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.

 

Legal Tactics Called Bait And Switch.

The 10/27/2013 Orange County Register, under “Our Town – Brea,” published the following: (Reprinted here because many of you object to the OCR’s paywall which blocks you from reading articles via links shared here and elsewhere.)

Amicus brief: Ballotpedia, a non-profit group that disseminates information on elections, and California Aware, which tries to improve agencies’ adherence to laws, have filed an amicus brief supporting ex-Councilman Steven Vargas in a court case against Brea over the validity of City Council authored rebuttals to 2012’s Measures T and U.”

What is an Amicus Brief?

Lady-JusticeAmicus Curiae, “… a phrase that literally means “friend of the court” — someone who is not a party to the litigation, but who believes that the court’s decision may affect its interest.” – William H. Rehnquist.

Ballotpedia and Californians Aware believe they are effected by the court’s decision and have filed an Amicus Brief, formal arguments with the court.  The decision on whether to admit the information lies at the discretion of the court.

I believe the brief presents a strong defense of the claims made in the litigation by Vargas. Clearly, the City ignored the letter informing them of their error and chose instead to disregard the law and bear the costs of the litigation that followed.  The whole matter could have been handled, without heavy legal fees, simply by adhering to the law when their error was brought to their attention.

Amicus Brief’s Conclusion.

You can read/download the full Amicus Brief here, or be satisfied by reading it’s concluding content.

“The fact that one of the present measures involved caps to the bait and switchers’ own salaries should raise an eyebrow of skepticism regarding any actions not completely compliant with the Elections Code. The City of Brea whether honest or nefarious in its mistake should not be permitted to swap signatories after the review and challenge period passed.

This Court must ensure that all entities play by the rules as clearly laid out in the Elections Code.  Section 9283 is crystal clear that the ballot arguments need to be signed by whoever authored them and § 9295 provides the only means to correct a ballot argument during the review period.  This was not followed by Respondents and this Court cannot allow a City to follow a different set of rules.

For the foregoing reasons, Amicus respectfully requests that the decision of the Court below be reversed in a published opinion that clearly holds a City is beholden to the exact same set of ballot argument requirements as every other person or entity.  Amicus requests that the City’s signature box bait and switch is not allowed.”

Throwing good money after bad.

tim_2aMy last blog post, Legal Fees Or Legal Fiasco? (scroll down), will give you a perspective on the $154,000 O’Donnell has paid Markman’s firm and how outrageous these fees are in relationship to the work provided.

At a recent Council meeting, Brea resident Don Parker, made a reference to the City of Bell that drew a heated critical response from Markman.

jmarkman_bContrary to the rules governing conducting of public meetings, our City Attorney was neither asked for, nor did he offer a legal opinion.

Pretending he was the 7th member of Council, he blurted out a personal opinion that has no business being expressed while he was involved in the performance of his duties.

Whether discussing the recent unapproved spending of millions of dollars on water shares, the unsanctioned spending of public funds for private travel, the unchecked and rapidly escalating legal costs incurred to cover up a violation of the Election Code, the inadvertent approval of raises Council gave themselves or the brazen disregard for the law that resulted in a member of Council receiving a $2,000 fine from the FPPC for violation of Election law… the common thread is quite apparent.

RRizzoThe loose management style relied upon to run the city, compounded by the obvious lack of transparency and a history for sweeping matters under the carpet, leaves Brea susceptible to the same abuse of power and authority that led to the disaster in Bell.

Is Brea another Bell on the way to happen?

I’m not suggesting that anyone is currently engaged in illegal activities.  I’m saying that the door has been left ajar and that opportunities are ripe for an unscrupulous individual or group to get away with serious larceny.

We need to replace Brea’s less than thorough policies and management guidelines with a set of rules ensuring that opportunities for corrupt activities is virtually zero.

 

Koreagate – Part 2.

This whole Koreagate matter, I’ve discovered, takes on a brand new perspective when viewed in historical context.

NaksansaOut of respect for the many volunteers whose dedicated work over the years helped make the BSCA (Brea Sister City Association) a jewel in Brea’s crown, I decided to separate the history lesson from the misconduct I’ve labeled Koreagate.

BSCA_01October 13, 1969, the Brea City Council passed a resolution designating the city of Lagos de Moreno as our first sister city.  Eleven years later a similar resolution was passed adding Hanno as Brea’s second sister city.

