Treasurer Selection Not An Easy Choice.

Study SessionEveryone, Council, staff and followers of local government, were surprised when eleven Breans applied for the City Treasurer position vacated when Glenn Parker was reelected to Council. Most had expected no more than three or four candidates to emerge.

In a meeting that began on Friday, January 23 and was continued to Tuesday, January 27, Council managed the arduous task of interviewing all applicants and then pressed on to reach a consensus selecting a new City Treasurer. For those interested, the meeting’s agenda and all applications are available on the city’s website.

Applicants, in order of interview were Don Parker, Michael Becher, Marlan Merhab, Roy Moore, Jim Grosse, Gary Terrazas, Joseph Galligan, Bill Christensen, Phil Anton, Gill Realon and Kenneth Palmer. An interesting note, as the interview conflicted with a long planned holiday, Council agreed to allow Bill Christensen to teleconference his interview from Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Thinning out the list.

If you’ve looked over the City Treasurer applications, you’ll have some idea of just how tough job Council faced. Every applicant was well qualified with decades of executive level experience. Council’s first step was to agree upon a tight set of criteria, opting for someone with a strength in managing major investment portfolios over CPAs with mostly P&L and budget management background. As Brea has an average of $50 million at stake in the investment pool at any one time, I have to agree.

This focus made it possible to move five names out of contention. Mayor Simonoff then asked for each Council member to list their top three choices. All but Glenn Parker were able to do so. Glenn seemed to be advocating for a single candidate but later acquiesced and added one more name. Pressing on, the lists merged to provide a basic ranking and animated discussion followed.

I must say that, as I observed this process for a little over seven hours, I was elated to see Council engaged in a friendly, respectful, open and productive way. I hadn’t seen that sort of behavior with previous Councils going back through several regimes.

There were a couple of delicate moments when signs of personal favoritism and possible political ties slipped into the dialog but Mayor Simonoff and the other Council members skillfully defused the situations and productive discussion moved on.

The finalists emerged.

After an hour or so, Gill Realon, Bill Christensen and Phil Anton made the short list. Discussion continued comparing the merits of each to the objectives set at the beginning of the meeting. TreasurerUltimately, after another half hour, Mayor Pro Tem Marick moved to approve Bill Christensen as the Treasurer and the motion was quickly seconded by Council member Vargas.

A voice vote was taken and Council voted unanimously to appoint Bill Christensen. Mayor Simonoff’s suggestion that the City Clerk contact the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia to inform Bill Christensen of Council’s decision was met with a chuckle and the meeting was adjourned.

A closing thought.

One of the applicant’s suggested, given the depth of the applicant’s talent pool and their willingness to serve, that Council put more of them to work by creating a citizen’s advisory or oversight committee to help keep an eye on city finances.

Great idea! First assignments should be evaluating whether restructuring of Brea’s Fire Department, twice, has produced the savings promised by the City Manager… conducting an audit of the solar energy program to establish whether or not it is paying for itself as promised and finally, developing the framework for a “Get Out Of Debt” plan that would eradicate Brea’s unfunded pension and medical liabilities.

Other views in the news?

Doubtful, the only non-city person in the room besides myself was the pool boy’s pet wannabe blogger, Greg Diamond. Greg DiamondNo one from any reputable newspaper felt it worth covering I guess.

Arriving late, well over two hours after the meeting began, Diamond berated the City Clerk for allowing Council to move expeditiously through the interviews (as if that were her job) and then set up his tripod and camera which he fiddled with periodically throughout what was left of the evening.

While I suppose he captured most of the final three or four interviews and perhaps a bit of the Council discussion that followed, his constant preoccupation with his phone and incessant texting took his attention off of the meeting. He spent 90% of his time focused upon posting his signature lengthy rants to whatever blog he was bombarding.

Anyone who has watched a Council meeting on TV and attended the meeting live will tell you there is no comparison. You take in so much more by being in the room and paying attention than what you could possibly get watching disjointed video clips captured on a static camera or two.

Greg DiamondWatching video clips instead of actually paying attention so severely hampers Diamond’s take on the meeting I question how faithful to the truth his reporting could possibly be.

I’m sure his longwinded poison pen version will be laced with invectives, condemnation and unfounded criticisms that are nothing more than malicious attacks… instead of providing credible journalism or making any honorable effort to inform citizens or positively impact public policy.

