Category Archives: Recall Amante

It Cost How Much??

A hat tip to our good friends at the Liberal OC who have proven, once again, that the fiscally conservative Tustin City Council isn’t so fiscally conservative after all.

A little over a year ago, the City Council (well, most of them) voted themselves a nice little perk in the form of iPads. The pretext, of course, was to eliminate the endless paper trail of agenda and staff reports that every councilmember piled in front of themselves during each meeting. The tablets were never meant to be used for more than basic services and to allow the city to kill a few less trees. Nonetheless, each councilmember received a top of the line iPad complete with WiFi, 3G connectivity and 32 gigs of storage. Nice… Total package cost? $4,794.75 plus monthly charges for the 3G . The worst part is, as Dan Chmielewski reports, not one, single tree is being saved as each councilmember still receives the same pile of paper they did before they got their toys. And, as his article says, no money appears to have been saved.

But, it seems the Council, or at least Hizonner Jerry, will make any wild claim to justify an expenditure or to boost his political position, even if it is categorically untrue.

Take,  for example, Jerry’s boast at the last City Council meeting that, despite the efforts of the Recall Amante Group (of which Deborah Gavello and I were falsely accused of being a part of),

“I’m pleased to report that not one, single signature was presented to the city clerk by today’s deadline”

Duh, well of course not. Why would they turn in any signatures for verification when they knew that, despite having gathered several thousand, they did not have enough to force a recall election? So, why would they waste staff time and  taxpayer money by turning them in?

But, it was Jerry’s boast that the Recall Amante group cost the taxpayers of Tustin $10,000 that really caught my ear. I realize that the City Clerk was about as uncooperative as one can be with honest citizens attempting to lawfully submit a recall petition. In fact, she managed to kick the proposed petition back four times before finally allowing it to go through on the fifth submission. So, if Jerry’s claim is true, that works out to about two thousand dollars per submission just to review it for formatting accuracy.

You may be thinking that the document in question was multi-paged or, possibly, written in several European languages concurrently, maybe with accompanying illuminated illustrations. I assure you it was not. In fact, if you have ever been approached by “those people” outside the local supermarket asking you to sign a petition to save the night crested gnatcatcher or outlaw the fluoridation of city drinking water, you have seen an example of the one page  recall petition submitted to our City Clerk. It is not difficult to create but, it is required to be in proper format, which the State of California dictates. So why did it take five submissions when the average, according to the Orange County Registrar of Voters, is two? Could it be that Sheree Loveland, Nathan Menard and Chuck Horvath are too illiterate to understand simple formatting instructions? Hardly. I’ve had many conversations with all three. They are quite articulate and well spoken (Nathan and I even share the same barber). Could it have been the City Clerk was having four bad days and took it out on the Recall group? We’re getting warmer. Or, could it have been that the single, largest city event of the year, the Annual Chili Cookoff, was just around the corner and the Recall group had a booth, ready to obtain signatures from some really pissed off people? Bingo! I would say that was a good bet. What better way to sabotage the Recall effort than to somehow prevent them from being able to present their petitions to more than thirty thousand people, the majority of them Tustin residents, in one day at one location?

Now, you may think this is farfetched. So, I would like to remind you that, thanks to an effort by Boss Tweed Amante to consolidate his powerbase at Tammany Hall Tustin, a measure was placed on the ballot last election year to change the City Clerk’s office from an independent, elected official to an appointed official who would be beholden to… you guessed it, Jerry and his Kids. So, now that the City Clerk has lost her autonomy, if she still wants that job, she has to play ball.

So, let’s get to that claim that Jerry made at last week’s council meeting where he allegedly slandered Councilmember Gavello by claiming that she was part of the Recall Amante effort? I did some Recall Amantechecking around, including making a request of public records relating to the cost of reviewing and approving the petitions submitted for the recall. Specifically, I asked who worked on the reviews and how much they charged. What I found out was a bit surprising.

It should also be surprising to Mayor Amante because the cost for review was nowhere near $10,000. In fact, it was not even half that amount.

In replying to our request, the city’s attorney stated,

In response to paragraphs (1) and (2) above, the total number of ’employees, contractors or other persons’ involved in the scope of the work you describe is two, including Patty Estrella and City Attorney, Douglas Holland.