Everything ran like a clock for the next thirty years until, in 2010, responding to the urging of members of the “significant and growing population of persons of Korean language and heritage” the City Council passed a resolution expressing “it’s intent to become the Sister City of Anseong, Korea” and authorized the Mayor to extend an invitation to the City of Anseong to enter into a Sister City relationship with the City of Brea.

With Lagos de Moreno and Hanno, Brea accepted an invitation.  Brea initiated the invitation to Anseong.  Obviously, Anseong accepted and the BSCA elected a third Vice-President, for Anseong, to oversee all activities with our newest international sibling.

Local politics raises it’s ugly head.

rgarcia_200From the beginning, Brea’s growing Korean population was interested in establishing some sort of political base.  A couple of years before the first overtures were made to the City of Anseong to join the Brea Sister City program, a couple of local politicians turned into ambush predators hungrily stalking votes and dollars. The results of these efforts bore fruit and impacted both the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Casually tossing around campaign promises about encouraging commercial opportunities between Brea and Anseong and capitalizing on the friendships and loyalties they’d developed, both politicians quickly gained votes and much fatter political bankrolls.

The problem with promises.

Eisenhower59Unfortunately, neither the City of Brea nor the BSCA had ever formally joined the Sister City International Association.  This sanctioning body evolved out of President Eisenhower’s original cross-cultural exchange program established in 1956, designed to help heal the wounds of WWII through cultural exchange and understanding.

Had either the city or the association joined, compliance with the parent organization’s bylaws would have allowed for the inclusion of a commercial opportunities agenda.  They didn’t, so the BSCA’s mission statement is the prevailing guide, “… seek to achieve cultural understanding through educational and international exchanges and community events.”

There has never been a commercial component to the BSCA’s efforts, so when there was an attempt to interject a commercial agenda, it was rejected.

The Big Bang – A Theory.

Comm_01By suggesting support for their commercial interests, these ambush predators drove a wedge into the Korean community, creating dissension within the BSCA.  It was disruptive enough that several key BSCA members broke away, formed the BKSCA “Brea Korea Sister City Association” (aka the Brea Anseong Sister City Association and the Anseong Committee), established their own 501c3 non-profit status and launched their own website.  Their home page and donation/more info pages create a blur of conflicting identities, all of which seem to be attempting to disguise themselves as the bona fide sister city organization.

BKSCC_headerMasquerading as the legitimate BSCA, they opened dialog with the Mayor of Anseong, who was unaware he was dealing with an impostor, and the Anseong Committee attempted to assume the power and authority of the authentic BSCA taking over all cultural and student exchange activities with our Korean sister city.

The plot thickens.

Fast forward to 2012, the Mayor of Anseong sends an invitation to Mayor Schweitzer to attend a 14 day cultural extravaganza called the CIOFF World Folkloriada.  As much a courtesy invitation as anything, Mayor Schweitzer could have easily offered a respectful and polite declination citing scheduling conflicts and/or budget constraints.  No one would have been offended.

Before Schweitzer could make a sensible and prudent decision, correspondence from the BSCA President was sent to the Mayor of Anseong.  The letter attempted to clear up false impressions and explain that the unsanctioned organization would not be the host agency for an upcoming student visit.  The Anseong Mayor responded by sending an envoy to Brea who hand carried the Mayor’s written response.

It all seemed to blow up in Schweitzer’s face.

Interpreting this as being an international crisis of monumental proportions, Schweitzer went straight to defcon five.  He placated the emissary and then fired off a letter to the Mayor of Anseong calling the BSCA President’s letter “unauthorized” and apologizing for any conflict it created.

KFlag_200Are you kidding me?

Unauthorized?  It came from the duly elected President of the BSCA!  Schweitzer’s letter was the unauthorized one.  BSCA is not a city department or program.  Schweitzer had no right to poke his nose in where it didn’t belong, but he did… and he tried to explain how the matter was being resolved.

Paragraph five (excerpts) from Schweitzer’s letter:

  • “The BSCA has an election scheduled within the next three weeks and the leadership of that group will change.”
  • “I have personally spoken with the incoming President of BSCA and we plan to meet again in the near future…”

Really?  The new president won’t be elected for another three weeks yet you’ve already spoken with him?  If this doesn’t confirm heavy-handed political manipulation, I’m not sure what does.

invitation2It gets even more confusing.

