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.

 

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

It’s All Up Hill From Here.

On December 18, 2012, the Brea City Council reorganized in what has been described to me as everything from damned embarrassing to downright illegal. My post “A Dark Day In Brea History” and my reorganization wrap-ups “An Elephant In The Room – Part 1” and “An Elephant In The Room – Part 2” summarize the events and the issues facing Brea’s still dysfunctional Council.

I’m not alone here, others agree.

A sufficient number of Breans who witnessed the reorganization, as it unfolded live, or via replay from either Brea’s website or Time-Warner public access, felt strongly that the sequence of comments and events that put Ron Garcia in the Mayor’s seat and named Brett Murdock Mayor Pro Tem, clearly point towards collusion amongst some of the key players prior to the meeting.

I gave things a month for the dust to settle, hoping one of the “Old Guard” who stormed out of council chambers that night or some other angry citizen would take the facts to the Orange County District Attorney’s office seeking an investigation into possible Brown Act violations. Seeing none, I was left with little choice but to do it myself.

Here is an abbreviated version of what I submitted for consideration:

  • Mayor Pro Tem Murdock used “formal motion” as opposed to “informal nomination” procedure to name Ron Garcia for Mayor. A clear attempt to block other nominations.
  • Use of “informal nomination” procedure has been standard, for Council Commissions and Committees in Brea for decades. The process does not require a second and allows for multiple nominees.
  • By turning from traditional nominating to the process of making a motion, Murdock and Garcia appear to have essentially used Robert’s Rules of Order to strangle the Council and intentionally limit their options.
  • Roy Moore, upon attempting to nominate Marty Simonoff, was instructed by City Attorney James Markman that he was out of order. This was incorrect.
  • To be accurate (and unbiased?), City Attorney James Markman should have instructed Roy Moore that he merely needed to make a substitute motion to add his nominee.
  • In Roy Moore’s BreaNet #639, he confirmed the City Attorney’s error. Both Moore and Simonoff acknowledge chastising Markman following the meeting, Markman admitted his error.
  • Ron Garcia used the same tactic to nominate Brett Murdock as Mayor Pro Tem for a second consecutive term, stating, “I would like to re-nominate… ummm… make a motion that Brett serve as Mayor Pro Tem which would give Brett Mayor… to serve as the Mayor in his 4 year term.”
  • Ron Garcia’s motion seemed to preemptively also make Brett Murdock Mayor in 2014, the year he runs for reelection. This can’t be legal.
  • Prior to the council meeting, council member Simonoff was approached by City Manager Tim O’Donnell who inquired whether he would be open to a quid pro quo making Marty Mayor and Brett Mayor Pro Tem. Marty informed Mr. O’Donnell that he “didn’t do quid pro quo” and terminated the conversation.
  • The sequence of events and dialog, as described, suggest that there may have been collusion between Ron Garcia, Brett Murdock, James Markman, Tim O’Donnell and possibly Christine Marick.

rackauckas_aWill the OCDA respond or blow me off?

Several have told me that getting a conviction on a Brown Act violation is virtually impossible, that even getting an investigation launched is extremely difficult. If I let this sort of pessimism rule my thinking, I’d give up before I even got started. Fat chance.

I hope that Mr. Rackauckas disproves this notion and assigns a Deputy DA to seriously investigate this matter.

I believe there is an endemic culture of secrecy and collusion in Brea city hall, and an arrogant disregard for the provisions of the Brown Act.

If I’m right, this ought not be allowed to continue one more minute and those who participated should be recalled or terminated.

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