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Smoller Speaks Out

Release Grand Jury Transcripts on City Manager Salaries

Attributed to the Los Angeles Times

Credit-LA Times

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?

North Tustin 1, Catholics 0

This afternoon, Elysse James from the Orange County Register reported that Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler ruled the Board of Supervisors used illegal spot zoning practices for a proposed senior living community in North Tustin. Since 2009, the North Tustin communities, which are not part of the city, have been battling the Catholic Diocese of Orange over a senior residential community proposed for a seven and a half acre parcel of land located on Newport Avenue, North of 17th St.Andler, who rules on complex civil case, is located in Santa Ana Main Courthouse.

The diocese spokesman, Carol McDermott called the ruling disappointing. She also said the Diocese would be evaluating their legal options and there may be an appeal in the works. The County spokesman, Howard Sutter, echoed the same possibility of an appeal by the county. From the Register Story:

County spokesman Howard Sutter said the county is assessing the impact of the decision. Staff members are waiting for a full copy of the judge’s decision before presenting the information to the Board of Supervisors. The board will consider the county’s legal options, Sutter said.

One option the county has is to appeal the ruling.

The Foothills Communities Association is a coalition of the communities in the area also known as Tustin Foothills. In a blog entry on their website, they congratulated the community leaders in being “tenacious” about the issue and not giving up.

The North Tustin Community is to be congratulated on being tenacious on this case and not giving up. FCA and the No-Rezoning Team appreciates the encouragement and the financial support of our community that has gotten us to this point.

The FCA entry goes on to say that the issue is not necessarily over and that an appeal could be in the works.

We agree with the FCA that this is a great win. While the idea of building a much needed senior living complex is a noble one, the area was specifically zoned for single-family residence. The Diocese of Orange had originally planned to build a church on the site. However, citing needs of the Catholic community in Orange County, they decided to build the Springs at Bethsaida which would largely incorporate apartment type living for seniors. The FCA asked the county to stand by the 1982 zoning agreement in place that would have prohibited such a facility. Their reasons centered mainly around the impact that the facility would have on existing infrastructure including parking and traffic with vehicles entering and exiting onto busy Newport Avenue. No one argued that the project was not a worthy one, just not one that fit into the foothill area. Even county staff must have recognized this as they also sought, as an alternative, a land swap with land on the Tustin MCAS that would have served the Diocese just as well.

Property rights are an issue everywhere, nowadays, and it seems that homeowners must fight each and every day to maintain their individual property rights against an ever increasing governmental force bent on enacting laws that intrude on every citizen’s life. Changing or “spot Zoning” for the benefit of one entity, in this case the Diocese, would set a precedent for others who would also like to bring in commercial types of business and facilities that are not in keeping with the original intent of the zoning. Many residents have moved to the area specifically because it was residential in nature and they do not want commercial properties in the vicinity. In an area where the threat of encroachment by business and other commercial facilities is ever immenent, it is refreshing to see a community come together in force, as the FCA has, to combat the autocracy that branded our local government.

It is interesting to note that the Foothills Communities Association, while joining forces for a common purpose, has made a statement in the community. They like to say they give as well as receive. You may have seen their booth last year at the Chili Cookoff. They also hold town hall meetings whose attendance I could only dream of for our own Tustin City Council Meetings. And, it seems, now  they are a force to be reckoned with.

The residents of the foothill communities can congratulate themselves for the win today. It is an important one as appeals courts are loath to overturn lower courts without good reason. We haven’t seen the written ruling from the judge yet, but we expect it to be specific and succinct. Let’s hope the County does not go off fighting windmills in a situation that should never have come to this point to begin with. We should know within the next 60 days.

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This One’s on Me

You know, it is bad enough to see a crackpot racist like Villa Park Councilmember, Deborah Pauly, actually have the nerve to run for the Third District Orange County Board of Supervisors seat. She had little enough chance of winning the spot (or even a credible number of votes) as it is. Her dismal fundraising efforts so far are equaled only by her slim list of endorsements. We can only figure that endorsing Pauly on his way out of the state was Chuck Devore’s final flip of the middle finger to Todd.

