Jordan Brandman Redefines Reckless — and Puts City Staff in a Real Bind


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Jordan Brandman angry at Council Meeting

Jordan Brandman hurls accusations of recklessness at Tom Tait, perhaps written for him by someone whose little knowledge truly did turn out to be a dangerous thing.

From his demeanor, Jordan Brandman seemed to be quite proud of his commentary at Tuesday night’s Anaheim City Council meeting about the Chamber of Commerce’s contract to administer a now-cancelled program.  (If you haven’t read that story of mine, entitled “Anaheim Council’s Imperative: Shovel Money into the Chamber of Commerce!“, you should read it now.)  (OK, you can wait until the weekend; it’s long.)

Well, if Jordan is proud of what he had to say, then who am I to deny it a broader audience?  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Jordan Brandman (with a little of my own commentary thrown in) on why the City should this September give the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, headed by his friend Todd Ament, a full year’s payment of $460,000 to administer a program that will expire at the end of December.

While you can get the highlights from this video, also available on the previous story, we’ll be working primarily from the 38-minute monster video embedded just below– and a big thanks to an anonymous OJB reader who volunteered to transcribe this much of it.  (There may be mistakes, which will be corrected as they are identified — and you, Dear Reader, can help in that process!  You can also help to transcribe the remaining 26 minutes or so yourself, if you’d like!)

I’m only going to talk about the section from 23:50 to 36:10, where Councilmember Jordan Brandman — who had started things off in a high dudgeon over allegations of corruption by attorney Cory Briggs and used City Attorney Michael Houston to try to bat them down — finally gets deeply (and weirdly) into the merits.  I think that this 12+ minutes is the highlight of the whole discussion, because parts of it are so far over the top:

Tom Tait (TT): Any other Comment? Councilmember Brandman…

Jordan Brandman (JB): Do I get to speak now? Oh, thank you….You know there’s a legal term called “irreparable harm.” And I think that this motion tonight is doing irreparable harm and it’s doing irreparable harm for a few reasons

The legislation session is not over…there is cleanup legislation that is going to go through, there are regulations that are going to be implemented. Let’s say a bill cleaning up AB 93 is passed on Sept 12, gets to the Governor’s desk over that weekend, he has until Oct. 13 to sign it.

Then, there are regulations and other implementing rules that are written…between that time and Christmas. We won’t know any of that until the program ends on December 31.  There is a reason why the Governor who by the way on this dais, I think I’m the only philosophical, the only person who has a philosophical affinity to Gov. Brown. The decision’s been made and I think we need to adhere to his prudence. He’s been a very prudent governor, and I think this motion would be doing what opponents of his and what the legislator (did by being frankly reckless!

I am not finished! I have the floor.

TT: I’m not interrupting you.

JB: This motion is reckless.  We need to wait for the session to end, we need to wait for the governor to sign whatever legislation he’s going to sign. The funding that’s already been provided to the chamber is an advance payment on the vouchers.

I’m going to have to interject here: Jordan’s point is absolutely loony.  It should be embarrassing.  Here’s what is really going on:

The Legislature passed a bill, soon signed by the Governor, to eliminate enterprise zones because they were no longer serving their intended purpose.  They had become corrupted.  Exhibit A for this, it has widely been held, was Anaheim itself.  (Several speakers on the issue, based on what seems like one offhand remark by a Brown Administration official, suggest otherwise.  Well, I’d be happy to do some more research and collect quotes about the process if they’d really like to press the issue.)  The legislative votes were lopsided in favor of eliminating them.  The Governor is a staunch opponent of the current system and has shown that he’s happy to veto far less disturbing bills.  While Jordan claims partisan “affinity” for the Governor near the beginning of his speech, on this issue he is way, way, way on the other side of the fence.

There is no way — none at all — that a bill is coming back this year to reinstate the Enterprise Zone program.  No one truly believes that this will happen.  (If they do, I will bet them any amount on the outcome.)  ”Cleanup legislation” is not going to restore it.  Implementation of new regulations — and bear in mind that this program is being cancelled – is not going to give new reason to continue the current contract with the Chamber to implement Enterprise Zone vouchers, because none shall be issued after December.  There will be some mild “cleanup work” — a little review of the straggling applications, a little reporting — but nothing that would justice paying the Chamber of Commerce the huge sum it’s receiving for doing what most counties do in-house.

