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

Term Limits: Debate Or Debacle?

council_aAs term limits, once again, entered the public discourse last Tuesday evening I was reminded of something my dad said to me and my brothers on countless occasions, “Knock that crap off!”

term limitsThings started sliding downhill when comments were made during Matters From The Audience by the very people (former elected officials) who blocked any discussion of term limits when Steve Vargas raised the question in 2000 and Roy Moore asked to put it on the agenda in 2002.

While no one else who spoke specifically favored term limits, they acknowledged it’s timeliness, underscoring the complex options and how appropriate it is to hold a public debate.

ParkerFor almost an hour Council “discussed” the matter where some members resorted to language, accusations, gestures and tone of voice that violated all five guidelines Council adopted in their Code of Conduct covering behavior in public meetings. The lack of civility during Council’s debate was alarming and reminded me of how petty and political municipal government has become.

Councilman Simonoff, a perpetual opponent to term limits (considering running for an unprecedented sixth term) dug up an obscure response I made to someone commenting on Brea Matters four years ago. “The notion that anyone has an expiration date after which they are no longer capable of contributing to society is preposterous.”

SimonoffWell, four years have passed. Since then, especially this past year as Mayor Simonoff orchestrated the most unproductive Mayoral year I can remember, he consistently has kicked the can down the road on important issues.

Was he hoping to avoid any possible new blemishes on his record as he prepared his attempt to set a city record for consecutive terms in office? Seems more than plausible.

No worries Councilman Simonoff, you could continue to contribute to society by volunteering at the Senior Center or with the Brea PD as a VIPS Officer. As far extending your career in politics… twenty is plenty.

Finally, as the vitriolic exchange ran it’s course and everyone had ample opportunity to share their opinions, Mayor Marick put a lid on the embarrassing and unproductive runaway discussion… bringing a voice of reason to the proceedings.

MarickShe pointed out that neither the upcoming meeting of Brea First addressing term limits and campaign finance reform nor the floundering Brea Envisions project facing another nine months before completion, was an appropriate place to kick the can.

Further, to ward off a threat from outside the community to collect signatures and jam a “two terms and out” term limit initiative on November’s ballot, Mayor Marick pointed out it’s Council’s responsibility to manage the discussion and to act upon the majority opinion in a timely manner.

Staff was instructed to come back with recommendations, amongst other things, on how best to conduct a public forum on campaign finance reform and term limits.

This seems to be a perfect place to share a recent comment posted on medium.com by Vice President Biden, “Our country’s history is studded with moments where we’ve found a way to moderate the extreme reactions that threaten to tear us apart — and find a path to progress. It’s when we’re truly at our best.”

So, as my dad used to say, “Knock that crap off!”

This isn’t rocket science or tiered water rates. There is no reason we can’t have civil discussions about term limits and campaign finance reform – and reach a consensus about how we wish to formally deal with these issues in a way that will benefit the community for generations to come.

To view the meeting yourself, go to Brea’s website and click the “Meeting Index” tab, then 11 Matters from the Audience and 14 Term Limits Discussion.

term limits

 

Brea Envisions Needs Midcourse Correction.

Brea EnvisionsCompared to the 121 pieces posted to Brea Matters over 5 years, this has been the most difficult blog to write. Here’s why. I do not want to diminish or dismiss the contribution of those volunteering as Brea Envisions Steering Committee members or Ambassadors.

One of Brea’s great strengths, for decades, has been a consistent outpouring of volunteerism. Brea Envisions is only the most recent beneficiary. Brea schools have long benefitted from the hard work and largesse of PTAs. Youth sports have thrived thanks, in large part, to the generosity of the community.

Around 1996 then Mayor Glenn Parker launched the Mayor’s Annual Youth Award helping to instill the spirit of volunteerism into countless young Breans. Brea’s faith based community and service organizations have touched every aspect of life in Brea.

Where did the problem start?

With the best of intentions, Council launched Brea Envisions with the stipulation that no current or former elected or appointed officials could be on the Steering Committee. This was designed to prohibit the committee from being peppered with the same old faces (Old Guard) in an effort to overcome the legacy of manipulation that has blemished every effort at public engagement in recent history.

They forgot one thing, creating a means of continued oversight. Beyond the occasional self aggrandizing updates they’ve been given, Council has no real clue how leadership has evolved. Convinced to not select a Chair, the Brea Envisions Steering Committee essentially handed staff the keys.

