Is Joe Rocha untouchable?

There is nothing new to report regarding applications for the Azusa City Council. The list of potential candidates remains the same with Jorge Rosales, Peggy Martinez, Paul Naccachian, Madelyn Payne and incumbents Urial Macias and Angel Carrillo.

The news, for now, may be the lack of a competitor for Mayor Joe Rocha. Rocha ran unopposed two years ago and appears to be close to doing the same this election cycle.

This only lends credence to no one believes they can beat Rocha in an election.

Often known as a “people’s” councilman, Rocha is known for his generous nature. He knows everyone, reaches out to those in need, and will often visit the homes of those he thinks could use a friend.

Not only that, but he often has a populist touch to his voting habits. Take the Vulcan mining issue for example. Rocha was the sole no vote on the issue that faced intense scrutiny and was lambasted by neighboring Duarte officials and residents, as well as many Azusa residents.

Whether that was the popular vote among Azusa residents remains to be seen. What we do know is that Rocha may have become such an entrenched character of the council, that no one appears ready to take him on in an election.

Especially, in this election where there seems to be an opportunity – somewhat – for a challenger. A major issue is before the city (Vulcan mining) which a candidate has the opportunity to distinguish themselves on. In addition, a jumbled field follows any of those vying for an open council position. There are six council candidates campaigning for two spots, which includes a battle against the incumbents holding the positions now. This thought had to cross someone’s mind: Would I rather have a one vs. one, winner take all fight or a knock down, bare knuckle, wrestle mania match with five other candidates (maybe more) where other challengers could siphon votes from me and give the incumbents an edge?

Yet, no one appears to want to take that risk against Rocha.

It begs the question: Is he untouchable?

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Weekend recap (for those of you who were also sick Monday, making Tuesday more of Monday than Monday was, get it?)

I’m a little late getting this up (just a whole day) but here are some of the stories you missed this weekend (and maybe Monday too, I know I did). I was out sick Monday, so Tuesday is the official start of my week. Anyway, weekend in review is upon us, in case you were worried.

The defense talks about the Manling Williams hung jury and what this decision means for the future punishment of the convicted killer. (Don’t forget about the discussion of the death penalty at this earlier blog post. Note: sometimes peddling my own blog posts to garner readership makes me feel guilty. And sad.)

Everybody’s favorite: A water board story (not water boarding, water board.) Some long time members of the San Gabriel Water Quality Authority have left, forcing a lot of changes.

And Rosemead School District board members may raise their stipends 5 percent. They currently make between $262.55 and $266.72 per month.

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Quick update on Glendora council candidates

No new people have pulled papers for the Glendora council race as of my last update. So the field remains – potentially – with John Fields, Jason Nagy, Ed Brubaker, Erica Landmann-Johnsey, Joe Santoro and incumbents Doug Tessitor and Ken Herman.

But as of yesterday, only Santoro, Tessitor and Fields had returned their paperwork, and only Tessitor and Santoro were approved (Fields is awaiting approval). So, only Santoro and Tessitor are official candidates at this point.

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Wikileaks: good for politics or not?

I have to admit, I have been kind of on the fence about whether or not Wikileaks is good for society.

Does founder Julian Assange have an agenda against America? Will revealing these secrets further transparency or push secrets more into the dark? Does it further democracy or inhibit our ability to collect intelligence and protect our nation?

I think arguments for both sides (except maybe his anti-America agenda) have points.

Two of the best arguments I have read have been from and the blog Techdirt.

Anne Applebaum wrote for Slate that Wikileaks recent document dump will actually work against transparency, create more government secrecy and do the opposite of what Assange hopes.

“On the contrary, it seems that in the name of “free speech” another blow has been struck against frank speech. Yet more ammunition has been given to those who favor greater circumspection, greater political correctness, and greater hypocrisy.

Don’t expect better government from these revelations, expect deeper secrets. Will the U.S. ambassador to Country X give Washington a frank assessment of the president of X if he knows it could appear in tomorrow’s newspaper? Not very likely. Will a foreign leader tell any U.S. diplomat what he really thinks about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he knows it might show up on WikiLeaks? I doubt it. Diplomatic cables will presumably now go the way of snail mail: Oral communication will replace writing, as even off-the-record chats now have to take place outdoors, in the presence of heavy traffic, just in case anyone is listening.”

Over at Techdirt, the opposing argument is made, and I think quite well.

“The goal isn’t to expose all secrets or anything like that — but to reduce the ability of cabals of secrecy to form within governments, within which questionable plans might result.

The leak, in other words, is only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction; Wikileaks wants to provoke the conspiracy into turning off its own brain in response to the threat. As it tries to plug its own holes and find the leakers, he reasons, its component elements will de-synchronize from and turn against each other, de-link from the central processing network, and come undone. Even if all the elements of the conspiracy still exist, in this sense, depriving themselves of a vigorous flow of information to connect them all together as a conspiracy prevents them from acting as a conspiracy.

