Markman & Murdock’s Sour Grapes Reactions.

sourgrapes_160

Sour grapes anyone?

Tuesday’s (03/04) “Matters From The Audience” found the Mayor and City Attorney spouting sour grapes over the recent loss handed to them by the California Fourth District Court of Appeals in the Vargas v. Balz litigation.

In response to a closed session item reviewing the case, Brea resident Connie Lanzisera (click to read transcript) clearly laid out the reasons why Council should slam the door on this and put a stop to the runaway legal expenses. In brief, they are:

  • The appeal was neither moot nor frivolous. Though the election had passed, the larger legal issue remains and the law deserved to be clarified for elections officials state wide. The city’s objection was dismissed and the appellant’s claims confirmed.
  • The court ruled that the City Clerk violated election law, twice. Any doubt that there were unlawful acts committed has been removed by a panel of judges.
  • The court’s opinion pointed out that the city refused to follow the law, ignoring requests to correct their offense at a point where resolution would have cost the city nothing. This brings into sharp focus the arrogant disregard for the law that seems to have become an embedded part of city management.

Lanzisera closed saying, “We can think of no rationale that would justify the city to pursue a further appeal.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Markman rants.

Sour Grapes

In response to Ms. Lanzisera’s comments, City Attorney Markman (click to read transcript) praised the judicial system then immediately said it was wrong.

Markman, though unable to produce evidence supporting his position, once again pretended that the City Clerk acted prudently. He forgot to mention she was operating under instructions from him and/or City Manager O’Donnell.

History proved otherwise.

Council Member Moore stated, in the special meeting Markman mentioned, his discomfort with delegating writing duties to Schweitzer and Murdock (who had already, prematurely, prepared arguments laced with character assassination) and giving up his right of review and approval. He abstained when the matter came to a vote. Simonoff was out of town but had registered his objections to what had already been penned.

Not long thereafter, Moore came out in favor of Measure U – The Open Governance Act and opposed Measure T – which, amongst other things, imposed salary limitations for Council and senior staff.

Clearly there was never unanimity within Council, precisely the illusion that was perpetrated by instructing the Registrar of Voters to print on all election materials the signatory implying that arguments and rebuttals against the measures had the support of the entire Council.

If this isn’t illegal electioneering, what is? How does the FPPC miss something like this?

Precisely the issue addressed by the Court of Appeals and why they thought it best to clearly warn election officials that this sort of behavior, long prohibited by law, will not be tolerated and may be litigated after the fact.

Markman still ranting.

Markman contended that the city defended in good faith (while running up a $200,000 legal bill) though he completely dodged having had multiple opportunities to settle the matter outside a courtroom and for zero cost to tax payers. He did admit that he never thought the money was well spent.

Maybe if he had given Council one chance to wade in with their opinion, we wouldn’t have flushed so much money down the drain.

Murdock whines.

sour grapesIn typical “ready, fire, aim” style, fueled by his embarrassment I’m sure, Murdock interjected, “Mr. Markman, to clarify, who filed the appeal?” Markman named Vargas and, again hinted at proponents of the measures.

Murdock then added, “And that appeal was filed after the election was long over, correct?” Again attempting to misdirect the public into believing the appeal had been moot though the Fourth District Court of Appeals clearly thought otherwise. A complete smoke screen and sour grapes again!

Adding insult to injury.

One must remember Murdock repeatedly reminded voters of candidate Vargas’s “costing the city so much” during the campaign, when it turns out the city bears the blame for driving up legal fees.

Line this up with Murdock getting sanctioned and fined $2000 by the FPPC (California Fair Political Practices Commission) for his undisclosed leadership of the Breans Against Measures T & U PAC.

I find this sort of behavior childish, sociopathic and vindictive. The unabashed willingness to spread half-truths and outright deceptions, to unfairly drag an opponent’s name through the mud, has become commonplace in the political arena.

Markman puts a lid on Murdock’s cheeky comments.

lawyerMarkman, “We raised the point of mootness with the Court of Appeals… they didn’t agree. We’re not going to sit here and retry it or whine about a court decision in this system.”

It’s a very rare moment when Markman and I are in synch. This was certainly one of them. Putting Murdock in his place will go down as one of my favorite Council moments.

I’m hoping Markman also had the good sense to point council away from perpetuating this in any way. This is the epitome of a lose-lose situation and we can ill afford continued expense or public embarrassment.

 

Legal Fees Or Legal Fiasco?

Today’s Orange County Register article, Legal Fees Climb As City Fights Election Lawsuit closed with this comment, “This is a very sad waste of taxpayer money,” Murdock said. “The hypocrisy is sad.”

Murdock MPT 2This from the guy who failed to disclose his leadership of the Breans Against Measures T & U PAC… and who was sanctioned/fined $2,000 by the FPPC for it. This from the guy who thinks it’s okay to spend taxpayer money to join his buddies on an all expenses paid vacation. This from the guy who has no clue how the City really spends it’s money or if it does so wisely.

