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?

 

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.

 

Koreagate – Part 2.

This whole Koreagate matter, I’ve discovered, takes on a brand new perspective when viewed in historical context.

NaksansaOut of respect for the many volunteers whose dedicated work over the years helped make the BSCA (Brea Sister City Association) a jewel in Brea’s crown, I decided to separate the history lesson from the misconduct I’ve labeled Koreagate.

BSCA_01October 13, 1969, the Brea City Council passed a resolution designating the city of Lagos de Moreno as our first sister city.  Eleven years later a similar resolution was passed adding Hanno as Brea’s second sister city.

Everything ran like a clock for the next thirty years until, in 2010, responding to the urging of members of the “significant and growing population of persons of Korean language and heritage” the City Council passed a resolution expressing “it’s intent to become the Sister City of Anseong, Korea” and authorized the Mayor to extend an invitation to the City of Anseong to enter into a Sister City relationship with the City of Brea.

With Lagos de Moreno and Hanno, Brea accepted an invitation.  Brea initiated the invitation to Anseong.  Obviously, Anseong accepted and the BSCA elected a third Vice-President, for Anseong, to oversee all activities with our newest international sibling.

Local politics raises it’s ugly head.

rgarcia_200From the beginning, Brea’s growing Korean population was interested in establishing some sort of political base.  A couple of years before the first overtures were made to the City of Anseong to join the Brea Sister City program, a couple of local politicians turned into ambush predators hungrily stalking votes and dollars. The results of these efforts bore fruit and impacted both the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Casually tossing around campaign promises about encouraging commercial opportunities between Brea and Anseong and capitalizing on the friendships and loyalties they’d developed, both politicians quickly gained votes and much fatter political bankrolls.

The problem with promises.

Eisenhower59Unfortunately, neither the City of Brea nor the BSCA had ever formally joined the Sister City International Association.  This sanctioning body evolved out of President Eisenhower’s original cross-cultural exchange program established in 1956, designed to help heal the wounds of WWII through cultural exchange and understanding.

Had either the city or the association joined, compliance with the parent organization’s bylaws would have allowed for the inclusion of a commercial opportunities agenda.  They didn’t, so the BSCA’s mission statement is the prevailing guide, “… seek to achieve cultural understanding through educational and international exchanges and community events.”

There has never been a commercial component to the BSCA’s efforts, so when there was an attempt to interject a commercial agenda, it was rejected.

The Big Bang – A Theory.

Comm_01By suggesting support for their commercial interests, these ambush predators drove a wedge into the Korean community, creating dissension within the BSCA.  It was disruptive enough that several key BSCA members broke away, formed the BKSCA “Brea Korea Sister City Association” (aka the Brea Anseong Sister City Association and the Anseong Committee), established their own 501c3 non-profit status and launched their own website.  Their home page and donation/more info pages create a blur of conflicting identities, all of which seem to be attempting to disguise themselves as the bona fide sister city organization.

BKSCC_headerMasquerading as the legitimate BSCA, they opened dialog with the Mayor of Anseong, who was unaware he was dealing with an impostor, and the Anseong Committee attempted to assume the power and authority of the authentic BSCA taking over all cultural and student exchange activities with our Korean sister city.

The plot thickens.

Fast forward to 2012, the Mayor of Anseong sends an invitation to Mayor Schweitzer to attend a 14 day cultural extravaganza called the CIOFF World Folkloriada.  As much a courtesy invitation as anything, Mayor Schweitzer could have easily offered a respectful and polite declination citing scheduling conflicts and/or budget constraints.  No one would have been offended.

Before Schweitzer could make a sensible and prudent decision, correspondence from the BSCA President was sent to the Mayor of Anseong.  The letter attempted to clear up false impressions and explain that the unsanctioned organization would not be the host agency for an upcoming student visit.  The Anseong Mayor responded by sending an envoy to Brea who hand carried the Mayor’s written response.

It all seemed to blow up in Schweitzer’s face.

Interpreting this as being an international crisis of monumental proportions, Schweitzer went straight to defcon five.  He placated the emissary and then fired off a letter to the Mayor of Anseong calling the BSCA President’s letter “unauthorized” and apologizing for any conflict it created.

KFlag_200Are you kidding me?

Unauthorized?  It came from the duly elected President of the BSCA!  Schweitzer’s letter was the unauthorized one.  BSCA is not a city department or program.  Schweitzer had no right to poke his nose in where it didn’t belong, but he did… and he tried to explain how the matter was being resolved.

