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This week, the Orange County Register (OCR, 2014) endorsed the re-election of Tom Tait as Anaheim’s mayor, calling him the “best [candidate] to lead the city.” Examining the rationale presented in its endorsement, however, I found little to justify the paper’s support.

The OCR cited Tait’s quelling anger and potential violence following riots during 2012 and supporting citizens’ oversight of the city’s police department.

t8The paper applauded Tait’s “dissenting voice,” a council member who consistently votes no “on numerous issues.” It cited Tait as the only council member to oppose a tax incentive to build a hotel near Disneyland and the city’s convention center.

Voting to approve a tax incentive to developers is not unusual, so voting no is not necessarily a virtue. The Los Angeles City Council awarded $500,000,000 in tax incentives for downtown economic development for 2015-2016 (Los Angeles Times, 2014).

Whether to offer a tax incentive depends on several factors; for example, (a) the need for a hotel that satisfies current convention needs and its potential to attract larger future conventions, (b) the return on investment that taxpayers would receive by building a hotel, and, most important, (c) whether not offering an incentive means not building a hotel and losing tax revenues. Tait’s vote seems like a no vote without consideration of positive aspects of providing a tax incentive.

Yes, Tait talks about transparency (endlessly), but the OCR did not cite any evidence of increased governmental transparency in Anaheim since he has been mayor. Transparency was confused with Tait’s rigidity and public comments that torpedoed the city’s negotiations with the Angels. And there is a difference between publicly discussing unfunded pension liabilities and solving this problem.

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The loss of individual privacy worldwide is a residue of technology. Almost nothing can be kept secret anymore—even information never intended for others to see or read. Because we leave digital footprints each time we use a computer or talk on a cell phone, our writings and speech are monitored, collected, and analyzed by the ubiquitous National Security Agency. Moreover, the data and information collected can be stored forever.

COP

Many Anaheim residents and visitors will soon contribute involuntarily to the city’s data archives: video recordings, collected by cameras worn by Anaheim police officers, their purchase and use recently approved by the Anaheim City Council. In previous postings, I questioned the need for cops with Kodaks and the validity of the Council’s rationale for its vote. The cameras purchased are expensive ($1,150,000), and no substantive evidence has yet been presented to support the effectiveness of this technology for the Council’s stated purposes: “Little is known about citizen attitudes toward body-worn cameras, most notably whether the technology increases trust, legitimacy, and transparency of the police” (White, 2014, p. 35). The cost and misunderstandings about the effectiveness of video recordings notwithstanding, privacy is the public’s biggest concern about their use.

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During the meeting of the Anaheim City Council last week, Mayor Tait commented on its approval to spend $1,100,000 for cameras to videotape police activities, a technology whose effectiveness has not yet been firmly established. Tait referred to “developing transparency, accountability, and trust throughout the community.” I was reminded of words spoken by another governmental official.

“[I am] committed COPto creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government . . . to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” To date, these predictions by President Obama as he began his first term remain spurious.

Reaction to the unanimous vote of council members was immediate: “Fabulous. We’re going to be even more effective. . . Anaheim at its best, at the forefront of new technology . . . One more step in alleviating uncertainty, and developing transparency, accountability, and trust throughout the community.” The hope for more transparency and the commitment to it, however, will soon disappoint. Cops with Kodaks cannot nullify California state laws and court decisions limiting—and sometimes prohibiting—public disclosure of a wide scope of information.

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dark-money-graphicTake a gander at the campaign finance report filed by the campaign to carve Anaheim into single-member council districts. Two things jump out beside the $101,100 in contributions: 93% of that total is the “dark money” hated by the progressives running this campaign  and not a penny of it comes from Anaheim – most is from Northern California.

The biggest single contributor to the Committee for District Elections is OCCORD  – to the tune of $49,000.  OCCORD is a left-wing non-profit political advocacy group headquartered in a Garden Grove office building owned by the militant union UNITE-HERE.  [OCCORD’s professed mission is to reverse the polarity of Orange County politics and shift it as far to the Left as possible.]