The system is being replaced by a system that will be harder to game — which is what Anaheim did once it finally set up its program in February 2012.  If the Council majority still wants to shovel money to the Chamber of Commerce to do whatever needs doing, it will have to craft and sign — and justify to the public — a new contract for a different scope of work, with a new set of deliverables.

Why is Jordan trying to convince people otherwise?  Because he wants to delay the process.

Why does he want to delay?  I can’t come up with any reason except the sadly obvious one: if he can stall the process past sometime in September, then as it stands the Chamber will receive its full payment for one full year’s worth of work on the project — even though no new applications for vouchers can be taken once the clock strikes 2014.  It is not clear what (and how much of it) the Chamber would be doing for its money for the final 8 to 9 months of its duration.

Why?  Why?  Why?  Some assert that the Chamber — of which Jordan is a huge supporters — is in a “cash crunch.” The Chamber has hired a whole slew of new employees to get anyone in the City who can possibly do so to apply for an Enterprise Zone voucher while there is still time left on the clock.  (I’d like to say that this was “irresponsible,” but (1) I can’t actually prove it at this point based on publicly available data — because a promised “performance audit” was not delivered, and (2) I suspect that it’s an understatement.)

But the real problem seems to be this: upper level staff make a lot of money — seriously, I’d love to see the comparison to CoC’s in other cities and counties — and they are behind on their bills.  I don’t know whether this is true — but if they’d like to show me their books I’ll see what I can see.  So if this is true the Chamber could either try to squeeze the money out of its paying business clientele … or out of public funds, controlled by elected officials who would really like to maintain good relations with it.  The choice, sadly, is obvious.

Back to the transcript:

JB: Now As I understand it, Ms. Vander Dussen, you said,  that you are now — given that AB93 [the bill eliminating enterprise zones] has been signed — you are going to enter into negotiations on the revision of the scope.

Sheri Vander Dussen, Planning Department (SVD):  That’s correct.

JB: When will we have the recommendations to vote on those revisions?

SVD:  Um, I think that we are meeting next week to go over those changes, so it will probably take a couple of weeks for us to come up with a staff position.

JB: So it is reasonable to state that those revisions will be to us by either the second meeting of September or the first meeting of October.

(That’s going to turn out to be important.)

SVD: Yes…

JB: …Which is still ahead of the deadline of Oct. 13 when Governor Brown would have to sign any clean-up legislation that’s currently being considered by the Legislature.

SVD:  I’m not familiar with the legislative deadlines, I’m sorry.

JB: Okay, that’s okay, I am.  So I am not supporting this; I don’t believe that this is uh, prudent, and so with that, I’m ready to vote. (TT: “OKAY”) And, and uh,  I call the question.

A quick note to everyone on the Anaheim City Council and the City Attorney too — you can’t speak your piece and then call the question to end debate when you’re done.  Read the freaking rules of parliamentary procedure.  You either speak or you call for an end to debate.  Not both.

TT: Well, I want to continue the debate. So I’m going to…

JB: I call the question, I have called the question.

TT: I’m going to ask the question.

Matt Michael Houston, City Attorney (MH):  Just to clarify Mr. Mayor.  Calling the question requires a second and a two thirds vote in order to proceed with that, but it’s up to the body to decide how to address that.

TT: Okay well, if the  body wants to shut down debate on this, frankly I think debate is a good thing and transparency is a good thing, and the more we talk about this the more the public understands it and that’s a good thing, but Councilmember Brandman, if you want to shut down debate..

JB: I have called the question.

Lucille Kring: I would like to hear what the Mayor has to say.

And that means that there will be no 2/3 majority to call the question, because 3/5 won’t do.  I’m still waiting for Kring to vote with Tait on something after Jordan has already voted with him just so she can mess with him and see how quickly he can backpedal.  How can she resist that sort of sport?