I was also told that the city did not specifically allocate time spent by city employees on the review of the petitions. So, I took that to mean that the time spent by Miss Estrella to review the petition submissions was within the normal course and scope of her everyday work, which she would have been paid for anyway. So total cost for petition review by city staffers? Zero.

The city attorney was another matter. In the city attorney’s response, I received a timetable of hours broken down by days and individual law firm employee,  specifying hours and costs. Yes, the letter said only Douglas Holland worked on the petitions. But, the accompanying documents indicate that up to five attorneys actually worked on them. Although my original request was specifically for costs involved in reviewing/rejecting/accepting the petitions, I received cost information that should not have been included because it was for work obviously performed beyond the date the final petition was submitted and finally approved in June. Nonetheless, understanding how lawyers like to pad their bill, I considered the total amount of time they say they spent. Oops. But, then, I discovered a miscalculation in hours billed vs. charges. Well, they are lawyers, not accountants.

So, including the overcharge of one-tenth of an hour, the Attorney’s office charged the City… drum roll, please… $4,209.80 for 21.6 hours of work. Of that, according to my precise calculations, only 15 hours were actually spent on review of the documents prior to their final approval. That averages out to 3 hours or $582.00 per submission. Total cost to approve the petition? $2,910. That is less than one-third of the cost Jerry claims the city spent on the recall effort. Even if we included the 6.6 hours of work, which the attorney refused to specify on grounds of attorney-client privilege, it still comes out to less than half what Hizzoner claimed. I know Jerry is a lawyer, but that is really padding the bill.

So, in the end, it appears Jerry has been less than honest with the citizens of Tustin over the entire recall. First, he falsely accused Deborah Gavello, the TUSD and myself of being part of the great conspiracy against him. Second, he misleadingly alleged that no one signed the petitions by stating none had been turned in to the clerk’s office.  Finally, there is the brazen statement that the recall effort cost the taxpayers “approximately $10,000” when it actually cost less than it did to furnish four out of five  city councilmembers with iPads which, by the way, were paid for by dipping into the city reserves. So much for our fiscally conservative mayor.

Oh, and that nasty one tenth of an hour overbilling? It’s only $19.40. Not much, right? But, what if they made that error, say, every 21.6 hours they billed the city? How much do you think that would add up to? Do you think Jerry and His Kids care? After all, he is a lawyer.

So, Jerry, did I make a mistake or were you just being your usual, egotistical, blowhard self? I guess our readers can decide. Unlike you, I don’t think they are that gullible.

Different Day, Same Old Jerry

Courtesy of Four Provinces

Jerry, here’s the article you asked for.

I took off a bit early Tuesday night and rushed down to city hall to try and catch the last couple of items on the city council agenda. The aldermen were too quick in conducting the city’s business, however, and the doors were locked tight by the time I got there.  So, I had to be satisfied watching the meeting via PC from the comfort of my own home.

As I ran through the video I stopped to watch a few items, which I’ll get to later, along the way. I was mostly interested in items 11 & 12 which had the mysterious titles of “City Council Stipends & Benefits” and “City Council Gifts & Gratuities”, respectively. I really didn’t know what to expect. The accompanying agenda reports simply stated that Mayor Amante asked the items to be agendized. And, to be honest, it smelled. Coupled with Deborah Gavello’s MIA status, it appeared even fishy.

So, imagine my surprise when I hear Jerry say the right thing. He actually wants the people of Tustin to determine future pay and benefits for their city council. He even wants councilmembers to be held to the same standard as city hall employees in regard to gratuities, inferring the present system is a bit loose. I was floored. Had I been at the meeting, I might have even applauded. This, of course, is the kind of thing we like to hear. Never mind that it won’t affect Jerry as any changes by referendum could not take place before his term ends. The idea is thoughtful and, as he pointed out in a roundabout way, quite trendy with other cities around us doing similar things.

Now, I went back and watched the entire video. Jerry had been pleasant during the meeting. He gave my friend, Walt Sullens a nice plaque for Walt’s work on the Audit Commission, extolling his volunteerism and service to the city. It was genuine and heartfelt. Jerry was patient and thoughtful, as a mayor and councilman should be, when citizens voiced concerns over Edison’s Smart Meter Grid. He was even nice to a speaker who tried to discuss inappropriate matters and pointed her in the right direction (Okay, she was an attorney and that could have been professional courtesy). Yes,  I was feeling quite the warm and comfy feeling here. This is how it should be in our town.