I received a copy of the invitation to the Asian Dance Performance at the Curtis Theater on March 30.  (click the image for a larger view) The identity of the sender and the language was hard to decipher, particularly if you had no clue about the history.

Which group was this?  Who would bank the donations received?

Turns out it is the impostor, the Anseong Committee, not the legitimate BSCA.

commend_200I checked their websites to see if I could gain additional clarity and here’s what I found, the President of the (rogue) Anseong Committee is also on the BSCA executive board as their Vice-President for Anseong.

What?  Does the right hand have any clue what the left hand is doing?  Is this not a textbook example of conflict of interest?  I do hope some of you might add a comment to help me better understand how this sort of thing happens.

Back to Koreagate.

In a knee jerk reaction to the defcon five, Schweitzer accepts the invitation, which he could have easily and graciously declined.  There was no real reason to go other than to try and save face.

don_2aSelf doubt overcame him and, seeking moral support and back-up in case he got cornered about the BSCA fiasco, Schweitzer invited Murdock and O’Donnell to be his wingmen.  Adding insult to injury, they tacked on almost a week of sightseeing in Japan to their vacation plans in Anseong… all with no legitimate reason to be there.

Did council approve this junket? Nope, the three amigos were out of town long before anyone who might care knew what was happening.  Did the Community Services Department, who has been the city’s sole interface with BSCA since day one, have a clue about the trip?  Another resounding no!

What’s going to happen with BSCA?

They’ve had an unblemished track record for 44 years, they’ll resolve this.  And hopefully, the city will be smart enough to let them do it themselves without government meddling.  Members supporting Lagos de Moreno, Hanno and yes, Anseong, continue to be dedicated to the organization’s mission of cross-cultural and student exchange.  The rebel faction, now that the truth has seen the light of day, will hopefully set aside their commercial predisposition and either rejoin the BSCA or fold up their tent and go away.

What about the wasted tax dollars?

Now, more than ever, it’s clear that the trip to Anseong and Hanno was unwarranted and likely one of Schweitzer’s most egregious gaffes.  Daucher, Perry and Parker hit the nail on the head when they described this as extreme poor judgement and totally indefensible.

I still maintain that all three should he held accountable for repayment of the $3,150+ they each spent and that O’Donnell must change his time allocation to “paid vacation” so we’re not on the hook to pay him twice.

Symptomatic Relief vs. Healing

tim_2aThis whole Koreagate affair, like the last two bogus council reorganizations, like the city’s stance against Measures T and U, like paying the city manager more than California’s Governor, like giving him a $50,000 discretionary spending allowance without limiting how many times a year he can use it, like the inadvertent windfall Council accidentally gave themselves with the flex benefit raise… these are but symptoms of a systemic disease infecting city hall.

Brea is suffering from chronic cover-up, acute self indulgence and severe disregard for we the people.  What good is it to dull the pain while making no effort to heal the disease?

A simple prescription.

Take a dozen well informed, articulate citizens… put them in the podium during Matters From The Audience… give them each five minutes to express their discontent and share their ideas.  Rinse and repeat.

Is there a statute of limitations on this sort of unacceptable behavior from elected officials and city staff?  Yes.  It’s the amount of time it takes them to sweep it under the rug and for us to forget it even happened.

There are already some who think we should just let this all blow over and forget about it.  I think they are wrong.  I think that approach opens the door to repeated misuse of the system.  C’mon, no accountability?  Unacceptable.

Don’t let this just fade away.  Step up.  Speak your mind.  Send Council an email conveying your dissatisfaction with their performance and your recommendations how to solve our problems.  If they don’t respond, which seems more typical than not, do it again and again until they get the message.

  • Ron Garcia – rong@cityofbrea.net
  • Brett Murdock – brettm@cityofbrea.net
  • Marty Simonoff – martys@cityofbrea.net
  • Roy Moore – roym@cityofbrea.net
  • Christine Marick – christinem@cityofbrea.net

Linked below are copies of all of the documents I’ve referenced except the letter from the BSCA President to the Mayor of Anseong.  As much of a catalyst as that letter was, not a soul kept a copy… or so I’ve been told.

California Department of Justice info on the original sister city organization:BSCA_DOJ

California Department of Justice info on the impostor sister city organization:BKSCA_DOJ