He seems to be working out his own self esteem issues at the expense of others. This would explain why he and the pool boy are such tight buddies, they share so much in common… starting with delusions of grandeur and acute narcissism.

This Diamond Is No Jewel.

g_diamondEarlier this week a new blog was launched targeting Breans. A widely distributed email announcement from it’s author, Greg Diamond, appears to have used the Murdock reelection committee’s contacts list.

mary_barcelonaAs Diamond’s daughter, Mary Joana Barcelona, is on record as Brett Murdock’s reelection committee’s treasurer, that doesn’t seem to be a stretch.

Though the blog has only three posts thus far, a quasi-mission statement, a royal flogging of Brea Matters and an analysis of the 2014 campaign/election and our new Council… his writing credits go back several years. All one needs to do is Google ‘Greg Diamond Orange County’ to find many examples of his checkered past.

My favorite response from a fellow Brean.

Last night, posted on Nextdoor website’s Brea & State College neighborhood are these remarks from Jennifer Hefner, long time Brea resident.

There are times I feel compelled to speak out against something so obviously wrong, this is one of them. Having read the latest installment of the new blog “The Brean”, I can only say “what a bunch of hogwash.” Greg Diamond’s blog is a blatant, retaliatory attack from a friend and business associate of former Mayor Brett Murdock.

This blogger tries to disguise himself as a new and enlightened community watchdog and attacks the longtime blogger of “Brea Matters” because he had the nerve to suggest we step back a minute and see what the new council has to offer before judging them.

Greg Diamond must think that the average Brean doesn’t have half a brain and won’t ascertain that Greg Diamond is closely connected to Brett Murdock. Greg Diamond would like to re-write history and have Breans believe that outside PACs and a wealthy local developer of downtown Brea are the reasons for Brett Murdock’s defeat.

Despite how anyone may feel about our fellow Brean, Dwight Manley, he has just as much right to make his feelings about a candidate known as any of us. And, I find it especially insulting that Mr. Diamond gives no credit to voter’s opinions since I was a part of the grassroots Brean effort to remove this incompetent city council member.

It wasn’t the mailers or signs that made me vote Murdock out of office, it was Brett Murdock’s disregard for the concerns brought to him by myself and my fellow citizens.

Lastly, with regard to Mr. Diamond’s attack on Marty Simonoff, I can say I’m hopeful for change, since he was the only member of the preceding council to show any concern for our fracking issues.

Jennifer, that’s music to my ears!

Not because Jennifer offers her support to me or Dwight or Marty, but because she represents what I’ve hoped to see emerge as local government does more than give lip service to transparency and public engagement. Given the right environment, I believe there are many Breans who will openly take a stand on Brea issues.

So Mr. Diamond, I suggest you explore other hobbies.

Postscript, May 15, 2016:

Diamond_4AThough Mr. Diamond abandoned his blog in June 2015, I still see folks visiting Brea Matters from links he embedded into The Brean.

What an odd and ironic legacy.

Follow The Money!

Brea Matters has been purposefully silent since the new Council was seated. Operation Clean Sweep left many exhausted and in need of a little peace and quiet for a change. Now that Council is settling in… I’ve turned my attention to money matters, our largest and most threatening issues.

debt_400Unfunded Pension Liabilities was a widely used campaign buzzword. Though some attempts have been made to rein in it’s almost exponential rate of growth, Brea remains strangled by debt.

I made a list of financial topics to investigate and my initial inquires uncovered a maze of interrelated issues.

Revenue Over Expense, a smoking gun?

Forever I guess, Brea’s P&L (Profit and Loss) statement has concluded with Revenue Over Expense… which has been treated like free money. Honestly, I’d never noticed it before. I am familiar with the myth of free money however.

Every year, Council and staff announce, with much back patting and fanfare, that a balanced budget has been reached. However, try as I might, I can’t remember ever hearing mention of these leftovers.

Typically, I’m told, this money has been put into FARP (Fixed Asset RePlacement Fund). How much has gone into the fund, how FARP spent the money and how big this Revenue Over Expenses might be is still a mystery. I’ll keep digging, we deserve to better understand how our money is being managed.

Do not pass GO, do not collect $200 dollars.

