No Loophole Left Behind.

Leave it to lawyers, bureaucrats and politicians to take full advantage of every loophole they discover… or create. With a Mayor that appears to embody all three vocations, it comes as little surprise that loopholes abound down at city hall.

Madrona falls off the radar.

Madrona-yes-1If you were looking for the next (final?) act in the Madrona comedy of errors on tomorrow’s Council agenda I’ll save you some time. It isn’t there.

At the last meeting Murdock and Marrick blindsided everyone with a wish list of new considerations. Turns out the two largest financial windfalls they were trying to orchestrate are illegal. Yup, against the law.

The attempt to extract an additional $3.2 to $5.4 million to acquire additional Cal Domestic Water Co. preferred shares is, you guessed it, illegal. Their request for $742,875 in supplemental park-in-lieu fees in addition to the statutory $1.6 million park-in-lieu fees the city was already getting turns out to also be, yep, illegal.

Solution? Buy a little more time.

christine_talksLooks like our budding barrister blew it. Now Murdock and Marrick need another two weeks (minimum) to do damage control, to find a new gambit for getting blood from a stone.

Not satisfied getting 9 out of 11 conditions approved Mrs. Marrick? You got your un-snooty un-gated community and your snooty custom estates approved. Seems to me you two are being more than a little greedy.

City Attorney Markman, when I asked about the missing agenda item, responded, “… there was and is no legal requirement for the matter to be on tomorrow’s Council meeting agenda.” I’m pretty confident he would deny the presence of any loophole.

More agenda skulduggery.

brett_praysTucked in amongst trivial housekeeping items on the Study Session agenda is a request from Murdock to take a trip to sister city Lagos de Moreno to help celebrate their 451 year anniversary.

This sounds eerily similar to the junket he took with Schweitzer and O’Donnel to Anseong and Hanno a couple of years ago. Can you say Koreagate?

What part of no don’t you understand?

The precedent for 45 years has been for Council members to pay their own way. On only two occasions was this not been the case.

Once, when Roy Moore was hit with two foreign travel obligations within one year, the City Manager suggested the city would be able to cover at least the airfare for the second trip. Moore paid the balance.

The second deviation was the vacation Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell took at taxpayer’s expense. A contentious issue yet today, the matter has been swept under the rug and remains unresolved. Certainly no new precedent has been set.

Sneaking this in under the radar by slipping the matter onto the Study Session agenda demonstrates just how unwilling some are to transparently conduct the city’s business.

If you feel so “justified” Mr. Murdock, at least have the juevos to review the pros and cons of the Lagos de Moreno request when the public is able to attend and the discussion will be part of the video record.

all-of-the-people

Let’s put an end to weaving one loophole after another and get down to conducting the people’s business without all of the hidden agendas.

 

Koreagate – Case Closed.

da-letterAfter almost 16 weeks the other shoe finally dropped. OC Senior Deputy District Attorney Raymond Armstrong sent me a letter saying they were closing their inquiry into Koreagate and that no further action would be taken.

I am still unsure what was actually done beyond quickly reading through the 15 to 20 documents provided as evidence in the complaint. Comments in Mr. Armstrong’s letter left more questions unanswered than answered.

I called his office to solicit more information on their process and ended up talking for some time to his associate SDDA Jaime Coulter. At the end of our conversation I understood the complexities in this case that would lead them to the conclusion that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Letting the results be known.

What follows is my email to Marty Simonoff and Roy Moore (the only Council members interested in getting to the truth) as well as to Armstrong and Coulter plus a couple of OCR staff writers whom I had promised to keep informed.

Marty & Roy…

My response from the OCDA is attached. I called and spoke with Mr. Armstrong’s associate, Jaime Coulter, and it is clear that their investigation fell short of what I had expected. It was, however, conducted in a manner consistent with the prosecutorial restraints under which I understand their office must operate.

Per Mr. Coulter, the OCDA’s determination that there is no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing and their dismissal of my complaint hinges on the necessity for them to be able to prove “criminal intent to defraud” (steal from the city) as part of a case for misappropriation of public funds.

Intent is one the most difficult matters to prove, except perhaps under the more liberal burden of proof required in civil court. It’s a shame that “stupid” isn’t against the law, but then we all might be in serious jeopardy.

While I am not happy with the outcome, I am satisfied… my lengthy conversation with Mr. Coulter helped me to have a deeper, more clear understanding of these legal processes.

Mr. Armstrong’s letter states, “This also appears to be an issue that the city council could adequately address.”

Unfortunately, those most likely to be effected by continued pursuit of this matter, those who would be required to reimburse the city, maintain a strangle hold with their three votes which allows them to impede any effort counter to their personal agendas.

The good news is that, through over three months of relentless pressure from me and others and the wisdom in Measure T, the city has implemented positive standards which will avert this sort of unethical behavior from happening again. Itineraries will be required, Council will formally approve foreign travel and, hopefully, a more robust and enforceable travel policy will be adopted soon.

It’s perfectly legal to be stupid.

I never suggested, from day one, that there was any malice in the hearts of those who made such an ignorant blunder. When the culprits were publicly taken to task by Lynn Daucher, Bev Perry, Glen Parker and others no one called them criminals. It was clear enough that the choices made by Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell were more idiotic and ethically unwise than criminal chicanery.

Regardless of what convinced Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell it would be okay to spend almost half of the city’s annual travel budget on a ten day excursion to Korea and Japan… no law was broken. No common sense was exercised either and almost 50 years of precedents were totally and conveniently ignored.

So, where do we go from here?

First, Council needs to finish the job of formalizing an enforceable travel policy. They reached agreement, by consensus, to require public approval by Council for all foreign travel and that a complete itinerary must be included in the travel request to verify the official nature and direct benefits of the trip.

This is a good start but is nowhere near a robust and enforceable travel policy. A more thorough policy needs to be drafted and approved, in resolution form, in a public session. Not the study session, which might as well be held behind closed doors for all the transparency it provides, but downstairs in front of the tv cameras.

Throughout this lengthy ordeal, virtually all who called, emailed or stopped me on the street to talk about this felt as I did that Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell should reimburse the city. I still feel that way, and with one swing vote a Council majority would agree. I’m not holding my breath.

And finally, November 2014 will give us an opportunity to elect candidates who will truly have the people’s will as their guide and reject those politicians who have repeatedly thumbed their noses at the public, taken every stipend and free chicken dinner they could and spent more time trying to build their legacy than maintain our community.