The Liar

The new, official City Bird

We are used to politicians lying to us, especially when they are running for office. Sometimes the lies are more or less fuzzy, but once in a while the lies are staggeringly blatant. So blatant, in fact, that we must assume the politician believes the electorate are idiots.

Bored and angry. Accountability? It was never on the agenda.

And so it was last year with then-lobbyist-mayor and humble vessel of God, Jennifer Fitzgerald, whose campaign rhetoric deliberately misled the public into believing everything was just fine with Fullerton’s financial state of affairs. Here are a couple of pearls from her little chest of jewels:

BALANCED BUDGET

While other cities in Orange County are trying to raise sales taxes to prevent insolvency, in Fullerton, our budget is balanced!  Our five-year financial forecast shows a balanced budget to 2020.  We’ve done this by making the most of our assets and minimizing our liabilities.  

REDUCED UNFUNDED PENSION LIABILITY

With conservative fiscal management and successful revenue strategies, Fullerton has been able to reduce its unfunded liabilities. This is a long-term strategy, with a short-term goal to achieve what is a generally accepted adequate level of funding of 80% of liabilities.

It didn’t take long for that hot-air balloon of happy talk to sail away. Barely three months after Fitzgerald’s re-election she had to listen as the Director of Administrative Services, Julia James, at last week’s budget workshop, tell the exact opposite story. Due to continuing unbalanced budgets and exploding pension costs, the City is following in the footsteps of Stanton and Westminster with a built-in, structural budget deficit. Naturally the cops and the “fire fighters” bloated salaries and pensions are the principle cause of the impending disaster.

James mentioned taxes as a solution. Any takers?

How long will it be before our temporary City Manager, who has absolutely nothing to lose, begins crisis public meetings meant to gin up support for a Fullerton sales tax increase? And how long will it be before the people who voted for her realize that “SparkyFitz” Fitzgerald would have said, and did say anything to get re-elected?

 

 

 

 

The Swindle

It’s often said that government spends half its time fixing problems it created with the other half.

And what better way to make problems go away by getting the taxpayers to pick up the tab for your mistakes?

On next Tuesday’s council agenda there is an item to “study” a downtown Business Improvement District (BID). A BID creates a special tax on property owners for specific purposes, generally tied to sprucing up (as the local media loves to say) a geographically limited area. And in this case that area centers on Harbor Boulevard from Truslow to Brea Creek; and from Highland to Lemon.

Haluza

Below you see a letter sent out from the desk of Community Development Director, Karen Haluza, enjoining property owners and businesses not yet on board to sign up for the great cause. The idea is to generate the appearance of momentum and consensus for a new tax.

Did you notice something very peculiar about this letter? Haluza first admits she is working on orders from the City Council (“tasked” is bureaucrat-speak); but within a few sentences suddenly it is the “stakeholders” (more bureaucrat-speak) who have, seemingly with  spontaneity, made a “formal request” to study the formation of a BID. Can anyone for a second believe this whole concept was not hatched, fertilized and fermented in Wild Ride Joe Felz’s office in City Hall? And check out the list of proponents – mostly businesses, not the actual property owners. On top of that we see the names of several bars and a couple big developers. The developers we can dismiss as toadies looking to score their next big monsters courtesy of Haluza’s Planning Department.  The bars?

Business is booming…

Here’s the real problem, and the reason why Downtown Fullerton is an annual $1,500,000 drain on the General Fund. Cleaning up after the nocturnal mess caused by the customers of the bars costs a small fortune in cop time and city maintenance. It’s a cost that is born by every man, woman and child in Fullerton, even though it is only people like Florentine’s and Slidebar that rake in the bucks.

Downtown Fullerton has been an out-of-control disaster for well over a decade as the City-approved bars proliferated and the mayhem ensued. And now in 2017 city staff is trying to get everybody who owns property in the “district” to fork over a new tax to cover the cost created by the bar owners. A reasonable person might think that cracking down on all the miscreants and scofflaws and irresponsible bar proprietors would be the way to clean up the mess. No. The cops are playing pattycake with the booze culture, and Haluza thinks it’s right and proper that the landlords of all the businesses – good and bad alike – pay the freight.

