Are Public Parks Funding Politicians?

By: 
Stephen Downing

On Jan. 14 the Beachcomber published an online article entitled “Schipske Sets Ethical Standard for Mayoral Race.”

One element of the article addressed the failure of city management to audit public funds gathered by the Long Beach Police Officer’s Association (LBPOA) under a contract that gave the police union total control and public rental authority over a major section of parkland 45 years ago.

This newspaper reported upon our failed efforts to acquire public records from either the city manager or the city auditor in order to satisfy yet-to-be-substantiated allegations that portions of the $1,131,025 in political donations made by the LBPOA between March 2015 and March 2020 came from public money the LBPOA acquired through POA Park rentals.

At the conclusion of the article it was stated that, “the Beachcomber is in the process of finding the legal mechanism that will allow that question to be answered.”

The article can be read here: https://beachcomber.news/content/schipske-sets-ethical-standard-mayoral-race

Search for the Legal Mechanism

The search for that “legal mechanism” began with a letter of request for advice to the award-winning non-profit, First Amendment Coalition (FAC), whose mission is to “protect and promote freedom of expression and the people’s right to know.”

This newspaper received an immediate reply from Monica Price, an attorney and legal fellow with the organization who offered two recommendations to start.

The attorney’s first recommendation was to “contact the city and explain a little more about what you are looking for and ask them to provide assistance under Government Code 6253.1,” a provision of the law that imposes an affirmative duty to help locate requested documents.

City Auditor Stonewall

That recommendation was acted upon by sending multiple emails to City Auditor Laura Doud’s office as well as participating in a conference call in which application of the government code section was suggested as a means of acquiring the subject financial documents from the LBPOA under the city auditor’s authority specified in the 45-year-old contract.

That effort was totally stonewalled by Doud’s office. The email exchanges and report on the conference call can be read here: https://beachcomber.news/content/lbpoa-agreement

The Second FAC Recommendation

Following the stonewall from Doud’s office, the Beachcomber followed the First Amendment Coalition attorney’s second recommendation, which read as follows:

“I think that is something you can bring up to the Long Beach City Council, because they should be following the contract if it's still in place. This type of thing shouldn't slip through the cracks.”

Taking this advice the Beachcomber wrote individual emails of request to Councilmembers Price and Richardson, as mayoral candidates, Councilmember Suely Saro, as chair of the Public Safety Committee, as well as a request for cooperation to Sergeant Rick Chambers, president of the LBPOA.

The email written to Councilmember Suely Saro best conveys the overall content written to each councilperson and the LBPOA president:

“Dear Councilperson Saro,

“The Beachcomber has learned through the PRA process with both the city manager and city auditor’s offices that the Picnic Site Management Agreement executed with the LBPOA on the 6th the day of April 1976 as related to the LBPOA’s contractual responsibility to - “maintain an account, segregated from the general funds of the Association that lists all fees collected by the association in connection with management of the picnic site, identifying the source of all funds and the identity of all the association groups or individuals using the picnic site, and listing all expenditures relating to the management, maintenance and improvement of the picnic site, together with the identity of all persons to whom such payments are made” - has apparently been lost in the fog of time as both offices report that the subject records which should have been obtained through an annual audit process authorized in the contract do not exist anywhere in city files – most likely because an audit has never been conducted.

“The Beachcomber has since asked the city auditor’s office to assist us in satisfying the PRA request(s) by recognizing their duty under Government Code Section 6253.1 which imposes an affirmative duty "to assist the member of the public to identify records and information that are responsive to the request or to the purpose of the request if stated."

“The result of three email exchanges with Laura Doud’s office and a telephone conference with city auditor representative Alvin Chu has resulted in nothing more than a stonewall and referral to file a report with the Auditor Hot Line.

“The Beachcomber is requesting the records because the contract with the city has not been enforced once in the 45 years of its existence.

“These circumstances have been described to Monica Price, an attorney with the First Amendment Coalition. Her advice was that: “This is something you should bring to the Long Beach City Council, because they (city management and city auditor) should be following the contract. This type of thing shouldn’t slip through the cracks.”

“We are therefore following the attorney’s advice by writing this email to you, as well as Rex Richardson and Suzie Price.

