Tom Foolery or Public Service? You Decide

DUI

Hello Simi Valley!

It looks like the current election season began on July 14, 2014, at least for the Simi Valley City Council race, and already the muck is flying about! And who would expect anything less than dirt and skulduggery from our fine citizenry? And to think, those who love to heap the dirt the farthest and highest somehow think they can keep credit for their mischievous glee hidden from the rest of us. As if being a scum raking bottom feeder might interfere with their claims to “pillar of community” standing?

Now, we here at Vote Simi Valley understand that during a hard fought campaign the stuff can hit the fan and the fan can cause some unintended splatter, but if you’re going to throw the muck at the fan to begin with, you should get credit for your wonderful deeds. No need to hide under rocks! Come out from the shadows!

An example of the first round of muckery is the anonymously sourced posting of the Sojka dui video on the afternoon of July 15, 2014 by Hews Media Group, begging the question, just where did they get the video? Hews Media Group’s principle, Brian Hews, has stated, “We will not reveal our sources.”

Fair enough.

The El Segundo City Clerk’s Office, on the other hand, has no problem informing who requested the video and when they sent out the video. In fact, as a governmental agency, they are required by law to disclose who requested the video.

It turns out that on March 26, 2014, the City of El Segundo received its very first request for all information regarding the Sojka arrest from none other than Simi Valley resident Tom Mackel.

Fight On Tom!

Mr. Mackel presented a second request to the City of El Segundo for information on Sojka on June 18, 2014, again on July 2, 2014 and again on July 9, 2014. It would appear that Mr. Mackel hit the jackpot when the City of El Segundo released to him a copy of the dui video on July 15, 2014. And of course, that would be the same date that the dui video was splashed far and wide throughout the electronic frontier.

Now, it may only be a coincidence that Mr. Mackel had the only copy of the dui video legitimately released by the City of El Segundo as of July 15. And it may only be a coincidence that the dui video hit the street running on July 15. That is not to say that Tom Mackel is responsible for releasing the video to media and others for posting on Face Book. No, why Mr. Mackel’s computer could have been hacked or his wifi could have been tapped. In fact, Mr. Mackel may merely have been obsessively intent on obtaining copies of the Sojka material just to fill out his own personal archive of responses to public record act requests.

Nonetheless, Tom Mackel clearly deserves the credit for doggedly digging for that video and being the first to be rewarded with its receipt from the City of El Segundo on July 15, 2014.

Hurray Tom! You were the first!

And I’m sure its only a coincidence that the very same video was splashed far and wide later that day with the source kept anonymous.

[Editor’s Disclosure:  Mitch represents a lot of people through his law practice in Simi Valley, to include Steve Sojka and Glen Becerra on matters not related to the dui video]

The Arrest Video

A video is circulating right now that shows Councilmember Steve Sojka being arrested on a DUI charge a few months ago. The video was acquired by Hews Media Group, submitted by an anonymous source. Since the arrest, Sojka has plead no contest in Los Angeles court and was subsequently sentenced to three years probation and required to participate in an alcohol abuse program.

Things like this shake people up and can polarize a community. Even sharing this video has the potential to spark an ugly debate and get people fighting. I sincerely hate that. But pretending it didn’t happen is foolish. These things matter to our community.

During Steve Sojka’s 2008 campaign for City Council, I didn’t feel like he and I were on the same page. He reached out to me on a personal level in 2010 during his campaign for Mayor and we spent a good deal of time talking to each other and getting to understand each others’ positions, and getting to know each other in general, something that meant a great deal to me. I hope that he is able to take this situation and turn it into something positive by teaching the youth in our community that even the most caring and cautious individuals can make mistakes that have dire consequences and that the risks aren’t worth it.

Robocall Story Moves Forward

The robocall story continues to progress, believe it or not. Of course, I’m not allowed to talk about what I know. There’s no legal obligation preventing me from talking about these discoveries, but in order to get updates I’ve been asked to keep these findings confidential which drives me a little crazy. These are important facts that people need to know. People will learn them in time, but my patience is wearing thin.