While the article about the lawsuit and subsequent legal fees is essentially accurate on most counts, I believed there was a need for some serious filling in of the gaps. This morning I had a lengthy meeting about this with Chris Haire, the OCR staff writer, and, for the most part, he understood where I was coming from. When the final appellate decision is rendered, watch for Chris to cover it… early next year I’ll wager.

Was the legal expense absolutely necessary?

In a word, no. The city was informed by letter of their alleged violation of election law, the forbidden alteration of documents submitted to the Registrar of Voters, with more than sufficient time to rectify their error, at no cost.

tim_2aI guess the City Manager and City Attorney felt there was no reason to respond. I don’t know how you would describe this conduct, but I call it arrogant and inappropriate.

This wasn’t a simple typo folks. It was a purposeful alteration of the true attribution of statements opposing Measures T and U. Leaving off the name of none other than the guy who got fined for hiding his connection to the PAC opposing Measures T and U. Coincidence?

The smoke and mirrors continues.

Portraying the case as moot and again pointing the finger at Steve Vargas as the cause of this expensive legal battle, City Attorney James Markman craftily redirects attention away from himself and the huge fees his firm has charged the city to handle the case.

Personally, I don’t believe either the casual dismissal of the suit’s significance or the continued character assassination of Mr. Vargas to be right or true.

Let’s take a closer look at the fees.

jmarkman_bAs reported by Markman and City Finance Director Bill Gallardo, the fees to date are approximately $154,000.

What? Are you flippin’ kidding me?

Markman’s rate, as I recall, hovers around $500/hour… but there are two other attorneys from his office involved, and I’m assuming paraprofessional or clerical staff as well.

So, let’s adjust the rate down to a more believable average of $300/hour. That’s 513+ hours to reach an invoice for $154,000.

In 40 hour weeks, that’s a total of 12.8 weeks… over three months of doing nothing but working on this single case. Protected by work product or attorney/client privilege, we’ll likely never know how Markman’s firm came up with that figure. But you can’t convince me that it’s fair or reasonable.

Instead of handing Markman’s firm a raise, Council should have asked the question, “How in the h_ll can you explain this?”

Why is this not a moot point?

politician_liar_150Like raising kids, parents need to determine if an unacceptable act is due to childish misbehavior or willful disobedience. Given that the alleged violation occurred on two documents, on two occasions and is eerily similar to the lack of transparency regarding leadership of the Breans Against Measures T & U PAC, I’m thinking this looks a lot like willful disobedience.

Never mind that the election is long past. Who knows how this might have effected voter’s or not? Having found that the City did alter documents when it had no right to do so, a line needs to be drawn in the sand that says, “Don’t do this again or you will face more serious consequences.”

Where would you rather spend the $154,000?

An email I received when the first hint of the story broke posed, “With $2.50 senior meals now the bitcoin of the realm in Brea, how many senior meals could be provided with the wasted legal defense fees related to the Measure T & U lawsuits?”

Good question Mr. Remains Anonymous… damned good question.

 

Uncovering The Simple Truth.

It should have been a simple records request. It could have been a simple records request. It turned out to be anything but.

Here’s the backstory.

green_mugAbout a year ago, not long after he created the “Green Brea 2012” website, ex-Mayor Schweitzer launched his “One Ton Challenge” to encourage Breans to reduce their annual carbon footprint by a metric ton. Seeing a pattern developing, I decided to give it a year, then check back to see how much was accomplished.

As you would expect, the website and Mayor were retired at the same time. The website, which offered nothing of value when launched, was never changed, not one pixel, then Schweitzer pulled the plug a few weeks ago. Time will tell if Schweitzer’s legacy is one of equally unproductive wing flapping.

Getting answers ought to be easy.

On January 14 I filed a simple CPRA (California Public Records Act) request seeking documentation of the number of participants and reduction(s) in carbon footprints achieved in the Mayor’s One Ton Challenge.

Sounds pretty basic, right?

On January 24, the absolute last day the City Clerk could respond without violating CPRA guidelines, I was told, “… due to unusual circumstances, an extension of the statutory 10-day determination period is reasonably necessary for the proper processing of your request.  Specifically, there is a need to search for, collect and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of records pertaining to your request.

pubrec_200Are you kidding? Unusual circumstances? What circumstances? Voluminous amount of records? It turns out that was a baldfaced lie, there were no voluminous records. I don’t believe they found anything because they didn’t look very hard, if at all.

I might speculate that, having come up with zip, they figured it could take at least another ten days to fabricate something.

I reminded Ms. Balz that participants registered through the city’s website and were to report their results in order to receive the Mayor’s recognition. I also reminded her that Cindie Ryan’s Marketing Department, responsible for the website, should easily be able to provide the data requested.

After all, if the esteemed ex-Mayor and others can brag again and again about what great successes they’re having, wouldn’t it stand to reason that someone prepared a report detailing the program’s accomplishments? Apparently not.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…

duck1It could be a cheap imitation of a duck!

