Put The Cookies Back!

Local media fans the flames.

Thursday’s Star Progress had an article by OCR writer Doug Morino with the headline, “Last year’s city trip to Asia still a hot topic.” — yeah, and it’s about to get even hotter.

The article begins, “Brea leaders are once again catching fire for their traveling ways.  First, the heat came from a few residents (cough, cough…).  Now, it’s coming from one of their own.  Councilman Marty Simonoff said he wants to take a deeper look at how the city’s travel budget is allocated and how public funds were spent during a trip last year by city officials to Korea and Japan.”

Better late than never.

cookie-jarBless you Marty for finally jumping in, but I’m afraid I have to take a different view of this…  it’s not time to focus on the minutia.  Getting mired down in the trivialities of the trip will not address the real issue.

The bottom line is that Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell appear to have gotten caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

It’s time to stop all of the muddling around spreading half truths, in an attempt to cloud the real issue, too much time has been wasted already trying to make this junket appear to be something it wasn’t… official anything.

cookie-2It doesn’t matter if the cookies were chocolate chip, oatmeal or peanut butter.  They weren’t for the taking.  It’s time to man up.

You can’t just help yourself to what isn’t yours without expecting to pay the consequences when you’re caught.  Extremely poor choices were made, they come with a price.

In this case there may very well be a law against stupid.

 Is travel the issue?

cookie-3

Not completely, no.  There are historically legitimate reasons that require Council and staff to travel.  At least that’s what we’re being told.  A discussion about which organizations make sense for Brea to join and which don’t should also go on the agenda.  Could be some real savings lurking here.

I’m talking about National League of Cities, League of California Cities, the Energy Coalition and the like.  I’m still trying to figure out how Breans have directly benefitted from the city’s involvement in these and other dubious organizations, but that’s not the issue at the moment.

Who’s business was it… really?

cookie-1This whole debacle began when the Mayor inappropriately intruded into the business of a private organization over which the city has never had any authority beyond a minor ceremonial role.  How the BSCA and BKSCA choose to settle their differences is their business.

When Mr. Park, Anseong Mayor Hwang’s emissary, came calling, Don Schweitzer should have politely directed him to share his concerns with these organizations.  Instead Schweitzer butted in like we were on the brink of some international crisis.

The pool boy wades in.

liar-liarIt’s even more ludicrous that, according to the article, “Murdock fired back at Simonoff, calling his inquiry into the Asia trip a type of politically-motivated vendetta aimed at shifting attention from other civic issues.”

Hogwash.

I don’t believe that any more than I believe Brett Murdock is, as he has so loudly suggested, the leading knight on a white horse trying to solve Brea’s unfunded pension liability.  What a ridiculous claim to make.

It’s on the agenda now.

I’m glad to see that the Mayor reversed his denial and is now allowing the discussion to occur.  Sadly, it’s slated for the study session on June 4th which means it’s at a time and place where the public isn’t likely to be free to attend and unfortunately will not get to hear a full report on the conversation.

Have the courage to take it downstairs!

With the whole matter blowing up as it has in the media weeks in advance, and with the unsubstantiated personal attacks being leveled to further keep the truth from seeing the full light of day, I’m curious to see what sort of preemptive strikes might be made when Council meets next week (05/21).

This would almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad and embarrassing.

 

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.