This new tax proposal is nothing but another Fullerton cover up – on a grand scale. The object? To pay for the disastrous culture of booze and violence that permeates Downtown after dark; a culture that was deliberately created and fed by our own incompetent government. Their solution? A new tax.

 

Business as Usual – In Every Sense of the Term

Back on December 1, 2016 KTLA reporter Chip Yost made a Public Records Act request about information surrounding then-City Manager Joe Felz’s alcohol odorific Wild Ride.

 

His main business is dirty businesses.

Poor Chip. Of course he was given the big FU from Gregory Palmer, employee of the City Attorney and best known by us for his enthusiastic adult sex business work. Palmer cites disclosure laws that have now been thrown out by the State Supreme Court, and somehow believes that communications from then-Chief Danny “Galahad” Hughes are exempt, too.

One thing that was turned over is the following memo from Gretchen Beatty, HR Director, who somehow has taken it upon herself to write an apology for Felz even though she admits the latter is still “on duty.” Under the comical subject line “Keeping You Informed” she proceeds to tell her “colleagues” nothing they surely didn’t already know.

Gretch says the FPD is “completing its independent investigation” which is a wonderful oxymoron and also not true. But let’s not let truth impede upon the business of City Hall. Rather, let us observe business as usual.

 

Young Kim Wants to Be Your Supervisor

No there, there…

The other day our old Friend, The Desert Rat, wrote a post about a Bruce Whitaker vs. Jennifer Fitzgerald county supervisor contest in 2018. Our commenter Fullerton Rag pointed out the presence of Young Kim, recently failed State Assembly incumbent. Sure enough, looks like this Ed Royce (R- Chickenhawk Coop) acolyte is running. And she is wasting no time – the primary election is still 16 months away.

 

Grab it and greedily consume it as fast as you can…

This means that our lobbyist-councilcreature Jennifer Fitzgerald, another of Ed Royce’s political progeny is most likely out, voluntarily or otherwise. We’ll have to wait on that.

Meantime we have the spectacle of another unqualified Republican pursuing the “Asian female” formula at the County level. Kim knows as little about county government as she did about running the State of California, although in politics ignorance about governance is no longer held as any sort of impediment.

 

Behind the Badge – The Gravy Train

No civilians were harmed in the making of this satire…

UPDATE: a keen-eyed friend wrote in to inform us of a couple interesting facts about the City’s “Back the badge” documents. First, the original contract and the first purchase order don’t agree. The PO describes a one-year term while the contract is for only six months. Second there is no PO that covers the period from May to November 2014. The City’s controller should not have been able to write checks without a PO to write checks against, so something is fishy there.

FFFF has already shared with the Friends here some of the more ludicrous aspects of “Back the Badge” a PR outlet for cop departments and unions that we pay for.

The whole shabby deception is so bad we decided to dig a little deeper to see just how the Fullerton taxpayers got hooked into paying for the cops to peddle their propaganda – to us.

Here are the documents we were given.

The documents we received indicate a completely non-transparent, slipshod City-vendor relationship in which deliverables are sketchy, and grossly overvalued.

Danny says you are either ignorant or misinformed!!!

First, it’s important to point out that this relationship was approved in secret by former City Manager Joe Felz in spring 2013, presumably under his spending authority. The City Council may have been informed, but the public most assuredly was not. Even Felz must have been aware of the possible public blowback against this nonsense. And he undoubtedly had the support of council persons Flory, Chaffee and Fitzgerald in trying to keep this gross squandering of public funds out of the public eye.

It is critical to recognize the contract for what it is: a fixed fee arrangement in which the vendor gets his contracted monthly amount regardless of what he actually accomplishes. These sorts of contracts are comparatively rare in government precisely because they are not tied to specific scopes of work. In essence there is no real oversight at all, even if anybody felt like doing it – which they didn’t.

The Blue Crew

If you peruse the invoices you will find all sorts of weird “deliverables” of intangible sort like “PR services,” “OC Register columns,” and “Fullerton News Tribune” just the sorts of things that are impossible to value and make you wonder if the real media was in collusion with Back the Badge. FFFF has already noted how the Yellowing Fullerton Observer has published an article, verbatim, from Back the Badge, here.

