Monday, April 16, 2012

The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments is Preparing to Purge Its Dissidents

We've been following the SGVCOG and Nick Conway story here for a while. Subjected to a scathing audit by Caltrans, the SGVCOG has been roiled by controversy and bad press, with the possibility of further governmental inquiries to follow. The resulting legal costs, along with a lot of other related expenses, having to be picked up by the 31 cities that belong to this organization. Should further state governmental inquiries go south for the SGVCOG, future exposure to its membership communities could include the demand that we return all of the applicable government money that was funneled to us through this "joint powers authority." Something that would be truly unfortunate for Sierra Madre right now.

Walnut City Councilman Thomas King is a recent President of the SGVCOG and, as a man of conscience who takes his responsibilities seriously, concerned about what is going on at this quasi-governmental organization. So much so that he has taken on both Conway and those who do his bidding at the SGVCOG. On March 1st he wrote a letter to each of the representatives of the 31 cities that comprise "The COG." It is a ringing condemnation of some of the practices there. We are reprinting a portion of his letter here. Then we will discuss how Conway and his people have reacted to such criticism.

The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (COG) recently received the final report of an "Organizational Management Audit" from a management consultant firm. While it covers a number of topics, the primary motivation for the study was to address improper practices cited by a Caltran's audit, the most significant of which was a conflict of interest with the COG's long term contracted management firm, Arroyo Associates, Inc. This was the second time a Caltrans audit found a conflict of interest with Arroyo Associates at COG.

The conflict of interest that California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) discovered at the SGVCOG is as follows. Nick Conway, the guy who runs the place, owns Arroyo Associates. A company that handles various managerial aspects for the COG on a contract basis. The Caltrans accusation being that Conway, who as its Executive Director is in charge of allocating COG moneys, funneled what was in this case state government funds to a company that he controls, thus personally profiting from the exchange. A very serious matter.

It is important to note that under a pending budget revision for the current fiscal year Arroyo Associates will be paid almost $750,000 for the management of the COG and associated activities. The actual costs attributed to Arroyo are always a bit hard to pin down accurately because numbers seem to regularly change, but proposed for the 2011/2012 fiscal year they amount to management fees of almost $430,000 and grant and special project fees of over $320,000.

In addition to these annual costs, the COG and not Arroyo Associates, have incurred the following additional expenses in connection with the two recent Caltrans audits, approximately:

COG Payment to Arroyo Associates for Audit Related Costs ....... $72,000
SCAG/Caltrans Payment Reduction from Audit OWP Program ... $65,000
Legal Costs Associated with First Caltrans Audit ..................... $110,000
To Date Legal Costs Associated with Second Caltrans Audit ...... $72,800
Response Expenses for Second Caltrans Audit ........................... $23,800
Organizational Review Resulting from Second Audit .................. $20,000
COG Share of Reimbursement for Second Caltrans Audit .......... $36,900
Total ...................................................................................... $400,500

So who do all these costs fall upon? Who is it that is feeling some of the effects of the Caltrans audits into this rather obvious conflict of interest involving COG's Executive Director and a management company that he controls? The 31 dues paying membership cities of the SGVCOG, places like Sierra Madre.

All of this money is coming from the cities of the San Gabriel Valley who are struggling to balance their budgets in these tight economic times.

So how has Nick Conway reacted to this kind of criticism from an elected official who until recently was President of the SGVCOG? He has proposed a revamping of that organization's Code of Conduct that would include the power to purge from the SGVCOG anyone who dares to challenge his authority. Here is an email I received from Tom King last Friday.

As you know I have been critical of the SGVCOG client relationship with Mr. Nick Conway. Mr. Conway has twice been found to be in a conflict of interest by audits conducted by the California Department of Transportation. In addition, Conway has presented grants to be adopted by the SGVCOG Governing Board in which it appears he has a fiduciary interest. In my view this could violate Section 1090 of the Government Code as well as the Code of Federal Regulations.

As you have apparently discovered, Mr. Conway has caused the creation of a government sponsored homeless program, which ultimately paid rent to his own company.

More than a year has gone by and I have written to all of the governing board members, as well as the executive director board members of the SGVCOG leadership. No meaningful progress has been initiated to date to address these concerns. The risk to all SGVCOG cities continues.

To the contrary, Conway is proposing changes to the SGVCOG code of conduct to silence any meaningful discussion of his mismanagement of the SGVCOG. I suggest you read the last item. Basically it says that if you promote a position contrary to the governing board's wishes you can get booted out of the organization. Reading into his proposed rules on communication, I would not be able to even reference myself as a SGVCOG president.

