City Hall Charter Perversion Met with Public Outrage

By: 
Stephen Downing

“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution” – Abraham Lincoln

We the people of Long Beach have a Constitution. It is our City Charter. When the mayor introduced three entirely new charter sections plus modifications to two existing sections in one fell swoop and then jammed four of the five measures through with a unanimous lock-step council vote following just three public meetings – maliciously engineered to restrict and suppress public input – it became clear that a perverted attack had been waged upon our charter.

The result was public outrage and deep suspicion – with good reason.

In our last column we reported how that outrage became the spontaneous catalyst for eight neighborhood organizations to come together and form the Long Beach Reform Coalition (LBRC). They held their first community town hall on Sept. 6.

City Hall Hires Legal Guns

The well-attended event began with a press conference featuring Juan Ovalle – the brother of Carlos Ovalle – a subject in our last column who – along with Juan – refused Mayor Garcia’s offer of city commission appointments that both brothers perceived as a quid pro quo offer to shut down their public opposition to Garcia’s drive to extend term limits (Measure BBB) from 8 to 12 years.

During the press conference (and in private interviews) Juan reported his experiences following the council vote to place four of the five measures on the Nov. 6 ballot – when Mayor Garcia selected him to be a lead writer for the ballot opposition arguments.

Juan said the experience became, “frightening and financially intimidating.”

It began with a phone call received while vacationing with his family in Alaska after submitting his volunteer citizen team’s opposing arguments to the city clerk. A lawyer from the law firm of Best, Best & Krieger (BBK) was on the line.

At first Juan thought the attorney was investigating what he and his team thought of as misleading or inaccurate short titles in some of the proposed Measures such as Measure BBB (City of Long Beach Three-Term Limit) similar to the issues faced during the Measures A and M campaigns. But he was quickly put straight when Deputy City Attorney Amy Weber broke into the call and told him the text he wrote for the ballot arguments exposed him to legal liability.

Frightened, and dealing with poor phone reception, Ovalle chose not to attempt any explanation and asked the lawyers to send him an email outlining their problems so he could respond properly. He asked Weber for her email address. She replied, “Contact the city clerk” and hung up.

Juan said he phoned his brother, Carlos, explained what had occurred and Carlos immediately sent an email to Weber that same day asking her to “specifically outline what the issues are so that I can discuss these with our team, and what we can do to remedy the situation? Time is of the essence.”

Weber did not respond. Instead a week later the citizen opposition writers received notification from the BBK Law firm that a preemptory writ of mandate naming each of them as “parties of interest” would be filed on August 28, giving them only a few hours to prepare.

Unable to afford an attorney, Juan and his team appeared in court and asked the judge to allow them to work with the BBK lawyer to find reasonable compromises. The judge approved.

Following days of back and forth negotiations between the novice citizen volunteers and the formidable law firm, the city finally agreed. The court approved the compromise arguments.

Juan said he believes that had his team been able to afford an equally skilled lawyer to negotiate with the mayor’s high-end law firm they would have been able to negotiate stronger opposition arguments for the electorate to consider when their ballots arrive.

Following the press conference two individuals – who we respect for their integrity, legal expertise and knowledge of election law – assured us that the action the city took against Juan and his team was necessary and legal.

We don’t disagree that it was “legal.” But, we still ask, if the city believed it needed a prestigious law firm to represent the mayor’s interests – and pay the bill – then why can’t the city – in a good faith recognition of citizens volunteering to perform a civic duty – provide them with the same kind of representation?

We note that the council just approved $250,000 in the 2019 budget to fund legal services for undocumented immigrants.

In a later conversation Juan told us what he learned from the experience. He said, “No one should ever feel intimidated by the city politicians. We need to always stand for what we believe and not cower or bow in the face of extreme force and intimidation.”

The Proposed Charter Measures

The LBRC’s primary focus is to defeat Measure BBB, the term limits increase. Its leadership reports that Mayor Garcia argues the “city attorney discovered a loop hole (write in provision) that allows people to run forever. “ LBRC leadership finds his argument deceitful, laughable and self-serving, saying, “If the loophole problem is write ins there is no need to give him four more years. Just close the loophole.”

We agree. We also agree that the other Charter Measures, CCC, DDD and AAA are nothing more than propagandized sparkle designed to carry the water for the mayor’s Measure BBB to extend term limits. When you look at the fine print none of the “sparkle” measures really deliver what the support propaganda promotes.

Measure CCC establishes an Ethics Commission to be set up in a manner that equals the neutered sham we call the Citizen Police Complaint Commission – a City Hall PR farce used to bury police misconduct like the Pearce cover up and the hundreds of citizen complaints disposed of as “No Further Action” (NFA) by staff working directly for the city manager. The work of the Ethics Commission will suffer the same end – the commissioners will have no authority and will not control transparency.

Measure DDD puts in place a Redistricting Commission that could serve as an important barrier to political gerrymandering except appointment provisions insure that commissioners will be selected in a manner that passes the DNA of the majority political egg laid in the nest of the Ethics Commission by the mayor and city auditor – all to be hatched when the Redistricting Commission is appointed.

It also creates a conflict of interest for the city auditor who has a charter duty to audit all commissions.

