It’s Payback Time!

free_tripFrom September 28 through October 9, 2012, then Mayor Don Schweitzer, MPT Brett Murdock and City Manager Tim O’Donnell took a vacation together to Anseong, South Korea and Hanno, Japan and stuck Brea taxpayers with the bill.

Aren’t those our Sister Cities? Yeah, so what?

Under the ruse that the number of official duties outstripped the Mayor’s ability to respond, Schweitzer convinced Murdock and O’Donnell that they should come along to help pick up the slack. Really? I’ll bet that took a lot of arm twisting.

Another thought, did O’Donnell charge his time to the taxpayers on this trip anticipating that Measure T, which disallowed payment for work done outside the country, was likely to pass and this was his last chance to sock it to the taxpayers before Measure T took effect?

Let’s back up and look at the facts.

Brea Matters has discussed this twice, on September 20 and November 6 – please take the time to read these again to put what follows in proper context.

The invitation, from the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folkarts (CIOFF), could have easily been turned down without international incident by simply replying, “While we would be honored to join you, we are not in a position to budget for a non-commercial cultural event.”

troupeThe CIOFF, according to their own mission statement, purposefully focuses on cultural activities and as an NGO (non-government organization), does not get involved with developing commercial opportunities. The fact that O’Donnell originally characterized the junket as one exploring commercial connections between Anseong and Brea is completely bogus.

At no time has there been acceptable explanation of this junket’s benefit to Brea sufficient to consider it justified in any way. Particularly the side trip to Hanno, Japan. It was an abuse of power and authority using public funds without public approval to pay for a vacation.

So, what did this cost us?

money_buriedThe product of a difficult and protracted public inquiry, this Expense Report accounts for lodging, airfare, ground transportation and meals. It also reports how O’Donnell’s time off was allocated.

All three happy travelers cost the city about $3,115.00 each for reimbursed expenses. I believe that’s more than Movies In The Park or our summer concert series costs. One person’s expenses are at least double the cost of “Gotta Have Art” which annually benefitted Brea kids all across the city and produced the amazing banners you see hanging down at the Community Center. A program, by the way, that has been cut.

O’Donnell adds insult to injury.

politician_liar_150If that nine grand was wasted, wait until you hear what’s next. Tim O’Donnell charged off three days as “regular paid work days” and four days as “paid administrative leave.”

Are you kidding me? I would love to see a detailed itinerary for these days that justified bilking the city for the expense.

Based on the unconscionably enormous salary we pay O’Donnell, these expenses are roughly equal to the travel expenses of all three combined! Yeah, I believe it comes to almost another nine grand!

Hey, I’m a reasonable guy. If O’Donnell wanted to charge off his time against “paid vacation” I would have no problem with reducing his accrued vacation. If he earned it, it’s his. But don’t stick taxpayers with this… it’s like double jeopardy.

It’s grossly unfair, and seems equally unethical, to make us pay you now and then pay you again when you’re terminated. You read that right Tim, terminated.

There is a simple answer.

In the court of public opinion, you’re all guilty as charged.  Unfortunately it requires an act of contrition on your part to bring this to a positive conclusion.

Here’s what you should do… pay it back. All of it. All three of you.

It was unethical. It was unapproved. It was without excuse. At least five former Mayor’s have clearly expressed that they feel the same way. Three shared their opinions during Matters From The Audience and they were basically ignored.

Don, Brett, Tim… write a check to reimburse the city, and Tim, reclassify your time in Anseong and Hanno as “Paid Vacation” and be done with it.

I would much rather see the three of you step up and do the honorable, the honest thing… for once. Then put a review of travel budgets on the agenda and ask folks what they think they ought to be.

While we’re at it, how about taking a hard look at our League of Cities memberships and participation in the Energy Coalition too. Many of us are still trying to figure out what sort of benefits we get from these and similar groups.

Finally gents, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” so save yourself the trouble of wagging the dog on this one… it’s far too late for damage control now.


Council Junket, Gangnam Style.

Back on September 20th, Brea Matters commented on the taxpayer paid vacation Don Schweitzer, Brett Murdock and Tim O’Donnell made to Anseong, South Korea and Hanno, Japan. Terri Daxon had a good piece on the same topic in the Star Progress the same day, but someone at the OCR felt it wasn’t worth their ink so it never made it into the Register’s print or web editions.

The total of the final tab remains a party secret, but airfare alone was $5,000 bucks.  An almost comical attempt at justifying the trip was made during a Sister City presentation to Council and now, 48 days later, the Orange County Register has graciously reprinted a city press release that, except for a sensationalist headline, paints a rosy picture of the junket.

Way to keep up with the news folks!

The CIOFF – International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folkarts are the promoters of the Anseong “World Folkloriada.”  The first such event was held in 1996, and there have only been four others since then, including Anseong.

It’s hardly an ancient and treasured event.  I have t-shirts older than that with far greater sentimental value and some representing a memorable cross-cultural exchange.

According to the CIOFF website, their objectives are to:

  • Promote the intangible heritage, through forms of expression such as dance, music, games, rituals, customs and other arts.
  • Serve the objectives of UNESCO.
  • Support the activities of its members and those of non-governmental organizations working in the areas of folklore and cultural heritage.  (Note the non-governmental reference and the absence of any reference to commerce or trade development.)
  • Serve the cause of peace and non-violence through the implementation of the above objectives.

Unlike the OCR’s reporting that, “The trip was a chance to learn from people in the sister cities and make contacts that could lead to commerce between Asian and Brea businesses.” – the sponsoring organization has nothing to do with commerce at any level.  For Mayor Schweitzer and friends to suggest this trip was about business is either hugely naive or willfully false.

Shame on the Orange County Register!  This is about as blatant a reprinting of a city press release as anything I’ve seen in the OCR.  Michael Mello, staff writer I guess, seems to have taken the Ryan/Reimer release and printed it verbatim.

What has happened to journalistic integrity? Would Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley or Bernstein and Woodward think this was a solid story? Not on your life.

How arrogant and totally presumptive, in his final days in office, for a Mayor to stick his hand in the cookie jar one final time.

How insulting that he passed out free cookies to his best friends… especially when there aren’t enough cookies to go around anymore.