Paramedic Tax Is A Hoax.

Your property tax dollars, approved by ballot initiative 40 years ago “for the specific purpose of establishing and maintaining a mobile intensive care program known as Paramedics within the area of the City of Brea” have been diverted through the Redevelopment Agency/Successor Agency since 1978.

Every Council resolution creating or renewing the Paramedic Program special property tax, for 40 years, incorporated exactly that language. Not a single member of the Brea City Council (save possibly one) had a clue regarding the magnitude of their blunder – the product of a purposeful deception by members of senior staff.

Sounds a hell of a lot like a slush fund to me.

Based upon documents gathered through the California Public Records Act (CPRA), from both the City of Brea and the Orange County Auditor-Controller’s office, it is fair to assume that every City Manager and Finance Director, at minimum, was aware of the fiscal hoax perpetrated upon Council and an unsuspecting public for 40 years.

How much are we talking about?

Over $50 million of your tax dollars. Supposedly, thanks to some obscure directive in State law, these funds have been funneled through the RDA since 1978. Roughly 40% was spent on administrative costs, debt retirement and other expenses – none of which had diddly to do with a paramedic service.

When the state dissolved Redevelopment Agencies in 2011, things didn’t get much better. In fact, they got worse. Originally we did get our hands on 100% of the tax revenues collected.

In 2011 that was cut almost in half – 55% was paid to the Successor Agency letting them do whatever they wished with it. The remaining 45% went into the Brea Redevelopment Trust where the county followed state directions to pay off residual debts of the RDA.

How much longer will we be paying off RDA debt?

Total debt for the Successor Agency is $196 million. A payment plan has been submitted to the state’s Department of Finance, upon which we will be making payments until 2036. That’s 60 years to retire the debts created by the Redevelopment Agency.

The issue in a nut shell.

The people of Brea clearly expressed what we were willing to be taxed for. There was a legitimate attempt in the beginning, by well intentioned members of Council, to fulfill the people’s wishes.

Underneath it all, the covert diversion of tax revenue has continued, virtually unabated, for 40 years.

The good news.

Facts by the ton, discoveries that would light up the eye of Julian Assange, have been dug out of the archives and studied by a “team” including myself, 2 members of Council and 3 long time community leaders.

The details of decades of staff reports, resolutions, budgets, county tax records are being poured over and the revelations emerging out of the data paint a clear picture of the atrocious irresponsibility that ran amok… without restraint, for 40 years.

The gorilla is being drug into the light and the right people, the people we elected to oversee city business, are back in charge.

Undoubtedly more will be learned in the near future. We may be called back into the voting booth to help rescind a failed tax and approve a remedy that will provide us with the sort of paramedic services we thought we were getting 40 years ago.

Stay Tuned.

We’re a long way from knowing the complete truth and from digging ourselves out of a hole 40 years in the making.

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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.

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Unilateral What?

Unilateral dismissal, and it’s been a scrofulous canker festering within the Brea Municipal Code for 25 years.

A majority of Council members turned city hall into a complete circus last night. The only ones interested in honestly addressing the real issues on this matter were Mayor Hupp and City Attorney Jim Markman.

If you have the stomach to watch this travesty go to THIS LINK to view the streaming video. Warning: this item is 40+ minutes in length and the results are zero.

Can’t tell the players without a program.

Hupp.

unilateralAs soon as the item was opened for discussion Mayor Hupp identified the key issue, the unilateral dismissal provision within the municipal code… pointing out that removing it and editing the Council Code of Conduct to little more than a reprise of the amendment to the municipal code would solve 99% of the issues at hand.

From there, as I am about to clarify, everything went to hell in a hand basket. Mayor Hupp’s thoughtful and unchallengeable identification of the real issue and a relatively simple means of addressing it got lost in a blizzard of disconnected hyperbole rooted more in opinion than fact.

Parker.

unilateralMPT Parker, as is becoming all too common, became bogged down in his own rhetoric and, after the City Attorney poked holes in his “solution,” Parker became withdrawn and contributed little of value.

Once again I was surprised that MPT Parker made no mention of being amongst the Council members unanimously approving unilateral dismissal in 1992, along with Mayor Bernie Dunlap and Council members Nelson, Perry and Wiser.

Marick.

unilateralCouncil member Marick, as she has done on many occasions, tried to sabotage any meaningful progress by layering on additional demands beyond what was called for on the agenda or in the staff report.

