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Councilman, Mayor, Stalker?

Incumbent Mayor John NielsenA hat tip to our friends at The Liberal OC for breaking the story on John Nielsen’s pastimes around Our Town Tustin. Both the Lib and Our Town Tustin recently received a missive from an avid reader who told us that our good mayor has been busy stalking residents of Tustin. “The day before the elections he was stalking a friend and 16 year old son in their neighborhood, taking photos, scaring her son”, said the email. Of course, we follow the same journalistic tenets that Dan Chmielewski  does in that we do not publish unsubstantiated reports without some kind of corroboration. So, I immediately emailed a request to the city for the police report or any writing that pertained to the incident.

Chmeilewski did one better by going to the Tustin Police Department and requesting a copy of the police report. They politely declined to produce it immediately, according to him, and told him they would send it along within the next ten days. Before Dan got back to his office, he received a statement from Paul Garaven, the Public Information Officer for the police department:

On the 4th of this month at 9:25 PM, we received a call of some suspicious circumstances and essentially the reporting party was reporting a suspicious individual parked in car in the 2500 block of Platt.  The person in the vehicle was taking pictures of people outside of the address in the 2500 block.  And when the reporting party started to approach the vehicle, the vehicle left the area.

So the reporting party got a description of the vehicle and license plate, and the plate came back to Mayor Nielsen.  We took initial information report and a detective did a follow up report and spoke with Mayor Nielsen the next day.  Mayor Nielsen said he was driving when he saw a light-colored SUV stopped in the road removing signs out of the ground.  He followed the vehicle to the neighborhood because of his concerns about hundreds of political signs being removed in Tustin.  He thought  this person was removing political campaign signs.   Neilsen told Tustin Police there was an incident of a someone in light colored SUV caught on CCTV (closed circuit televison) removing political signs.  Tustin police did not see this video or have access to this video.

Upon further investigation at the residence near Platt, the signs that were removed were found to be real estate signs for an open house.

Lo and behold, just before 6 pm, the city clerk responded to my request by sending me the police report. The report clarifies that Nielsen was taking pictures of a man and his son who were putting away real estate signs int heir garage at home. It was evening and when the man attempted to approach the vehicle, the driver sped off. He caught up with the driver as he was trying to leave the gated community. The driver hid his face in his hands until the gate opened and then he drove off.

Fortunately, the man was able to get a description and a license plate of the vehicle which, it turned out, belonged to Tustin Mayor John Nielsen. Nielsen admitted to the act, saying he was concerned because there were so many election yard signs that had been stolen, he was thought this man and his son were sign thieves.

OK, but we have a couple of problems with that. For one thing, did Nielsen fancy himself  a cop? He is, after all, a member of Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan’s Police Advisory Board, a kingpiece of the Chief’s department made up of residents and business owners around town. Did he think his mayor’s badge, which he criticized former mayor Tracy Worley-Hagen of misusing, should give him special investigative powers? Or was he just too stupid to realize this guy might, fearing for his son’s life, pull out a gun and shoot him on the spot?

Raise your hand if you vote for option three.

Nielsen, throughout the city council campaign, billed himself as an honest, ethical person. The eight hit pieces that went out against his opponents and that were tied to him and his cronies says differently. He extols his business acumen and how he has balanced the budget without being truthful in saying he had to dip into reserves to make that happen.

He has also failed to be honest with his constituents about the relationship between the city and Tustin Community Foundation, an organization run by his now estranged wife, Erin.  That has recently come back to bite him over the Wilcox Manor CUP application. You could, as the police department did, call this most recent  incident a use of really poor judgment. But, the mayor playing policeman not only demonstrates poor judgment, it calls into question his ability to make sound decisions that would affect our community. At the least, it reflects our belief in the declining credibility of Tustin’s upstanding mayor.

John showed that an incumbent will win re-election regardless of the fact that he has more signs out around town than any other candidate and regardless of the type of mudslinging his crew has become so good at. With that feather under his cap, perhaps it is time for him to consider resigning from office. At the very least, he could start by resiging from Jordan’s Police Advisory Board. If he refuses to do so, Chief Jordan should exercise his authority under the policy that created the board where is says, “At the discretion of the Chief of Police a board member may be excused from further participation in the event it is deemed necessary for the benefit of the board as a whole.”

Do us a favor, John, and stop embarrassing the city.

