An ‘Informed Outsider’ Perspective on Monday’s DPOC Meeting


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Ophelia with Pepper Spraying Cop

I really couldn't think of a good illustration for this post, so here is a Photoshop of Millais's Ophelia being subdued by the Pepper Spraying Cop

This post is long — even by my standards.  If you’re not interested in the topic, don’t feel that you have to read it.  (Even if you are interested, you don’t have to read it, if that needs to be said.)

I wrote this in a comment last night on a story on The Liberal OC:

I’m not going to write about this on Orange Juice Blog because I’m a DPOC E-Board member — and I don’t speak for it or the party in any capacity — and don’t like using the position of blogger to push my interests on the board. But it would not be hard for a reporter to, you know, report.

Obviously, I’m changing my mind.  I’m trying to step away from pushing my own interests in writing, though, and hope simply to explain as fairly as I can what happened leading up to and at Monday’s vote on the removal of Reggie Mundekis as DPOC Treasurer.  There’s a lot here that I’m not saying because it’s not public information, but most of what matters can be said.

While I suppose that I am a “Democratic Party of Orange County insider” (although I’m not  an insider-insider, if you know what I mean), I have scrupulously avoided writing on this blog about internal DPOC affairs.  But because the the attempted removal of DPOC Treasurer Mundekis Monday night, which narrowly failed to get the required 2/3 vote, has now been written about in the Register,  Voice of OC, The Liberal OC, and New Santa Ana, I suppose that it’s time to weigh in.  I’m not going to provide inside information, and I want to make it clear that I’m not speaking for the Democratic Party or any of its components.  I just want to present what an informed outsider — such as Voice of OC‘s Norberto Santana, Jr., whose on-site reporting puts a lot of things into the public domain — should by now know.  If my doing so makes certain critics look like idiots, well, some things can’t be helped.

Let me start at the bottom line: in my opinion, DPOC is not doing all that badly right now, thanks.  We have our internal disagreements, as do most other political organizations, but we’ve emerged from a difficult year in a terrible economic time — disproportionately terrible for Democrats, by the way — and have reason to be optimistic about what we can accomplish in 2012.  Raising more money would certainly help, but my sense is that we are developing a better sense of how we can most efficiently and effectively use it.  Chris Prevatt’s conclusion in his updated commentary on Lib OC is pretty much apt: “All parties involved do truly care about the future of the Damocratic Party in Orange County.  They just disagree passionately on the direction that future should take.”

Where I disagree (although not “passionately”) with this is that I don’t even think that we disagree all that much about our future directions.  We’re a bunch of volunteers, smart and dedicated and talented, and such people tend to be confident in their own ideas — because the people that aren’t confident don’t stick around.  We’re what’s left.  Whatever else may be said about Frank Barbaro and Reggie Mundekis and the rest of us — and I’ve said plenty at various times — we don’t have to be doing what we’re doing.  The gut-wrenching and the heartache of being the scrappy underdog in our wealthy county are entirely voluntary.  We could be fishing, lounging, or playing video games instead.  So people who volunteer like that do deserve a little slack.

I’ll go through the reporting (or “reporting”) from other sites in order of … well, you’ll figure it out.

The Register Weighs In

I’ll give the Register pride of place.  Its report is based on Voice of OC’s reporting, but it does include the letter signed by 19 members of the Central Committee calling for a vote on removing Mundekis.  (Warning: small PDF.)  That letter accurately states that an officer can be removed if he or she “1. Represents his/her views as being those of the Central Committee and/or the Democratic Party” and/or “2. Commits the Central Committee to a course of action and/or financial expenditure without authorization to do so.”

The letter states that

“On October 20th, at a meeting of the Council of Democratic Clubs, Reggie Mundekis presented herself as the Treasurer of the DPOC and made comments disparaging Frank Barbaro and others about the financial arrangements of the DPOC in regards to the Truman Dinner. She also stated that Mr. Barbaro was withholding new bank account information and refused to provide information of who has access to those accounts to her. She also passed out a DPOC Financial statement to non Central Committee members.  In addition, several emails have been circulated by Reggie Mundekis to selected groups both inside and outside the membership of the DPOC giving a similar perception as to the finances ofthe DPOC.”

