HG: Who is ultimately responsible?

(6/5/2014, Los Alamitos/Orange County, California)  by Highlands’ Guy:   I ask this important question at the start of my tirade, with the hope that by the end I’ll have figured out the answer.

From time to time in my Thursday rants, I complain about all sorts of stuff. I might be upset with all the annoying ‘for profit’ business signs popping up on city lawns and fences, the “non-enforcement” of parkway tree codes, the sneaking in of the SCE microwave radio frequency radiation emitting, smart meters, perhaps the City being seduced by the fad of the dollar draining, un-proven red-light cameras, or even the silent acquiescence to an increasing crime rate. The list could go on and on, but that’s not to the point.

Why I  write:

  1. I usually write with  the hope  that someone would “get it”, or at the very least, relate to the issue with the same intensity, regardless of their perspective.
  2. Secondarily, my hope is that just maybe, those with the power to do something about it will read it, understand it, and discuss it with their colleagues.
  3. At the next level, the hope is that there is recognition of a problem, and a realization that their constituents are concerned.
  4. The ultimate goal is that it gets some discussion around city hall and eventually gets addressed.

Well, it seems that in most cases it was just not to be.  My first presumption is that I must be the one who looks at things differently than my neighbors do. It’s certainly possible that what gets me perturbed isn’t on most folk’s radar. And that some of these things just didn’t rise to the level of importance where some public action was called for.

I have to conclude that on some subjects, those in office or city worker-bees did not take the initiative to do anything about it. Finally, maybe I’m just too darned picky. Who knows?

Who has the authority?

All this leads me to look a little deeper and that should get us closer to the question of the hour of who has the final authority to, “Git er done”?

Again, we come up against the unsatisfying answer of, “it depends”. The three major players here are:

  • the citizens (that’s you and me),
  • the elected guys (the five who sit in those big leather chairs on the dais), and
  • City employees or civil servants as we used to call them before their retirement was more lucrative than most of the rest of us.

So, I guess that means, if you’re not a part of the solution and you live in Los Al, you don’t really care. And that’s fine, but don’t complain.

On a day to day basis, our little town is run by paid city staffers. Whether sitting in a cubicle, behind the steering wheel of a police cruiser, or weeding the center divider along Katella, projects are worked on, decisions are made, and details of our civic life are taken care of (or not). It is their job to know the rules, the laws, the codes, and to apply that knowledge to life on the streets.

Los Alamitos City Manager Bret Plumlee

On the macro-level, oversight and direction are superimposed by their boss the City Manager, Bret Plumlee in Los Alamitos’ case. And I would offer that more direct interaction between with these folks will yield a greater responsive city milieu.

We get to see them incessantly on LATV3 reruns, but most of their actions that affect our daily life, happen on the third Monday of the month in City Council Chambers. Obviously they spend additional time on official duties, but the City Council meeting is where the rubber meets the road. Official interaction with city staff, lobbyists for various enterprises and experts in all sorts of fields, as well as detailed discussions of issues are there for all the world to see. Other than speaking with your vote, this is your opportunity to let them know how their constituents feel.

A real life example of the point I’m trying to make can be viewed monthly in the Council Chambers. As much as I am not enamored with some of the tactics of our good buddy, JM Ivler, one might pay attention to him, because he does his homework, usually presents a logical argument, and he is not afraid to put himself out there at council meetings. If you don’t like something, or want change, you could do worse than to emulate JM’s practice of the democratic process.

So who is ultimately responsible for our town?

 So, my conclusion to the title has to be, you and me.

We can blame things on a City Council Member, the Mayor, the City Manager, the City Attorney, a city department head, a city vendor, or even the guy pulling the weeds in the center divider. And these folks may screw up from time to time, but in the final analysis, you and I drive the bus.

Become informed, vote, attend City Council meetings, put some time in as a member of a  commission, call/email/write one of your elected representatives or a salaried employee.

And please excuse this overuse of a trite expression, but, it really ain’t rocket science.

“The next time someone uses denial of citizenship as a weapon or brandishes the special status conferred upon him by the accident of birth, ask him this: What have you done lately to earn it?
– Eric Liu (1968- ) Author and educator. Graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School. Focus of writings is on democracy, the role of government, and the “art of citizenship.”

