the results, which suggests to me that no one planned on following up, reporting results accurately or that they even felt the program had any chance of succeeding.

solar_money_300Add this together with the bogus green theme and website, the questionable productivity of the new power generating turbines up at the Alpha Olinda landfill and the sketchy unverified data coming from the massively expensive Solar Project put in on a sole bid contract by Chevron Energy… and what do you get?

Greenwashing!

Greenwashing is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s aims and policies are environmentally friendly. Whether to increase profits or gain political support, greenwashing is used to manipulate popular opinion to support otherwise questionable aims.

smokestacks_225The term is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices. Example, every one of the solar panels installed all over the city produced a larger carbon footprint being created than it is saving through operation.

Put down the Kool-aid!

koolaid-man_150A growing number of you (Brea Matters readership is up almost 300% since the election, thank you very much) are getting sick and tired of the nonsense and dysfunction that runs through almost everything said or done down at city hall. Yours calls and emails remind me daily that you’re not buying the old party line any more.

Good! Now if we can just, somehow, muddle through the next two years, maybe we can put on Council people with real vision, proven experience, no personal agenda or high-falootin’ political aspirations.

It might mean you have to turn off the tv, skip Taco Tuesday once or twice a month and screw up the courage to come down to city hall and speak your piece. C’mon… this is your town for cryin’ out loud… is that really too much to ask?

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Postscript.

If you’re picking up on the possibility that I might be a bit angry about all of this, you’re right. What part of doing their job don’t they understand?

If you think I’m stretching the truth anywhere in this, please feel free to contact your favorite City Council member. They were openly copied every step of the way. Even if they retreat into that ultra-safe politically correct cityspeak, they will still be able to verify that my account of the events is honest and accurate in every word.

This willful arrogant disrespect for the people of Brea and the continued efforts to block progress in the move towards more engaged, more transparent, more ethical, more fiscally responsible government is without explanation or excuse.

The longer Brea voters allow this deviant behavior to continue, the more presumptive and deeply entrenched the subculture becomes. If this is the legacy of neglect we’re passing along to the next generation, God help them. The consequences will be blamed on no one but us… the folks who decided it was okay to let the idiots to run the asylum.

PS: I have a lot more, I mean a lot more, city staffer’s reading this blog than signed up for the Mayor’s One Ton Challenge. It cracks me up every time I think about it.

It’s All Up Hill From Here.

On December 18, 2012, the Brea City Council reorganized in what has been described to me as everything from damned embarrassing to downright illegal. My post “A Dark Day In Brea History” and my reorganization wrap-ups “An Elephant In The Room – Part 1” and “An Elephant In The Room – Part 2” summarize the events and the issues facing Brea’s still dysfunctional Council.

I’m not alone here, others agree.

A sufficient number of Breans who witnessed the reorganization, as it unfolded live, or via replay from either Brea’s website or Time-Warner public access, felt strongly that the sequence of comments and events that put Ron Garcia in the Mayor’s seat and named Brett Murdock Mayor Pro Tem, clearly point towards collusion amongst some of the key players prior to the meeting.

I gave things a month for the dust to settle, hoping one of the “Old Guard” who stormed out of council chambers that night or some other angry citizen would take the facts to the Orange County District Attorney’s office seeking an investigation into possible Brown Act violations. Seeing none, I was left with little choice but to do it myself.

Here is an abbreviated version of what I submitted for consideration:

  • Mayor Pro Tem Murdock used “formal motion” as opposed to “informal nomination” procedure to name Ron Garcia for Mayor. A clear attempt to block other nominations.
  • Use of “informal nomination” procedure has been standard, for Council Commissions and Committees in Brea for decades. The process does not require a second and allows for multiple nominees.
  • By turning from traditional nominating to the process of making a motion, Murdock and Garcia appear to have essentially used Robert’s Rules of Order to strangle the Council and intentionally limit their options.
  • Roy Moore, upon attempting to nominate Marty Simonoff, was instructed by City Attorney James Markman that he was out of order. This was incorrect.
  • To be accurate (and unbiased?), City Attorney James Markman should have instructed Roy Moore that he merely needed to make a substitute motion to add his nominee.
  • In Roy Moore’s BreaNet #639, he confirmed the City Attorney’s error. Both Moore and Simonoff acknowledge chastising Markman following the meeting, Markman admitted his error.
  • Ron Garcia used the same tactic to nominate Brett Murdock as Mayor Pro Tem for a second consecutive term, stating, “I would like to re-nominate… ummm… make a motion that Brett serve as Mayor Pro Tem which would give Brett Mayor… to serve as the Mayor in his 4 year term.”
  • Ron Garcia’s motion seemed to preemptively also make Brett Murdock Mayor in 2014, the year he runs for reelection. This can’t be legal.
  • Prior to the council meeting, council member Simonoff was approached by City Manager Tim O’Donnell who inquired whether he would be open to a quid pro quo making Marty Mayor and Brett Mayor Pro Tem. Marty informed Mr. O’Donnell that he “didn’t do quid pro quo” and terminated the conversation.
  • The sequence of events and dialog, as described, suggest that there may have been collusion between Ron Garcia, Brett Murdock, James Markman, Tim O’Donnell and possibly Christine Marick.

rackauckas_aWill the OCDA respond or blow me off?

