By Gustavo Arellano
By OC Weekly Staff
By R. Scott Moxley
By Michelle Woo
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gabriel San Roman
By Gustavo Arellano
Listen to invocations at a Los Alamitos City Council meeting, and you'll realize there is zero chance corruption could permeate this northern Orange County municipality. Councilman Ken Stephens understands this reality. To open a 2011 meeting, then-Mayor Stephens bowed his head in prayer and declared that his 3-2-vote council alliance wasn't running the city.
According to Stephens, his alliance—the one created not by heavenly intervention, but by a trash company seeking a lucrative government-granted monopoly—is on the executive team managing Los Alamitos, but only as administrative lemmings marching to divine orders. "We ask you to guide this City Council in the decisions that we make that always are best for the city," Stephens, a onetime 24-Hour Fitness office manager, told God. "And we thank you for allowing us to be one nation under God and one city controlled and guided by God."
I'm not sure if God likes to be referred to in the third person during conservations with him—especially when Democrats are present. But it's perplexing he would give a trash-collection contract to a firm demanding $6 million more from residents than another qualified bidder. It's also now clear that Dean Grose, Stephens' predecessor, wasn't ultimately to blame for winning national ridicule after disseminating images of the White House lawn converted into a watermelon patch upon Barack Obama's historic arrival.
Such incidents are scarring. A fine place with decent people, Los Alamitos shouldn't have to continually suffer embarrassment. Yet, in recent years at least, the city of 11,500 residents seems stuck in a lousy rut where dubious characters thrive.
Consider Mayor Troy Edgar. He's part—arguably the key part—of the aforementioned blessed 3-2-vote alliance. In 2011—just one year into his present council term, he decided he wanted a better title: Congressman. That effort lasted five months, and with enthusiasm for his candidacy ranging from lukewarm to nonexistent, Edgar abandoned that campaign in March to run for state Assembly representing his home city, Long Beach, Garden Grove, Cypress, Stanton and Westminster. In June's primary, Edgar led all candidates by capturing 28 percent of the vote. He is now facing fellow Republican and Huntington Beach resident Travis Allen (a political rookie who finished second with 20 percent of the vote) in November's election to a 12-year seat in Sacramento.
New California rules state two candidates of the same political party can now face off in a general election. Here, both GOP candidates tout themselves as decidedly pro-business and anti-tax, as well as honest. But there's evidence to believe Edgar has a serious character flaw.
In January, for his now-defunct congressional campaign, Edgar produced and delivered an eight-page glossy mailer to 3,000 Southern California Republican power brokers. The objective was to win endorsements, raise contributions and frighten potential GOP opponents away from the race. As political literature goes, the piece wasn't bad. It hailed his leadership skills, conservative policy stances and family values. To bolster credibility, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas declared on the front page of the brochure, "Supporting Troy Edgar for Congress was an easy decision."
It might be a line the DA, who recently announced he's seeking additional resources to prosecute corrupt public officials, will soon wish he hadn't uttered because the brochure could be the centerpiece of two crimes. Let me explain.
Because of anti-public corruption concerns resulting from the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, federal campaign-finance laws require campaigns to publicly disclose major expenses. The rationale is that voters should know if a candidate is up to no good. According to records obtained by the Weekly, the power-broker brochure cost more than $5,668, but Edgar never complied with federal election rules to disclose the spending or reveal who paid for it.
Indeed, he disclosed 41 separate congressional-campaign disbursements but not this one—which also happened to be the committee's largest expenditure.
Asked to explain, the candidate first said he is unfamiliar with that specific mailer because he has sent out "hundreds" of them. Later, he assured me the power-broker disbursement "absolutely shows up" on a disclosure report. When I told him it didn't and asked him to resolve what happened, he replied he "printed it at home," which is troubling because, as I write this column, I'm looking at a detailed invoice for the job from Sparta Graphics.
"I don't know what you are talking about," Edgar said. "The sad thing is you're grasping at straws here. This is an issue from the past. I want to talk about the merits of my candidacy and the true contrast between me and Travis."
