Bond vs. Health Benefit.

An open letter to the BOUSD Board and our community from Brea resident and business owner Dwight Manley.

Bond

I am writing this to clarify my position regarding the BOUSD board member’s compensation. The following 12 points summarize my considered opinion:

1.   I view the privilege of being elected and serving on the board as a “volunteer” position.

2.  Our schools have been hit hard by rising pension costs, which has resulted in severe reductions in funding for basic class needs, sports programs, school events and teacher’s salaries.

3.  I deeply sympathize with the teachers that are having to dig into their own pockets for supplies, and parents that are repeatedly hit up with requests for funding.

I especially find the school district’s use of children to be the messengers for these pleas to be unacceptable. Making a child return to class with a signed form saying “No” and having to be involved in a parent’s inability or unwillingness to “give” is not healthy for a child.

4.  As a self-made person who has done well in my life, I feel a responsibility to give back. Consequently, I receive numerous requests weekly from BOUSD students, teachers and parents.

5.  I have extra joy in providing funds for those less fortunate. One example is funding the senior night which runs over $100 per student. I feel every student should be able to attend regardless of their parent’s financial situation. Every student should be able to attend.

6.  Every time I sign a check, I think of the thousands of dollars per month the BOUSD board is taking for their “volunteer” position. Over the last 20 years, this is over $1,000,000 and some years was over $120,000.

These dollars would have a real impact on hundreds of lives immediately. Imagine a free breakfast program with supervision at the Jr High for parents that go to work early and could drop their children off at 7am?

7.  I’ve challenged members of the Board to drop this “benefit” for several years now, and they’ve repeatedly refused.

8.  Again and again I have told the Board that I would support a bond measure if;

a.  They drop their health insurance and only receive their stipend.

b.  A bond be tightly regulated with a sub 4% interest rate; no refinancing to pull out more money as was done in the past; the projects be “front loaded” meaning we get as much as can be built in 36 months.

I don’t like the money sitting around for 20 years unused like Olinda School did; a specific list of projects that improve the school’s ability to teach kids and not have a “Cal K-12” taking 15% off the top to feed to do their work.

The overseer of any funds needs to be a publicly bid process with a sub 10% fee. I don’t want to see bond money spent on fencing etc.; the district already has plenty in reserves to do that if its truly that vital.

9.  Various terms have been thrown around to describe my stance; “political blackmail”, “extortion”, “threats.” Those are all being used to deflect and attack me, rather than staying focused on the only issue at hand.

Kids and teachers are woefully short of funds, and the board, some living in million + dollar homes, are taking those funds for themselves. I equate this to people working at a food bank for the needy, taking the food home for themselves.

10.  Having health insurance for “volunteers” creates a huge conflict of interest. If the board members can’t afford their own insurance – they become dependent on the benefit.

Those that can afford it, besides being greedy in my opinion, would have to change doctors if they lost it, and as we all know, that’s not desirable. Why would we have such a personal, emotional and important thing be injected into a position that requires 100% selfless actions?

11.  Our own City council does not have such a “perk”.

12.  Some say “The bond initiative and health insurance issues shouldn’t be linked.” As stated above, having this “perk” is too personal and too important to not play a role in decisions.

If we have $150,000,000 to spend from a bond, no matter how tight the controls are, we can’t have a repeat of the horrific sale to Hines of the old school farm for pennies on the dollar, by a board that thought nothing of taking over $120,000 personally per year, while supposedly so low on funds, they had to do that deal.

Imagine the district having the $71,000,000 that Hines received from Avalon Bay just for a piece of paper saying they can build 653 apartments on our old school farm. We would not be in this position if they hadn’t done that.

Final Thoughts.

So, there you have the gist of my thinking and why I’m taking this public stance. We can’t waste another dollar on a board member’s health insurance until each and every teacher doesn’t have to send one of those letters home asking for money. Until every coach doesn’t have to send out letters or have players canvas the town for money to buy basic items.