That’s a neat trick. OCCORD Executive Director Eric Altman announces his resignation to go run the Committee for District Elections. $49,000 is diverted from OCCORD on June 26 to the committee Altman is heading up (it’s unclear exactly when Altman left OCCORD, but his replacement as executive director wasn’t announced until mid-July.

Since OCCORD is a 501(c)4, it only has to file annual financials with the IRS and refuses to disclose its donors. In other words, by the time any figures out where that $49,000 came from, the November election will be long over. Is it from traditional OCCORD donors like the California Endowment and the James Irvine Foundation? Wells Fargo? If so, did they understand their money would be going to fund a ballot initiative? We know at least some of that money comes from UNITE-HERE, which cuts OCCORD a $5,000 check every month.

Mind you, OCCORD founder and leader Eric Altman (now the director of the Committee for District Elections — is an advocate of transparency… at least for others. I encourage the Voice of OC and the OC Register to ask OCCORD where the $49,000 came from, and see if they get an answer. I once tried, and was rebuffed.

The second biggest donor is PowerPac.org Voter Fund, a San Francisco-based political action committee that on May 30 donated $45,000 for a campaign to re-structure how Anaheim is governed.  Hmmm…why would a PAC from liberal San Francisco care how Anaheim elects its city council?

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Public record act requests are a necessary and valuable means for citizens to obtain information from their government that isn’t ordinarily available.

They are also a valuable tool for reporters, bloggers and opposition researchers to go on fishing expeditions for information they hope will be damaging to whomever it is they hope to damage.

Anaheim City Hall receives large number of PRAs from a very small number of individuals. Out of curiosity, I recently submitted a PRA for PRAs submitted since June 1, 2013 by a select group of frequent submitters such as Jason Young, Cynthia Ward, Adam Elmahrek/Voice of OC and OCCORD. According to the reply from the very responsive staff of the Anaheim City Clerk’s office, there were:

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Anaheim Insider here.

Did you see the Orange County Register article about how the Orange County Employees Association shuffled political funding through various PACs in order to disguise who was paying the campaign mailers? Among other things, OCEA gave a PAC called California Citizens for Fair Government $75,000 in start-up donations, and provided 81% of the PACs funding during its three-year lifespan:

[OCEA General Counsel Don Drozd] said he checked with the treasurer of the OCEA PAC that funded CCFG and confirmed that OCEA had nothing to do with creating CCFG or deciding how CCFG should spend its money.

That’s pretty hard spin to swallow: “Here’s $75,000 of our members’ dues money. We don’t care what you do with it.”

One of the commenters on the OC Register story reacted this way:

Drozd and Bernadino have a firm grip on every decision OCEA makes. For him to say he didn’t recall the specifics, then specifically deny any strings were attached, is not credible. The proverbial hand in the cookie jar.

The story reminded me of one Adam Elmahrek wrote near the end of the Anaheim city council elections last year called “Disney’s Latest Adventure: Local Campaign Attack Ads.” In it, Elmahrek pointed to Disney’s participation in political committees that paid for campaign mailers advocating for and against Anaheim council candidates and unfavorably compared it to the OCEA’s above-board approach:

Labor unions have also spent big, nearly matching the business establishment dollar-for-dollar in their support of former labor leader John Leos. The difference is following the labor money is relatively easy, while keeping track of Disney’s spending is a bit like riding a roller coaster in the dark [emphasis mine].

Martin Wisckol and Morgan Cook of the OC Register sure made a hash of that claim.

It’s not like Voice of OC can’t analyze campaign reports. Elmahrek spent a lot of time doing that for the above article and for another one called “Disney’s Hidden Hand  In The Anaheim City Council Race.” It seems it’s the hidden hand of its major funder, the OCEA, that escapes the Voice’s notice. [Although the Voice did take advantage of the opportunity to say “See! We’ll criticize the OCEA!” by printing a summary of the OC Register’s article.]

$900,000? Sure it's a lot of money, but there's more where that came from.

$900,000? Sure it’s a lot of money, but there’s more where that came from.

The year-end Form 460s — those are campaign finance disclosure forms — were due yesterday, but a number of them were filed over the course of January.

