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1. An Introduction to Public Service
[Note: if you’re Jordan Brandman or someone who cares about him, you’d best read through all the way to the end.]
Yesterday’s Anaheim City Council meeting was, once again, the best entertainment value in town. I’ll have more than one story on the meeting. The most important story will regard the revelation that the data on which the rosy projections of the economic benefits of Angels baseball seem to be deeply and almost comically flawed, the disclosure of which caused a momentary glitch in the Murrbot’s operation before her gyroscopic controls put her back on course. That one will require actual research work, so you’ll have to wait for it.
(For those new to Orange Juice coverage of the Anaheim Council story, the “Murrbot” is Curt Pringle-programmed Councilwoman Kristin Murray, who is supposed to ignore information such as “these projections for Anaheim regarding baseball fan spending in the City were actually based on places like Houston” without even a momentary sign of comprehending their implications. The least important story, if I write it at all, will be my musings on Councilwoman Lucille Kring’s apparently burgeoning crush on me and what it is doing to her math skills, but there are a trillion — 10 to the 12th power — reasons not to get into that one.)
This story is between those two in substantive importance. We finally discovered last night why the Council majority has been so hostile to Tom Tait’s attempts to instruct the people who will be negotiating a deal with Arte Moreno on behalf od the City: they apparently have no idea that it is part of their job to instruct the negotiators. They seem to think (and this would be funny if it weren’t so tragic) that they are not supposed to state publicly what they want out of a deal. Their own aspirations and preferences are not of public interest — a finished deal is just supposed to come to them ready-made for their rubber stamp.
And they’re really upset that Mayor Tom Tait is trying to get in the way of such an immaculate and anti-septic process. So Tait thinks that a pushing for joint venture — giving the City some direct financial stake in and benefit from property development on the 155-acre parcel rather than leasing it out for $1/year — is a good idea and that the negotiators should push for it? Well, from the apparent perspective of the Council majority, who asked him? This isn’t his concern, after all, it’s the concern of the negotiators — and what Anaheim should want out of a deal is not something that should be discussed in public in front of witnesses, but off-camera and out of the public eye, say at a private table at the Catch.
(This view, by the way, is what we may call “legally problematic.”)
The only thing missing was Councilman Jordan Brandman looking directly at the camera and saying “look, everybody knows that these public policy decisions are being made by Curt Pringle outside of public view, right? Why are we bothering with putting on a show of policymaking for the audience? It’s annoying!”
More on Jordan later; let’s first get to the recap. The Council dealt with several big issues:
- the continued overpayment of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce (which is now apparently deficit-spending part of its budget on t-shirts to support a cause — keeping the Angels in Anaheim — that no one really opposes in principle)
- a new proposed ordinance dealing with treatment of the city’s homeless that has been characterized as “criminalizing homelessness”
- setting into motion the process of drawing new district lines (or “fake-district” lines if the Superior Court doesn’t intervene) for the 2014 elections
- instructing its negotiation team as to what terms should seek it should seek in its negotiations for a new lease agreement with the Angels
Did I say “dealt with”? Yeah, that’s the right term — but “dealt with” has very different meanings for each bullet point.
- The Council rammed through the overpayment of the ACoC — not as bad of one as had once been proposed, at least — on a 3-1 vote (Tait dissenting, Eastman absent yesterday.)
- The Council wisely decided that its ordinance was being misunderstood by the public — which I hope is true, although my fear is that it is perhaps being correctly understood — and deferred action on the matter until next meeting to allow time for more public outreach and explanation
- The Council listened to a well-crafted and professional presentation by outside counsel as to how the districting process would go forward, including what criteria they would use both in putting the requirements of the ordinance into effect and hiring an expert to advise them, then agreed with the plan
- The Council is apparently prepared to punish Mayor Tom Tait for putting onto the agenda the item calling for public discussion on what general goals the City would be seeking in its negotiation with Arte Moreno
One of these “dealt with” actions, you’ll notice, is not like the others. The last one is, to put it mildly, nuts. Or, actually, it’s either nuts or corrupt. I’m hoping that it’s just nuts.
