Dear Mitch, May 1, 2013

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Originally posted on May 1, 2013 by Mitch Green

“Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s headline.” Walter Winchell

[Once again I clear out my in box of tweets from the little birdies in the know and from regular readers asking hard questions you want answered]

Dear Mitch,

Please help me to understand Mayor Huber’s explanation of the “misunderstanding,” concerning the “controversy” last fall following Simi Valley Chamber President and CEO Leigh Nixon’s personal endorsement of candidate Tim Shannon.

You do remember that incident, do you not, Mr. Green? Where Mayor Huber threatened to jeopardize the Chamber of Commerce funding following a personal endorsement?

For background, check out this article from the Ventura County Star, dated September 13, 2012, wherein the City of Simi Valley awarded a $70,000 contract to the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce to provide visitor information services, objected to only by Simi Valley gadfly, Doug Crosse.

http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/sep/13/council-awards-chamber-visitors-contract/

And then, following the personal endorsement by Ms. Nixon of Council Candidate Tim Shannon, Mayor Huber reportedly made a call to Ms. Nixon and and Director of Operations Michele Bennett on Sept. 28, 2012, threatening to withhold the $70,000 funding. The Ventura County Star reported on October 26, 2012 that per Ms. Bennett, “Huber told her “this was a serious situation because four council members had called the city manager and that our city contract check was on hold. … My head was spinning.””

And in the same article, Ms. Nixon is quoted as saying, “Huber told her that “there were council members who were concerned” about the endorsement “and they had requested a hold on our city funds and will be investigating looking at revoking our contract.”

http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/oct/26/huber-says-becerras-concerns-about-chamber-calls/#ixzz2S6KtzYqD-

According to the same article, Mayor Huber said he didn’t mention “four council members” to Nixon and Bennett. Instead, he said he told them he had heard “four council candidates” were considering boycotting the chamber’s Oct. 2 candidate forum because of Nixon’s support of Shannon. “It was a courtesy call to try to save the forum,” Huber said. All but one candidate appeared at the forum. Huber said he had “absolutely no” concerns that Nixon was supporting Shannon.

Now to employ some deductive reasoning. Here is a list of the candidates:

City Council Candidates
Tim Shannon
Barbra Williamson
Steve Sojka
Keith Mashburn
Randy Nemecek
Mark Littleton
Eric Halub
Doug Crosse

Mayoral Candidates
Bob Huber
Ken Sandberg

Doug Crosse stated in a October 2, 2012 VC Star article about the forum “Simi Valley business climate dominates chamber’s candidate forum” and that he canceled his reservation for the forum after Mike McCaffrey, the chamber’s current board chairman, sent an email to members of the Simi Sunrise Rotary Club soliciting campaign donations for Shannon. Shannon is a past president of the Rotary Club.

Mr. Crosse didn’t say “Nixon,” and Mr. Crosse was no longer a candidate by October 2, but let’s add his name to the “four candidates” that were thinking of boycotting, unless, of course, you want to talk to Crosse, but who would want to do that? That leaves us with 3 candidates.

Huber said he had “absolutely no” concerns about Nixon endorsing Shannon so he can’t claim he was thinking of boycotting. Huber’s off the list then.

If Shannon was thinking of boycotting, we would have a problem, so let’s say no about him. That leaves us with this list.

Barbra Williamson
Steve Sojka
Keith Mashburn
Randy Nemecek
Mark Littleton
Eric Halub
Ken Sandberg

So here is my challenge to you: ask the remaining candidates two simple questions:

1 – Were you thinking of boycotting the Candidates Forum based on Nixon’s endorsement of Shannon?

2 – If so, did you tell that to anyone?

Based on those answers, if you can’t find another 3 candidates that were going to boycott the forum, it will be hard for Mayor Huber’s story to stand up to scrutiny.

Thank you for your service,

Another concerned Simi Citizen.

Dear Concerned Simi Citizen,

While I am not one to pick unnecessary fights, and I do not have a reason to pick a fight with Mayor Huber, I do respect my readers to send in their comments for perusal.

So I will take you up on your challenge.

Candidates in the last Simi Valley Election Cycle, were you planning on boycotting the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce candidate forum because of Ms. Nixon’s personal endorsement of Candidate Shannon? And if so, why?

See Concerned Simi Citizen, you ask, I throw it out there. Lets see where this takes us, if anywhere.

Mitch

***

Dear Mitch,

I find it interesting that these names continually come up as the first people seeing your posts in Simi Valley Politics.

Jared Held (Simi Valley Moorpark Tea Party President)
Maryl Mashburn Lorencz (Daughter of Council Member Keith Mashburn)
Peter Carrube (Simi Valley Neighborhood Council Member)
Louis Pandolfi (Advisor to Former Council Member Barbra Williamson)
Chris Coulter (Simi Valley Police Officer Association President)
Bob Swoish (Campaign Treasurer for Former Council Member Barbra Williamson)
Mike Judge (Simi Valley City Council Member)

Just an observation.

Observant One

Dear Observant One,

I too have noticed the diversity of my fan base. To paraphrase Oscar Award winning actor Sally Fields, “They like me! They really, really like me!”

