Silence Isn’t Golden.

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(Thanks to Hugh MacLeod for his insightful doodle and thought for today.)

Assuming that Council does the right thing about Koreagate, that those who screwed up are held accountable and that the door is permanently closed to that sort of shenanigans, we have plenty on our plate that deserves close attention and it’s time for the folks that call Brea home to speak up.

The 560 Fund.

bigdump_aThe 560 Fund is Brea’s payback from Orange County for keeping the Olinda Alpha landfill open through December of 2021 and these monies were to mitigate the traffic, noise, road damage and provide other “community benefits.”

This purposefully nebulous phrase was slipped into the contract language to ensure there was virtually no limit on the number or type of boondoggles that could be foisted on an unsuspecting public.

DumptruckTotal income is expected to exceed $30 million dollars, and to date we’ve received $10.5 million and have less than $3 million left.  The 560 Fund has evolved into an obvious slush fund to avoid having to use the General Fund money to pay for the project du jour.

Again, the 560 Fund was never meant to be a slush fund but that is precisely what it’s becoming.  So… let’s play follow the money.

No return on our energy investment.

solarStaff tricked Council into making the first bond payments for the Solar Energy project, totaling over $1.7 million dollars, using the 560 Fund.  In case you forgot, that’s the green project staff sole sourced from Chevron Energy Solutions by duping Council into believing the project would pay for itself.

Though I don’t believe it’s been conducted yet, Chevron get’s to audit themselves, which our Finance Director characterizes as a cost saving effort.  Really?  Do you think for a minute they’ll admit to cutting down the cherry tree?

Judging a book by it’s cover.

libraryThere are those that would like to tap the 560 Fund to give a gift to the County of Orange by buying and remodeling the old Tower Records building, turning it into a new library.  Without question, this library idea is a project easily in the umpteen million dollar range.

The RDA already blew the chance to build a multilevel parking structure on Super Block 1.  Does anyone really think the city would take a property the scale of the Tower Records building off of the tax roles and then give it away?

Where do you plan to be in 2030?

engagementStaff wants to dig into the 560 Fund to pay nearly $300,000 dollars to some outside consultants to create public engagement opportunities under the guise of “Envision Brea 2030.”  The ruse is to get input from Breans, across all demographics, to help guide Council and staff as they plan their Brea of tomorrow.

Were you at the Community Center for the budget workshop to help set priorities for the Budget Strategic Planning (BSP) group?  Did you attend the public meeting to give input on reorganizing Brea’s Fire Department?  Did you participate in the group asked to suggest how to develop Rails to Trails and the community building on the Birch Street Golf Course? Were you able to let the city know what we might need for affordable and senior housing in the future?  Probably not, most people weren’t

Staff has made it quite clear that, unless you’re lucky enough to be one of Good Ol’ Brea’s pet special interest groups, you can keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself.

How about starting a savings account?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to set whatever is left of this 560 Fund aside, invest it, let it grow and have it available if and when we should get blindsided with some crisis?

We need to put a stop to their, “If we’ve got it, we’ve gotta spend it.” mentality.  What’s wrong with demanding that staff live within their means?  It’s what you teach your kids!

But wait… there’s more!

Under the single label of fiscal responsibility, we have an almost unending list of serious issues to keep an eye on.  In addition to Brea’s growing unfunded pension liability, now there’s rumored to be an OPEB (Other Postemployment Benefits – medical retirement) shortfall currently $17.3 million dollars and growing at nearly 30% each year. To make matters worse, Brea is totally unfunded for this liability.

We’re still trying to maintain a high functioning Fire Department with oversight by Fullerton and rebuild a Brea Only Police Department after getting dumped by Yorba Linda – neither situation having been properly reviewed by Council or a status report to the community provided.  What’s really working, and what isn’t?

You can also put CFD’s (Community Facilities Districts) on the watch list too.  Hamstrung by Prop 13’s capping property tax increases to no more than a limited inflation factor, CFD’s are a way to dodge Prop 13 and generate uncapped revenue.

