Voters Sweep Brea Clean!

Operation Clean SweepA week ago today, Brea voters and Operation Clean Sweep succeeded in rebooting City Council! Welcome and congratulations to Cecilia Hupp, Steve Vargas and Glenn Parker. Your convincing win confirms that Brea voters, eager to turn around a floundering Council, see something in you they like.

To whom much is given, much is expected. Simply put, privilege brings responsibility and that responsibility entails accountability. Now is the time to set aside personality conflicts and petty grievances. Too many serious issues are tucked into your information packets and need your undivided attention.

Brea Matters (Voters) Wade In.

While waiting for the dust to settle and the provisional votes to be tallied, I invited Brea Matters readers (voters) to tell me how they see the issues stacking up. Thanks to all who took the time to share their thoughts. Here are the top three issues.

Unfunded Pension Liability.

The small contribution now required of new hires, bolstered by similar changes in state regulation, have slowed the rate of debt increase… slightly. The escalation of unfunded debt has neither been reversed nor solved.

The problem is still our largest fiscal nightmare. You will not be able to nudge pension reform into existence. Nothing less than sweeping change, with the full participation of the beneficiaries, will address this issue.

Water, The Currency Of Tomorrow.

The drought is real. This chronic shortage is effecting more than shorelines. It is the catalyst behind Brown’s Measures 1 and 2. The real effects of their passage will likely come as a shock to voters who cast their ballot in favor.

Our tiered water rates, still on the back burner awaiting the San Juan Capistrano decision, will be pulled to the front burner when the state’s budget based water rates enter the discussion. Brea is already giving the state detailed monthly water consumption data.

Once the camel’s head is in the tent it’s ass is soon to follow. The state will insert itself into the water business and it won’t make more water available or lower your rates.

With Silver Bells And Cockle Shells.

On a semi-related note, the drought tolerant demonstration garden rushed to approval a few weeks ago enjoys zero public support. None. Nada.

Beyond a small consulting contract, no other handcuffs exist. No RFQ has been drafted or circulated. No bids have been submitted, reviewed or approved.

Put the garden back on the agenda. Recognize it for what it is, a boondoggle. A complete waste of a quarter million dollars. Reverse the original decision. Terminate the project. Fix the leak in the subterranean parking using the Building Maintenance Fund.

Fracking, A Black Hole Of Deception.

The most significant missing component in fracking’s risk/reward equation is truth.

Truth about water, how it is combined with which chemicals or acids, where it comes from in the first place, how it is handled during the process and where it goes when disposed of. Truth about noxious fumes. How much methane and other hazardous gases are really escaping from wells, how far might they travel in the air, what are the risks of exposure or inhalation?

Truth about potential failure of equipment or of human error. Truth in documentation, willingness to be subject to regulation, oversight and enforcement of noncompliance or infraction.

Council may be comfortable, for whatever reasons, peeking through the wool pulled over their eyes… but a significant number of Breans do not share their complacency. They’ve read about thousands of incidents, from unfortunate to catastrophic, where people’s health and safety was put at risk, where the environment was put at risk, where seismic concerns grew exponentially over just a few years.

What we don’t know could kill us. That is not Chicken Little screaming, “The sky is falling!” That is not some conspiracy theorist’s attempt at scare tactics. That is the unvarnished truth. Until we know more, until oil companies are more forthcoming, until regulatory agencies are able to oversee the industry without having their hands tied by state and federal intervention… the smart thing to do is put a moratorium in place.

A Laundry List Continually Overlooked.

These “lesser” more procedural issues will sound familiar. Why? Because they’ve been at the center of campaign promises, half-hearted studies by overpaid consultants and counterfeit community conversations for years. They are in no particular order.

