With 25 meetings, including those very special meetings where the public was not invited, the Tustin City Council is on the verge of calling it a wrap. I was about to bet my readers they would not hold a final meeting on December 18th but history shows this is the meeting they slap each other on the back for a job well done and pick each other (or mostly so) for mayor and mayor pro tem.
In the meantime, this week’s agenda starts off with the usual Closed Session Items. We notice that they have not apparently made much progress on any of these, particularly the issue with the Army Reserve Center swap that was a feature item in Regular Business exactly one year ago. At that time, the Army made it clear they were not interested in a swap and were quite happy with what they had. I guess everyone has their price. The city just hasn’t hit theirs yet.
Regular Business will start off with The American Legion Post 227 posting the colors. Their Color Guard, by the way, has won awards at The American Legion State Conventions in the past.
Under Public Hearing Items, the city will have the second reading and adoption of State Buildling Codes, a procedure that is mostly formality. As the city was having problems (again) with posting the video of the last meeting, I’m not sure if anyone even bothered to show up for this. In any case, staffers recommend passage.
The second item, is a routine funding for COPS. $100,000 is slated to be received by the department. No real changes to how the department intends to use the money for a Crime Analyst position and related software. Except for complaints by former councilmembers, most of us think the police department does a pretty good job of allocating resources where they are most needed.
Under Regular Business, the council will be asked to approve an amendment to the classification and compensation plans to award the Director of Finance, Pamela Arends-King, a whopping $8,000 raise for essentially doing what she has always done, manage the finances of the city. The staff are correct in their report that it will save the city money. But, considering the Finance Director was already probably checking the previous Treasurer’s work, did she really rate a raise, particularly when every other line staff took it in the short end during contract negotiations?
After the fiasco caused by the city’s use of a shady collection agency to catch business license scofflaws, the staff have come up with a proposed ordinance to exempt real estate agents from obtaining business licenses. The recommendation is to pass the ordinance on a single reading and be done with it. I guess they are hoping to sweep the whole issue under the rug.
The final issue at hand for our busy city council is to select the new mayor and mayor pro tem for the coming year. As usual, I have no doubt this years selections have been made and they do not include the sole female on the dais. That’s a shame because, out of all of the bodies on the city council, Beckie Gomez has proven to be the most level headed among the crew. But, intelligence and experience have no bearing here. The most likely candidate for Mayor is, of course, Chuck Puckett. Chuck has the experience although we suspect he will be about as effective as the current mayor in conducting city business to the betterment of our residents. At least Chuck returns our phone calls.
What we really have to worry about is that they will make the Podiatrist Councilman the
Podiatrist Mayor pro tem. That would leave him as heir-apparent next year. That is a scary thought…
Release Grand Jury Transcripts on City Manager Salaries
More than year after a scathing Orange County Grand Jury report that found former Tustin City Councilman, Jerry Amante, had abused his authority, Fred Smoller is speaking out and calling for the release of the Grand Jury Transcripts.
In a recent editorial on the Voice of OC Smoller, who headed the innovative Masters in Public Administration program at Brandman University, was targeted along with student researchers and Laguna Hills Mayor Barbara Kogerman when they researched and published a report on the ridiculous salaries being paid to city managers in Orange County.
When the Grand Jury report was originally published in July of 2012, Jerry Amante went on the offensive, claiming the jurists were misguided. “I don’t know how the grand jury got it wrong, but they’ve got it wrong”.
Smoller, who’s students were the focus of the attack by the good councilman, says otherwise:
Others — myself, the students, The Orange County Register’s editorial page and other prominent elected officials such as Supervisor Shawn Nelson and former Assemblyman Chris Norby, and a big chunk of the public — feel the grand jury got it right.
Unfortunately, grand jury testimony is almost always conducted under a cloak of secrecy. There is also the endemic issue of the lack of authority inherent in this arm of the courts (at least in the Real OC). Amante and his cohort, Laguna Hills Councilman Alan Songstad, simply had their resepctive city attorneys thumb their noses at the report. In Tustin’s case, they stated they had no authority to chastise a councilman for what amounted to a personal issue.
When the city decided to vote on the issue of what to do, we pointed out that Hizzoner was not only allowed to vote on his own punishment, he was the deciding vote. That, of course, happened with the city attorney’s blessing. David Kendig, the city attorney, even wrote the letter to the grand jury blowing them off with a lame 1st Amendment explanation. Smoller also points out this problem with the wolf choosing his own punishment for killing the sheep:
Mr. Amante cast the deciding vote on the motion which questioned his conduct, a clear conflict of interest. Both Songstad and Amante are attorneys.
