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On the City Council Agenda, July 3, 2012

Quite a few important items on the Tustin City Council agenda this week. Negotiations with all major bargaining units and executive managers and the MOUs are on-line.

Looking over the contracts, it appears that compensation will remain the same. Last year, negotiations resulted in a new tier of retirement for most employees to rein in future liability to the city. This year, the focus was on capping accrued leave costs. My sources told me that they were also going after compensation but that appears to have been unsuccessful. The cost savings are minimal at best and may not even be realized. Hopefully, the city will not require further layoffs should the budget projections not be met.

The other noteworthy item is Jerry’s Folly, otherwise known as The City Council Attendance Policy. Not being embarassed enough by Pam Keller, when she reminded Jerry of their conversation about Deborah Gavello, Hizzoner has decided to go forward with this ridiculous policy. Because the law is clear on local elected officials conduct, this new policy will have no actual effect and amounts to a feel good policy for a schoolyard bully. A reprimand will not keep a councilmember from doing or not doing what they want. What it does do is create an atmosphere of oppression where the Gang of Three can call out the minority at will and allow their own to do what they please.

Jerry, by the way, does not seem to think it a problem when a Republican like the late political kingpin,Tom Fuentes, was absent from his chair on the South Orange County Community College Board. Fuentes, who recently succumbed to cancer, was absent for over a year from that board and took his $400 stipend and healthcare benefits each and every month. Jerry, who was previously quoted at a city council meeting:

“If the councilwoman’s complaint is that I call out her absences because she has not served the public, if she’s concerned because I point out that she’s missed 16 meetings so far, 8 months worth of work, all the time taking her stipend and benefits…” Amante said. “… and those are in her mind acts of bullying, well that’s just me following my obligation to make commentary about the quality of service by any public servant.”

So, that is any public servant? Well, we will see. Hopefully, someone will ask to have this pulled for discussion. If John and Al vote for this morbid piece of ego, just to pander to a lame duck councilmember, they should be ashamed.

Also in question is whether the City Attorney, David Kendig, will come clean about the lawsuits between the city and TUSD that appear to be the source of endless discussion in closed session, with no comment whatsoever. Several members of the public, including a member of the TUSD itself have Tweeted, texted and emailed me about the city’s loss of the Heritage School lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed by Tustin for CEQA violations, was moved to Riverside because the city did not think they could get a fair shake. They sent in some big guns from an outside legal firm and, I guess, crossed their fingers really hard.

None of that seems to have worked as I have received notifications (which we are trying to verify) that the judge ruled against the city, saying they had no business telling the school district how to run their schools. As you know, the city has spent over $800,000 on two lawsuits and has, so far, nothing to show for it. We hope TUSD is amending their response to ask for legal fees if they haven’t already done so. At least that way we know the money will go toward educating out kids rather than buying shiny toys for the Tustin City Council.

Finally, could we get our problems with the video resolved? Please?

City Council Meeting, July 3, 2012

Closed Session

Conference with Legal Counsel – Exposure to Litigation, two cases & Initiation of Litigation, two cases.

Liability Claim of Travis Mock, Claim No. 12-16

Conference with Legal Counsel Existing Litigation – several ongoing lawsuits, including TUSD v. City of Tustin & City of Tustin v. TUSD.

Open Session

Item 3 – City Council Attendance Policy (under Consent Calendar)

Item 4 – Adopt MOUs for all employee bargaining groups

Item 5 – Adopt Salary Resolutions for Unrepresented Employees and Executives

Item 7 – Appropriation Limit for Fiscal Year 2012/2013 – Calculations show the limits to be set abnormally low. The resolution repairs that item.

That’s it for this session. We will be on the road later this week. Hopefully, the city’s website of transparency won’t be hacked or go down. If you have anything noteworthy, send it along. We’ll be happy to post it.