The letter includes a second charge that “Ms. Mundekis also made substantial expenditures without Democratic Party approval.”

Martin Wisckol writes:

After reading the letter sent out earlier this month by Democratic Party leaders seeking to remove Mundekis and talking with a few members of the governing Central Committee, this seems an effort to purge the executive board of a thorn in its side. I’ve been told that Mundekis can be a loose cannon and doesn’t always follow procedure to the letter, both of which are characteristics you can also glean from Santana’s rundown.

But I’ve heard no claims that Mundekis has done anything illegal. Mundekis herself sent me this message via Facebook: “As a rank-and-file Democrat at heart, I see the good that can come out of this if we acknowledge our differences and work to build on the values that we share.”

I won’t bring any insider information to bear on his observations, but there they are.

Voice of OC Attends the Meeting

If you don’t read Voice of OC, you really should: Norberto Santana is a “real journalist” and puts together a strong publication that represents a Labor perspective.  No one — especially one stepping into an unfamiliar situation — is perfect, but for the most part his story on the Monday DPOC meeting is fair.  It’s just not above reproach.  My comments and criticisms of his story are interspersed in italics and brackets.

Santana says that Mundekis “barely survived impeachment Monday night, coming within one vote of being removed from office by the Central Committee.”  [Actually, it was "removal", not "impeachment."  We have no procedure called "impeachment," but functionally  the letter signed by 19 people -- of whom I was not one -- charging Mundekis with misconduct would be the appropriate equivalent.  And she missed being removed by two votes, not one.]

Santana writes that Mundekis, “a controversial party activist, has publicly raised questions about the Democratic Central Committee’s lack of transparency on internal finances” and “was criticized for, among other things, telling Orange County Democratic clubs the true state of party finances in the wake of the federal indictment last summer of prominent Democratic campaign treasurer Kindee Durkee.”  [Well: no.  The "indictment" was for, in essence, (1) irresponsibly charging people associated with the party with financial misconduct and (2) approving expenses without authorization.  She was not criticized for telling people the truth; in fact, her complaint is that she does not currently know the truth.  Of course, after the Labor Day Weekend unveiling of the Durkee & Associates scandal, we learned that lots of people who thought that they knew the truth about their finances actually did not.]

Santana wrote that:

[P]ublicly discussing those kinds of issues troubled  many party activists and officials. Monday night they struggled to balance the legally required discretion regarding personnel issues and the openness required of party finances and elections.

During the emotional, hours-long meeting, numerous delegates demanded that the entire election be conducted in secret. Other delegates demanded secret ballots, which was later ruled illegal.

At one point, delegates hotly debated whether two Voice of OC reporters should be barred from the meeting.

Longtime Democratic Party activist Marti Schrank scolded her colleagues for their penchant for secrecy, reminding them that during the last similar vote — to remove the party chair in 1996 — everything was done in public.

“We did not make anybody leave. The press was there, and they were never asked to leave,” Schrank said.

Ultimately, Jeff LeTourneau, a newly elected Central Committee member who chaired the meeting, opted for a public session. “I don’t know if you can hold an election in secret,” LeTourneau concluded.

[I don't recall any suggestion that the election be conducted in secret.  I made a motion that discussion take place in closed session because of the virtual certainty (proven true as soon as Mundekis's opening statement) that we would end up discussing personnel issues that should be limited to closed session.  A discussion of an employee's performance has a different legal status than that of a volunteer officer, as was the issue in 1996.  In that motion, I specifically said that the vote itself should be held publicly.]

Santana notes that debate was limited to 20 minutes, and asserts that a sanction motion criticized Mundekis for processing payments to former party Executive Director Gerrie Schipske.  [Actually, this was not mentioned in the motion itself, which was the letter linked above and spoke about expenditures without authorization generally.]

