As with every previous mayor in Tustin, Al Murray was no exception in presenting a set of goals that he has committed to during his tenure. Like his predecessors, he seems to forget, or not understand, the almost strictly ceremonial aspect of his office. Perhaps someone should remind him that it is the entire city council that set policy. In that respect, it might be better to collaborate with and present the city council’s goals rather than the mayor’s goals. In any case, Murray’s stated goals demonstrates how completely unambitious and unimaginative the good mayor may be. Unless he steps it up a bit, don’t look for anything interesting to happen under his tenure.
Murray’s first goal? To establish a Community Emergency Response Team. This would be a great idea if Murray hadn’t taken a page from Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan’s playbook. In the TPD’s 2012-2015 Strategic Plan, one of Chief Jordan goals is to establish a team of citizen responders for disasters and emergencies. Murray, who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time slurping coffee with officers at the local Keane’s, is riding piggyback on the chief’s plan to have a team established by September. I wonder how the chief feels about a former Irvine PD captain stealing his ideas?
Murray’s next goal is to continue moving forward with the Tustin Legacy Project and Tustin Ranch Road. Of course, these projects are well underway and it is doubtful the good mayor or city council could have much effect on its progress. The fire station project, likewise, is well under way. We will give Murray credit for being on the city council over the past two years when crucial decisions were made. Still, not much more can be done at this point to move these projects any faster.
Transparency and the Entrance to City Hall. Raise your hand if you think this city council will be any more transparent than the last one. Everyone likes to talk about transparency but they all have their own ideas of exactly what transparency is. In fact, Murray appeared to mix transparency with new telephone systems and “access to the internet”, as if that makes city hall more transparent. Murray, who has declined to return any email I have ever sent to him, has a long way to go personally before attempting to tackle transparency at city hall, where the only way to obtain information is through a public records request… unless you happen to catch Jeff Parker or Elizabeth Binsack in a good mood that day.
The Shadow Knows. Murray’s next big project is an obvious attempt to make it appear that his administration will be more friendly toward the Tustin Unified School District. His idea is to have the school district select one student each quarter to shadow a government official for a day. Murray’s idea is to introduce students to government and its function. I would suggest that, unless they are looking to see how corruption runs and how government executives manage their fiefdoms, the students continue to learn about government as they do now – from textbooks and teachers. At least that way, they see government as it should work, not necessarily how it actually works at the local level. Perhaps, then, we can get the system back on track by making sure they learn from an unbiased, untainted source.
Collaboration with other government agencies and private businesses. Expect to see Murray and the Fab Five continue down the same path as the previous council. That is, to make Tustin more business oriented at the expense of resident’s quality of life. It remains to be seen just how much damage Murray can do with his limited business connections. He still has Nielsen to help him get the most from business contribution-wise. After the OC Watchdog outed Nielsen and Team Tustin for their gross contributions to campaign funds, it was also noted that Nielsen voted to extend the trash contract another year. I am sure John can introduce Al to a few of his business connections before the next election cycle.
So, what do we think should be the goals of this administration?
Certainly, we agree the city should do whatever it takes to end the lawsuits between TUSD and the city. That would take more than paying lip service to the school board and making empty threats to implement term limits. It would mean taking a serious look at the situation and settling the issues, including an offer to pay some attorney fees for the district. A stipulation that the city would no longer unduly interfere with school construction and affairs would go a long way toward mending fences. Yes, I’m saying go to the school board, hat in hand, and beg forgiveness.
A long term goal that could be started under this administration is to resurrect the idea of a park around the hangar Tustin is responsible for. With the Orange County Board of Supervisors ready to commit money and effort toward a regional park for their hangar, it could work to the benefit of the citizens in the Legacy area if Tustin joined forces with the county to preserve as much of that area for park an non-commercial use as possible. With the waning prospect of a “great park” in Irvine, a regional park that preserves the best example of Tustin’s military history would bring visitors from around the county and the country to enjoy these monuments to freedom. And, do we really want to say, “there used to be two hangars but…”.
Settle all aspects of the Tustin Legacy. Stop putting roadblocks up to development. Last year, the city retook control of the development of the MCAS property when they designated city officials as the master developer. Almost immediately, the city went to work locating property developers and making necessary changes to get building started. They made some difficult and, sometimes, unpopular decisions. The important thing is, development has started once again. The completion of Tustin Ranch Road will throw things into high gear but will require a rethinking of regional transportation projects. (I know, this is a goal of Al’s… It’s the only one worth keeping, in our opinion).
