Category Archives: Recall Amante
Hot on the heels of a scathing grand jury report and the announcement of an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission, the FBI announced Wednesday, they have created a task force to investigate corruption here in Orange County. The earlier probe stems from management issues with CalOptima, the county’s low income health system for the poor.
Earlier this year, the Grand Jury issued two reports highly critical of the Board of Supervisor’s mismanagement of the CalOptima system. Supervisor Janet Nguyen, along with others, has been accused of conflict of interest and ethical breaches.
On June 18th, Supervisors lashed out at the Grand Jury, saying it was not their job to publicly embarrass the county. Supervisor John Moorlach, in one of his typical misconceptions, stated, “Your here to help us, not embarrass us nationally.” Todd Spitzer, who will eventually run for district attorney, went as far to say that their is no corruption in Orange County. The Board then moved to cut the grand jury stipend in apparent retaliation.
As it turns out, the FBI formed the task force in April, about the same time as the FPPC announced its own investigation. The FBI, which has a permanent anti-corruption unit, said they typically form a task force to focus on specific issues. According to the Voice of OC report, the task force consists of agents from the FBI, the IRS and other agencies, bringing in experts in all fields. In other words, they form a task force when a small, boutique investigatory unit just won’t do.
This is not the first time the county has undergone investigation by the Feds. The FBI was involved in investigations during the 1994 bankruptcy as well as the more recent witness tampering charges that brought down former OC Sheriff Mike Carona, who is serving a 6 year sentence in Colorado. That investigation revealed widespread corruption in the upper ranks of the sheriffs department.
The formation of the task force highlights the ethical woes of the county. And, although it may seem the task force is pointed at the Board of Supervisors, other elected and former officials of cities and special districts would do well to watch themselves. The FBI has a tendency to cast a wide net when it is looking for information. Typically, during an investigation of this type, other deeds of mismanagement on the peripheral of the investigation are brought into the light and reviewed.
Coming to mind are the charges brought by the Grand Jury last year against our own Jerry Amante, accusing him and another councilman from Laguna of misusing their official positions with their cities to interfere with Brandman University officials. Although the city of Tustin made an official response to the report, as required by law, they never actually denied the charges. Rather, they stated the Grand Jury got it all wrong and, even if there was a misuse of power, the city could hardly be held accountable for what two renegade councilmen did on their own time.
The rhetoric got so bad, self-appointed and well-respected watchdog, Shirley Grindle actually fired off a letter to the Register saying the two officials owed Smoller of Brandmand University a “huge apology for their unethical behavior.” She said they should then resign in disgrace.
So, while the conservative Republicans of this town continue to be incensed at the thought of their dirty laundry coming to light, it looks like the FBI has gladly set up shop in their back yard to eke out corruption. While I expect much of the work to be done in secrecy, one can expect an investigation of this size will bring out a wide variety of players in county politics. Don’t be surprised to find the fickle finger of fate pointed at a variety of folks, both public and private. Coming to mind are those behind the well funded smear campaigns against Tracy Worley-Hagen and David Waldram that brought in hidden money from local contractors we suspect do business with the city.
Denial is one thing. But, our city fathers may have to prove it this time. And no amount of ranting on the dais will keep the FBI from their task.
The main reason last week’s Tustin City Council meeting took so long was because it turned into a love fest for Hizzoner, councilman Jerry Amante. While Mayor Nielsen’s acknowledgment of Bill Campbell took only a minute or two, He lavished so much praise on Amante, I thought for a minute he was married to him. Campbell spent more time talking about himself than John did, which begs the question, what will John do without Jerry’s hand up his backside making his mouth move?
John lavished praise on Hizzoner as he listed the long political history of the two while still trying to convince the public that Amante is a dedicated public servant who served the city of Tustin well. Calling him “the most dedicated public servant that I’ve seen in the city of Tustin”, Nielsen said he puts it all in. Before he got too far, he called on others to lavish praise on Amante as well. OC Supervisor Bill Campbell, our district’s lame duck county supervisor, spent some time articulating Jerry’s broad thinking when it came to regional issues. Of course, he must have been talking about Amante’s dedication to pushing the Foothill Extension that would have torn up thousands of acres of coastal environment for the sake of another toll road. Or, was he talking about his regional thinking of implementing a toll road on the I-405 to allow him and his cronies (that could afford it) to ride in style to the airport?