Or not . . . 😉

Mitch

***

Dear Mitch,

Why has City Attorney Baxter not been fired, or at the very least be put on Administrative Leave when:

1 – She might have allegedly committed acts of retaliation against a subordinate (and may be continuing her acts of retaliation at this very moment);

2 – She might have allegedly committed acts of defamation;

3 – She might have allegedly colluded with others outside of the City before the election in their attempts to build a case against the City and maybe even one of the City’s Council members (Mitch Note: Could this be in reference to the allegations of assistance to then Simi Valley Moorpark Tea Party President Doug Crosse’ government claim against Council Member Sojka for cell phone use?);

4 – She might have allegedly wasted City money unnecessarily in hiring outside legal council when it was not needed (Mitch Note: Coming in clearer – is this starting to smell like the allegations of assistance by Baxter in connection with then Simi Valley Moorpark Tea Party President Doug Crosse’ government claim against Council Member Sojka for cell phone use, where she requested an opinion from an outside private law firm on how to handle Crosse’ simple claim that could have been denied with no expense to the City and where instead Baxter needlessly spent over $2600 on something she should have known off the top of her head?);

5 – She might have allegedly entered into a contract without the City’s approval by signing what should have been a draft of an MOU, providing it to the Mayor to sign and then allowing the MOU to be delivered and finalized (Mitch Note: Oh yeah, that whole spin and cover up of a cover up regarding the New Urban West MOU fiasco; wonder if she is still trying to throw her employees under the bus for that FUBAR??);

6 – She might have allegedly spoken of confidential personnel matters with people outside of the City and provided names (Mitch Note: You don’t say? Really, tell us more!);

7 – She might have allegedly withheld information from certain council members while providing legal council exclusively to individual members.

8 – The Public Employee Performance Evaluation of the City Attorney has been on the City Council Meeting agenda, set for closed session 4 times since February 25, 2013;

9 – The City Council had the ability to take action against the City Attorney back on April 22, 2013 because of the inclusion of California Government Code 54957(b)(2) on the Closed Session agenda.

Again I ask, why has City Attorney Baxter not been fired, or at the very least be put on Administrative Leave to protect the City from further hard due to her clear MALPRACTICE!!!
Outraged!

Dear Outraged!

You know, I hear many of those same stories, and I ask myself the same thing. I can’t believe that any one Council Member would put up with the same antics from their own personal attorney if said Council Member actually had to foot the bill for such shady stunts.

Then again, its not their money, so incompetence may not be an issue, huh?  Maybe YOU need to come to the next Council meeting and ask those same questions of the Council as a whole during public comments.  That could certainly get entertaining!

Mitch

***

With that, Simi Valley, I bid you a good night. And I recommend you too take a good long shower to wash off the “Stank O’ Bell” that any one of the above letters could be revealing if there is even ten percent truth to the allegations.

But then, I know you know just how informed my fan base is. Check out the list of regular readers!

Mitch

Ask Mitch, 4-14-2013

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Originally posted on April 14, 2013 by Mitch Green

[Editor’s note:  Today we introduce a semi regular feature, “Ask Mitch,” where Mitch empties his in box and pastes up stuff for no particular reason]

Hey Gang! My e-mail in box keeps filling up with provocative comments, along with the usual “You’re a lying liar who lies!”  or, “I bet you have tinted windows!”  or even the occasional (baseless I might add!) accusations of being less than hands free during my drive time communications.  Puleeze! I’m shocked!  Shocked I say!!

Simi, have you no shame? Why, I’m not going to play along with this “Gotcha” bloggerism! This armchair quarter quipping where any half brain undead who thinks they can lift a non original bumper sticker sentence and qualify as a procurer of deep thoughts will not stand!

No, unless you’re my ex-wife’s lawyer getting pissed about the late alimony payment, just sending me an unsigned blast about how you’re “going to make me pay!” isn’t going to shake me out of my Sunday afternoon three beer buzz.

What does get my attention, besides the real cool old school episodes of Peter Gunn playing in the background on the Airstream’s t.v., are intriguing letters like the following,

“Dear Mitch,

At the April 8th City Council meeting the issues surrounding of the MOUs were up for discussion. Most of it seemed like prepared statements about the mistakes that were made, both in 2005 and the present, with very little actual discussion. Mayor Huber had promised during the February 25th Council Meeting that the issues would be talked about in their totality, but because the scope of the issues that could be discussed had to be based on the agenda’s staff report, the talking points seemed very limited, leaving more questions than answers.

It was conceded by the other members of the council, including Mr. Becerra, that Mayor Huber’s signing of the December 20, 2012 MOU was a mistake as he signed the MOU because it was included in a stack of other documents provided to him that were already signed by City Attorney Marjorie Baxter. But the question remains why did City Attorney Baxter sign the draft and then hand it to the Mayor to be signed in the first place? If Baxter had not signed it and given it to the Mayor to sign, the mistake would never have happened. This has never been addressed or explained.

Although Tom Zanic, partner and senior vice president of New Urban West did not consider the MOU void at the time, the December 20, 2012 MOU was, in fact, Void – Ultra Vires by law because it did not meet the requirement that it be approved by the City Council. This speaks to the legality of the document but not to the intent. If the December MOU was never intended to be the finalized version, only a draft on December 20th before the Mayor signed it, why is there email communication between Assistant City Attorney David Caceres, Council for the LA Avenue Group, Kenneth Bley, Simi Valley Legal Secretary Cyndi Esparza and City Attorney Marjorie Baxter on the 20th of December stating ‘as soon as I have the required City signatures, I send you back a copy of the entire MOU.”? . If the December MOU was never intended to be the finalized version, only a draft on December 21st, the day after the Mayor signed it, why is there email communication between the same group of people stating “Attached please find a scanned copy of the agreed upon Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) between the City of Simi Valley (“City”) and LA Avenue Group, LLC. A hard copy will also be mailed to you today. According to the terms and conditions of the MOU, your client’s previously filed claim, dated November 21, 2012 will now be deemed withdrawn, as a result, no further action will taken upon it by the City.” ? And if the December MOU was never intended to be the finalized version, only a draft, why is it, as the Mayor pointed out, exactly the same as the MOU that was finalized in February of 2013? This has never been addressed or explained.

