An Elephant In The Room – Part 2

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Response to part one was almost entirely positive, supportive.  The only real question that remained was, “How will a city council as broken as ours ever successfully address the mounting fiscal concerns facing us today?”

Great question.

I’ve always subscribed to the old adage that, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Conversely, if it’s broke, fix it.  Last November, voters had the opportunity to “fix it” but they didn’t.

Looking back, it seems we might have made better choices selecting who we put in the council seats and passing Measure U along with Measure T would have greatly enhanced our leverage today.

Water under the bridge. Where do we go from here?

Here’s a summary of the non-fiscal issues respondents sent to me.

  • File a complaint with the OC District Attorney regarding the possible collusion that occurred prior to and during the recent council reorganization, behavior that clearly appeared to be a Brown Act violation.
  • Review and revise the Code of Conduct (Goldenrod) which dictates how council and staff perform their duties and interact with each other. Return control to the council where it belongs.
  • Implement all aspects of Measure T without attempting to subvert the obvious will of the people and without threatening litigation.
  • Turn away from the old “check the box” mentality that was satisfied with meaningless public engagements. Begin to provide regular and convenient opportunities for the public to express their opinions and make every effort to address them in the decision making process.
  • Demand more accountability from staff, including greater detail and clarity in reports and recommendations and the elimination of bias and misdirection.
  • Demand a complete and thorough follow-up report on the reorganization of the Brea Fire Department, including it’s cooping of command staff with Fullerton and an accurate accounting of any savings generated. Has the plan fulfilled any of numerous  promises made?
  • Demand a full investigation of how Brea lost the law enforcement contract with Yorba Linda, especially the overcharging publicly acknowledged to the Yorba Linda City Council by Tim O’Donnell, including a comprehensive and intelligible explanation of how Brea will implement and afford a “Brea Only” police agency.
  • Demand a review of contracted costs and obligations to Richards, Watson & Gershon, including a return to the public posting of their rates, with the results determining whether their contract should be renewed or that RFPs be solicited from other law firms providing city attorney services.

It seems the people have spoken.

The overriding impression one gets reading these issues is that the people will no longer stand being pushed around or dismissed. There has been an awakening, at least in some circles, and the status quo has been put on notice.

garcia_sturgis_150We have a Mayor who could not articulate why he is best suited amongst his peers to hold the position, or even how he wrangled the opportunity away from the more senior council member truly deserving the position. (See BreaNet #639)

brett_150We have a Mayor Pro Tem who is no more capable of handling the job now than he was when first named MPT a year ago.  Seriously, who doesn’t see the blatant political maneuvering designed to position him as Mayor when running for reelection in 2014?

Watch the video again.

Mayor Garcia, in “nominating” Murdock, references this to such an extent that he may have been guilty of making a double motion.  Did Markman put the screws to Roy Moore and then fall asleep on this one?

ron_garcia_brea.jpgSpecifically, Garcia blurted out, “… make a motion that Brett serve as Mayor Pro Tem which would give Brett Mayor, to serve as the Mayor, in his 4 year term.”  Yeah, as usual, Garcia’s grammar and logic are all screwed up, however he appears to have nominated Murdock for Mayor Pro Tem for 2013 and as Mayor for 2014.

Just guessing, but this “metedura de pata enorme” may come back to haunt the new Alcalde.

We have a perpetuation of a three vote majority prepared to ride roughshod over their constituents as they dutifully carry out the whims and desires of the City Manager.  This is neither a myth nor conspiracy theory.  Pay attention.  Attend or watch the meetings.  Try to have a meaningful dialog with a council member.  Test the open door policy.

“The general population doesn’t know whats happening, and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.” ~ Noam Chomsky.

It is said that communities get the governance they deserve.  Brea deserves better.  Much Better.  Please try and remember that the next time you have your ballot in front of you and a pen in your hand, about to make history.

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Goodbye Yorba Linda.

Yellow TapeYesterday, January 3rd, the City of Brea distributed a press release announcing that the delivery of police services to Yorba Linda would cease at midnight tomorrow night. That’s the boots on the ground. Dispatch Services will follow later Saturday morning.

