CSUF Fumbles CPRA Request.

frack_aAlmost a month ago I made what I thought would be a simple CPRA  request to discover what the expenses and funding are for tonight’s Fracking Symposium at CSUF. It would have been easier to nail jello to a tree.

Chalk it up to lack of familiarity with the CPRA process or purposefully delaying their response to avoid comment or criticism tonight, CSUF gets a big fail on this one.

Voice of OC covers the story.

voiceFollowing an exchange on Twitter with Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda this morning, he launched into an investigation of his own. No stranger to CPRA requests, enough sounded fishy about my experience to Nick that he followed up with the university – where he confirmed how poorly business was conducted.

Nick’s story “Who’s Paying For Tonight’s Fracking Symposium?” will give you a thorough view of what has transpired in recent weeks, plus everything is thoroughly documented from the exchange on Twitter, email between me and the university and the ultimate documents provided.

Suspicious philanthropist pays for panelist’s party.

chicken_satayIn pure academia style, a reception was held for panelists, noted guests and other dignitaries at the CSUF Alumni House.

Appetites were whetted on mushrooms with andouile sausage, chicken satay with peanut sauce, spring rolls with pesto and jack cheese, southwestern empanadas, asparagus with proscuitto and crostini with tomatoes, caramelized onions, gorgonzola and honey.

CPRA request means tell me everything.

My extended request to know who this mystery philanthropist might be has yet to be answered. There has been enough hinky stuff going on that I’ve asked an attorney to review the facts and let me know if further action is warranted.

This has been messier than your average frackin’ oil well when it needn’t have been. A similar request to the City of Brea was immediately acknowledged and a full response was in hand in four days. Hats off to Cheryl Balz and her staff for playing by the rules now.

The Symposium starts in thirty minutes.

frackin_bJust enough time to throw a sandwich together, log on to the streaming video site and start taking notes. Odds are that this will be more a hair-splittingquibbling contest between experts, laced with polysyllabic incomprehensible terminology – and I’ll bet there’s not a glossary in the house.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope the folks who have been waiting to get some honest answers to very serious questions are not disappointed. And, having set up the sequel, I’m off to watch the wizards.

NoMurdock_2

Markman & Murdock’s Sour Grapes Reactions.

sourgrapes_160

Sour grapes anyone?

Tuesday’s (03/04) “Matters From The Audience” found the Mayor and City Attorney spouting sour grapes over the recent loss handed to them by the California Fourth District Court of Appeals in the Vargas v. Balz litigation.

In response to a closed session item reviewing the case, Brea resident Connie Lanzisera (click to read transcript) clearly laid out the reasons why Council should slam the door on this and put a stop to the runaway legal expenses. In brief, they are:

  • The appeal was neither moot nor frivolous. Though the election had passed, the larger legal issue remains and the law deserved to be clarified for elections officials state wide. The city’s objection was dismissed and the appellant’s claims confirmed.
  • The court ruled that the City Clerk violated election law, twice. Any doubt that there were unlawful acts committed has been removed by a panel of judges.
  • The court’s opinion pointed out that the city refused to follow the law, ignoring requests to correct their offense at a point where resolution would have cost the city nothing. This brings into sharp focus the arrogant disregard for the law that seems to have become an embedded part of city management.

Lanzisera closed saying, “We can think of no rationale that would justify the city to pursue a further appeal.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Markman rants.

Sour Grapes

In response to Ms. Lanzisera’s comments, City Attorney Markman (click to read transcript) praised the judicial system then immediately said it was wrong.

Markman, though unable to produce evidence supporting his position, once again pretended that the City Clerk acted prudently. He forgot to mention she was operating under instructions from him and/or City Manager O’Donnell.

History proved otherwise.

Council Member Moore stated, in the special meeting Markman mentioned, his discomfort with delegating writing duties to Schweitzer and Murdock (who had already, prematurely, prepared arguments laced with character assassination) and giving up his right of review and approval. He abstained when the matter came to a vote. Simonoff was out of town but had registered his objections to what had already been penned.

Not long thereafter, Moore came out in favor of Measure U – The Open Governance Act and opposed Measure T – which, amongst other things, imposed salary limitations for Council and senior staff.

