Could there be more of an embarrassment to Orange County Democrats than Beth Krom, the Irvine city councilwoman who doubles as chairwoman of the Orange County Great Park board?
After all, Krom is a minor leaguer compared to Larry Agran, her tragically warped Irvine council colleague, or Agran's wily pal, Santa Ana Mayor-for-Life Miguel Pulido.
We learned last weekend that Krom, a wildly unsuccessful 2010 congressional candidate, isn't satisfied with third place in the scumbag sweepstakes.
According to the Aug. 28 Orange County Register, Krom decided, without a public vote or even the knowledge of most park-board members, to divert more than $5,750 in taxpayer funds to a private, VIP wine-and-cheese (plus tri-tip skewers!) party at the Great Park prior to an Aug. 6 concert.
I can hear all three of Krom's remaining fans whining: So what? She threw a party. She only spent a few lousy bucks.
Sadly, that's almost a viable argument because in the world of Krom, Agran and Sukhee Kang—the third and most spineless member of Irvine's Democratic Party council majority—wasting a couple of thousand dollars of taxpayer funds is routine.
For example, the trio has diverted $120,000 per month in public funds for six years to a private political consultant, allegedly for the task of performing public relations for a public park that doesn't exist. That massive contract was handed to Arnold Forde of Forde & Mollrich without even faking a competitive-bid process. The deal has no monthly benchmarks. In other words, Forde breathes, and he gets the check.
But disgust with Krom's invitation-only party isn't so much about the money or the question of what there is to celebrate. (The Great Park is California's most corrupt, inept, pending public-works project.) It's about how Agran's political machine routinely acts with imperial gusto.
To wit:Krom could have gotten the necessary votes in advance. She couldn't have possibly lost, as Agran stacked the Great Park board with his apologists.
Krom—who may call Agran every morning to ask what to wear—chose to skip a vote because that would have required advance public notice on a public agenda. If there's no agenda item on the spending, residents and reporters can't comment until it's too late. And that's just what happened.
Still, there is nothing new about such shady Krom-Agran-Kang maneuvers. Please recall that under this trio, an independent auditor in 2009 found that key Great Park spending records had been not only hidden from inspection, but also destroyed. Their response wasn't to clean up the cesspool; they decided truly independent audits weren't necessary in the future.
This mindset brings me back to the most contemptible aspect of Agran's regime: brazen arrogance. They've repeatedly lied to residents about when the Great Park will be built, how it will be funded and why it's allegedly necessary to spend more than $200 million on mostly pre-park consulting gigs for their pals and campaign contributors. They've blocked the Irvine City Council's minority, two elected Republicans, from reviewing government documents prior to a related vote. Every election, they flagrantly abuse campaign-finance laws to stay in office and keep control of the $1.6 billion project. They've even called members of the Orange County grand jury stupid for investigating and questioning one of Agran's dubious shell-game tricks that mask the park's financial mismanagement.
When confronted about the VIP-party spending by the Register's Tony Saavedra, Krom devised a reply that must have put a smile on George Orwell's long-dead face.
"It wasn't Beth Krom throwing a party," said Beth Krom. "It was the [Great Park] corporation throwing a reception."
It is no wonder psychiatrists are plentiful in Southern California. Krom must have thought switching the word "party" to "reception" would be more palatable for Irvine's voters, though the word game didn't change the cost to the public for her private shindig.
Not content to load just one conniving assertion into her 14-word statement, Krom added second and third ones, which, I must admit, seem like the handiwork of the Master of Lies himself, Agran. In fact, the so-called "corporation" Krom referenced isn't really one, but it sounds impressive. Corporations have a better reputation than governments for efficiency.
Irvine's Orange County Great Park corporation is, in fact, a 501(c)3 charitable corporation that Agran-Krom-Kang devised to sell the public on the lie that the Great Park is run by Orange County officials for Orange County, not Irvine's Democratic council majority running the park for itself and its publicly subsidized political consultants. This "corporation" is controlled 100 percent by the city government, which Agran—a fifth-tier 1992 presidential-primary candidate—has controlled for more than a decade now.
The third lie in Krom's two-sentence statement demonstrates a shady-lawyer sensibility. (Agran is a lawyer; Krom is not.) "It was the corporation throwing a reception," she offered, as if blaming a non-human entity would shift responsibility from her, even though the corporation, which she heads, acted on her orders.
Not surprisingly, that statement didn't match her private musings to other city officials. According to high-ranking sources at City Hall, Krom said she could spend the money according to her whims because she is chairwoman of the park board, never mind that the position is largely ceremonial. But her newfound gravitas does lead one to wonder: Will trumpets soon announce her arrival at public gatherings?
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
This latest mess harkens back to Agran telling a Los Angeles Times columnist earlier this year that the park board—seriously short of unallocated funds—had devised two funding contingency plans. As I reported in the aftermath, there was no record of the board discussing or approving such plans during public meetings, a requirement of California law. Asked by the Times columnist to explain, Agran suggested the plans were—I'm not joking—classified.
With Agran hilariously asserting that secrecy is required to build a public park, a robotic Kang routinely following Agran's instructions and Krom arguing she's not responsible for actions she alone orders, it's easy to see why the Great Park project is short tens of millions of dollars and more than half a decade behind schedule.
This column appeared in print as "Unleashed: Beth Krom on . . . Beth Krom! Great Park boss explains when she's a corporation and when she's a human being in VIP-party fiasco."