And, then, Jerry blew it.

It’s no real news that the Recall Amante effort failed. Our friends at The Liberal OC wrote a great piece early this morning about it. Even the best run professional recall efforts, run for the best reasons, face an uphill fight. So, a grassroots recall based on the (un)civility of a lawsuit happy mayor was like a mouse with his middle finger raised in defiance facing a swooping eagle.

But Jerry, or someone claiming to be him, recently wrote a comment on this blog that showed how he really felt about the citizens of Tustin.

How about you write a story about how Nathan Menard, Sheree Loveland, Charles Horvath and Jeff Gallagher wasted the time and money of some of the gullible citizens of Tustin for their own political gain and ended up with absolutely nothing.

So, it should have been no surprise when the Mayor, in his closing remarks, cheerfully stated,

I’ve always maintained that the recall effort was unfair, unjustified and carried out for political revenge,” Amante said. “I’m pleased to report that not one single signature was presented to the city clerk by today’s deadline and there will be no recall election.

He beamed like a triumphant child that just won a game of kick the can. Of course, there was silence due, mostly, to the fact that most everyone had already gone home.

Jerry was wrong, however. And, not just for falsely including me in the conspiracy to overthrow Hizzoner. He was wrong because the recall organizers and, indeed, the citizens of Tustin did get something for their effort.

Look at the very first post of this blog, Who are You and What Have You Done With Jerry? In that article, in which I opined that the recall was unnecessary because Jerry was termed out next year, I outlined how Amante seemed nicer and more civil during council meetings. He was even civil to fellow councilmember Deborah Gavello. And, this is what we gained. Since he was served recall papers at the council meeting in April, Jerry has slowly become more civil. The public discussion portion of Tuesday’s meeting was evidence that Jerry was listening. And Jerry, regardless of his rant, was concerned about the recall. Otherwise, why would he have held two nondescript  fundraisers back to back? And, let’s not equate “no signatures turned in” with no signatures gathered. Although, contrary to Jerry’s assertion that I was involved in the conspiracy, I did attend one meeting as a reporter where there were petitions with what I would estimate to be several thousand signatures. So yes, Jerry, there were more than a couple of “gullible” citizens who were fed up with your behavior, penchant for lawsuits and fiscal mismanagement.

So, why couldn’t he just be satisfied the recall was over? Why did he have to get his last, juvenile, dig in?

Well, because, in the end, Jerry has to be Jerry. And that is too bad because, ill personality, skewed fiscal management style and his occasional cronyism aside, he has proven that he can be a pretty nice guy when he wants to be.

So, what did the recall supporters and citizens of Tustin get? Hopefully, a kinder and gentler Jerry. Only time will tell.

Now, if he would just square his personal differences with TUSD and quit squandering taxpayer money on senseless lawsuits, he could leave  the dais next year with people thinking well of him. Or he could just leave a big mess for his successor to deal with. It’s his choice. I understand that the Recall Amante group will now work as the Watchdog Amante group to provide volunteer citizen oversight of the city council. This is good news. I hope Jerry is listening.

Is Jerry Amante Really Il Duce?

Our friend, Dan Chmielewski over at the Liberal OC, has been the subject of hot debate on another blog, The New Santa Ana.

Most readers are probably aware by now that Santa Ana Councilmember, Claudia Alvarez, has been the subject of many articles and news programs concerning her recent anti-Semitic remarks directed at a couple of Santa Ana business owners. In the aftermath, she has apologized to the people of Santa Ana, the Jewish community and the ADL. Of course, the people she hasn’t apologized to are the ones she should have started with, the Chases who were the target of her remarks in a public meeting. The Liberal OC has written a couple of articles concerning the matter and has been vocal about Alvarez and the Santa Ana Council’s failure to act against her on behalf of the citizens of Santa Ana.