A tip of the hat to the OC Weekly for showing us that, just when you don’t think you can fall any farther into the den of iniquity, well….. you can. It seems that a year ago, February 5th, Deborah and her hubby, James, were having a night out at a local restaurant where they must have inadvertently toasted Todd Spitzer. As they left the parking lot, they ran smack into a DUI checkpoint run by the Orange Police Department. According to the OCW story, James attempted to avoid the checkpoint by swerving into a driveway and crashed his Porsche on to the curb, getting stuck in the process. After he unstuck his car, he was stopped by an Orange Police Officer who asked why he collided with the curb. Pauly replied that he did not [hit the curb]. As an old DUI cop myself, I wish I was a bird on the wire listening to this conversation as the officer blithely pointed out the damage and oil leaking from the car.

From the OC Weekly:

“I smelled a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from James’ person,” Plascencia wrote. “I saw James’ eyes were bloodshot, water, and they had a glossy appearance…I heard James slur his words heavily as he spoke.”

While Plascencia tried to administer a DUI test, another officer twice told Deborah to stay in the Porsche. James was so drunk that Plascencia repeatedly had to stop simple tests “for his safety” because James was swaying so much and nearly falling on his face. When Plascencia asked James which DUI test he’d prefer, he replied “Neither,” then yelled to Deborah–who was trying to walk to her husband despite having been told to stay near the bashed-up Porsche a third time–“he needed to submit to a blood or breath test.”

That could have been it. Deborah could have, and probably should have, shut her mouth and grabbed her phone to call a taxi. Instead, she asked if she could be allowed to drive her husband’s car home. Officer Armando Plascencia, who made the arrest, would not allow her because he also recognized the signs of inebriation in Deborah Pauly. And, in case you are wondering, OC Weekly bills this cop as the “Wilt Chamberlain of DUI arrests.” So, I think he would know an intoxicated person when he sees one.

The article goes on to say that James Pauly tried to slip off his handcuffs and he had to be further restrained by buckling him into the unit with his seatbelt (but, you would have done that for his safety anyway, right Armando?). He did finally take the blood test and was shown to have a BAC of .17. Now, remember, the legal limit is .08.

Deborah Pauly wears her conservative Christianity like the scent of Chanel No. 5. On her Twitter feed, which she recently blocked me from following, she has such interesting tidbits as,

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln

“You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence.” – Abraham Lincoln, great conservative president

“Muslim Terrorists Are Pure, Unadulterated Evil.”

Oh my goodness! Look at all of @toddspitzeroc’s churlishly furious tweeting while I was busy @ my Wednesday morning Bible study.

Well, there was nothing in there about drinking and driving. And, strictly speaking, she did have a designated driver. But, someone should have told her Abe Lincoln was a teetotaler.

To be fair, the article never says what Deborah Pauly ultimately did. And, contrary to what some may think, she did not seem to use her powerful position as a councilmember of a neighboring city….uh, town…. to try to wrangle her and her husband out of the mess they found themselves in. And, she did not decide to run for the Third District until way after this incident. And, it could have been a whole lot worse had she been the one behind the wheel. That’s a whole lot of ands.

Oh yeah, Tweeting? She has three times as many followers as Todd. Of course, she probably blocked him, too.

For Todd Spitzer’s part, he has not said a word about this incident, most likely because he knows it would serve no further purpose. Gale Bates, in a recent letter to the OCR editor said, ” The most egregious argument Todd Spitzer used was sexist when he said Deborah “Pauly is unsuited for office because of her temperament.” Of course, Todd could have said many things about Pauly to demonstrate her unsuitability for any office, let alone the Third District Supervisor. But, he didn’t have to. Pauly said, and did, it all.