City Attorney Marjorie Baxter only learned of the mistake a few days before the January 28, 2013 City Council Meeting and didn’t tell the council in part because she thought it might have required disciplining Assistant City Attorney David Caceres, a confidential personnel matter. She later concluded no discipline was needed. Wow! So much for this personnel matter being confidential. The fact that she discussed a confidential personnel matter with the press and named Caceres, an employee she states required no discipline seems highly unprofessional, perhaps unethical or even actionable. With the Mayor’s concern for confidentially and the leaks of information, I wonder what he would say about this leak.

The question that remains is how is it even possible that City Attorney Baxter only discovered the mistake just before the January 28, 2013 City Council meeting when she signed the MOU and was part of the email discussions about the finalization of the MOU a month prior? This has never been addressed or explained.

Warm Regards,

Three Cell Maglite”

In the words of the beat drum player in the fifties scene from Peter Gunn, “That’s crazy, man!”  And grammatically correct too! Readers, if you can write, I’m happy to cut and paste.  Makes my job that much easier.

Our next reader comments pertain to the April 8, 2013 Council meeting, which I confess, I slept through.

“Dear Mitch,

Here are my thoughts on the council meeting the other night:

Mike Judge making an analogy of Huber not informing the council to that of mistakenly sending out an email is completely flawed. In his example he is autonomous so the act of sending the email does not require supervision and the OK of others. What is also flawed in his example is his reasoning for not saying anything. Judge wouldn’t inform anyone because the email is retracted before the recipient has seen it. With the MOU the recipient looked at the finished memorandum and perceived it to be official and finalized.

If Mike Judge thinks his example is a good one, it’s possible Judge is OK with Huber acting autonomously, without council supervision, or perhaps Judge lacks the ability to comprehend the information that has been presented to him, or if he knows full well what is going on perhaps he was trying to throw in some misdirection. None of those explanations bode well for our city. And remember, Judge had all weekend to prepare his statements.

If Huber had simply informed the other members of the Counsel, it would be difficult to look upon this as anything but a mistake. But Huber made a choice. Going with Huber’s logic that it was a non-issue and therefore was nothing to talk about might indicate that he feels things only need to be discussed as he sees fit, which doesn’t bode well for our city either. If you are a professional working in a Weak Mayor, Strong City Manager government where all five members are supposed to be equal, acting on the consensus of opinion and not autonomously, when a mistake is made that effects or involves the other council members, YOU TELL THE OTHER MEMBERS. This should not even be a judgment call, and an apology that is followed by a statement that you plan to pick and choose which city polices you follow doesn’t cut it.

Thanks,

Semper Fi Guy”

So, with that, I decided maybe I should actually watch the salient portions of the April 8, 2013 Simi Valley City Council meeting.  Other than the poorly scripted and acted out drama between the Mayor and former Council Member Williamson, this is what I observed in an exchange between Mayor Huber and Council Member Becerra that took place at approx, 2:38:10 on the City’s archived video of the meeting and ending, around 2:40:10. This is one of the few candid, non-staged moments of the evening’s presentation.

“Becerra – The other issue was… ummm… and again this goes back to.. ya know, the equal treatment of the city council. I applaud the fact that, Bob, you put in place a policy… ya know… on the signatures.. ya know, on the contracts. That’s something else we should have been notified on. When , ya know, cause again not one of us has the right to create policy. I, in fact, just gave you 3 policy issues that I would like you all to consider to have brought back for your consideration. And so… I mean I applaud the fact that you did it and it’s not a big deal but we should have been at least m… notified…

Huber – You, you were notified of it and by the way from the standpoint of my signature… my signature… if this city council is creating a policy that I gotta sign stuff like it happened before I’m not gonna follow the policy. This is MY signature. I’m the one that got the ‘Gotcha” problem. OK? I’m the one that you did the “Gotcha” with.

Becerra – I didn’t… I… Bob., ya know, again, I didn’t play “Gotcha” politics…

Huber – Oh yes you did.

Becerra – No. What I did was raise a very serious concern that…

Huber – The second time in the last six months you’ve done “Gotcha” stuff.

Becerra – Bob, this isn’t political. I’ve.. you know you keep talking about how you’ve served 7 years here. I‘ve served 15 and I know you are going to throw in that you add your community college time and now you are up to 13 or 12 or whatever the number is. This isn’t about, ya know, our pedigree on how long we’ve been up here. This about us doing what we think is right.

Huber – I agree

Becerra – And I’m allowed to advocate on the issues that I think are right when I, ya know, don’t think something is being done appropriately. And I believe when, ya know, the mayor or me or anybody says they are creating a policy for this city, we at the very minimum have a right to know about that policy. Y.. you’re right, it is your signature, You’re absolutely right, I give you that and you have the right to protect yourself. I’m not arguing that point at all. But in.. in the same way we have a right to protect ourselves to at least be inf… I don’t think what I am asking is too big a deal. Please inform us, when you are directing staff, who work equally for all five of us, you know, to change policy or to change the way they do business in this city. That’s what a Weak Mayor, Strong City Manager form of government is.

Huber – I wasn’t… I wasn’t.. uh… changing the way they did business. I was changing the way I did business.