Supported by their very expensive consultant MIG and their subcontractors, staff has taken over, concocting a long range planning project hardly touched by the very people they’re hired to serve.

What was my first clue?

Brea EnvisionsA sparse, poorly conceived social media effort and a cookie cutter website that was difficult to navigate and barely mobile friendly. Then I heard about this all purpose hashtag, #breaenvisions, that would be the linchpin tying everything together and triggering a viral response.

Newsflash: going viral is not a strategy, it’s a phenomenon. Jimmy Fallon’s Thursday Tweets create so much traffic they become trending topics because Fallon has 38.4 million followers and his staff understands how to engage their fans. City of Brea has 4,800+ followers interested in traffic updates and Amber alerts. Do the math.

The Brea Envisions website, an app/template from consultant subcontractor Crowdbrite copyrighted in 2015, is an off-the-rack one-size-fits-all “engagement” tool sold to city after city. As I said, it is far from user friendly on mobile devices and almost impossible to determine if or when any new content is added.

Did you take the survey? Did you know there is a new survey now and you can take it too? I didn’t think so.

A third of the survey questions ask for narrative input. Yeah, you have to type sentences and stuff. Someone explain to me how this anecdotal input will be translated to quantifiable data. Plus, as of this writing, only 60 folks have taken the survey. Many questions are phrased, “What are your three favorite…” which leaves zero room for constructive criticism.

This overly Saccharin Pollyanna approach has been the hallmark of that bogus old City Manager Survey that Council used to justify giving Tim O’Donnell raise after raise.

Brea Envisions: Trust but verify.

Brea EnvisionsI checked in with a couple of Brea Envisions committee members, off the record. As promised, they’ll remain anonymous… but they shared that they couldn’t remember the committee having any influence in originating anything relating to the website or social media.

Since Steering Committee meetings are, by law, open to the public and anyone may attend, which Council confirmed during their Study Session the night prior, I decided that sitting in on one was the next logical step.

Brea EnvisionsLast Wednesday evening I went to the third floor conference room, picked an unobtrusive seat to ensure my presence wouldn’t have any impact on the meeting. I stood, for a brief moment, and took a photo with my phone, then sat quietly for the rest of the meeting.

As the meeting started, a quick head count showed that attending were 11 committee members and 8 city staff members. The meeting was run and dominated by staff who easily filled 80% of the airtime. Most of their rambling presentation seemed designed to convince committee members how amazingly well staff was succeeding every step of the way. Near the end of the meeting the committee did interject a few comments. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Brea EnvisionsA detailed “Social Media Promotion Schedule” was shared which consisted of posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram twice a week. (Not one of those accounts is for Brea Envisions!)

Yup, a whole six posts a week! The plan is anchored on the assumption that all followers will “like” and share every item with their entire network. The plan will go viral!

Brea EnvisionsBusiness entities relying on social media for their company or personal brand, employ management apps (Hootsuite, IFTTT, TweetDeck etc.) and often post 50, 100, 200+ posts a day across a half dozen social media platforms. Do the math.

They also rely upon advanced analytics which allow them to know precisely how they’re influencing the market. I heard nothing of the sort shared with the committee.

Committee input mostly rebuffed.

When staff was challenged about there not being a dedicated Brea Envisions Facebook page, the answer was, “We decided that it would be potentially too confusing.”

Whoa. Wasn’t that the committee’s job? Doesn’t the Brea PD have their own site for recruiting? What about the Curtis Theater and Brea Gallery?

The heart of marketing, and that’s what this is folks, is built upon differentiation. Burying Brea Envisions in the city’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages is completely backwards. Don’t even get me started on their ridiculous use of Periscope to live stream video of the Ambassador training session. They got 2 viewers.

Committee comments were either greeted with rebuttal or the standard city speak, “We’ll look into that.” which often means waiting long enough that the comment is forgotten.

Time for Council to reassert itself.

There is much more of the racetrack still ahead of us than behind. If Council can find a way to take a more hands-on role in overseeing Brea Envisions without interfering with it being a project by the people, the interest, expertise, energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers will not be squandered.

Otherwise, Brea Envisions will join the ranks of so many other workshops, public discussions and charrettes that tapped the public only for validation and not direction.

Brea Envisions