As milestones have been reached and new information has come to light, I’ve found the whole situation to be more and more troubling. Those behind the robocall are firm in their belief that what they did was right. They are certain that what they did was for the benefit of Simi Valley. Yet they continue very desperately to hide their identities and steadfastly refuse to admit the robocall script contained misleading statements and falsehoods. The time between the date of the robocall to now, with all of the discoveries, has completely shaken my belief system. THESE are the people behind it?? Despite disagreements, I always assumed these were people who were just exceedingly passionate. But they’re really just sneaky liars.

This fight will carry on beyond the June court date for the robocall lawsuit. People will celebrate the upcoming news, but I won’t. I’m sad. This will distract from the elections and shake things up even more. Every election, I think I’m going to rekindle my own passion and cover this stuff more in depth, but I know now that I won’t. Instead, I’ll be immersed in stories about sneaky liars who despite their best efforts and lots of money to stay hidden, are now genuinely fucked, and I’ll hope things settle and get better for our community in the next two years.

Simi Valley still deserves better.

I Still Like Mike Judge

I hear the news vans have been to City Hall today regarding the recent news about Councilmember Mike Judge.  Honestly, that bothers me.  Here’s why:

I see Mike Judge as an important symbol in our community. It seemed the odds were against him when he first ran for City Council, but his numbers were pretty decent.  He gave Barbra Williamson a run for her money, but she still retook her seat.  The next time around, he firmly landed a seat on the Council.  He did that without the business accolades and awards.  He did that without the community connections and big dollar donors.  He did that without the support of sitting Council members.  For me, it was an exciting milestone.  It was sad to see Michelle Foster leave, but exciting to see a guy that we could all relate to be victorious.  His campaign style and general demeanor were very appealing to me from the very beginning.  I liked seeing him win.  I’d like him to stick around.

To Mike Judge: we’ve all made errors in judgment over the years ever since email gained traction as a main stream form of communication.  When you can share content with a ton of people by a simple click of a button, bad things are bound to slip out.  Own it.  Accept accountability and apologize.  You have a lot of supporters, and those who are troubled by this can forget about it and let it go if they know it won’t happen again. Your First Amendment rights are a true privilege that you value, I understand.  But a few people and the media are concerned.  So commit to not doing it again.

To Mike Judge’s advisors: thanks for sticking by him during a tough time. But if you’ve got an agenda to protect and you’re not publicly defending him, then you’re not doing anyone any favors.  You know who you are.

Mike Judge is a solid person who I respect as an individual and as a Councilmember.  I’d like to see this blow over really soon.  Let’s move on with a little assurance from Mike that this isn’t a concern moving forward.  It’s time to get back to business, folks!

Final Draft of Expansion EIR Complete

VENTURA COUNTY PLANNING DIVISION’S FINAL DRAFT OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT COMPLETE

January 28, 2011, Simi Valley, Calif. – The Simi Valley Landfill and Recycling Center (SVLRC) announced today that the Ventura County’s Final Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is now complete and expected to go before the Planning Commission sometime in March.

Waste Management, as part of its commitment to complete transparency before, during and after the proposed modernization project, is continuing its efforts to keep the community informed about our project as much as possible.

“We cannot stress enough the importance of community transparency,” said Mike Smith, Director of Operations for Waste Management. “We are glad the final draft is complete and look forward to the next stage of the process.”

Copies of the final document can be obtained by the following:

* Visit the County’s website at http://www.ventura.org/rma/planning/ceqa/eir.html
* Reduce paper-get a CD copy by contacting WM’s Simi Valley Landfill & Recycling Center at 2801 Madera Road in Simi Valley. Contact Lisa Hemenway at 805-581-1746 or email Lhemenway1@wm.com.
* Visit WM’s website at http://www.keepingventuracountyclean.com/expansion.html

The SVLRC is not only responsible for employing more than 230 Ventura County residents, it also injects $48 million annually in to the Ventura County economy and is at the forefront of the green energy industry, powering over 2,500 homes with its landfill gas to energy (LGE) technology.