MrMonoplyAt an upcoming Council meeting (I’ll give you a heads-up) staff will, for the first time, suggest splitting the reallocation of Revenue Over Expenses. The plan, I’m told, would reduce the FARP allocation to 90% and 10% would go to Fund 150.

Also known as the OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) Fund, OPEB pays for retired employee medical coverage (previously unfunded) plus current employee premiums. The unfunded debt is $16 million. This is the mystery component not generally mentioned in discussions on Unfunded Pension Liability which is now an additional $70 million. Don’t look for a calculator, that’s $86 million and growing.

Roy Moore, in his independent analysis and public presentation on our Unfunded Pension problem a couple of years ago, did include OPEB in his audit and projections. Sadly, neither Council or staff at the time allowed Roy’s efforts to gain any traction.

Bank error in your favor, collect $200 dollars.

wormsWell, if we can fold OPEB into the mix, what about Unfunded Pension Debt? What about repaying the 560 Fund the $1.4 million borrowed to make solar payments? Could we tap Revenue Over Expense for a little money to put drought tolerant landscaping at the Civic Center?

Opening this can of worms opens a lot of questions. I’m confident Council, especially if they seek answers publicly, where we can wade in with our comments and suggestions, will make the sort of policy changes needed.

Doubling up payments to CalPERS makes perfect sense, why hasn’t this been done already? The 560 Fund should never have been tapped to pay for a solar project that was sold, in part, on the basis that it would pay for itself. Why has there never been an audit of this project, framed in terms that all could easily understand?

Defining, once and for all, the proper use of the 560 Fund, conducting audits of O’Donnell’s Fire Department reorganizations and accurately calculating the ROI on the solar energy project have been systematically kept off calendar and away from public input. Why? What are they trying to hide?

Drought garden planted the seeds of public distrust.

FB_palmtree_300The original drought garden, jammed through at the last minute and without considering public input, was a poorly designed masquerade to avoid spending proper funds on a public works project. The story leaked to the public, objections and outrage could be heard from all sides, the Mayor was counseled to postpone discussion and refused.

Today’s Council has a win-win opportunity to bring the “Rock” Garden back for further discussion. Here’s a chance to reverse a major blunder of it’s predecessors, to be honest with the public and clear the air, once and for all.

First, admit that repairing the leak in the Civic Center parking structure and avoiding spending Building Maintenance funds on it was the real objective. Put a standalone item on the agenda for a Public Works project to fix the leak. Pay for it with the Building Maintenance fund.

Put  a second item on the agenda to put drought tolerant landscape on the effected area once repairs have been completed. Tap MWDOC for their sod removal subsidy and Cal Domestic for the promised grant. That’s $17,500 in the bank. Allocate another $17,500 from Revenue Over Expenses. Boom! The budget is now only $35 thousand dollars, not the quarter million as originally stated. Invite CSUF grad students to do the design.

Please, it’s a business, not a board game.

govt_money_400The City Manager has often characterized himself as the CEO of a large corporation as justification for his salary package — twice that of California’s Governor.

Okay, it’s time to start running this city like a real business instead of a board game.

Start trapping all expenses against all projects and programs. No More soft costs. No more robbing Peter to pay Paul. No more hiding special interest projects by calling them something they’re not.

Every time accounting principles are pushed to their limits the door is opened to slip the difference into Revenue Over Expense.

The ball’s in your court now.

Thanks to Operation Clean Sweep and a voting population interested in rebooting City Council, we now have five Council members with open door policies, offering greater transparency and accountability in government and dedicated to fostering meaningful community engagement. Let’s not waste it.

The time to stand up and be counted is now.

Send your thoughts via email to:

Of course you can always come share your thoughts at Council meetings during Matters From The Audience. Check the Council’s agenda on the city’s website so you know what’s coming up. You’re not limited to commenting only on agenda items. Something bugging you? Speak up. Don’t be afraid to ask Council to pull an item from the Consent Calendar for discussion or to move a discussion item from the Study Session to the formal meeting in Council Chambers.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to send positive vibes their way too. Council is a big commitment. It’s hard work. It shouldn’t be a thankless job. We have a winning team now, there’s nothing wrong with showing a little team spirit and cheering them on.

Oh, and in the unlikely event you’re one of those who didn’t vote… never mind.