Malfeasance: Brea’s Status Quo?

In the weeks ahead, breaking news regarding several cases of fiscal misconduct will be finding their way into public discussion. The egregious nature of several will likely lead to widespread use of the term malfeasance.

Let’s take caution in our choice of words to be certain we characterize people and their actions clearly and fairly. An exact definition of malfeasance (in office) is difficult: there is no single legal consensus definition.

Malfeasance is generally defined as “a wrongful act which the actor has no legal right to do.” Many courts find malfeasance (in office) where there is “ignorance, inattention, or malice”, which implies no intent or knowledge is required.

Much of what we’ll hear, however, will probably trigger accusations of malfeasance.

Truth: the final frontier.

I’ve invested literally hundreds of hours pouring over a vast array of communications, agendas, minutes, resolutions, staff and consultant’s reports, spreadsheets and financial records from both the city and from Orange County.

I’m not alone. Several others, equally curious about Brea’s past fiscal practices and current fiscal policies, have invested similar time and energy… and come to similar conclusions.

What has been common practice in the past has cost Brea the loss of significant assets and revenue sources and has placed an undue burden upon tax payers to meet unconscionably large financial obligations well into the future.

There is clear evidence, going back several decades, of both ignorance and inattention to detail contributing to the failure of Council members to exercise the full due diligence their office and those who’ve elected them demand.

Malfeasance… I believe so. Malice… not so much. Let me explain.

I’ll point the finger…

Repeatedly it has been found that Council member’s information packets come up well short of including a full set of facts. Consistently, the missing information helps lead Council to forgone conclusions staff has predetermined are preferable.

Again and again it appears that staff has usurped the visionary role and authority of Council. While the evidence of malfeasance is frighteningly clear, at least to me and those digging into these matters, a couple of critical questions remain unanswered.

Obviously staff has the means and opportunity to play fast and loose with Brea’s financial future. What’s missing is motive. Why would our city staff, highly educated… the best and the brightest, do what they’ve done and to what end?

What’s next?

We may never find any answer to why and what for but we can cast a bright light upon this nightmare in the hopes that today’s Council will find the courage to challenge history and change the future.

malfeasance

Final Thoughts For 2017.

In the summer of 2011, then City Manager Tim O’Donnell told me that his favorite definition of leadership was, “Leadership is disappointing your constituents in increments they can absorb.” The implication was heinous and has proven to be the underlying rationale of countless decisions made by Council over the seven years I’ve written this blog. Here are a few of the most obvious:

  • Raising Council’s stipend and flex benefits.
  • Burying key decisions and large capital expenditures in the Consent Calendar.
  • Commission and Committee appointees are predominantly political payback.
  • Now defunct Redevelopment Agency created over $200 million in bond debt, most building or refurbishing city property for which there is no property tax which pays off the bond debt.
  • Brett Murdock tacitly appointed to lead opposition to The Brea Open Governance Act and The Brea Accountability Act. Murdock failed to disclose his leadership of the Breans Against Measures T & U PAC and was fined $2,000 by the FPPC.
  • City Clerk, under direction from City Manager and City Attorney violates election law resulting in litigation that was lost on appeal and cost taxpayers almost $1 million dollars.
  • Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem and City Manager take an ill-advised two week junket to Korea and Japan, sticking Brea taxpayers with the bill (Koreagate).
  • Mount a weak attempt to retain the Police Services contract with Yorba Linda.
  • Reorganize Brea FD rather than seriously entertaining the possibility that contracting out the services could save Brea taxpayers a bundle.
  • “Green Brea 2012” was a disaster but continues to be touted by city propagandists as a success. “Greenwashing” at it’s finest.
  • Staff recommends Council pay annual pension obligation at less than 100%, adding to the mounting debt. Brea had a surplus of $21.9 million in 2001, what happened?
  • 560 Fund (OC Landfill) earmarked to mitigate the traffic, noise, road damage and provide other “community benefits” is tapped twice to pay for the solar project – several million dollars. Remember, the one that would pay for itself.
  • Create Landscape, Lighting & Maintenance Districts (LL&MD) and Community Facilities Districts (CFD) to dodge Prop 13 and generate uncapped revenue. Promises made to “revisit” these for possible double taxation and to add sunset clauses has never found it’s way to the agenda.
  • Implement and repeat use of tiered water rates as a means of social engineering (deemed illegal in Capistrano Taxpayers Association, Inc. v. City of San Juan Capistrano – 2015).
  • Cal Domestic. Need I say more? If the FPPC, State DOJ and/or OCDA would get off their asses maybe we would finally get to the truth.
  • The perpetual appearance of collusion, backroom dealings and Brown Act violations every time Council reorganizes – never challenged, never proven but always questioned.
  • Madrona. Self-explanatory.
  • A “Civic & Cultural Center Demonstration Garden” proposed as a means of defraying costs of routine maintenance of Civic Center parking structure. Resoundingly rejected by residents.
  • City budget deemed to be balanced for the last 17 years yet Pension and OPEB debt soars to over $100 million.
  • Brea Envisions. Self-explanatory.
  • Originally proposed in January 1999, the just completed downtown parking structure could have been built for $5 million dollars with Redevelopment money without disruption to existing businesses.
  • Apprised of Constitutional due process issues buried within the Brea Municipal Code, triggered by the unilateral dismissal provision in Section 2.16.050, Council dawdles for 16 months without resolution. Will show up on agenda again soon.
  • $73,069,750 spent since 1977 for a “mobile intensive care” Paramedic Program appears to be nothing more than a subsidy for the Brea FD. (This will likely add fuel to the fiscal fires in 2018 as the truth becomes known.)

