Vargas: Liar Liar… Pants On Fire!

On Tuesday, September 5, Council finally had an opportunity to address the Constitutional Due Process issues in the Brea Municipal Code but, thanks to inadequate staff input and a major distraction from Council member Vargas, they were thwarted.

After a year of sidestepping the issue, City Manager Gallardo and City Attorney Markman continued trying to wriggling out of honestly facing the music by submitting conflicting statements to launch Council’s discussion.

Gallardo said he believed the Brea Municipal Code and Code of Conduct were in conflict (not the root issue), Markman disagreed completely… denying that any contradiction existed and doubling down on his assertion that there was no threat of Constitutional violation because termination of Commissioners and Committee members is made without cause.

The greatest roadblock to Council having an intelligent discussion was the almost incoherent ranting by Council member Vargas. He not only derailed the discussion, he added to his list of “causes” for dismissal which crushed Markman’s position. In addition, claims made by Vargas were fabrications… figments of his imagination.

Everyone in the room must have recognized that, especially Vargas. Assuming he hadn’t forgotten the truth, he must have known just how far he stretched it.

Ultimately, thanks to Council’s unwillingness to be intimidated and the Mayor’s taking control of the discussion, the decision was to continue the item until staff could provide additional information. Hopefully staff will also make some attempt to get on the same page with each other.

I’ll leave follow-up on the real issues until they hit Council’s agenda again and turn my attention now to poking holes in the spurious allegations and remarks being tossed about by Mr. Vargas.

The Letter of Dismissal

I’ll work my way through the “causes” cited by Vargas in the letter.

  1. “… our initial agreement was a two year assignment” – No such agreement was ever made. No member of Council has the authority to make such an agreement and, if they were authorized, the BMC would state so and the “deal” would obviously have to be disclosed when the nomination is made. Never happened.
  2. “… allow you some closure from past experiences as a Commissioner, unfortunately I am not in a position to continue the redemption any further” – A complete non sequitur. My seven year history as a Cultural Arts Commissioner, as Chair of this Commission and it’s representative on Art in Public Places and the Senior Citizen Advisory Board is extolled at length in the commendation I received from Mayor Roy Moore in 2011. I needed redemption for nothing.
  3. “… (for) 3 months, I have attempted to communicate with you on numerous occasions via text and phone calls” – Hogwash. Once or twice a month Vargas would call me as he headed home from work at Port Hueneme and we would talk about various matters until he typically said, “Well Clark, you got me home safe and sound again.”

The last time we spoke we discussed his plans to put Term Limits on the ballot as a proposition. He refused to consider discussing his plans with Council. I told him it was a stupid idea, that it was an obvious attack aimed solely at Council member Simonoff. Finally, he agreed to drop the idea and the discussion ended.

Four days later the City Council meeting erupted in heated, angry exchanges with Vargas when he announced his intention to collect signatures via a third party contractor for a ballot initiative on Term Limits. When Vargas called me after the meeting I was too angry to take the call and let it go to voicemail. I did the same with the other half dozen attempts Vargas made over the next hour or so.

He texted me once the next day asking why I was dodging his calls. I texted back that I hated getting lied to and would need a few days to let my anger subside. I never heard from him again until I received the letter of dismissal… 36 hours after almost everyone in Brea seemed to get it. Must have been a massive BCC list.

  1. “…your reluctance to keep me informed of pending issues does not allow me to provide effective service as a council member.” – So, Breans have been under represented for almost a year now. Good to know. Don’t cross your fingers for the Mayor Pro Tem’s seat and we all know what to do when the 2018 elections come around.

During the first year of Vargas’ current term, as I would come across articles online relevant to current or impending city matters, I would email a link to Vargas… who seemed to have neither the time nor skills to do his own research. I did this maybe once or twice a week. I was surprised to hear he was unable to “provide effective service” without my help.

Fast Forward Almost a Year.

I mentioned the rants Vargas inflicted on everyone at last week’s study session, that they were laced with the same sort of groundless statements as are found in the dismissal letter.

