It’s time, Friends, for the fourth installment of Professor J.H. Habermeyer’s eloquent essay about the fortresses local government bureaucracies erect around themselves in their relationship with their own constituents. And what erections they are!
The Fourth Wall
Let us now recapitulate our history of public participation in local government affairs. Public apathy, official obfuscation, physical and bureaucratic intimidation have weeded out almost the entire population of the commonwealth. And yet, to the consternation of the denizens of the citadel, not all have bowed their heads in submission to the purported expertise of the purported experts.
The few survivors who have passed through the bureaucratic gauntlet have not been cowed by process or pabulum. They press their case and may do so effectively. The common local government species known as the gadfly may be dismissed without further ado. These irritants are the boils on the bottom of the body politic who, likely as not, suffer from personal issues of megalomania and narcissism; they are annoying, but not life threatening. The challenge, rather, is with the informed and militant citizen who is demonstrably not suffering from dementia and who, once aroused, is not likely to demur to the “professionals” and who may very well re-appear on particularly inopportune occasion.
What to do?
The answer is to asphyxiate the irritant in a smothering embrace; to draw said miscreant into the circle of government itself by appointing this him to some footling committee or other, thereby causing him to voluntarily silence himself in deference to the grand fraternity to which he has been officially welcomed. He has a name plate; perhaps even a coveted parking space! Many an underdeveloped and agitated ego has been assuaged by such a maneuver and its proprietor thereby silenced.
Even more subtle is the way that the political realm offers its siren song to those recently initiated to the world of public affairs. The electoral process can be counted upon to woo those infected by the virus of newly discovered political ambition. And, if by some strange twist, one of these individuals should be rewarded with electoral success, the chances of a quick devolution into the typical public servant are high, indeed. And why not? Such an individual, unless unusually perspicacious and independent will soon find himself at the mercy of his bureaucracy!
Nothing is quite as demoralizing as the sight of a once independent spirit “going native” as our cousins across the Atlantic refer to the syndrome. And yet it happens all the time. And thus a potential adversary is subsumed into the system.
Here is the third installment of Professor J.H. Habermeyer’s essay on the means and methods local government uses to keep the citizenry at bay.
The Third Wall
Once the vast majority of potential scrutineers has been successively winnowed out by its own indifference, by pseudo-technical obfuscation, and by awkward meeting times, a hardy type of citizen remains: the man who has steeled himself to learn of an issue; who has cut through enough of the bureaucratic gobbledygook to have at least a passing familiarity with the gist of the topic; and who has rearranged a busy schedule to attend a hearing on said subject.
The Hearing! And now we advance apace to confront perhaps the cruelest hoax in the the local government’s repertoire.
We are all familiar with the quaint image of the New England township or village council meeting: a handful of honest selectmen addressing themselves and the town’s business to their neighbors. Such an ennobling image is now a far cry from the typical local government meeting that is run by professional bureaucrats employed for their alleged expertise, and whose arrogance has been fermented by years of education, training, and wielding of this “expertise” – regardless of the selfish likes or dislikes of their agency’s constituents.
The modern public hearing is run much more like a corporate board meeting than the picturesque town council pow-wow described above. And like any corporate executive conducting a board meeting, woe unto the chief bureaucrat who permits an item onto a public meeting agenda about which he has not fully briefed his political overlords and about which he is confident of majority, or ideally unanimous, approbation!
Once he ventures into the chambers of his elected officials, our intrepid citizen quickly notices that the seats reserved for these elected officials are elevated upon a dais, above those seated in the audience. These august personages are surrounded by their professional advisors and are physically separated from their constituents. This is telling. Very often the municipal executive himself is elevated, too – demarcating his stature as an equal with the elected representatives, and apart from the common herd.
And then the meeting commences: a scripted performance that puts the observer in mind of the heavily stylized kabuki; or, perhaps an Oscar Wilde drawing room farce without the wit. Very often the elected officials will read from actual scripts prepared for them by the bureaucrats. It is an embarrassing, but necessary price to pay to make sure the proper liturgical rites are observed.
The Deity is invoked; the Pledge of Allegiance recited. Thus the Almighty and the spirit of patriotism infuse the room – lending authority, sacred and profane, to the goings on.
