Term Limits – Yes Or No?

NOPARKING-1Term limits restricting the number of successive terms of office that may be served by elected officials has always been a controversial issue.

Brea has never had term limits and I, along with a growing number of others apparently, believe it’s time to put it to a vote.

The almost perpetual reelection of career politicians prevents the rise of new voices in government. By instituting term limits, the problems of the status quo can be solved, and more responsible, accountable candidates and Council members may arise.

Here are arguments in favor of term limits that, IMHO, make a lot of sense to me.

Term limits restore rotation in office and government by the people.

It is unfortunate that politics has become an accepted career path. It is better that participation in government be brief. Term limits will put an end to municipal politics becoming a cushy “lifetime” job, making elected service more a limited leave of absence from a productive career in the private sector.

Without term limits, the temptation to remain in office for decades keeps people seeking reelection long after they have accomplished all the legislative good of which they are capable. It does not take long for legislators to become more occupied with their relationships with each other and with lobbyists, than with their constituents. They pass their “use by” date.

Local government works best when it functions as a citizen council, in which people who pursue careers other than politics enter office for a brief time to do their community service, and then leave to reenter society as private citizens. The typical agenda of today’s career politicians is only to build their own power and influence base ahead of representing the people they were elected to serve.

Term limits make for better elections and empower new leaders and ideas.

Incumbency provides a huge electoral advantage. Sitting politicians, unlike poor Mr. Murdock, almost always win reelection. Over the past 30 years it had become virtually impossible to unseat an incumbent until the grassroots effort of Operation Clean Sweep lit up Brea ballot boxes.

People have a tendency to vote for people they recognize. Donors and special interest groups (in the past I’ve referred to them as the old guard) tend to support past winners who will likely continue to benefit their interests. Term limits actually increase voter choice by making elections more competitive and encouraging more candidates to run.

In communities where term limits have been instituted there is far higher turnover amongst elected officials, giving voters more choice in who should represent them. Ultimately, long term council members using political machines to retain power do their community and constituents a disservice. Power is best used when it changes hands over time in order to allow for dynamic new solutions.

Term limits prevent corruption and exploitation of office.

FINGERS-LWith a few exceptions like Koreagate and the Energy Coalition, Brea has been blessed with a history of well intentioned and ethical leaders. One only need to think of the City of Industry and Bell to realize the magnitude of the risk.

Sure, we’ve seen behavior that danced perilously close to the edge of the Brown Act. Local politics have always been a bit rough and tumble… and personality clashes are unfortunately more commonplace than one would prefer.

That said, when a career politician is firmly entrenched, they may seek to enrich themself at the expense of the public, to shower unearned perks upon family and allies in order to maintain and strengthen their powerful position.

Term limits serve to limit the ability of individuals to put forward self-serving legislation and to retain power indefinitely. Instead, with term limits, elected officials have only a limited time in power, which tends to shift their focus toward genuinely benefiting the public.

Term limits trigger action over apathy.

A major focus of any elected official hoping to serve another term is on the next election and on vote-getting. It is often the case that hard decisions need to be made but it is difficult for them to do so when they are fixated on being reelected. Elected officials have an incentive to put tough decisions off if they can retain power by doing so.

An example of such seemingly perpetual procrastination (climbing on my soapbox for a moment) is the interminable delays in allowing public comment on the creation of an Environmental Advisory Board.

For almost a year Council has been asked to hold a town meeting to determine how broad an interest, or lack of same, Brea residents have in local environmental issues. A simple word to the City Manager and it could have happened months ago.

When constrained by term limits, elected officials must make the most of their limited time in office, resulting in greater prioritization of difficult decisions and reform. While there will always be some of this behavior, it is curtailed by term limits, as elected officials will, in their final term at the very least, not be beholden to as many special interests as they cannot run again.

Where do you stand?

Is it time at last to finish what Operation Clean Sweep started and let term limits put an end to career politicians in Brea?

VOTECOUNTS

Legal Tactics Called Bait And Switch.

The 10/27/2013 Orange County Register, under “Our Town – Brea,” published the following: (Reprinted here because many of you object to the OCR’s paywall which blocks you from reading articles via links shared here and elsewhere.)

Amicus brief: Ballotpedia, a non-profit group that disseminates information on elections, and California Aware, which tries to improve agencies’ adherence to laws, have filed an amicus brief supporting ex-Councilman Steven Vargas in a court case against Brea over the validity of City Council authored rebuttals to 2012’s Measures T and U.”

What is an Amicus Brief?

Lady-JusticeAmicus Curiae, “… a phrase that literally means “friend of the court” — someone who is not a party to the litigation, but who believes that the court’s decision may affect its interest.” – William H. Rehnquist.

Ballotpedia and Californians Aware believe they are effected by the court’s decision and have filed an Amicus Brief, formal arguments with the court.  The decision on whether to admit the information lies at the discretion of the court.

I believe the brief presents a strong defense of the claims made in the litigation by Vargas. Clearly, the City ignored the letter informing them of their error and chose instead to disregard the law and bear the costs of the litigation that followed.  The whole matter could have been handled, without heavy legal fees, simply by adhering to the law when their error was brought to their attention.

Amicus Brief’s Conclusion.

You can read/download the full Amicus Brief here, or be satisfied by reading it’s concluding content.

