What dead horse?

manley_300Last Tuesday, at Matters from the Audience, it was suggested by local entrepreneur Dwight Manley that continued efforts to retrieve the $10,000 spent by Don Schweitzer, Brett Murdock and Tim O’Donnell on their sightseeing trip to Anseong, S. Korea and Hanno, Japan was flogging a dead horse.

He referred to the expense as “a few thousand dollars” and it’s not surprising he viewed it with such little concern.  I haven’t a clue what Mr. Manley’s net worth might be, and frankly I don’t care.  I do think it’s safe to assume it might exceed the net worth of everyone in that room Tuesday night, which would explain why so many of us think $10,000 is a lot of money to spend so frivolously and he doesn’t.

Let me boil it down for you.

  • Since it’s inception in 1969, the Brea Sister City Association (BSCA) has been a private effort, citizen volunteers creating opportunities for cultural exchange.  No treaties, pacts, covenants or contracts have been established between cities.  Sister city relationships are, and have always been ceremonial.
  • An unfortunately ugly episode of infighting, triggered by differing agendas between the Board of Directors and the Korean contingent, led to the fracturing of the BSCA, the establishment of a separate 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the Brea Korea Sister City Association (BKSCA).
  • Don Schweitzer’s knee-jerk reaction to the conflict, racial epithets and all, led to his  sticking his nose in where it didn’t belong and his sending an unauthorized communication to Mayor Hwang of Anseong.  Schweitzer’s lapse in good judgement gave rise to the unsanctioned excursion to South Korea and Japan by himself, Murdock and O’Donnell.
  • No supporting documentation exists establishing official status of the trip or any justification for the Mayor Pro Tem or City Manager to tag along.
  • rgarcia_stacheCouncilman Simonoff, on his recent (self financed) visit to Korea, came across information that created a serious doubt in his mind as to the official nature of their trip, that it was as much a sightseeing trip at taxpayer expense.
  • I’m told that Councilman Simonoff’s request to have Council discuss this during an upcoming study session, at least at the time of this writing, has been quashed by Mayor Garcia, the same guy who promised he would fully support public discussion of all issues.
  • In addition to the $10,000 of expenses there is the issue of how O’Donnell charged off his time, three days as “regular paid work days” and four days as “paid administrative leave.” Based on O’Donnell’s salary, this computes to nearly another $10,000… if we pay him his accrued but unused “vacation” days, you can double that again.  That’s almost $30,000 Mr. Manley. Does that grab your attention?
  • There is no previous case that realistically sets a precedent for the city to pick up the tab on a junket like this.
  • We ought not be debating one expense over another.  There is no justification for any expense.  All three happy travelers need to pony up and pay us back.
  • There are those who might argue that the Mayor enjoys some discretion here, that he ought to be able to visit a sister city if he chooses.  Sorry, given the facts I have to disagree.  Leave the “perks” to the private sector and start doing the job for which you were elected.

Is this flogging a dead horse?

No. Far from it. It is, once again, the people holding elected officials accountable for their behavior, to a high standard of ethics and demanding the public treasury be reimbursed for the obvious misuse of taxpayer’s hard earned money.

Let me close with this.

I must recognize and support Mr. Manley’s plea for greater accountability in resolving Brea’s massive and unmitigated unfunded pension liability.  Left unchecked, it wouldn’t take much of a fiscal hiccup to send us spiraling into bankruptcy.  On this we agree.

Update: 05/15/13

Last night the Brea City Council, thanks in large part to the persistence of Councilman Simonoff, has agreed to put the Anseong/Hanno trip on their June 4th study session agenda for review.

 

No excuse is better than a bad one.

evil_hearnoTwo weeks ago the illustrious Mayor aggressively asserted that he would put his life on the line to guarantee free speech and open discussion.  He swore in front of his Viet Nam buddies he would never roadblock anyone’s attempt, especially fellow council members, to discuss any issue, anywhere at any time.

I decided to take him at his word.

Back in January Garcia and Murdock both gave reports from the same League of California Cities committee meeting.  It struck me odd that Brea would occupy two seats on any committee and I was not alone in my curiosity.  So I sent off a short email to Mayor Garcia with a couple of simple questions.