Becerra – Which had an impact on the way they do business.

Huber – That’s true. Because I’m not going to sign another document as long as I’m mayor of this city and.. and I don’t believe any other mayor in the future because of the “Gotcha” politics would do any different than me to protect themselves when there is an inadvertent mistake to… someone to Armchair Quarterback later. OK? Armchair Quarterback is real simple to do. OK? Real simple. But you weren’t in the trenches. You didn’t have to deal with it. And to me, I was told that it was invalid and that was the end of it. You know… ahhhh… it’s just… it’s just.. the way it is. We can’t change the facts. I’ve said I’m sorry it happened. I don’t know what else I can do. I’ve changed the policies of the way I’m… I’m gonna do my signature. Period. It’s just like the… the… the letter to go… I don’t know if there are policies quite frankly, OK? But ask me to send a letter to the President of the United States when I just got hit with “Gotcha” politics without coming from the council, I’m not gonna do it. It’s coming before the council, it’s gonna be on our agenda. That’s the way it is. OK? You want to delegate that to the City Manager, that’s fine for me. And he can be on the receiving end of “Gotcha” politics. Or she.

Becerra – Well like.. like I said, I fully support your right to protect yourself and I support our right to be informed of when those actions take place. It’s not too much to ask. It’s an ethical and.. and it is a… it is a professional… ahhh… ya know, I think obligation of the City Manager and the City Attorney to keep us informed equally. The other issue…

Huber – Well I’m not disagreeing, by the way, I’m not disagreeing with you on that.

Becerra – Well..

Huber – That I’m not disagreeing with you on that.

Becerra – Well I think the issue we are disagreeing on is the “Gotcha” politics I…

Huber – Well it is “Gotcha” politics. There’s no question it’s…

Becerra – I say we are disagreeing on something and you say it’s “Gotcha” politics.

Huber – Well it is. It is “Gotcha” politics.”

Now doesn’t that take all?  And with this context our final e-mail for the day finally makes sense . . .,

“Dear Mitch,

About the only few things that the City Council agenda item on the MOU issue revealed was,

1 – The Mayor told the paper there was a new policy in place to ensure the incident wasn’t repeated, which makes it appear to the public that there are new city authorized procedures, when they are just his personal requirements before he signs something.

2 – If there is a city policy the Mayor disagrees with he is not going to follow policy.

3 – This is all “Gotcha” politics, just like the last time Becerra brought up a complaint about Huber, the incident with Leigh Nixon and the threat to the Chamber’s funding. This makes an excellent case to tie the truthfulness of Huber’s statements here with the Chamber incident because Huber, himself, has tied the two issues together under the banner of Becerra’s “Gotcha” politics. Big tactical error.

Don’t call us . . .,

Senor Sombra Del Delator”

Ok, so there you have it. I”m thinking I need to brush up on this other “gotcha” incident.  Or maybe, dear readers, you can send me your insights. [[hint, hint!]]

So this is it for this week’s inbox.  Wendy has just showed up here at the Airstream with Betty our psycho puppy bouncing up and down on her lead and its time for me to sign off until our next cheap shot gotcha armchair quarterbacking session. [[Snicker]]

See ya Simi Valley! You send em, I’ll print em!

Bottom Line Meant for the New Guy

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Originally posted on April 12, 2013 by Mitch Green

Tonight I’m writing from my wife’s house just 100 or so yards outside of Simi Valley City Limits, tacked high up in the hills on the western most edge of the Santa Susanna Knolls. I’m sitting on the front balcony, the view is incredible, maybe 30 or more miles visibility, the sun has set with spiraling magenta streams swirling in the clouds against blue skies and the train has just left the station down below. I’m wearing my old City Attorney sweatshirt, Wendy is barbequing and the phone just effing rang derailing my chain of thought (thanks Kelly).

I call Casa Verde my wife’s house because as a guy, paying for multiple dwellings including one with a magnificent 40 foot salt water pool which I’m restricted from using by certain court orders, I recognize the fragility of any situation. Hence my recognition, be it late in life, to kiss the ground my wife walks on if for no other reason than to continue to enjoy visitation rights to those properties I get the privilege of paying for. And with my charm and track record, maybe you can understand why I keep an Airstream in town. Its certainly not for the opportunity to run for City Council again.

The sun has now pretty much set behind the hill to the west of Casa Verde and the band Toro y Moi is playing in the background. We have a pair of pet owls that haunt the hood and one of them is on our chimney while the other looks down from the telephone pole at the edge of the property. Betty the mixed black meth lab is bumping her nose into my side demanding attention and threatening to knock over my second glass of red.

And about this time Alex Boy Genius shows up with his mom, Mrs. Green 1.0, in the black Prius I get to pay for but never drove. 1.0 freaks a little about the steep hill, Wendy helps calm her nerves and we get her turned around and back down the hill and Alex Boy Genius is here for the weekend. And it seems, his friend Silent Bob the nice kid who doesn’t speak.

I can’t get involved in the drama. All I can think is, it’s Friday, the chicken is barbequing, the red is a good Cabernet from Paso Robles, Mrs. 1.0 is happily on her way, Wendy the 2.0 is dancing on the balcony, Toro Y Moi is hitting the beats in the background and the warm lush comfort of the evening is enveloping me. Life is good.