Here’s Your Proof, Jerry

Jerry after the bath he took

Update: The video finally arrived on the city website. Barring any technical difficulties, you can see Ms. Keller’s remarks beginning at time stamp 32:55. We would post it here but we haven’t figured out how to pull it from Silverlight yet. -JKG

A hat tip to our good friends over at The Liberal OC who wrote a great article on Last Night’s Tustin City Council meeting.  Early yesterday, we had heard there would be a special speaker at the meeting. However, we wanted to wait until the video was up so that we could see it firsthand before writing about it.

By coincidence, the video took over 24 hours to appear on the city website. I say coincidence because the same thing happened a month ago at the city council meeting where Councilmember Deborah Gavello accused Councilman Jerry Amante of threatening to “take her down”, vowing never to work with her. She also, to her credit, offered an olive branch which Jerry promptly snapped in half and threw back in her face. Jerry publicly and adamantly denied making any type of threat whatsoever, saying that he only challenged her because of his sense of service. He also challenged Gavello to bring anyone forward that might have heard these threats (Dan Chmielewski from The Lib and I had a bet that the video might never show).

So, she did.

Shortly after that meeting, The Liberal OC wrote about how former Fullerton City Councilmember, Pam Keller, saw the video and decided to come speak at the next city council meeting. She was unable to make that meeting but her speech that she planned to make was published by several blogs, which you can read here.

So, Hizzoner must have thought he was off the hook and thought everything would die down. It might have, except Keller was intent on letting Amante know, up front and personal, just what she thought of him as she attended and spoke at last night’s meeting. Suffice it to say, the right side of the dais sat there in stony silence as Keller made her accusation, largely as it was originally written. Pam was eloquent and succinct in her gentle reminder to Jerry about their conversation three and a half years ago. When she was finished, there was light applause from the audience as Jerry’s mouthpiece, John said, “Please, let’s not have outbursts here.” I guess it is OK if you applaud for one of the Gang of Three but not if you applaud for the truth.

Jerry is supposed to be a lawyer. But, he has forgotten the first thing they teach you in lawyering school: never ask a question you  don’t already know the answer to. This episode has shown just how unethical and boorish our former mayor and city councilman is. We are fortunate that we have only a few more months of the blathering blabbermouth and he will be finished. Of course, the right side of the dais can always appoint him to a commission or committee or something so he can continue to keep his hand up the back of our  good mayor who will be happy to speak for him. Time will tell.

In the meantime, it was good to see that Deborah, who must have been feeling vindicated, took the high road and did not gloat. She should know that Hizzoner probably won’t let up and will keep the pressure on. Just the same, it is also good to know that there are enough political pundits out there who will keep any future political career he might have had in check. Maybe he can ask to be placed on the board of the Tustin Community Foundation where he can work his magic with John’s wife and the CDBG funds they claim they don’t manage for the city (hint, Erin, check the minutes of the last city council meeting).

Deborah, Where are Ya?

Courtesy of Broke-ass Stuart

Not a lot of hoopla during this week’s council meeting, unless you consider Hizzoner’s useless and snide comment about Deborah Gavello’s absence, hoopla. We don’t. In fact, we don’t consider much of anything Jerry rants about as worthy of comment. But, we are a public service and, as Jerry said at the last meeting about his own driveling, we feel it’s our duty to report his boorish behavior to our readers.

The public hearing on the Community Development Block Grant went pretty much without a hitch. Elizabeth gave her usual precise, if dry, PowerPoint presentation on the subject. Beckie Gomez brought up the issue of the Tustin Community Foundation and whether the TCF subcommittee that handles the grant consisted of only Tustin residents as required by the CDBG. As you know, we raised this issue some time ago when we found that John Nielsen’s wife, Erin, serves as the Executive Director for that non-profit. Elizabeth promised to get back to Gomez on the issue and we hope that the councilmember will not let her off the hook. We are not talking about a lot of money, but it is taxpayer money and the city should be following the rules.

