Having exposed Beth Krom's harebrained January memo–the confidential one that outlined how the Irvine city councilwoman's pals should manipulate public opinion by dominating citizen-comment portions of televised council meetings–I chuckled at the March 2 hearing on Larry Agran's refusal to obey a subpoena in the audit of Orange County Great Park corruption. Agran, the 70-year-old Krom mentor who for more than a decade ran City Hall and doled out lucrative, no-bid contracts to his political cronies as park coffers emptied, has been evading his chance to speak under oath for months. In November 2014, voters booted the career politician, who first joined the council nearly four decades ago when Jimmy Carter occupied the White House and a gallon of gas cost 64 cents.
"I don't know what's going on here, folks," Jake Jacobs, a longtime Agran attack dog, told the council at the Agran-less hearing. Jacobs said the "silly [Great Park funding] audit–it's not an audit, it's a witch-hunt"–should not cause the city to force a deposition through the court system. "You just jump on him when he doesn't appear. . . . You just came up with a [deposition] date and said, 'You have to come here.' Well, he has a life. He's a private citizen. He doesn't have to come on the exact day. Maybe you think he does, but he doesn't. . . . You're just trying to get some press here, make him look bad, somehow vilify him."
As he ranted, Jacobs–stern-faced, arms flailing–couldn't stick with his message, eventually diving into additional absurdity by admitting he doesn't want Agran to be held accountable for spending more than $200 million in Great Park funds without constructing a single major feature of the proposed project. "You know he lost the election," he said. "Why don't you just let it go and get on with your life, you know, screwing up the city? I just think what you're doing is ridiculous."
He finished by wondering aloud if the council was trying "to hide" the issue of the ex-councilman's non-compliance with the subpoena by–you got it–holding a public session, a meeting that was videotaped and quickly made accessible online for anyone in the world to watch 24 hours a day. "Remember," he threatened, oblivious to the irony, "you're going to be held accountable."
The next speaker, another angry but more dramatic Krom Kool-Aid drinker named Ken Wyant, pretended the council's attempt to force Agran to talk on the record about Great Park shenanigans was–you can't make this up–an attempt to silence him. "It's a deep sign of weakness and, in fact, I would say cowardice that leads to this analysis [of compelling compliance with a lawfully issued subpoena]," Wyant said. "With your sneers and your eye rolling and your objections, you tried to shut him up and prevent him from talking about the Great Park and where the money went. But this cowardly attack is a vicious miscarriage of justice–should not stand. Is not fair to the city of Irvine. It's an embarrassment to the city of Irvine."
Harvey Liss, a onetime Agran political appointee, tried a softer approach. Liss used quotes from other people to explain why the deposition isn't even necessary. He reasoned that the depleted park coffers can be blamed not on corruption, but rather on the 2008, national "economic catastrophe" and Lynn Jochim, an executive at FivePoint Communities, the real-estate-development company building homes near the Great Park. Liss thinks Jochim and her private corporation somehow imposed an "adversarial, bureaucratic" process on the city government. According to this attempt at logic, she managed to single-handedly thwart Agran's supposedly well-run project management and rob him of money necessary to complete the job. See? Agran, he declared, was "just not involved" in the "waste" of funds.
Irvine resident Ed Pope's frustration wasn't because of a politician trying to avoid testifying under oath, but because the city council called for a 3:30 p.m. special session. He labeled the timing an effort to block public scrutiny. "Perhaps you are embarrassed and wish to hide this effort to sustain the sorted fiction of your fake audit," he said, suggesting Agran's audits of himself while in office should be accepted as legitimate. "The actual purpose of this audit appears to be a conspiracy between council members [Christina] Shea and [Jeff] Lalloway, abetted by Mayor [Steven] Choi, to block the re-election of Larry Agran."
According to longtime Agran-campaign aide Pope, Anthony R. Taylor–the private attorney conducting the audit, a man universally touted for his role in locating stolen funds during the city of Bell municipal scandal and a recent recipient of statewide honors for his legal achievements–is incompetent. Taylor's work has so far outlined a cesspool of cheating and mismanagement at the Great Park during Agran's watch. [See "Larry Agran the Leech: Insider blames Great Park fiasco on corruption and incompetence," July 24, 2014.]
But Pope said Taylor should have already issued a final report, a remarkable stance given that a particular ex-councilman has stalled the completion of the job by employing a three-month delay tactic. "Where's the beef?" he wanted to know. "And now you dare to reward this same incompetence with more of our taxpayers' money. I respectfully request that you end this embarrassing charade. Irvine deserves better."
Harkening to the supposedly warm and fuzzy yesteryears when Agran dominated the city, Rebecca Newman worried he isn't getting appropriate recognition now for the "multiple good-government awards" Irvine won in the past. I'm not sure that the man could capture such praise anymore. He first refused to participate in a deposition, then skipped a scheduled February meeting, then demanded all questions be submitted to him in advance and in writing, and, finally, insisted that taxpayers pay all of the fees for his private lawyers. To Newman, however, it's current council members who aren't being reasonable.
"It does not accrue credit on this great city to talk about bringing in a mayor, grabbed by the arm of the sheriff," she said. "It's clear he needs time to prepare. The audit is about him. I ask that we just step back and take a deep breath and be the honest, upright citizens that we should all aspire to be."
When it became her turn to opine, Krom wanted to know who'd had the audacity to call the meeting. The mayor calmly took credit. She moved on, simultaneously declaring that Agran will not accept the validity of a judge's order to testify and, without recognizing the inherent contradiction, complaining that Taylor has not allowed him to dictate the date of the deposition. She bemoaned the "pettiness" of her colleagues.
"I sit here today, and it's clear we've been brought here for political theater," Krom said. "I think there has been a tremendous effort to demonize and damage the reputations of good people. I've known Larry Agran for a lot of years, and people can say what they want, but this is a man who deserves the respect of this community."
Afterward, the council voted 4-1 to seek judicial assistance. With Taylor preparing to go to court, Agran claims he'll appear for a deposition in coming days. The next question is: Will he be forthcoming about what he did with the money?