The staff presents its proposals. The rhetoric and confoundation will put any self-respecting pettifogging lawyer to shame. Pre-arranged questions are posed and pre-arranged answers are produced. When necessary, witnesses are brought forth to shore up the credibility of the government. They, too have been bought and paid for with taxpayer’s money.
It hardly matters whether the answers are responsive or not. For any answer is seemingly good enough, and the more incomprehensible the better: comprehension on the part of the public would presuppose intellectual equality.
Finally it is the public’s turn to opine. Those who have endured the inconvenience of place and time will get to speak and ask questions themselves. Since many are made acutely uncomfortable by public speaking and some contemplate it with outright dread more potential critics are screened out; others will be intimidated by the surroundings or by the supposed expertise of the government’s phalanx of experts and lawyers. Even so, some may very likely remain.
Unlike the elected representative, the citizen has only a limited time to address his government and his questions may or may not be answered, depending on the whim of the chair. Finally, when the public is done the hearing is closed and the board blithely returns to its business and takes its pro forma vote. The dues required by the democratic republic have been paid.
As promised, here is the second installment of J.H. Habermeyer’s engaging essay on the methods local government uses to dissuade public dissent and protect itself and its undertakings.
The Second Wall
Now that the vast majority of qualified electors has decided to voluntarily to disenfranchise itself, and now that the bureaucrats have thoroughly confounded others with incomprehensible nonsense in the form of official reports, studies and agenda materials, we will address ourselves to the most charming scam perpetrated by local government – the charade known as the public meeting.
The meeting itself shall be addressed in the next section. Now I propose to discuss the scheduling aspects of the meeting: the Planning Commission may meet at 1:30 in the afternoon; the County Commissioners may meet at 9:00 in the morning; the City Council may start meetings at 4:00 PM.
You can successfully wager that the bureaucrats will be there in force, for they are being remunerated for their presence, as are any of the expensive expert consultants they have engaged to provide a professional imprimatur for their agenda. Will the public be there?
Fortunately for those inside the citadel, many, if not most electors have mortgages and bills, and other such economic irritations that necessitate gainful employment. Few employers will countenance an employee’s absence to attend the myriad public hearings held at all levels of a local government during working hours – often the very same meetings in which the initial inertial momentum is created for whatever project the bureaucracy is pursuing. That the quotidian necessities of life preclude the attendance of many citizens at meetings is never off the minds of those who schedule public meetings.
An ostensibly helpful government body may elect to hold meetings at a more convenient hour, such as in the evening, but we may be confident that many other items will be crowded on the agenda like so many shipwreck survivors on a small raft. And can John Q. Public get there soon enough after work and a hurried meal? Can he stay late enough to hear the item of particular interest to him? His potential antagonists have all the time in the world; does he?
A little while ago a friend of mine passed along a copy of an unpublished essay penned by now deceased J. H. Habermeyer, a professor of Political Science and Economics at RPI for many years. The Seven Walls of Local Government is a short, engaging and literary essay on the ways that local government erects defenses around its doings and, ultimately, how bureaucracies and bureaucrats use different techniques to obscure, obfuscate, defend, and protect themselves in what they do. The literary trope is The Wall.
I will present Professor Habermeyer’s essay in seven appropriate installments. The first portion includes his pithy introduction. Here it is.
The Seven Walls of Local Government
There is an old adage in political science circles that the business of government is to keep its business secret. This is so universally true that the idea has indeed become axiomatic – even among those for whom such a notion is not one to cause disapprobation. And yet, in a democracy, the instruments of government are theoretically answerable to a sovereignty that inheres in the people. Therefore, in a democratic government the niceties of popular participation must be paid obeisance while the individual government activities themselves will remain obscured by the clouds of procedural complexity, alleged expertise and technical obfuscation; thus: to represent government affairs through a glass, darkly.
This peculiar dance is found only in democracies. Totalitarian regimes don’t concern themselves with such refinements and the inhabitants and rulers in those regimes hardly even bother to pay lip-service to any institutions that purport to promote “citizen” involvement in government. In the Communist world these facades seem to be erected principally to annoy Western observers.
Nowhere is the interesting paradox better illustrated than the way that local governments in the United States deal with the thorny problem of excluding substantive citizen scrutiny and involvement, while ostensibly promoting it.