The City Clerk’s next response, received in less than 24 hours (not 10 days later after culling through mythical voluminous records) included five documents, obviously from Cindie Ryan in the Marketing Department, all from the early concept development and promotion of the program… none of which included a single thing fulfilling my request.

It’s like Ms. Balz asked Ms. Ryan if she had anything and Ms. Ryan sent the only stuff she saved, assuming it had to answered my inquiry. I can imagine what happened next.

Without looking at the documents (a quick glance was all that was required to verify they were worthless), Ms. Balz attached them to an email, clicked send and thought, “Maybe now he’ll shut up and get off my back,”

No such luck. I wrote back, encouraging Ms. Balz to press on to find documents that actually satisfied my inquiry. At the end of the day she responded, sending me copies of the only three application forms received… yeah, you read that right… only three. I’ll get back to the One Ton Challenge in a minute.

This is why we needed Measure U!

Measure U, amongst other things, was designed to reinforce citizen’s rights ensuring that speedy access to public records is not thwarted by public officials or employees.

The more city hall plays their semantical games claiming requests are either too broad or too narrow in scope resulting in the production of thousands of records… or none; the more city hall routinely gives itself extensions because they were on holiday or because they encountered voluminous records that actually didn’t exist; the more city hall stacks the deck against inquiring citizens, likely violating CPRA guidelines in the process, and discourages citizens from exercising their rights… the more we need to support citizen initiatives like Measure U.

We passed Measure T, now it seems that the City Attorney is about to start lobbying for amendments and maybe even legal challenge to see how much of the citizen’s desires can be rendered impotent. You’ll not want to miss the next Council meeting for that dog and pony show.

Back to the One Ton Challenge.

Three, remember? Only three signups. Brace yourself, this would be funny a la SNL Weekend Update if it wasn’t so incredibly sad.

  • The three lone “applications” included two City of Brea employees and the wife of a City of Brea employee. Yes, they all live in Brea. No, there isn’t what anyone would consider a legitimate “private” citizen amongst them. They represent roughly 0.000075% of the population.
  • Collectively, per the documents they provided, only one of the three reached the 1 ton goal, the other two fell short. In fact, extended to the full year savings, three people collectively only saved as much as the goal for two people.
  • coolplanetEven though the Challenge only reached a tiny fraction of the population and they missed the mark by 33%, the “Climate Registry” saw fit to honor Brea with their Cool Planet Award citing the One ton Challenge as one of the contributing factors. I wonder what they were told about the program’s success?
  • The Mayor’s challenge was designed without the ability to audit progress or quantify the results, which suggests to me that no one planned on following up, reporting results accurately or that they even felt the program had any chance of succeeding.

solar_money_300Add this together with the bogus green theme and website, the questionable productivity of the new power generating turbines up at the Alpha Olinda landfill and the sketchy unverified data coming from the massively expensive Solar Project put in on a sole bid contract by Chevron Energy… and what do you get?

Greenwashing!

Greenwashing is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s aims and policies are environmentally friendly. Whether to increase profits or gain political support, greenwashing is used to manipulate popular opinion to support otherwise questionable aims.

smokestacks_225The term is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices. Example, every one of the solar panels installed all over the city produced a larger carbon footprint being created than it is saving through operation.

Put down the Kool-aid!

koolaid-man_150A growing number of you (Brea Matters readership is up almost 300% since the election, thank you very much) are getting sick and tired of the nonsense and dysfunction that runs through almost everything said or done down at city hall. Yours calls and emails remind me daily that you’re not buying the old party line any more.

Good! Now if we can just, somehow, muddle through the next two years, maybe we can put on Council people with real vision, proven experience, no personal agenda or high-falootin’ political aspirations.

It might mean you have to turn off the tv, skip Taco Tuesday once or twice a month and screw up the courage to come down to city hall and speak your piece. C’mon… this is your town for cryin’ out loud… is that really too much to ask?

kool-aid_640

Postscript.

If you’re picking up on the possibility that I might be a bit angry about all of this, you’re right. What part of doing their job don’t they understand?

If you think I’m stretching the truth anywhere in this, please feel free to contact your favorite City Council member. They were openly copied every step of the way. Even if they retreat into that ultra-safe politically correct cityspeak, they will still be able to verify that my account of the events is honest and accurate in every word.

This willful arrogant disrespect for the people of Brea and the continued efforts to block progress in the move towards more engaged, more transparent, more ethical, more fiscally responsible government is without explanation or excuse.

The longer Brea voters allow this deviant behavior to continue, the more presumptive and deeply entrenched the subculture becomes. If this is the legacy of neglect we’re passing along to the next generation, God help them. The consequences will be blamed on no one but us… the folks who decided it was okay to let the idiots to run the asylum.

PS: I have a lot more, I mean a lot more, city staffer’s reading this blog than signed up for the Mayor’s One Ton Challenge. It cracks me up every time I think about it.