Thursday, February 7, 2013

So Where Did All Of That Bond Money Go?

I don't know if you noticed Tuesday evening (or any other evening), but our very own Mayor Josh Moran has an interesting approach to dealing with public comment questions that he doesn't like very much. He will listen to the questioner, wrinkle his nose as if something doesn't smell quite right, and then paraphrase what the audience member had just asked. "I think what (fill in a name) is asking here is that ..." Unfortunately, the paraphrase is usually not quite like what was originally asked, which then gets passed over as the person who was supposed to answer that question invariably - and gratefully - responds to Josh's version instead.

Tuesday evening a question was addressed to the Pasadena Unified School District representatives present regarding bond money that may, or may not, have been looted from the $350 million building facilities fund known as Measure TT. It was a good question, one that went to the heart of the PUSD's ability to manage so large a sum. There is an investigation initiated by the PUSD going on, and it has been "in process" (so to speak) since the beginning of December. 

The audience member wanted to know just where that investigation was going and, if I recall correctly, exactly how much had gone missing. Josh for whatever reason didn't care for that one, and interpreted the question in a far less direct way. Which enabled the PUSD personnel most familiar with the investigation to avoid answering the question altogether.

In case you are not aware of what we're talking about, here is an article that ran in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune titled "Pasadena Unified hires independent auditor to conduct billing probe" (click here)." It was published on December 6, 2012.

Pasadena Unified School District has hired an independent auditor to investigate improper billing practices related to its $350 million Measure TT capital improvement program. The district has turned to Glendora-based Vicenti Lloyd Stutzman, spokesman Adam Wolfson said Thursday.

It's the same firm that Pasadena City College hired after two administrators were caught in a bribery probe by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office this summer.

PUSD placed facilities supervisor David Azcarraga and bond consultant Robin Brown on leave Wednesday, and terminated four Measure TT contracts. District board members and administrators have declined to comment about details of the probe, calling it a personnel issue.

The D.A.'s Office is not involved in the PUSD investigation, and no criminal complaints have been filed.

Measure TT, passed by Pasadena voters in 2008, provided enough funding for renovation and construction projects and nearly 30 PUSD schools. An independent auditor, Vavrinek Trine Day and Co., provides annual reports that are reviewed by a Citizens Oversight Committee, but no billing irregularities were uncovered in a fiscal 2011-12 review.

Unfortunately, once an investigation is announced, there is nothing more that will get said until it is completed. The cone of silence descends. And should the investigation never come to a conclusion? Then it becomes a permanent investigation, and whatever juicy nuggets of truth might otherwise be available get sealed in safe somewhere, never to see the light of day.

I am not saying that this is the case here, and we just might see a report issued soon that will answer many of the questions people have about the Azcarraga-Brown Affair. Hopefully then we will get the information we need.

However, other things do happen from time to time. Here in Sierra Madre investigations have been ongoing in the Bob Matheson matter, the EVG Gas Station card skimming scandal, and John Harabedian's controversial City Council election campaign postcard. The one that portrayed what appeared to be uniformed Sierra Madre PD officers nattily decked out in their official issue blues. None of these investigations have ever been concluded, so we have yet to hear any word about where these inquiries might have gone. Something that I am fairly certain select parties are perfectly content with.

While we are at it, here is another article that details a questionable bond money matter involving the PUSD and Measure TT money. It is titled "PUSD consultant paid more than $800,000 before being fired" (click here). It ran in The Tattler's favorite newspaper, the Pasadena Star News, on May 11, 2011. 

School board officials Tuesday called for an investigation into $824,860 in payments to a consulting firm working on the Pasadena Unified's Measure TT construction bond. The district will open its investigation into the matter in closed session on May 24.

SCMC Incorporated of Thousand Oaks, a one-man consulting firm, earned the large sum during a three-year period. Acting as the owner's representative, SCMC was hired to provide oversight of contractors for the district - including those building the new Blair Middle School.

However, some school board members question whether the district was looking close enough at the actions of SCMC, which prompted the probe.

"First of all it's a lot of money and second it begs the question of where this money is really going," PUSD board member Scott Phelps said.

The district ended its contract with SCMC last fall. SCMC owner Gerald Schober declined to comment and referred any questions about his contract back to the superintendent's office. Accountability on bond projects has been an historically thorny issue at the PUSD.

Ultimately, the district exhausted all of its funds from the 1997 Measure Y bond before many of the projects slated for construction were completed.