Brandon Powers, a successful Southern California communications consultant hired by Edgar's congressional campaign, has firsthand knowledge of the brochure. The man has a reputation as a straight-shooter; he called the candidate's answers "verbal gymnastics." Powers said Edgar purposefully didn't disclose the spending on Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports because he didn't want to reveal that the source that paid for it was illegal under federal law: his company.
Edgar calls Powers "a disgruntled ex-employee" who is "spinning" to aid Allen.
But even novice candidates know corporations are banned from contributing to federal campaigns. It has been that way since 1907. Every candidate is formally advised of this prohibition at the outset of campaigns. Edgar filed his statement of candidacy with the FEC in Washington, D.C., in September 2011. The power-broker brochure got mailed three months later.
Edgar's troubles don't end there. In late January, armed with a camera, I covered the annual Tet festival parade in Little Saigon. The event featured marching bands, colorful floats, gorgeous beauty queens, ex-South Vietnamese soldiers and, of course, candidates.
That day, the natty, smiling, congressional candidate sat in the back of a rented convertible that lurched down Bolsa Avenue. He waved to the passing crowd, ignorant that among the masses was me. Along the route, people politely clapped or waved back. His staff, I witnessed, handed out 500 campaign fans.
According to an invoice obtained by the Weekly, the fans cost $900. But—as with the mysterious brochure—the expense never appeared on FEC reports. For that matter, Edgar didn't disclose the rental-car cost even though the vehicle carried large side-door magnets with his name, title and congressional-campaign logo.
If a future prosecutor deems the spending illegal and the disclosure omissions were intentional, the potential crimes aren't earth-shattering. Nobody died or got bloodied. Yet the conduct still might tell us something important about Edgar.
Here's the peculiarity of the situation: The candidate could have easily paid the expenses and reported that he'd done so. He's wealthy and, according to election law, was entitled to spend unlimited amounts of his own money on the congressional campaign. This puzzling mess is reminiscent of millionaire Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan stealing a bracelet she could have afforded to buy.
I doubt Edgar's problem is drugs or booze, so what was his motivation in misleading the public? Powers—who says he became disillusioned with the candidate, left the campaign and hopes Allen is victorious—thinks he knows the answer: petty political calculation.
"Troy wanted to mislead the public about his spending because he didn't want anyone to know he's a self-funder who has a hard time raising money," said Powers. "Paying campaign expenses off the books hid the fact that his only real donor was himself. He struggles with the truth."
This column appeared in print as "'You're Grasping At Straws': Records reveal that state Assembly candidate Troy Edgar hasn't been honest about campaign spending."
Reposted from letsfixlosal.com
So,what to talk about in my five minutes on Monday before City Council?
Since the Edgar Sell Out of the Carrier Row area to Cypress business interests is actually on the agenda, I'll save my questioning of Mr. Edgar's decision to force this onto the agenda and reward people who have contributed to his political campaign (two Cypress members of Council and a Manager for 24 Hour Fitness) when the item comes up.
I could start with asking why it took the City attorney two weeks to write up a nine page document accusing Council Member Kusumoto of a series of rather complex and highly questionable Brown Act violations, yet after a month she wasn't able to put together a simple list of Mr. Edgar's Brown Act violations, all which can be verified just by watching the DVD of the meetings (they were either a failure to allow for public comment as required by law, or a failure to report decisions out of closed session when they returned to the council chamber, as required by law).
Or maybe I could ask for a clarification as to why the City Council allowed the City Attorney to be insubordinate. After the vote to go after Council Member Kusumoto was recorded, one of the items was to instruct the City Attorney to file the complaint with the appropriate piscatorial agencies. Since she already had the nine page analysis she had completed, this would have been just a mater of writing a cover letter and sending the complaint to the agency. This was at most a one hour task. Yet she never completed it in the two weeks between the meeting she was instructed to, and the meeting that followed. Not doing what your employer instructs you to do is, last time I checked, insubordination.