Though she admitted several times, “I know this isn’t on the agenda…” she persisted to insist the topic be broadened and brought back later.

She pulled the same garbage when she and then Mayor Murdock blindsided Council with a list of ridiculous extra demands upon the Madrona development.

Also, when the Central Park Brea development CFD was on the agenda for approval she voiced a shared concern with Council members Moore and Simonoff about double taxation and the lack of a sunset clause to cover assets with fixed costs.

Only when City Attorney Markman assured her that a full review of all CFD’s and Maintenance & Lighting Districts (M&LD) could be conducted anytime Council chose did she vote to approve the CFD, allowing the project to move forward.

Nothing has happened since on either matter. “Revisiting the issue at a later date” has become a euphemism for sweeping things under the rug.

Simonoff.

unilateralCouncil member Simonoff’s only contribution was to challenge Council member Marick’s obvious deflection. After 20+ years on Council and 5 years working with Ms. Marick, I would have thought he realized what his interjection would cause.

Each time he challenged Ms. Marick she emphatically doubled down on her objections. Seriously, Council member Simonoff should abandon the countless “cityspeak” cliché’s that have become his go to phrases when he has nothing of significance to offer.

By the way Mr. Simonoff, your challenge that employing the unilateral dismissal has only happened once in Brea’s 100 year history is quite a stretch since it wasn’t part of the municipal code until 1992. That’s 25 years Mr. Simonoff.

The manner in which Council member Vargas employed it, however, will likely remain a blemish on Brea history for 100 years.

Lets just say that Council member Simonoff could have played a much more material role in reaching a workable conclusion if he would set aside his perpetual concern with how he’s being perceived by others.

Vargas.

unilateralIt was Council member Vargas’ unprecedented use of the unilateral dismissal provision in the BMC on September 26, 2016 that triggered this year long process. It’s not surprising he sat, sulked and rolled his eyes as everyone else offered their two cents.

Finally, when Mayor Hupp made a motion to eliminate the unilateral dismissal from the BMC, he seconded the motion… not because he really supported the idea but because he though it might soften the blow using it will have if he runs for a third term

He withdrew his second later when he realized what it was. What a surprise that, like a petulant child, he decided to take his ball and go home – letting the motion die for lack of a second.

He punctuated his withdrawal by slinging angry accusations at fellow Council members for wasting time and expense on a meaningless matter.

Markman.

mad as hellOkay… time for me to eat a little crow.

For as harsh as I’ve been towards City Attorney Markman, he along with Mayor Hupp, were the only two who clearly understood the real issues and were focused on finding the most sensible and effective solutions to resolve them.

Mr. Markman did mention, “The municipal code is a without cause at will removal by a majority of Council or the person who appoints” – au contraire Mr. Markman… by the person who nominates. Appointments are ratified by a Council majority.

No single member of Council has more authority than their peers anywhere else in the BMC. All are members in equal standing. The unilateral dismissal creates an unjustifiable advantage to one member.

Markman also drove home the rationale for eliminating any attempt to fix the problem by editing the Code of Conduct. He pointed out that it provided for dismissal done for cause, a real slippery slope.

He also pointed out, “It’s (the Code of Conduct) overridden by a code section (BMC) that says something else.”

Bingo.

The Code of Conduct has been a smokescreen from the moment I brought it’s contradicting language to the City Manager’s attention – five months after raising the issues with the BMC.

The Code of Conduct is a policy statement subject to modification at any time, in a study session, beyond the scrutiny of most Breans and is not law.

Let me say that again. The Council Code of Conduct is NOT law! The Brea Municipal Code IS law and overrides all lesser documents.

Thank you Mr. Markman for attempting to nudge this unruly body towards an honest assessment of the real issues.

Well, now what?

Thanks to Council member Marick’s diversionary tactics and Council’s inability to muster itself into some unified approach to a matter that’s been on or near the table since last December… it’s fallen into the black hole of “let’s circle back to this later.”

What a total crock.

Final thoughts.

Everyone kept harping about how important it is to protect Commissioners and Committee members from the possibility of any public embarrassment… why it’s important to make their execution swift, silent and out of the public view.

Thanks to the horribly inept unilateral dismissal conducted by Council member Vargas last year and the protracted process I’ve had to wrestle with ever since to seek some sort of reasonable solution… my “execution” has been anything but swift, silent or out of the public view.

Nice job folks. Quit fooling yourself and get about the business of governing instead of playing at local politics.