"Given Measure Y, I would have assumed certain board members would have been super vigilant in their scrutiny of invoices and the quality of the work," PUSD board member Ramon Miramontes said. "We have to ask about control costs or else we haven't learned a thing."

As Josh Moran's preferred newspaper reporter Brian Charles so drily put it, "Accountability on bond projects has been an historically thorny issue at the PUSD." Yes, indeed.

You will notice in the passage cited above that School Board member Ramon Miramontes mentions Measure Y as a precedent that should inspire vigilance on these matters. There is, of course, a newspaper article available about the Measure Y debacle, with the source this time being the Pasadena Weekly (click here). The title is "The great Pasadena bond caper," and it ran on October 23, 2008.

Poor oversight and record-keeping by the Pasadena Unified School District allowed thieves to embezzle tens of thousands of dollars raised through 1997's $240 million Measure Y school improvement bond, the Weekly has learned.

Superintendent Edwin Diaz told the paper this week that he contacted Pasadena police earlier this year after auditors discovered several spending discrepancies, including an $80,000 payment in late 2006 for nonexistent construction work at Washington Middle School.

Shortly after arriving on the job in March 2007, Diaz ordered an audit of all PUSD management activities, an effort that also uncovered alleged misuse of funding for the district's Pasadena LEARNs program. The district launched an internal investigation into Measure Y spending and hired a private auditor-investigator in late July 2007, then turned findings over to police in March.

Pasadena police Detective Lt. John Dewar confirmed that police found significant evidence of wrongdoing, but said that in June the LA County District Attorney's office declined to file charges in court because the school district's records of Measure Y expenditures were inadequate to mount a prosecution.

"It appeared there had been a theft of at least $80,000 - maybe much more," said Dewar, who also considered some payments for work at other school sites suspect. "But when we filed the case with the DA's office it was rejected, basically on the ground that the school district couldn't verify what work was done, if any, or who did it, and didn't have any viable records, so prosecution was just impossible."

Kind of an astonishing situation. Thieves took off with an undetermined amount of money, and the Pasadena Unified School District couldn't prove that they even had that money in the first place. The necessary paperwork didn't exist. As the article goes on to say, nothing ever came of the investigations into this one, the DA refused to touch it because of the PUSD's atrocious record keeping, and the thieves went on to enjoy their ill-gotten gains free from any inconvenient intrusions by law enforcement. Apparently in this case, crime did pay. Community housing people take note.

So yes, there really are lots of questions that could be asked. You just need to get them past Josh Moran first.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

90 comments:

  1. Josh was still p.o.'d about Tony bringing up that whole Measure A deal. It's good to work the crowd, especially knowing it may not be the most friendly crowd. While everyone was discussing the 20% reduction in building, no one thought to ask it- not even Gretchen from the TT Oversight Committee. The question was a good one.

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    1. Josh lacks the maturity to deal with opinions that are different than his.

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    2. Josh also may have a devious reason to downplay the question. Why didn't any of the council members question it?

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    3. I think there was a closed session meeting beforehand with Moran, Doyle and Honowitz.

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    4. Here's a clip of a young Josh.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhjRUKCKIG4

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    5. I noticed that Honowitz blabbed on and on, going in circles. Did he explain where he's been for the past couple of years? Did he, as the Board member who chaired the Facilities subcommittee, give an proper explanation of anything, including the mismanaged bond money?

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    6. Josh probably thought he was being respectful to his guests. And why not? Those are the people he really cares about.

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  2. Sierra Madre Tent Revival Campus and PTAFebruary 7, 2013 at 6:51 AM

    ".....we might see a report issued soon that will answer many of the questions people have about the Azcarraga-Brown Affair."

    Actually John, that will have to be narrowed down to person- me.

    The voice of the people, in between guarded whispers, was clear.

    They told me to shut up. Mayor McCheese and the dominions of McNuggets got their way. I shut up, and with it, so did the rest of my question- the one that may have disclosed enough money to finish the financial part of the problem.

    Dr. P is a cool guy, he would have answered if the money was located and available, and so would the sup- he wanted to. That wouldn't have compromised the investigation

    But Mayor McCheese is on an "I'm the center of the show" powertrip (understandable with Mr. Ed on the other side having a wet one and doing the same thing), and the sheeple were to busy having their extended bully summit to understand what was transpiring.