The first city council meeting of the year was mercifully short at an hour and fifteen minutes. Hopefully, that trend will continue. In the coming year, we don’t see a whole lot coming from this bunch. Gomez continues to play the nice guy and the other four are too dull to really bring any fireworks to the dais. Murray, a retired police officer from Irvine, shows that he has way too much time on his hands. Nielsen is too busy with personal issues and the podiatrist councilman reminds me of Ted Kennedy during the camelot era. Wake me up if I fall asleep.
The norm is, I don’t usually make it to the Tustin City Council meetings on a regular basis. Fortunately, the city is kind enough to videotape and publish the meetings on the city website. I can watch them when it is convenient and I don’t even have to dress up for the occasion. The best part is, the city links the agenda to the video so one only has to watch what they want. In recent weeks, there hasn’t been much to watch other than the changing of the guard and some minor issues we have reported on. I wasn’t even going to watch the latest meeting except something told me it would be entertaining. It was, if you think watching a podiatrist read his notes verbatim is entertaining.
Nonetheless, when Mayor Al Murray congratulated Chief of Police, Scott Jordan, for his election to the Orange County Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs Association, I thought I would email the chief with a congratulatory message. As you know, Our Town Tustin likes the chief and think he does an outstanding job leading a professional department that we can all be proud of. So, I was surprised to find out Jordan was actually elected on May 1, 2012, and is in midterm.
From his email:
I became President of the Orange County Chiefs’ of Police and Sheriff’s Association on May 1, 2012, and my term runs through April 30, 2013. So far, it has been a challenging year. As you know, we are experiencing the perfect storm – fewer personnel, due to both the recession and the elimination of redevelopment agencies, and increasing crime and calls for service. This perfect storm is certainly complicated by AB 109, prisoner realignment. Now, with the recent passage of Prop 36, we can anticipate the release of even more career criminals. I am sure the release of prisoners / repeat offenders into our society has at least some impact on the increasing crime, even though I can’t specifically say how much.
Under the Chief’s leadership, the Association has amended their protocol for handling the mentally ill and continue to support police officer training on handling the mentally ill. “In fact, Tustin is sponsoring training for police officers on handling the mentally ill in the first part of 2013″, said Jordan. He went on to say his department supports the Orange County Fire Authority active shooter protocol that defines first responder roles and responsibilities. That’s good news in the wake of Sandy Hook and other recent tragedies.
None of this is surprising, of course. Several months ago, I was meeting with the IT guru from Tustin Unified School District over Measure S. We met at Peet’s Coffee on Newport, as I like to support our local businesses. During the meeting, I noticed a homeless man sitting nearby. He was in a bit of distress and, although he was exhibiting signs of mental illness, he was not really bothering anyone.
Apparently, someone from the store called the cops to complain. When the officer arrived, I observed him approach and speak quietly to the man. The officer, whom I later found out was Officer Manny Arzate, later came up to my table and told me they received a call saying the man had exposed himself to patrons. I told him I had been there for awhile and had seen nothing of the sort. He thanked me and, with another officer who arrived on the scene, spoke again with the man in a quiet, respectful manner that we would all expect when members of the police department are speaking to us. They encouraged him to leave and then left the area. It was obvious they were trained in dealing with the mentally ill from how they handled the situation.
None of this should surprise you. It’s good to know, however, that our department is highly trained and that they care about our community.
It is also good to know that our own chief of police is leading the way in Orange County Law Enforcement as they deal with new and challenging issues this coming year. AB109, the law that realigned prison programs to allow the release of dangerous criminals, will now, according to Jordan, be compounded by Prop 36, which has changed the aspect of the Three Strikes Law significantly. We do not necessarily share Jordan’s dire prediction on Prop 36 but we appreciate his concern and the fact he takes his job seriously.
A hat tip to our friends at The Liberal OC for breaking the story on John Nielsen’s pastimes around Our Town Tustin. Both the Lib and Our Town Tustin recently received a missive from an avid reader who told us that our good mayor has been busy stalking residents of Tustin. “The day before the elections he was stalking a friend and 16 year old son in their neighborhood, taking photos, scaring her son”, said the email. Of course, we follow the same journalistic tenets that Dan Chmielewski does in that we do not publish unsubstantiated reports without some kind of corroboration. So, I immediately emailed a request to the city for the police report or any writing that pertained to the incident.
Chmeilewski did one better by going to the Tustin Police Department and requesting a copy of the police report. They politely declined to produce it immediately, according to him, and told him they would send it along within the next ten days. Before Dan got back to his office, he received a statement from Paul Garaven, the Public Information Officer for the police department:
On the 4th of this month at 9:25 PM, we received a call of some suspicious circumstances and essentially the reporting party was reporting a suspicious individual parked in car in the 2500 block of Platt. The person in the vehicle was taking pictures of people outside of the address in the 2500 block. And when the reporting party started to approach the vehicle, the vehicle left the area.