Speaking about Alex Boy Genius, its amazing what it is that makes us think of those dear to us. I have a former co-worker whose daughter was born just days apart from ABG and every time my former co-worker posts a picture of her daughter, I always compare the two. The daughter just got her license today it seems and a very cute photo was posted. My first reaction? ABG keeps trying to kill me during driving lessons. Yup, that was my first thought. I guess that’s the difference between raising sons and daughters. We’ve got three boys over here so we don’t really understand the challenges of raising drop dead gorgeous girls. But we do understand raising boys who want to wreck your cars.

Not really sure why I mentioned that, but that’s part of my week. Oh, by the way former co-worker, that offer from me and Wendy to drop by the house is on any time you want.

So with the first 500 or so meandering words laid down and the barbequed chicken beckoning and a filled third glass of red on stand by, I guess its time to get to the meat of this week’s column. That is, if there is anything here beyond a friendly Chatty Cathy automatic writing session.

And looking over my notes, it does appear that I intended to discuss certain articles that appeared in the Star this week.

[Dinner Break]

Getting to the point (finally), the issue of the week is the continuing train wreck that the City Attorney presents in relation to what started out as a minor matter, the memorandum of understanding regarding the Parkside Villa condominiums so as to avoid a needless lawsuit from a developer against the City, which compounded into coverups, lies, coverups of coverups and more lies, and now an intentional retaliatory and perhaps intentionally libelous act by the City Attorney against one of her subordinate attorneys in the Star this week.

A basic refresher time line is in order.

On November 19, 2012, in closed session, the City Council voted against the advice of legal counsel to threaten developer LA Avenue Group / New Urban West with litigation if it went ahead with its plans to lease out the luxury Parkside Villa condominiums instead of placing them up for sale.

On November 22, 2012, LA Avenue Group / New Urban West filed a government claim against the City for limiting its rights as a property owner regarding what it can do with its property. And considering that the City had no legal right to prevent the developer from renting out its property, if 45 days were to come and go from the date of filing the claim, then the claim would be deemed “denied by operation of law,” the developer would have been deemed to have exhausted its administrative remedies, and would be free to file suit against the City. And would have most likely won.

The 45 days from date of filing the claim against the City lapsed on January 7, 2013. Which means LA Avenue Group / New Urban West would be eligible to file suit against the City on January 8, 2013.

That is, unless the City could find a way to convince the developer to withdraw its claim. Which is exactly what the MOU signed by the Mayor and the City Attorney on December 20, 2012 stated. The City agreed to withdraw its threat of litigation against the developer and the developer agreed to withdraw its claim against the City. And on January 8, 2013, no lawsuit was filed against the City.

Great lawyering, you would think.

Except, there was a small detail that was overlooked. The Mayor and the City Attorney didn’t have City Council authority to sign the MOU. OK, no biggie. Lots of agreements are entered into subject to council approval. But what happened next was the City Attorney, Mayor and City Manager held a public hearing on January 28, 2013 on whether or not to enter into this MOU. And the City Attorney and Mayor didn’t bother to tell the public and the other four council members that they had already signed the MOU. And the City Attorney was now saying the MOU was “void ultra vires” or void from the inception. But the developer didn’t know that. And the e-mail trail didn’t reflect that. And the City Attorney was now accusing her Assistant City Attorney who negotiated the MOU that provided a way for the City to withdraw its threat to file suit against the developer and for the developer to withdraw its claim against the City, remember, that MOU? The City Attorney was now in January accusing her subordinate of sabotaging her office. And in return, that subordinate filed a personnel action against his supervisor the City Attorney.

So moving forward in time to this week’s Ventura County Star article, we find the City Attorney commenting on her subordinate, in print, as follows,

“Baxter said last week she learned of the mistake a few days before the Jan. 28 meeting and didn’t tell the council in part because she thought it might have required disciplining Assistant City Attorney David Caceres, a confidential personnel matter. She later concluded no discipline was needed, she said”.

Now, let us analyze the above statement, printed on April 10, 2013. Baxter acknowledges that personnel matters are confidential. Baxter acknowledges that disciplining her subordinate would be a confidential personnel matter. Baxter makes the statement to the press, disclosing the name of her subordinate that she considered disciplining, an acknowledged confidential personnel matter, subsequent to the subordinate filing a personnel complaint against Baxter.

Now, to me, just your run of the mill former government attorney with 34 years total government time and 10 years government attorney time, my first impression is that Baxter intentionally retaliated against her subordinate for bringing his personnel action by outing him in the press. Why she mentioned his name in the press is beyond me but it is inexcusable. The first adage of being a general counsel, and what we took to heart during my tenure at the Simi Valley City Attorney’s Office was “Do Not Create Liability Where It Does Not Already Exist!”

So what kind of liability did Baxter create for the City for her retaliatory act against her subordinate attorney? For that I consulted with a high level Human Resources executive to gauge her reaction. Upon first blush I think she blurted out something akin to what banned me from certain local forums. After she regained her composure she sent me the following e-mail:

“As an HR Director for a large employer in California with a nationwide presence and over 3,000 employees I can attest to the fact that we carefully navigate the landmine of potential liability when it comes to claims of retaliation and discrimination by our employees. We dutifully conduct ourselves appropriately and train our managers to treat everyone with respect. Having said that it’s concerning to witness the actions of the Simi Valley City Attorney Marge Baxter.

The mere fact that she would give a statement to a reporter and actually named an employee that is a direct report to her is mind-boggling. Not to mention the fact she alluded to the fact he may be disciplined for an action that seems to have stirred up enough chaos on the dais to warrant several articles and accusations back and forth from the council. Back in January Marge mentioned an employee that had made mistakes in yet another article. At that time she had the respect to not provide a name. It’s not hard to connect the dots now that she’s once again throwing employees under the bus that this is the same person she’s placing blame on. She’s setting him up for failure here to save herself. What kind of person does this? Why would she name her employee in the first place to a reporter? Isn’t she trained to keep matters confidential and maintain the utmost in professionalism? Lead by example?