Brea is where my heart is. I’m from here, I went to school here and my mom is buried here. I will be buried here. I will always try to help our community and when needed, step up to defend it.

Thank you.

Public Records Retention?

retention

We lose a little piece of Brea every day.

Most folks, when asked, “What is a public record?” will respond with birth or death certificate, high school or college diploma, marriage license. And they’d be right.

The public records and records retention I’ll be talking about here are the documents that give us a data trail describing how Brea’s government has been managed and by whom.

And we have a problem. A massive sucking black hole sort of problem that is allowing hundreds, if not thousands, of important records to disappear without a trace… forever. Every day. We are bleeding out.

Records retention is complicated.

retentionI’ve got to do a little bird walking to establish the context here. I apologize in advance and hope you’ll have the patience to stick with this to the end.

Brea has had a Records Retention Schedule for years, last updated 18 months ago. It only addresses the old world of paper. It does classify all manner of city documents. 518 actually, over 12 departments.

Some types of documents are controlled by state law. Council agendas, staff reports, resolutions, ordinances and minutes are managed and retained by the City Clerk from start to finish.

Electronic copies of these documents are available online, only back to 2010, which is a problem Council should have addressed decades ago.The good news is that we still have 100+ years of records. The bad news is they’re in old boxes in a dusty storeroom somewhere in the bowels of the Civic Center. Thankfully, our City Clerk and her staff is perfectly willing to go dig up anything out of there if someone requests. Bless them.

Brea’s records retention: Land of the Lost!

retentionOur records retention policies never made the leap into the digital age. Even though all communications have long since moved from the IBM Selectric to personal computers and storage cost on the cloud is quite manageable.

Unfortunately we have no true electronic communications policy for email and other documents.

What we do have is a 14 page IT Department policy that makes the following reference, “Employees should be aware that all public records, whether on paper or computerized, are subject to the mandatory public disclosure requirements of the California Public Records Act.”

The policy does state, “E-mail messages sent and received, including any attachments, which messages can be considered an Official City Record, are to be stored in computer files or printed as a hard copy and filed in accordance with the Department’s Filing Policy.”

Except there are no Department Filing Policies. My very thorough CPRA request specifically included them but none were ever produced. Most other cities do have Department Filing Policies and were quick to send me copies.

This general IT Policy also says, “Although the IT Manager may automatically delete any data stored in the e-mail system that is 90 days old, individual employees are responsible for the management of their mailboxes and associated folders. In order to assure maximum efficiency in the operation of the e-mail system, staff is encouraged to delete e-mail messages that are not Official City Records from their in-boxes once they are no longer needed. If a hard copy of data which constitutes an Official City Record has been printed and filed in accordance with the City’s Record Retention Policy, the e-mail may be deleted.”

The 90 day black hole!

retentionWell, buried in that massive bowl of bureaucratic word salad is the heart of the problem. Everyone on staff has defaulted to the path of least resistance and has allowed the auto-delete function do all of the work.

I cannot fathom how many priceless pieces of Brea’s public records have been forever lost in this manner. So much of what we might really like to know about how things were done in the past is lost. What was the context of the moment and the state of mind of those making the decisions?

The “claimed” loss of important correspondence surrounding the city’s dismissal of all interests in the Gateway Center is a classic example. Falling back on the ubiquitous “there are no records responsive to your request” (get-out-of-jail-free card), staff used the 90 day black hole to dodge a bullet.

When pressed if such correspondence ever existed the City Manager, Bill Gallardo, and Director of Community Development, David Crabtree, went mute. Crickets.

That’s because when it becomes known that a public record is incomplete or missing, there are precedents requiring that record to be restored. That’s how we got the deleted consultant’s proposal back on the Hines Project.