In both of these stories, it shows how a system based on centralization responds to a (very, very different) distributed threat. And, in both cases, the expected (and almost inevitable) response seems to play directly into the plans of those behind the threat. In a way, it’s quite fascinating. Of course, in the case of terrorism, it’s frustrating, because the response only serves to further harm the country and its people. But with a situation like Wikileaks, it’s potentially quite a good thing. As noted, these kinds of leaks can help us have a better, less corrupt government that is more responsive to the people it actually represents.”

I find myself leaning toward the latter. While I think Applebaum has a great point, and I think much of what she supposes will happen, Wikileaks definitely makes it more difficult to conduct things in secret. And if that is the case, government officials will be less inclined to do things in secret and therefore will be unable to get away with as much corruption.


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Ends vs. Means: A case study in a good decision done the wrong way (maybe) in Glendora

Here is a classic case of do the ends justify the means.

Recently, it came to my attention that three Glendora council members decided pay for their CALPERS pension benefit in a decision that made some experts skeptical as to if it violated California open meetings law.

In what the city clerk described as a “display of leadership” in a public records request, three council members recently decided to start paying for their CALPERS benefits this year.

But the voluntary action, which took effect all on the same date, calls into question if the council violated California open meeting laws by secretly meeting and making decisions as a group.

“We were asking all of the employees to pay their PERS benefits and it seemed appropriate for us to do the same thing,” Councilman Doug Tessitor said. “When we were having discussions in closed session about the Glendora municipal employees association, there were references made to ‘we ought to do the same thing’ and that was the only discussion I had with anybody about this.”

Mayor Ken Herman, councilwoman Karen Davis and Tessitor had never paid for their CALPERS pension benefit before the change, according to city documents. Councilmen Gene Murabito and Terry Kent both receive the PARS benefit versus PERS, paying the employee share while the city picks up the other half of the benefit.

Davis also denied the decision was made by the group and instead said each person came to the decision on their own accord.

But the fact each council member started to pay the full deduction of the benefit — $28.25 — on Sept. 24, 2010, according to documents, lends credence the decision was made as a group.

Tessitor said questions about open meetings law missed the point, which is the council was doing the right thing.

“It seems to me the statement should be the council is doing the appropriate thing by doing what they are asking the rank and file employees to do,” he said.

Most people would probably agree. The CALPERS system has been the focus of heavy criticism due to the cost to the state and cities, what some people believe is too good a deal for government employees, and more. The council is merely leading by example and doing something that probably should have be done sooner.

But if that is the case, why not be more transparent in the decision?

Council members in Glendora are paid $700 a month in a stipend for being on the council.
City Clerk Kathleen Sessman said she wasn’t part of any discussions with city officials regarding the council members decision and the words regarding leadership were chosen by her.

“I just know when they did it, they did it informally, which is why I didn’t have any resolutions,” regarding the change, Sessman said. “It wasn’t meant as anything other than they voluntarily did this and I thought it was a nice way of saying it.”

The California Ralph M. Brown Act stipulates that three or more council members can’t meet to make decisions on city policy without public notice.

Two experts on the subject both agreed the potential for infringement by the Glendora council members was in a relative gray area.

First Amendment Coalition attorney Peter Scheer said, assuming the worst case scenario, that because no policy was changed, the council members didn’t break the law.

“If they had a discussion if the council should vote and require all of them to do this … and basically rescind whatever policy it is that now exempts them, that certainly would have been a Brown Act violation,” Scheer said. “But if they are doing it in a way that doesn’t change any policy and does not need any official action, it is at least arguable that this falls outside the Brown Act.”

Even if it isn’t a violation, Scheer said elected officials should always try to make decisions public whenever possible.

“The prudent thing to do would be to give full notice to people that they were thinking about it,” Scheer said. “And if they are going to get together and talk about it, do so publicly. Let the press know and listen in on that discussion, so at least it would be done in the spirit of the Brown Act.”

Terry Francke, an attorney for public information advocacy group Californians Aware, said residents should be worried about elected officials making decisions behind closed doors.

“I think citizens have a right to be skeptical and suspect that a collective discussion occurred, which constituted a serial meeting in violation of the Brown Act,” Francke said in an e-mail. “Proof is a different matter.”

Scheer added the public shouldn’t be too hard on the council members since the decision was in the public’s best interest.

“I think anyone would say they should be commended for doing this,” he said. “It is kind of incredible they were getting a free ride. But they were and they shouldn’t be overly criticized or second guessed for having done the right thing.”

I think Scheer kind of nails it here. Was the action the right one? Yes. Should they have been more public about it? Probably.

And the part about the free ride makes me think about why this maybe wasn’t more public. How many people knew that a council that gets paid a $700 stipend gets the CALPERS benefit? Probably not many. Either way, people know now. If that is good or bad for the council, you tell me.

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