The Star article goes on to quote this employee and state he has filed a complaint with HR. I’m sure he did and what I can say is his complaint has merit. His boss called him out in the local paper and dropped the blame squarely onto his shoulders. What’s concerning here is the fact that his name is very unique and if someone does a goggle search they will find an article with his name tied to potential disciplinary action. Well that may not help him in his future job search when a possible employer sees this.

So now the facts boil down to how will the employee handle this? From where I sit it’s clear that we have a very good case for retaliation that could cost the city up to seven figures. You can arrive at this by simply mapping out Marge’s actions and public statements. Someone with experience and education knows better. The fact that she’s the City Attorney puts her in an upper echelon that many people don’t find themselves. Her job is to protect the city and ensure that she minimizes liability. The fact that she has single-handedly created her own retaliation and defamation suit is incredulous. Marge has placed the city in a very precarious place. The Mayor himself is an attorney and will be the first to start to evaluate the City’s liability and cost associated with this snafu.”

So, that’s what the pro’s have to say about this. No longer a “tempest in a teapot,” is it?

I also ran the fact pattern by a prominent plaintiff employment attorney, and all he could do was lick his chops and beg me for the subordinate’s telephone number. No, I can’t go there, but if the employee does lawyer up, who could blame him?

So now comes the time to take action. Baxter was hired on a three-two vote with Huber, Judge and Williamson for, and Becerra and Sojka voting against. Now that its time to protect the City from further harm, how will the vote come down to protect the City from Baxter? It may come down to Huber and Judge on one side, Becerra and Sojka on the other, and our newest council member having to cast the deciding vote.

If the first measure of the City Attorney is to minimize liability to the City, and considering that Baxter has inexplicably violated that very measure for all to see, I trust that Council Member Mashburn will act first to protect the City’s interests.

Next week, my fantasy football picks for the Interim City Attorney reserve contingency team.

Night Simi Valley!

More on Simi Valley City Hall’s “Transparency Problem.”

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Originally posted on April 7, 2013 by Mitch Green

As lawyers are taught to do, let us first set up the following hypothetical situation:

Let us assume that on November 19, 2012 a certain City Council voted in closed session to file suit against a local developer in order to prevent that developer from renting out real estate the developer owned within the city limits.

And let us further assume that in response, the local developer filed a government claim against the City on November 22, 2012, threatening to file suit against City Hall on various theories over the city’s threat to limit the developer, as a property owner, from using its property in otherwise legal ways, such as renting its property instead of selling its property.

And let us further assume that the 45 days from filing the government claim against the City until the claim is “deemed denied by operation of law” after which the developer is free to file litigation against the city and in all likelihood prevail, runs on January 7, 2013.

And now lets assume that in the City’s recent response to public record act requests seeking the same subject matter and submitted independently by yours truly and the Ventura County Star, the City chose to read the requests quite narrowly and omitted an email from the attorney for the developer to the City dated December 14, 2012 at 2:48 p.m., wherein the developer’s attorney makes clear that the negotiated dialogue over the wording of the MOU are solely intended to provide a way for the developer to withdraw its claim against the City and for the City to avoid “fruitless litigation.”

And finally, the hypothetical requires that you understand that if the MOU is not signed ASAP, and January 7, 2013 comes and goes without an agreement, the developer then goes ahead and files suit against the City and the City wastes valuable resources in the process of losing expensive and avoidable “fruitless litigation.”

With that in mind, read the two clauses from the MOU which the City describes as a “draft,” signed by the City Attorney and the Mayor on December 20, 2012 and thereafter by the attorney for the developer LA Avenue Group and the president of LA Avenue Group,

“5. The City Council hereby withdraws its November 19, 2012, direction to the City Attorney to initiate litigation to prohibit leasing of the individual units in the Project and will not seek to recover damages for any injury it has suffered to date.

6. LA Avenue Group hereby withdraws the claim for damages previously submitted to the City and will not seek to recover damages for any injury it has suffered to date.”

The exact same paragraphs are found in the exact same MOU signed again by the City on February 27, 2013.

Now, with the above “hypothetical fact pattern,” ask yourself the following two questions:

1) Do you really buy the City’s “explanation” that its signing of the MOU on December 20, 2012 was an “error,” that the document was really an invalid “draft?”

2) Or, do you think the developer believed the City was, on December 20, 2012, legitimately negotiating in good faith to withdraw its threat of “fruitless litigation” in exchange for the developer withdrawing its claim against the City, which claim against the city would be considered “denied by operation of law” on January 7, 2013, thereby allowing the developer to file suit immediately thereafter, unless, of course, the City did something immediately . . ., like withdraw its threat of litigation?

PS:  No lawsuit was filed against the City by the developer on or after Jan 8, 2013.

Tonight’s Homework Assignment

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Originally posted on April 5, 2013 by Mitch Green

Tonight, instead of giving you a well earned witty Friday column of innerest’n stuff to chat about, you have a homework assignment. And that is because the City, in its effort to finally become transparent, posted its agenda for Monday, April 8, 2013, and guess what got tacked on to the end of the meeting? The long awaited staff report regarding the City’s MOU FUBAR of late.