TT: Thank you Councilmember Kring. Are there any other votes to shut down debate?  Seeing none…

JB: Okay

TT: Okay, reckless, talk about reckless. … Let me ask Sheri … I hate to keep putting you on the spot. We had the initial contract for a five year period. What was that worth, the total contract, do you recall the one, back in February?

SVD: Yes, Mayor,  it was $2,367,500 for five years.

TT: Okay and then that was amended to how much?

SVD:  I’m sorry, that was the amended total.

TT: So the first contract, was for how much, maybe a million, four something?

SVD: No, it looks like closer to $2 million if I’m adding in my head.

TT: The additional amount back in May, I thought it was for another $130,000 a year or something like that.

SVD: Well, it’s actually one, two, three, four, five, …it’s almost a $600,000 increase so the original contract then would have been about what, $1.7 [million].

TT: So $1.7, and they increased it to $2.3, so if you want to talk about reckless, that was done, we had a contract, the Legislature was about ready to terminate the enterprise zone in May. This came forth with an increase in the contract weeks before, we were told three weeks before the audit was due,  and this Council increased it by… how much? $600,000? No increase in scope, that I know of.  Increased the Chamber contract for $600,000 before the audit was in.  We still don’t have the audit, and by the way that was a performance audit, I believe, that we don’t have the results of.

I was actually trying to stifle laughter at this point.  Let’s review:

(1) The Council learned that the program for which they had a five-year contract with the Chamber of Commerce to administer, stretching through early 2017, would be canceled at the end of this year.

(2) The Chamber came to the Council and said “give us more money, quick!”

(3) The Council gave the Chamber another $600,000.

(4) The Council didn’t even ask the Chamber to do anything different or new in exchange for this new money.

(5) The Council had been awaiting an audit to see if the Chamber had been spending this money — public money — appropriately, but it hadn’t come through yet.

(6) And … it still hasn’t.

This really is comedy gold.  They’re basically tossing bags of cash out the door to the Chamber of Commerce, whom they represent a hell of a lot better than the populace of Anaheim, while they still can.  So then Tait asks whether the Council was giving the Chamber as an organization the same sort of scrutiny that it was giving to the puny non-profits that had been begging for scraps earlier in the meeting — a financial audit.

TT: Was there a financial audit done of the Chamber,  that we have?

SVD: Mayor, the audit that was performed was to determine that the Chamber had fulfilled its obligations under our contract with them, so it did not look at anything of the chamber’s financial statement beyond the enterprise zone..

TT: Okay, so, the audit that we haven’t even seen yet is a performance audit, so we asked that.. Earlier tonight we had a bunch of nonprofits that were fighting over a small amount of money, $10,000, and we require a financial audit and a performance audit.

We gave a $600,000 increase to the Chamber without a performance audit or a financial audit, and you call this reckless, by just simply saying that when this contract’s over, we should terminate it? That when this program’s over, we should terminate the contract to pay the Chamber, that’s reckless?

I don’t think there’s any two ways about this: that little speech much have been a hell of a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, everyone else on the dias had a motive not to get the joke — and one of them was loud.

JB: Mr. Mayor, your timing on this amounts to a reckless action, in my opinion. This, you have the penultimate authority, as you did –

(Note to Jordan: look up “penultimate.”)

– to place this item on the agenda, within a week, using your supreme authority as mayor. There is no rush to do this until after Governor Brown and the Legislature do all their considerations.

The rush involves whether the City will pay the Chamber $460,000 that, under the scope of the contract under which these public funds are paid, it cannot possibly spend.  You’re not supposed to do that.

If you want to put something on the agenda, using your supreme authority as mayor, after the Governor and legislature have considered everything, I have no problem discussing that.  But to say that we’re going to start termination proceedings… on something that is not even yet fully defined –

It is fully defined.  This is a dead program.  It has joined the bleedin’ choir invisible.

– causes not only irreparable harm to the people who we’re contracting with but also to the business community at large because we’re making that public statement.