OC_logoYorba Linda, using the OCAlert system, informed all Yorba LInda residents of the transition on Wednesday, January 2nd, but you can’t find the press release on the Brea city website anywhere.

According to the release, “Other terms and conditions affecting the early termination of the law enforcement services agreement are still being worked out.” The release doesn’t clarify what this means. Are we on the hook for a big cash settlement or two? Are we giving away a fleet of cars and motorcycles? Could there still remain a lingering threat of litigation?

Using the excuse that the OCSD’s premature hiring of 21 Brea officers (likely half of the force assigned to Yorba Linda) caused the Brea PD great harm and drastically reduced their ability to live up to the contract, Brea seems to have leveraged a threatened lawsuit into an early out agreement.

LightsLooking for more details?

Brea Matters has covered this story from the beginning in posts published on December 17 and December 21.

In response to the OCR article on December 19 “Yorba Linda will stick with sheriff’s contract” I commented, “Since, according to Mr. Schwing, the OCSD has everything in line to take over duties, i.e. cars and pirated officers, except for a couple of wall lockers, would you mind if Brea pulls the plug on December 31?

People scoffed at my comment saying that such a quick exit was impossible, but it seems that I was more right than wrong. Can I get a big… I told you so?

The OCR also hinted at the early exit on December 21st as well, citing, “The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is now working on a plan to expedite its takeover of police services in the city, said Capt. Steve Doan of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The department could be in charge of patrolling the 20-square-mile city by Jan. 5.”

NBC-LA: New Sheriff In Town.

In case you didn’t quite catch it, Mayor Garcia said, “I think any community that isn’t looking at that is woefully not looking at the train coming down the tracks.” Thanks for clearing that up, Mister Mayor.

Staff as sneaky as ever.

So… if we all pretty much saw the handwriting on the wall, why has Brea waited until now to even whisper about it? Because Brea operates with a culture of secrecy and it’s greatest fear is that residents will actually want to know what’s going on and, heaven forbid, dictate what they prefer!

BREA-YLThe closing comment in the news release stated, “A Brea only Police Department increases budgeted costs by approximately $2.5 million annually due to the loss of economies of scale and sharing of command positions with the City of Yorba Linda.  The budget increase is anticipated to be partially offset by new city revenues stemming from a recent boost in the economy combined with cost savings from a major, structural city reorganization implemented at the beginning of the Great Recession.”

What! Are you kidding me?

Not a loss due to economies of scale, a loss due to the sudden and unanticipated termination of what must have been a very lucrative contract.

We didn’t share command staff, we charged Yorba Linda an arm and a leg for command support. Are they thinking of the Fire Department’s relationship with Fullerton? (How’s that going by the way?)

And do they really think we’re that stupid to buy off on their “recent boost in the economy” line? C’mon, what’s in your wallet?

And what “structural city reorganization implemented at the beginning of the Great Recession” are they talking about? The one where the WPA bailed us out or the one where Tim O’Donnell and senior city staff got big fat raises?

Hard to tell if they’re referring to the “New Deal” or the same ol’ crap!

I don’t know about you, but that obnoxious O’Donnellism, “Leadership is disappointing your constituents in increments they can absorb.” seems to have been the underlying mantra of staff and council for at least a decade or more.

Start doing things for us Tim, not to us.

Ending the costly relationship with Yorba Linda early makes sense and saves us money, funds we’ll need to offset rising costs to police our own neighborhoods. But I’m still hot under the collar that Brea took so long to offer this half hearted half baloney attempt at keeping us informed.

Where is Measure U now that we need it? Oh, you didn’t pass it. Maybe next time.

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The other elephant in the room.

An Elephant In The Room – Part 1

elephant_aTo launch Brea Matters for 2013, I asked a number of regular readers what they believe are the key issues facing the city during the coming year. The responses were interesting, to say the least.

The respondents include elected and appointed officials, mainstream residents on the high probability voters list and no one on city staff.

