Last Tuesday, at Matters from the Audience, it was suggested by local entrepreneur Dwight Manley that continued efforts to retrieve the $10,000 spent by Don Schweitzer, Brett Murdock and Tim O’Donnell on their sightseeing trip to Anseong, S. Korea and Hanno, Japan was flogging a dead horse.
He referred to the expense as “a few thousand dollars” and it’s not surprising he viewed it with such little concern. I haven’t a clue what Mr. Manley’s net worth might be, and frankly I don’t care. I do think it’s safe to assume it might exceed the net worth of everyone in that room Tuesday night, which would explain why so many of us think $10,000 is a lot of money to spend so frivolously and he doesn’t.
Let me boil it down for you.
- Since it’s inception in 1969, the Brea Sister City Association (BSCA) has been a private effort, citizen volunteers creating opportunities for cultural exchange. No treaties, pacts, covenants or contracts have been established between cities. Sister city relationships are, and have always been ceremonial.
- An unfortunately ugly episode of infighting, triggered by differing agendas between the Board of Directors and the Korean contingent, led to the fracturing of the BSCA, the establishment of a separate 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the Brea Korea Sister City Association (BKSCA).
- Don Schweitzer’s knee-jerk reaction to the conflict, racial epithets and all, led to his sticking his nose in where it didn’t belong and his sending an unauthorized communication to Mayor Hwang of Anseong. Schweitzer’s lapse in good judgement gave rise to the unsanctioned excursion to South Korea and Japan by himself, Murdock and O’Donnell.
- No supporting documentation exists establishing official status of the trip or any justification for the Mayor Pro Tem or City Manager to tag along.
- Councilman Simonoff, on his recent (self financed) visit to Korea, came across information that created a serious doubt in his mind as to the official nature of their trip, that it was as much a sightseeing trip at taxpayer expense.
- I’m told that Councilman Simonoff’s request to have Council discuss this during an upcoming study session, at least at the time of this writing, has been quashed by Mayor Garcia, the same guy who promised he would fully support public discussion of all issues.
- In addition to the $10,000 of expenses there is the issue of how O’Donnell charged off his time, three days as “regular paid work days” and four days as “paid administrative leave.” Based on O’Donnell’s salary, this computes to nearly another $10,000… if we pay him his accrued but unused “vacation” days, you can double that again. That’s almost $30,000 Mr. Manley. Does that grab your attention?
- There is no previous case that realistically sets a precedent for the city to pick up the tab on a junket like this.
- We ought not be debating one expense over another. There is no justification for any expense. All three happy travelers need to pony up and pay us back.
- There are those who might argue that the Mayor enjoys some discretion here, that he ought to be able to visit a sister city if he chooses. Sorry, given the facts I have to disagree. Leave the “perks” to the private sector and start doing the job for which you were elected.
Is this flogging a dead horse?
No. Far from it. It is, once again, the people holding elected officials accountable for their behavior, to a high standard of ethics and demanding the public treasury be reimbursed for the obvious misuse of taxpayer’s hard earned money.
Let me close with this.
I must recognize and support Mr. Manley’s plea for greater accountability in resolving Brea’s massive and unmitigated unfunded pension liability. Left unchecked, it wouldn’t take much of a fiscal hiccup to send us spiraling into bankruptcy. On this we agree.
Last night the Brea City Council, thanks in large part to the persistence of Councilman Simonoff, has agreed to put the Anseong/Hanno trip on their June 4th study session agenda for review.