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

Unilateral What?

Unilateral dismissal, and it’s been a scrofulous canker festering within the Brea Municipal Code for 25 years.

A majority of Council members turned city hall into a complete circus last night. The only ones interested in honestly addressing the real issues on this matter were Mayor Hupp and City Attorney Jim Markman.

If you have the stomach to watch this travesty go to THIS LINK to view the streaming video. Warning: this item is 40+ minutes in length and the results are zero.

Can’t tell the players without a program.

Hupp.

unilateralAs soon as the item was opened for discussion Mayor Hupp identified the key issue, the unilateral dismissal provision within the municipal code… pointing out that removing it and editing the Council Code of Conduct to little more than a reprise of the amendment to the municipal code would solve 99% of the issues at hand.

From there, as I am about to clarify, everything went to hell in a hand basket. Mayor Hupp’s thoughtful and unchallengeable identification of the real issue and a relatively simple means of addressing it got lost in a blizzard of disconnected hyperbole rooted more in opinion than fact.

Parker.

unilateralMPT Parker, as is becoming all too common, became bogged down in his own rhetoric and, after the City Attorney poked holes in his “solution,” Parker became withdrawn and contributed little of value.

Once again I was surprised that MPT Parker made no mention of being amongst the Council members unanimously approving unilateral dismissal in 1992, along with Mayor Bernie Dunlap and Council members Nelson, Perry and Wiser.

Marick.

unilateralCouncil member Marick, as she has done on many occasions, tried to sabotage any meaningful progress by layering on additional demands beyond what was called for on the agenda or in the staff report.

Though she admitted several times, “I know this isn’t on the agenda…” she persisted to insist the topic be broadened and brought back later.

She pulled the same garbage when she and then Mayor Murdock blindsided Council with a list of ridiculous extra demands upon the Madrona development.

Also, when the Central Park Brea development CFD was on the agenda for approval she voiced a shared concern with Council members Moore and Simonoff about double taxation and the lack of a sunset clause to cover assets with fixed costs.

Only when City Attorney Markman assured her that a full review of all CFD’s and Maintenance & Lighting Districts (M&LD) could be conducted anytime Council chose did she vote to approve the CFD, allowing the project to move forward.

Nothing has happened since on either matter. “Revisiting the issue at a later date” has become a euphemism for sweeping things under the rug.

Simonoff.

unilateralCouncil member Simonoff’s only contribution was to challenge Council member Marick’s obvious deflection. After 20+ years on Council and 5 years working with Ms. Marick, I would have thought he realized what his interjection would cause.

Each time he challenged Ms. Marick she emphatically doubled down on her objections. Seriously, Council member Simonoff should abandon the countless “cityspeak” cliché’s that have become his go to phrases when he has nothing of significance to offer.

By the way Mr. Simonoff, your challenge that employing the unilateral dismissal has only happened once in Brea’s 100 year history is quite a stretch since it wasn’t part of the municipal code until 1992. That’s 25 years Mr. Simonoff.

The manner in which Council member Vargas employed it, however, will likely remain a blemish on Brea history for 100 years.

Lets just say that Council member Simonoff could have played a much more material role in reaching a workable conclusion if he would set aside his perpetual concern with how he’s being perceived by others.

Vargas.

unilateralIt was Council member Vargas’ unprecedented use of the unilateral dismissal provision in the BMC on September 26, 2016 that triggered this year long process. It’s not surprising he sat, sulked and rolled his eyes as everyone else offered their two cents.

Finally, when Mayor Hupp made a motion to eliminate the unilateral dismissal from the BMC, he seconded the motion… not because he really supported the idea but because he though it might soften the blow using it will have if he runs for a third term

He withdrew his second later when he realized what it was. What a surprise that, like a petulant child, he decided to take his ball and go home – letting the motion die for lack of a second.

He punctuated his withdrawal by slinging angry accusations at fellow Council members for wasting time and expense on a meaningless matter.

Markman.

mad as hellOkay… time for me to eat a little crow.

For as harsh as I’ve been towards City Attorney Markman, he along with Mayor Hupp, were the only two who clearly understood the real issues and were focused on finding the most sensible and effective solutions to resolve them.

Mr. Markman did mention, “The municipal code is a without cause at will removal by a majority of Council or the person who appoints” – au contraire Mr. Markman… by the person who nominates. Appointments are ratified by a Council majority.

No single member of Council has more authority than their peers anywhere else in the BMC. All are members in equal standing. The unilateral dismissal creates an unjustifiable advantage to one member.

Markman also drove home the rationale for eliminating any attempt to fix the problem by editing the Code of Conduct. He pointed out that it provided for dismissal done for cause, a real slippery slope.

He also pointed out, “It’s (the Code of Conduct) overridden by a code section (BMC) that says something else.”

Bingo.

The Code of Conduct has been a smokescreen from the moment I brought it’s contradicting language to the City Manager’s attention – five months after raising the issues with the BMC.

The Code of Conduct is a policy statement subject to modification at any time, in a study session, beyond the scrutiny of most Breans and is not law.

Let me say that again. The Council Code of Conduct is NOT law! The Brea Municipal Code IS law and overrides all lesser documents.

Thank you Mr. Markman for attempting to nudge this unruly body towards an honest assessment of the real issues.

Well, now what?

Thanks to Council member Marick’s diversionary tactics and Council’s inability to muster itself into some unified approach to a matter that’s been on or near the table since last December… it’s fallen into the black hole of “let’s circle back to this later.”

What a total crock.

Final thoughts.