The document that Tom King is referring to can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down to the section numbered 10. Here under "Code of Conduct" you will find new restrictions upon members designed to stifle criticism of Nick Conway, and purge anyone from the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments membership rolls that dares to challenge the authority of its Executive Director. Who, by the way, is a contracted employee of the elected officials that supposedly run the place. People who could soon be prohibited from publicly critiquing his job in that office should the members vote for it. This, along with the fact that much of the money spent by the SGVCOG comes from governmental agencies using our tax money, creates a very bizarre situation.

3.10 Board members will respect the authority of the Director and will provide instruction and direction only to the Director.
3.12 Members shall refrain from abusive conduct, personal charges or verbal attacks upon the character, the motives, ethics or morals of other members of the Council of Governments or staff of the COG.
3.13 Board members shall refrain from using Board meetings or regulation approval processes to advance a personal agenda.
4.4 Members will refrain from engaging in activities that undermine or are in conflict with the adopted position or directive of the COG Governing Board.
4.6 When presenting their individual opinions and positions on matters which may come before the COG or on matters already decided by the COG, members shall explicitly state they do not represent the COG, nor will they allow such an inference.
7.1 Governing Board members have the responsibility to intervene when actions of the members that appear to be in violation of the Code of Ethics and Conduct are brought to their attention.
7.2 Failure to comply with these Ethical Standards may result in sanctions prescribed in the by-laws of the COG including censorship and removal from the Board or Committee.
7.3 In the event that a Governing Board member violates this Code of Ethics and Conduct (sic), the President of the Governing Board, when directed by the Board, may contact the Mayor and City Council from the Agency represented to request that the member be removed from his or her position.

What all of this appears to be is an attempt by Nick Conway, a contract employee of the SGVCOG hired to manage the organization, to silence the elected officials who govern it. I am not sure there has ever been anything quite like this before. For a hired individual running an organization that specializes in regional planning initiatives and running campaigns to recycle batteries, these would be rather extraordinary powers.

And describing any elected official who criticizes Nick Conway, as SGVCOG Executive Director a contracted employee, as being a Code of Ethics violator, is quite a twist.

As a member of the SGVCOG, Sierra Madre continues to pay money to these people. And as such is responsible for what goes on there in the eyes of those governmental organizations that funnel money through it. Should the Caltrans audits, or any future such embarrassment, lead to sanctions at the COG, we, along with the other cities that comprise this organization, could be left holding the bag.

Of course, should the Councilmember we send to the SGVCOG as our representative bring such a thing up, that individual could be banned from the organization for "ethics violations." Apparently protecting our interests is soon to be prohibited behavior at the SGVCOG.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

60 comments:

  1. How much do we have to pay to be in this COG?

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  2. The jig is up anytime a directive says people have to "respect the authority" of the supposed leader.

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    1. Yes, when they say "respect the authority" they are telling you that you are dealing with an "authoritarian", not a true authority.

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    2. I thought Joe limiting public comment to 3 minutes was unreasonable.
      This is absurd. We pay to be a member and can't disagree.
      There goes FREE SPEECH and the Bill of Rights out the window.

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  3. Notice how much conflict of interest is emphasized in the code? It would be really funny, if it weren't so blatantly corrupt.

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  4. You know what is sad? There are elected officials at the SGVCOG who will actually vote to make this happen. All they care about is getting the money Nick controls as a middleman between Sacramento and our little cities.

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    1. Again, what do we, the taxpayers of Sierra Madre pay to be a part of this SGVCOG, and what benefits, if any, do we get back?

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    2. Would Nancy Walsh vote for it? You betcha.

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    3. Would NW vote for it? Seriously! She's going to agendize the manifesto and submit it to Council!

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    4. Nancy wants Nick to take them out. And quickly so she can get to the buffet.

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    5. Dancin' Nancy never reports on anything that happens there anyway, why would she stand up to corruption on the board?

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  5. You will submit to my A U T H O R I T A Y ! ! !

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    1. Conway ought to take his ball and go home.

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    2. ha-ha, only this guy does need to be taken seriously...

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    3. Conway? Why? His departure wouldn't leave a ripple on anyone's world.

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  6. Seems to me like old Conway is trying to close the barn door after the horse is gone.
    Any status update on decisions by the FPPC or anyone else who should be pursuing this scoundrel?
    Hey, am I going to be reprimanded for calling him a scoundrel?
    Tell 'em to send notification to Anonymous in Sierra Madre.

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    1. This is much more serious than an FPPC violation. This is something that should rise to the level of a forensic audit by the FEDS.

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  7. Can Sierra Madre be ejected from the COG if its residents criticize the COG Director? Let's get a campaign going!!!

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    1. Many COG members will fear being purged. Because if they are they won't be allowed to attend the buffets that always follow the meetings. It is the real reason why they are there.

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  8. Let's put Koerber and Harabedian on this immediately! It's too big a job for one Council liaison. They can cut their political teeth on a really pithy issue.