2. Why oh Why am I Picking on Jordan Brandman?
It pains me to pick on my fellow Democrat and social liberal Jordan Brandman. (This isn’t because I dislike doing it on it’s own merits; I think that everyone should be evaluated on their actions regardless of party. It’s because it leads to fellow Democrats throwing sharp objects at me. That’s usually just a metaphor.) So, left to my own devices, I’d probably leave the criticism to Vern, Jason Young, Cynthia Ward or David Zenger — who don’t have to meet every month with his closest friends. But he keeps making that impossible, because he keeps on inserting himself into the very center of the story, in a way that demands attention. He is obsessed with going after the deportment of Tom Tait. Ideally, Jordan would simply be wrong in doing this, but he’s not just wrong — he’s weirdly and bizarrely wrong, and histrionically over the top to boot. (And, again, that’s not even the worst-case possibility.)
At yesterday’s meeting, we saw four examples — this based on memory, not the video — of this behavior, of which the last one is the truly important one:
- Jordan went after Tait for putting on his own slide show presentation critical of the draft Memoranda of Understanding (“MOUs”) prior to the presentation of the staff report. This was a particularly difficult criticism to understand because the staff report was supposed to be an answer to Tait’s criticisms of the draft MOUs. It would therefore make sense for Tait to go first, then to hear the response. Every non-robotic adult in the room other than Jordan probably understood this, but he apparently wanted to hear the criticism of Tait without letting Tait make his critique. When I’ve reviewed it, I will link here to the video of Jordan melodramatically taking on Tait over his going first. Eventually cooler heads — it may have been Kring — prevailed on him to let the Mayor make his case. Tait’s reaction to Jordan, meanwhile, seemed to be somewhere between that of an adult holding out his arm to keep away a five-year-old child taking wild windmill swings at him and someone looking for a broom to swat away a confused fruit bat.
- Then, when the paid City staff — led by a much calmer than usual former San Diego Padres President Charles Black, who appeared to have been shown videos of himself being too pugnacious with Tait more than once earlier in the month — started giving their rebuttal presentation, Tait interject at various points asking some (fair and pertinent) questions. These were important questions for the task of instructing the negotiators, which Tait (and possibly Kring, not likely Murray) knew was the task at hand. One of those questions in fact elicited an absolutely critical revelation about the basis for the financial projections currently being thrown around by Todd Ament’s group like gospel. But to Jordan, Tait’s asking questions of staff was a deep affront. He rolled his eyes and went into about a half-power “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE”-style attack on Tait’s temerity. It was at this point that I began to realize that Jordan fundamentally did not understand why the Council was discussing the lease at all — having already referred the matter to Curt Pringle. After looking at Jordan quizzically, Tait defended his right to ask questions of staff during a report but let them continue the rest of the report without pressing them on any points in real time. This made the staff presentation less useful to the Council — which, to give Jordan credit for effectiveness, was apparently the point.
- At two points during the agenda item, Jordan challenged Tait’s right to act as Chair. First, Jordan tried to officially appealed Tait’s “decision of the Chair” to start off the item with his own report. This was odd because that’s really not an appealable “decision of the Chair” — Jordan could have turned it into one, but didn’t, and didn’t apparently know how to, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to teach him at this point — and at any rate the issue went away when Kring tired of the hot breath flowing onto her from the other side of the room and said to let the Mayor go ahead. Then, after the resolution of either than or another point, Jordan asserted that Tait was interrupting him because he still had the floor. Tait correctly pointed out that Jordan did not have the floor — and that, as Chair, he should know who had the floor, because he was the one who gave out and then reclaimed the floor. Jordan seemed unconvinced of this. It reminded me of the reaction of some people who think that Obama doesn’t really have any power because he’s not really the legitimate President. But surely Jordan understood that Tait was the Mayor and had certain prerogatives as a result, right?
- Wrong. The final insult — and this actually happened at the end of the meeting, following the end of business, so I missed it — was that Jordan announced that he was calling for a special meeting of the Council. The purpose of the meeting would be to strip away the Mayor’s right to put items on the agenda without the support of at least one other Councilperson — not easy to get for someone in a 4-1 minority on the Council. The benign explanation for this is that Jordan was just being a rhymes-with-stick and wanted to get back at Tait for his temerity. (Yes, that’s the benign one.) The less benign explanation is that Jordan is laying the groundwork for a cover-up of corruption.