Opening a discussion with the Mayor.

They were simple questions, really.  They could have easily been handled with simple, honest answers.

“How is it that you and Mayor Pro Tem Murdock are both appointed to the League of California Cities’ Policy Committee on Housing, Community and Economic Development?  Does this mean the City of Brea will always have to pay for you both to travel to Sacramento, attend the same meetings and give the same reports?  Is this redundancy truly necessary?”

Simple answers can be a long time coming.

evil_seenoTwo weeks pass and, finally, this is the response I get, “We’ve each been appointed by separate entities of which the City is a members.”

“These types of committees are educational and have a major legislative impact on local governance.  The City of Brea has a long history of representation on these policy committees.  Having more representation is better for the citizens of Brea.”

What?

Did I find out how they both got on the same committee? No.

DId I get an answer to the duplicate cost and redundancy query?  No.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

So I responded, asking, “What are the separate entities making the appointments and why would they place two members from Brea and not make similar redundant appointments for other cities?”

“Would we not accomplish as much with a single representative while saving half of the travel costs?”

“What, precisely, is the benefit of membership on the League of California Cities’ Policy Committee on Housing, Community and Economic Development for the citizen’s of Brea?”

A slightly quicker response from the Mayor.

evil_speaknoAfter a seven day delay, I get this, “Among the duties of a Councilmember is representing the Citizens of Brea in the organizations in which we hold membership.”

“The City Council budgets for attendance at these meetings and events, the educational and networking opportunities have made the City of Brea the community it is.”

“If you would like to visit  regarding this or any other issues, please feel to contact my office.”

The straw that broke the camel’s back.

Up ’til now I had remained civil in my inquiry, albeit with a touch of sarcasm, but this response took me off the charts.  I’ll give you my final rejoinder in a moment.

Turning to other, more forthcoming, more articulate and more experienced resources, here is what I discovered.

  • Brea is a dues paying member of both the National League of Cities and the League of California Cities.
  • The National League of Cities and the League of California Cities are small lobbying organizations in a sea of giants, lobbying for municipal issues.
  • Any benefits coming to Brea are, at best, the byproduct of a lobbying effort that was initiated by someone else to resolve their need.
  • For years, Brea council members have been appointed to committees in both organizations, but never have we had two members sitting on the same committee.
  • Both organizations place members on committees through Presidential and Divisional appointments.
  • The organization’s President and Divisional Chair must receive letters requesting an appointment from the individual seeking the seat.
  • Garcia and Murdock had to make specific requests to be appointed, extolling their credentials, Garcia to the President and Murdock to the Divisional Chair.
  • No other committee has two members from the same city.
  • No explanation has been given regarding the benefit Brea receives having both Garcia and Murdock in attendance at the same meetings.
  • No explanation has been given clarifying any realtime benefit Brea has received, directly or tangentially from this or any committee.

Does no one up there talk to each other?  Does no one in city hall think it odd that both Garcia and Murdock were headed, at taxpayer expense, to the same meeting?

Granted, at about $200 bucks round trip each, maybe a meal and no hotel expense… for committee meetings that occur quarterly, this isn’t a ton of money.  It’s not like they were taking a vacation together in a foreign country.

My final response to Mayor Mumbles McEloquent.

rgarcia_stache“Let me be plain spoken.  Your repeated vacuous non-answers are unacceptable.”

“I asked simple questions, questions being posed to me by other Breans.  Simple, truthful answers would have been appropriate.  Extending the invitation to visit your office, the best way to avoid any written record of the discussion, is obviously sarcasm and, frankly, is insulting.”

“Your repeated deletion of the other Council Members from the Cc: list, effectively excluding them from witnessing and/or wading in on the discussion, cannot be whitewashed with the boilerplate Brown Act caveat.”

“You’ve left me no alternative but to carry this to a public forum, as I fully intend to have answers to my questions.”

“Shame on you for squandering an opportunity to really be the open and ethical elected official you repeatedly profess to be.”

While I have provided, verbatim, the exchange I had with the Mayor, here is a PDF COPY of the emails for those interested in documentation.