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Todd Finally Chooses…Or Not

Todd Spitzer

If you have been following the race for Third District County Supervisor, you know that, so far, it has not been much of a race. In fact, for awhile, it seemed that Todd Spitzer, who entered the race early, had not even made up his mind whether he was running for Supervisor or for District Attorney, a position he has coveted since his days as a state assemblyman.

Early on in the race, Todd was pitted against another legislative alumni, Chuck Devore. Chuck, probably looking at Todd’s bank account and boyish good looks that could get him into  a democrat’s fundraiser, finally decided to take his own advice and head for Texas. We wished him well and wondered if any worthy candidates would surface to take on the Spitzer machine. After all, Todd has the ear of many prominent Republicans in the county and he had over a million dollars to bankroll his campaign with even before any fundraising occurred on his behalf.

Almost the same day that Devore said goodbye to California and the Supervisor’s race, local Republican activist Mark Bucher threw his hat into the ring. The OC Weekly tied Bucher to the infamous rookie councilman, Jim Righeimer, who they call “arguably the most hated man in California politics” from the union perspective. That suited Mark, who has authored numerous anti-public union “paycheck protection” initiatives that, coincidentally, all failed at the starting gate. He is the penultimate Tea Party candidate in a non-partisan race. He had garnered much media attention with his announcement. Some of it was good, some of it was very bad. We have even written about Mark ourselves (who hasn’t). But that seems to be what those hardcore conservatives like. Oh yeah, and he’s a lawyer, too. But, you probably guessed that already.

So what happened? After his initial announcement, we haven’t heard anything from Mark. There does not appear to be any “Mark Bucher for Supervisor” campaign websites and there has been nothing  written since the first of the year concerning his campaign. He has not filed papers with the Registrar of voters although he still has more than a month do so. Perhaps he is too busy trying to screw public employees with his initiative which, by the looks of things, has qualified for this year’s ballot.

Courtesy of OC Weely

Deborah Pauly

So, what’s a person to do? Enter Villa Park Councilmember, Deborah Pauly. Pauly is also no stranger to politics or the media. Unlike Bucher, however, she hasn’t made her mark criticizing public employee unions. Instead, she has made her mark espousing hatred for Muslims. All Muslims. She has no use for them in any way, shape or form, apparently. Her hatred of Muslims has enamored her to many of her Tea Party friends and garnered the censure of her fellow Villa Park Councilmembers who endorsed Todd for the Third District.

She also hasn’t been able to hold a candle to Spitzer’s fundraising. In fact, her meager attempts at fundraising have netted her a mere $2,180. And, forgetting for the moment the million plus he already had, Todd managed to raise $30,430 among his friends and contributors. That’s without any union help that we know of. His campaign consultant, Dave Gilliard was succinct:

With over 336,000 registered voters in the 3rd supervisorial district, running a campaign in this seat is a very expensive endeavor. Todd’s opponent currently has the resources to spend about 1/3 of a cent for every voter.

It does beg the question as to whether Pauly is serious about running for Supervisor. Rumor had it that she only jumped into the race because of her hatred for Mark Bucher. But, that’s only rumor. And, as far as I have seen, Spitzer only refers to her as, “my opponent”. I have yet to see him call her by name and I don’t blame him. Spitzer has made a career out of being the champion of the underdog, people like Pauly despises.

In fact, his initial press releases after he announced his candidacy almost continuously espoused his support of causes for his clients and the public at large. He has attacked efforts to eliminate the death penalty, spoken at the Irvine City Council in favor or their proposed underage drinking law and championed a law he authored, Megan’s Law. He was running so much press for victims advocacy, many were starting to wonder if he really was running for the Orange County District Attorney’s office. His opponent wondered the same thing at a couple of debates they held in Orange and Tustin. The delusional Pauly, who attacked Spitzer’s vote on pensions and his supposed support of unions,  thought she walked away with the debates while Spitzer walked away with a slew of endorsements including the (minus Pauly) Villa Park City Council who were quick to disavow any knowledge of Deborah and probably can’t wait for her term to end. Two more (long) years, boys.

