No Loophole Left Behind.

Leave it to lawyers, bureaucrats and politicians to take full advantage of every loophole they discover… or create. With a Mayor that appears to embody all three vocations, it comes as little surprise that loopholes abound down at city hall.

Madrona falls off the radar.

Madrona-yes-1If you were looking for the next (final?) act in the Madrona comedy of errors on tomorrow’s Council agenda I’ll save you some time. It isn’t there.

At the last meeting Murdock and Marrick blindsided everyone with a wish list of new considerations. Turns out the two largest financial windfalls they were trying to orchestrate are illegal. Yup, against the law.

The attempt to extract an additional $3.2 to $5.4 million to acquire additional Cal Domestic Water Co. preferred shares is, you guessed it, illegal. Their request for $742,875 in supplemental park-in-lieu fees in addition to the statutory $1.6 million park-in-lieu fees the city was already getting turns out to also be, yep, illegal.

Solution? Buy a little more time.

christine_talksLooks like our budding barrister blew it. Now Murdock and Marrick need another two weeks (minimum) to do damage control, to find a new gambit for getting blood from a stone.

Not satisfied getting 9 out of 11 conditions approved Mrs. Marrick? You got your un-snooty un-gated community and your snooty custom estates approved. Seems to me you two are being more than a little greedy.

City Attorney Markman, when I asked about the missing agenda item, responded, “… there was and is no legal requirement for the matter to be on tomorrow’s Council meeting agenda.” I’m pretty confident he would deny the presence of any loophole.

More agenda skulduggery.

brett_praysTucked in amongst trivial housekeeping items on the Study Session agenda is a request from Murdock to take a trip to sister city Lagos de Moreno to help celebrate their 451 year anniversary.

This sounds eerily similar to the junket he took with Schweitzer and O’Donnel to Anseong and Hanno a couple of years ago. Can you say Koreagate?

What part of no don’t you understand?

The precedent for 45 years has been for Council members to pay their own way. On only two occasions was this not been the case.

Once, when Roy Moore was hit with two foreign travel obligations within one year, the City Manager suggested the city would be able to cover at least the airfare for the second trip. Moore paid the balance.

The second deviation was the vacation Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell took at taxpayer’s expense. A contentious issue yet today, the matter has been swept under the rug and remains unresolved. Certainly no new precedent has been set.

Sneaking this in under the radar by slipping the matter onto the Study Session agenda demonstrates just how unwilling some are to transparently conduct the city’s business.

If you feel so “justified” Mr. Murdock, at least have the juevos to review the pros and cons of the Lagos de Moreno request when the public is able to attend and the discussion will be part of the video record.

all-of-the-people

Let’s put an end to weaving one loophole after another and get down to conducting the people’s business without all of the hidden agendas.

 

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others.

Lets wrap our heads around three things that, on the surface, don’t immediately appear to be connected. The Senior Lunch Program, Council travel expenses for unofficial junkets and the Sister City Program.

Senior lunch program starved for funding.

lunchThanks to federal sequestration, the supplier of our senior’s lunches (SeniorServ, Inc.) took a funding hit that costs us 3,300 lunches a year and resulted in a staff cut of 20%. Estimated at a value of $2.50 per lunch, that’s $8,250 a year. Who knows what the staff cost is?

Is this item making it onto the study session agenda? No.

Lets talk Koreagate again.

stewardessTaxpayers coughed up around $9,450 to send Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell on an unofficial sightseeing junket to Anseong, S. Korea and Hanno, Japan. Though hammered publicly for over a year, subjected to an investigation by the Orange County District Attorney’s office and supported by various current and former Council members, we’ve not seen a penny reimbursed.

Is this item making it onto the study session agenda? No.

Sister Cities groups up for review.

commend_200Brea’s two Sister City groups, the original Lagos de Moreno/Hanno group and the newly formed Anseong group are up for review. The question is, after fifty plus years, is it time to ease them out of the nest and put the $6,000 stipend back into the General Fund to support other causes?

These organizations are certainly capable of being self sufficient. And, by severing the ceremonial ties once and for all, there should no longer be a question about paying those hefty travel expenses for Mayors and other elected, appointed officials or city staff.

Yup, you guessed it, this is the one that is on tomorrow’s study session agenda.

Adding insult to injury.

bowtie_garciaMayor Garcia is currently invited to the Anseong Namsadang Baudeogi Festival, an annual event dating back 100 years. The festival consists of tightrope walking, Korean folk drumming, plate spinning, acrobatics and gymnastics on a straw mat, puppet plays and masked dance drama.

All artforms that I’m sure our Mayor mastered years ago! Unfortunately, there isn’t any provision for amateur stand-up comedy or competitive eating.

Mayor Garcia is wondering if the city will pick up the tab for him to attend?  Nope!  Not until Anseong’s Mayor sees fit to come to Brea specifically to help us celebrate our Country Fair. They seem comparable in scope, if not equally antiquated.

So, what is the common thread? Your tax dollars.

Council needs to decide what is more important, sending public “servants” on all expenses paid vacations, funding private nonprofit cultural exchange organizations or giving our seniors a decent lunch five days a week.

