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.

justice_640

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

The jury is still out – Part Three

A couple of months ago I sent a copy of council member Moore’s newsletter (Brea Net #597) to the Special Prosecutions Unit with the Orange County District Attorney. Uncertain of the legal issues and ethical ramifications alleged in Roy’s account of how Council inadvertently gave themselves a raise with a retroactive bonus, I turned to professionals for an answer. Here’s what I got:

Justice“We have reviewed the Brea City Council issues called to our attention by your recent emails. We have determined that there is insufficient evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of Brea City Council or city staff in connection with the Council’s vote to increase their own flex benefits last July, and their subsequent vote to rescind the increase last December. While the initial staff report regarding the resolution increasing the benefits may have been incomplete, in that it failed to remind the Board that several years earlier they had voted to link their own benefits to the group of employees meant to be covered by the July resolution, there is no evidence that the omission was intentional, or meant to mislead members of the council or the public. And there is no evidence of any improper communications, either before or after the July meeting, in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act’s “open meeting” laws. Accordingly, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office is closing its inquiry into this matter and will not be taking any further action.” – Raymond S. Armstrong, Senior Deputy District Attorney, Special Prosecutions Unit

Jeez, where do I start?

It was June, Mr. Armstrong, not July… who, exactly, were you talking to? How were you able to reach such an absolute conclusion without interviewing a single player in this comedy of errors? You say that there was “insufficient evidence” – which would suggest that there was some evidence. Sorry, but your conclusions could have been reached merely by reviewing my email, the document I sent and my blog… and dismissing the matter because you had bigger fish to fry.

A quick conversation with the city attorney, whose job it is to cultivate a hedge of defense, of plausible deniability, around his clients, could easily have guided you to the same conclusion. More than mere professional courtesy, this may explain your cc-ing him on your correspondence to me.

Bigger fish to fry.

Smoking GunI get it. Real criminals, killers and the like. Okay… in the full scheme of things I would have to agree that tackling violent crime should certainly take precedence over allegations of petty mismanagement of public funds and possibly malfeasance on the part of elected officials and public employees.

It does beg the question, if the raises had contained as many zeros as the Bell fiasco, would we have seen a more vigorous investigation?

Before writing this, I sought the council of several trusted friends, pillars in the Brea community with enviable track records for volunteerism and philanthropy. It was pretty evenly split between, “Now’s not the time to toss in the towel.” and “Maybe it’s better not to flog a dead horse.”

Interestingly though, the anger and disappointment over what has occurred in study sessions and the council chamber between June and December, is unanimous. Not just the flex benefits matter, but the arrogant disrespect for historical precedents, the mistreatment of senior council members and irrational dismissal of talented volunteers, the lackluster effort to retain the contract with Yorba Linda for police services.

So, with all that said, I guess I’ll just let sleeping dogs lie, and lie, and lie again. At least for now.