The local newsfeeds are aglow with the word that several Orange County city councils have violated ethics and conflict of interest laws. Our Town Tustin happens to be one of them. In fact, a Tustin resident, Matthew Delaney, is said to have initiated the complaint against 40 councilmembers in various cities because those councilmembers voted themselves onto paid regional boards without batting an eye.
Mayor John Nielsen and former Mayor Jerry Amante have received warning letters from the Fair Political Practices Commission regarding the practice of naming themselves to various regulatory boards that affect the county. This includes the Orange County Sanitation District where, in 2011, Mayor John Nielsen received $4,250 for attending meetings. OCSD board members receive $212.50 per meeting with a 6 meeting per month maximum. Other boards the councilmembers appoint themselves to include the Southern California Association of Governments, which pays $120 per meeting for a maximum of 8 meetings per month. The Foothill Transportation Corridor Board also pays $120 per meeting with a maximum of 18 meetings per quarter. You can see how this adds up to quite a sizeable sum for certain councilmembers who hoard the paid positions as Jerry and his Kids have.
It gets more interesting, however. You remember we reported on the January meeting in which John Nielsen and his puppetmaster, Jerry Amante, ran a shell game to ensure the good old boys were re-nominated to the same paid boards. What many did not see unless they watched the video was that City Attorney, David Kendig, had proposed a “new” method of nominating and voting on members for the boards. The new method required nominated members to leave the room so the rest of the council could vote on them. This effectively eliminated each nominee from voting on him or herself and that effectively cured the violation.
Looking back, we see how Kendig did his job in protecting the conservatives he panders to on the city council from liability. But, where was the transparency the city likes to tout on their website? That did not seem to come into play here as there was no explanation of why there was a change. In fact, the entire discussion during the meeting centered around how the city was being proactive by implementing this new policy. Did John and Jerry receive those letters from the FPPC prior to this action being taken? While we don’t know for sure because we have not received a response from the city to our request for the letters, it is a pretty good bet they at least knew they were going to receive some kind of sanction.
Unfortunately, the Right side of the dais was a bit more on top of it than the Left. During the vote for the Orange County Fire Authority seat, when it seemed they reached an impasse, Jerry nominated two people for the position, one from each side of the dais, thereby eliminating the draw and insuring that their man Al would get the position. Deborah, in a slap your forehead moment, realized after the fact what the boys had done. Of course, the real issue was whether Beckie Gomez, who claimed to covet at least the alternate position to the Fire Authority Board, actually went along with them when she was nominated and left the room. I don’t think it was even past Beckie that she had no chance of getting the board seat and that she ensured Al Murray the seat by accepting the nomination.
So, maybe it is four to one after all.
Now, it is rather interesting that the council took up the issue of the Community Development Block Grant, a fund of money given to the city each year by the Feds for the purpose of enhancing life in Tustin. While I looked at the report that shows the money is awarded to many local entities, including the Boys and Girls Club, I have to wonder if they spread the money a little too thin. A few people I have spoken with have voiced the same concern.
But, what is really disconcerting is the fact that the CDBG money is given to the Tustin Community Foundation to administer. That in itself is not a problem. What is a problem is the fact that Mayor John Nielsen’s spouse, Erin Nielsen, is the Executive Director of the TCF. I checked with my political rabbi concerning any conflicts of interest regarding this issue. What he told me was, while their may be no specific conflict of interest that rises to the level of a violation, there is certainly the perception of one anytime there is a direct relationship between entities such as this.
Again, here we have a city that claims transparency in everything it does and then is not forthcoming in dealings that involve some of their councilmembers. It is unfortunate that no one came forward at the Tuesday city council meeting to raise the issue. And, of course, not that it would have done any good. By now, we are all used to Jerry and his Kids getting their way, even when they have to use subterfuge like this.
So, here we have it. A city that touts transparency. They are more than willing to show you the books. But, when it comes to a bit of dirty laundry, they fix the problems that arise and hope nobody will notice. This time, Jerry, John and Al, we noticed.