City Clerk Violates Election Law, Twice.

Violates election law - Kathleen E. O'Leary, Presiding Justice, William F. Rylaarsdam, Associate Justice and Richard D. Fybel, Associate JusticeSo says the California Fourth District Court of Appeals (Kathleen E. O’Leary, Presiding Justice, William F. Rylaarsdam, Associate Justice and Richard D. Fybel, Associate Justice) in their ruling published on Friday, 02/21/14. Though twice given an opportunity to correct an error in filing of ballot arguments, Brea’s City Clerk, under instruction from the City Attorney, secretly ordered the ballot signatories changed, which violates election law.

Coincidentally, one of the ballot issues, Measure T, sought to promote greater transparency in government.

Follow the money.

Violates election law - Brett MurdockWhat could have been handled in a moment, with a simple phone call or email, at no cost to the city, turned into a  debacle that has drug on for almost a year and a half!

Last September, when the City of Brea made a motion to dismiss the appeal, the Orange County Register quoted then Mayor Pro Tem Murdock who claimed, “This is a very sad waste of taxpayer money, the hypocrisy is sad.”

  • This from the guy who called the suit frivolous, moot even, though the City Attorney said it was “triable” and the Appeals Court’s final decision proved the original complaint was anything but frivolous.
  • This from the guy who failed to disclose his leadership of the Breans Against Measures T & U PAC, was found guilty and sanctioned/fined $2,000 by the FPPC.
  • This from the guy who represents himself as an attorney yet tries to excuse his FPPC fine by stating, “The law is esoteric and broad.”
  • This from the guy hanging his shingle all over town, desperately trying to get a law practice off the ground.
  • This from the guy who thought it was okay to give himself a raise then fought to keep the issue off of the agenda for over six months.
  • This from the guy who thinks it’s okay to spend several thousand taxpayer dollars to join his buddies on an all expenses paid vacation to South Korea and Japan.
  • This from the guy who has no clue how the City really spends it’s money or if it does so wisely (remember his gross inaccuracies regarding Brea Fest finances?)
  • This from the guy who’s first public act upon taking office was to suggest reducing the time allowed for citizens to address the council during Matters From The Audience from five minutes to three.

Violates election law - James MarkmanBrea Matters reported on this in detail – “Legal Fees Or Legal Fiasco?” In simple terms, here’s how the finances settle out. The City of Brea has spent almost $200,000 in legal fees with Jim Markman’s firm Richards, Watson & Gershon, authorized by City Manager Tim O’Donnell, to mitigate a complaint that could have originally been handled for nothing.

Zip. Nada. Not a penny.

Who really violates election law?

Violates election law - Tim O'DonnellIn all fairness, City Clerk Cheryl Balz works in an oppressive environment and doesn’t enjoy the autonomy afforded most of her peers. Council should have been in charge, choosing how to respond to the notice of error and deciding whether the threat of litigation outweighed the city’s embarrassment for the violation of election law. Certainly they wouldn’t have allowed it to occur twice!

Contact any member of council. Ask them if they were consulted on any of this, if they’ve seen and reviewed the many payments made to Richards, Watson & Gershon over the last year and a half.

Ask any of them if they’ve were given an opportunity to clarify costs, challenge expenses let alone approve them. I’ll bet the answer is, “No, I’m shocked!” They should have been in charge and they weren’t.

That’s not the half of it!

Actually, it is. The decision also allows the appellant to recover costs, so you can just about double that figure. This arrogant disregard for election law, what I believe was incontrovertibly a vindictive effort to publicly discredit a legitimate candidate for Council, will cost Brea taxpayers in the neighborhood of $400,000.

But, it’s not just about money.

Not only did the City Clerk violate election law by modifying the signatories, “the city clerk further violated the Elections Code by failing to make those changes publicly available.” (G047591 – (Super. Ct. No. 30-2012-00585496). If you care as much as we do, you can read the full decision here Appeals Court Opinion.

