OCDA Disappoints Again.

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After five weeks of silence, no response to several follow-up emails, the OCDA’s office has turned a blind eye to the facts staring the rest of us in the face.  Instead of responding to my email inquiry, Senior Deputy District Attorney Raymond S. Armstrong choose to rely on snail mail (click here) to slam the door in my face.

Armstrong’s response, telling me that there was “insufficient evidence” to escalate his inquiry into a full scale investigation, included these three telling phrases in support of his denial of impropriety:

A  “…procedure may have been different than that utilized by councils in previous years”

This change threw council members a curve and led to the incorrect and misleading instructions given to Roy Moore by City Attorney Jim Markman, reported on by Moore and admitted to by Markman. It allowed the reorganization process to, once again, turn it’s back on decades of tradition in order to issue a political snub and ensure that council leadership remained in the hands of those in the hip pocket of City Manager Tim O’Donnell.

B  “…communication between the city manager and one of the newer council members”

Amongst other things, this clearly indicates that Armstrong did not contact either Moore or Simonoff to validate the details in my complaint. Newer council member? Moore, whose BreaNet #639 mirrored much of my complaint, is in his 14th year on council.  Simonoff, who verified the inappropriate approach and offer made prior to the meeting by O’Donnell, is the senior most member of council in his 16th year.

Garcia, Murdock and Marick together barely add up to eight years on council.

C  “…even if the communication occurred as you allege”

This is another telling example of the failure on the part of Armstrong to carry out a meaningful inquiry. A simple phone call to Roy Moore and/or Marty Simonoff would have doubled the allegations and provided validation from principal players in the events described.

Armstrong never contacted either Moore or Simonoff.

Putting things into perspective.

I’ve talked to dozens of knowledgable, politically savvy Breans who either watched the reorganization live or on the public access channel in the weeks that followed. Every one recognized the awkward and obvious behavior which overwhelmingly suggested collusion on the part of some council members prior to the meeting.

Had Armstrong given the online video even a single unbiased viewing, I have to believe he is smart enough, experienced enough to see what everyone else saw.

What is it going to take?

The OCDA seems to dodge political corruption cases for some reason, though it is currently investigating the Costa Mesa Police Association (click here and here). Maybe Brea isn’t messy enough. Unlike the City of Bell, maybe Brea issues don’t have enough zeros attached to warrant a closer look.

I wonder what it would really take to get the OCDA to pay attention to Brea, misuse of public funds for a foreign sightseeing junket?

This is not sour grapes.

This is just a raging case of complete frustration. How egregious does the misconduct have to be before Breans, in large numbers, have finally had enough? When will a few fresh faces show up at Matters from the Audience demanding full accountability and real transparency for a change?

The prevailing belief inside city hall that Breans are oblivious to the truth, apathetic about local government or both fuels their continued arrogant disregard for and dismissal of public opinion. Can this go on, unchecked, forever?

They’re betting it will.

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” ~ Albert Einstein

The jury is still out – Part Two

Let’s pick up from where we left off.

In his January 25th Brea Net newsletter, recapping part of the City Council meeting of June 7, council member Roy Moore wrote, “… council members Schweitzer, Garcia and Murdock knew, presumably informed by the city manager, that they were included in the executive classification, and knowingly voted themselves this raise making no reference to it during the discussion. Neither council member Simonoff nor I was aware of these facts.”

Wow, where do I begin?

I’m not a lawyer, I haven’t played one on TV and I didn’t spend the night in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

So before I launched into any wild speculations, I sent a copy of council member Moore’s newsletter to the Special Prosecutions Unit with the Orange County District Attorney.

I will say that they have been as helpful as possible considering it may be some time before any sort of formal investigation could occur.

In my mind, the fact that council member Moore felt it necessary to document the series of events surrounding the bequeathment of increased flex benefits, kicks this matter up a notch from rumor to allegation.

The biggest question remains, is what Council and/or the City Manager did regarding the flex benefits fiasco illegal or not?

How did this all get started?

Back in late 1990, Council (Blamer, Isles, Leyton, Wedin and Nelson) decided that, in addition to their modest monthly stipend, they deserved to also receive medical, dental and life insurance benefits as well.

