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.

 

4 thoughts on “What dead horse?

  1. Obviously there’s a longer string of shenanigans prior to and after the Sister City Junket that frosts some of us here in Brea. So, looking at the junket in and of itself one may agree with Mr. Manley. I appreciate those who keep the entire list of “minor” indiscretions fresh in the minds of voters come election time. Hopefully more Breans see the big picture.

    But I’m glad Dwight Manley showed up at the microphone last Tuesday. I agree that there’s been zero accountability regarding the lost police contract with Yorba Linda. But I definitely agree with Mr. Manley’s concern over pension liabilities. This city faces storm clouds on the horizon if we don’t act immediately in regards to pension reform and concessions.

    He mentioned that we spend thousands of dollars on consultants for this project and that project. But he pointed at that on this most critical issue, we are going back to the same folks that advised on this in the beginning. And he was right on the money.

    This city council needs to come to a decision, once and for all. Who do they serve? The people of Brea or Tim O’Donnell?

    • Stephen, my friend… thanks for your regular and insightful participation here. I wish others would be as brave as you, rather than filling my email inbox, pro and con. This post generated a record 104 emails in the first 24 hours after posting.

      Compared to the magnitude of our pension liabilities, the cost of this junket may seem like chump change to some, but the ethical violations and misappropriation of public funds will likely continue unchecked unless some culprit(s) are made to pay a price for their wrongdoing. Where better to apply punitive pressure than in the wallet? I repeat, hold the guilty accountable and demand that they make financial restitution.

      Like you and Dwight and many others, I agree that we need a full and independent review of the facts surrounding Brea’s loss of the Yorba Linda law enforcement contract.

      We also need to have a more open dialog between the decision makers and the public on matters of budget and unfunded liabilities. The lengthy and detail riddled “report” given to Council earlier this week wasn’t that helpful. Someone needs to tell the Director of Finance that just because something can be measured doesn’t mean it matters. Try expressing “why” as a per cent. Doesn’t work.

  2. All of you are right on point with your remarks. I personally believe that the City of Brea no longer needs a paid City Manager; in fact, they haven’t in years. It is time to change our City format and become a Charter City with a full-time elected Mayor who would be responsible to run the City. We need to have someone who is responsive and subject to the citizens of Brea, not just to the City Council. Now is the time to begin a shift in our government.

    • David… thanks for joining the conversation. Your first time here and you go for the jugular! I’m eager to see what comes next.

      Anyone else with an opinion about Charter Cities?

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