A New Decade Begins.

In city government there is no sense of reciprocity. The wealth, the benefit, the power and authority only travels in one direction — like water downhill — away from the people. Anyone who’s ever taken the time to actually go to a meeting or catch it on streaming video, will confirm… the voice of the people falls on deaf ears.

Hurry Up And Wait.

Everything centers upon the immediate, the now, the tyranny of the urgent. There is never enough time or money to do anything right the first time but always seems to be enough of both to fix things later.

And, that balanced budget they constantly brag about is proving to be little more than a myth. It is a classic example of robbing Peter to pay Paul, all wrapped up a David Copperfield sort of accounting process that makes finding the truth about anything an impossibility.

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain!

The recent discussion over water funds is a prime example. As Council wrestled over spending another $1.2 million on some mysterious form of Cal Domestic water shares, Bill Gallardo and Cindy Russell referred to three different “water funds” with distinctly different functions within the city budget.

The problem? There is only one water fund, the 420 Water Utility Fund. Throughout Council’s “discussion”, including an awkward effort by Steve Vargas to get to the bottom of things, no one on Council seemed aware that there is only one fund.

Here is five and a half minutes of “must see teevee”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=/LpP4TUE1Ecg

Digging Into The Details.

I looked at the documentation in the 2019-20 Operating Budget and confirmed several things about this strongly limited fund.

Described by Gallardo, in the opening, as an “enterprise” fund that can only be spent on water improvements, water capital, water purchases. “We cannot use it for anything not related to the water system because that is an enterprise fund… it is separate and distinct.

Hogwash! I discovered that every year several millions of dollars received from the sale of water are diverted to other funds! In the Adopted 2018-19 Operating Budget, $15,261,399 was diverted (transferred out) to these funds:

  • $118,895 to the Fixed Asset Replacement Fund (182) which provides funding for the replacement of City owned infrastructure, facilities and capital assets.
  • $289,667 to the Risk Management Fund (470) used to account for the costs of operating a self-insured program for general liability, workers compensation, long-term disability and unemployment compensation.
  • $0 to the Information Technology Fund (475) used to account for the operations of the City’s Internal Information Technology Division. (Skipped this year.)
  • $14,852,837 to the Capital Improvement Fund (510) used to account for the citywide costs of constructing street improvements, parks and other public improvements.

Did you read anything about water there? Yeah, me either. Someone has some very serious explaining to do.

Public Water Utility – Not For Profit?

Governed by the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission), a mutual water company is defined as any private not-for-profit corporation or association organized for the purposes of delivering water to its stockholders and members at cost, including use of works for conserving, treating and reclaiming water.

In 2019-20, the city received $24.4 million in revenue and expensed $22.5 million. That generated a “profit” of $1.8 million for the year. That’s after disbursing all transfers to other funds. Where did it go? Shouldn’t it have been refunded to rate payers? Certainly it didn’t find it’s way into offshore accounts.

Peeling the onion that is Cal Domestic Water Company and all of it’s holdings is long overdue. We’ll revisit that can of worms later.

Truth Or Consequences?

It is my very strong opinion that Council’s decisions are made with little concern for consequences other than those effecting re-elections or perpetuating those six figure public employee jobs with lavish pensions.

Facts and details are meticulously obscured to protect the perpetrators from discovery. The “insiders” have developed their own language, immortalized in policies, civil codes and laws.

The first response to any request from the public is, “No.” The NIH Factor (not invented here) is in full force. An unsupportable behavior from a staff that must always turn to expensive outside consultants to resolve even the most simple of tasks.

Until transparency and accountability become something more than campaign rhetoric, until the arc of history bends back again towards truth, justice and the American way — we will be forever trapped within the status quo.

Someone Find The Broom!

As 2019 draws to a close, there is growing rumbling about producing a sequel to Clean Sweep. The question becomes, how?

There are some who believe a combination of naturally ending terms and a recall could clear the dais and give Brea a fresh start. The problem is we have no idea who is lurking in the shadows to fill the void.

Frankly, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” has kept many an inept council member on the job for multiple terms.

Maybe there is a less severe plan that would make more sense. I’m too annoyed at the moment to think about it.

Well… Happy New Year from Brea Matters. Let’s hope that 2020 is a prophetic reference to our vision for Brea’s future.

 

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