They established a Flexible Plan (hence the lingering term flex benefits), the details of which are specified in Resolution No. 90-131.

Participation was “voluntary” but, to my knowledge, no council member then or since has not taken advantage of the benefit.

In effect, they made themselves “members” of the Public Employees’ Retirement System which required that they receive medical insurance as mandated by the Meyers-Geddes Medical and Hospital Care Act. In 1990 this amounted to another $430 a month each.

The resolution also specified that their benefits, now tied to the employees, would always be equal thereby ensuring periodic increases. And this is where it started to get real sticky. From this point forward it became almost impossible to get anyone to admit exactly what Council received as a total compensation package.

But wait, there’s more!

In early 2001 they passed another resolution (No. 01-11) superseding the decade old resolution. This new resolution detached them from the workforce employees and attached them to the Executive Managers, with the provision for matching increases still a part of the plan. Oh, and they bumped their flex benefit up to $729 a month.

Four council members voted in favor of this (Harvey, Perry, Simonoff and Moore) one council member voted against (Vargas).

[Ed. Note 02/18 – as Mr. Fullington pointed out in his comment, somewhere between 2001 and 2011 Council slipped themselves another $321 a month. Likely buried in a multi-topic Consent Item, and perhaps equally devoid of accurate accounting of fiscal impact, it may prove hard to find.]

This brings us to the June 7, 2011 meeting, the allegations made by council member Moore above and the comedy of errors that followed as Council tried desperately to do damage control.

First, council members individually requested that their raise in flex benefits be reduced from $1,600 per month back to the $1,050 they received before they “accidentally” gave themselves a raise.

Turned out this wasn’t the most brilliant approach since any one of them could reinstate the raise anytime they chose.

After discovering that the Mayor couldn’t unilaterally place an item on the agenda for discussion (he needed “approval” of at least two other members) and a lot of heated bantering back and forth, then Mayor Moore finally got it on the agenda for their December 20th meeting.

Roy pulls a rabbit out of a hat!

Mayor Moore had to call a special meeting for December 19, which he as Mayor could do funny enough. A strategically smart move on Roy’s part, as Schweitzer and O’Donnell were forced to capitulate and put the item in the Study Session agenda for the 20th.

With almost no discussion, after months of angry stonewalling, Council unanimously passed Resolution No. 2011-101, officially returning their flex benefit to $1,050 and detaching their flex benefits from the Executive Managers.

That’s not all!  Guess what happened to their $3,600 retroactive benefit?

Moore, Simonoff, Schweitzer and Garcia have all arranged to repay/return the retroactive monies they’d received. Murdock, for reasons I’m sure only he knows, has decided to keep the money.

[Ed. Note 02/18 – After this blog broke, I received a call suggesting that Murdock may have finally succumbed to public pressure and made arrangements to pay the the city back at $100 bucks a month for 36 months. I hope that’s true. What perfect timing, to retire the debt synchronous with the end of the only term he’ll have on Council.]

So, what have we learned and where do we go from here?

Frankly, we’re stuck with a lot more questions than answers. We still don’t know what was legal and what wasn’t, what was ethical and what wasn’t.

Red DiceWas failure to properly and completely disclose all fiscal impact an inadvertent error of omission in the staff report? When the error was discovered, who discovered it and why were (allegedly) only three of the five council members informed?

Was Council’s response to the matter truly in the interest of the people they serve and did it demonstrate their desire to run an open, above board and efficient city government?

Since their flex benefit is no longer tied to employees or executive staff, should it be folded into the periodic review of their stipend and be subject to the limitations in place? Of course this would eliminate the perpetual, “We make less than minimum wage.” response when asked, “How much does a city council member get paid anyway?”

I’m still waiting for the Council review and discussion of the “Goldenrod” document and Code of Ethics that has them so hamstrung they can hardly conduct business without the city manager’s blessing. Please guys, have the discussion downstairs and let the people participate.

(Note: All resolutions discussed are available for review on the city’s website. If you need help navigating the records, call the City Clerk’s Office at (714) 990-7756)