When is a CFD not like Mello-Roos?

housingWhen it double taxes citizens, making them pay twice for the same infrastructure (police, fire, paramedics, etc.), all without a sunset clause when the costs have been recouped.

Even though they publicly admitted having reservations about double taxation and equity issues, Council members Moore and Marick joined with Garcia and Murdock last night (05/21) to approve CFD’s for Central Park Brea and Taylor Morrison developments – without having the broad discussion promised by staff, as Council member Simonoff reminded everyone, or conducting the public hearing (slated for 06/04).

At the public hearing, only the developers, as “property owners” will add their vote of approval, largely because they’ve had their feet held to the fire and just want to get on with things.  Who speaks for the almost 600 ultimate property owners that, through their CFD fees, will be stuck paying the bill… not until everything is paid off, but forever?  Where is their vote in this matter?

Isn’t it generally understood that the creation of new taxes requires a vote of the people?Don’t use the excuse that this is a fee when it’s obviously a tax.

How much longer can we afford a silent majority?

citizenTime’s up I’m afraid.  If you think you can continue to sit idly by, keeping your opinions to yourself, and everything will work out fine in the end… you’re wrong.  We can’t avoid confrontation any longer.  It’s never been more important than right now for everyone to step up and be heard.

Remember, if you’re not part of the solution…

 

Put The Cookies Back!

Local media fans the flames.

Thursday’s Star Progress had an article by OCR writer Doug Morino with the headline, “Last year’s city trip to Asia still a hot topic.” — yeah, and it’s about to get even hotter.

The article begins, “Brea leaders are once again catching fire for their traveling ways.  First, the heat came from a few residents (cough, cough…).  Now, it’s coming from one of their own.  Councilman Marty Simonoff said he wants to take a deeper look at how the city’s travel budget is allocated and how public funds were spent during a trip last year by city officials to Korea and Japan.”

Better late than never.

cookie-jarBless you Marty for finally jumping in, but I’m afraid I have to take a different view of this…  it’s not time to focus on the minutia.  Getting mired down in the trivialities of the trip will not address the real issue.

The bottom line is that Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell appear to have gotten caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

It’s time to stop all of the muddling around spreading half truths, in an attempt to cloud the real issue, too much time has been wasted already trying to make this junket appear to be something it wasn’t… official anything.

cookie-2It doesn’t matter if the cookies were chocolate chip, oatmeal or peanut butter.  They weren’t for the taking.  It’s time to man up.

You can’t just help yourself to what isn’t yours without expecting to pay the consequences when you’re caught.  Extremely poor choices were made, they come with a price.

In this case there may very well be a law against stupid.

 Is travel the issue?

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Not completely, no.  There are historically legitimate reasons that require Council and staff to travel.  At least that’s what we’re being told.  A discussion about which organizations make sense for Brea to join and which don’t should also go on the agenda.  Could be some real savings lurking here.

I’m talking about National League of Cities, League of California Cities, the Energy Coalition and the like.  I’m still trying to figure out how Breans have directly benefitted from the city’s involvement in these and other dubious organizations, but that’s not the issue at the moment.

Who’s business was it… really?

cookie-1This whole debacle began when the Mayor inappropriately intruded into the business of a private organization over which the city has never had any authority beyond a minor ceremonial role.  How the BSCA and BKSCA choose to settle their differences is their business.

When Mr. Park, Anseong Mayor Hwang’s emissary, came calling, Don Schweitzer should have politely directed him to share his concerns with these organizations.  Instead Schweitzer butted in like we were on the brink of some international crisis.

The pool boy wades in.

liar-liarIt’s even more ludicrous that, according to the article, “Murdock fired back at Simonoff, calling his inquiry into the Asia trip a type of politically-motivated vendetta aimed at shifting attention from other civic issues.”

Hogwash.

I don’t believe that any more than I believe Brett Murdock is, as he has so loudly suggested, the leading knight on a white horse trying to solve Brea’s unfunded pension liability.  What a ridiculous claim to make.

It’s on the agenda now.