  • Inattention to public comment during Matters From The Audience.
  • Disregard of public comment during Matters From The Audience.
  • Growing abandonment of meaningful public hearings.
  • General lack of transparency and accountability.
  • Too much business conducted in study session.
  • Too many items buried on the Consent Calendar.
  • Failure to faithfully implement Measure T.
  • Runaway senior staff salaries and the ten city survey.
  • Satisfactory resolution of former RDA projects.
  • Consistent and equitable support of the business community.
  • Traffic congestion.
  • Open discussion of possible public safety JPA’s.
  • Declining senior services.
  • Street sweeping citations.
  • Decline of Lagos de Moreno Park.

A Show Of Good Faith.

Pass an ordinance limiting political/campaign signage to a maximum of 500 square inches and a display period, on public and private property, no more than 90 days prior to the election. Pass a resolution limiting campaign expenditures to no more than $10,000, campaign mailing pieces to no more than two. Pass a resolution limiting Council seats to no more than two terms.

Do the right thing. Without your honorable preemptive resolution of these issues, please believe that the public is willing and able to gather the necessary signatures and put them on the ballot.

In Conclusion…

Arguably the most disconnected, delusional, Council member in recent history was held accountable for his lack of performance and overwhelmingly denied reelection to a second term.

Members of Council, this is meant as a reminder, not a threat. Brea voters have extended to Council members, new and old, the privilege of representing their best interests. Expect to be held accountable.

 

An Elephant In The Room – Part 1

elephant_aTo launch Brea Matters for 2013, I asked a number of regular readers what they believe are the key issues facing the city during the coming year. The responses were interesting, to say the least.

The respondents include elected and appointed officials, mainstream residents on the high probability voters list and no one on city staff.

Repeatedly, the important issues lumped themselves into two categories, “Money” and “Mechanics.”

The first are issues for which there are specific, calculable fiscal concerns, and the latter centers on issues of policy, protocol and ethics impacting Council’s ability to lead with vision and govern with clarity and fairness.

Council’s obvious dysfunction over the past six years or so, amplified by the criminally unbelievable reorganization fiasco on December 18, leaves many of us with no sense of confidence in Council’s ability to do the work they were elected to do. They’re failing in the most fundamental tasks and seem to have turned a deaf ear to the public outcry for transparency and accountability.

Almost without exception, respondents believe that the fiscal issues facing Brea this next year are manageable, assuming a well functioning Council. And there’s your elephant in the room.

Here’s a rundown of the fiscal issues, in no certain order… sort of.

Pension Reform.

  • Movement must be made in direction of defined contribution versus defined benefit type pensions.
  • The city can no longer afford the extravagant pensions afforded city employees, in fact, we haven’t been able to afford them for many years.

Employee Compensation.

  • Brea needs to establish a new employee compensation policy that is not dependent on any salary surveys comparing us with other cities.
  • Current study shows that all OC cities pay at a similar high level (about 30% greater than the private sector).
  • Further adjustment to salary and benefit plans for public safety also deserve immediate attention.
  • The upcoming review of the City Manager’s contract, in light of recent performance, deserves more than a cursory glance and rubber stamp.
  • Likewise our contract with Richards, Watson & Gershon.

Unfunded Liabilities.

  • There needs to be a comprehensive recognition and addressing of Brea’s unfunded liabilities in general.
  • Roy Moore requested a review several months ago but was rebuffed by Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell. He is pursuing his own independent review. We need to support him in this endeavor.

Redevelopment Agency.

  • We must recover from our past reliance on the Redevelopment Agency to direct growth of the city.
  • A clear explanation of the role of the “Successor Agency” is overdue. The Successor Agency needs to meet when the public is better able to attend and participate.
  • What funds has the state taken? What funds are left? What projects were stranded without funding?
  • What projects do not have the capacity to generate the tax increment necessary to retire their debt?
  • What debts remain and what is the extent of our liability?
  • Where is the old Redevelopment Agency staff and who’s paying their salaries?

Public Safety.

  • Assessing the Fire Department’s progress following the O’Donnell forced reorganization seems to have stopped, at least no reporting has been made public in some time. Have we saved any money or not?
  • The Police Department, following the woefully unexpected loss of the contract with Yorba Linda, is trying to establish a new “Brea Only” organization plan. What is it? How does it work? What will it cost and how will we afford it?