Well, yeah, maybe — but they’d better hope not.  What “irreparable harm” can possibly be done to the Chamber or the business community to tell them that they’re not going to get an amount of money from January 1, 2014 to the anniversary of the September payment that is beyond what they can possibly spend under the existing contract?  What’s the harm in paying them only for the service they’ll actually be able to provide?  Is there a credit card payment due — that the Chamber was counting on this money to cover?  A tax payment?  They’ve known for three months that the program was ending — and they already shook down the Council to increase their budget by a third.  They should not be worrying about covering costs.

We’re basically telling businesses who we want to get vouchers by December 30, right now, in August, that the Chamber’s contract will be ended by the end of December. So what happens after we’ve taken this motion tonight, new legislation is approved, through the gut and amend process, and the Governor signs it, and the world has changed, and we have to come back here rather than waiting until after all the proceedings are done.  It causes irreparable harm, irreparable harm. And I just, I simply disagree with you.

Please note that the same logic — that they can pass a bill in the next month — could also apply just as well to next year.  And to the year after that.  By this logic, it would literally make sense to pay the Chamber to keep itself ready to implement a program just in case the Legislature passes it and the Governor signs it for the entire remaining period of the the five-year contract.  And that — I suppose I should say this explicitly — is nuts.

Jordan’s real logic here seems to be something like this: “Come on, we all know that we’re going to get the Chamber the money it wants!  Even if we don’t pay them for this, we’ll pay them for something else, because they need the money!!!”  This would be, I suggest, an unseemly position for an elected representative to take and I presume that Jordan will seize the opportunity to disavow it.

TT:  So I’m going to ask this question.  The law is passed, signed by the Governor, doing away with enterprise zones, correct?

SVD: That’s my understanding, yes.

TT:  Okay, that’s the law. It’s going away.  I was very clear. I didn’t say that we cancel it today.  I said we let the Chamber know that at the end of the year, this contract’s going away. I would think that this should go without saying. And when people in the community have asked me, I’ve said of course it goes away. The program goes away.  Why in the world, I’m actually, why would we want to continue spending money.  It’s irresponsible to let the Chamber know on December 31 that they don’t have a contract at our last December meeting, when this is over. It’s irresponsible to the people that work there. This gives them a chance to plan. Now if the Chamber, now I sense that what this council wants to do is to maybe morph this into something completely different. And if the council wants to do that, then cancel this contract, and enter into a new contract.

That last point is really important.  If the Council’s prime imperative is to funnel money into the pockets of Todd Ament and his group, it can write up a new contract.  It just has to justify it.  And the circus you see being performed here is going to raise substantial suspicion that it can’t justify it — which creates a problem.

JB: Well, see, that’s where you have my intent incorrect.  My intent is to be prudent.  And I’m willing to make an assumption here and I’ll actually ask the question. That after everything has been considered, we’ve processed through the session and through the time where the Governor is able to sign or veto anything, that staff of their own volition, not through a personal request from you using your supreme authority as mayor, will come back in October or early November to start the very proceedings that you want to start tonight.  And there’s plenty of time to do that. That’s a 60 day window.

TT: So we have a payment that we make to the Chamber in September. Full amount.  Full Amount. I’m trying to give staff direction on what to do.

JB: They’re going to come back with a revised scope for all of that before the payment is fully processed.

Please understand what Jordan is saying here.  First, he is ignoring that by the time that the staff comes back — “of their own volition” — in “October or November,” the $460,000 paid in a lump sum in September for a full year’s worth of service will already have been given to the Chamber.  The idea is to make some arrangement before September.

Here, I’ve got a great idea — only give the Chamber 1/3 of its annual allotment in September, which would give them time to do some January mop-up duty.  Does that make sense?  Could you ask the staff to — right now — negotiate that sort of arrangement with the Chamber?  You really should do it, before the payment, because otherwise the question will arise when they get that $460,000 as to what is that $460,000 FOR – because one thing we know that it’s NOT for is to administer a canceled state program!

As for the staff not being “directed” to do this, but coming and doing it “of their own volition” –

TT: Do you want to give staff direction? That’s our job.

JB: Staff’s already on their own volition going to do this.

TT: Our job is to give staff direction.