The precincts of local government may be conceived as a citadel comprised of seven concentric walls protecting the inner sanctum sanctorum. As the inner rings tighten, so the width of the gate in each shrinks. Each wall defends the denizens of the citadel from outside scrutiny, criticism and retribution. Each wall serves to protect the citadel by winnowing out potential invaders who will find it increasingly onerous to pass through the portal in each of the seven perimeter fences.
It is, of course, a given, that at just about any particular time a majority of elected representatives in each government have abdicated their own representation of popular sovereignty to the greater good of defending the citadel from their own constituents. This situation is in no way peculiar; in fact, it is the rare case indeed where a significant minority, let alone a real majority of public representatives are willing to put their obligation to the public ahead of their fealty to the established bureaucratic order. This situation reflects fascinating psychological and practical political topics in its own right, but will these will not be addressed in this essay.
The First Wall
It’s an ironic and sad fact that the first and most effective barrier to public participation and oversight of government activity is largely erected by the public. This wall is the institutionalization of ignorance and apathy on the part of the public itself – a public that chooses to be unaware of what is going on and/or is either too lazy to participate, or is resigned to the fact that participation doesn’t matter. To the extent that the other six walls are effective such apathy is certainly understandable. To the extent that this is used as a pretext for laziness, it is reprehensible. Governments can be relied upon to use, and abuse this apathy.
It is now typical for local government jurisdictions to publicize and notify the public of their doings. We may rest assured that such ostensible transparency was never initiated by governments themselves, but rather was imposed by well-meaning reformers. Yet it is part of the cost of entertaining the democratic ideal. In any case, the annoyance is comparatively small and the payoff in validation is enormous.
In many cases legal requirements now require publication of municipal government actions in newspapers of local circulation. Certain actions must be advertised by posting signs within the vicinity of effected property. Local councils will post copies of their agendas on the premises and mimeographed copies of agenda materials may be acquired, usually at a cost, by interested citizens. These rules and practices, while followed by jurisdictions according to law or custom, can be generally counted on to follow bare minimum standards. Whether posted notices remain posted, whether anybody reads the tiny print in the newspaper, and whether anybody can make it over to the town council to read the agenda is a matter of indifference to local decision makers.
Once such materials are perused another problem immediately becomes apparent. This is the use of incomprehensible governmental jargon that can be counted upon by its practitioners to help intimidate or bamboozle the public. This rather picaresque fraud is one of the most effective arrows in the bureaucracy’s quiver. The deployment of pseudo-technical jargon, confusing acronyms, and a torrent of useless verbiage in government reports, publications, and notices can surely be relied upon to dissuade all but the most intrepid to attempt to fathom the sacred mysteries therein described.
While it is clearly not practical to individually notify every citizen of every impending action or policy decision, it is cynical indeed to pretend that the bare minimum notifications and descriptions as they are typically pursued constitutes informing the public. And this is where the consequences of an apathetic citizenry come into effect: the vast majority of a political division may have deliberately and effectively disenfranchised itself of what should be a sovereign authority. Is it adequate to merely acknowledge representative republican government and walk away from the responsibility of further participation? The answer is clearly: no.
At this juncture I note the rare occurrence of wide public participation in isolated and pointedly controversial issues. When some potentially obnoxious land use is proposed by the local authority, or some new and annoying public levy is in the offing, it is not uncommon for the folk of a community to rouse themselves into a state of political agitation. In these rare instances the bureaucracy that proposes such activity must brace itself for initial public discomfiture and will rely upon the remaining six walls to defend its proposed activity. In many such cases, the public outcry subsides quickly; rarely does it not. If the public outrage reaches a sufficient crescendo some electoral change – aside from the normally scheduled ballot – may be occasioned. In this instance the popular sovereignty is very much exercised, and to the self-satisfaction of the participants. Their subsequent and speedy return to political somnambulism goes to reinforce the idea that spasmodic public participation, while perfectly justified, represents a very ineffective weapon against the inertia of government process.
Yes, Friends, elections do have consequences. But you already knew that.
The results of the November election mean that the tepid and incompetent reign of Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz and City Attorney Dick Jones will continue as they preside over policies (or lack of policies) meant to evade accountability for your employees and electeds in City Hall.
Acting Chief Danny Hughes, the legacy boss of the FPD Culture of Corruption will soon see his title made permanent, even as the accusations by Ben Lira about Hughes’s direct involvement in cover-up and brutality, continue to swirl.
