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?

 

The Audience Matters, Too.

In a last ditched attempt to convince Brea voters that Measures T and U are unnecessary, now that their campaign of character assassination blew up squarely in their collective faces (thank you Brett Murdock, only your BFF Don thought you did fine), the Old Guard rallied the troops for a final showdown at the less-than-ok-corral.

Keith Fullington and a young man who never gave his name, a friend of Glenn Vodhanel for over ten years (and who asked for anonymity due to concerns of retribution against his family), both took shots at those Old Guard members present regarding the blatant untruths spread about Glenn and, I hope, finally put to rest this unfortunate stink in this campaign season.

The real entertainment came from the almost comedic and to be expected performances by the Old Guard’s damage control team.

If It Walks Like A Duck.

Shifting to a far more pandering style of advocacy, you’d think the city manager was up for another raise, one after another stepped up to the podium and chanted their version of the corporate mantra… Brea is great… Tim is great… Ooohhmmmm.

Quack quack quack.

Karalee Watson, a recent hire by the Brea Chamber to oversee workforce development and legislative advocacy, went on a rant covering for her boss, Sharon Wagoner who put the Chamber’s foot in it’s mouth last week with her unfortunate communication against the initiatives.

I said it before, I’ll say it again, there is no nexus between Measures T and U and issues relating to the business community. None. Period.

I called and spoke with several Chairmen Emeritus of the Chamber today. They unanimously agreed that the Chamber grossly overstepped their bounds and that such behavior would not have occurred on their watch.

Karalee bragged that she had the authority and experience to make such claims, being a Political Science professor.

Fact check. Karalee was employed, for less than a year each and not likely on a full time basis, by the California Association of Cities and Congressman Gary Miller while earning her BA and MA in Political Science from CSUF. Currently a Planning Commissioner in Yorba Linda (term ends in 2015) Karalee teaches a class in political science at a local junior college.

Not exactly what I think of when I think of a college or university professor… but I guess if you’ve got the business card, you’ve got bragging rights.

Greg Reimer (local civil engineer that shares office space with long time friend… Don Schweitzer) took issue with “that twit” Fullington before he did his version of the corporate mantra. According to Greg, I guess the best way to figure out how great a city is, is to drive around and count pot holes. Good streets equal good government.

Then it was time for the Pastor Rader Show.

Bragging about the pastors who signed the Declaration of Independence and were instrumental in creating the foundation of our democratic republic, Pastor Rader invoked the spirit of Benjamin Franklin to set the tone for his sermon.

Hate to break it to you Pastor, but the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence, and a founding father of our country, was John Witherspoon – a Presbyterian clergyman and delegate from New Jersey. So much for your grasp of history.

Then Pastor Rader, that guy from that church in the middle of Birch Street, rattled off a litany of his presidencies (Chamber, Kiwanis, Rotary, Boys & Girls Club, Ministerial Association, Cultural Arts Commission, Senior advisory something-or-other that hasn’t met in years and Habitat for Humanity). Really?

Somebody help me. Name one other Brea pastor that has the time and/or ego required to spread himself around like that. We have some truly remarkable, dedicated, impassioned pastors here in Brea. Not one has blurred the lines between church and state like Dave Rader. What’s next? A run for City Council?

Enter the perpetual politician Bev Perry.

So proud to be a member of the Old Guard, for interjecting herself into one issue after another year after year (remember the fire service public discussion?) Bev kept asking, “What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?”

Uh… how about putting a lid on you, and that little clique of folks like you, who arrogantly seem to think they know better than the other 39,975 people who live here.

You named them:, Lynn Daucher, Glenn Parker, John Beauman, Bill Lentini, Wayne Wedin, Rex Gaede, Kevin Hobby, Bill Hall, Pat Fox, Bill McMillan, Kevin Bush, Bill Higgins and John Koos. Oh yeah,  we can’t forget those you “didn’t ask” but who were quick to pull out their checkbooks, Gil Realon ($100), George Ullrich ($100), Najwa Nadhir ($250), Ron Garcia ($500), Donald Daucher ($1,000) and Marty Simonoff ($1,500).

Here’s another wager for you. Want to bet that we’ll see more names, like Schweitzer and Murdock on the 460 to be filed in January? It’s an old tactic, drop your check in at the very last minute.

How’s that for deception Mr. Markman? It’s perfectly okay to bend the rules when it’s your team grabbing face masks and putting bounties on the best opposing players.

Batting clean-up, the epitome of rough and tumble dirty campaign tactics, that guy whose ethics were called into question when nominated for another term as Planning Commissioner (and passed thanks to that ever-present block of three votes who browbeat their peers into submission) John Koos.

The king of dancing on the edge of propriety did his obligatory soliloquy, all about what a remarkable guy Tim O’Donnell is, what marvelous folks he’s hired to do his bidding, what pillars of society our elected and appointed officials are (and have been for decades) and what a little slice of heaven Brea has become thanks to their dedication and hard work.

Such sweet words, huh Mr. Schweitzer.

Don’t be fooled by those who are too invested in Brea’s status quo to give up their power and authority to you. Get the open and accountable government you deserve…

Vote yes on Measures T and U.

 

Brea Measures T And U

Update 10/16/12: In what appears to be a bit of collusion, Chamber CEO Sharon Wagoner has issued a statement regarding these measures, with complete disregard for Chamber tradition and policy. Read “The Devil’s In The Details.” to get the details!

Adding insult to injury, it seems Chamber Chair Dave Rader and some members of city staff are forwarding the dubious propaganda… and it’s coming out from city hall using city email addresses. Aren’t there laws about things like that? Since when did city staff wade in on politics” In the six years I was “on the inside” I was reminded many times that staff couldn’t respond to political matters, and especially took no position on anyone running for Council.