“We thank all our supporters for sticking with us and hope to garner even more support at the hearing, Smith said.

For more information on the project or to schedule a landfill tour, please contact Lisa Hemenway at (805) 581-1746 or email Lhemenway1@wm.com.

about waste management

Waste Management provides Ventura County with recycling, trash hauling and solid waste disposal through G.I. Industries and the Simi Valley Landfill and Recycling Center.  Waste Management has owned and operated G.I. Industries since 1998 and the SVLRC site since 1983 and employs more than 230 people in Ventura County. The SVLRC provides approximately 60% of Ventura County’s daily refuse disposal needs. The company operates a “green power” program at the site that generates enough power for 2,500 homes, and clean-burning LNG powers 48 of its trucks.  Waste Management is a significant contributor to area community groups. For more information visit our website: www.KeepingVenturaCountyClean.com.
###

Chief Lewis Defends the SVPD

I’m used to taking the unpopular position, so I’ll go ahead and say this: I don’t believe the SVPD has done anything wrong in their handling of the Takasugi fraud case, the controversial criminal complaint regarding Mayor Huber’s former law associate. And these aren’t just my miscellaneous thoughts on the subject. I believe I have asked the right people the right questions to better understand the situation as well as the investigative process and required resources for such cases.

Even though I was on vacation last week, I was still tuned in enough to be thoroughly disappointed when the Ventura County Star decided to run another story on the SVPD where the City Council requests a third party investigation on their handling of the Takasugi case. The story shed no light on any new facts or information and seemed to only keep the topic fresh on the minds of Simi Valley readers. I wasn’t the only one who saw it this way.

Chief Mike Lewis has drafted a response to be published in the Ventura County Star. He lays out the facts regarding the timeline of events as well as the resources allocated to the investigation. Understandably, his frustration is evident regarding the story’s constant revival in our local paper.

When we’re not in the midst of an election cycle, I’m proud to say that I’m a supporter of our City Council. But I don’t always agree with every stand they take, either as a unified Council or individually. I hope that our City Council can let this issue rest for now and I think they really have since mentioning this issue several weeks back. Even better, I’d hope the Ventura County Star can ease up until there’s something new and relevant to report. There’s an awful lot we don’t know about how these cases are investigated, not to mention an even bigger issue regarding available resources and concerns about mandatory job rotations. Rather than open Pandora’s box, I propose we all rest easy and let this play itself out.

Here are Chief Mike Lewis’s thoughts on the matter:

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

For many weeks now, the 195 fine men and women of the Simi Valley Police Department have been maligned regarding the alleged delay of a complex fraud investigation.  Normally, our internal review and a subsequent request for an investigation (which was declined) by the District Attorney’s Office would be sufficient to quell any questions regarding the allegation of an inappropriate action, in this case the intentional delay in completing an investigation.  However, this particular issue seems to have taken on a life of its own, and I will not silently stand by while the integrity of my officers and support staff is continually impugned for questionable purposes.

A review of the facts are as follows:

Beate Kirmse, administrator for the estate of Oscar Muro, filed a criminal complaint on October 19, 2010, alleging attorney Russell Takasugi, embezzled funds from the estate of Mr. Muro.  This was 14 days before the recent City elections.  An article reporting this criminal complaint appeared in the Ventura County Star on October 25.  This was one week before the election.

When this complaint was filed, our lead expert economic crimes investigator was out of the office for an extensive training class to prepare him for a new position as the Department’s lead homicide investigator.  A law enforcement agency must constantly review its workload and allocate resources based upon priority of the type of investigation and our detectives’ current caseload.  Based upon this review, our Investigative Unit made the decision to wait until our lead investigator returned from training to assist a newer detective with the investigation of this particular case.  There were no exigent circumstances requiring immediate action such as the destruction of evidence.