Santana notes that “top Democratic officials confirmed on Monday night that the party was indeed out of money when Schipske’s abrupt departure was announced earlier this year just before the Truman Dinner, the annual party fundraiser.  The official explanation at the time was that Schipske had simply left for a job at Cal State Long Beach.”

[Santana's link is to a useful and pertinent Voice of OC story dated Sept. 15, which mentions Schipske's explanation -- which I don't know would be termed as "official" -- in passing.  Her characterization that she was leaving for a teaching job was accurate; in any event, it was her prerogative to describe her reasons for leaving as she thought appropriate.  The story itself, though,is worth a look:

"We don't know how much money we have left," said Barbaro, who added that he had already opened another fundraising bank account for for the dinner.

"It's not going to kill us," Barbaro said. "I'm in the process of raising money for the Truman Dinner, and I'm being extremely successful in the phone calls I'm making."

Barbaro confirmed rumors that Durkee's case prevented the party from issuing a final paycheck to Schipske, who left to take a job at Cal State Long Beach. But he said the issue would quickly be corrected.

"Gerrie did a fabulous job," Barbaro said, insisting that she was not pressured to resign.

...

Barbaro acknowledged, however, that there are rumblings about disruptions in the party, noting that the last Democratic Central Committee ended abruptly with the party treasurer leaving the meeting amidst calls for greater transparency.

To declare my interest, those "calls for greater transparency" came from a motion that I attempted to add to the agenda.  They were aimed towards, rather than coming from, Mundekis.]

Santana writes that “Mundekis and others confirmed that Schipske was converted from a salaried employee to an independent contractor as far back as June to save money.”  He continues: “According to officials debating the sanction motion on Monday night, Schipske’s employment contract is still in force until 2013.”  [I recall hearing that comment solely from Mundekis herself.  How Schipske's employment contract could have been characterized to "still be in force until 2013"  when she (1) resigned on or about Sept. 2 and (2) received what was characterized as a "final payment" from DPOC is both confusing and pertinent to the debate.]

Santana reports [and I rely on his precise wording of the quotes] Mundekis defended authorizing the payments to Schipske on Oct. 28 as follows:

“It’s her final payment. It’s money owed. It’s wages that were earned. You cannot take back wages from someone. It’s wage theft. You cannot take money away because you didn’t like their work.  We had a valid contract with this person and it runs to 2013.”

Unsurprisingly, I disagree with several aspects of the statement.  Santana quotes me as saying: ”the check she gave to Gerrie Schipske was wrong, not because of anything about what Gerrie Schipske did.”  [In other words, I was not discussing Schipske's performance here, but Mundekis's procedural actions.]

Santana characterizes my following as conveying that “Mundekis should have been ringing alarm bells in February or March if she wasn’t getting financial documents” and “criticized her for not being clear about the party finances with members.”  He quotes me to say: ”I don’t think the treasurer kept us informed.  She had the responsibility to bring it to us back then.”  [The missing context here is critical.  My complaint was that Mundekis had not produced a biennial DPOC budget by the March deadline and had not provided us with proper Treasurer's reports through the August meeting from which she walked out.  In Monday's meeting, she attributed those failures to directions from Barbaro.  My comments were to the effect that regardless of what Barbaro did or didn't do -- and he has not been here to state his version of events -- it was her responsibility under the By-Laws to ensure that these things happened and therefore it her obligation to come to us with her complaints soon enough so that we could make an informed decision as to whether we could still afford to retain our Executive Director.  Mundekis does have retorts as to whether her spending without a budget was authorized and whether she did provide a budget; because much of this was not discussed at Monday's meeting I will not address it here.]