Economic Adjustment.

  • Maintaining a balanced budget without tapping reserves or redirecting funds without full disclosure and public consent.
  • City services and the cost to provide them, all of them, need to be adjusted in the face of a continued slow economic recovery.
  • Dramatic reduction the all travel allotments for Council and Staff.
  • Elimination of the City Manager’s privilege of discretionary spending (without Council review and approval).
  • Allegations were made that Brea is over charging businesses for fire and business permits, this should be reviewed.
  • We must continue discussions with our neighbors regarding “regionalization” of services (expansion beyond Fire Department Command Staff, Police Department and Command Staff, Public Safety Dispatch Services, Maintenance Services, and Service Delivery).

Alpha-Olinda Landfill.

  • Brea is in line to receive in excess of $30 million by the time the closure is complete and how those dollars are spent must have community input.
  • Redirecting of these funds, thanks to nebulous contract language, to replace monies lost in the dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency or any other declining or needy revenue source ought not be allowed.

Well, that’s a summary of the “fiscal issue” responses I received. Most respondents asked for anonymity, I’ve decided to give it to them all. I’m confident they would agree that what they’ve said is far more important than who said it.

As my Gramma used to say, “Eat it up. Wear it out. Make it do, or do without.” It’s how us common folks learned to live within our means. They could do well to learn that lesson down at city hall.

Next post will summarize the “Mechanics” issues. Stay tuned. Undoubtedly feathers will get ruffled.

elephant2

Brea Measures T And U

Update 10/16/12: In what appears to be a bit of collusion, Chamber CEO Sharon Wagoner has issued a statement regarding these measures, with complete disregard for Chamber tradition and policy. Read “The Devil’s In The Details.” to get the details!

Adding insult to injury, it seems Chamber Chair Dave Rader and some members of city staff are forwarding the dubious propaganda… and it’s coming out from city hall using city email addresses. Aren’t there laws about things like that? Since when did city staff wade in on politics” In the six years I was “on the inside” I was reminded many times that staff couldn’t respond to political matters, and especially took no position on anyone running for Council.

Right. Are you kidding me? Could it be any more obvious that staff is scared spitless about who they might be working for in December. So much for not wading in.

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The Brea Chamber’s annual forum to meet the candidates… and issues, has just signed off. While I would love to jump in and provide the Brea Matters perspective on the candidates, the questions and answers, I’ll save that for another day.

I’m still reeling from the presentations by MPT Murdock, speaking in opposition to Measures T and U and Glenn Vodhanel, speaking in support of the measures.

Relying almost exclusively on character assassination as his principal argument against these measures, the stock approach from the city since day one, Mr. Murdock succeeded in making himself the poster boy for why Brea voters should vote yes on both measures T and U.

Seeking to expose the “devil in the details,” Mr. Murdock cited one unsubstantiated fact after another… all with that childish grin pasted across his face. No matter how many times you repeat yourself Mr. Murdock, untruth remains untruth.  This continued dissemination of misinformation only reinforces why supporting accountability and open governance is simply the right thing to do.

Pointing out that you’re joined by Lynn Daucher, John Beauman, Bev Perry, Glenn Parker, Wayne Wedin, Rex Gaede and a “host of former Brea leaders” fails miserably to convince me or any other intelligent voter to support your lost cause.

On the other hand, Mr. Vodhanel, unruffled by your irrational personal attack, calmly and clearly described each measure in simple, understandable terms — allowing each voter to come to their own conclusion and cast their ballot as they see fit.

I won’t attempt to summarize or paraphrase Mr. Vodhanel’s statements in favor of Measures T and U. Here is the transcript of Mr. Vodhanel’s presentation, I’ll let Brea’s voters decide.

Measure T – The Brea Accountability Act

Measure T was designed to curb the growing cost of government in Brea. Both Measure T and Measure U are on the ballot thanks to over 6,000 voter signatures that clearly support their necessity.