Twice warned, twice ignored, these actions have now established precedent statewide. The City could launch one more challenge in the courts. If you’ve read the Court of Appeals opinion you’ll realize there is no wiggle room left. Council must not allow O’Donnell and Markman to again commit such a hubristic act. If they do, a wholesale recall would be the only sensible action left Brea voters.

Every city clerk across the entire state will no longer be free to play loose and easy with election law. Come Monday morning, you can bet correspondence on this will be colossal.

Why such a big deal?

Because issues like this are tied to current elections and violations can easily elude detection as the transgression occurs outside of the public view and the election will have occurred before a meaningful review can be made.

It’s like a child stealing cookies when no one is looking, eating the evidence before they’re found out, betting that the missing cookies will likely not be discovered until well after dessert.

In this case, their best friend caught them in the act, suggested they put the cookies back before getting in big trouble and their choice was to arrogantly disregard the warning, believing they were too smart to get busted.

In this case it was fortuitous that the proponents of Measures T & U, because they were part of the statement and rebuttal process, were in a position to make early discovery.

The city claimed the clerk was merely correcting a typo to reflect the intent of Council, however the court determined that the city provided no evidence to prove the city clerk had any awareness of Council’s intent. In fact, if the Council, for the most part, had little or no knowledge of what was really unfolding… what intent could they possibly have had?

So, what the hell did we spend nearly $200,000 on? Excuse me, $400,000.

The court clearly states that even had they found the complaint to be moot, which they didn’t, the issues raised were of broad importance and capable of recurring. Even though the election was already behind us, the court denied the city’s appeal to dismiss.

Where do we go from here?

A good start would be to take a long hard look at the incumbents and candidates in the upcoming election. The impostors posing as knowledgeable fiscal conservatives should be outed and removed from consideration.

Next, we should drive home the point to Council to start making smarter choices that keep us out of harms way, out of the courtroom.

If this Madrona nonsense lands us in court, and it seems inevitable it will, I hope O’Donnell, Markman and the City Council all hold the appellants, Bev Perry and Glenn Parker (candidate in 2014?), as accountable for causing major legal expense to the city as they did Mr. Vargas… who has been fully exonerated as far as we’re concerned.

Vargas 1 – Brea 0

Game over.

 

Comedy Or Tragedy? You Decide.

justiceThe sequence of events during the 2013 Council reorganization gave evidence that Council is a toxic environment, ruled by petty local politics and personal agendas. Until voters can find five candidates free of duplicitous motives with a genuine concern for the people they represent, it seems this dysfunctional body will continue to be self perpetuating. Now… on to the details.

Christine Marick first  to publicly admit the truth.

marick_300When Garcia awkwardly opened the floor to motions (almost tripping on the word nominations), Marick jumped in and prefaced her motion commenting on how maladjusted Council had become, that it was time to set aside any adversarial agendas and vote in favor of what best served Brea’s citizens. She put forth a “slate” motion of Murdock as Mayor and Simonoff as Mayor Pro Tem.

I, along with many others, was pleased to hear someone voice what most had known and appreciated Marick’s attempt to bring about a positive change. Also like others, I felt Marick could and should have stepped up like this a year ago… but hats off to her for having the courage to speak up now.

Marick’s receives a blatant slap in the face.

garcia_300After a painfully long silence there was no second forthcoming. Not from Garcia, her mentor. Not from Murdock, her compatriot. Not from Moore, who had his own agenda. Not from Simonoff, still childishly feeling used and abused.  It was humiliating to say the least. Realizing she was out on a broken limb, Marick modified her motion to nominate Murdock for Mayor. Before a second could be made, Moore jumped in and made a substitute motion… this time with no objection from Markman.

Moore politics, Moore whining.

moore_300Look, I like Roy. But he crossed a line nominating Simonoff, passed over four times and without a prayer of being selected Mayor. Moore’s weak plea about traditions and fair play obviously fell on deaf ears and failed to get a second as well.