And so that you can follow along with tomorrow’s column, tonight I post all three parts of the City’s staff report, some 191 pages in all. Once you get past the first three or four pages of part 1 of the Staff Report, where the City Manager’s Office and the City Attorney pat each other on the back and reassure us that there is nothing to see here, click on part 3 and read up on the e-mails from November and December where the City Attorney’s office and the developer discuss their negotiations on finalizing the MOU document. And then come back and read the follow up documents generated by the City.

One thing becomes clear, and that is the excuse given by the City Attorney that the document signed in December was just a draft is questionable at best, and more likely intentionally deceptive or worse.

So here we go with the reading, and tomorrow we can discuss.

Part 1: Staff_Report_-_Part_1

Part 2: Staff_Report_-_Part_2

Part 3: Staff_Report_-_Part_3

Enjoy Simi Valley!

Good night!
P.S.:  If you have any problem reading the staff reports, try down loading Adobe Acrobat and then check back.

Bogus Social Media Profiles

One of the things that’s so unique about modern social media is the requirement that you use your real name.  Back in the early days of online communities, you were expected to come up with a unique “handle” that reflected your personality.  In the early computer bulletin board days were you communicated in online forums using slow paced modems and ancient software, you would see various user names such as “Pacman,” “FunnyGuy,” “Biker,” or darker, slightly silly ones like “CreepingDeath” and “WildProwler.”  It was a different time back then and it could take you months before you learn someone’s name.

These days, it’s different.  You sign up on a service like Facebook and you use your first and last name.  The first order of business is to upload your avatar, or picture, so people know what you look like.  From that point on, you’re interacting with others and using your real identity. Your behavior online is a direct and immediate reflection on you. Years ago, I had a big problem on this site where people hid behind pseudonyms and trashed elected officials, candidates trying to get elected, or each other. I switched the commenting system to Facebook to avoid that going forward. Now, when commenting, you’re using your real name, your real face, and you’re authenticating with the Facebook user authentication system.

Sadly, people are still gaming the system. Cruise the Simi Valley forums, and you’ll find questionable account profiles. It’s not hard to create a fake Facebook profile and it seems people are doing it somewhat regularly. These people often have profiles with a limited history (i.e. they were created a month or two ago) but regardless, they’re up on the discussion threads that have taken place over the past many months. Their knowledge rarely (oddly) raises any suspicion.

Simi Valley benefits hugely from people who are willing to say what’s on their mind and stand behind it, using their real names.  Otherwise decent conversations go right in the toilet once they are graced by the presence of a phony profile. If you have something to say about Simi Valley but you don’t feel comfortable saying it using your real name, it’s probably not worth saying. You may take heat sharing your opinions using your real name (I have), but you’ll earn a good deal of respect as well.

Do you love Simi Valley?  Do you want to share that passion in a respectable way? Then ditch the bogus social media profiles and use your real names. Have a great rest of the week.

New Content, New Authors

An awful lot is going on in Simi Valley that I haven’t had time to research, much less discuss anywhere online. I’m looking for a few volunteers to help me out and share the latest news about Simi Valley government.

I’ve put the word out and hopefully you’ll see some new content from new authors who are passionate about our community. Please check back soon!

Barbra’s Expansion Presentation

Word for word, these are Barbra Williamson’s comments from City Council last night:

As a 40 year resident of this community, I feel compelled to comment on recent actions taken by Waste Management as a part of their aggressive campaign to turn Simi Valley into a “mega dump” for Los Angles garbage.  I am completely stunned by the false and inconsistent comments made by Waste Management.

At the same time they are promising the community transparency and claiming a willingness to address the impacts of their proposed expansion of the dump on Simi Valley, they are strong-arming our Mayor and City Manager with promises of discussions that never happened and documents that never were created.

Let me point our specifically what I mean.  In Waste Management’s court filing presented to the judge on November 15, 2010, they acknowledge their understanding of the clear separation of my role on the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force, and my position as a member of the City Council Member.

In their statement of fact they write, and I quote, “The Simi Valley Landfill Task Force is not associated with, or acting on behalf of, the City of Simi Valley.  The Landfill Task Force is an unincorporated community group.  Although Barbra Williamson is both an officer of the Task

Force and a sitting Simi Valley City Council Member, SHE IS NOT ACTING IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A COUNCIL MEMBER BY PUIRSUING THIS LAWSUIT” unquote.  On this point I could not agree with them more, but they seem to speak out of both sides of their mouth.

In their own words, Waste Management repeatedly promises our community openness and transparency yet they say one thing in their court filings and another in their press releases and letter to the city.

The day after they told a judge I was NOT acting in  my official capacity as a Council Member,  these same people issue a press release in which they stated, and I quote, “The actions of Council  Member Williamson and her Task Force are confusing” unquote.  Then they send a letter to City Manager Mike Sedell calling off mitigation discussions they had promised to hold with Mayor Paul Miller and the City Manager who were OFFICIALLY appointed by the City Council to meet and come up with a plan that would work for both Waste Management and the residents of Simi Valley.

They claim in their letter to Mr. Sedell that, and I quote, “recent actions taken by one of your city Councilmember’s have created serious obstacles to continue discussions with the city”, unquote.  The recent action they are referring to is the request filed by the Task force for legal clarification regarding the County of Ventura’s processing of the Application for Expansion of the Simi Valley Landfill.

I believe it is clear that any questions regarding my role as a Council Member and my efforts to bring together concerned residents as part of the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force have been addressed.  I trust my colleagues will agree that Waste Management’s actions are a blatant effort to deflect the real issues facing the community and to avoid having an honest and thorough discussion of the impact this expansion will have on Simi Valley for years and years to come.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Mayor and fellow Council members, tonight we have an opportunity to stop the sound bites and the he-said she said game playing and give the people of Simi Valley a truly transparent discussion and offer Waste Management the opportunity to maintain their previous relationship with the City of Simi Valley.