Hands down, the seniors get my vote. What do you think?

 

Council Hostilities Continue.

I hereby promise...The Star Progress/OCR politely called it squabbling, but it was just the most recent clash over travel policy and the still unresolved Koreagate matter.

Certain members of Council and staff continue to dodge public pressure to come clean about the junket taken to Anseong, S. Korea and Hanno, Japan last year by Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell.

Simonoff snubbed again.

Though Council member Simonoff specifically ask for the trip to be placed on the agenda for public discussion, to which there was agreement amongst Council to do so, what ended up on the agenda was a general travel policy topic that allowed O’Donnell and Markman to deny discussion.

“You guys are so far afield from the agenda item,” Markman said. “I’m aware there are disputes, but what is on the agenda item is a council policy. Talking about off-agenda things puts you all in an uncomfortable position.”

The never-ending coverup.

Council member Moore summed it up more honestly, saying, “We, the council, have created the perception that we are trying to hide something or make it worse.”  Exactly, Roy… the coverup has been going on ever since the first public inquiry was made over six months ago.

Public requests for expense details by Keith Fullington have gone unanswered for over six months. CPRA requests have been half-heartedly fulfilled, meeting the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law, making getting to the truth a far tougher task than it should have been.

Fullington handed off by O’Donnell.

After evading Fullington’s inquiries for months, a frustrated O’Donnell finally passed Fullington off on Brea’s Finance Director Bill Gallardo. The meeting, held in Gallardo’s office Thursday (06/13) afternoon, after the Star Progress article broke, was also attended, without objection from Gallardo, by Glenn Vodhanel and myself.

Early conversation resolved some semantical issues which will allow Fullington to finally get the information he first requested before Thanksgiving last year.

Getting to the heart of the matter.

The conversation finally boiled down to the subject of exactly how expense reports for Council and staff are approved. O’Donnell approves Council reports, Gallardo approves O’Donnell’s reports. How convenient!

I ask Gallardo, “Did no red flags go off when you reviewed the reports?” To which he responded, “No… the door had already been opened…” and I cut him off mid sentence. “What do you mean, the door had been opened?”

“When Council member Moore had his airfare paid for a sister city trip.” was Gallardo’s reply… implying that a precedent had been established.

I quickly pointed out that the preceding forty-nine years, where Brea never payed any expenses and Council members paid their own way, established the precedent; Moore’s situation was an exception to the precedent. Get it… precedingprecedent… it’s pretty simple English really.

What travel policy?

The handful of guidelines that Council agreed upon, by consensus not vote, falls far short of being a travel policy. They include:

  • Council must now estimate travel at the beginning of each year so that it can be determined if the city’s $21,000 annual budget allocation is adequate.
  • Council and staff must now submit requests for foreign travel, including a full itinerary provided by the third party hosting or sponsoring the event, and must receive Council majority approval to take the trip.

This is not a policy… at best, it’s a good start.

A legitimate travel policy should be far more robust than this handful of basic rules. And if the guidelines are to be truly enforceable, they should be formalized in a resolution and voted upon… not casually adopted by consensus.

Quit hiding behind semantics.

While they’re at it, this would be a good time to clarify who is authorized to represent the city, in what capacities, for what purposes and if any limitations apply (i.e. no travel outside Los Angeles and Orange counties). How about clarifying what constitutes a precedent and if there are exceptions to these precedents, what are they and are they limited?

In Moore’s highly unusual case, where he was asked to visit both Hanno and Anseong in the same Mayoral term, and because it placed an undue burden on his personal finances, Moore’s airfare was paid but he still covered all other expenses himself.

If we apply this once-in-50-years exception to the Anseong/Hanno trip, Schweitzer gets a free ride on airfare but should reimburse the city for all other expenses. Murdock and O’Donnell need to pay back everything.

A reasonable conclusion.

So, there it is. The trip was in no way official. The trip occurred without what is now being deemed as proper review and approval. The expenses did not warrant being covered by city travel budget. Absent official purpose, in addition to paying the city back as I mentioned above, all of the City Manager’s time, every business day he was absent from his job, should be expensed as paid vacation.

The gloves come off.

Mayor Garcia, quit pretending to support open discussion. Stop baiting fellow Council members and throwing out childish retorts. Your indefensible comment to Council member Simonoff asking if we should look back “25 years” shows you have no clue what the city’s policy is regarding records retention for travel documents. (It’s three years from the last audit by the way.)

Mayor Pro Tem Murdock, you’ve publicly said that if the trip had to come out of your pocket you could not have taken it. Also, it’s been suggested by a third party that you stated (following your speech to the Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals group) that you would have preferred not to go on the trip but didn’t know how to say no. FYI, “weak willed” is not a character trait any of us want to see in a political candidate or elected official. If you’re too weak to speak up for yourself, how can we possibly expect you to speak for us?

Council member Marick, you are well educated, articulate and not without considered opinion. How much longer do you plan to sit silently by while your counterparts engage in such shabby political infighting and concealment of the truth? What happened to the breath of fresh air you were going to bring to Council chambers?