Three items were pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion. Surprisingly, even though Deborah Gavello was not present, the issue regarding the cooperative agreement on signal synchronization with Irvine and Newport Beach was pulled by Al Murray. Murray must be practicing his oratory skills as he pulled this item and the item on POD dispensing equipment for no other reason than to make pedantic commentary on both issues. Jerry, squirming in his seat on the side, couldn’t stand not to be the center of attention for so long and finally had to interject with his own blathering about how great the project was and how the three cities could sit down and sing Kumbya.

The big ticket item of the evening was the solicitation ordinance that would essentially prohibit panhandling from high traffic streets and skateboarding on private property. As we said in our last post, there is quite a bit more to this ordinance, but we won’t bore you with the details. Tustin Police Captain Charles Solano gave a brief and professional  presentation on the proposal. However, during his presentation, he pointed out the very issues we have with this ordinance.

To begin with, he said consideration was given to making the ordinance “content neutral”. Anytime I hear that phrase, I think, “oh we made sure that even those who would have no reason to be affected by this ordinance, is included so we can’t be accused of coming down on the homeless.” And, that is the real rub. The ordinance will prohibit solicitation, or panhandling, on high traffic streets. Now, the ordinance applies to the homeless as well as you and me. But, face it, when was the last time you saw me standing out on the street corner asking for money from passers-by (OK, if you are really wondering, the answer is, NEVER). So, why the issue with “content neutral”? because, then the city can’t say they are picking on the homeless, even though that is what this part of the ordinance is designed to do. And, although the ordinance only covers less than 2% of Tustin roads, it is the 2% that is some of the most highly traveled, and therefore highly lucrative, in our town.

As Captain Solano pointed out, there are five parts to the proposed ordinance, including the panhandling issue. The proposed ordinance also deals with solicitation on commercial property, door to door soliciation, as well as trespassing on commercial properties during non-business hours and skateboarding on private property. I have to tell you, listening to the presentation, it was apparent that a lot of thought was put into most of this ordinance before it was presented to the Council. Issues regarding 1st Amendment rights as well as inferring that our homeless were not cut completely off from being able to solicit you for that extra change in your pocket were considered.

I also don’t have an issue with an ordinance that would allow commercial property owners to protect their customers from the onslaught of solicitation that we are assaulted with almost daily when we go shopping at almost any venue from Trader Joes to the District. Private property is just that, private. and owners should be allowed to limit their liability and allow only those they wish (their customers in most cases) to enter. They should also be allowed to limit their liability from those who skateboard on their property, although we question why skateboarding was singled out from other activities. And, although it will leave our homeless in Tustin with fewer places to rest their weary bones after a hard day of panhandling, I also agree that business owners and their customers should not have to be greeted first thing in the morning with someone sleeping in the doorway of their business. Maybe, someday, Tustin will put as much effort into helping the homeless as they do in protecting businesses. Until then, move along, you weary homeless.

There is also no issue with the revamping of the door-to-door solicitation code. I get many solicitors each year on my doorstep. They want to sell me everything from religion to shoes. In most cases, when I am answering the door, I am thinking to myself, why doesn’t the city require a permit? So, this is a great section of the proposed ordinance right? Not really. There are several issues with this part of the ordinance. For one, the Livescan fingerprinting that would be required of each and every solicitor is expensive at about $120 a year. To me, this does not serve any outright purpose other than to create another burden on small business at a time when government, especially in California, should be looking to make it easier for businesses to operate. The city did this earlier this year in waiving license and permit fees to entice business in this sour climate. The Livescan really provides little more security than other laws that are already on the books. And, the permit that would be required should suffice in keeping track of the number of door-to-door salesmen in our town. Although Solano gave specific examples to support the need for the proposed ordinance, he gave none that actually occurred in Tustin proper. In fact, the closest incident occurred in North Tustin and he was pretty vague about the circumstances. That, in itself, should be reason enough to minimize this ordinance and its actual cost on business. Again, the permit requirement is a good one, just without the expensive Livescan fingerprinting requirement.