To that end Mr. Mayor, I would like at this time to make a motion that we place a discussion of the impacts of the proposed landfill expansion on the next City Council Agenda.

Thank you.

Fun with Comments

With the recent announcement that my comments section has been grossly tainted by a hearty astroturfing effort, the most frequently asked questions I get these days are “Who is ‘Sedell soldier’?” and “What are all their real names?” I think you have to really understand the technology behind identifying internet “sock puppets” and how to definitively connect the pseudonym to the real name to fully appreciate the magnitude of the answers to those questions. Eventually, I’ll share that process with those interested here.

To get you started down that path for those of you who are interested, I located the following notable examples of “Internet sockpuppets” from Wikipedia. Check out these noteworthy incidents:

John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, who, between 2000 and 2003, posted under the “sockpuppet” name of “Mary Rosh”, praising Lott’s teaching, and arguing with Lott’s critics on Usenet. The name was also used to post outstanding reviews of his books, and panning books of rivals on online book sites. Lott admitted he had frequently used the name “Mary Rosh” to defend himself, but claimed the book reviews by “Mary Rosh” were written by his son and wife.

Lee Siegel, writer for The New Republic magazine, was suspended for defending his articles and blog comments using the user name “Sprezzatura”. One such comment, defending Siegel’s bad reviews of Jon Stewart: “Siegel is brave, brilliant and wittier than Stewart will ever be.”

In 2006, a top staffer for then-US Congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH) was caught posing as a “concerned” supporter of Bass’s opponent Democrat Paul Hodes on several liberal New Hampshire blogs, using the pseudonyms “IndieNH” or “IndyNH” “IndyNH” was “concerned” that Democrats might just be wasting their time or money on Hodes, because Bass was “unbeatable”.

In January 2007, the press secretary of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Peter Ragone, admitted that he posted pro-Newsom comments to the blog SFist from his computer variously as “John Nelson” (a friend) or as “Byorn.” The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ragone stated that “he answered Newsom’s critics using others’ names because being online ‘was fun — it’s where people are having fun.'”

In 2007, the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, was discovered to have posted on the Yahoo Finance Message Board, extolling his own company and predicting a dire future for their rival Wild Oats Markets while concealing his own relationship to both companies under the screen name “Rahodeb”.

On January 13, 2009, a councillor from Bournemouth, England Ben Grower was exposed by the Daily Echo newspaper for repeatedly posting comments praising himself, and fellow Labour councillors, on the newspaper’s website using many sockpuppets, one of which was named “Omegaman”. When questioned about the matter Grower was initially ambiguous in his response but later he admitted it was true saying “I have done nothing against the law. And probably next time I will just use a different pseudonym.” The story of Grower’s sockpuppetry was covered widely in the media.

In April 2010 the British historian Orlando Figes was exposed as having written critical reviews of books by professional rivals on the Amazon website under the name ‘historian’.

The amount of time dedicated to these types of efforts is massive. Phony comments on this blog were posted in times ranging from as early as 4:34AM to well beyond midnight. The number of “astroturf” comments was nearly 1000.  Of those, approximately 58% were posted by (…drum roll…) one single tortured soul among many of his fake monikers, spanning months!

The now deleted Booster Club articles were the ultimate demonstration in Internet Sock-puppeteering. What appeared on the first article were angry people seeking immediate action. The follow-up article resulted in even more people angry at me. Nearly 140 comments were posted between the two articles. All 140 comments were posted by less than 10 unique people. Some comments were posted pretending to be misguided supporters of “the other side” saying inappropriate things in feigned support of a candidate in a blatant effort to fan the flames. Shameless. Embarrassing.

Grassroots or Astroturf?

I get a lot of comments. A lot. If you’ve ever been suspicious about the authenticity of my comments, your concern is legitimate. I’m a software programmer by trade. I am able to extend the software platform on which this site is hosted. This gives me capabilities that go beyond normal security measures and analytical tracking. I’ve discovered a disappointing fact: the comments submitted on my posts are largely bogus.

Not Jackie

There are approximately 9 people who post under pseudonyms, each with a minimum of two names, some with as many as eight, all of whom throw rocks from behind a wall of anonymity. These 9 people account for nearly 83% of my comments since May. I cannot definitively say I know everyone’s true identities, but the ones I discovered were disappointing. Many of these people have had pleasant and engaging conversations with me, only to cut me down or skewer a candidate behind a pseudonym on this website. Some engage their own pseudonyms in conversations, an unusually schizophrenic behavior that is at first funny upon discovery, but ultimately deceitful. I located one instance of more than 30 comments between 13 unique names but actually posted by the same 3 people.

I will not reveal any true identities. I will say that it needs to stop now. I choose not host an archive of this behavior. If you’re a participant in all this, your instinct may be to challenge this. Please don’t. Don’t post from the Town Center Apple Store. Don’t use proxy services. Don’t bother changing your writing style. It will not work.

I’m not surprised by every discovery, but two in particular really bothered me. In politics, even if you’re not a politician, you have to be careful who you trust. I learned this lesson when I scrubbed my tracking database this week. This is putting it mildly, but I am really let down.

For the rest of you, things will seem pretty quiet around here. I hope that we can enjoy more genuine commentary going forward and that we can restore things to a level of civility.