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Amante & Songstad Still Remembered For Ethics Breach

Where-Are-They-Now with AmanteIn the category of “where are they and what are they doing now”, my friend Omar Masry from the hinterland of NoCal, sent me a link to an interesting LA Times article.

Awhile back, we wrote an article on an Orange County Grand Jury report titled, “The Use of Government Influence on Private Education Institution“.  The report alleged that then Tustin City Councilman Jerry Amante and Laguna Niguel City Councilman Alan Songstad misused their positions as elected officials to unduly influence and discredit a report on city manager compensation authored by a couple of students at Brandman University.

When the report was issued, it was lauded by OC Supervisor, Shawn Nelson who honored the two authors, Cindy Smith and Janet Voshall, for their integrity and for bringing to light the incredibly high salary of high ranking government officials. The report became even more significant when the Bell scandal, outlining heavy corruption by that city’s highest ranking officials, became news.

Unfortunately, it also brought heavy fallout to Fred Smoller, the founder and head of the Public Administration Program at Brandman as well as the authors of the original report. According to the LA Times article, Smith and Voshall had to leave Orange County to find work. Smoller also wound up resigning from the program he founded:

Fred Smoller, who founded the master’s program in public administration at Brandman, accused college leaders of buckling to pressure from conservative local politicians and trampling academic freedom.

“The resignation was the only way I could draw attention to the backdoor politicking that threatened the independence and academic integrity of the MPA program,” Smoller said.

And, although Smoller remains at Chapman University (Chapman, Brandman, what’s the dif?) he has lost faith in the program he founded.

Cindy Smith summed it up when she said, “The Good Old Boys Club is alive and well.”

Jerry Amante should know. His efforts to establish a corrupt legacy of influence in the city of Tustin are well documented. Amante, for his part, claimed he and Songstad did not try to influence anyone. He claimed the grand jury report was inflated and incorrect.  There was  no influence put upon school officials. At one point, he slammed the grand jury saying that James Doti, Songstad and he were the only ones in the room (remember, the smartest guys in the room) and they were the only ones who knew what was said.

But that is not the indication from Songstad who, according to the report, said they did, in fact, discuss the issue with James Doti and made what the grand jury later construed as veiled threats to not hire any students from Brandman. Well, we know of at least two who have not been hired.

Fred Smoller, for his part, defended the students actions. He also refused to buckle under pressure to release their email addresses and phone numbers to Laguna Hills City Manager, Bruce Channing, then the highest paid (and apparently most angry) city manager in Orange County. Channing did get one thing: Smoller agreed the title page should not carry the institution’s brand and that was subsequently changed.

Remember the League of California Cities? They are one of the chief lobbying and quasi-governmental entities that really run the government. In essence, it’s a club for local politicians where the makers and shakers throughout the state decide in unison what’s best for us. Amante and Songstad, as members of the club, asked the League to respond to the report. Shortly after the League refused, Orange County broke away from the League and formed a separate good-old-boys club known as the Association of California Cities-Orange County. Yup, that’s right. When the conservatives couldn’t get their way, they stamped their feet and took their ball home, leaving Orange County with even less influence  in Sacramento than it had before.

We’d like to get Amante’s side of the story but, according to the Times story, he isn’t answering the phone these days. I doubt any of the other players are either.

Alas, we may never know whether lies or truth came out in the Grand Jury investigation. A lawyer hired by Fred Smoller was unsuccessful in getting the transcripts of grand jury session released to the public. The lawyer who headed the investgation for the grand jury stamped the report “particularly sensitive”.

Barbara Kogerman, the one who commissioned the report to begin with is now Mayor of Laguna Hills. During the investigation, she had been accused of making the report a campaign piece. Perhaps so. But, it was also a factual piece of information that should have been brought before the public long ago when the city manager’s office stopped being about public service and began being sold to the highest bidder.

So, where are they? According to the Times article, Cindy Smith is selling insurance in Phoenix, Voshall works for the United Nations and Smoller is at Chapman University hoping to start another public administration program. All of them have found a higher calling. Talk about a blessing in disguise.

The OC Supervisor’s Embarass Themselves

squirm firm oc“You’re here to help us, not embarass us nationally.” That’s the words from Orange County Supervisor, John Moorlach, as he lashed out at the Orange County Grand Jury for their latest missive dinging the Board of Supervisors for massive mis-management of CalOptima. Two scathing reports caused the Fair Political Practices Commission to initiate an ethics investigation into the handling of the organization by the Board.

All I can say is, it’s about time.

I can also say it is shameful the way the Board of Supervisors reacted. Although any reader of Our Town Tustin knows I have little regard for the Orange County Grand Jury, it never surprises me how the, so-called, Republican Leadership continues to deny corruption and, when denial fails them, lashes out at those who speak the truth.

PBS SoCal televised the ranting supervisors in the video above. Each supervisor took a swipe or two at the Grand Jury. But, it was Todd Spitzer, future District Attorney and, presumably the Grand Jury’s boss, who actually had the gall to infer that Orange County has no corruption. News flash, Todd, Orange County is about as corrupt as can be and no amount of denial by you or your corrupt cronies on the Board can allay the belief of the voters here in the Real OC.

Supervisor Janer Ngyuen, saying the report “demoralized” her and her family as well as “the 500 employees who work at CalOptima”, was laughable in her defense of a situation that she clearly manipulated to garner favor wtih her constituency when she was appointed as the Board’s representative to the organization. I have news for her, the 500 employees of CalOptima were probably laughing their collective asses off when they saw this video.

Grand Jury Foreman, Ray Garcia, says he stands by the reports. “The only thing I will say about the corruption thing is, you  ought to read the corruption thing. It’s a chronology of four decades of malfeasance, misfeasance and downright crime.”  Unlike us, Garcia says he was surprised on the backlash from the ethics commission suggestion. Of course, we’re not.

This video shows one thing: the Orange County Board of Supervisors have shamed themselves, more than any report or investigation possibly could. Instead of whining about this, as Shawn Nelson and poor, little hurt Janet Nguyen did, they should be taking an honest look at themselves and how they have acted during their tenure. From failures to identify and rout out sexually criminal behavior to how they have treated the employees in general of this county, they have led among Republican leaders in this county to hide the truth from the public. And now that they have been called on it, all they can do is scream and yell at the messenger.

The investigation will take a year or more. In truth, I don’t expect much to come of it. Ann Ravel, the chief of the FPPC is a milkweed at best. She has never outed any politician, Republican or Democrat for a substantial infraction and I don’t expect her to do much more than pay lip service to this. It is refreshing to see this out in the open, however. And it is fun to watch the worms squirm.