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

Put The Cookies Back!

Local media fans the flames.

Thursday’s Star Progress had an article by OCR writer Doug Morino with the headline, “Last year’s city trip to Asia still a hot topic.” — yeah, and it’s about to get even hotter.

The article begins, “Brea leaders are once again catching fire for their traveling ways.  First, the heat came from a few residents (cough, cough…).  Now, it’s coming from one of their own.  Councilman Marty Simonoff said he wants to take a deeper look at how the city’s travel budget is allocated and how public funds were spent during a trip last year by city officials to Korea and Japan.”

Better late than never.

cookie-jarBless you Marty for finally jumping in, but I’m afraid I have to take a different view of this…  it’s not time to focus on the minutia.  Getting mired down in the trivialities of the trip will not address the real issue.

The bottom line is that Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell appear to have gotten caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

It’s time to stop all of the muddling around spreading half truths, in an attempt to cloud the real issue, too much time has been wasted already trying to make this junket appear to be something it wasn’t… official anything.

cookie-2It doesn’t matter if the cookies were chocolate chip, oatmeal or peanut butter.  They weren’t for the taking.  It’s time to man up.

You can’t just help yourself to what isn’t yours without expecting to pay the consequences when you’re caught.  Extremely poor choices were made, they come with a price.

In this case there may very well be a law against stupid.

 Is travel the issue?

cookie-3

Not completely, no.  There are historically legitimate reasons that require Council and staff to travel.  At least that’s what we’re being told.  A discussion about which organizations make sense for Brea to join and which don’t should also go on the agenda.  Could be some real savings lurking here.

I’m talking about National League of Cities, League of California Cities, the Energy Coalition and the like.  I’m still trying to figure out how Breans have directly benefitted from the city’s involvement in these and other dubious organizations, but that’s not the issue at the moment.

Who’s business was it… really?

cookie-1This whole debacle began when the Mayor inappropriately intruded into the business of a private organization over which the city has never had any authority beyond a minor ceremonial role.  How the BSCA and BKSCA choose to settle their differences is their business.

When Mr. Park, Anseong Mayor Hwang’s emissary, came calling, Don Schweitzer should have politely directed him to share his concerns with these organizations.  Instead Schweitzer butted in like we were on the brink of some international crisis.

The pool boy wades in.

liar-liarIt’s even more ludicrous that, according to the article, “Murdock fired back at Simonoff, calling his inquiry into the Asia trip a type of politically-motivated vendetta aimed at shifting attention from other civic issues.”

Hogwash.

I don’t believe that any more than I believe Brett Murdock is, as he has so loudly suggested, the leading knight on a white horse trying to solve Brea’s unfunded pension liability.  What a ridiculous claim to make.

It’s on the agenda now.

I’m glad to see that the Mayor reversed his denial and is now allowing the discussion to occur.  Sadly, it’s slated for the study session on June 4th which means it’s at a time and place where the public isn’t likely to be free to attend and unfortunately will not get to hear a full report on the conversation.

Have the courage to take it downstairs!

With the whole matter blowing up as it has in the media weeks in advance, and with the unsubstantiated personal attacks being leveled to further keep the truth from seeing the full light of day, I’m curious to see what sort of preemptive strikes might be made when Council meets next week (05/21).

This would almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad and embarrassing.

 

It’s Payback Time!

free_tripFrom September 28 through October 9, 2012, then Mayor Don Schweitzer, MPT Brett Murdock and City Manager Tim O’Donnell took a vacation together to Anseong, South Korea and Hanno, Japan and stuck Brea taxpayers with the bill.

Aren’t those our Sister Cities? Yeah, so what?

Under the ruse that the number of official duties outstripped the Mayor’s ability to respond, Schweitzer convinced Murdock and O’Donnell that they should come along to help pick up the slack. Really? I’ll bet that took a lot of arm twisting.

Another thought, did O’Donnell charge his time to the taxpayers on this trip anticipating that Measure T, which disallowed payment for work done outside the country, was likely to pass and this was his last chance to sock it to the taxpayers before Measure T took effect?

Let’s back up and look at the facts.

Brea Matters has discussed this twice, on September 20 and November 6 – please take the time to read these again to put what follows in proper context.

The invitation, from the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folkarts (CIOFF), could have easily been turned down without international incident by simply replying, “While we would be honored to join you, we are not in a position to budget for a non-commercial cultural event.”

troupeThe CIOFF, according to their own mission statement, purposefully focuses on cultural activities and as an NGO (non-government organization), does not get involved with developing commercial opportunities. The fact that O’Donnell originally characterized the junket as one exploring commercial connections between Anseong and Brea is completely bogus.

At no time has there been acceptable explanation of this junket’s benefit to Brea sufficient to consider it justified in any way. Particularly the side trip to Hanno, Japan. It was an abuse of power and authority using public funds without public approval to pay for a vacation.

So, what did this cost us?

money_buriedThe product of a difficult and protracted public inquiry, this Expense Report accounts for lodging, airfare, ground transportation and meals. It also reports how O’Donnell’s time off was allocated.

All three happy travelers cost the city about $3,115.00 each for reimbursed expenses. I believe that’s more than Movies In The Park or our summer concert series costs. One person’s expenses are at least double the cost of “Gotta Have Art” which annually benefitted Brea kids all across the city and produced the amazing banners you see hanging down at the Community Center. A program, by the way, that has been cut.

O’Donnell adds insult to injury.

politician_liar_150If that nine grand was wasted, wait until you hear what’s next. Tim O’Donnell charged off three days as “regular paid work days” and four days as “paid administrative leave.”

Are you kidding me? I would love to see a detailed itinerary for these days that justified bilking the city for the expense.

Based on the unconscionably enormous salary we pay O’Donnell, these expenses are roughly equal to the travel expenses of all three combined! Yeah, I believe it comes to almost another nine grand!

Hey, I’m a reasonable guy. If O’Donnell wanted to charge off his time against “paid vacation” I would have no problem with reducing his accrued vacation. If he earned it, it’s his. But don’t stick taxpayers with this… it’s like double jeopardy.

It’s grossly unfair, and seems equally unethical, to make us pay you now and then pay you again when you’re terminated. You read that right Tim, terminated.

There is a simple answer.

In the court of public opinion, you’re all guilty as charged.  Unfortunately it requires an act of contrition on your part to bring this to a positive conclusion.

Here’s what you should do… pay it back. All of it. All three of you.

It was unethical. It was unapproved. It was without excuse. At least five former Mayor’s have clearly expressed that they feel the same way. Three shared their opinions during Matters From The Audience and they were basically ignored.

Don, Brett, Tim… write a check to reimburse the city, and Tim, reclassify your time in Anseong and Hanno as “Paid Vacation” and be done with it.

I would much rather see the three of you step up and do the honorable, the honest thing… for once. Then put a review of travel budgets on the agenda and ask folks what they think they ought to be.

While we’re at it, how about taking a hard look at our League of Cities memberships and participation in the Energy Coalition too. Many of us are still trying to figure out what sort of benefits we get from these and similar groups.

Finally gents, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” so save yourself the trouble of wagging the dog on this one… it’s far too late for damage control now.