Rumors are Just Rumors Until They Become Fact

A hat tip to Dan Chmielewski of The Liberal OC for bringing a story that has been on our minds for some time. As you know by now, former Orange County employee Carlos Bustamante, has been charged with multiple sex crimes that he allegedly committed while a high level manager of the Orange County Public Works Department. Subsequently, it came to light that Assembly Candidate, Tom Daly, has also been the subject of multiple claims of sexual misconduct while holding the office of Orange County Clerk-Recorder. The allegations against both of these men allegedly came to light through a series of anonymous letters. As Dan said, “Government by anonymous letter is the trend one can take away from the Summer of 2012.”

Some time ago, both The Liberal OC and Our Town Tustin became aware of anonymous letters and emails alleging misconduct of sorts of Tustin Chief of Police, Scott Jordan. The letters made unsubstantiated allegations against Jordan saying, among other things, that he had slept with a police department employee and had been applying for “lots of jobs” and complaining that Jordan received a raise while other employees with the city were required to give up benefits in their latest contract. It was signed by “The Women of TPD”. It also listed his home telephone number which was verified by Chmielewski.

The second letter followed on the heels of the first. It outlined the saga of Jordan marrying a woman in Garden Grove Police Department that was “below” him, came to Tustin and promoted a woman based on her looks over other, more qualified applicants and then got her pregnant.

The two letters outline quite a saga in the history of our police chief that you can read in the post on The Liberal OC so we won’t republish them in full here.

Chmielewski did quite a bit of research, inquiring of the city about the allegations of the letters. From the Lib:

We’ll note the Chief did marry a former employee of the department after she left the City’s employ.  There was no pregnancy and no call to HR as alleged in the letter.
The chief did travel with a woman named in the letter but several other members of the city’s elected officials and staff made the same trip.  Hence, the holes in the story.

The city responded almost a week after we delivered the letters.  We deleted names and titles in the city’s response to protect the privacy of those employees mentioned in the letter.  The email from Tustin City Manager Jeff Parker goes like this (excerpted – for the entire letter, see The Liberal OC story):

First, the City takes very seriously an allegation of workplace harassment. I’ve attached a copy of the City’s Harassment, Discrimination, and Retaliation policy which can be found in the City’s Personnel Rules.

The training focuses on our policy, the law, and how employees can address concerns they have regarding conduct in the workplace.

Please note that neither of the letters you provided to me were given to our HR department nor have complaints in any other form been received relating to this matter.

The city manager goes on to say that anything that happened in Garden Grove is unknown to him and he cannot make an investigation into those allegations. As to the first letter, Jeff Parker says he looked into it and found it had been adequately investigated two years ago by the then city manager. Hmm, two years ago the city manager would have been Bill Huston who left with serious issues of cronyism and alleged coverups of his own. You’ll forgive us if we believe that any “investigation” conducted by Huston was anything more than cursory in aspect. Perhaps Parker should have re-opened the investigation in light of the allegations. Or should he?

Parker also addresses the issue of the promotion-by-looks of one police department applicant (we understand this is a non-sworn employee, by the way) over other more qualified applicants. He assures Dan this is not true and the applicant was one of six who qualified and that she exceeded the minimum qualifications for the position. He blows off the allegation that the chief is currently having another affair with a deapartment employee, saying there is no credible evidence.

But, Parker brings up an interesting point when he says, “…I find it interesting that these letters were provided to you after the City entered into a contract with Chief Jordan rather than when the issues were actually occurring.” We do too. More than that, the employees were locked in tough negotiations where the city was demanding certain concessions from the employee unions. So, was this just to throw gas on the embers in hopes someone would shout, “Fire”?

We agree with The Liberal OC that government by anonymous letter is unsavory, to say the least. Unsubstantiated claims, where those making the allegations believe a reporter will be able to “dig up the dirt”, more often than not, result in inaction. That is partly because of laws that, rightly, protect individual privacy even of city employees, where the trend has been to open the doors on everything from compensation to every report or complaint -substantiated or not- brought by a member of the public or even another employee.