3. Jordan: Sit Down, Shut Up — and Listen
You are making it look like you are participating in a conspiracy to misuse public funds. Stop it — now!
(Note: I’ve hit on “Padawan” as a preferable alternative to other terms of address that I might use below.)
The participation of Kris Murray, Gail Eastman, and Lucille Kring in such a conspiracy is not my problem. They’re Republicans; let the Republicans clean their own house. You’re a Democrat; I heard former DPOC Chair Frank Barbaro say 834 times at meetings and events that you were the future of the Democratic Party. You are my problem as a Democrat– and as anything less than a slap in the face seems to be ineffective with you, you may want to plant your feet.
Here’s the theory behind my — and many other people’s — concern:
I’ll spell this out to you simply: you have often stated your admiration for (and I think it’s fair to say fealty to) former Republican Assembly Speaker and now local super-lobbyist Curt Pringle. Wide speculation is afoot that not only is Pringle behind the framework of this pair of MOUs — Moreno’s not a developer, so development rights mean nothing to him except as something to sell — but that Pringle himself may be one of the main people to profit from it, either as a participant in the development project or as the commission-earning broker for such a deal. That’s not an assertion of fact, it’s just a theory — but it’s a theory that could well be borne out by future facts, which will lead to aggressive investigation of how the hell this happened.
One critical moment in how the hell this will have happened would be your calling a meeting that would allow Mayor Tait to put his concerns about the misuse of public funds onto the agenda without having to get permission from one of the four Councilmembers who seem to be in the bag. That is: five years from now, it may be your idiotic motion that is identified as the linchpin of a cover-up of a conspiracy to defraud the public. And that, Padawan, is something that you don’t want put onto your personal bill.
You have to let Mayor Tait have his say — in public, where public business is supposed to be conducted. You don’t have to like it; you can grimace and eye-roll all you want when he speaks; you don’t have to stay in your chair during that part of the meeting. But you had better not try to put a stop to it, Padawan. Do you want a good example of why this is a bad idea? Take last night.
Had this provision you’re seeking been in place a week ago, then Mayor Tait would not have been able to agendize this item. This would be highly unfortunately for the Council, because Tait is apparently the only one on the Council who understands that it is the role of the Council to spell out with some clarity what the Council wants out of the agreement.
Now, up until last night, I thought that the Council had done that. I thought that you understood that there is a difference between the jam-packed draft provisions of an MOU and an MOU that says solely “we wish to enter into negotiations over the renewal of the lease with the Angels, signed Arte Moreno and City Manager Marcie Edwards” and is otherwise blank. If you don’t want those provisions to have any presumption, any weight in influencing future negotiations, you’re supposed to take them out. If you do want them to have any weight, then OWN THEM — stop saying that nothing is final and anything can be changed.
Do you know what you’re supposed to do before sending your negotiators into a negotiation? You’re supposed to instruct them about general goals.
As a public entity, are you supposed to instruct them about general goals in private or in public. In public, because of the Brown Act.
Have you given them instructions on what you want on behalf of the city? NO — because you’re colleagues keep saying that despite all that meaningful verbiage on those sheets of paper, negotiations haven’t yet begun. Or … YES — because the only thing that the negotiators have to guide them right now are the terms in those MOUs.
So this is why your criticism of Tait is idiotic at best: either (1) you have to give the negotiators initial instructions about what you want from negotiations or (2) you already adopted initial instructions last week when you signed the maybe-meaningless, maybe-not MOU — in which event it’s Tait’s prerogative to seek to modify those instructions.
THAT’S HIS JOB AS A COUNCIL MEMBER. It’s YOUR job too, even though you don’t seem to get it.
Tait has suggested that the City consider a joint venture on the property. Charlie Black says that the City can propose that, but it may not be a good idea. OK, sounds like a reasonable disagreement to discuss.