Measure AAA dilutes rather than strengthens (as advertised) the independent powers of the city auditor.

What the auditor’s office appears to need more than a regressive tweak to its charter authority is a larger staff.

A good example for that comes from a resident of Council District 3 who – by applying his in-depth institutional research experience – took a deep dive into the city’s infrastructure spending right after the mayor’s Measure A retail tax passed.

On Sept. 12, 2017 the District 3 resident filed a fraud hot line request with the auditor’s office and submitted strong evidence that Public Works is spending four times what they should be spending on street paving and resurfacing.

Since making his Sept. 12, 2017 filing the District 3 resident emailed Pam Watts, executive assistant to the city auditor, multiple times over a 10-month period – as follows:

Oct. 4, 2017:

Mr. CD3: “My report is not listed on the fraud hotline.”

Watts reply: “The investigation is underway.”

April 23, 2018

Mr. CD3: “... inquiring as to the status of the fraud investigation.”

Watts reply: “The investigation is expected to be completed this summer.”

June 1, 2018

Mr. CD3: “Any word? It would be nice to know prior to the election. “

Watts reply: “The audit report is still on track for completion this summer. “

Sept. 4, 2018

Mr. CD3: “Any word on the audit? Summer is almost over. It would have been nice to have the audit report prior to city budget approvals. “

Watts reply: “The audit has been delayed a couple of months ... the target date now is November for this one.”

Our question: Anybody want to bet a steak dinner the audit report won’t arrive until after the November 6, election?

Utility Merger Charter Withdrawn

A glowing city press release announced that the Water Commission recommended a charter addition to merge the Water and Gas Departments – a decision based upon purported studies that revealed the merger would make “greater resources available for emergency response purposes, more efficient and cost-effective operations and increased coordination of construction activities in city streets to reduce impacts to residents.”

But by the time the third – and last – public meeting was held to consider the charter measures, the mayor announced that the Water Commissioner’s decided they “needed more time” and asked that the utilities merger measure be withdrawn.

At the time, the sudden withdrawal caused us to conclude that the time, expertise, diligence and independent study required to modify our charter was discovered to be flawed, causing the withdrawal.

But now we are thinking that something may have spooked the Water Commissioners – and the mayor – into quickly pulling the measure. That “something” was a pubic records request (PRA).

During the LBRC Town Hall meeting former 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske reported that the withdrawal came after her group filed a PRA asking for all records related to documentation and analysis that supported the merger.

After the mayor pulled the Charter proposal Schipske said, “I was asked by the staff person handling the records request if I was withdrawing since the item was removed from the agenda. I said no because I want to share with the public what was behind the proposed merger.”

Toxic Complicity or Inept Management?

In an earlier interview with Paige Pelonix of the Signal Tribune Schipske was quoted saying that she believes “this is the next step in the city trying to loosen up any kind of oversight on the transfer of money from the utilities into the general fund.”

Following the town hall meeting a number of the activist attendees shared informed speculation that the merger was nothing more than a back room quid pro quo deal to contract out or privatize city-run utilities.

That’s what the absence of transparency creates: speculation and suspicion.

We’ll all have a better answer when – if – Ms. Schipske gets a response to the public records request. Meanwhile, the LBRC is motivated and hard at work to defeat BBB.

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

stephen@beachcomber.news

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Comments

Gerrie Schipske and Rae Gabelich had the opportunity to work for the public while they were in office. This reach for power didn't just come about. It was from years of the City Council sitting on their hands and handing candy to public safety, who have now turned into politicians for the City, and now they work feverishly to support the City to defeat the taxpayers of Long Beach. Measure A and M were a must for public safety in order to keep those raises coming in and to guarantee that their outrageous pensions won't be cut. Not to mention of the $1Billion dollar pension obligation the taxpayers are paying off for the ineptness of the present and past City Councils and now the results of Measure A and M. "Pat my back and I will pat yours" a model for public safety and the City to follow. So far, the City has done a great job of indebting the taxpayers, thanks to public safety!

What a shame this article is. The Beachcomber should consider doing more research before publishing an article. Juan went to court because he wrote false information in the arguments against - which is illegal. He was ordered by the judge to remove the false statements. Now this article and all the gab-flies continue to push false information. I’m excited to vote YES on Measures AAA, BBB, CC, DDD. If residents do not support good government, move out of Long Beach.

Ms. Green should get her facts straight before pushing completely false and potentially libelous information. Contrary to Ms. Green's statements, the judge did not issue ANY orders to remove ANY statements.
Our arguments were written based on the city's false and misleading information, half-truths, and gross exaggerations. There was nothing "illegal" in our arguments, which are covered under the first amendment. Given timing limitations based on the city's ineptitude or conscious foot-dragging, we reached a compromise. Other than changes to certain wording they found offensive to their sensibilities, the general force of our arguments remains. Our arguments still point to the self-serving nature of all four measures and how they are contrary to good government.
Contrary to Ms. Green's opinion, we invite all citizens of Long Beach to stay and work with us in the creation of a transparent and accountable government. We love this city and have lived here for many decades. We have a vested interest in Long Beach, where our parents raised us and most importantly where we are raising our children.
We don't run; we stay and we fight for good government. Moving out is not an option.

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