“In addition to concerns related to the failure to audit in 45 years, the recent shut down of park rental to the public by “a change in POA policy” has resulted in yet-to-be substantiated allegations made to this newspaper that POA PARK funds have been improperly used in the past to make political contributions.

“All of this combines to obligate the Beachcomber to acquire the public documents so that we can credibly inform the Long Beach community during this election period as to whether public funds from POA Park proceeds have or have not been used for illegal purposes –such as political donations.

“As you may know, according to data obtained from the Long Beach City Clerk's Office, LBPOA’s contributions to political candidates and campaigns between March 2015 and March 2020 totaled $1,131,025.

“We assume that you and the full City Council will want to cooperate in this request for public documents in order to assure the community that none of the $1.131,025 came from public funds.

“In light of the ‘no responsive records exist’ responses from the city we believe that the next best step in obtaining the records is for the city council to direct the city manager to obtain the financial records and conduct an audit as provided in the 45-year-old contract.

“Once the records are obtained and are in city custody, the Beachcomber will file a third PRA and we will be in a position to inform the public – one way or another – if the funds are being used legally and according to the requirements of the contract.

“Therefore, since both Suzie Price and Rex Richardson are running for the office of mayor we made a request to each of them to either join with one another to bring this matter to the City Council or if they cannot agree to do so, that Suzie Price take action as a member of the Public Safety Committee to recommend such action to the full council.

“It is our request to you if Suzie Price does not do either that you – as chair of the Public Safety Committee – introduce the matter to the committee and make a recommendation to the council to direct the city manager to acquire the financial records and conduct the audit.

“The Beachcomber requests that you reply to our request by end of business on Friday, Jan. 25 as to your willingness to take this action and if willing to do so, the method selected and the time frame that you anticipate in getting this matter before the full council should either of the council members fail to act on this matter. “

City Council Response

Saro, chair of the Public Safety Committee, did not respond.

Suzie Price’s chief of staff wrote back 2½ hours before our deadline, stating: “ I am including the city auditor in this email to see if there is any additional information that she may be able to provide on this topic” – to which Doud’s press representative replied in the same email chain, “We have received the information and are in the process of reviewing.”

Rex Richardson did not respond.

POA Attorney Responds

LBPOA attorney James E. Trott responded to the Beachcomber’s request in which he stated the following:

“I am responding, on behalf of the Long Beach Police Officers Association (“POA”), to your email regarding a request to provide certain documents pertaining to the POA’s use and maintenance of the parcel of property commonly known as the POA Park.”

“Pursuant to the agreement with the City of Long Beach all financial terms required in all sections of that contract have been complied with. I will represent to you that the POA Park fund is separate from all other POA accounts. Such is done specifically to avoid issues like you seem to imply.

“Accusations that the POA is using POA Park funds to finance campaigns are categorically false and without any basis whatsoever. The POA’s actions are above board and legal, and insinuations to the contrary are wrong and simply not true. Your baseless accusations attribute actions of the POA to violations of state, and perhaps federal laws. The actions you allege have never taken place and I demand that you cease making any such claims immediately.

“Accordingly, I must inform you that the documents you seek will not be provided."

$$ Share Received

The share of the $1,131,025 distributed by the LBPOA to candidates and their campaigns between March 2015 and March 2020 involving the city officials referenced in this article is as follows:

  • Suely Saro:               $0.00
  • Suzie Price:               $4,900 in eight separate donations
  • Rex Richardson:       $3,400 in five separate donations
  • Daryl Supernaw:       $1,500 in two separate donations
  • Al Austin:                   $38,889 in 18 separate donations
  • Laura Doud:              $25,000 in one single donation (Measure A)
  • Roberto Uranga        $9.719 in 11 separate donations

The Schipske Challenge

On Jan. 17 Mayoral Candidate Gerrie Schipske issued a challenge via press release to all of her opponents in the race for Long Beach Mayor to sign a clean money campaign pledge.

The pledge can be downloaded here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1j5mwUBGuuJatHtdvwCwZM76ovNOwm0eT/view

The Beachcomber sent a copy of Schipske’s Pledge to each of the mayoral candidates, with the exception of Allan Gafford as his contact information could not be located.

The request for comment to the candidates stated:

“In a press release today, Gerrie Schipske announced a “Clean Money Campaign Pledge – copied below.