Of course some of the contractual items like “traffic/performance reports” yielded no responsive documents in our public records request. Anyway, as I noted it above it hardly matters.

One extra-contractual proposal sent to former Chief Danny “Galahad” Hughes offers 40,000 print copies of “Behind the badge Fullerton magazine” for a mere twenty grand.  Who approved that, and where did these print copies go? That we shall likely never know, as the police PR mechanisms are obviously none of our damn business, even though we are bankroller and target audience.

Before we only had to pay him to make stuff up…

My favorite item in the proposals from Back the Badge is something called “crisis counseling.” This must be a service that is called upon when something really bad occurs and the cops need to polish up that road apple, and quick! So did Back the Badge spring into crisis counseling mode the night their benefactor, Joe Felz, smelling of liquor, drove off Glenwood Avenue, and was given a free pass and a ride home by the Fullerton Police Department?

On December 17, 2016, the City issued a new Purchase Order for more of those valuable Back the Badge services. The invoice cites the brand-new interim Chief but there is no reference to the Acting City Manager since by this time Joe Felz was long gone, the victim of his own reckless behavior. So who authorized the issuance of this new PO? The police chief, whoever he is, has no such spending authority. It seems as if the Culture of Opacity and Unaccountability is humming along on auto pilot.

Well, this is Fullerton and if you want to find out what is going on – well, good luck with that.

 

 

Fortunately, An Adult in the Room

This is a story about selfishness, small-time greed and entitlement.

No, it’s not about my 3-year old nephew.

It’s about members of the Fullerton Fire Department and their Chief, Wolfgang “Wolf” Knabe and the culture of permissiveness overseen by our former City Manager Joe “Fast and Loose” Felz.

Back in September a couple of off-duty fire department employees managed to get themselves lost in Yosemite by foolishly trying to take a shortcut across some sort of moving water. The hue and cry went out – all the way to Fullerton. So members of the FFD drove City vehicles up north to show solidarity with their lost comrades who were discovered a day or two later.

What happened next may or may not surprise you depending on your familiarity with the sense of entitlement held by Fullerton’s “public safety” employees.

Chief Knabe, who makes well over $200,000 a year and is Fullerton’s highest paid employee, attempted to stick the taxpayers of Fullerton with the cost of gas, steak dinners and hotel accommodations for this purely elective field trip.

Here are the relevant documents.

Firefighters Javier Avelar, sixth from left, and Dave Brown, seventh from left, seen here joined on Sept. 13 by colleagues who trekked to Yosemite to help find them after they were reported missing by family.

 

Hero presser: Fullerton/Brea Fire Departments fire chief Wolfgang Kanabe explains during a press conference in Fullerton on Wednesday, how two Fullerton firefighters went missing in Yosemite during a six-day backpacking trip. They were supposed to return on Sunday. Searchers found them Tuesday. September 14, 2016. (Photo by Ken Steinhardt, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Knabe tried to justify the whole episode as some sort of job-related effort and a PR triumph for himself and his department, but fortunately our Finance Department Director, Julia James, was having none of it, and quite appropriately deemed such a reimbursement as a gift of public funds.

In the end Wolfie had to use a “donation” account (which is still public money), and which begs the question of whether or not donors are giving money to the department to pay for steak dinners for our Heroes.

The Tale of Joe’s Tree, or The Day Government Acted Quickly

We all know that the gears of government grind slowly. Let a common citizen try to initiate some action or other and watch the January molasses flow.

Then, of course if there’s a real emergency – i.e. a need to hush something up, or cover the tracks – things move much more quickly.

Some folks thought it would be interesting to see how the City handled the issue of Sappy McTree, the Glenwood Avenue parkway youngster plowed over by former City Manager, Joe Felz on the night of his Wild Ride. Sappy was sent to the chipper, and a replacement was recently installed. Felz was sent home to spend more time with his family, and a replacement was recently installed.

Here are the relevant docs. Please note the dates.

Tree down!

The Bill
HAVE A NICE DAY!