Well, that stirred up a hornet’s nest because, as you may also know, Dan frequently writes about Tustin and the antics of our esteemed mayor, Jerry Amante. He often calls Jerry, who is of Italian (Sicilian, really) descent, “Il Duce”. This has rankled the writers of the New Santa Ana blog  who have written a hit piece on Dan for his use of the nickname because it has been attributed in the past to the infamous Benito Mussolini. Their assertion is that Mussolini was a mass murderer and they infer that he was part of the “ethnic cleansing” that took place in that part of the world against the Jews. Well, sort of.

It is true that Mussolini liked to be called “Il Duce”. So, his friends called him that. It has never been shown that it was widely used by the people except maybe in fear of the dictator and his henchmen. It is also true that he was a mass murderer and committed war crimes.

What isn’t true is that he was part of the ethnic cleansing. In fact:

Things began to change in 1938 for Italian Jews. Mussolini, in his craven desire to please the Fuhrer, initiated a comprehensive anti-Semitic campaign at the urging of the Nazis, including miscegenation laws and a media campaign against Jews. Jews were forbidden to teach in schools. Foreign Jews living as refugees in Italy were rounded up and confined in internment camps. However, these camps were a lot more like the Japanese-American internment camps than the Nazi death camps.

Thousands of Jews seeking refuge went to Italy and Italian-occupied territories because they knew that they were likely to be protected rather than persecuted. In general the Italian people did not buy into the government’s anti-Jewish policies, though Italian intellectuals were curiously silent.

To be clear, The Liberal OC wrote and commented on the issue of Alvarez and her anti-Semitic remarks, not on the general state of the Axis during World War II. The name Mussolini, while infamous, does not carry the same historical stigma that the name of Hitler does. When people think of Hitler, they think of the Holocaust. When they think of Mussolini, they think of the dictator of Italy, an Axis member, and the lackey of Hitler. So, the analogy is a bit of a stretch to say the least. Let’s add to this that Dan’s wife is of Italian descent. He asserts that his use of the word is simply as, “the leader”. In fact, Il Duce means “the leader” or “duke”. I seen no reason to take it otherwise. There is also the matter of the legal issues between Dan and Art Pedroza, the owner of the New Santa Ana blog that is probably the real fuel for this unwarranted attack.

Face it. Nowadays, bloggers are not always nice people. We have our opinions and we let them be known, often in not so nice terms. This blog usually refers to Amante as Boss Tweed and refers to his running of the city as Tammany Hall Tustin. It isn’t meant to denigrate the Irish-Americans that made up that era. It is meant to signify the severity and methods Amante uses in imposing his will on the citizens of this city and the employees of city hall. These digs are meant to entice and keep the reader engaged. And, as was said elsewhere in the blogosphere, Alvarez is a public, elected figure who elected to say what she did in a public forum while representing the community. Dan is a businessman and journalist, representing his own views.

So, if you hear any of the right wing noise from the West whining about this, you know it is just hot, blowing wind. Turn on your air conditioner.

“It’s Old Town, Elizabeth”

“It’s Chinatown, Jake.” It’s a great punchline from a well known Jack Nicholson classic. And, just like that great movie, this tale encompasses dark individuals and shadowy connections in government. Most readers are familiar with the Fairbanks property, a private residence built circa 1929 in Old Town Tustin.  Bret Fairbanks has been trying to sell his property, consisting of a main building and 2 apartments, because his family has outgrown the main house. Last year, he approached the city and asked for a letter, requested by a potential buyer, that would state the apartments located on the property could be rebuilt should they burn down. Of course, it had to go before the Planning Commission. So, the city staffers went to work.

In December of last year, the Planning Commission determined that some staff recommendations were unnecessary and deleted them from the proposed resolution making the Fairbanks property a non-conforming rental unit. Not exactly accurate, but close enough. After some back and forth between the commission, the city attorney and Fairbanks, the resolution was passed, 4-0. Case closed, done deal.Fairbanks had some work to do to bring the properties up to the safety standard that the Planning Commission set and everything looked like a go.

Well, not exactly.