Paragraph five (excerpts) from Schweitzer’s letter:

  • “The BSCA has an election scheduled within the next three weeks and the leadership of that group will change.”
  • “I have personally spoken with the incoming President of BSCA and we plan to meet again in the near future…”

Really?  The new president won’t be elected for another three weeks yet you’ve already spoken with him?  If this doesn’t confirm heavy-handed political manipulation, I’m not sure what does.

invitation2It gets even more confusing.

I received a copy of the invitation to the Asian Dance Performance at the Curtis Theater on March 30.  (click the image for a larger view) The identity of the sender and the language was hard to decipher, particularly if you had no clue about the history.

Which group was this?  Who would bank the donations received?

Turns out it is the impostor, the Anseong Committee, not the legitimate BSCA.

commend_200I checked their websites to see if I could gain additional clarity and here’s what I found, the President of the (rogue) Anseong Committee is also on the BSCA executive board as their Vice-President for Anseong.

What?  Does the right hand have any clue what the left hand is doing?  Is this not a textbook example of conflict of interest?  I do hope some of you might add a comment to help me better understand how this sort of thing happens.

Back to Koreagate.

In a knee jerk reaction to the defcon five, Schweitzer accepts the invitation, which he could have easily and graciously declined.  There was no real reason to go other than to try and save face.

don_2aSelf doubt overcame him and, seeking moral support and back-up in case he got cornered about the BSCA fiasco, Schweitzer invited Murdock and O’Donnell to be his wingmen.  Adding insult to injury, they tacked on almost a week of sightseeing in Japan to their vacation plans in Anseong… all with no legitimate reason to be there.

Did council approve this junket? Nope, the three amigos were out of town long before anyone who might care knew what was happening.  Did the Community Services Department, who has been the city’s sole interface with BSCA since day one, have a clue about the trip?  Another resounding no!

What’s going to happen with BSCA?

They’ve had an unblemished track record for 44 years, they’ll resolve this.  And hopefully, the city will be smart enough to let them do it themselves without government meddling.  Members supporting Lagos de Moreno, Hanno and yes, Anseong, continue to be dedicated to the organization’s mission of cross-cultural and student exchange.  The rebel faction, now that the truth has seen the light of day, will hopefully set aside their commercial predisposition and either rejoin the BSCA or fold up their tent and go away.

What about the wasted tax dollars?

Now, more than ever, it’s clear that the trip to Anseong and Hanno was unwarranted and likely one of Schweitzer’s most egregious gaffes.  Daucher, Perry and Parker hit the nail on the head when they described this as extreme poor judgement and totally indefensible.

I still maintain that all three should he held accountable for repayment of the $3,150+ they each spent and that O’Donnell must change his time allocation to “paid vacation” so we’re not on the hook to pay him twice.

Symptomatic Relief vs. Healing

tim_2aThis whole Koreagate affair, like the last two bogus council reorganizations, like the city’s stance against Measures T and U, like paying the city manager more than California’s Governor, like giving him a $50,000 discretionary spending allowance without limiting how many times a year he can use it, like the inadvertent windfall Council accidentally gave themselves with the flex benefit raise… these are but symptoms of a systemic disease infecting city hall.

Brea is suffering from chronic cover-up, acute self indulgence and severe disregard for we the people.  What good is it to dull the pain while making no effort to heal the disease?

A simple prescription.

Take a dozen well informed, articulate citizens… put them in the podium during Matters From The Audience… give them each five minutes to express their discontent and share their ideas.  Rinse and repeat.

Is there a statute of limitations on this sort of unacceptable behavior from elected officials and city staff?  Yes.  It’s the amount of time it takes them to sweep it under the rug and for us to forget it even happened.

There are already some who think we should just let this all blow over and forget about it.  I think they are wrong.  I think that approach opens the door to repeated misuse of the system.  C’mon, no accountability?  Unacceptable.

Don’t let this just fade away.  Step up.  Speak your mind.  Send Council an email conveying your dissatisfaction with their performance and your recommendations how to solve our problems.  If they don’t respond, which seems more typical than not, do it again and again until they get the message.

  • Ron Garcia – rong@cityofbrea.net
  • Brett Murdock – brettm@cityofbrea.net
  • Marty Simonoff – martys@cityofbrea.net
  • Roy Moore – roym@cityofbrea.net
  • Christine Marick – christinem@cityofbrea.net

Linked below are copies of all of the documents I’ve referenced except the letter from the BSCA President to the Mayor of Anseong.  As much of a catalyst as that letter was, not a soul kept a copy… or so I’ve been told.

California Department of Justice info on the original sister city organization:BSCA_DOJ

California Department of Justice info on the impostor sister city organization:BKSCA_DOJ