JB: Our job is to let staff bring forth these items on their own volition and give us their best advice.

Anyone who thinks that Jordan is correct about the relationship between Council and staff in such a circumstance, please meet me in comments to discuss it.

JB:You asked for this item. Tonight.  Staff did not bring this forward.  Let’s make this very clear.

TT: Of course I asked for it.

JB: But they had already started their administrative proceedings to revise the scope. So why don’t we let staff, our great staff in Anaheim do their job and bring back this item in a prudent manner?

Put aside the question for now of the September payment.  Is there any question that the scope — if the scope is indeed for administering this program, the one for which there’s a contract, is going to be revised … downward?  You know, because the program has been cancelled?

So then Tait gets to the point.  OK, if the true imperative here is to shovel money at the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce — “shoot (money over to them) first; ask questions (as to what they money is for) later” — then can we at least agree that that is what you plan to do here?  Can you say, Councilmember Brandman, that “we’re going to give them this money no matter what and later will ask them for something to justify it?”

TT: Let me ask this, does this council want this to morph into a different contract for other services? Yes or no?

JB: That is not my intent tonight. My intent is to let the staff do their job.

Stop for just a moment here.  If the staff is not doing the job, right now, of figuring out whether it can even legally pay the Chamber of Commerce the money it wants to fulfill a contract for a service that it cannot perform, then shouldn’t the staff be, well, fired?  They’re supposed to life up to professional standards, right?  Seriously, what kind of staff lets the City Council hand out $460,000 to — let’s face it — their cronies without knowing what that money is supposed to be buying for the city?

My guess is that that would be the kind of staff that would end up going to jail.

The staff’s responsibility is not ultimately to the City Council, but to the people of Anaheim.  And if the Council is trying to get them to do something crazy, like cut a $460,000 check for services from Sept. 15 (or whatever) 2013 to the same date in 2014 for a program that is being eliminated on December 31, then it’s the staff’s responsibility to — “of their own volition” — notify the City Council that they can’t send the check under those conditions.

Now, why wouldn’t the staff for the City of Anaheim do that?  Maybe because they saw what happened to former City Attorney Cristina Talley, who was fired for telling the Council that they really do have to obey the law.  They want to keep their jobs.  But what if the Council requires them to do something loony and (from what I can tell right now) illegal — spending public money pursuant to a contract where delivery of contracted services is impossible, turning it into a gift — as a condition of keeping their job?

Well, here at long last we get into an area where I have personal expertise — as a plaintiff’s employment lawyer.  If your boss gives you an illegal order … well, hmmm … you know, rather than my offering legal advice to strangers, I’m sure that there are people within the state government that interested employees could call to clarify what they are supposed to do in such a situation.  New City Attorney Michael Houston might be the first call for them to make — but he would not likely have to be the last.

And then, if they get fired anyway for standing up to the Council – well, the City might wish that it had back some of that TOT tax and money spent on putting paramilitary in the streets, because it might end up needing to dip into it.  Heavily.

TT: Well, you’re a councilmember.  I’m asking. That’s the question. We can either morph this into something completely different or we can cancel it.

JB: I can’t answer that question Mr. Mayor, because Go Biz hasn’t even processed any new regulations. The regulations for the cycling out of the enterprise zone haven’t even happened yet.  It’s not a question that’s even answerable.

TT: Alright.

You know what?  I guess that this gutty little blog has just made that call a little bit easier for staff to make – by providing them this very transcript of Council debate.

Can some state regulator can figure out what Jordan is trying to say above — and what it would mean for employees asked to send out a whole bunch of public funds to an organization that can’t deliver the promised goods?  (Maybe it’s not a question that’s even answerable.)

There’s more — so much more — to this video.  There’s three other Councilmembers to hear from; there’s Jordan’s colloquy with Michael Houston over whether the Council was breaking the law by voting on money going to a campaign contributor — and, indeed, that’s not the problem — and there is another Michael Houston appearance worth noting.  No transcripts of all that, yet.  Another time.  That’s enough for today.  I expect that just as much as we’ve done  may take readers more than a little time to digest.


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.