…And that’s just the way I see it.

As always, your perspective, diplomatically expressed, is welcome.

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One Response to HG: Who is ultimately responsible?

  1. JM Ivler says:

    HG, thanks for the mention… I think.

    I have a simple requirement from MY government, no mater what level it may be at. Be honest and transparent. It would be nice if they also listened, but that may be too much to ask for.

    Let’s use an example or two to show what I mean.

    Not long ago the city was accused of being involved in an effort to commit real estate fraud. Now, when you have been accused of being a part of a concerted effort to commit real estate fraud you can (1) be shocked and want to get to the bottom of it, and clear it up and find out if fraud was committed because you weren’t doing anything wrong, or (2) do everything to sweep it under the rug and make sure that the problem goes away and the issue dies.

    If there was real estate fraud and the City had no involvement in it, then clearly they would want to do (1) to ensure that the City’s name was cleared. A full investigation would show that the City did not participate in the fraud, if one was proven, and while the city may have had a set of very bad procedures in place to avoid fraud being perpetrated that doesn’t mean that the city or members of city staff were involved in perpetrating the fraud.

    So, imagine my shock and dismay when I found the City doing (2). And now, months later after the acts have been swept under the carpet we still have no policies in place that would stop it from happening again, we have not asked any outside agency to investigate whether the City was a victim of real estate fraud. Nothing.

    Will we see an instruction from the City Council to the City Manager (and remember, the CM works for the CC, not for any member of the CC, so no single member of the CC can give the CM an instruction, it must come from a vote by the CC) to (1) file a request with the appropriate authorities to find out if the City of Los Alamitos was a victim of fraud and (2) either put in place a series of processes and requirements that would protect the City of Los Alamitos in the future from this potential problem or (3) Put together the appropriate documents required to change the City Code so that we can avoid this potential problem in the future. To do so in X days and to return to the CC with a plan, a report, and whatever actions are necessary for the City Council to do in order to get to the bottom of the incident and to protect the City in the future.

    But absolutely none of that has happened. It’s as if there is a black hole at City Hall and things just get disappeared. Kind of like Hotel California… things go in and never check out or get seen or heard of again.

    Here is another example. We own a building that we actually can’t sell and can’t put anything but a tenant in that will run a museum. But, we are responsible for massive costs for the upkeep of said property. We also have an agreement with a non-profit to use that property as a museum, but we have zero checks and balances on that agreement to know whether or not the agreement is followed. In fact, we now have multiple points of proof that the agreement with the non-profit hasn’t been followed for many years. In other words, the current non-profit tenant has been in multiple violations of the agreement for many years with the city never actually enforcing the agreement terms. In at least one point of that violation the failure of the other party opened the City up to massive potential litigation by their willful violation of the terms of the agreement.

    So, after all this was pointed out just what has been the response by the City Staff and City Council? Silence.

    What would one expect from open and transparent honest government?
    1) A full investigation into exactly how badly the prior terms and agreements have been violated
    2) A recommendation of a new set of terms and agreements with penalty clauses and a way to confirm that the organization is actually serving the declared purpose. Maybe even charging rent for the facility so that the city can recoup the costs of maintaining the facility.
    3) A review to see if the facility is actually meeting the needs of the community, and then if not returning the facility to the County of Orange to maintain, or requesting that the property be turned over to the City of Los Alamitos with no encumbrances on it.

    But that great sucking sound you hear coming from Katella near the 605 is the Black Hole of Los Alamitos sucking yet another issue into it’s maw to be forgotten down the memory hole.

    HG, I don’t think that we who question and care about the city are alone. I do think that for way too long way too many people have seen what happens when the black hole of City Hall gets anything in it’s grasp. We have seen things big and small disappear into the aether never to be seen or heard from again.

    It’s why so many feel that responsive government is an oxymoron… because they have seen our small town government not be responsive on issues big and small and they have lost faith. I don’t know the answer to fixing what is clearly not functioning the way it should other than do do what I do, which is call it out, again and again. You should keep up what you do, as I think we are sort of like the consciousness that fights against the black hole that wants us all to just forget and be happy (a world of stoners when it comes to what our government is doing to us).

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