So the reporting party got a description of the vehicle and license plate, and the plate came back to Mayor Nielsen. We took initial information report and a detective did a follow up report and spoke with Mayor Nielsen the next day. Mayor Nielsen said he was driving when he saw a light-colored SUV stopped in the road removing signs out of the ground. He followed the vehicle to the neighborhood because of his concerns about hundreds of political signs being removed in Tustin. He thought this person was removing political campaign signs. Neilsen told Tustin Police there was an incident of a someone in light colored SUV caught on CCTV (closed circuit televison) removing political signs. Tustin police did not see this video or have access to this video.
Upon further investigation at the residence near Platt, the signs that were removed were found to be real estate signs for an open house.
Lo and behold, just before 6 pm, the city clerk responded to my request by sending me the police report. The report clarifies that Nielsen was taking pictures of a man and his son who were putting away real estate signs int heir garage at home. It was evening and when the man attempted to approach the vehicle, the driver sped off. He caught up with the driver as he was trying to leave the gated community. The driver hid his face in his hands until the gate opened and then he drove off.
Fortunately, the man was able to get a description and a license plate of the vehicle which, it turned out, belonged to Tustin Mayor John Nielsen. Nielsen admitted to the act, saying he was concerned because there were so many election yard signs that had been stolen, he was thought this man and his son were sign thieves.
OK, but we have a couple of problems with that. For one thing, did Nielsen fancy himself a cop? He is, after all, a member of Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan’s Police Advisory Board, a kingpiece of the Chief’s department made up of residents and business owners around town. Did he think his mayor’s badge, which he criticized former mayor Tracy Worley-Hagen of misusing, should give him special investigative powers? Or was he just too stupid to realize this guy might, fearing for his son’s life, pull out a gun and shoot him on the spot?
Raise your hand if you vote for option three.
Nielsen, throughout the city council campaign, billed himself as an honest, ethical person. The eight hit pieces that went out against his opponents and that were tied to him and his cronies says differently. He extols his business acumen and how he has balanced the budget without being truthful in saying he had to dip into reserves to make that happen.
He has also failed to be honest with his constituents about the relationship between the city and Tustin Community Foundation, an organization run by his now estranged wife, Erin. That has recently come back to bite him over the Wilcox Manor CUP application. You could, as the police department did, call this most recent incident a use of really poor judgment. But, the mayor playing policeman not only demonstrates poor judgment, it calls into question his ability to make sound decisions that would affect our community. At the least, it reflects our belief in the declining credibility of Tustin’s upstanding mayor.
John showed that an incumbent will win re-election regardless of the fact that he has more signs out around town than any other candidate and regardless of the type of mudslinging his crew has become so good at. With that feather under his cap, perhaps it is time for him to consider resigning from office. At the very least, he could start by resiging from Jordan’s Police Advisory Board. If he refuses to do so, Chief Jordan should exercise his authority under the policy that created the board where is says, “At the discretion of the Chief of Police a board member may be excused from further participation in the event it is deemed necessary for the benefit of the board as a whole.”
Do us a favor, John, and stop embarrassing the city.
A hat tip to Dan Chmielewski of The Liberal OC for bringing a story that has been on our minds for some time. As you know by now, former Orange County employee Carlos Bustamante, has been charged with multiple sex crimes that he allegedly committed while a high level manager of the Orange County Public Works Department. Subsequently, it came to light that Assembly Candidate, Tom Daly, has also been the subject of multiple claims of sexual misconduct while holding the office of Orange County Clerk-Recorder. The allegations against both of these men allegedly came to light through a series of anonymous letters. As Dan said, “Government by anonymous letter is the trend one can take away from the Summer of 2012.”
Some time ago, both The Liberal OC and Our Town Tustin became aware of anonymous letters and emails alleging misconduct of sorts of Tustin Chief of Police, Scott Jordan. The letters made unsubstantiated allegations against Jordan saying, among other things, that he had slept with a police department employee and had been applying for “lots of jobs” and complaining that Jordan received a raise while other employees with the city were required to give up benefits in their latest contract. It was signed by “The Women of TPD”. It also listed his home telephone number which was verified by Chmielewski.
The second letter followed on the heels of the first. It outlined the saga of Jordan marrying a woman in Garden Grove Police Department that was “below” him, came to Tustin and promoted a woman based on her looks over other, more qualified applicants and then got her pregnant.
The two letters outline quite a saga in the history of our police chief that you can read in the post on The Liberal OC so we won’t republish them in full here.
Chmielewski did quite a bit of research, inquiring of the city about the allegations of the letters. From the Lib:
We’ll note the Chief did marry a former employee of the department after she left the City’s employ. There was no pregnancy and no call to HR as alleged in the letter.