We see that the cost of a new tree and a tree inspector (!) have been billed to Felz on November 14, 2016, five days after the incident. But note the due date – November 15th.  Nobody produces an invoice with payment due in one day. In this case the invoice was produced on a Monday, and the due date on Tuesday. Why? Well, I can only speculate but it sure looks to me like Felz was trying his level best to close out the issue before the city council meeting the next day.

In the end it didn’t matter. Felz got The Phone Call, either from the City Attorney or from Jennifer Fitzgerald herself, advising him to take some time off, and that if he had a parachute, he’d better pack it.

Installed and inspected…

Looks like the bill was finally paid on November 21 – six days late.

The High Cost of Bad Development

The Thing That Ate Fullerton courtesy of Orange Juice Blog.

Someone once advised that bad design costs just as much as good.

This is particularly true of development that squanders resources, overloads infrastructure, gobbles up energy and foists snarled traffic on the rest of us.

So how come Fullerton has gone head over heels for massive, five-story (and more) apartment blocks the past five years?

At first I thought it was because there was no planning director and that in this void stuff was happening without any sort of adult in the room. Then Karen Haluza came along. Yes, the same Karen Haluza who, as a private Fullerton resident and council candidate, opposed the Amerige Court (now Commons) monstrosity back in 2008. But now Ms. Haluza seems to spend all her time pitching the same ridiculous monsters that were approved when nobody was in charge.

Then it hit me.

These huge projects are moneymakers, and not just for the out-of-town developers that rake in the dough and move on. They are one-time bonanzas for city staff that haul in huge developer fees and massive park dwelling fees. These fees run into the millions.

Now, let’s say that you are a garden variety city manager such as Joe Felz. You have mismanaged the City of Fullerton into a string of unbalanced budgets amounting to over $40,000,000 in just four years. Wouldn’t you be groping for any source of revenue you could find?

Apart from the physical cost of these horrible projects, there is the obvious budgetary problem of relying on one-time sources of revenue to make your budget shortfalls look less bad. But to acknowledge that problem would require honesty and a degree of professional integrity.

The Formula

 

See that busy-looking guy over there? He’s the one who won’t be doing anything about this…

The Orange County District Attorney, Mr. Tony Rackauckas, has a pretty miserable record holding public officials and cops accountable for their misbehavin.’ It took a dead man and a killing caught on video to get him to prosecute FPD cops Manny Ramos and Jay Cicinelli for the beat-down they instigated and laid on Kelly Thomas. Even that prosecution was touch and go.

And for years we have been seeing T-Rack investigatory work product that was just an obvious nothing.

Now we have the interesting case of Joe Felz’s Wild Ride, in which the Fullerton cops apprehended the former City Manager after he jumped a Greenwood Avenue curb, ran over a tree and tried to drive away. The police on the scene administered no breathalyzer test even though they smelled alcohol about Felz’s person. Instead of a ride to HQ, the cops gave Felz a ride home, with no questions asked. The city sent the case to the DA to examine – something – nobody knows what for.

As is often the case, history provides an instructive example with which we may reasonably predict a future event. Here is a story from the City of Garden Grove.

It turns out that the council of this fine city blatantly and willfully violated California’s open meeting law known as the Brown Act. The Mayor forwarded the matter to the DA. The result? A cunningly brilliant amalgamation of apparent action and no action at all. Even though the DA chastised the council for violating the “spirit and intent” of the law,  he claimed that there was no way to prosecute because…he is not a mind-reader! Rather, he presented to them a list of findings and concerns, dos and don’ts that would, presumably, help them in their future endeavors to obey the law. Meantime, councilmembers denied all wrong doing, and there the matter ended, with law enforcement providing an expensive yet feeble shadow-show, and with the offenders keeping their eyes closed as the pantomime played out.

I think the odds of a replay of this farce in the Felz matter are extraordinarily high. The DA has lots of wiggle room. He can’t charge Felz with anything because nobody collected evidence. The cops that let him go were just following orders.  The upper echelon who gave the orders – the egregious Andrew Goodrich and outgoing chief Dan Hughes – were merely exercising their professional prerogative to ignore their own policies and procedures whenever they feel like it. At worst, perhaps a gentle hand slap to persons unnamed, case closed and no need for the “internal review.”

Wait for it.