Fast forward to the February 15, 2011 meeting of the City Council. Mayor Jerry Amante decides he doesn’t like the Planning Commission’s actions regarding Fairbank’s property and appeals to the city council where he holds the majority (usually). The item was put on hold until March 1st, at the Fairbank’s request, presumably to prepare for the appeal by the Mayor. At that meeting, Jerry’s talking head in the Community Development Department, Elizabeth Binsack, stated that the city decided, even though the Planning Commission approved the structures on the property largely because of their historical significance, that they were just wrong. Plain wrong. Elizabeth and her staff, probably prodded by Jerry, decided that the Planning Commission, which the mayor and council appoint, was in error and the resolution allowing for the non-conforming property should be withdrawn. Essentially, she argued that non-conforming structures need to conform to code or their use could not be waived. Yes, you heard right. She essentially demanded that the resolution be withdrawn because the structures do not conform to the modern building code. We already knew that, Elizabeth. Never mind that the structures involved are historical in nature and never mind that most, if not all, homes in Old Town Tustin do not have any ascertainable permitting and are probably out of sync with the modern building code. She decided it was wrong and so it must be wrong. Of course, after a three hour debate, where the Fairbanks and their attorney presented information on the historical nature of the structures and offered to comply with the original resolution, the council -in a rare vote against Boss Tweed Amante- decided to affirm the Planning Commission’s resolution. Good deal. Done deal.

Not quite.

On March 15th, Amante brought out letters, affidavits and stones written with blood stating that, in an apparent conspiracy plot he uncovered against him and the city, everyone has been lying about this property and that the apartments, built by a former Tustin building official by the way, should not be permitted non-conforming or otherwise. In that meeting, it was clear that Amante was upset that he had been opposed and was out for revenge, regardless of the cost to Fairbanks or the rest of Old Town. Doing the bidding of her boss, Binsack continued to back him up. After his tirade against the Fairbanks property was over, the vote was taken to uphold the appeal and, of course, failed. He did gain another vote when his hit man, Mayor pro tem John Nielsen,  changed coats and sided with him. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the appeal was again denied. Great. Now the Fairbanks could move forward.

Except that the building department, at the Talking Head’s behest, red tagged the buildings.

Bret Fairbanks and his family have been working diligently to resolve the issues concerning the apartments. By the way, these “apartments” are far from luxurious. Speaking with Bret’s dad a few weeks ago, he said the apartments are between 300 and 400 square feet. In some homes, that would be a closet. In any case, they have, up to now, been a minor asset to the property and a significant  charm to this Old Town residence. At one point during the most recent Planning Commission Special Meeting on July 26th, Bret stood in exasperation before the Commission and stated that all he ever wanted to do was to comply with the order of the Commission and get his letter so he could sell his property. He has, essentially, complied with all requirements but the issue appears to be that the city insists on using the modern building code instead of the California Historical Building Code, which should prevail as there is no doubt that this building and the apartments in question are historically protected. The property, including all of its buildings is listed on the Historical Registry.  But, instead of working with Fairbanks to preserve this great property, the city has worked diligently to thwart him at every turn. At one point he said he was out of money because of the city’s bloodletting.

This is our city and the hardhearted, unfeeling and, apparently ignorant Community Development Department, led by Binsack, who are working against the very essence that is Tustin. Old Town used to have a conservancy that worked for both the city and the citizens who chose to live in the Old Town area. Of course, the city council could not have anything standing in the way of their “vision” for the city as a whole. The mayor and council control the Planning Commission membership (but, fortunately, not how they think).  Anyone who has ever dealt with the Community Development Department (as I have) knows they can be charming while putting a gun to your head. The code enforcement believes they have a right to trample your property at will anytime they see fit if they even think a nail is out of place. If the Planning Department invites you to a meeting, my advice is to take your lawyer with you. And guess what? Your conservative mayor, who should be standing for limited government, backs them all to the hilt. Could it be because he has a real estate background? Could it be because his failed Assembly run leaves him few other career choices after leaving office? This is all the more reason why this mayor, who touts fiscal responsibility but squanders money on lawsuits against the school district and micromanages the building department, should be recalled. As the Recall Amante folks say, “How long can we afford this mayor?”

Bret Fairbanks has another hearing on this matter on August 30, 2011 at 10 a.m. in the large conference room at the Tustin Library. Let’s all wish the Fairbanks family and their supporters luck with this. I hope that in the update I provide after the hearing, I will have good news to report. In the meantime, maybe someone can whisper in Elizabeth’s ear, “It’s Old Town, Elizabeth.”