While Smoller says that there are parts of the report that could have been done differently, he believes the entire episode has been warped through the efforts of many in an attempt to muddy the waters. In his editorial, he calls for a release of the grand jury transcripts. Smoller and others believe that, although grand jury testimony is normally secret, in this case, the public interest far outweighs the need for confidentiality:
The fact that this matter continues to be reported on says that questions remain unresolved. Releasing the transcripts will also allow for the assessment of the grand jury’s work, which has been harshly criticized by some members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
I hope Mr. Amante and Mr. Songstad and their former respective city councils and the others who criticize the report will join the effort to daylight the grand jury transcripts so we can find out the truth.
If the grand jury does sloppy work, we need to know it, and fixes need to be put in place…
Smoller also says the public deserves to know if the Orange County Grand Jury is really doing their job. Releasing the transcripts, he says, will vindicate those who served honorably on the jury and demonstrate the constraints they are under.
We agree. As frequent critics of the Orange County Grand Jury, opening transcripts that would back up their claim on this complex situation would go a long way toward restoring credibility to an institution that has been dismissed, more often than not, with a snicker and a wink. If the Grand Jury is doing the job we expect of them, then we the public should have confidence in them. Releasing the transcripts will go a long way toward restoring that confidence.
On the other hand, if Jerry is right and the jury “got it all wrong”, then he should have nothing to worry about. Right, Jer?
Awhile back, we wrote an article on an Orange County Grand Jury report titled, “The Use of Government Influence on Private Education Institution“. The report alleged that then Tustin City Councilman Jerry Amante and Laguna Niguel City Councilman Alan Songstad misused their positions as elected officials to unduly influence and discredit a report on city manager compensation authored by a couple of students at Brandman University.
When the report was issued, it was lauded by OC Supervisor, Shawn Nelson who honored the two authors, Cindy Smith and Janet Voshall, for their integrity and for bringing to light the incredibly high salary of high ranking government officials. The report became even more significant when the Bell scandal, outlining heavy corruption by that city’s highest ranking officials, became news.
Unfortunately, it also brought heavy fallout to Fred Smoller, the founder and head of the Public Administration Program at Brandman as well as the authors of the original report. According to the LA Times article, Smith and Voshall had to leave Orange County to find work. Smoller also wound up resigning from the program he founded:
Fred Smoller, who founded the master’s program in public administration at Brandman, accused college leaders of buckling to pressure from conservative local politicians and trampling academic freedom.
“The resignation was the only way I could draw attention to the backdoor politicking that threatened the independence and academic integrity of the MPA program,” Smoller said.
And, although Smoller remains at Chapman University (Chapman, Brandman, what’s the dif?) he has lost faith in the program he founded.
Cindy Smith summed it up when she said, “The Good Old Boys Club is alive and well.”
Jerry Amante should know. His efforts to establish a corrupt legacy of influence in the city of Tustin are well documented. Amante, for his part, claimed he and Songstad did not try to influence anyone. He claimed the grand jury report was inflated and incorrect. There was no influence put upon school officials. At one point, he slammed the grand jury saying that James Doti, Songstad and he were the only ones in the room (remember, the smartest guys in the room) and they were the only ones who knew what was said.
But that is not the indication from Songstad who, according to the report, said they did, in fact, discuss the issue with James Doti and made what the grand jury later construed as veiled threats to not hire any students from Brandman. Well, we know of at least two who have not been hired.
Fred Smoller, for his part, defended the students actions. He also refused to buckle under pressure to release their email addresses and phone numbers to Laguna Hills City Manager, Bruce Channing, then the highest paid (and apparently most angry) city manager in Orange County. Channing did get one thing: Smoller agreed the title page should not carry the institution’s brand and that was subsequently changed.
Remember the League of California Cities? They are one of the chief lobbying and quasi-governmental entities that really run the government. In essence, it’s a club for local politicians where the makers and shakers throughout the state decide in unison what’s best for us. Amante and Songstad, as members of the club, asked the League to respond to the report. Shortly after the League refused, Orange County broke away from the League and formed a separate good-old-boys club known as the Association of California Cities-Orange County. Yup, that’s right. When the conservatives couldn’t get their way, they stamped their feet and took their ball home, leaving Orange County with even less influence in Sacramento than it had before.
We’d like to get Amante’s side of the story but, according to the Times story, he isn’t answering the phone these days. I doubt any of the other players are either.
