Normally, this is my day to let you in on the intricacies of Tuesday’s City Council meeting. But, as with last week’s meeting of the Planning Commission, there is not much on the agenda worth talking about. In fact, there is only one item and it is a biggie, in my opinion.
Item 9 is innocuously titled, “Amending the City’s classification and Compensation Plans and Establishing a Targeted Recruitment and Selection Process.” Surprisingly, it is exactly what it seems. Unsurprisingly, it is actually an attack on the transparency that, two weeks ago, this city council and staff supposedly embraced as desirable for its future relationship with Tustin residents.
Essentially, Tustin City Manager Jeff Parker is asking the city council to approve a resolution that would, in effect, do away with the hiring and firing rules whenever he deems it necessary or appropriate because they are just too darn cumbersome for him. If you think this is not the case, then remember that Parker recently hired his crony and former subordinate, Charles Robinson, as Deputy City Manager. At the time, we patted Parker on the back for his cost saving measures as they were couched in overall savings to the city. As it turned out, that recruitment, if you could call it that, was a sham.
With tonight’s action, Parker seeks to solidify his hold on the city by abrogating the city’s hire and fire rules with a major change in policy. The staff report on Item 9 states the city manager has, in effect, the right to hire and fire “all department heads and employees of the city”. We wouldn’t argue with that. However, what is arguable, is how candidates for employment are brought to the attention of Parker or anyone involved in the selection process.
Currently, as with most cities in Orange County, a job opening is advertised and applications are received. The human resources staff go through the applications discarding those that do not qualify for the position. Interviews and selection boards may ensue and, in the end, a short list of the most qualified individuals is produced for the department head to make a final selection. It is a good and proven process that canvasses the widest number of qualified applicants and limits cronyism and nepotism in public affairs (think Boss Tweed). It also keeps the process transparent and open for public scrutiny.
Parker seeks to change that with his, so-called, 21st Century Hiring Process. From the staff report:
The distinction between the 21st Century hiring process and a typical public sector recruitment is in the initial recruitment phase of the process. Rather than posting a job announcement on the City’s website and publishing an advertisement on a variety of websites and/or publications, a method that typically results in hundreds of applications from individuals of widely varying qualifications, the 21st Century hiring process involves direct solicitation to specific individuals and/or professional organizations to seek out prospective candidates who are believed to be highly qualified for a particular position. This type of process is commonly employed in the private sector.
Let’s take that last statement first. Although direct solicitation is common in private sector, this is public sector where the citizens served have an expectation of transparency and deserve the best candidate for any position the city has open. By his own words, Parker seeks to limit the employment pool for any job he deems necessary. He will not be required to publish job openings and will not be required to follow previously established rules for selection and hiring of anyone for any position he sees fit. That is absurd on its face and the city council should see it for the sham it is.
It is, in fact, the selection process that seems to be a problem for our good city manager. Although the report says the “21st Century hiring process” is not designed to replace the traditional recruitment process as the City’s standard operating procedure, there is nothing that will require the city manager to consult with human resources before he hires anyone, whether it is a crony or former employee. And, according to Parker, the new employee must meet all of the requirements expected of any city employee hired through a traditional recruitment process. If that’s so, then why change the rules? Surely, the process of culling hundreds of applications for the most qualified can’t be that strenuous, especially considering neither Parker nor any other department head has to do the culling.
And, that is also the point of having a human resources department, a recruiting process and a final selection process. It is the job of human resources to advertise and make initial selections of applicants for any job in the city. It gives the city the widest possible avenue of selecting the best individual for a particular job and frees managers from the mundane portions of the selection process.
It also prevents a high ranking official from feathering the city nest with his cronies and yes-men regardless of whether they are qualified or not. So, the real reason for the change?
Baby steps. It is obvious that our good city manager seeks to consolidate his power in the city through corrupt practices such as this. It remains to be seen whether the city council will see this for the obvious scam it is (and, hopefully put the CM in his place) or whether this is part of a larger plot by all concerned to remove the citizens of Tustin from the equation altogether.
In any case, this is certainly not a move toward transparency.
A few days ago, we wrote a short summary on the five candidates running for Tustin City Council. On one of the candidates, Allan Bernstein, we alluded to a possible violation of campaign laws, particularly if he were to continue to use a photo of him sitting on the city council dais with the City of Tustin Seal in full view.
No sooner had we published that article than we received an email invitation from Allan asking us to join him for a campaign fundraiser at Quinn’s Old Town Grill. Accompanying the “personal” invitation was a flyer for the event and a campaign pamphlet stating Bernstein’s qualifications for his candidacy.
As we said previously, Bernstein has few, if any qualifications for running for Tustin City Council. He has no civic experience and has, to our knowledge, never run for public office, been appointed to a commission or sat on a public board. His community service is equal to his civic service.
His pamphlet does list his “plan” for Tustin. It is pretty ambiguous but reads like the stock Republican party. He plans to ensure a balanced budget (this is a law and a no brainer, cities can’t run a deficit). He also plans to address the public employee retirement obligation. You know, the same one that was recently dealt with by the sitting council in successful union negotiations that resulted in higher employee contributions and changes to retirement age and formulas. So, it is hard to see how he would deal further with the pension unless he plans to resort to such cutting edge ideas as 401(k) type plans for public employees.
The pamphlet concludes with a short list of endorsements, mostly Amante cronies and well-known Republican politicians at the county level.
But, that photo of Bernstein sits right on the front page of the pamphlet. It shows him clearly sitting on the city council dais with the Tustin City Seal above his head like some kind of halo. We were pretty sure the use of the official city seal in campaign material is a no-no so we checked around. The Tustin City Code does address the use of the seal but only in the context that the City Clerk is the official “keeper of the seal” and it is to be used on all official city documents. The use of the city logo is another matter. The code states specifically the logo may not be used in campaign materials or to promote business or any other purpose unless permission has been given (it is interesting to note that Amante signed this ordinance into law and he appears to be the one advising Bernstein). Are we out of luck?
Not at all.
One only has to look at California Law to find the answer. Section 18304 of the Election Code states:
(a) Any person who uses or allows to be used any reproduction or facsimile of the seal of the county or the seal of a local government agency in any campaign literature or mass mailing, as defined in Section 82041.5 of the Government Code, with the intent to deceive voters, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
We would have to believe this campaign pamphlet was emailed to more than 200 “invitees’ and others Bernstein deemed worthy of receiving them and, so, it comes under this section. Emailing nowadays has the same effect as postal mailing only it can be done faster and cheaper, with the potential for wider dissemination.
So, where does this leave us? Clearly, Bernstein, with no prior political experience, sought to misdirect his readers into believing that he has public experience and that he may even currently be involved in city government, none of which is true. If we take the Elections Code at its face value, the only conclusion is that Bernstein has violated campaign law with his very first mailing.
We believe this is such an egregious transgression of the law that we have notified the Orange County District Attorney’s Office of the violation. We are currently awaiting an answer from their investigative unit and will keep you informed.