My letter to S-Kang: Re-open investigation into Dick Ackerman’s Illegal Fairgrounds Lobbying!


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Here goes nothing.  Hand delivery tomorrow or Friday…

January 16, 2011

Dear Ms. Kang Schroeder:

Looking back over the work many of us did over the last couple of years preventing the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds, we see that there are many loose ends left to be tied up.

To cut to the chase, this package is a belated – but not overly belated! – response to the comment you made to the Voice of OC in the wake of your department’s exoneration of Senator Dick Ackerman for illegal lobbying, and our subsequent discovery of documents strongly suggesting his guilt.  What you told the Voice of OC one year ago was this:

“The evidence we had supports the findings we made.  If anyone has further evidence that is contrary to the evidence we have, we’ll be glad to look at it.  And it may bring us to a different result.”

At the time, those of us involved in saving the Fairgrounds felt it was enough that this evidence was published on the Voice of OC website.  But now, months later, seeing no results, I would like to take you at your word and put the new evidence directly in your hands, in hopes that you will decide to pursue justice in this case.  (By the way this isn’t too late because the four-year statute of limitations on Mr. Ackerman’s alleged crime doesn’t run out until July 2013.)

*

To jog your memory, back in mid-2009 there were certain forces both in Sacramento and within the OC itself, who for their various reasons wished to sell off our publicly owned Fairgrounds to a private entity.  One such interested group consisted of the majority of the Fair Board itself, who formed themselves into a non-profit “Foundation” to attempt to buy the property for themselves.

But first they had to make sure it was going to be sold, which entailed persuading the state legislature to pass the enabling legislation, known as ABx22.  To help make this vote happen successfully, which it did on July 23, 2009, they utilized the services of former State Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman.  This politician, who had just been termed out only 6-7 months earlier, was legally forbidden to lobby his former colleagues until the end of the year, under the section of the state Political Reform Act known as the Milton Marks Postgovernmental Employment Restrictions Act (Gov. Code section 87406(b)).

When it was discovered that the board had paid the ex-Senator tens of thousands of dollars of public money, and after he carelessly admitted to the press that he had helped facilitate the passage of ABx22, it was pointed out by many that Ackerman’s actions constituted illegal lobbying.  And so, euphemisms began to be heard from Ackerman and his apologists:  he was “only gathering information,” he was “preparing legislative language,” he was only a “liaison,” he was only talking to the Governor’s staff, not to his fellow legislative colleagues.

But the perception that what he was really doing was lobbying was strong enough that your department launched an investigation into the matter, overseen by Mr. Bill Feccia.  After a year’s work, the Feccia “investigation” concluded that indeed, what Ackerman had been doing was not lobbying, but all those euphemisms instead.  The more uncharitable labeled this “investigation” a “whitewash.”  The yet more uncharitable dubbed it “collusion.”

*

And soon after this exoneration, a couple of members of the OC Fairgrounds Preservation Society, and Mr. Santana, managed to locate the documents I include in this package.  They located them without the aid of subpoena power, government money or staff, armed only with shoe leather and tenacity.   These documents strongly suggest that lobbying his former legislative colleagues for pay is EXACTLY what Ackerman was doing in July and August.  And this is the evidence that I hereby present to you on a silver platter.

Attached, please find:

  • Ackerman’s (back-dated) contract with the Fair Board.  This shows that, as you would never know from the DA report, one of the services Ackerman was specifically contracted to perform was to act as a “liaison with elected officials.”  (I am sure that with your resources you can obtain a more easily legible copy of this contract from the Fair Board than I have here;  Feccia’s investigators never asked for one.)
  • Ackerman’s Billing Records to the Fair Board. In which he specifically bills the Fair Board (the public) for telephone calls he made to eight legislators days before and after the ABx22 vote, including his successor as Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, and key OC Democrats Senator Lou Correa and Assemblyman Jose Solorio.  These billing records are voluminous; I include only three pages of them.  The complete collection should not be hard for you to obtain – Mr. Santana has it all.
  • You’ll notice that Ackerman submitted his billing records not to the Fair Board, but to an obscure, now-defunct, land-use contractor known as CCA (California Construction Authority) – and CCA did not bill the Fair Board directly either, but instead went through yet another land-use contractor known as LSA who did bill the Fair Board.  It’s hard to see how this convoluted method of billing was intended as anything other than to conceal an unpopular and controversial use of public funds from the public – I wouldn’t have thought it would confuse the District Attorney’s office though!  So, as an added bonus for a department interested in violations of the law, I’ve included a four-page argument for “Misuse of Public Funds and False Claims” on the part of the Fair Board. I would think that would also be of interest to an alleged Justice Department, but in any case it’s important to understand even if your investigation is confined to Mr. Ackerman.
  • And as the crown jewel, I include our annotated version of Mr. Feccia’s report. This will really be worth the perusal of whomever you choose to lead the follow-up investigation – hopefully that will be someone a little more motivated and inquisitive than Mr. Feccia.