Measure T imposes limits on staff compensation, particularly highly paid executive staff.  Measure T does not impact those currently working for the city but provides assurances that city executives making over two hundred thousand dollars a year will be a thing of the past.

Public employee compensation and pension reform are two of the most pressing issues because they are two of the greatest budget threats at all levels of government. Maintaining a balanced budget demands that these matters are not shoved under the carpet any longer.

Measure T imposes limits on council perks, like the $32,000 annual travel budget that paid for Mayor Schweitzer, Mayor Pro Tem Murdock and City Manager O’Donnell’s holiday junket to Korea and Japan.  Taxpayer’s should not have to pay for unwarranted foreign travel.

[ Editor’s Note: While our Sister City programs have provided opportunities for cultural exchange, they should be self-sustaining rather than a continual drain on the city budget. Many of Brea’s community services are required to achieve some level of revenue recovery. This means that, to some extent, they pay for themselves.  Sister Cities should be a financially independent endeavor.]

Measure T imposes caps on council salaries and benefits, keeping them compliant with state guidelines and consistent with other part time employees.  No longer will council, willfully or accidentally, vote themselves raises or retroactive bonuses of several thousand dollars each!

This past year we witnessed a fiasco where council took over six months to correct their error while local newspapers made a laughing stock of our city. Such poor judgment should not be tolerated again. Holding council accountable for these decisions, requiring them to exert reasonable oversight for the benefit of Brea residents, only makes perfect sense.

Measure T is designed to curb rising costs that have escalated without restraint, and without voter approval.

It’s your money.  It’s your city.  It’s time to send a message to city hall to just say no to frivolous expenses and to start living within their means.  It’s very clear city hall is taking a hard line stance against Measure T!  Ask yourself why your city council is opposed to accountability?

Measure T was created to establish reasonable spending limits and to reduce the rising cost of local government. You pay the taxes. You make the rules.  You can do your part to make a better Brea by voting YES on Measure T.

Measure U – The Brea Open Governance Act

Measure U was designed to ensure that cities conduct their business in full view and with full participation of their residents. It adds requirements to Brea’s municipal code that enhance those currently found in the Public Records Act, the Brown Act and the State Constitution.

Sadly, a law The Brown Act was enacted in 1952 to prohibit secret meetings of official bodies, except under the most exceptional circumstances, shouldn’t be necessary. But apparently it is. That is why.

Measure U, in part, expands the Brown Act’s open meeting requirements by requiring that study sessions, like council meetings, be recorded and played back on the public access channel. This is particularly important as study sessions are typically held at times inconvenient for residents to attend.

As much of the city’s business is conducted in study sessions, it is especially important to give residents full view of those meetings.

Measure U also creates expanded guidelines regarding the access and availability of a wider range of records to the inquiring public. Measure U sets a higher benchmark for electronic requests and responses.

Thankfully, since the initiative process began nearly two years ago, the city recognized the handwriting on the wall and has implemented some of what Measure U set out to accomplish. Some, but not all.

Without Measure U putting into law the requirements to maintain and expand this system, the door would be left open for future councils to reverse the whole process.

Contrary to what city hall has suggested regarding greater costs, staff burdens and technology constraints, they have already proven that the system works, that it saves time and money and better serves the public for which it was designed.

Measure U will provide Brea residents with a greater opportunity to follow and participate in local government.

Measure U helps to streamline access to public records and increases the types of records to be kept in electronic format. Making these records available through the city’s website promotes the sort of self-search for which the internet was designed.

It’s your city.  It’s your government.  It’s your right to know what’s going on in city hall and to have a say in the process as well.  You can do your part to make a better Brea by voting YES on Measure U.

Please, join those who love Brea and vote YES on measures T and U.  Let’s promote open and transparent government for a better Brea.

 

Read.  Register.  Vote.

(The forum, in it’s entirety, will be playing on Time Warner public access channel 3 daily, following the Council meeting, at 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.)