So, the night went, with several politicians singing the praises of Amante and sometimes, as in Assemblymember Don Wagner’s dissertation, throwing a bone to Councilmember Gavello. Wagner was the most gracious to Deborah, in fact, asking her to come down and join him at the podium for a photo op. Yes, it was getting pretty sappy in the council chambers and I even saw a tear or two from Jerry, probably crying over the fact he wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to do away with term limits while he was still in office. All in all, the evening was extended by a full 27 minutes while John, who is probably wondering who will help him speak in full sentences now that Jerry is gone, and others lavished praise on Il Duce. There was more during council comments and we heard Beckie even gave him a kiss. eeyuwhhh….
Yes, Jerry “Hizzoner” Amante has managed, in eight years (we won’t speak about his time on the Planning Commission), to do quite a bit for our little city that was outlined by his Republican fan club. We thought it might be nice to reminisce on the other things Jerry has managed to do for us as well. Now, this blog has only been around for about a year and a half. In that time, Amante and his wrecking crew have managed to do their fair share.
For example, Jerry was the focus of only the second recall attempt of a City Councilmember (that we know of) in Tustin’s history. In fact, it was his acerbic demeanor toward the citizens he serves as well as his poor treatment of other councilmembers that caused a small band of intrepid citizens to start a grass-roots movement to recall Hizzoner. The recall fizzled in its final moments when the proponents fell a few hundred signatures shy of the required number to implement a recall vote. But
Although Mayor John Nielsen extolled Hizzoner’s fiscal conservativeness, the facts speak for themselves. This year, as in the previous year, the Amante led city council dipped into city reserves in order to balance the budget. Cost this year? Four million dollars.
Could we forget how Jerry and his crew managed to sidestep the cellular tower issue at Cedar Grove Park with T-Mobile while still maintaining the integrity of the cellular service plan? Although hundreds of citizens who live in the area protested the installation of the towers in their local park, the city council did absolutely nothing to prevent T-Mobile from having its way with the city. In fact, Amante and his hit man, Al Murray, were adamantly in favor of the design review. Had it not been for the rare split with Nielsen, who voted against the installation, it would have sailed through like most Amante led items. Behind the scenes, however, was the fast work of the three amigos as T-Mobile filed a Federal lawsuit and the city folded like a house of cards by refusing to defend the lawsuit.
Not so for the lawsuits between Tustin Unified School District. Jerry was instrumental in causing the entire debacle between the city and the school district. Responding to the city’s threats to stop construction on school projects around the city, the school district was forced to sue the city and the result was lawsuits and cross-suits by both sides to the tune of over two million dollars in taxpayer money. This year, one of the lawsuits brought by the Jerry and the city, was laughed out of Riverside Superior Court where the city sought a change of venue in hopes of a friendlier climate. The judge chastised the city for bringing lame arguments that would not hold water with a first year law student to the table. We chastised the good ol’ boys for their racist attitude when they allowed racially derogatory remarks to be entered into the record.
Should I mention the iPads? But, of course. It was Jerry’s grand idea, while the city was facing a multi-million dollar shortfall, to bring the city council into the 21st century by having the city buy iPads for councilmembers. This wasn’t a line item on the budget and the cash was pulled from the same reserves used to balance the budget. And, while Hizzoner said the iPads would save thousands of dollars in taxpayer money, no one around the city could tell me if it saved a dime.
Let’s not forget how much our fiscally conservative mayor cost the city to hire a new city manager when Amante lackey Bill Huston retired then, only to fire the guy just a few months into the job. We don’t have an exact amount because we couldn’t get ahold of the original contract but, suffice to say, David Biggs -who now works as city manager for Carson, California- came out smelling like a rose with a six figure golden parachute. We got saddled with nearly another year of Huston while the headhunters were busy looking for someone stupid enough to work for Amante and his crew.
Enter Jeff Parker.