“In the release she “Challenges opponents to sign the "Clean Money Campaign Pledge" asserting that, “The corrupting influence of special interest money in Long Beach politics and the time spent by elected officials in pursuit of it, are at the heart of why Long Beach is not working for all of us.”

“In her statement Schipske says that she pledges to be the “Best Mayor Money Cannot Buy.”

The Beachcomber would appreciate a yes or no answer as to whether you will sign the pledge and any other comment you would like to make on the subject.”

The responses from the mayoral candidates to the Beachcomber follow:

J. Raul Cedillo

“I have made a statement of not taking contributions from lobbyists, corporations, or the police union; both on my website and my social media sites (Facebook and Instagram).

“Would I sign Gerrie Schipske's pledge? Yes, but with a caveat; My pledge would include legislation (at least at the city level) that anyone running for office in the city must not accept corporate money or face disqualification from running.

“My government will be a true reflection of the government our forefathers sought to establish. A government of people for the people by the people, with transparency and accountability to the voters, not corporations.”

Deborah Mozer

"I have never planned to take POA money and will sign any pledge that is presented to me stating that fact. To date, nobody besides the Beachcomber has approached me to ask about the pledge or mentioned its existence. Could you please send me the formal pledge so I can sign and post on my website?" [Editor’s Note: A pledge link was sent.]

Franklin Sims

“I lived the spirit of Gerrie’s pledge before it was drafted.

“I won’t sign it because the special interests in and outside of Long Beach don’t even bother calling me in for an interview because I wouldn’t bother showing up.

“They know I can’t be bought because I’m too busy meeting with local neighbors who actually live here.”

Joshua Rodriguez

“Yes. Let those with the best ideas win, not with the most money.”

Suzie Price

Did not respond

Rex Richardson

Did not respond

 

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police.

stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

 

Editors Note: As of October 2020 current members of the Public Safety Committee are Suely Saro, chair, Suzie Price, vice chair and Roberto Uranga, member. 

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Comments

Just like all corrupt organizations, the city LBC and LBPOA say that they are not violating any laws, but will not provided any information to prove that they are not, SMH. All the candidates that take money from the LBPOA don't want to respond to the beachcomber. The candidates that are not taking money responded, that says it all. My vote will go to the candidate that responded, i don't want any more corrupt candidates, the LBC has had them in power for far to-long. let's vote out all those that want to hide behind and accept dirt money.

Wow- another bullseye from The Beachcomber! Garcia must be relieved that you are gunning for the next batch of corrupt politicians. Every bad story has “a lie with a tie” attorney who thinks he will sanitize the garbage. Indignant and outraged, but still in coverup mode.

Long Beach is just another City on the 710 Corridor. Exactly like Bell, Compton, etc.
Run by corrupt politicians and cops.

LBPOA's attorney should be as vigorous about providing the accounting the contract called for as he is in defending his client. If in fact it was all done as required and honestly, what shame would there be to embarrass the Beachcomber with the evidence? For all the bluster, he ends his response by refusing to prove what he claims. We can trust but validation is necessary.

Mr. Beck, I agree with you completely, releasing the documents showing proof that the LBPOA is not as corrupt as we all think they are, would be a great way to quit the beachcombers allegations. But instead the LBPOA attorney responds in an arrogant and threatening manner just like a thug mobster would. his response reminds me of Trumps attorney Michael Cohens before he went to jail. What response did we expect when dealing with corrupt and unethical organizations. Where is the DA on this?

What a sad situation the reality is they are taking the fifth. No surprises here.

From Wikipedia:
When the legislature enacted the CPRA (1968-and signed into law by governor Ronald Reagan), it expressly declared that "access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state."[2] Indeed, in California "access to government records has been deemed a fundamental interest of citizenship"[3] and has emphasized that "maximum disclosure of the conduct of governmental operations [is] to be promoted by the act."[4] By promoting prompt public access to government records, the CPRA is "intended to safeguard the accountability of government to the public."[5] As the California Supreme Court recognized in CBS v. Block:

Implicit in a democratic process is the notion that government should be accountable for its actions. In order to verify accountability, individuals must have access to government files. Such access permits checks against the arbitrary exercise of official power and secrecy in the political process.[6]

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