Right. Are you kidding me? Could it be any more obvious that staff is scared spitless about who they might be working for in December. So much for not wading in.

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The Brea Chamber’s annual forum to meet the candidates… and issues, has just signed off. While I would love to jump in and provide the Brea Matters perspective on the candidates, the questions and answers, I’ll save that for another day.

I’m still reeling from the presentations by MPT Murdock, speaking in opposition to Measures T and U and Glenn Vodhanel, speaking in support of the measures.

Relying almost exclusively on character assassination as his principal argument against these measures, the stock approach from the city since day one, Mr. Murdock succeeded in making himself the poster boy for why Brea voters should vote yes on both measures T and U.

Seeking to expose the “devil in the details,” Mr. Murdock cited one unsubstantiated fact after another… all with that childish grin pasted across his face. No matter how many times you repeat yourself Mr. Murdock, untruth remains untruth.  This continued dissemination of misinformation only reinforces why supporting accountability and open governance is simply the right thing to do.

Pointing out that you’re joined by Lynn Daucher, John Beauman, Bev Perry, Glenn Parker, Wayne Wedin, Rex Gaede and a “host of former Brea leaders” fails miserably to convince me or any other intelligent voter to support your lost cause.

On the other hand, Mr. Vodhanel, unruffled by your irrational personal attack, calmly and clearly described each measure in simple, understandable terms — allowing each voter to come to their own conclusion and cast their ballot as they see fit.

I won’t attempt to summarize or paraphrase Mr. Vodhanel’s statements in favor of Measures T and U. Here is the transcript of Mr. Vodhanel’s presentation, I’ll let Brea’s voters decide.

Measure T – The Brea Accountability Act

Measure T was designed to curb the growing cost of government in Brea. Both Measure T and Measure U are on the ballot thanks to over 6,000 voter signatures that clearly support their necessity.

Measure T imposes limits on staff compensation, particularly highly paid executive staff.  Measure T does not impact those currently working for the city but provides assurances that city executives making over two hundred thousand dollars a year will be a thing of the past.

Public employee compensation and pension reform are two of the most pressing issues because they are two of the greatest budget threats at all levels of government. Maintaining a balanced budget demands that these matters are not shoved under the carpet any longer.

Measure T imposes limits on council perks, like the $32,000 annual travel budget that paid for Mayor Schweitzer, Mayor Pro Tem Murdock and City Manager O’Donnell’s holiday junket to Korea and Japan.  Taxpayer’s should not have to pay for unwarranted foreign travel.

[ Editor’s Note: While our Sister City programs have provided opportunities for cultural exchange, they should be self-sustaining rather than a continual drain on the city budget. Many of Brea’s community services are required to achieve some level of revenue recovery. This means that, to some extent, they pay for themselves.  Sister Cities should be a financially independent endeavor.]

Measure T imposes caps on council salaries and benefits, keeping them compliant with state guidelines and consistent with other part time employees.  No longer will council, willfully or accidentally, vote themselves raises or retroactive bonuses of several thousand dollars each!

This past year we witnessed a fiasco where council took over six months to correct their error while local newspapers made a laughing stock of our city. Such poor judgment should not be tolerated again. Holding council accountable for these decisions, requiring them to exert reasonable oversight for the benefit of Brea residents, only makes perfect sense.

Measure T is designed to curb rising costs that have escalated without restraint, and without voter approval.

It’s your money.  It’s your city.  It’s time to send a message to city hall to just say no to frivolous expenses and to start living within their means.  It’s very clear city hall is taking a hard line stance against Measure T!  Ask yourself why your city council is opposed to accountability?

Measure T was created to establish reasonable spending limits and to reduce the rising cost of local government. You pay the taxes. You make the rules.  You can do your part to make a better Brea by voting YES on Measure T.

Measure U – The Brea Open Governance Act

Measure U was designed to ensure that cities conduct their business in full view and with full participation of their residents. It adds requirements to Brea’s municipal code that enhance those currently found in the Public Records Act, the Brown Act and the State Constitution.

Sadly, a law The Brown Act was enacted in 1952 to prohibit secret meetings of official bodies, except under the most exceptional circumstances, shouldn’t be necessary. But apparently it is. That is why.

Measure U, in part, expands the Brown Act’s open meeting requirements by requiring that study sessions, like council meetings, be recorded and played back on the public access channel. This is particularly important as study sessions are typically held at times inconvenient for residents to attend.

As much of the city’s business is conducted in study sessions, it is especially important to give residents full view of those meetings.

Measure U also creates expanded guidelines regarding the access and availability of a wider range of records to the inquiring public. Measure U sets a higher benchmark for electronic requests and responses.

Thankfully, since the initiative process began nearly two years ago, the city recognized the handwriting on the wall and has implemented some of what Measure U set out to accomplish. Some, but not all.

Without Measure U putting into law the requirements to maintain and expand this system, the door would be left open for future councils to reverse the whole process.

Contrary to what city hall has suggested regarding greater costs, staff burdens and technology constraints, they have already proven that the system works, that it saves time and money and better serves the public for which it was designed.

Measure U will provide Brea residents with a greater opportunity to follow and participate in local government.

Measure U helps to streamline access to public records and increases the types of records to be kept in electronic format. Making these records available through the city’s website promotes the sort of self-search for which the internet was designed.

It’s your city.  It’s your government.  It’s your right to know what’s going on in city hall and to have a say in the process as well.  You can do your part to make a better Brea by voting YES on Measure U.

Please, join those who love Brea and vote YES on measures T and U.  Let’s promote open and transparent government for a better Brea.

 

Read.  Register.  Vote.

(The forum, in it’s entirety, will be playing on Time Warner public access channel 3 daily, following the Council meeting, at 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.)