I opened up the Form 460 for the OCEA-sponsored “Committee to Support John Leos for Anaheim City Council 2012,” and did a double take when I saw the final total spending on behalf of Leos:

$531,055.17

One would have to do the research, but I’d wager that is an Anaheim record for IE spending on a single candidate by a single entity (with a sub-category of spending it and losing).

$365,622.65 of that was spent in the final 17 days of the campaign, with a large chunks uncorked in the last days to fund phone banks and paid walkers.

Ouch.

$390,000 of that $531,055 came from the pockets of OCEA members, the rest from other labor unions (some of which also receive campaign fund transfers from OCEA, so the latter’s total may be higher).

Now, if you had this to the $200,000 spent by OCEA in its unsuccessful attempt to elect Leos to council in 2010, and the estimated$100,000 it spent in 2011 on a series of city-wide mailers promoting Leos and his “transparency ordinance,” then OCEA has spent $700,000 over the course less than three years to put John Leos on the Anaheim City Council.

Now, add the $32,360.79 spent by the OCEA Independent Expenditure Committee to fund attacks on Jordan Brandman.

Let’s further broaden the scope to include the $64,000 that OCEA put into signature gathering for the anti-GardenWalk Take Back Anaheim initiative, which failed to qualify for the ballot. And then add in the money OCEA spent on mailers hitting Councilmembers Harry Sidhu, Kris Murray and Gail Eastman over the GardenWalk vote — which was likely another $100,000 (and I’m estimating conservatively).

We’re talking at least $900,000 the OCEA has spent on Anaheim politics in less that three years. That’s almost a million dollars, and with very little to show for it: two Leos losses, a failed initiative campaign, and an alienated new councilmember.

Hhmm. What wild goose chase shall I send city staff on today?

Hhmm. What wild goose chase shall I send city staff on today?

Since the beginning of August of this year, local gadfly Jason Young has been plastering the Anaheim City Clerk’s office with public record act requests. As of December 13, 2012, Young had submitted 22 requests between August 1 and November 30.

Of course, it is the public’s right to request public documents, and I’m not suggesting Mr. Young is doing anything wrong. But his public record requests do provide something of a window into his mind.

Jason Young’s blizzard of requests are generally wide-ranging fishing expeditions involving the half-dozen hobgoblins who populate his cramped, distorted political universe. Many are just redundant. He even submitted one about me. You really get a feel for Mr. Young’s uber-conspiratorial view of Anaheim politics and government.

Here is one of my favorites, submitted by Mr. Young on September 19, 2012 (I removed a couple of names of people who aren’t public figures):

“I’d like copies of any correspondence between Jordan Brandman and Curt Pringle, Larry Lake, Bill O’Connell, Anna Piercy, _______, Lucy Dunn, Reed Royalty, _____ and anyone associated with the unions that support the GardenWalk Hotel development.”

“..anyone associated with the unions…”? Would you like some fries with that indiscriminate dragnet, Mr. Young? Does he think incoming correspondence is checked against a matrix of known union associates and tagged “union supporter”?

Judging from the neurotic content of Mr. Young’s blog, about the only thing he has accomplished with this blizzard of PRA request is to waste the city’s time and money chasing ghosts for him. Perhaps Mr. Young can submit a PRA request for total staff time (and the equivalent cost) consumed by his PRA requests — that would actually be something worth finding out.

Anaheim council candidate John Leos touts his “transparency ordinance” as a cure for much of what he thinks ails Anaheim city government. Now, it’s not a transparency ordinance so much as an anti-outsourcing ordinance, and it’s really an OCEA-spawned policy that was attached to Leos last year, when the government union spent in the neighborhood of $100,000 promoting it and Leos in a series of mailers to Anaheim residents.

But that’s a topic for a future post. What would have a more beneficial impact on Anaheim city government than the Leos/OCEA transparency Trojan horse is consequential transparency in the form of a COIN ordinance.

COIN stands for “Civic Openness In Negotiation.” The Costa Mesa City Council adopted it last month to govern how the city negotiates with its employee unions – in order to get a better deal for taxpayers and bring those negotiations into the sunlight where residents can see, assess and weigh in before the City Council approves the final contract. [Here’s the staff report on the Costa Mesa COIN ordinance, and the ordinance itself.]

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