Fraud and embezzlement cases are very complex and require hundreds of records, including bank statements and other types of documentation, which must be subpoenaed from banks, trusts, estate attorneys, etc., before a case may be presented to the District Attorney’s Office for review. Investigations of this nature typically take many months, even years, to complete based upon the complexity.  Only after an investigation is complete would there be any information released to the public.

We are now a full six weeks into this investigation, and it will probably take several more months to complete.  If I had put my entire Investigative Unit on this case when it was first received, there would have been nothing to report before the election and this investigation would still be ongoing.  As the head of this agency, it is my professional opinion, based upon knowing all of the facts, that the Department took the proper steps in an appropriate timeframe.  For some to suggest otherwise is nothing more than an attempt to keep this “story” in the news with unfounded claims of biased policing.

The constant rehashing of this story smacks of Police Department bashing.  In fact, much of this story is attributed to second hand comments reportedly made by a civil attorney during a probate hearing in Superior Court.  The repeated assertion that there is a “black cloud” over our Department comes from not knowing all of the facts and not allowing the City Manager to complete his review and report back to the City Council with his findings.  I have already stated my desire to have full transparency on this issue and once again pledge to the community of Simi Valley that a review is welcomed.

As the Chief of Police, I am proud to state that I stand with the investigators who are diligently working this investigation; unequivocally support their decisions made, and the Department’s handling of this case.  As with all of the calls for service we receive, this case will be handled with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism because this purported dark cloud truly has a silver lining composed of the 195 dedicated staff who make up the Simi Valley Police Department.

Mike Lewis, Chief of Police
Simi Valley Police Department

Williamson Resigns as Chair of Task Force

Barbra Williamson has officially resigned from the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force, according to this news release distributed this morning by the Task Force:

*** UPDATE: Barbra Williamson has resigned as Chair of the Task Force, but still remains a member of the group. ***

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Resignation of Barbra Williamson, Chair of the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force

Simi Valley, CA (December 8, 2010) – Barbra Williamson announced today the resignation as Chair of the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task force effective immediately.

Citing the perception of a possible conflict of interest due to her recent appointment to the negotiating committee with Mayor Huber and City Manager Mike Sedell on discussions with Waste Management and the proposed landfill expansion, Williamson thought it best to step down.

SVLET member Louis Pandolfi will take over as acting chair.  “The Task Force has exceeded my greatest expectations and I know it will continue in its professional investigation of the impacts of the landfill expansion on the residents and businesses in our Community”, Williamson said.

“Task Force members will surely miss the leadership that Barbra has provided for over three years, during which she has worked tirelessly to protect Simi Valley from the negative environmental impacts that will result from the proposed landfill expansion”  said Charles Blaugrund Task Force Member. “We wish her success in her new assignment with Mayor Huber.”

New Planning Commissioners

New Planning Commissioners were appointed this evening. Councilman Glen Becerra reappointed Mary Bibb to the Planning Commission. Newly elected Councilman Mike Judge nominated Kenneth Rice, long term Simi Valley resident. Both were unanimously voted in to the Planning Commission.

Mayor Bob Huber nominated Scott Santino who was his Campaign Chair during the Mayoral campaign. The Mayor introduced Santino, discussing his background as a businessman and long time contributor to the community through various community organizations. Scott Santino’s appointment was not unanimous, with votes of opposition from Councilman Glen Becerra and Councilman Steve Sojka. No official word from either on why they voted no, but I suspect members of the press will chase them down for questions and publish something official later in the week.

There has been a lot of speculation from insiders during the past several weeks regarding Santino’s appointment to the Planning Commission. It’s widely believed that Santino intends to run for City Council in two years. Two years of service on the Planning Commission can be beneficial for a hopeful candidate for City Council. Councilwoman Barbra Williamson served on the Planning Commission before being elected to the Council, and former candidate Keith Mashburn was also a Planning Commissioner when he threw his hat in the ring last summer. Being a business owner and Planning Commissioner looks favorable on a ballot, not to mention the added benefit of two years of name recognition and experience in City business.