But, others also apparently thought Spitzer was running for DA. When someone on Spitzer’s campaign sent out a press release that erroneously tagged Todd as a current Assistant District Attorney rather than a former one. It was corrected almost immediately and, sensing they would have an issue, he must have sent DA Tony Rackauckus’ spin doctor, Susan Kang Schroeder, a corrected release. Schroeder, who has been rumored to covet the DA position for herself when T-Rack disintegrates, shot off a letter to Todd upbraiding him for the faux pas. Funny thing was, Pauly got ahold of a copy of it a full day before it was postmarked and tried to use it against Todd. Todd cried foul, of course, claiming the DA was playing politics. Unfortunately, who is going to investigate the matter? Certainly not a DA who has been called by some the most corrupt DA in California for his non-investigations of his cronies and benefactors.

Susan Kang Schroeder

But, Schroeder, who happens to be the wife of GOP bigwig Mike Schroeder, says she is not conducting any political activity. She claims a complaint from a third-party (who could that be?) initiated the letter and that she disputed all of Spitzer’s allegations. “he’s mentally unstable and unfit to serve. … He’s got everything wrong factually. This is vintage Todd … ready, fire, aim.” That sounds like good old campaign mudslinging to me. And, if things work out as I suspect they will, Todd will, in effect, hold the purse strings of the DA’s office. If I were Susan, I would sit down, shut up and hope Todd was telling the truth when he recently reiterated that he would not seek the DA’s office if and when it were to become vacant. She should also hope that a truck hits Spitzer because that appears to be the only way he is not going to win the Supervisor’s race.

So, Todd Spitzer has made his choice. He publicly came out and said that he will not seek the office of Orange County District Attorney….yet. That is a good move on his part. For whatever reason, our current DA-come-used-car-salesman has no intention of leaving anytime soon and, if anyone honestly believed that he would ever support Todd (I didn’t) for the office, that notion has been clearly dispensed with. Spitzer has answered all the arguments against him made, chiefly, by Pauly and her friend, Schroeder.  He has admitted his mistake in voting for enhanced pension benefits but rightly says that he was not the only one to do so. And, given what he knows now, he would not do it again. He has also proven that he is an effective, if exuberant County Supervisor. His track record in local politics, unlike his tenure in the Assembly, is solid. So, unless that proverbial truck we talked about hits him or Pauly suddenly sees a huge infusion of money (how much did Mike Schroeder promise you?) and a resurgence of anti-muslim supporters, it is doubtful Spitzer will have to spend much more than the thirty thousand he raised last year. And, the only thing the public will have to suffer is Todd’s somewhat opportunistic grandstanding. I think we can live with that.

So, everything is great, except… Todd recently admitted to the OC Weekly that he has tried to contact T-rack and has even had coffee with Susan. He has weakly admitted that he would like his old job back. From the OC Weekly Story:

Spitzer—who is often passionate in his endeavors—admitted he left voice mail messages for the DA. He cautioned me to appreciate the circumstances at the time of the calls: He’d just celebrated his 50th birthday, was unemployed for the first time after losing his “dream job” as a prosecutor, and was worried about how he would financially provide for his family.

I again asked him if he’d asked for his job back. He paused before answering, “I might have. . . . Okay, I probably did, but it was more of a global thing with Tony—where can we go from here?”

There is no doubt that Todd is running for supervisor. The question is, if the DA’s office were to suddenly open up, would Todd jump ship like Lou Correa did  for the legislature and go for the job? My guess is a solid probably. After all, Todd still has a huge warchest that could easily accomplish running back to back campaigns. But, regardless of the OC Weekly story leaning that way, I have to believe as supervisor he would take great satisfaction in being Schroeder’s and even T-Rack’s boss. The real question is, after having coffee with Schroeder, has he made a promise to be a good boy?

One thing is for sure. Todd will pick and choose his opportunities. Susan, you might want to watch your back.