  1. Only after repeated badgering by members of Council and City Staff did he feel forced to dismiss me. – Vargas was immediately challenged on this by the Mayor as being complete nonsense. Never happened.
  2. Vargas claimed to have “cleared it with” Gallardo and Markman before he sent the dismissal letter… a weak attempt to imply their approval. Gallardo and Markman preserved their “plausible deniability” by answering Vargas’ email inquiry by phone. A common practice down at city hall. However, Gallardo told me later that he attempted to talk Vargas out of the dismissal but failed and that Markman merely confirmed the appropriate BMC reference.
  3. Vargas said he discussed health issues with me, asking me to resign, and was compelled to terminate me because I would not resign. A year ago my health was not an issue, we never had such a conversation. This is total b*llsh*t.
  4. Vargas stated that he appointed me because of my experience with affordable housing while working for Quaker City Bank. (No Steve, that was Ron Garcia, your first appointment to the Planning Commission in 1998.) We never discussed housing of any type prior to or following my appointment to the Planning Commission. I have never worked for Quaker City Bank, or any bank, but did handle branding and advertising for Landmark Bank in La Habra when it launched in 1979… 38 years ago.
  5. Vargas protested my use of the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to obtain information leading to my “due process” probe and aggressively demanded “cost accounting” from the City Clerk, City Manager, City Attorney and Director of Development for the staff time required to respond to my inquiries. He was summarily put in his place by Council member Simonoff who reminded him that it was wrong to chastise the public for the cost of complying with a public records request.
  6. Vargas accused Council of wasting time on an issue that only a “blogger” cared about. Really? Council’s oath of office swears to uphold State and Federal Constitutions! If there is even the slightest possibility that the BMC is in conflict they are bound to investigate regardless of where the challenge came from.

Council does what’s right.

Given all that occurred last Tuesday, Council did what was right. I trusted that they would and they didn’t let me down. They continued the item and tasked staff with bringing them additional relevant information.

This is far from over folks and no loose canon is going to dissuade me from pursuing the truth or bully Council into sweeping this under the rug.

vargas liar

I’m Still Mad As Hell.

mad as hellLast week I shared a couple of issues I was having with how the City Attorney conducted themselves. Within moments of hitting the publish button two amazingly coincidental revelations were communicated to me.

Remarkably, after languishing on the bottom of the City Attorney’s in basket for over nine months, the Records Retention Schedule update miraculously was returned to the City Manager… done. Reviewed.

Now it can move on to Council for approval. Good news.

The other news, regarding amending the Brea Municipal Code, was unfortunately bad. Apparently, just two weeks ago, the Council reversed it’s majority support to revise the code to eliminate both unilateral dismissal by the appointing Council member and the inherent threat of violating the Constitutional rights of due process when dismissing Commissioner and Committee members.

Everything was on track since late January. The City Manager reconfirmed he was keeping pressure on the City Attorney… four times over five months. The goal: to remove portions of the BMC that violate the Constitutional right to due process of Commissioners and Committee members.

These coincidences are anything but.

This abrupt about face, I believe, is the result of heavy lobbying by the City Attorney not to “let that damned blogger tell us what to do.” After all, lawyers by their very nature are adversarial. They’re groomed to instantly take issue with every challenge. Their win-at-all-costs mentality causes them to spend far more time formulating their rebuttals than listening to the opposition.

I can just picture it. As soon as “Poking Holes In Markman & Flower” was published the behind-the-scenes battle to discredit and dismiss “that geezer on social media” went into overdrive.

The underlying theme to the City Attorney’s objection was expressed thus, “The odds this problem might ever occur again or that we would face due process litigation even in the distant future is so limited it’s a waste of time and energy to address Mr. Clark’s concerns.”

Really? Please explain to me when it is okay not to do the right thing because it’s too difficult or because the odds of getting caught are so slim.

When is due process not due process?

mad as hellNever. I believe the Constitutional protection of due process cannot be arbitrarily applied. The City Attorney also contends that due process only applies to city employees. If the founding fathers included a fair number of HR professionals, maybe that theory would hold water.

Well Mr. Markman, it doesn’t.

While there are due process issues associated with property rights, in this case retirement benefits, the violations I’m talking about have nothing to do with property.

I pointed out clearly to Council the procedural and substantive violations triggered by the BMC, specifically as it relates to prior notice, means of appeal and definition of duties. The BMC, in defining how a Commission or Committee member may be dismissed, does not include any provision for proper notice, a pathway for appeal nor does it define a single duty. No job description.

Here’s my challenge.

cityMy closing question to Mayor Hupp and MPT Parker, when we met on January 9, went something like this…

city“Are you telling me that, when I raised my hand and took the oath of office to support the Constitutions of the United States of America and the State of California (no mention of the Brea Municipal Code by the way) that in the same breath I gave up all rights they provide?”

I’m still waiting for an answer. I’d interpreted their willingness to task the City Attorney with drafting amendments confirmation of their rejection of the idea… that civically minded folks would even consider giving up their Constitutional rights.

I know more than a few Commissioners and Committee members who might not have been so quick to raise their hands… to volunteer their time and energy in community service. I suspect many other Breans, considering applying for an appointment, will reconsider.

We should care about process and the rule of law.

This is a request to Council to reject the adversarial nonsense coming from the City Attorney and to put the amendments recommended on the General Session agenda in the very near future. You knew it was the right thing to do before…

I’m Mad As Hell, And I’m Not Going To Take This Anymore.

Mad is an understatement. Having pressed for answers, reasonable explanations and an understanding of how local government works I’ve come to a conclusion. It doesn’t. At least not in a way that most voters have hoped it would.