(No, you will not get a refund in any part for the illegal $27,000,000 tax that City Hall stole from you. But in the larger scheme of things, that’s small change)
I want to talk about justice.
In our State the cops can do damn near anything they want with impunity. Our spineless politicians have given them wealth, influence, and most importantly, virtually no accountability to anyone. The justice system itself, run by District Attorneys surrounded by ex-cops, has little interest in pursuing justice against their own allies, even when this means coddling the very perjuring cops that have scuttled many of the DA’s own cases. And when the cops themselves actually commit crimes, the law enforcement establishment immediately springs into action to defend the indefensible.
Think about what happened to Veth Mam. An innocent man was assaulted, arrested and falsely prosecuted. Fullerton cops knew the real truth and lied under oath to hide the fact that they beat up and arrested the wrong guy. Were there any repercussions? Of course not. Remember the Martinez kid who spent five months in jail thanks to the Fullerton cops? Well, Goodrich said everything was just fine – a slight error. Trevor Clarke says the FPD beat him, gave him a few sadistic “screen tests” just for fun, threw him in jail, and robbed him for good measure. Ben Lira says Danny Hughes was one of the instigators. Will anything happen? Not very likely, is it?
Let’s let the Albert Rincon case be our guide: we know that Albert Rincon serially molested women in the back seat of his patrol car. We know because of the depositions of just two of his victims (there are said to be a dozen). But the obscenity of what occurred, and importantly the roles played by Patdown Pat McKinley and Mike Sellers in covering up the whole mess, and worse, putting the creep back on the streets shall never be known. Why? because there was a settlement; a settlement approved by by-then Councilman McKinley himself.
The lawsuit settlement is the mechanism to hush everything up, from brutal and sadistic cops and an immoral FPD leadership, to a feckless city manager and city attorney who condoned the Culture of Corruption. If you wondered how the FPOA and the FPD/City Hall crowd could share a common goal, this is it.
And the path to settlement is the route no doubt most favored by Garo Mardirossian, the lawyer who is representing a whole slew of FPD/FPOA victims of brutality and perjury. For a lawyer a big payday without having to risk anything is a gift. And co-incidentally the same result will be a gift for Joe Felz, Pat Mckinley, Danny Hughes, Barry Coffman and the rest of the gang.
Your new council majority of Chaffee, Flory and Fitzgerald will make sure that Fullerton returns to the normalcy where no bad deed goes reported.
Of course it won’t be their money that goes to pay off Veth Mam and Kelly Thomas’s relatives. It will be yours.
Here’s an e-mail we got from a chap calling himself Michael Corleone. He hit the nail right on head. When the Godfather talks reform, the FPD should listen.
Name: Michael Corleone Privacy: You may publish this under my name
Subject: FPD Reform
I was wondering if you could forward this to The Desert Fox:
Thanks for responding to my post I left under Michael Corleone. I would like to write a post on the FPD leadership issue as well. I don’t think John Q. Public understands the finer points of this issue.
1. Officer Schoen dropped the gauntlet at the last City Council meeting, the message was, “You’ve had your dissent, now get out of our way.” Judging by his poor performance at the meeting, he was put up to it.
2. Anybody who thinks Hughes should be Chief, and even worse, that the Chief should come from the FPD rank and file, has a fundamental lack of understanding of the state of affairs in the City of Fullerton. A search needs to commence for a Chief as well as a professional Internal Affairs leader.
3. Non-resident FPD addressing the Council in their bar-b-q shirts? They need to be in uniform. Extremely unprofessional.
4. Why is Law Enforcement one of the few professions where leaders don’t generally get smoked for the actions of their subordinates? It’s crazy. Look at Lee Baca, Eric Holder, etc. There’s no incentive to lead, they don’t have to.
5. Remember the “Social Contract” we learned about in high school civics class? In order for a contract to be valid there needs to be “adequate consideration.” Simply put, both parties put up something of value in exchange for something of value. POBOR, the “circle the wagons” mentality of City Government and Public Safety Officials, along with public indifference, have turned the “Social Contract” into a worthless platitude.
Next Week: Deconstructing/reconstructing the FPD.
Good job MC. Michael, please write up your post. We look forward to publishing it!
Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Like the case in Philly where a local businessman may be sued by the Redevelopment Agency for cleaning up trash and beautifying a piece of blighted Agency-owned property that they willfully refused to clean up. So ths guy spends 20 big ones of his own dough since the City blatantly ignored its own mess, and is now looking at a potential lawsuit – a lawsuit some asshole city bureaucrat says is based on “principle.” Principle. Now that’s a scream.
What’s really funny is that if the city had done the work it would have cost twenty times as much and taken ten times longer.
Of course apologists of Fullerton’s former Redevelopment Agency (you know who they are) would be quick to point out is that this sort incompetence and arrogance never happened in Fullerton; Fullerton Redevelopment folks were just so darned…well… you know.
But consider this: Fullerton has had a long and inglorious Redevelopment history that includes building, then demolishing concrete trestles along Harbor, giving away a public sidewalk to a politically connected apaign contributor, subsidizing dozens of boondoggles, supporting architectural design Nazi-ism, stealing an old lady’s property to give to a car dealer, and nasty little sales tax kick backs from Redevelopment funds – all done to promote more tax revenue to pay for pensions, League of City junkets, and all those inevitable step pay increases for the gang.
A final thought: even though Redevelopment is supposedly dead in California you can bet the farm (if they don’t steal it for High Speed Rail) that the lobbyists are busy at work in Sacramento trying to revive it, and that local mall fry politicians and local political wannabes are real eager for it to come back.
Okay this post is not about Jan Flory discussing anything remotely “sexy” because the thought of that…well, never mind.
The post is about her latest Facebook scribblings in which she opines on a subject near and dear to the hearts of Fullerton reformers: the illegal 10% tax on your water that the City collected for the past 15 years. $27,000,000 worth.
First I’ll start by stating what you could have already guessed. Jan Flory does not want you to get a refund of the theft. In her world-order the taxpayers are meant to be milked, not refunded.
Her assertion that the collection was “illegal” the past three year is a bad lawyer’s half-truth that amounts to a bald-faced lie, of course. It has been illegal for 15 years, six of them on her watch as a council person. The City has a legal opinion that it is only obligated to refund three-year’s worth of the theft. Not the same thing, is it? Of course Mrs. Flory is desperate to disassociate her name with the tax. Too late. She is on record in the 90s as having known it was wrong and doing it anyway.
Mrs. Flory and her ilk love footling committees, especially when they are selected by ozone brains like Jone, Quirk, McKinley and Bankhead. Even better are the “consultants” selected by staff who give them their marching orders. The “report” cooked up by the water rate consultant was so evidently bogus that it hardly needs to be restated. But I will: their goal was to gin up as much phony cost as possible to keep the bureaucrats greedy little fingers on that 10%. Flory may think this gives her cover, and under the old Culture of Corruption it would have. Not any more.
The 10% was expressly collected to cover specific City staff costs associated with the water utility. However, it turns out that those departments were alreadycharging directly to the Water Fund. Which is why I am happy to refer to the tax as an illegal theft.
And another point: it’s real easy to say that the illegal tax should be refunded to the Water Fund for capital improvements. That’s convenient, but immoral. The tax that was collected had nothing to do with infrastructure. Nothing. True infrastructure costs should be rolled into an effective rate for water transmission, a correction of years of mismanagement by Mrs. Flory and her cohorts that still needs to be done. Confusing these two issues is simply a convenient way for the perpetrators to hide their crime and their dereliction.
Now, let’s address the issue of the reserve funds, a subject that Mrs. Flory wants people to believe she knows something about. There is no need to empty these accounts to pay refunds. No, indeed. I find it remarkably disingenuous for anybody to assert this, especially given just two of City manger Joe Felz’s most recent “cost saving” measures.
First there was the egregious relocation of former Redevelopment personnel into General Fund departments for which they had no apparent expertise. Most recently the City contracted out your graffiti removal services for $120,000. Yay! Big savings, right? Wrong. The city employees were simply reassigned to other jobs in the Engineering Department that were vacant. Net cost savings? -$120,000.
The City just missed an opportunity to shave a million bucks off its payroll costs. Of course, my point is that the General Fund is far from depleted.
Finally, in closing, I would submit that Mrs. Flory knows more about witching hours than any of us. However, if she doesn’t like staying up that late every other Tuesday night, then she has no business on a city council. And it’s really too bad that the Council is scheduling special meetings to attend to the people’s business.
Mrs. Flory’s little rubber stamp has been put away and locked up.