Alas, we may never know whether lies or truth came out in the Grand Jury investigation. A lawyer hired by Fred Smoller was unsuccessful in getting the transcripts of grand jury session released to the public. The lawyer who headed the investgation for the grand jury stamped the report “particularly sensitive”.
Barbara Kogerman, the one who commissioned the report to begin with is now Mayor of Laguna Hills. During the investigation, she had been accused of making the report a campaign piece. Perhaps so. But, it was also a factual piece of information that should have been brought before the public long ago when the city manager’s office stopped being about public service and began being sold to the highest bidder.
So, where are they? According to the Times article, Cindy Smith is selling insurance in Phoenix, Voshall works for the United Nations and Smoller is at Chapman University hoping to start another public administration program. All of them have found a higher calling. Talk about a blessing in disguise.
After the train wreck of the Tustin City Council meeting two weeks ago, tonight’s meeting should be relatively quieter and shorter. Yes, 5 hours, even during Jerry Amante’s regime, would be considered a marathon for these folks. It’s a wonder Chuck and the Podiatrist Councilman didn’t fall asleep. After all, it did go past their bedtime.
This week’s meeting begins with the usual Closed Session items, mostly having to do with litigation. A little more information has leaked on the agenda showing that one of the cases the City Attorney is considering is with the Department of Finance.
Also on the agenda is a conference with the real property negotiators concerning undeveloped property on the MCAS base off Redhill and Warner Avenues. The city appears to be in negotiations for price and terms for several lots in the area.
On the Consent Calendar, the Annual Tustin Housing Authority report shows the city owns about 300 units for ownership and rent. We have complained the number is low for the size of our city but the city seems satisfied to accommodate the minimum number of low and moderate income folks, even if it does not satisfy actual need. You can read the report here.
Also on the Consent Calendar is an item for design and construction of a bocce ball court at Peppertree Park. A great idea and location considering the number of seniors that come to the Senior Center each day. The bocce ball courts are sure to get plenty of use.
The final item on the Consent Calendar is approval to purchase the computer and VOIP equipment from the low bidder, GovPlace. They also happen to be a local provider based in Irvine. The contract is for $334 thousand dollars for equipment only and was budgeted last year.
On the Regular Business Agenda, the City Council will officially open invitations to applicants for the Audit Commission. Mr. Richard Hilde has resigned. The notice will be placed in the newspaper and the city’s website. There is also a current interest list of folks that will be notified.
The big ticket item, in our opinion, on the agenda is the Strategic Plan Update for the City Council. Presumably, this is where the city manager tells the council how great they are doing in implementing the Plan. Unfortunately, the part of the plan that deals with “obtain[ing] feedback from and strengthen our partnership with the community” has predictably taken a back seat to the more important issues like increasing the bed tax now that we have a couple of real hotels in the area.
And, although the report says the city has completed the accountablity and communication portion of the plan (it is posted ont he website), it is a bit soon to decide whether the city will actually take this part seriously or whether they are just paying lip service to it. We expect the latter.
Everything else on the plan, from improving customer service to fixing the website is “in progress”. Has anyone been asked to provide feedback on services? Makes you wonder who they are asking. In any case, the city’s lackluster response -despite the number of “in progress” notations- is predictable and saddening. After all, this plan was approved nearly a year ago. And, as we said back then, a plan is just a plan until it is actually implemented.
Better late than never, the Tustin City Council will adjourn in the memory of local resident, Jack Miller, who passed away in July 2013. Along with helping to create the 911 system, Jack is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force where he separated as a 2nd Lieutenant. Fly High, Jack.
Conference with Legal Council – 2 items each Initation of and Exposure to Litigation
Conference with Real Property Negotiators – Tustin MCAS Property
Tustin Housing Authority – Annual Meeting and Report
Acceptance of Public Improvement – Authorization to file notice of completion for Cedar Grove Park Playground Renovation
Approve Consultant Services Agreement – Design services for bocce ball court at Peppertree Park
Declaration of Surplus Property
First Reading – Ordinance no. 1430 Proposed amendments to the Tustin Subdivision Code
Audit Commission Vacancy – Set interview date and publication of required notices
California HERO Program Resolution – Adopt HERO program to facilitate loans and low interest for green projects
Stategic Plan Update – Report on strategic plan adopted in 2012 regarding implementation and recommendations
That’s it for this week’s city council meeting. I hope your Labor Day weekend was as enjoyable as ours.