Santana then notes that Mundekis was complaining about her being cut off from her proper role as Treasurer, such that party Chairman Frank Barbaro won’t even tell her the party’s new bank account number, that she was not included in the plans to open a new bank account after the funds deposited with Durkee & Associates were frozen, and finishes wish several quotes: ”I have never seen one single bank statement.  I do not know where your money goes. After Durkee and Associates went out of business, I stopped receiving signed copies of contracts. … It is illegal to go around the county treasurer.  It’s not a figurehead position. We have a lot at risk here.”  [I won't address the substance of these complaints, but I do note that under the By-Laws she and two of her associates would have recourse for addressing these sorts of complaints.  I also note that these complaints were not what we were supposed to be debating on Monday night.  Everything that Mundekis said about being denied information since Labor Day could be true, but none of it would be exculpatory.]

Re-reading the above, I recognize that it sounds more critical of Santana than I attend.  I’m focusing on points that I think he got wrong, but he got much more right — and I realize that it’s difficult to step into a public meeting without full knowledge of the back story and derive an understanding of events merely from comments made in the course of only a few minutes.  Nevertheless, I hope that that sets the record straight — without being inappropriately biased in my retelling.

Liberal OC Gets Its Own Insider Information

That brings us to Chris Prevatt’s story in The Liberal OC.  As I’ve said here before, I like and respect Chris, but we had it out last night before finally coming to general agreement at the end.  I don’t know whether he did read my long comment made in reply to Santana’s story — but his conclusions are what I’d expect if he had.

I think it’s fair to say that Prevatt’s story, OC Dems struggle with finances and transparency, was informed by confidential conversations with insiders friendly to Mundekis.  Prevatt implicitly accepted Mundekis’s view that the matter to discuss on Monday night was not her own actions (regarding allegations of unauthorized expenditures) but those of people whom she claimed (1) had done something fishy regarding finances regarding the Truman Dinner — and I’m still not sure what specific claim she was making of impropriety, as opposed to of making what she thought was an unwise decision and (2) were blocking her oversight role as Treasurer.  (Obviously, (2) can be true without (1) being true.  Refer to Martin Wisckol’s musings for an alternative hypothesis.)

These two paragraphs in his story were what, as I indicated in comments I made on that page, drove me completely around the bend:

In the wake of the resignation of former Party Executive Director Gerrie Schipske and the Durkee scandal, the true picture of party finances became apparent to Democratic Central Committee members. At that point they started to look for someone to blame. Mundekis, who campaigned for the treasurer position on the theme of greater transparency found herself at odds with Party Chairman Frank Barbaro. He wanted to keep the news of the party finances within the family to prevent donors from being scared away. Party activists have told Liberal OC that Mundekis had been instructed by Barbaro to withhold financial reports from the Central Committee, and its Executive Board.

When the Durkee scandal broke, Barbaro decided to cut Mundekis out of the picture opening new bank accounts and withholding all information about Party finances. As the Party was struggling to conduct it’s annual Truman Award Dinner fundraising event, Mundekis was out of the loop.

I will say here, as I said there, no, no, no, no, no!

First, the “true picture of party finances” had been more or less known — and even discussed at public meetings, although no reporters were present — to Central Committee members for months.  The Durkee catastrophe barely touched us — as opposed to LA County, various prominent local Democratic officeholders, and Orange County Young Democrats (who had, sadly, only recently deposited the proceeds from one of their biggest fundraisers of the year) — because our fundraiser came after Labor Day and at the point our accounts was frozen we had very little in the bank.  (Prevatt has some relevant details.)

Second, we had no need to “search for someone to blame” — it was perfectly clear why we were in a financial hole — and to the extent that our not having had a budget or the opportunity prior to September to see how much our personnel costs were really weighing us down, the blame was cast well before the Durkee scandal.

Third, while Barbaro may or may not have had the motive to “keep the news of the party finances within the family to prevent donors from being scared away” — and, frankly, I don’t see how that would make sense in all but the very short term — it was Mundekis’s responsibility to, in that case, tell him “no.” It was her responsibility to make a stink about it to one or both boards.  She didn’t.  (Saying more than that gets into insider info, which I’ll avoid.)  Now, if we couldn’t raise revenues, the only place to cut was in personnel. For understandable reasons, there was a lot of resistance to cutting personnel.  That resistance, in my opinion, cost us dearly.