Clearly there was never unanimity within Council, precisely the illusion that was perpetrated by instructing the Registrar of Voters to print on all election materials the signatory implying that arguments and rebuttals against the measures had the support of the entire Council.

If this isn’t illegal electioneering, what is? How does the FPPC miss something like this?

Precisely the issue addressed by the Court of Appeals and why they thought it best to clearly warn election officials that this sort of behavior, long prohibited by law, will not be tolerated and may be litigated after the fact.

Markman still ranting.

Markman contended that the city defended in good faith (while running up a $200,000 legal bill) though he completely dodged having had multiple opportunities to settle the matter outside a courtroom and for zero cost to tax payers. He did admit that he never thought the money was well spent.

Maybe if he had given Council one chance to wade in with their opinion, we wouldn’t have flushed so much money down the drain.

Murdock whines.

sour grapesIn typical “ready, fire, aim” style, fueled by his embarrassment I’m sure, Murdock interjected, “Mr. Markman, to clarify, who filed the appeal?” Markman named Vargas and, again hinted at proponents of the measures.

Murdock then added, “And that appeal was filed after the election was long over, correct?” Again attempting to misdirect the public into believing the appeal had been moot though the Fourth District Court of Appeals clearly thought otherwise. A complete smoke screen and sour grapes again!

Adding insult to injury.

One must remember Murdock repeatedly reminded voters of candidate Vargas’s “costing the city so much” during the campaign, when it turns out the city bears the blame for driving up legal fees.

Line this up with Murdock getting sanctioned and fined $2000 by the FPPC (California Fair Political Practices Commission) for his undisclosed leadership of the Breans Against Measures T & U PAC.

I find this sort of behavior childish, sociopathic and vindictive. The unabashed willingness to spread half-truths and outright deceptions, to unfairly drag an opponent’s name through the mud, has become commonplace in the political arena.

Markman puts a lid on Murdock’s cheeky comments.

lawyerMarkman, “We raised the point of mootness with the Court of Appeals… they didn’t agree. We’re not going to sit here and retry it or whine about a court decision in this system.”

It’s a very rare moment when Markman and I are in synch. This was certainly one of them. Putting Murdock in his place will go down as one of my favorite Council moments.

I’m hoping Markman also had the good sense to point council away from perpetuating this in any way. This is the epitome of a lose-lose situation and we can ill afford continued expense or public embarrassment.

 

City Clerk Violates Election Law, Twice.

Violates election law - Kathleen E. O'Leary, Presiding Justice, William F. Rylaarsdam, Associate Justice and Richard D. Fybel, Associate JusticeSo says the California Fourth District Court of Appeals (Kathleen E. O’Leary, Presiding Justice, William F. Rylaarsdam, Associate Justice and Richard D. Fybel, Associate Justice) in their ruling published on Friday, 02/21/14. Though twice given an opportunity to correct an error in filing of ballot arguments, Brea’s City Clerk, under instruction from the City Attorney, secretly ordered the ballot signatories changed, which violates election law.

Coincidentally, one of the ballot issues, Measure T, sought to promote greater transparency in government.

Follow the money.

Violates election law - Brett MurdockWhat could have been handled in a moment, with a simple phone call or email, at no cost to the city, turned into a  debacle that has drug on for almost a year and a half!

Last September, when the City of Brea made a motion to dismiss the appeal, the Orange County Register quoted then Mayor Pro Tem Murdock who claimed, “This is a very sad waste of taxpayer money, the hypocrisy is sad.”

  • This from the guy who called the suit frivolous, moot even, though the City Attorney said it was “triable” and the Appeals Court’s final decision proved the original complaint was anything but frivolous.
  • This from the guy who failed to disclose his leadership of the Breans Against Measures T & U PAC, was found guilty and sanctioned/fined $2,000 by the FPPC.
  • This from the guy who represents himself as an attorney yet tries to excuse his FPPC fine by stating, “The law is esoteric and broad.”
  • This from the guy hanging his shingle all over town, desperately trying to get a law practice off the ground.
  • This from the guy who thought it was okay to give himself a raise then fought to keep the issue off of the agenda for over six months.
  • This from the guy who thinks it’s okay to spend several thousand taxpayer dollars to join his buddies on an all expenses paid vacation to South Korea and Japan.
  • This from the guy who has no clue how the City really spends it’s money or if it does so wisely (remember his gross inaccuracies regarding Brea Fest finances?)
  • This from the guy who’s first public act upon taking office was to suggest reducing the time allowed for citizens to address the council during Matters From The Audience from five minutes to three.

