Brea Envisions: Good News Bad News.

Last Saturday’s blog, “Brea Envisions Needs Midcourse Correction” highlighting city staff’s clever usurping of control of the project triggered immediate damage control from Brea’s Community Development Director. First thing Monday morning the following email was sent to all Brea Envisions Steering Committee members and various staff involved in the project. That afternoon it was forwarded to Council.

Subject: Brea Envisions and blog criticism this weekend.

Good Morning Envision Committee Members-

As you may be aware, this weekend a local blogger has taken issue with the Brea Envisions project, process, City staff, and the consultant team and published comments in his blog. We wanted to let you know we take these comments and expressed concerns very seriously because the integrity of this process and our relationship with you and the community are of paramount importance to our work.

brea envisionsWe want you to know how much we value your participation and leadership in the Brea Envisions project. As staff, we have been following what we believe to be the Committee’s established protocol for staff/Committee interaction and collaboration. To date, we believe we have worked to implement your vision and ideas between each Committee meeting, moving forward with the production of materials and coordination of project details. Our comments at Committee meetings, either reflect our understanding of the Committee’s past direction or offer our professional insights to demonstrate our support for your decisions or inform you of any challenges or limitations (e.g. achieving goals in alternate ways, meeting expressed schedule goals, keeping within established budgets, etc.). This process has and can continue to include refining the website and tech tools as may be desired as your efforts continue to unfold. We also feel very confident that you are capable and have demonstrated your resolve to communicate when you disagree with anything or feel a different approach is necessary. And while we believe the comments contained in the blog are without the benefit of this context and do not resonate with our experience with you, we feel it is important at this time that we check in with you to make sure we are not missing something.

As your staff and resource team we want to confirm your direction. We want to support and provide tools you need for this effort. We have understood it is the preference of the Committee that staff provide guidance as to best practices and to have for you information which is based on your direction to respond to at your meetings, rather than expecting the Committee to develop content and process from scratch. Given the assertions made it is good practice to step back and confirm the Committee is comfortable with this process or, if not, you have the ability to express modifications the group can discuss and consider. We are eager and interested in discussing this issue with you to ensure the Brea Envisions effort continues to reflect the community’s perspective and we’ll tee that up as quickly as the Committee desires.

In closing, my apologies for disrupting your weekend. We felt strongly you needed to be made aware of the public comments posted and to know we continue to be committed to make certain an accurate understanding of Brea Envisions and the Committee’s great work is put forward, correcting what we view as an unfortunate, misleading, and potentially damaging representation. Staff looks forward to seeing you soon and checking in with you on the Committee process. Please feel free to contact me if you should have any questions or comments.

Okay, who talks like that?

Seriously, how many times did you stop, reread a sentence or two and continue… still not sure you fully grasped what you just read? It’s called, among other things, city speak. This jargon laden language is the hallmark of government publications, documents and correspondence.

City speak, first and foremost, has evolved to make listeners/readers feel immediately inferior. Second, it relies on cumbersome compound sentences designed to even further confuse and intimidate the listener/reader.

Classic damage control.

Anyone witnessing the committee meeting, I’m confident, would come away with virtually the same impressions I did. The observations and criticisms I made in the last blog struck too close to home and demanded that an immediate response be made.

Sadly, it has backfired. The retreat into city speak and attempts to justify the status quo do more to validate my position than deny it.

Counterattack.

The most egregious comment in the email is when he wraps up by describing Brea Matters as “an unfortunate, misleading, and potentially damaging representation.”

Unfortunate, perhaps, but for whom? If it stifles staff’s attempt to hijack Brea Envisions and puts the project back on the course Council intended, how is that unfortunate?

Misleading? I’m confident you would have come to the same conclusions.

Damaging? Only if Council turns a blind eye to this and the status quo is allowed to continue unchecked.

The hidden message.

Buried in this measured response is the suggestion that staff would like to know if any committee members share similar feelings about Brea Envisions as those expressed in Brea Matters.

Go ahead, read the email again. Did you find it? Hint: it’s in the third paragraph.

Feeling as I do, that committee members sincerely desire to make a positive contribution to Brea Envisions, I’m confident they all read through the email several times and discovered the request to share their feelings – pro or con.

Besides chatting amongst themselves, what options do they have? Do you think, for a moment, they or anyone on staff would post a comment on the blog?

Best case scenario for Brea Envisions?

Having read the blog and the damage control email, Council could put Brea Envisions on their agenda for an open discussion. They could ask the City Manager to interview committee members for their side of the story. Council has the final say, they have many options if they would just choose to exercise them.

Whatever Council decides to do, I hope they remember there is a big difference between molding public opinion and gathering public opinion. Brea Envisions? Whose Brea?

Brea Envisions

 

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

Status Quo? Just Say No.

First draft written Sunday, September 14, 2008 – two years later, in light of recent events at City Council including the rash of salary raises and bonuses (even the ones they didn’t realize they were giving themselves), it still rings true.

The more I keep an eye on things, the more I get involved as opposed to sitting passively by letting the status quo prevail, the more I believe Brea is ripe for a complete retooling.  Managing the city’s affairs has evolved into a staff run conglomeration of revamped little fiefdoms many of which are more interested in perpetuating (justifying) their existence than promoting the general welfare of the city.

The Brea Dividend?

It’s shorthand for creating a mythical municipality that exists only in the minds of those naive enough to believe the propaganda.  We’re a small town and need to stop deluding ourselves into believing we’ve created some sort of suburban utopia.

We need to return to the days when a strong, well informed and decisive city council guided city staff to execute the council’s vision. We need to rethink the “business plan” that turned sales tax revenue into the holy grail.  We need to admit that Brea has almost three times the retail establishments that even the imaginary 150,000 population (we’re 40,000 strong) would sustain.

Brea businesses are cannibalizing themselves at an alarming rate – look around, how many vacant building are staring you in the face?  How many more years will the Tower Records building remain a monumental eyesore and stark reminder that “Downtown Brea” hasn’t become the regional destination so many had hoped for?

We’re all feeling the impact of this virtually never ending recession, that has already set unprecedented records in terms of unemployment, sent our financial, banking and housing industries into tailspins and inflicted serious, perhaps irreparable damage upon our quality of life for generations to come.

Rebuilding our community, from the ground up (not the top down) will require we get back to basics, that we create sensible expectations for ourselves by seeking a realistic blend of public services matched to our true resident population.  We need to develop an operating model for city governance and management based on sound business principals and not the whims of the few big fish in this small pond that wrongly feel some sense of entitlement to decide what’s best for the rest of us.