The chief did travel with a woman named in the letter but several other members of the city’s elected officials and staff made the same trip. Hence, the holes in the story.
The city responded almost a week after we delivered the letters. We deleted names and titles in the city’s response to protect the privacy of those employees mentioned in the letter. The email from Tustin City Manager Jeff Parker goes like this (excerpted – for the entire letter, see The Liberal OC story):
First, the City takes very seriously an allegation of workplace harassment. I’ve attached a copy of the City’s Harassment, Discrimination, and Retaliation policy which can be found in the City’s Personnel Rules.
The training focuses on our policy, the law, and how employees can address concerns they have regarding conduct in the workplace.
Please note that neither of the letters you provided to me were given to our HR department nor have complaints in any other form been received relating to this matter.
The city manager goes on to say that anything that happened in Garden Grove is unknown to him and he cannot make an investigation into those allegations. As to the first letter, Jeff Parker says he looked into it and found it had been adequately investigated two years ago by the then city manager. Hmm, two years ago the city manager would have been Bill Huston who left with serious issues of cronyism and alleged coverups of his own. You’ll forgive us if we believe that any “investigation” conducted by Huston was anything more than cursory in aspect. Perhaps Parker should have re-opened the investigation in light of the allegations. Or should he?
Parker also addresses the issue of the promotion-by-looks of one police department applicant (we understand this is a non-sworn employee, by the way) over other more qualified applicants. He assures Dan this is not true and the applicant was one of six who qualified and that she exceeded the minimum qualifications for the position. He blows off the allegation that the chief is currently having another affair with a deapartment employee, saying there is no credible evidence.
But, Parker brings up an interesting point when he says, “…I find it interesting that these letters were provided to you after the City entered into a contract with Chief Jordan rather than when the issues were actually occurring.” We do too. More than that, the employees were locked in tough negotiations where the city was demanding certain concessions from the employee unions. So, was this just to throw gas on the embers in hopes someone would shout, “Fire”?
We agree with The Liberal OC that government by anonymous letter is unsavory, to say the least. Unsubstantiated claims, where those making the allegations believe a reporter will be able to “dig up the dirt”, more often than not, result in inaction. That is partly because of laws that, rightly, protect individual privacy even of city employees, where the trend has been to open the doors on everything from compensation to every report or complaint -substantiated or not- brought by a member of the public or even another employee.
Scott Jordan is a well respected member of the law enforcement community. He is also well-respected in our community where crime has dropped and the professionalism of the police department is second to none in the county. And, although OTT has been critical of the recent raise he was given in light of the takeways experienced by other employees of his department and the rest of the city, we think he deserves the benefit of the doubt unless those who wrote the letters come forward with allegations they can substantiate and not just grouse about. In fact, Dan has given a set of guidelines to use for would-be whistleblowers who believe they would be retaliated against if they were to go through official channels:
But for those government employees who feel that they have no choice but to go to the local media with their story, some advice:
1. Ask a reporter or editor for confidentiality and make sure you get agreement before you say anything.
2. Summarize your complaint; Who, what, where, when, why (in your opinion) and how. Bring copies of documentation, emails, photographs, videos, audio files….be prepared to prove your claims. He said, she said isn’t going to help you. Copies of letters, emails, photos, and other evidence surely will.
3. Bring copies of department/city/county policy and show why your documentation proves your complaint.
4. It’s not what you think; it’s not what you heard. It’s what you can prove.
5. An employee who meets with a superior behind closed doors for an hour or two does not mean the two are having an affair; hasn’t anyone else had two hour business meetings with the boss or a conference call that required a closed door? Think of your own interactions; we all have relationships with our business associates that range from professional loathing to genuine affection and friendship.
6. Journalists can protect the identity of confidential sources provided you deliver on documenting your claims with evidence. It also helps if you have two or more colleagues who will back your story with details of their own. And yes, we’ll protect your identity if you have a tip for us. But we are going to check it out.
We subscribe to the same advice.
Along with The Liberal OC, we would also like to thank the Tustin City Manager, Jeff Parker, and the Human Resources staff who responded to his inquiries. In my conversations with Dan, he offered that Parker was very frank in answering questions, declining to answer only when required by law. That says volumes for our new city manager and his willingness to work toward a more transparent city. Thanks, Jeff.
Since Our Town Tustin began as a watchdog for the Tustin political community, we have had our share of anonymous letters about various city officials and electeds. I am sure that many of the writers have wondered why nothing was ever published. Now you know. This blog, and no respectable news source, will ever publish anything that cannot be independently verified and substantiated. When something is published here, you may not agree with it (and I hope you don’t agree with everything we write) but you will know it is truthful. And, you can rest assured that, unless your comment violates our simple rules, it will never be deleted or modified.