Parker, who was hired in November of last year and, through sharp negotiations skills managed to cull a sizable salary and benefits package that included being placed on the old 2%@55 retirement plan, exploded onto the scene like a dull firecracker. He was apparently hired more for his ability to acquiesce to the bully Amante rather than his management skills. He fully joined in to the Amante fan club, in fact, and supports every lawsuit Hizzoner has pushed for. Well, lawsuits are much more important than being fiscally conservative, right?
Unlike Biggs, our old City Attorney, Doug Holland, saw the writing on the wall and resigned. Rumor has it that he and Amante did not exactly see eye to eye on the school district lawsuits either. In his resignation letter, Holland simply stated he could not work for Tustin and his other client Palm Springs at the same time with the same “high level” he expected of himself. So, it made sense to dump Tustin, which is right around the corner from home and keep Palm Springs, ninety miles away. Sure. We’ll go for that. Or, we could go for our original conspiracy theory that Amante was cleaning house of all who would dare oppose him. At least he did not dump the entire law office of Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart as we thought he might. Instead, he found another lackey, David Kendig who is more than willing to shine Hizzoner’s Italian stilettos while dodging our phone calls.
If we thought Jerry might wind down toward the end of his political career (he failed miserably at his bid for the state assembly) with little fanfare, he managed to make his mark in other ways that would set his fiscally conservative approach to
terrorizing governing, in stone.
Remember Lisa Woolery? A few years ago, Jerry tagged Lisa to be the city’s public information officer and his personal publicist. It was hard to believe that Tustin would need a full-time communications officer. It wasn’t so hard to believe that Hizzoner would need all the help he could get in the publicity arena. So, Lisa spent a great deal of time espousing the transparency in government of the city and spent as much time trying to keep Amante in a good light. The only problem is, even Lisa couldn’t make chicken soup out of chickens….. well, you know what I mean. Despite her efforts, Amante’s true nature shone through and in the end, her efforts were for nought.
Jerry must have thought so too, as the city council decided they didn’t need a full-time PIO after all. Instead of letting Woolery go, though, they cut her hours to a part-time position. It didn’t take her long to get the idea and cut the cord.
Well, the year is over as is Jerry Amante’s long reign of terror on the dais. No one here will miss his (half) wit as Mayor Nielsen and Councilmember Gomez seem to think they will. And, even though we have all Republicans on the dais, we are ever hopeful that Councilman-elect, Chuck Puckett, will hold true to his word to work toward a better Tustin. In any case, he and the podiatrist councilman will have a great time figuring out who sits next to Beckie.
So, you may have read my recent post on Tustin Councilmember Jerry Amante and Laguna Hills Councilmember Alan Songstad and thought, “No, it can’t be true. Not Jerry…”. You may have thought I was alone and, being a small town blog, that my opinion didn’t mean much.
Now, JerryAmante and his dog and pony show have hit the big time. In a scathing letter to the editor of the Orange County Register, political activist and self-appointed watchdog, Shirley Grindle, has said virtually the same thing about our good former mayor. Grindle, whose criticism of county polticians is well known, says the attempts by the two to quash a Brandman University report on city manager compensation, and abuse of their office:
These two officials owe professor Fred Smoller a huge apology for their unethical behavior. Then they should resign from office as they have clearly shown a lack of judgment and an abuse of their power as elected officials.
Public officials should not be able to use the access their office affords to influence an academic curriculum, which is what Songstad and Amante succeeded in doing. The Association of California Cities, that went along with their efforts to do so, should have had the fortitude to say no as this is clearly not an area that a taxpayer-funded government organization should participate in.
Grindle goes on to say the two should apologize to Professor, Fred Smoller, and then resign from office. We agree, of course. This latest stunt by Amante is just another display of the corruption that he is willing to engulf himself in to push his own agenda throughout the county.
It is interesting to note that, in Tuesday’s city council meeting, Mayor John Nielsen brought up the fact that the city would be required to respond to the original Orange County Grand Jury Report. During his brief comment on the issue, he never once mentioned Jerry’s name or exactly what the issue was they were required to respond to. I almost fell out of my chair laughing when I heard Nielsen remark, “We have to respond without prejudice, make sure this is clean and not political. And so, I’ve asked the city manager and city attorney research this issue, particularly with the law involved in this and… report back with findings and recommendations.”