Moore could easily have rattled off a litany of reasons why Murdock not only hadn’t earned the right to become Mayor, but was a questionable choice for Council. I’ve heard these:

  • Recommended reducing time for public to speak during Matters From The Audience from five to three minutes, without limiting time for Council or City Manager rebuttal.
  • Promising to eliminate street sweeping citations while running for office yet never raising the question once elected.
  • Seeking retribution against public safety for not endorsing his candidacy, suggesting a deep retroactive pay cut for all employees.
  • Dropping the ball as the city’s No on Measures T & U debate representative.
  • Getting fined $2,000 by the FPPC for failing to properly disclose his leadership of the PAC Breans Against Measures T & U.

Garcia then made inquiry of Simonoff, ostensibly seeking a second I think, and Simonoff barked that there was a motion on the floor. Murdock acquiesced, seconded the motion and — no big surprise — 3:2 against.

Back to the original motion.

murdock_300Now with Garcia seconding Marick’s motion and little further discussion, Murdock becomes Brea’s new Mayor in a 3:2 split decision.

Far from the knockout he would have liked to see on his resumé. Garcia and Murdock play musical chairs and we’re on to the next chapter in this farce.

Like a bad episode of Survivor.

Garcia blindsides Marick, who has no immunity idol, and nominates her as Mayor Pro Tem. If looks could kill, Garcia wouldn’t have made it out of the meeting alive.

marty_300Another painfully long silence while Murdock and Garcia prayed for a second from either Moore or Simonoff. Fat chance. Moore gave Simonoff a look that asked, “Should I?” and Simonoff replied with a glance of his own that clearly said, “Absolutely not!” So much for seeking compromise.

Murdock, like a whimpering puppy, poses the rhetorical question, “Doesn’t anyone want to be my Mayor Pro Tem?” Oh please, I’ve taken baths deeper than Murdock.

Seizing the opportunity, Simonoff quickly seconds Marick’s nomination and without discussion (or Marick politely declining, which was her prerogative) a vote is taken.

Marick’s response appears mixed. (Rev. 12/08)

Marick was clearly surprised my her nomination and her reaction could easily be described as at odds with what was obviously happening. Though the little discussion that accompanied motions thus far was hollow rhetoric, I would have welcomed an opportunity to hear how Marick felt at that moment. The political correctness crippling public discussion dictates we’ll likely never know.

At the encouragement of several readers I had to revisit the video of Tuesday’s meeting. Upon closer inspection, I must amend my reporting of the final vote. It was unanimous. Not so much in defense of my original account, but while almost inaudibly muttering her consent, Marick clearly appears to be shaking her head no.

What could possibly be a solution?

politician_liar_150We desperately need new blood on Council. Out with the old, in with the new. We need a few honest, ethical, unencumbered by special interests, articulate and well meaning apolitical reasonably conservative Gen X-ers to toss their hat in the ring.

Again, fat chance.

The Gen X-ers we’ve got now seem to be doing a good job of poisoning the well. What young person in their right mind would even consider running for Council? No matter how you slice it, there will still be remnants of the toxicity to deal with.

Hey, we’ve had some really excellent young people stepping up as volunteers on committees and commissions. Mike Newcomb and Ben Schultz on Cultural Arts and Leah Brazo on Parks & Rec immediately come to mind. They meet the requirements hands down. They’re all too wise to fall prey to Council Fever, preferring to continue focusing on family and building productive lives out of the limelight.

It’s a catch twenty-two, that’s for sure.

Any young person with the qualities we’re looking for isn’t looking to get trapped into playing local politics. Any young person willing to get involved in local politics likely isn’t the sort of candidate we need.

An odd sort of solution is being bantered about.

There is hushed chatter about putting a measure on the 2014 ballot to elect Mayors instead of this quagmire of conflicting personalities cheap-shotting each other. Maybe that would be an answer. Put an end to the crap once and for all.

What would it take? Interested parties with the financial wherewithal to get the signatures needed (about 4,500 I think) and to mount a campaign to fight the opposition that would certainly come from city hall.

We might just get lucky. Maybe city hall would assign the new Mayor handle the opposition on this one too!