Koreagate – Case Closed.

da-letterAfter almost 16 weeks the other shoe finally dropped. OC Senior Deputy District Attorney Raymond Armstrong sent me a letter saying they were closing their inquiry into Koreagate and that no further action would be taken.

I am still unsure what was actually done beyond quickly reading through the 15 to 20 documents provided as evidence in the complaint. Comments in Mr. Armstrong’s letter left more questions unanswered than answered.

I called his office to solicit more information on their process and ended up talking for some time to his associate SDDA Jaime Coulter. At the end of our conversation I understood the complexities in this case that would lead them to the conclusion that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Letting the results be known.

What follows is my email to Marty Simonoff and Roy Moore (the only Council members interested in getting to the truth) as well as to Armstrong and Coulter plus a couple of OCR staff writers whom I had promised to keep informed.

Marty & Roy…

My response from the OCDA is attached. I called and spoke with Mr. Armstrong’s associate, Jaime Coulter, and it is clear that their investigation fell short of what I had expected. It was, however, conducted in a manner consistent with the prosecutorial restraints under which I understand their office must operate.

Per Mr. Coulter, the OCDA’s determination that there is no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing and their dismissal of my complaint hinges on the necessity for them to be able to prove “criminal intent to defraud” (steal from the city) as part of a case for misappropriation of public funds.

Intent is one the most difficult matters to prove, except perhaps under the more liberal burden of proof required in civil court. It’s a shame that “stupid” isn’t against the law, but then we all might be in serious jeopardy.

While I am not happy with the outcome, I am satisfied… my lengthy conversation with Mr. Coulter helped me to have a deeper, more clear understanding of these legal processes.

Mr. Armstrong’s letter states, “This also appears to be an issue that the city council could adequately address.”

Unfortunately, those most likely to be effected by continued pursuit of this matter, those who would be required to reimburse the city, maintain a strangle hold with their three votes which allows them to impede any effort counter to their personal agendas.

The good news is that, through over three months of relentless pressure from me and others and the wisdom in Measure T, the city has implemented positive standards which will avert this sort of unethical behavior from happening again. Itineraries will be required, Council will formally approve foreign travel and, hopefully, a more robust and enforceable travel policy will be adopted soon.

It’s perfectly legal to be stupid.

I never suggested, from day one, that there was any malice in the hearts of those who made such an ignorant blunder. When the culprits were publicly taken to task by Lynn Daucher, Bev Perry, Glen Parker and others no one called them criminals. It was clear enough that the choices made by Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell were more idiotic and ethically unwise than criminal chicanery.

Regardless of what convinced Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell it would be okay to spend almost half of the city’s annual travel budget on a ten day excursion to Korea and Japan… no law was broken. No common sense was exercised either and almost 50 years of precedents were totally and conveniently ignored.

So, where do we go from here?

First, Council needs to finish the job of formalizing an enforceable travel policy. They reached agreement, by consensus, to require public approval by Council for all foreign travel and that a complete itinerary must be included in the travel request to verify the official nature and direct benefits of the trip.

This is a good start but is nowhere near a robust and enforceable travel policy. A more thorough policy needs to be drafted and approved, in resolution form, in a public session. Not the study session, which might as well be held behind closed doors for all the transparency it provides, but downstairs in front of the tv cameras.

Throughout this lengthy ordeal, virtually all who called, emailed or stopped me on the street to talk about this felt as I did that Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell should reimburse the city. I still feel that way, and with one swing vote a Council majority would agree. I’m not holding my breath.

And finally, November 2014 will give us an opportunity to elect candidates who will truly have the people’s will as their guide and reject those politicians who have repeatedly thumbed their noses at the public, taken every stipend and free chicken dinner they could and spent more time trying to build their legacy than maintain our community.

 

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?