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?

 

Silence Isn’t Golden.

matter

(Thanks to Hugh MacLeod for his insightful doodle and thought for today.)

Assuming that Council does the right thing about Koreagate, that those who screwed up are held accountable and that the door is permanently closed to that sort of shenanigans, we have plenty on our plate that deserves close attention and it’s time for the folks that call Brea home to speak up.

The 560 Fund.

bigdump_aThe 560 Fund is Brea’s payback from Orange County for keeping the Olinda Alpha landfill open through December of 2021 and these monies were to mitigate the traffic, noise, road damage and provide other “community benefits.”

This purposefully nebulous phrase was slipped into the contract language to ensure there was virtually no limit on the number or type of boondoggles that could be foisted on an unsuspecting public.

DumptruckTotal income is expected to exceed $30 million dollars, and to date we’ve received $10.5 million and have less than $3 million left.  The 560 Fund has evolved into an obvious slush fund to avoid having to use the General Fund money to pay for the project du jour.

Again, the 560 Fund was never meant to be a slush fund but that is precisely what it’s becoming.  So… let’s play follow the money.

No return on our energy investment.

solarStaff tricked Council into making the first bond payments for the Solar Energy project, totaling over $1.7 million dollars, using the 560 Fund.  In case you forgot, that’s the green project staff sole sourced from Chevron Energy Solutions by duping Council into believing the project would pay for itself.

Though I don’t believe it’s been conducted yet, Chevron get’s to audit themselves, which our Finance Director characterizes as a cost saving effort.  Really?  Do you think for a minute they’ll admit to cutting down the cherry tree?

Judging a book by it’s cover.

libraryThere are those that would like to tap the 560 Fund to give a gift to the County of Orange by buying and remodeling the old Tower Records building, turning it into a new library.  Without question, this library idea is a project easily in the umpteen million dollar range.

The RDA already blew the chance to build a multilevel parking structure on Super Block 1.  Does anyone really think the city would take a property the scale of the Tower Records building off of the tax roles and then give it away?

Where do you plan to be in 2030?

engagementStaff wants to dig into the 560 Fund to pay nearly $300,000 dollars to some outside consultants to create public engagement opportunities under the guise of “Envision Brea 2030.”  The ruse is to get input from Breans, across all demographics, to help guide Council and staff as they plan their Brea of tomorrow.

Were you at the Community Center for the budget workshop to help set priorities for the Budget Strategic Planning (BSP) group?  Did you attend the public meeting to give input on reorganizing Brea’s Fire Department?  Did you participate in the group asked to suggest how to develop Rails to Trails and the community building on the Birch Street Golf Course? Were you able to let the city know what we might need for affordable and senior housing in the future?  Probably not, most people weren’t

Staff has made it quite clear that, unless you’re lucky enough to be one of Good Ol’ Brea’s pet special interest groups, you can keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself.

How about starting a savings account?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to set whatever is left of this 560 Fund aside, invest it, let it grow and have it available if and when we should get blindsided with some crisis?

We need to put a stop to their, “If we’ve got it, we’ve gotta spend it.” mentality.  What’s wrong with demanding that staff live within their means?  It’s what you teach your kids!

But wait… there’s more!

Under the single label of fiscal responsibility, we have an almost unending list of serious issues to keep an eye on.  In addition to Brea’s growing unfunded pension liability, now there’s rumored to be an OPEB (Other Postemployment Benefits – medical retirement) shortfall currently $17.3 million dollars and growing at nearly 30% each year. To make matters worse, Brea is totally unfunded for this liability.

We’re still trying to maintain a high functioning Fire Department with oversight by Fullerton and rebuild a Brea Only Police Department after getting dumped by Yorba Linda – neither situation having been properly reviewed by Council or a status report to the community provided.  What’s really working, and what isn’t?

You can also put CFD’s (Community Facilities Districts) on the watch list too.  Hamstrung by Prop 13′s capping property tax increases to no more than a limited inflation factor, CFD’s are a way to dodge Prop 13 and generate uncapped revenue.

When is a CFD not like Mello-Roos?

housingWhen it double taxes citizens, making them pay twice for the same infrastructure (police, fire, paramedics, etc.), all without a sunset clause when the costs have been recouped.

Even though they publicly admitted having reservations about double taxation and equity issues, Council members Moore and Marick joined with Garcia and Murdock last night (05/21) to approve CFD’s for Central Park Brea and Taylor Morrison developments – without having the broad discussion promised by staff, as Council member Simonoff reminded everyone, or conducting the public hearing (slated for 06/04).

At the public hearing, only the developers, as “property owners” will add their vote of approval, largely because they’ve had their feet held to the fire and just want to get on with things.  Who speaks for the almost 600 ultimate property owners that, through their CFD fees, will be stuck paying the bill… not until everything is paid off, but forever?  Where is their vote in this matter?

Isn’t it generally understood that the creation of new taxes requires a vote of the people?Don’t use the excuse that this is a fee when it’s obviously a tax.

How much longer can we afford a silent majority?

citizenTime’s up I’m afraid.  If you think you can continue to sit idly by, keeping your opinions to yourself, and everything will work out fine in the end… you’re wrong.  We can’t avoid confrontation any longer.  It’s never been more important than right now for everyone to step up and be heard.

Remember, if you’re not part of the solution…