Several have told me that getting a conviction on a Brown Act violation is virtually impossible, that even getting an investigation launched is extremely difficult. If I let this sort of pessimism rule my thinking, I’d give up before I even got started. Fat chance.

I hope that Mr. Rackauckas disproves this notion and assigns a Deputy DA to seriously investigate this matter.

I believe there is an endemic culture of secrecy and collusion in Brea city hall, and an arrogant disregard for the provisions of the Brown Act.

If I’m right, this ought not be allowed to continue one more minute and those who participated should be recalled or terminated.

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An Elephant In The Room – Part 2

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Response to part one was almost entirely positive, supportive.  The only real question that remained was, “How will a city council as broken as ours ever successfully address the mounting fiscal concerns facing us today?”

Great question.

I’ve always subscribed to the old adage that, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Conversely, if it’s broke, fix it.  Last November, voters had the opportunity to “fix it” but they didn’t.

Looking back, it seems we might have made better choices selecting who we put in the council seats and passing Measure U along with Measure T would have greatly enhanced our leverage today.

Water under the bridge. Where do we go from here?

Here’s a summary of the non-fiscal issues respondents sent to me.

  • File a complaint with the OC District Attorney regarding the possible collusion that occurred prior to and during the recent council reorganization, behavior that clearly appeared to be a Brown Act violation.
  • Review and revise the Code of Conduct (Goldenrod) which dictates how council and staff perform their duties and interact with each other. Return control to the council where it belongs.
  • Implement all aspects of Measure T without attempting to subvert the obvious will of the people and without threatening litigation.
  • Turn away from the old “check the box” mentality that was satisfied with meaningless public engagements. Begin to provide regular and convenient opportunities for the public to express their opinions and make every effort to address them in the decision making process.
  • Demand more accountability from staff, including greater detail and clarity in reports and recommendations and the elimination of bias and misdirection.
  • Demand a complete and thorough follow-up report on the reorganization of the Brea Fire Department, including it’s cooping of command staff with Fullerton and an accurate accounting of any savings generated. Has the plan fulfilled any of numerous  promises made?
  • Demand a full investigation of how Brea lost the law enforcement contract with Yorba Linda, especially the overcharging publicly acknowledged to the Yorba Linda City Council by Tim O’Donnell, including a comprehensive and intelligible explanation of how Brea will implement and afford a “Brea Only” police agency.
  • Demand a review of contracted costs and obligations to Richards, Watson & Gershon, including a return to the public posting of their rates, with the results determining whether their contract should be renewed or that RFPs be solicited from other law firms providing city attorney services.

It seems the people have spoken.

The overriding impression one gets reading these issues is that the people will no longer stand being pushed around or dismissed. There has been an awakening, at least in some circles, and the status quo has been put on notice.

garcia_sturgis_150We have a Mayor who could not articulate why he is best suited amongst his peers to hold the position, or even how he wrangled the opportunity away from the more senior council member truly deserving the position. (See BreaNet #639)

brett_150We have a Mayor Pro Tem who is no more capable of handling the job now than he was when first named MPT a year ago.  Seriously, who doesn’t see the blatant political maneuvering designed to position him as Mayor when running for reelection in 2014?

Watch the video again.

Mayor Garcia, in “nominating” Murdock, references this to such an extent that he may have been guilty of making a double motion.  Did Markman put the screws to Roy Moore and then fall asleep on this one?

ron_garcia_brea.jpgSpecifically, Garcia blurted out, “… make a motion that Brett serve as Mayor Pro Tem which would give Brett Mayor, to serve as the Mayor, in his 4 year term.”  Yeah, as usual, Garcia’s grammar and logic are all screwed up, however he appears to have nominated Murdock for Mayor Pro Tem for 2013 and as Mayor for 2014.

Just guessing, but this “metedura de pata enorme” may come back to haunt the new Alcalde.

We have a perpetuation of a three vote majority prepared to ride roughshod over their constituents as they dutifully carry out the whims and desires of the City Manager.  This is neither a myth nor conspiracy theory.  Pay attention.  Attend or watch the meetings.  Try to have a meaningful dialog with a council member.  Test the open door policy.

“The general population doesn’t know whats happening, and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.” ~ Noam Chomsky.

It is said that communities get the governance they deserve.  Brea deserves better.  Much Better.  Please try and remember that the next time you have your ballot in front of you and a pen in your hand, about to make history.

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