Scott Jordan is a well respected member of the law enforcement community. He is also well-respected in our community where crime has dropped and the professionalism of the police department is second to none in the county. And, although OTT has been critical of the recent raise he was given in light of the takeways experienced  by other employees of his department and the rest of the city, we think he deserves the benefit of the doubt unless those who wrote the letters come forward with allegations they can substantiate and not just grouse about. In fact, Dan has given a set of guidelines to use for would-be whistleblowers who believe they would be retaliated against if they were to go through official channels:

But for those government employees who feel that they have no choice but to go to the local media with their story, some advice:

1.  Ask a reporter or editor for confidentiality and make sure you get agreement before you say anything.

2. Summarize your complaint; Who, what, where, when, why (in your opinion) and how.  Bring copies of documentation, emails, photographs, videos, audio files….be prepared to prove your claims. He said, she said isn’t going to help you.  Copies of letters, emails, photos, and other evidence surely will.

3.  Bring copies of department/city/county policy and show why your documentation proves your complaint.

4. It’s not what you think; it’s not what you heard.  It’s what you can prove.

5. An employee who meets with a superior behind closed doors for an hour or two does not mean the two are having an affair; hasn’t anyone else had two hour business meetings with the boss or a conference call that required a closed door?  Think of your own interactions; we all have relationships with our business associates that range from professional loathing to genuine affection and friendship.

6.  Journalists can protect the identity of confidential sources provided you deliver on documenting your claims with evidence.  It also helps if you have two or more colleagues who will back your story with details of their own. And yes, we’ll protect your identity if you have a tip for us.  But we are going to check it out.

We subscribe to the same advice.

Along with The Liberal OC, we would also like to thank the Tustin City Manager, Jeff Parker, and the Human Resources staff who responded to his inquiries. In my conversations with Dan, he offered that Parker was very frank in answering questions, declining to answer only when required by law. That says volumes for our new city manager and his willingness to work toward a more transparent city. Thanks, Jeff.

Since Our Town Tustin began as a watchdog for the Tustin political community, we have had our share of anonymous letters about various city officials and electeds. I am sure that many of the writers have wondered why nothing was ever published. Now you know. This blog, and no respectable news source, will ever publish anything that cannot be independently verified and substantiated. When something is published here, you may not agree with it (and I hope you don’t agree with everything we write) but you will know it is truthful. And, you can rest assured that, unless your comment violates our simple rules, it will never be deleted or modified.

Chamber of Commerce Names Officer of the Month

TPD Officer Eric Kent

The Tustin Chamber of Commerce has selected their “Officer of the Month” for February, 2012. In a press release from the city, the Chamber named Officer Eric Kent as Tustin Police Officer of the Month. According to Tustin Chief of Police, Scott Jordan, Officer Kent was selected based on his “dedication, perseverance and continued service to the community of Tustin.”

Officer Kent was cited for a specific incident that occurred February 8, 2012. He was patrolling the area of Lyon and McFadden on the outskirts of town, an area known for criminal and gang activity. He contacted a vehicle with four subjects in it after stopping for cause. He noticed the odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle interior and requested assistance. From the press release:

As Officer Kent spoke with the occupants of the vehicle, he became suspicious of the right front passenger because he was extremely nervous and sweating. The subject also kept moving around and reaching down to the floorboard. Once another officer arrived, Officer Kent removed the driver from the vehicle, conducted a pat down search for weapons and had him sit on the curb. Officer Kent approached the front passenger side of the vehicle to contact the right front passenger. When Officer Kent asked the subject to exit the vehicle, the subject hesitated and then began fumbling with something on the floorboard. The subject suddenly threw his hands up and said, “I have a gun.” Officer Kent opened the passenger door and a shotgun fell to the ground. All occupants of the vehicle were arrested without incident.

The press release goes on to tell about the passenger lying about his name and probation status. The suspect had ammunition in his possession and stated that he was a gang member and had the shotgun for protection against other gangs. Because of Kent’s observation and awareness, another dangerous gang member and was probably be an illegal weapon (it was sawed off) have both been taken off the street.

We like to think we have a nice, safe, town to live in. And, we do, thanks to Chief of Police Scott Jordan and his team. Officer Eric Kent is one of the professionals that work our streets everyday so that we can feel a bit safer when we tuck our kids into bed at night. I often walk in the early morning before the sun comes up. When I see our police either parked in a quiet corner or passing on patrol, I always feel a bit safer knowing they are there. Not every city in Orange County can say that.

Congratulations, Officer Eric Kent from Our Town Tustin. Thanks for being there and making a difference. If you would like more information on Officer  Eric Kent and the award, click here.