The presentation did answer one of our questions and that was that non-profit organizations like the Girl Scouts would be exempt from the Livescan fingerprint requirement, presumably because most of them already have stringent background requirements for their volunteers. And, the permit requirement would not apply to persons under 16 years of age, so your Girl Scout Cookie sales are safe.

Oh, but wait.

Councilmember Gomez brought up a couple of other issues as well. Bringing up the specific example of the no parking area of El Camino Real, she asked if the day laborers who congregate around the U-Haul building would be affected. And, although Captain Solano answered the question. I wonder if she got the answer she was expecting. The issue is whether the day laborers are actively soliciting as opposed to just sitting around waiting for someone to drive by and offer them a job. Hmm.

It gets better.

She then reminded the Captain that Tustin High School fronts El Camino and various school groups often have car wash fundraisers out there and actively solicit the public as they drive by. Would this

Courtesy of Tustin Acura

affect them? “Yes, they would technically be in violation of this ordinance.”. But, the following words really made me sit up and take notice: “In addition to that, I know that, Ms. Binsack could speak better to this than I could, we’ve been told in the past that there are water quality issues involved with having a car wash… there’s more than just this ordinance that would cause a problem for those types of activities.” Really? Come on, a crummy car wash to benefit the pep squad is going to crush the environment here in our town? What happened to Tustin loves Schools? As we said last time, maybe it should read, “Tustin Loves Schools….Most of the Time”. Kids, expect to see Elizabeth’s Code Enforcement SS at your next car wash fundraiser.

Of course, there was a lot of discussion during the public forum, most of it surrounding the issue of the non-profits and how the permitting process would be a burden to the volunteers. Most of the speakers were moms, who are Girl Scout leaders, who shared their concern over the ordinance and how it would affect their ability to sell cookies door-to-door. And, this is where Hizzoner and I agree: Don’t stand in the way of our cookies. The issue even drew the Chief Operating Officer of the Orange County Girl Scouts who shared her concern and the fact that they draw their business permit and carry it with them to show when necessary.

In the end, the City Council did the right thing and sent the ordinance back for revision to allow for the Girl Scouts to allow selling their cookies (and other large non-profits) without an undue burden, and that is a good thing. So, all is well and good in the city of Tustin….. except……

Everything was going smoothly. Parents and COOs were speaking their peace, including one unidentified Girl Scout mom who spoke about how the ordinance, as written, would be an undue burden and that the current ordinance was just fine. As she was leaving, again without identifying herself, Mayor John Nielsen clearly violated the Brown Act when he said, “Thank you. And, if you would fill out the form, so that we can…from the city clerk right here? Right here? In front of you? And, give it to this young lady here on the side right there, she’ll raise her hand… there you go. Thank you. Great.”

Uh, did John not see my previous post back in January on this issue? By directing the speaker to fill out a speaker request form, he clearly, once again, violated the Brown Act by requiring a speaker to fill out the form. And, before he attempts to defend himself from the issue by saying she could decline to do so, he is reminded that an open government expert, Terry Francke said in an article from the Voice of OC,

“You don’t have to enforce what appears to be a mandate in order to chill persons from coming forward,” Francke, who is general counsel for Californians Aware and Voice of OC’s open government consultant, has said. “There’s no legitimate reason I can think of for requiring speakers to give their names.

“Doing so”, Francke went on to say, “is a violation of both the Brown Act and the First Amendment.”

So, how many times will we have to suffer the onerous behavior of the Gang of Three who clearly think they are above the law? Will it take a complaint to the FPPC or to the District Attorney? It is unfortunate that the most corrupt District Attorney in the State of California is so aligned with the Republican right that getting a violation of this sort investigated is a non-issue. Hopefully, if and when Todd Spitzer has quit playing County Supervisor and gets elected to the job he was really meant for, he will have the courage to investigate his own, even for seemingly minor violations such as this.