“The fact that one of the present measures involved caps to the bait and switchers’ own salaries should raise an eyebrow of skepticism regarding any actions not completely compliant with the Elections Code. The City of Brea whether honest or nefarious in its mistake should not be permitted to swap signatories after the review and challenge period passed.

This Court must ensure that all entities play by the rules as clearly laid out in the Elections Code.  Section 9283 is crystal clear that the ballot arguments need to be signed by whoever authored them and § 9295 provides the only means to correct a ballot argument during the review period.  This was not followed by Respondents and this Court cannot allow a City to follow a different set of rules.

For the foregoing reasons, Amicus respectfully requests that the decision of the Court below be reversed in a published opinion that clearly holds a City is beholden to the exact same set of ballot argument requirements as every other person or entity.  Amicus requests that the City’s signature box bait and switch is not allowed.”

Throwing good money after bad.

tim_2aMy last blog post, Legal Fees Or Legal Fiasco? (scroll down), will give you a perspective on the $154,000 O’Donnell has paid Markman’s firm and how outrageous these fees are in relationship to the work provided.

At a recent Council meeting, Brea resident Don Parker, made a reference to the City of Bell that drew a heated critical response from Markman.

jmarkman_bContrary to the rules governing conducting of public meetings, our City Attorney was neither asked for, nor did he offer a legal opinion.

Pretending he was the 7th member of Council, he blurted out a personal opinion that has no business being expressed while he was involved in the performance of his duties.

Whether discussing the recent unapproved spending of millions of dollars on water shares, the unsanctioned spending of public funds for private travel, the unchecked and rapidly escalating legal costs incurred to cover up a violation of the Election Code, the inadvertent approval of raises Council gave themselves or the brazen disregard for the law that resulted in a member of Council receiving a $2,000 fine from the FPPC for violation of Election law… the common thread is quite apparent.

RRizzoThe loose management style relied upon to run the city, compounded by the obvious lack of transparency and a history for sweeping matters under the carpet, leaves Brea susceptible to the same abuse of power and authority that led to the disaster in Bell.

Is Brea another Bell on the way to happen?

I’m not suggesting that anyone is currently engaged in illegal activities.  I’m saying that the door has been left ajar and that opportunities are ripe for an unscrupulous individual or group to get away with serious larceny.

We need to replace Brea’s less than thorough policies and management guidelines with a set of rules ensuring that opportunities for corrupt activities is virtually zero.

 

OCDA Disappoints Again.

justice_640

After five weeks of silence, no response to several follow-up emails, the OCDA’s office has turned a blind eye to the facts staring the rest of us in the face.  Instead of responding to my email inquiry, Senior Deputy District Attorney Raymond S. Armstrong choose to rely on snail mail (click here) to slam the door in my face.

Armstrong’s response, telling me that there was “insufficient evidence” to escalate his inquiry into a full scale investigation, included these three telling phrases in support of his denial of impropriety:

A  “…procedure may have been different than that utilized by councils in previous years”

This change threw council members a curve and led to the incorrect and misleading instructions given to Roy Moore by City Attorney Jim Markman, reported on by Moore and admitted to by Markman. It allowed the reorganization process to, once again, turn it’s back on decades of tradition in order to issue a political snub and ensure that council leadership remained in the hands of those in the hip pocket of City Manager Tim O’Donnell.

B  “…communication between the city manager and one of the newer council members”

Amongst other things, this clearly indicates that Armstrong did not contact either Moore or Simonoff to validate the details in my complaint. Newer council member? Moore, whose BreaNet #639 mirrored much of my complaint, is in his 14th year on council.  Simonoff, who verified the inappropriate approach and offer made prior to the meeting by O’Donnell, is the senior most member of council in his 16th year.

Garcia, Murdock and Marick together barely add up to eight years on council.

C  “…even if the communication occurred as you allege”

This is another telling example of the failure on the part of Armstrong to carry out a meaningful inquiry. A simple phone call to Roy Moore and/or Marty Simonoff would have doubled the allegations and provided validation from principal players in the events described.

Armstrong never contacted either Moore or Simonoff.

Putting things into perspective.

I’ve talked to dozens of knowledgable, politically savvy Breans who either watched the reorganization live or on the public access channel in the weeks that followed. Every one recognized the awkward and obvious behavior which overwhelmingly suggested collusion on the part of some council members prior to the meeting.

Had Armstrong given the online video even a single unbiased viewing, I have to believe he is smart enough, experienced enough to see what everyone else saw.

What is it going to take?

The OCDA seems to dodge political corruption cases for some reason, though it is currently investigating the Costa Mesa Police Association (click here and here). Maybe Brea isn’t messy enough. Unlike the City of Bell, maybe Brea issues don’t have enough zeros attached to warrant a closer look.

I wonder what it would really take to get the OCDA to pay attention to Brea, misuse of public funds for a foreign sightseeing junket?

This is not sour grapes.

This is just a raging case of complete frustration. How egregious does the misconduct have to be before Breans, in large numbers, have finally had enough? When will a few fresh faces show up at Matters from the Audience demanding full accountability and real transparency for a change?

The prevailing belief inside city hall that Breans are oblivious to the truth, apathetic about local government or both fuels their continued arrogant disregard for and dismissal of public opinion. Can this go on, unchecked, forever?

They’re betting it will.

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” ~ Albert Einstein