The Tustin City Council finally met to discuss a recently Grand Jury report that faulted Tustin councilman Jerry Amante and Laguna Hills councilman Allan Songstad for using their positions of authority to unduly influence officials at Brandman University to be critical of the work of Professor Fred Smoller (more on this in a second). With the approval of the Tustin city attorny, Amante was allowed to vote on his own punishment and — surprise — there is no punishment at all.
After a detailed investigated, the Orange County Grand Jury found that Amante and Songstad used their government positions to unfairly influence the academic freedom of Chapman University. Tustin and Laguna Hills are supposed to respond to the Grand Jury’s findings to explain how they both plan to act on the report. Tustin has effectively told the Grand Jury to stick it.
A quick back up: students of Smoller’s did research for a study of city manager compensation at the request of Barbara Kogerman. Amante and Songstad were found by the Grand Jury of using their government positions to apply pressure on a private academic institution applied pressure on Smoller to the point where the professor resigned as a program director. At the council meeting, Amante was highly critical of the Grand Jury report and made the incredible claim that he’s never even read the Brandman Report. Citing “free speech,” Amante and Songstad met with Chapman University (and Brandman University) head Jim Doti, obstensibly to discuss policy issues and introduce a mutual friend. But they just happened to have a copy of the report with them.
From the OC Register’s story on this: Fred Smoller, director of Brandman’s graduate program in public administration, had sent two students to work with Barbara Kogerman, then a council candidate in Laguna Hills, as she compiled and published a breakdown of city manager compensation. The two interns, and the school’s name, were listed on the cover of the report. Kogerman later changed the cover page, Register reports state.
Amante, Songstad and League of California Cities director Lacy Kelly visited Jim Doti, president of Chapman University, with a copy of Kogerman’s report to talk about the listed authors, Register reports state.
Smoller resigned in October. In his resignation letter, he stated, “…disgruntled elected leaders had convinced (university) administrators that I could no longer be an effective public face for the program.”
Several Tustin council members said Tuesday that the grand jury report doesn’t include enough evidence or testimony to reach the conclusions that the grand jury listed.
Gavello suggested the council vote to agree with the grand jury findings, censure Amante at a future hearing and remove him from all paid committees. She questioned why a copy of Kogerman’s city manager compensation report was taken to the university during the meeting.
“You went to discuss this item or you would not bring the report with you,” Gavello said.
Amante defended the meeting, saying that the grand jury findings were incorrect.
“I was one of the four people who was in the room and has had their meeting not only misinterpreted, but skewed for political reasons,” Amante said. “This is full of innuendo and inference and appearance rather than any evidence or fact.”
Amante said he was at the school to introduce his friends.
“It had nothing to do with the city of Tustin and nothing to do with our residents,” he said.
Amante later said he has not read Kogerman’s report.
City Council member Deborah Gavello moved to have Amante censured and stripped of his committee appointments. A susbtitute motion to send a letter to basically tell the Grand Jury all Amante did was express his free speech rigths was voted on and passed 3-2 with Amante, joining Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez in the “elected officials who vote on their own “non-punishment” club. Our Town Tustin blogger Jeff Gallagher has a very detailed post on this here.
The action by Amante and the Tustin Council’s Republican majority enraged political activist and good government advocate Shirley Grindle, who called on both men to resign when the initial Grand Jury report was released. The LiberalOC spoke with Grindle about the case and the vote Thursday afternoon.
“For Jerry Amante to vote on this issue, that is all about him, is the height of arrogance,” said Grindle, a political watchdog and activist for good government, based in Orange. “Which is it Jerry? Did you go to Chapman to complain about Smoller’s work or did you go to Chapman with the report to excerciseyour free speech? And if so, why bring a copy of the report. If he (Amante) claims he hadn’t read the report, why take it to Chapman in the first place. These guys got caught and they’re covering their you-know-whats, and they got their stories mixed up. The Grand Jury did a great job and the truth came out in their report.:
When told Amante was termed out and would be leaving Tustin soon, Grindle’s reaction was priceless. “Good riddance to Jerry Amante,” she said. “And people like him should not be in office. People like him who don’t use better judgement have no place in positions of power in Orange County or in any level of government anywhere. I know that the Grand Jury did a thorough job of interviewing everyone about this issue and they issued an excellent detailed report.”
Grindle feels a number of people owe Professor Smoller an apology.
“Fred Smoller was unfairly targeted over this issue when all he did was allow several of his students to gather data for a third party,” said Grindle. “This issue alone is not the reason Amante and Songstad went after him. Smoller’s views abvout reducing the size of government and making it more efficient stepped on their (Amante’s and Songstad’s) toes and they don’t like something that has logical reason stepping on their views of power. Smoller advocated that all these special districts in the county should be reduced or dissolved. It will never happen because officials in power in these districts don’t want to give up that power.”
Grindle says a lot of people owe Smoller an apology. “Doti should have shown Amante and Songstad the door. Doti ought to call Smoller and apologize personally.”