Let me share again former City Manager Tim O’Donnell’s favorite definition of leadership, “Leadership is disappointing your constituents in increments they can absorb.” That made me mad as hell the moment I heard it. Hearing that launched Brea Matters and kept me going every time a door was slammed in my face as I sought the truth.

How many times have you been disappointed by something Council has decided, that a Commission or Committee has recommended or that staff has suggested? How many times have you let it slide only to find yourself disappointed about something else just days or weeks later?

See, it works. They know it works. They know they’re able to bend a rule, break a law or violate an ethical standard with little or no concern that they might be held accountable. That makes me mad. It should make you mad as well.

Maintaining public records.

Recently, Planning Staff admitted to deleting documents, a consultant’s proposal that pointed out an error in Staff’s thinking. It wasn’t what they wanted to hear or felt the Planning Commission had a right to hear. The City Attorney said they were within their authority and the matter was swept under the rug.

When this loophole in the city’s Records Retention Schedule was pointed out by Brea Matters, members of Council demanded that the loophole be closed. Then another discovery was made.

The Records Retention Schedule, unchanged since the last millennium, was updated by the City Clerk last year and submitted to the City Attorney for review. It had sat there collecting dust until Council’s demand brought it to the top of the pile.

Still, nothing has been done. “Leadership is disappointing your constituents in increments they can absorb.” Dammit, I’m mad as hell.

Amending municipal code.

On September 28, Councilmember Vargas invoked an obscure, never before used, piece of the Brea Municipal Code and, without warning or prior notice, “fired” me from the Planning Commission (see details here). He citied causes not included in the municipal code.

Several months of haggling with the City Manager and City Attorney finally got me a face-to-face with the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem on January 9 where I laid out my “case” that Brea Municipal Code inadvertently violated my Constitutional due process rights.

I had no interest in litigation. None. Still don’t. All I hoped for was to help initiate a change in the BMC that would protect the Constitutional rights of my friends and neighbors who might one day consider volunteering for a Commission or Committee… that would protect them from the sort of incompetent conduct I was subjected to.

A month later I was informed by the City Manager that the City Attorney had been instructed to draft amendments to the BMC, eliminating the due process issues, and that the amendments would be given to Council to approve within the month. That was February, this is June.

On three subsequent occasions I was told that the amendments would be on the agenda in the next meeting or two. I fully expected to see the item on this week’s agenda. Nope. Nothing. “Leadership is disappointing your constituents in increments they can absorb.” Again, I’m mad as hell.

City Hall priorities.

On April 7 I published a blog headlined “Corruption’s Partner Is Our Own Indifference.” The admonition expressed was clearly made towards Brea Matters readers with the reminder that our continued indifference to what goes on in city hall is the catalyst from which corruption is born. The word corruption never again appears in the piece.

The City Attorney, I’ve been told, read that word and went ballistic.

Over the next six days, the City Attorney and staff conducted legal research, wrote an eight page memo to the City Manager, City Council and others (more like a manifesto obviously pointed directly at Brea Matters) and engaged the city’s Marketing Department to see that it was circulated on social media to the broadest extent possible.

Six days. Not six months… six days! They’ve been sitting on the Records Retention Schedule for almost nine months, on the BMC amendments for five months but they can somehow fire off a memo attacking Brea Matters in six days?

Who’s setting priorities down at city hall? “Leadership is disappointing your constituents in increments they can absorb.” I think I have every right to be mad as hell.

A call to action.

Council reads Brea Matters. Faithfully if not supportively. So I’ll take this opportunity to make a couple of suggestions.

Please, with all the authority you can muster, instruct the City Manager … once again, to tell the City Attorney to get off his ass (sorry Gramma). Obviously unable to determine which assignments should take precedence over others, it’s time to step in and retake control.

Please, take a look at how long it’s been since Council and the City Manager made any attempt to confirm that Richards, Watson, Gershon (RWG), and more specifically James Markman, are Brea’s best choice as City Attorney. Maybe it’s time we sent out an RFP for City Attorney to see if there might not be better choices for Brea.

Still mad as hell.

One more time, let me remind everyone. Leadership IS NOT disappointing your constituents in increments they can absorb. Here are a few thoughts that do a better job of defining leadership.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams

“Leadership: The capacity and will to rally people to a common purpose together with the character that inspires confidence and trust.” — Bernard Montgomery

“Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen, despite the obstacles.” — John Kotter

“Leadership is about service to others and a commitment to developing more servants as leaders. It involves co-creation of a commitment to a mission.” — Robert Greenleaf

What sort of leader do we want?

I believe we want leaders who create an inspiring vision of the future, who motivate and inspire us to engage with that vision and who have the skills to deliver that vision.

Write that down in big bold easy-to-read letters. Stick it on your fridge where you will see it every day. When election day rolls around again… remember it.