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    1. Harabedian? He who skirted the ethics about using police to campaign for him? I'm afraid he and Nick Conway might take a shine to one another....

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    2. We need to start an office pool so people can get their guesses in on how much Harabedian's final campaign spend was. My guess is $30K.

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  9. The only things council member Walsh has ever said about the COG are 1) she was there, and 2) some distractions had been cleared up.
    Not kidding.

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    1. Well this will certainly clear up the distractions. The Executive Director speaks, and the Politburo silently nods its assent.

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    2. Let Nick take her out. LOL

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  10. In addition to the 72 member Regional Council, SCAG has three standing policy committees which are responsible for the development of policies which affect southern California and make recommendations to the Regional Council for adoption. Each Regional Council member must select one of the three policy committees on which to serve. Additional elected officials are appointed to these policy committees by the various council of governments, i.e. SGVCOG, located throughout SCAG’s boundaries. In our case, SGVCOG appoints seven additional elected representatives to serve on the three policy committees along side the seven regional council representatives from the San Gabriel Valley.

    Click on link above

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    1. Paying dues to COG for providing enforcement muscle for RHNA numbers. Isn't that like paying your hangman for the use of his rope?

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  11. Eye on the problem,April 16, 2012 at 8:09 AM

    Just another area of problems with people in authority. This is such a good example why we, as a City, need to have the best people working on this. MaryAnns input will be truly missed as she served the residents in every decision made to preserved our way of life in Sierra Madre. So just in case your reading about this for the first time it goes like this, some very mean money from outside of this town supported some mean people who were telling LIES so they could get MaryAnn out of the way of them making money. These same people have been telling lies for years and are not going to stop now, there LIES are tearing this town apart.

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    1. An informed and activist community is the worst nightmare for these people. The crap we are forced to endure cannot stand for long once people know what it is and how it hurts us.

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  12. Years ago, while I was sitting on Our City Council, MaryAnn and I had recognized the "extra legal" manner the COG was being run, and the way officers were being "elected" to run the organization,... as a for profit organization. This was one of the reason why we had withdrawn from it, at least until it could be run in a more legitimate manner.
    After I and Kurt left, and we lost our majority on the CC,with MaryAnn a lame duck, and with Buchanan and Mosca back in charge, the COG and our membership in it resumed with 'business as usual'.
    My fear is the situation, even with Buchanan off the council, things will not change.
    My hope is the new city council we see for themselves the extent of this problem, and recognize we need to again withdraw our membership, even if its to distance themselves for their own reputations.

    The current membership should be terminated until it can be be restored legitimately.
    I support Mr. King's efforts in trying to straighten out what has become a money making machine for Mr. Conway's business interests.
    I am astounded by the way the attorney general's office has stuck it's head in the sand.
    We should again should seriously consider leaving the COG.

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    1. Thanks for explaining this, Don.
      I think we should seriously consider leaving COG as well.

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    2. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Yes, we should indeed withdraw from the organization and demand criminal charges be levied against Conway.

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    3. I agree 9:53, and I am baffled as to why both of those things haven't happened already. Maybe this absurd effort to forbid dissent will galvanize COG reps.

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  13. Al these little COGS and SCAGs and Regional Planning Organizations and the rest. All over the country. Can you imagine how much tax money they must soak up every year. Mostly all the do is process paperwork and write reports. Nothing much else gets done. Useless.

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    1. Regional Planning Orgs ramrod development into communities and towns by providing developer welfare using taxpayer monies. Decisions are made for private profit, not by taxpayers. Allocation of subsidized housing is done by agencies in focused areas to increase development and land values/revenue, just like the old railroads did. In California's case, it's a byproduct of Prop 13, forcing cities and regions to develop other revenue besides property tax. This is why Prop 13 has to be split-rolled (commercial property then pays full property tax when sold).

      The residents be damned. Socialize the costs, privatize the profits. Welcome to the world of the 1%

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    2. This is all lobby driven. Big corporations in league with one party government sticking it to the residents. Think 1930s fascist Italy.

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  14. What are these posts about buffets?
    We don't treat these folks to lunch, do we?

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    1. That's how they get them. Chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits and lots and lots of desserts. Empty heads, full bellies.

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    2. Sure we do. The fees paid by participating cities pay for it all. Could be membership fees won't cover it all, so in that case the need for kick backs from friends of development and the developers themselves will do some serious augmentation.

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  15. Councilmember Harabedian will have a serious look at this before he lines himself up with the likes of these scoundrels. His legal future will have to be in serious peril if he doesn't.

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    1. Considering the politicians Harabedian aligned himself with to get elected, I think you are too optimistic 11:17. However, I will hope to be surprised.