Mundekis and I disagree (and did so at the meeting) about whether our continuing from February through, ultimately, October to spend the money we did on personnel was “authorized” or not and, if authorized, for how long and under what conditions.  I won’t pursue that here — just as I won’t review the question of whether she should have unilaterally caused the checks to Schipske to be signed on Oct. 28 — other than to note the existence of a disagreement.  Those disagreements, not whether Barbaro was cutting her out of the loop, was part of what we were considering on Monday night.  We were considering her actions, no one else’s.  63.5% of those voting thought that they warranted removal — but removal required at least 66.7%.

For what it’s worth, I think that Chris did a sincere and credible job of writing the story — but that he got played by an anonymous source.  I don’t expect him to agree and won’t press him to do so.  People can come to their own conclusions.  This was a story worth covering and he wrote what he thought was write.  In his shoes, I think that I would have sought out additional, and ideally on-the-record, sources.  Anyway, the disagreement is there for people to read if they wish; by the end of it I think we were largely past any dispute.  My statement expressing concern about writing a story that “makes certain critics look like idiots” did not pertain to Prevatt, who is no idiot.

And Then New Santa Ana Steps Up and … You Know.

In other news, Art “Admin” Pedroza chimed in with this:

Among those trying to censure and impeach Mundekis was Orange Juice blogger, and Occupy lawyer, Greg Diamond.  On the one hand the guy is grousing about banks – and an Occupier, but when Mundekis tried to tell local Democrats the truth about the DPOC’s finances, Diamond had a cow.  How typical.

You can judge this assertion in light of my analysis above.  I’ll challenge Art on this right now: what is “the truth about the DPOC’s finances” that Mundekis tried to tell local Democrats?  Art must know, as he objects to my alleged cow-having over it.  Oh — I guess this is a good place to note that at Monday’s meeting I spoke against removing Mundekis based on her comments about Barbaro and others because I didn’t believe that it fit cleanly into one of the two categories, presented way up above, for removal.  (Whether Barbaro and others could sue her for defamation is a different question.)  So perhaps Art — who, need I even say, did not call me before writing that — can explain to me how I was having a cow and to what his photo caption “What is Orange Juice blogger Greg Diamond trying to cover up?” is intended to refer.

Pedroza then opines:

Several DPOC insiders even tried to hold the impeachment election privately – and they even tried to boot the Voice of OC reporters from what should be a public meeting.  For shame!

I’m interested in Pedroza’s understanding of rules regarding closed sessions for discussing “personnel matters.”  And by “interested,” I mean “not actually interested, but just bringing the matter up to embarrass him.”

The DPOC hacks were also angry that Mundekis paid off their former Executive Director, Gerrie Schipske.  Are you kidding?  Why would the pro-labor DPOC try to stiff a former employee?  What a joke!

The notion that a pro-Labor organization should and does automatically favor paying any employee’s claim for wages is absurd.  No one has accused Schipske of wrongdoing; from Mundekis’s own account of Schipske’s contacting her, there was clearly some disagreement regarding the amount due of her compensation.  (I was not part of those discussions at the time, by the way, although I do have an opinion of who was right and a stronger opinion as to whether it was so obvious that the claim was valid as to allow a DPOC to approve the expenditure unilaterally.)

Pedroza is notoriously anti-union; I’m not.  I do know that employees of unions sometimes make claims against unions and that unions sometimes have to evaluate and reject claims that their members make towards employers, because not all claims are valid.  Unions aren’t as naive, dumb, credulous, craven or conniving as Pedroza apparently thinks they must be.  So: either Pedroza thinks that unions have some sort of responsibility to support even bogus claims — a false belief, but one that may explain why Pedroza is anti-union — or he’s just trusting the reader not to pay attention or to be able to figure out the flaw in his logic.

I don’t know how many people will have paid attention this long, but, if you have, I expect that you can figure out which of the four commentaries I note here embarrasses its author.

I expect that Art’s response to this to be along the lines of “Diamond is fat and he writes too many words.”  Nolo contendre to those charges — but, again, they too are not the point.


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.