Mayor and Former Mayor Have a Problem With Ethical Behavior

Courtesy of

The local newsfeeds are aglow with the word that several Orange County city councils have violated ethics and conflict of interest laws. Our Town Tustin happens to be one of them. In fact, a Tustin resident, Matthew Delaney, is said to have initiated the complaint against 40 councilmembers in various cities because those councilmembers voted themselves onto paid regional boards without batting an eye.

Mayor John Nielsen and former Mayor Jerry Amante have received warning letters from the Fair Political Practices Commission regarding the practice of naming themselves to various regulatory boards that affect the county. This includes the Orange County Sanitation District where, in 2011, Mayor John Nielsen received $4,250 for attending meetings.  OCSD board members receive $212.50 per meeting with a 6 meeting per month maximum. Other boards the councilmembers appoint themselves to include the Southern California Association of Governments, which pays $120 per meeting for a maximum of 8 meetings per month. The Foothill Transportation Corridor Board also pays $120 per meeting with a maximum of  18 meetings per quarter. You can see how this adds up to quite a sizeable sum for certain councilmembers who hoard the paid positions as Jerry and his Kids have.

It gets more interesting, however. You remember we reported on the January meeting in which John Nielsen and his puppetmaster, Jerry Amante, ran a shell game to ensure the good old boys were re-nominated to the same paid boards. What many did not see unless they watched the video was that City Attorney, David Kendig, had proposed a “new” method of nominating and voting on members for the boards. The new method required nominated members to leave the room so the rest of the council could vote on them. This effectively eliminated each nominee from voting on him or herself and that effectively cured the violation.

Looking back, we see how Kendig did his job in protecting the conservatives he panders to on the city council from liability. But, where was the transparency the city likes to tout on their website? That did not seem to come into play here as there was no explanation of why there was a change. In fact, the entire discussion during the meeting centered around how the city was being proactive by implementing this new policy. Did John and Jerry receive those letters from the FPPC prior to this action being taken? While we don’t know for sure because we have not received a response from the city to our request for the letters, it is a pretty good bet they at least knew they were going to receive some kind of sanction.

Unfortunately, the Right side of the dais was a bit more on top of it than the Left. During the vote for the Orange County Fire Authority seat, when it seemed they reached an impasse, Jerry nominated two people for the position, one from each side of the dais, thereby eliminating the draw and insuring that their man Al would get the position. Deborah, in a slap your forehead moment, realized after the fact what the boys had done. Of course, the real issue was whether Beckie Gomez, who claimed to covet at least the alternate position to the Fire Authority Board, actually went along with them when she was nominated and left the room. I don’t think it was even past Beckie that she had no chance of getting the board seat and that she ensured Al Murray the seat by accepting the nomination.

So, maybe it is four to one after all.

Now, it is rather interesting that the council took up the issue of the Community Development Block Grant, a fund of money given to the city each year by the Feds for the purpose of enhancing life in Tustin. While I looked at the report that shows the money is awarded to many local entities, including the Boys and Girls Club, I have to wonder if they spread the money a little too thin. A few people I have spoken with have voiced the same concern.

But, what is really disconcerting is the fact that the CDBG money is given to the Tustin Community Foundation to administer. That in itself is not a problem. What is a problem is the fact that Mayor John Nielsen’s spouse, Erin Nielsen, is the Executive Director of the TCF. I checked with my political rabbi concerning any conflicts of interest regarding this issue. What he told me was, while their may be no specific conflict of interest that rises to the level of a violation, there is certainly the perception of one anytime there is a direct relationship between entities such as this.

Again, here we have a city that claims transparency in everything it does and then is not forthcoming in dealings that involve some of their councilmembers. It is unfortunate that no one came forward at the Tuesday city council meeting to raise the issue. And, of course, not that it would have done any good. By now, we are all used to Jerry and his Kids getting their way, even when they have to use subterfuge like this.

So, here we have it. A city that touts transparency. They are more than willing to show you the books. But, when it comes to a bit of dirty laundry, they fix the problems that arise and hope nobody will notice. This time, Jerry, John and Al, we noticed.