EXACTLY WHEN AND WHERE DO YOU EXPECT THAT DISCUSSION TO TAKE PLACE, JORDAN?
Do you know what would have been a really appropriate time? Last night. Everyone except Eastman was there!
Do you know what would be the next best appropriate time? When Mayor Tait agendizes an item seeking to instruct the negotiators — pay attention to that phrase, Padawan! — to seek a joint venture rather than a $1/year lease!
But do you know what the problem becomes? You’re saying that he can’t do that unless one of the four in the majority give him permission! And you’re not likely to do so because so far you’ve indicated complete deference to the paid staff regarding the terms. It’s like you think that these decisions as to how to instruct the negotiators are someone else’s to make.
Do you know what else should be debated openly? My pugnacious semi-colleague David Zenger here made an excellent proposal that the two MOUs should be merged into one so that the City is dealing with one legal entity — and that their expiration be made explicitly co-terminus (or, he’d probably agree, that termination of one MOU should give the city a painless opt-out as to the other.) Is it worth discussing at a public meeting whether you should instruct the negotiators to seek such a change in the “overall framework” of the agreement. (Hint: “yes.”) Can Tait — the only declared skeptic of the five of you — agendize an item to do so if you “punish him” as you (or whatever redhead wrote your proposal) intend? No he could not! And that means that, when the Angels leave in 2037 but whoever Moreno sells the rights to the 155 acres holds onto them through 2079, you will personally have prevented this possibility — which Zenger wisely counsels to avoid — prior to negotiations. And if your mentor Pringle profits from it, you will suffer, because Pringle’s left middle toe is smarter than your whole head and he’ll make sure that you’re left holding the bag.
Here’s another idea, which I raised at public comments: if one reason that the developable land in the parcel hasn’t been developed is that Arte Moreno can block it due to his claim on the lease to 12,000 parking spaces, then instruct the negotiators that the City wants to figure out a way to eliminate that veto. Maybe this will require building a huge parking structure or two — if Moreno’s going to build, something like that is going to happen anyway, right? Well, there’s a nice joint venture itself! Maybe the City can put up the land and Moreno (and maybe Disney, if they want in) can put up the capital, build a parking structure so that people can park at the Angels’s games and other attractions and the City can get more revenue from that for its general fund — and then the new building takes place but on less favorable terms to Moreno (or whatever Pringle client to whom he sells the rights.)
Will THAT get onto the agenda under your new proposal? No — none of the rest of you have any apparent interest in instructing the negotiators. But there’s another reason — the one that you will be accused of having as your motive: such a change would lead to more money going to the City of Anaheim and less to whoever (such as Curt Pringle or his clients) owns the development and leaseholding right. And that, Padawan, starts to look like a conspiracy and a cover-up. I hope it’s not true. If not, then transparency is your friend here.
One last point: if none of these proposals receive a second to allow them to be added to the agenda — which, by the way, puts you in violation of the Brown Act if you decide to act on them — then you’re either (1) not interested in doing your job or (2) you’re trying to prevent official public debate or (3) all four of you have already decided that the proposal to instruct the negotiators is not even worth considering. And in that case, the question will arise:
how did all four of you come to the exact same conclusion, without having heard any public debate on the merits, that a certain proposal by Tait to instruct the negotiations was not worth even considering.?
And the problem for you would be that the most obvious explanation is that either you four colluded among yourselves or that someone instructed you to keep that proposal off of the agenda — despite that you’re pretending that the MOUs are completely non-binding. And that, Padawan, is a violation of the Brown Act and probably worse.
Let me clue you in on something: pretty much everyone expects that despite your saying “oh, all of this is just advisory, you’re eventually going to get a proposal from Charlie Black’s group that will be very very favorable towards Arte Moreno, you’ll agendize it on some Friday night before a holiday again, and then you’ll shrug and say “look, the whole thing is already worked out, we don’t want to get in the way now” — despite your complete failure to instruct the negotiators.
That’s going to be bad enough as it is, Jordan. Don’t make it this much worse.
Republicans — go talk to your trio now and see if they can figure this out. (If you don’t want to bother talking with Murray, I can’t blame you.)