Everyone kept harping about how important it is to protect Commissioners and Committee members from the possibility of any public embarrassment… why it’s important to make their execution swift, silent and out of the public view.

Thanks to the horribly inept unilateral dismissal conducted by Council member Vargas last year and the protracted process I’ve had to wrestle with ever since to seek some sort of reasonable solution… my “execution” has been anything but swift, silent or out of the public view.

Nice job folks. Quit fooling yourself and get about the business of governing instead of playing at local politics.

 

Council Meeting Triggers Rant.

Like a growing number of folks I watched last night’s Council meeting from the comfort of my easy chair. As I watched I slid ever closer to the edge of my seat and the comments I was barking at the TV got louder and louder. Okay, forewarned is forearmed. This is a rant and you can bail out now and we’ll still be friends.

What is Council really approving?

Council is elected to make decisions in the best interest of those they serve… the ones who voted for them and those that didn’t. So why do so many issues become so politicized?

Why doesn’t staff provide all the pros and cons, including verified factual information, allowing Council to come to their own conclusions? Why do I constantly hear, “I move to approve, as presented…” – and boom! Another rubber stamp on the status quo.

council rubberstamp

Between the medical marijuana zoning ordinance and the rather contentious conclusion to jacking up our tiered water rates, I’ve never heard so much convoluted legalese and city speak tossed about. And why?

To herd Council down a trail leading to an unedited approval of staff’s grand plan.

When is the law not the law?

When it doesn’t suit the desired results sought by Planning and the City Attorney. Case in point, the medical marijuana matter was concluded based, in part, on 65 year old unsubstantiated Reefer Madness propaganda masquerading as fact.

Worse yet, though clearly pointed out by Council member Vargas, the vote for final approval included approving language stating Council verified and attested that the “facts” in the ordinance are true and correct!

Either remove the un-vetted opinion from the “Recitals” or delete the statement putting Council on the hook as validating the true and factual nature of statements. They have no means of proving anything.

“NOW, THEREFORE, the City Council of the City of Brea ordains as follows: The City Council find that the facts set forth in the Recitals, Part A, of this Ordinance are true and correct.”

One or the other has to go or it is arguable that Council is lying. I don’t care which part is nuked, just pick one and delete it… now and forever.

Also, what is all this nonsense about interim vs. permanent ordinances? Clearly, according to one City Attorney, the only real difference is an interim ordinance is a short term solution and the other is permanent (subject to amendments, remember).

The conflicting opinion is that a permanent ordinance is more defensible because it is created based upon fact and not upon urgent circumstance. Fact? Really? Go back and read my last point.

How did this get through the Planning Commission?

By the slimmest of margins following a passionate plea from the public, lengthy discussion of purpose and process by three Commissioners (two Commissioners didn’t join the discussion) and a series of three separate motions.

But did Council have the Commission’s minutes in their information packet? No. Were Commissioners contacted by Council to discuss the issues? Not that I’m aware of.

Council was told by the City Attorney that having the Planning Commission minutes would be unhelpful, offering only a bare minimum of information. Further he recommended Council listen to the streaming audio recording of the Planning Commission meeting as a better resource.

If the Commission’s minutes are unhelpful, why do them?

Council and Planning Commission minutes are created to provide a meaningful account of the business conducted – they are the official public record of the meeting. Years from now, anyone should be able to access and review these minutes and should be able to reconstruct a reasonable account of what transpired.

I have been attempting to drive this point home for two years, with two City Clerks, two City Managers and three Council members.

Action minutes, for Council and Planning Commission, where city policy and law are created, fall miserably short of fulfilling their purpose as written public record.

Don’t use the excuse that we have streaming video we can refer to, who the hell does that? Provide a reasonable summary in writing. That’s really not too much to ask. If the summary leaves me with additional questions I can turn to the video for details, but let it be my choice.

Back on topic.

Having listened to the streaming audio file for the January 26 Planning Commission meeting, it is abundantly clear that the audio quality is intermittent at best with much content being unintelligible.

I’m told this is attributable to two things. One – Commission members need additional instruction on how to properly use the new equipment, and two – as is common practice with Council meetings, Communications Department staff should be present to monitor recording quality.

Okay, so the Planning Commission audio file is virtually useless to Council.

Last night’s rush to judgment ran roughshod over common sense for the sake of kicking the can down the road and clearing the agenda. In the future I wish Council would leave the politics out and make a more concerted effort to get it right the first time. Its damn poor policy to keep falling back on the excuse that it’s easy to amend stuff later should circumstances change.

Really, when has that ever happened?

Again, case in point, since the Central Park Village Brea project was approved, has Council revisited the CFD and Mello-Roos issues that were swept under the rug? No.

How many other open ended issues have disappeared into the fog of history? We can’t even go back and review past minutes to answer that question. Per City Attorney Markman, “The law only requires action minutes and record of the vote.”

What about the spirit of the law Mr. Markman? What will it take to shift “transparency” from being a campaign buzzword to how this city conducts it’s business? What will it take to institute a level of accountability into how this city conducts it’s business that will help Breans to begin to trust local government again?

One final thought.

When a motion dies for lack of a second it’s a slap in the face to the one making the motion. I’ll refrain from suggesting what epithet accompanies the assault, but you might as well raise middle fingers in unison as you sit there mute.

Roy Moore once said that he often seconded motions with which he was in opposition if for no other reason than to demonstrate respect for his peers and afford them the opportunity to have their ideas discussed. Amen Roy.

For all Council’s continued yammering about respect and professional courtesy, letting a motion die for lack of a second belays all that. It is unconscionable. It is unacceptable.

council rubberstamp