I’m glad to see that the Mayor reversed his denial and is now allowing the discussion to occur.  Sadly, it’s slated for the study session on June 4th which means it’s at a time and place where the public isn’t likely to be free to attend and unfortunately will not get to hear a full report on the conversation.

Have the courage to take it downstairs!

With the whole matter blowing up as it has in the media weeks in advance, and with the unsubstantiated personal attacks being leveled to further keep the truth from seeing the full light of day, I’m curious to see what sort of preemptive strikes might be made when Council meets next week (05/21).

This would almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad and embarrassing.

 

What dead horse?

manley_300Last Tuesday, at Matters from the Audience, it was suggested by local entrepreneur Dwight Manley that continued efforts to retrieve the $10,000 spent by Don Schweitzer, Brett Murdock and Tim O’Donnell on their sightseeing trip to Anseong, S. Korea and Hanno, Japan was flogging a dead horse.

He referred to the expense as “a few thousand dollars” and it’s not surprising he viewed it with such little concern.  I haven’t a clue what Mr. Manley’s net worth might be, and frankly I don’t care.  I do think it’s safe to assume it might exceed the net worth of everyone in that room Tuesday night, which would explain why so many of us think $10,000 is a lot of money to spend so frivolously and he doesn’t.

Let me boil it down for you.

  • Since it’s inception in 1969, the Brea Sister City Association (BSCA) has been a private effort, citizen volunteers creating opportunities for cultural exchange.  No treaties, pacts, covenants or contracts have been established between cities.  Sister city relationships are, and have always been ceremonial.
  • An unfortunately ugly episode of infighting, triggered by differing agendas between the Board of Directors and the Korean contingent, led to the fracturing of the BSCA, the establishment of a separate 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the Brea Korea Sister City Association (BKSCA).
  • Don Schweitzer’s knee-jerk reaction to the conflict, racial epithets and all, led to his  sticking his nose in where it didn’t belong and his sending an unauthorized communication to Mayor Hwang of Anseong.  Schweitzer’s lapse in good judgement gave rise to the unsanctioned excursion to South Korea and Japan by himself, Murdock and O’Donnell.
  • No supporting documentation exists establishing official status of the trip or any justification for the Mayor Pro Tem or City Manager to tag along.
  • rgarcia_stacheCouncilman Simonoff, on his recent (self financed) visit to Korea, came across information that created a serious doubt in his mind as to the official nature of their trip, that it was as much a sightseeing trip at taxpayer expense.
  • I’m told that Councilman Simonoff’s request to have Council discuss this during an upcoming study session, at least at the time of this writing, has been quashed by Mayor Garcia, the same guy who promised he would fully support public discussion of all issues.
  • In addition to the $10,000 of expenses there is the issue of how O’Donnell charged off his time, three days as “regular paid work days” and four days as “paid administrative leave.” Based on O’Donnell’s salary, this computes to nearly another $10,000… if we pay him his accrued but unused “vacation” days, you can double that again.  That’s almost $30,000 Mr. Manley. Does that grab your attention?
  • There is no previous case that realistically sets a precedent for the city to pick up the tab on a junket like this.
  • We ought not be debating one expense over another.  There is no justification for any expense.  All three happy travelers need to pony up and pay us back.
  • There are those who might argue that the Mayor enjoys some discretion here, that he ought to be able to visit a sister city if he chooses.  Sorry, given the facts I have to disagree.  Leave the “perks” to the private sector and start doing the job for which you were elected.

Is this flogging a dead horse?

No. Far from it. It is, once again, the people holding elected officials accountable for their behavior, to a high standard of ethics and demanding the public treasury be reimbursed for the obvious misuse of taxpayer’s hard earned money.

Let me close with this.

I must recognize and support Mr. Manley’s plea for greater accountability in resolving Brea’s massive and unmitigated unfunded pension liability.  Left unchecked, it wouldn’t take much of a fiscal hiccup to send us spiraling into bankruptcy.  On this we agree.

Update: 05/15/13

Last night the Brea City Council, thanks in large part to the persistence of Councilman Simonoff, has agreed to put the Anseong/Hanno trip on their June 4th study session agenda for review.