The heart of the policy.

retentionAs an aside, most of the IT Policy (12.5 out of 14 pages) focuses upon contents, i.e. employee rights and limitations, prohibitions against dissemination of derogatory, defamatory, obscene, disrespectful, sexually explicit or sexually suggestive content. Prohibitions against electronic snooping or tampering.

Confidentiality and perception of privacy are covered as well as establishing the City’s right to monitor and record employee usage… and a page requiring all employees, by signature, to acknowledge they have received, read and fully understand the terms of this policy and agree to abide by them. The terms and potential disciplinary actions include termination and/or criminal or civil prosecution. Yeah, I’m sure every employee is fully onboard with this and understands every word.

Records retention is really two problems.

The first problem is to thoroughly and completely identify and categorize every typical form of city communications in a manner which separates important public records from the chaff of everyday business.

The second problem is the greater of the two.

The bigger problem is oversight and enforcement. How do you get 300 to 500 busy people to consistently follow the guidelines, almost on a daily basis, in a manner that successfully maintains the public record?

Lets take a lesson from our neighbors.

La Habra is one of only two cities to address the enforcement problem. They have established a Records Management Committee, designated representatives from each City department and the Records Management Staff, created for the purpose of administering and coordinating the Records Management Program and to maintain and control the disposition of records in the respective departments.

Yorba Linda’s recently updated their Records Retention Policy. The City Clerk’s office takes the lead role in coordinating with all City Departments on the timely and appropriate destruction of obsolete records according to the Records Retention Schedule.

Particularly important is this part of Yorba Linda’s policy, “Before any records can be purged, each department will complete the Authority to Destroy Obsolete Records form which identifies each record and will require sign-off from the City Attorney and Department Head. Certificates of Destruction will be issued and these shall be permanently kept on file with the office of the City Clerk.”

Why can’t we do that?

retention

Malfeasance: Brea’s Status Quo?

In the weeks ahead, breaking news regarding several cases of fiscal misconduct will be finding their way into public discussion. The egregious nature of several will likely lead to widespread use of the term malfeasance.

Let’s take caution in our choice of words to be certain we characterize people and their actions clearly and fairly. An exact definition of malfeasance (in office) is difficult: there is no single legal consensus definition.

Malfeasance is generally defined as “a wrongful act which the actor has no legal right to do.” Many courts find malfeasance (in office) where there is “ignorance, inattention, or malice”, which implies no intent or knowledge is required.

Much of what we’ll hear, however, will probably trigger accusations of malfeasance.

Truth: the final frontier.

I’ve invested literally hundreds of hours pouring over a vast array of communications, agendas, minutes, resolutions, staff and consultant’s reports, spreadsheets and financial records from both the city and from Orange County.

I’m not alone. Several others, equally curious about Brea’s past fiscal practices and current fiscal policies, have invested similar time and energy… and come to similar conclusions.

What has been common practice in the past has cost Brea the loss of significant assets and revenue sources and has placed an undue burden upon tax payers to meet unconscionably large financial obligations well into the future.

There is clear evidence, going back several decades, of both ignorance and inattention to detail contributing to the failure of Council members to exercise the full due diligence their office and those who’ve elected them demand.

Malfeasance… I believe so. Malice… not so much. Let me explain.

I’ll point the finger…

Repeatedly it has been found that Council member’s information packets come up well short of including a full set of facts. Consistently, the missing information helps lead Council to forgone conclusions staff has predetermined are preferable.

Again and again it appears that staff has usurped the visionary role and authority of Council. While the evidence of malfeasance is frighteningly clear, at least to me and those digging into these matters, a couple of critical questions remain unanswered.

Obviously staff has the means and opportunity to play fast and loose with Brea’s financial future. What’s missing is motive. Why would our city staff, highly educated… the best and the brightest, do what they’ve done and to what end?

What’s next?

We may never find any answer to why and what for but we can cast a bright light upon this nightmare in the hopes that today’s Council will find the courage to challenge history and change the future.

malfeasance