Maybe I could return to the criminal fraud of the 3/19/2012 City Counsel meeting led by Troy Edgar. At that meeting the members of the City Council agreed to vote to make the written responses by the City Attorney to Council Member Kusumoto part of the public record, voting to attach the responses to the minutes of the meeting (item 8A). Yet, after the minutes were approved, with the letter attached, something magical happened. The answers from the attorney did not get attached. Instead they were put into the magic red binder that was the topic of discussion at the last meeting, and we were told that what was voted for. While that wasn't what anyone heard them vote for, it was almost believable that maybe we all didn't hear it. But with a 3-0-1 vote one would hope that all the members were voting for the same thing. Until the last meeting when Mayor Pro Tem Poe said she didn't know anything about the magic red binder. So if she didn't know anything about this, then how could anyone claim that she voted to put the document into a thing she didn't even know existed. Now that makes the minutes fraudulent, minutes Troy Edgar signed as true and correct. I wonder if anyone will go after the fraud committed by our mayor?
No, I think I will instead go back to one of my favorite topics. The criminal enterprise of the City Council majority and their relationship with CDS.
The Solid Waste Franchise Agreement Contract, Section 8.05 states that CDS guarantees the City of Los Alamitos $75,000 in sales tax revenue every year. If the sales tax revenue presented to the City by the Board of Equalization from CDS doesn't come to $75,000 then CDS will write a check to the city for the difference. This sounds like a great deal. But just what is the amount of the $75,000 minus whatever comes in from the BoE called?
It's not sales tax, because all sales and use taxes must be collected by the BoE. The City gets it's 1% the rest stays with the BoE, or they distribute it. So, if there is no percentage kept by the BoE, it can't be a sales tax.
Or, if the money paid by CDS to the City of Los Alamitos is not a “sales tax”, is it some other form of tax? And if it is some other form of tax, then why didn't the people get to vote on it like Prop 218 says we should? Did the City Attorney not know that the only organization that can collect sales and use tax id the BoE? Did the City Attorney create a contract with a clause in it that created a new tax on every ratepayer to CDS in violation of Prop 218? Did the City Council Majority vote twice for this hidden new tax on the ratepayers?
Well let's assume that the City Attorney wouldn't hide a new tax on the ratepayers in the contract, and let's assume that the City Council Majority wouldn't vote to create a new tax on the ratepayers in violation of Prop 218, then what could this money be?
Well, let's see. CDS is kicking back money it has collected from the ratepayers to the City that is not a sales tax and not a new tax. Hmmm, kicking back money collected required by the contract. Why are some words in that troubling me? Ah, yes a synonym for graft, kick back.
In order for someone to approve the contract on either side, someone had to request that this money that is not legally collectable by the City be paid to the city. Now the only question is who inserted the kick back into the contract. If the graft was inserted by CDS to ensure that they would get the contract, that would be a bribe. If the graft was inserted by the City in order to give the contract, that would be extortion.
Maybe we should go back to the City Council majority deciding to vote twice to violate Prop 218, because if we go the other way they either voted to take a bribe twice or voted to extort money twice, and while violation Prop 218 is bad, it's not criminal like working a little graft into the contract.
So, let me ask? Did the City Council majority vote twice to have a contract with CDS that created a new tax on the ratepayers in violation of Prop 218? Or did the City Council vote to have a contract with CDS that involved the payment of graft? Because we all know that the monies paid in accordance to the terms of the contract that were not collected and dispersed by the Board of Equalization are not sales tax, so what are they? City Attorney? Mr. Mayor?
Thanks, R Scott, for taking the time to seriously investigate the years of corruption simmering just beneath the surface of the Council meetings our majority reduced to once a month during election season: A City Attorney who makes tens of thousands in extra billings by giving bad legal advice. A trash conglomerate that was rewarded with millions of ratepayer dollars after apparently funding the most expensive campaign in the City's history to the tune of around $100,000.
Details in our local political blog, LetsFixLosAl.com.
Click here for posts in the "Trash Contract" Category to learn more about OC's hidden little Bell-like corruption: http://letsfixlosal.com/blog/category/trash-contraact/
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