*

It’s really hard to discern what was actually done in the yearlong investigation, besides determining what Ackerman’s side of the story was and jotting it down.  And Mr. Feccia himself seems strangely eager to disclaim responsibility for the report he signed off on.  Not only were the above crucial documents apparently not even looked for, but nobody involved in the scandal who might have said anything critical or illuminating was even contacted.

For one thing, Senator Lou Correa and Assemblyman Jose Solorio were crucial players in the drama.  As Orange County’s only Democratic lawmakers, their yes votes on ABx22 convinced most other California Democrats to go along.  Later, responding to fierce public outcry, both men came to regret their votes and fought against the sale, drafting legislation to reverse ABx22 and even joining in a lawsuit to stop it.  And we know now that Ackerman talked their ears off on the phone and charged us for it – Solorio on July 15 and Correa on July 24.  Yet, both men have told the Voice of OC that neither of them was ever contacted by your investigators.  If we are looking into who convinced these smart men to make this foolish vote and how, it might be good to at least ask them what happened.

Senator Correa can be reached at 714-558-4400 or 916-651-4034.  Asm.  Solorio can be reached at 714-939-8469 or 916-319-2069.

Assemblyman Jim Silva, the only sitting OC legislator to resist pressure and vote against the sale, told me in a 2009 interview that he was “under a lot of pressure” from various people to vote yes, but he had the rare horse sense and real estate experience to see what a stupid and crooked idea it was.  It would be nice to know if Senator Ackerman was one of those people pressuring Silva.  We know now through these billing records that Ackerman at least called Silva, and charged us for it, on August 1, just after the vote (and there is such a thing as follow-up lobbying.)

And – surprise – Assemblyman Silva has just informed me that your “investigators” never tried to contact him either!  Well, Mr. Silva can be reached at 714-843-4966 or 916-319-2067.

Were any lawmakers at all contacted during this yearlong investigation into lobbying lawmakers?  Or were the only ones contacted the ones who could be counted on to minimize Senator Ackerman’s actions?

Another important source that Mr. Feccia’s investigators never tried to contact was Dave Padilla, the one Fair Board member who dissented from the sale, and fought against it as best he could until being fired by Governor Schwarzenegger.  I imagine he would have a lot of enlightening things to say about all this.  Mr. Padilla can be reached at 714-966-1937.

Given all of the above, it may be a good idea – don’t you think? – to assign any future investigation to someone – if not more aggressive – at least more inquisitive than Mr. Feccia.  I am told that the principled and conscientious Assistant DA Mike Lubinski could be counted on to do a much better job.

*

Maybe you disagree that this case is very important.  But without Senator Ackerman’s alleged illegal lobbying, there is a good chance ABx22 may not have passed, and the County would have been spared untold expense, hassle, and bad blood throughout 2009 and 2010.  I can vouch that those of us opposed to the sale put in thousands of volunteer hours, and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars that we’ll never get back, just to retain this jewel for our grandchildren.

There is good reason for the law which Senator Ackerman allegedly violated, the Milton Marks Postgovernmental Employment Restrictions Act which was passed by an overwhelming majority of California’s citizens.  It was to avoid exactly these corrupt or apparently corrupt situations.  At this very moment a Sacramento politician is likely considering breaking that law, taking into account that Ackerman apparently broke it with impunity, and gambling that the Act is a paper tiger that he or she can also violate with no consequences.  Do we want that happening?

We are encouraged by your department’s action on the Kelly Thomas murder, bringing charges against police that we never expected from the Rackauckas DOJ.  Let us not succumb to Anacharsis’ cynical dictum that “Written laws are like spiders’ webs, and will like them only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful will easily break through them.”  We don’t want Orange County to be like that, do we?

I’m happy to be of assistance, and please keep in contact.

Sincerely,

Vern P. Nelson
ChezVern@aol.com
www.orangejuiceblog.com


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.