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  16. The three newly elected city council members will not have anyone of the remaining council for help in this. They better not take what Elaine has to say with any validity. This will be a big learning curve to figure where Sierra Madre fits in all this. How can we possible continue with this organization. There is no benefit to us as far as I can see.

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  17. I would hope Mr. King would come to speak to our City Council.

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  18. Certainly the "Code of Ethics" being put forth is laughable. Interesting how staff (Executive Director Conway) is not covered? This "code" came as the result of Barbara Messina and Nick Conway asking to head up it's formation.

    That would be Nick Conway the guy who is being investigated by a variety of agencies for potential abuses of office and Barbara Messina the Alhambra Council Member who was recently hit with close to $15,000.00 in fines by the FPPC for illegal campaign activities.

    It is time that each city be forced to allow the residents to VOTE on who will represent them on the SGVCOG.

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  19. The truth is that Sierra Madre city councils when they are dominated by the Dirts have made such poor decisions that almost everything needs to be put to a public vote.

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  20. Mr. Conway also proposes to limit access to the use of SGVCOG stationary. This would have stopped me from writing to CALPERS as the President of SGVCOG rescinding Mr. Conway's unilateral, and improper transfer of the administration of the Alameda Corrider Construction Authority (ACE) CALPERS to himself.

    Mr. Conway was not a member of the Authority, and gained access to confidential information of ACE employees This coincided with his desire to have a PERS pension for himself. I rescinded the action in a letter to CALPERS on SGVCOG letterhead. I also sent a copy of the CALTRANS audit to SGVCOG Governing Board members on COG letterhead as President. This would only allow Conway, and persons authorized specifically by the Governing Board to write a letter on behalf of the SGVCOG. The proposed regulations are undemocratic, and show a reckless disregard of the good governance.

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  21. The code of ethics looks like what the last City Council was trying to do with this election, only to their surpise, Capoccia and Koerber won. Look for massive chaos in the months to come when Harabedian, Walsh and Moran try to figure out what is going on while Capoccia and Koerber have all the answers since they have stayed on top of things this past year.

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  22. You are very courageous, Mr. King. Thank you for all of your efforts. Is there anything that we as voters and residents of the San Gabriel Valley can do to support your efforts?

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  23. I second 2:41.
    Thank you Mr. King for helping us to know what is going on.

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  24. Of course, members are prevented from speaking out against Conway or each other.....yet no mention is made of the public? Members are free to attack the public as they choose and they have!

    You will be hard pressed to find a more arrogant group of public and elected officials.

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    1. What about the citizen's right to free speech as upheld by the Constitution of the United States of America? Can Nick Conway suspend the constitution? If John Boehner can criticize the Present of the United States, why can't Tom King criticize Nick Conway? I say call Eric Holder and the ACLU. And Kamala Harris and Gov. Brown, too.

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    2. Nick Conway, always a legend in his own mind, does it again!

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  25. Frank, are you there? Frank Girardot? Are you reading the Tattler today? We were mightily impressed with your support during the election and we don't blame you personally for Mrs. MacGillivray's defeat. Can you jump in here? Help us shine some light on Mr. Conway and the SGVCOG. This absolutely stinks!

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  26. This is an important story to bring to the attention of residents all over the valley. I hope it's picked up by the Star News.
    I called MaryAnn MacGillivray and asked her about this issue, because I knew she was knowledgable on this SGVCOG, and attended most of the meetings.
    She told me the best thing Sierra Madre can do now is to suspend our membership in the COG indefinately, or at least until we can discern a real benefit for Sierra Madre.

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  27. Let me get this straight....A City Council appoints a COG representative who questions or criticizes an action of a COG Board. They implement censorship and then remove him from the COG Board?

    They did that kind of stuff on March 5, 1933 in Berlin.

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  28. Tin Pot Regional Government

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  29. While I agree with MaryAnn and Don in suspending the SGVCOG membership, that does not solve the problem of the lack of ethics and downright mismanagement of the taxpayer dollar in the San Gabriel Valley cities.

    Holding their feet to the fire and demanding accountability from our government is the direction we should pursue. The way we accomplish this is through the ballot box. Get rid of the bums who go along with CONway.

    This will take lots of hard work, but who ever said that getting dirty politicians out of office would be easy? Find out who is serving in each city and votes to go along with CONway's scam, expose them for what they are, and then influence the election in their city so that the are no longer in office.

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  30. Interesting article in this week's edition of the LA Business journal on the developers and the gold line extension through San Gabriel valley.

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  31. One of the issues is the lack of institutional knowledge at the COG. The ones that do, like Dave Spence, are Conway toadies. Tom and Mary Ann are the independent ones but the cities that should have influence, like El Monte, Pomona, and West Covina, have had so many representatives over the years that they get hooked into the Conway machine.

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