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Moorlach Strikes a Blow at Free Speech

censorship shut your faceAs reported in the Orange County Register, The Orange County Board of Supervisors dealt another blow to free speech at county meetings.

A few weeks ago, John Moorlach initiated a proposal to limit the amount of time a member of the public may speak during an open session of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. It was narrowly defeated 3-2 with Bill Campbell among those who chose to preserve 1st Amendment rights rather than punish the general public for the sake of a sole gadfly.

Michael Klubnikin, who has legal and personal issues with the Superior Court and the Public Guardian, has taken a somewhat creative approach over the past few months to harangue the Gang of Five. Rather than prohibit him from speaking on issues because they either have been brought up before or because they do not fall under the purview of the Board, Moorlach chose to paint a large swath by attacking free speech in general and limiting all speakers to three minutes per item and a total of three items per meeting. The defeating vote looked like that was the end of it until a subsequent meeting, where Klubinikin spent a more than an hour, three minutes at a time, to harass the board.

After that meeting, Campbell changed his mind and told Moorlach that he would be inclined to vote with him in abrogating free speech at board of supervisors meetings. On Tuesday, another vote was taken and the rule change, with some modification to make the limit a 9 minute aggregate,  passed 4-1 with Supervisor Janet Nguyen the sole dissent.

ACLU attorneys said the decision coming from a body that is supposed to serve the people was dissappointing. And, although Terry Francke, a free speech advocate and attorney said the decision appeared to “comport” with the Brown Act, he did not sound too happy about the decision.

Nguyen’s dissent is unsurprising. As a Vietnamese-American, she understands the chilling effect supressing free speech can have in a democracy. What is surprsing is Supervisor Shawn Nelson, a Republican and near-libertarian, voted with the majority. Given his stated views on the limitation of government and the 2nd Amendment rights of people to bear arms, Nelson, along with Nguyen, should have taken the lead in opposing this measure. His opinion to the contrary would probably have swayed Campbell who has had trouble, throughout his stewardship on the board, making decisions on his own when it comes to issues such as this. And, for once, we agree with Darrell Nolta, a frequent speaker and critic of the OC Board of Supervisors when he asked why Moorlach needed such a draconian approach of suppressing the free speech of everyone to rein in one voice.

So why the limits? Granted, few people want to hear one person continuously drone on about their personal problems every few minutes. And, no one disagrees that the board has better things to do with their time. Klubnikin, unlike Darrell Nolta, spends considerable time spinning each issue he speaks on before the board into his personal saga of troubles with the county and courts. But, rather than use existing rules to further prohibit abuse of his right to speak, the supervisors decided to limit everyone. And, there is little comfort in Moorlach’s assertion that the board would have discretion to allow variance when necessary. If limiting the possibility of lawsuits, as Bill Campbell asserted, is one reason for the rule, then allowing this type of discretion will probably lead to a likelihood of a lawsuit when it is perceived that the board is allowing their cronies and advocates extra time but not those who they perceive as adversarial.

For the time being, it looks as if the Orange County Board of Supervisors will have their way. How long will it be until individual city councils will follow suit? As it stands, few people actually speak before the government councils because they feel their voices are not heard. Folks like Nolta who, while often perceived as gadflys, believe themselves to be acting in a watchdog capacity, may now pay the price for expediency.

We’d like to know what you think of this issue? Should a governmental body, whose purpose it is to listen and serve the public, be allowed to unnecessarily limit the right of the public to address them simply for the sake of expediency?

Goodbye, Good Luck, Good Riddance

(updated 12/03/12 – ed.) We have risen from our Thanksgiving hibernation.

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.