How the hell does this happen?

It’s become increasingly clear, as I read dozens upon dozens of staff reports that, more often than not, we’re getting only a fraction of the truth. Having reached the conclusion that Council, Commission and Committee members and the voting public in general lack the vision and intelligence to manage their community — staff has gradually hijacked all authority.

At best, only one or two senior city staff actually live in Brea. They have no local roots, no family history, no personal investment or emotional ties to the community. They are here to achieve their personal professional best, as dictated purely by academia and tweaked in a never ending array of seminars and symposiums. That their “product” ever actually benefits Brea is purely serendipitous.

They are here to put in their time, to receive salary and benefits well beyond that offered for comparable work in the private sector and to retire with six figure pensions.

From time to time they make mistakes, we all do. These blunders are the product of bad judgment, ignorance or inattention. These gaffes are committed with our money and are often magnitudes greater than the day-to-day mistakes we make.

Our city’s cancerous corporate culture.

To preserve their lucrative but fragile existence they are inclined to cover up the truth rather than admitting to failure. A corporate culture develops around them that renders them incapable of providing the whole truth. Staff seems to operate in a perpetual state of circling the wagons.

It is an endemic condition that can only be overcome by stripping them of the authority they have stolen and return it to those we elected to do the job in the first place.

And here’s the problem. As this bureaucratic shadow management culture has grown, their influence and power have as well and this creates a vacuum that eventually sucks in our elected representatives and blinds them to their complicity in the improprieties going on right under their noses.

Where do we take our city from here?

Revive “Clean Sweep” and put strong willed candidates into office who will not bow to the corporate mentality infesting those managing city business.

Candidates must give you a true sense of trust and confidence that accountability and transparency are not simply campaign rhetoric, that they will set aside any and all personal agendas (and bloated egos) – keeping a single focus upon what truly serves the people of Brea. Otherwise, they have not earned your vote.

city culture

Putting The Unified Back Into BOUSD.

BOUSD put Measure K on the ballot and all hell broke loose.

Proponents launched “Yes On Measure K” flooding neighborhoods and public thoroughfares with signs, mailboxes with oversized postcards, inserting themselves into our dinner hours with unsolicited robocalls. They hung out on street corners distracting traffic waving signs and passing out flyers, advocated boycotting downtown businesses with ill conceived letters accusing a local developer of buying elected officials and interfering in local politics and created a Facebook page where anyone with opposing views, contrary to the spirit of the first amendment, was blocked.

Opponents launched “No On Measure K” and prominently hung four giant banners and flooded public thoroughfares with signs, attended back-to-school nights and walked neighborhoods handing out flyers, hung out on street corners distracting traffic waving signs and passing out flyers and created a Facebook page challenging every message coming from the opposition.

A self-righteous bunch reactivated their “Reject Negative Politics In Brea” Facebook page and proceeded to attack every No on K sign, banner, flyer or attempt to get their message out. Their pro-K bias was blatant. They continued this masked propaganda until a couple of unattributed third party signs showed up that were truly negative politics. Only then did they suspend activity.

The BOUSD Board of Directors, especially the incumbents running for reelection, were notably silent though state law allows them to support the bond measure on their own time. Neither the Board or district staff conducted or participated in any public forum debating Measure K.

Both sides took to Nextdoor with posts about Measure K that became inflamed with personal attacks, unfounded allegations and unsupported assertions. Comments were repeatedly tagged for review when, as it turned out, the only offense was often the expression of an opposing opinion. Once friendly cyber-neighborhoods sharing coyote sightings, lost puppy alerts and selling used furniture, became bloody battlegrounds pitting neighbor against neighbor.

The “Yes On Measure K” Facebook page has now become “Take Brea Back” and the “No On K” page is now “Brea Watchdogs” – could they be any more divisive?

fb_savebreaTake Brea back from who? From that nasty ol’ developer hell bent on becoming the King of Brea? Exactly how does that benefit our kids or the BOUSD? (Ed Update: 11/29: The facelift continues, suggesting the group is formed “to provide information about local issues, concerns, elections and government activities that affect quality of life in the City of Brea.” – They have extended their ban prohibiting me from posting on their page.

fb_watchdogWatchdogs? Watching who? Watching what? I thought you promised to become part of the solution should Measure K fail to pass. Exactly how does perpetuating an adversarial stance benefit our kids or the BOUSD? (Ed Update: 11/29: Not to be outdone, the “Watchpuppies” group also claims to be an informational resource about local issues, particularly BOUSD. Like their nemesis Take Brea Back, they have also prohibited me from posting on their page.

Yesterday Joe Rollino resigned from the Board. Why? He already announced he would not be seeking reelection in 2018. Did he finish remodeling that beach house earlier than expected? Is there any chance Bill Hall might take the easy way out too?

Would Rod Todd dare apply to fill the vacancy after failing to get reelected? If Jason Kraft and Joseph Covey both apply to fill the vacancy, who does the Board select… the candidate with the most votes? What if a new name gets tossed into the ring?

On par with unfunded pension liabilities, putting the “unified” back into BOUSD is the top priority. Not how many apartments should Hines be entitled to build. Not how to rein in the loose canon on city Council. Not term limits, tiered water rates, parking citations on trash day, where to put a porkchop on a country road, Brea Envisions struggle for relevance or how to preserve those damned hills everyone is so up in arms about.

Its the preservation of Brea’s most valuable assets. Our kids and the BOUSD.

unified BOUSD