Though just a rumor at this point, the next election cycle could be just as interesting as the last if Scott Santino runs. He would likely draw the same support from the POA. I plan to stock up on blood pressure medication!

Landfill Expansion Taskforce Website

Minutes after I sent an email to Councilwoman Barbra Williamson offering to host a website for the Landfill Expansion Taskforce, she replied with a press release announcing the new website for the Taskforce! Obviously, she and the team have been working on this for a while and the website is a solid representation of data.

For information regarding the Landfill Expansion Taskforce, dates and schedules, as well as related documents, check out www.savesimi.com.

Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force Announces Website Availability

Simi Valley –Barbra Williamson, Chair of the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force announced today that the Task Force has created a website available for viewing at savesimi.com  Responding to numerous requests by interested community members concerned about the negative impacts of the proposed Simi Valley Landfill expansion by Waste Management, Inc., Ms. Williamson states, “This website makes it easy for members of the public to contact the Task Force directly and share their points of view with us. I receive inquiries daily on how people can get involved in the Task Force and learn more about the landfill expansion. This gives them an opportunity.”

Found on the website is an overview of the landfill expansion, highlights of critical impacts effecting Simi Valley and neighboring communities, links to forward thinking waste-to-energy techniques and documents associated with the Task Force. Enlisting the aid of local college students, the creation of the website is one example of the commitment of volunteers to inform the community of the impacts resulting from a three-fold expansion of the landfill.

———————————————————————————————————
The Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force is an independent community group formed in 2007 by Simi Valley City Councilwoman Barbra Williamson and members of the community. The Taskforce is not affiliated with the City of Simi Valley or any other government body. Its mission is to keep the public informed and engaged on issues involving the Simi Valley Landfill and Recycling Center’s proposed expansion currently under consideration by the County of Ventura.

####

Oxnard’s City Manager Shake-up

Some signs are pointing to the end of the career for the current City Manager of the City of Oxnard. At least that is my interpretation of the most recent news on the Ventura County Star, indicating Oxnard Mayor Tom Holden is requesting a special meeting tonight to evaluate the performance and consider the possible dismissal of Oxnard City Manager Ed Sotelo. Consideration for dismissal by the Mayor appears to be as a result of a hiring decision that was made with the Council’s input.

According to the article

The agenda item reads: “Evaluate the performance of the City Manager; consider the discipline, dismissal or release of the City Manager; and consider the appointment of an Interim City Manager.”

Earlier this week, Holden cited a 1988 city administrative manual that requires the city manager to consult with the council and get its concurrence in the hiring of city department heads. But state law in Oxnard’s city manager form of government calls for the city manager to hire and fire all department heads. In practice, the administrative manual hasn’t been followed for at least the past decade.

It will be fascinating to see how this unfolds, especially after Simi Valley’s heated election and some of the remarks made about not only the Council, but also about City Management.

Though I could never get anyone to go on record, I frequently received anonymous notes from people detailing Simi Valley City Manager’s total compensation. The document was never on official City letterhead, making me unsure of it’s authenticity. Plus, the figure was different than what had been published elsewhere. Nevertheless, the very fact that the document was being passed around along with the very clear notes that accompanied the document sent a clear message. Some people out there believe City Manager Mike Sedell’s compensation is too high and they want something done about it.

Up until this week, it seemed pretty clear to me that our City Council was very supportive of our City Manager. In fact, if you take a swipe at him in the comments section of this blog, Councilwoman Barbra Williamson is often first to come to his defense, telling readers how hard he works for the Council and the City. Other Council Members have been equally complimentary about City Manager Sedell, in interviews and in conversation. This week, however, two new members have joined our City Council. I have no official word from either on how they feel about Sedell and its likely that neither will have an official opinion until spending more time on the Council.

The situation in Oxnard clearly demonstrates how a City’s management is accountable to the City Council. No decision to dismiss Oxnard City Manager Sotelo can be made without a majority vote from the Oxnard City Council, so it seems we’ll know his fate by the morning.