Repeatedly, the important issues lumped themselves into two categories, “Money” and “Mechanics.”

The first are issues for which there are specific, calculable fiscal concerns, and the latter centers on issues of policy, protocol and ethics impacting Council’s ability to lead with vision and govern with clarity and fairness.

Council’s obvious dysfunction over the past six years or so, amplified by the criminally unbelievable reorganization fiasco on December 18, leaves many of us with no sense of confidence in Council’s ability to do the work they were elected to do. They’re failing in the most fundamental tasks and seem to have turned a deaf ear to the public outcry for transparency and accountability.

Almost without exception, respondents believe that the fiscal issues facing Brea this next year are manageable, assuming a well functioning Council. And there’s your elephant in the room.

Here’s a rundown of the fiscal issues, in no certain order… sort of.

Pension Reform.

  • Movement must be made in direction of defined contribution versus defined benefit type pensions.
  • The city can no longer afford the extravagant pensions afforded city employees, in fact, we haven’t been able to afford them for many years.

Employee Compensation.

  • Brea needs to establish a new employee compensation policy that is not dependent on any salary surveys comparing us with other cities.
  • Current study shows that all OC cities pay at a similar high level (about 30% greater than the private sector).
  • Further adjustment to salary and benefit plans for public safety also deserve immediate attention.
  • The upcoming review of the City Manager’s contract, in light of recent performance, deserves more than a cursory glance and rubber stamp.
  • Likewise our contract with Richards, Watson & Gershon.

Unfunded Liabilities.

  • There needs to be a comprehensive recognition and addressing of Brea’s unfunded liabilities in general.
  • Roy Moore requested a review several months ago but was rebuffed by Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell. He is pursuing his own independent review. We need to support him in this endeavor.

Redevelopment Agency.

  • We must recover from our past reliance on the Redevelopment Agency to direct growth of the city.
  • A clear explanation of the role of the “Successor Agency” is overdue. The Successor Agency needs to meet when the public is better able to attend and participate.
  • What funds has the state taken? What funds are left? What projects were stranded without funding?
  • What projects do not have the capacity to generate the tax increment necessary to retire their debt?
  • What debts remain and what is the extent of our liability?
  • Where is the old Redevelopment Agency staff and who’s paying their salaries?

Public Safety.

  • Assessing the Fire Department’s progress following the O’Donnell forced reorganization seems to have stopped, at least no reporting has been made public in some time. Have we saved any money or not?
  • The Police Department, following the woefully unexpected loss of the contract with Yorba Linda, is trying to establish a new “Brea Only” organization plan. What is it? How does it work? What will it cost and how will we afford it?

Economic Adjustment.

  • Maintaining a balanced budget without tapping reserves or redirecting funds without full disclosure and public consent.
  • City services and the cost to provide them, all of them, need to be adjusted in the face of a continued slow economic recovery.
  • Dramatic reduction the all travel allotments for Council and Staff.
  • Elimination of the City Manager’s privilege of discretionary spending (without Council review and approval).
  • Allegations were made that Brea is over charging businesses for fire and business permits, this should be reviewed.
  • We must continue discussions with our neighbors regarding “regionalization” of services (expansion beyond Fire Department Command Staff, Police Department and Command Staff, Public Safety Dispatch Services, Maintenance Services, and Service Delivery).

Alpha-Olinda Landfill.

  • Brea is in line to receive in excess of $30 million by the time the closure is complete and how those dollars are spent must have community input.
  • Redirecting of these funds, thanks to nebulous contract language, to replace monies lost in the dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency or any other declining or needy revenue source ought not be allowed.

Well, that’s a summary of the “fiscal issue” responses I received. Most respondents asked for anonymity, I’ve decided to give it to them all. I’m confident they would agree that what they’ve said is far more important than who said it.

As my Gramma used to say, “Eat it up. Wear it out. Make it do, or do without.” It’s how us common folks learned to live within our means. They could do well to learn that lesson down at city hall.

Next post will summarize the “Mechanics” issues. Stay tuned. Undoubtedly feathers will get ruffled.

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