They say patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, but hating the media is certainly a close second to last. Thus Irvine Mayor Larry Agran now blames bad journalists for a scandal that has cost him a City Council majority, could bounce him from City Hall come November, and threatens his ambition to control construction of the Great Park, one of the biggest public-works projects in county history.
Agran's attack on the media came in an Aug. 13 memo to supporters, urging them to rally round the embattled mayor at a key Aug. 24 council meeting. Articles about the scandal in the Weekly, Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register-owned Irvine World News "offer no fact—a journalistic hurdle not uncommon in our local press," Agran wrote.
The facts, as revealed first in the Weekly, are these: city documents show that Agran has tried to direct a lucrative city contract to ENCO, an energy company with previously unpublicized ties to Edward Dornan, Agran's longtime friend, top political adviser and campaign fund-raiser.
More facts might be forthcoming but for Agran himself. He, Dornan and ENCO president Dennis Eastman have refused to respond to our calls for comment on the controversy. Speaking to the Irvine World News, Agran would say only that there was nothing unethical at City Hall. Four days later, Agran told Jean Pasco and the Times a little more: Dornan has a "business relationship" with ENCO but is nothing more than a "private citizen." To his diehard supporters, Agran has pretended that questions about the Dornan-ENCO arrangement were part of a campaign to derail the energy proposal as well his campaign for re-election in November.
And so it emerged in droplets of partial truth and a puddle of counterallegations--about the media, about former council ally-turned-critic Chris Mears, about the evil intentions of Southern California Edison and, as always, Agran's enemies on the political right. In the Aug. 13 memo, Agran even tried to reframe the issue as one of loyalty to friends. Writing in the third person, Agran admitted that Dornan is his friend and then hyperbolically added, "which is now apparently a punishable offense."
The memo is a masterpiece of misdirection, appearing to answer questions raised in the scandal but really allowing Agran to posture as a wounded public servant while smearing his opponents. In one place, Agran masks his own conspiratorial instincts by projecting them onto Councilman Mike Ward, who has evolved into an ENCO project opponent: "The [ENCO] item has been placed on the [Aug. 24] agenda by Council Member Ward, who has provided no detail as to why he has done so." (Aren't public-policy issues supposed to be discussed at public meetings?) In another aside, Agran dismisses any criticism of Dornan's role in the ENCO deal as neurotic: "to fully explain things would probably require a therapist."
But it's the mayor, of course, who needs to find a couch in a dark room—listen to some Andean pan pipes, drink a little chamomile tea--and reflect on questions still surrounding a scandal of his own making, questions like these:
*Why did an energy company or its representatives hire Dornan at the same time it was seeking a lucrative city contract with Irvine? Was it because Dornan is a retired community-college English instructor with no known expertise in the complex world of utilities and energy markets? Or was it because Dornan is the mayor's top consultant?
*How much has or will Dornan receive as compensation from anyone for his services in connection with a municipal utility deal?
*Did ENCO and/or anyone connected to the company or the proposed utility deal ever enter into any formal or informal arrangement with anyone else tied to Agran?
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*Why didn't Agran insist that ENCO representatives appear to answer questions at a key February council meeting that could have resulted in the company winning a lucrative, decades-long city contract?
*Will Agran sponsor a new city ordinance that would close the loophole permitting a politician's aides from secretly benefiting from any taxpayer-funded enterprise?
*If there was nothing wrong with Dornan's ties to the energy plan, why has the mayor refused to fully explain the arrangement, repeatedly obfuscated the facts and still, a month into this budding scandal, refused to tell the public everything he knows?