So, the grand jury report is public information as will be the responses by the various cities and other entities. Does Nielsen intend to do the right thing by placing any discussion about the report on the Open Session calendar so the public may have input and so there will be no subterfuge by Amante and his cronies? Don’t bet on it.
One bright spot during the city council meeting this week: Our most famous double-dipping pensioner, Chistine Shingleton, is finally being cut from the city payroll. I guess they didn’t need her expertise as much as they thought they did. Good luck in retirement,Christine, and don’t let the door slap you on the backside on the way out.
Quite a few important items on the Tustin City Council agenda this week. Negotiations with all major bargaining units and executive managers and the MOUs are on-line.
Looking over the contracts, it appears that compensation will remain the same. Last year, negotiations resulted in a new tier of retirement for most employees to rein in future liability to the city. This year, the focus was on capping accrued leave costs. My sources told me that they were also going after compensation but that appears to have been unsuccessful. The cost savings are minimal at best and may not even be realized. Hopefully, the city will not require further layoffs should the budget projections not be met.
The other noteworthy item is Jerry’s Folly, otherwise known as The City Council Attendance Policy. Not being embarassed enough by Pam Keller, when she reminded Jerry of their conversation about Deborah Gavello, Hizzoner has decided to go forward with this ridiculous policy. Because the law is clear on local elected officials conduct, this new policy will have no actual effect and amounts to a feel good policy for a schoolyard bully. A reprimand will not keep a councilmember from doing or not doing what they want. What it does do is create an atmosphere of oppression where the Gang of Three can call out the minority at will and allow their own to do what they please.
Jerry, by the way, does not seem to think it a problem when a Republican like the late political kingpin,Tom Fuentes, was absent from his chair on the South Orange County Community College Board. Fuentes, who recently succumbed to cancer, was absent for over a year from that board and took his $400 stipend and healthcare benefits each and every month. Jerry, who was previously quoted at a city council meeting:
“If the councilwoman’s complaint is that I call out her absences because she has not served the public, if she’s concerned because I point out that she’s missed 16 meetings so far, 8 months worth of work, all the time taking her stipend and benefits…” Amante said. “… and those are in her mind acts of bullying, well that’s just me following my obligation to make commentary about the quality of service by any public servant.”
So, that is any public servant? Well, we will see. Hopefully, someone will ask to have this pulled for discussion. If John and Al vote for this morbid piece of ego, just to pander to a lame duck councilmember, they should be ashamed.
Also in question is whether the City Attorney, David Kendig, will come clean about the lawsuits between the city and TUSD that appear to be the source of endless discussion in closed session, with no comment whatsoever. Several members of the public, including a member of the TUSD itself have Tweeted, texted and emailed me about the city’s loss of the Heritage School lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed by Tustin for CEQA violations, was moved to Riverside because the city did not think they could get a fair shake. They sent in some big guns from an outside legal firm and, I guess, crossed their fingers really hard.
None of that seems to have worked as I have received notifications (which we are trying to verify) that the judge ruled against the city, saying they had no business telling the school district how to run their schools. As you know, the city has spent over $800,000 on two lawsuits and has, so far, nothing to show for it. We hope TUSD is amending their response to ask for legal fees if they haven’t already done so. At least that way we know the money will go toward educating out kids rather than buying shiny toys for the Tustin City Council.
Finally, could we get our problems with the video resolved? Please?
City Council Meeting, July 3, 2012
Conference with Legal Counsel – Exposure to Litigation, two cases & Initiation of Litigation, two cases.
Liability Claim of Travis Mock, Claim No. 12-16
Conference with Legal Counsel Existing Litigation – several ongoing lawsuits, including TUSD v. City of Tustin & City of Tustin v. TUSD.
Item 3 – City Council Attendance Policy (under Consent Calendar)
Item 4 – Adopt MOUs for all employee bargaining groups
Item 5 – Adopt Salary Resolutions for Unrepresented Employees and Executives
Item 7 – Appropriation Limit for Fiscal Year 2012/2013 – Calculations show the limits to be set abnormally low. The resolution repairs that item.
That’s it for this session. We will be on the road later this week. Hopefully, the city’s website of transparency won’t be hacked or go down. If you have anything noteworthy, send it along. We’ll be happy to post it.