Violates election law - James MarkmanBrea Matters reported on this in detail – “Legal Fees Or Legal Fiasco?” In simple terms, here’s how the finances settle out. The City of Brea has spent almost $200,000 in legal fees with Jim Markman’s firm Richards, Watson & Gershon, authorized by City Manager Tim O’Donnell, to mitigate a complaint that could have originally been handled for nothing.

Zip. Nada. Not a penny.

Who really violates election law?

Violates election law - Tim O'DonnellIn all fairness, City Clerk Cheryl Balz works in an oppressive environment and doesn’t enjoy the autonomy afforded most of her peers. Council should have been in charge, choosing how to respond to the notice of error and deciding whether the threat of litigation outweighed the city’s embarrassment for the violation of election law. Certainly they wouldn’t have allowed it to occur twice!

Contact any member of council. Ask them if they were consulted on any of this, if they’ve seen and reviewed the many payments made to Richards, Watson & Gershon over the last year and a half.

Ask any of them if they’ve were given an opportunity to clarify costs, challenge expenses let alone approve them. I’ll bet the answer is, “No, I’m shocked!” They should have been in charge and they weren’t.

That’s not the half of it!

Actually, it is. The decision also allows the appellant to recover costs, so you can just about double that figure. This arrogant disregard for election law, what I believe was incontrovertibly a vindictive effort to publicly discredit a legitimate candidate for Council, will cost Brea taxpayers in the neighborhood of $400,000.

But, it’s not just about money.

Not only did the City Clerk violate election law by modifying the signatories, “the city clerk further violated the Elections Code by failing to make those changes publicly available.” (G047591 – (Super. Ct. No. 30-2012-00585496). If you care as much as we do, you can read the full decision here Appeals Court Opinion.

Twice warned, twice ignored, these actions have now established precedent statewide. The City could launch one more challenge in the courts. If you’ve read the Court of Appeals opinion you’ll realize there is no wiggle room left. Council must not allow O’Donnell and Markman to again commit such a hubristic act. If they do, a wholesale recall would be the only sensible action left Brea voters.

Every city clerk across the entire state will no longer be free to play loose and easy with election law. Come Monday morning, you can bet correspondence on this will be colossal.

Why such a big deal?

Because issues like this are tied to current elections and violations can easily elude detection as the transgression occurs outside of the public view and the election will have occurred before a meaningful review can be made.

It’s like a child stealing cookies when no one is looking, eating the evidence before they’re found out, betting that the missing cookies will likely not be discovered until well after dessert.

In this case, their best friend caught them in the act, suggested they put the cookies back before getting in big trouble and their choice was to arrogantly disregard the warning, believing they were too smart to get busted.

In this case it was fortuitous that the proponents of Measures T & U, because they were part of the statement and rebuttal process, were in a position to make early discovery.

The city claimed the clerk was merely correcting a typo to reflect the intent of Council, however the court determined that the city provided no evidence to prove the city clerk had any awareness of Council’s intent. In fact, if the Council, for the most part, had little or no knowledge of what was really unfolding… what intent could they possibly have had?

So, what the hell did we spend nearly $200,000 on? Excuse me, $400,000.

The court clearly states that even had they found the complaint to be moot, which they didn’t, the issues raised were of broad importance and capable of recurring. Even though the election was already behind us, the court denied the city’s appeal to dismiss.

Where do we go from here?

A good start would be to take a long hard look at the incumbents and candidates in the upcoming election. The impostors posing as knowledgeable fiscal conservatives should be outed and removed from consideration.

Next, we should drive home the point to Council to start making smarter choices that keep us out of harms way, out of the courtroom.

If this Madrona nonsense lands us in court, and it seems inevitable it will, I hope O’Donnell, Markman and the City Council all hold the appellants, Bev Perry and Glenn Parker (candidate in 2014?), as accountable for causing major legal expense to the city as they did Mr. Vargas… who has been fully exonerated as far as we’re concerned.

Vargas 1 – Brea 0

Game over.