    Good Luck with all of that. I'm sure your local media will get to the root of the problem after the phoenix rises and takes off.

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    1. You are not alone on this one, trust me. People come here everyday looking for just these kinds of answers. By going to the podium and raising this issue in front of people who likely had no idea what you were talking about, you dragged the body out of the tomb and left it laying there for all the town to see. If you hadn't I would have written about the new bird feeder in my back yard. That was my original plan for today. And yes, the birds love the mixed seed feast I prepared for them.

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    2. I hope you will do a picture essay on that one

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    3. The big problem for me is squirrels. I had to put the feeder on a long pole attacked to my sycamore tree so that they can't get to it. Squirrels will suck all of the bird seed down in a day, and then whack the feeder to the ground hoping to knock out even more. They're a sly and cunning bunch.

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    4. not unlike the government, and just slightly more resourceful in squeezing out every last drop

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    5. Taxes are a lot like squirrel feeders.

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    6. They should go down to City Hall. There are lots of nuts there.

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    7. clearly the squirrels didn't get them all

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    8. Squirrels are in charge in Moranistan. After all, Mod, it's just a bag of birdseed a day!

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    9. Dear Mod I hope you took the time to check in. With the tree commission as sycamores are a protected tree in town. Did you place the feeder so the least amount of harm will come to the tree? If not......heaven help you!

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  3. For all of you clammoring for a forensic audit, this is what happens - you spend a lot of money and the DA says there isn't enough evidence to prosecute.

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    1. While the Facilities Chief is on paid leave.

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    2. Right, & which freezes the assets completely so that no movement can transpire on the project.

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    3. Another question involving the current bond investigation is what happened with those 5 suspended contracts? How much was paid out? Did Robin Brown get paid already for a job not done? If I recall, it was around $300,000.

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    4. 8:44, the unicorns don't need that nasty stuff, it messes with the aura :0

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    5. Incivility causes unicorns to suffer from SD - Sparkle Dysfunction.

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  4. Josh's question evasion technique is wrong on two levels. One he is basically saying that the public commenter is an inarticulate boob, and it is up to him to make sense of the mess. And two it totally takes away what public comment is for - a place for the public to speak about issues that are on their minds.

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    1. Well.....what are the Brown Act rules for comment? Is he violating them by doing that? I don't think the public is incapable of restating a question if someone needs clarity. Since it was an agendized item, it was the perfect time for the public to get an answer, if they had one.

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    2. I am no shrink, but I think Moran's motivations come from his own psychology. He fancies himself intelligent, and he may have been at one time, before certain, uh, excesses. Intelligent meeting leaders or moderators can take very sharp notes, capture words precisely, and do a good job of simple restatement. Moran knows about this, and, again, there may have been times in his past when he could do it. Those days are gone. His motivations really don't go much deeper than trying to look smart.

      The other members of the council majority weren't any better. Walsh and Harabedian were way too easily placated, and all smiles at the responses they got. If I'm not mistaken, at the end of the meeting, Harabedian and Honowitz found each other to perform the silent secret handshake.

      Thank goodness for Capoccia and Koerber speaking for the outraged citizens.

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    3. Rainbow Sunshine Archaeologist, LAMFFebruary 7, 2013 at 9:44 AM

      There's certainly a quality about him that comes across like a used car salesman; learning he is in the sales of complex money schemes on old folks seems about right.

      He was just a jolly guy that fell somewhere between Cal Worthington and a bearded Tin-Tin and was not on my radar at all until he decided to paraphrase person after person after person.

      He has my attention now, and having the attention of a digger is fine as long as there's nothing buried. If there is, I take great pride in finding it and sharing it at my yard sales.

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  5. A level of hell Dante didn't include:
    Honowitz and Buchanan, together, each with an hour to speak.

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  6. http://www.pasadenanow.com/main/police-chief-phillip-sanchez-invites-citizens-to-dispose-of-unwanted-firearms-through-the-pasadena-police-department-see-full-nixle-msg

    In the event you'd rather be shot at by the good guys, than the bad guys....

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  7. James Figuereoa's PSN article in today's paper: Pasadena school officials offer words but not bond over delayed Sierra Madre Middle School project captures the tone of Tuesday's Joint Council/PUSD meeting. Worth a read.

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    1. No offense 10:13, but James Figueroa and Joe Piesecki are examples of what's wrong with local media. They go with what's safe, and of popular opinion. The Tattler is where you go to really get the scoop. Notice that Figueroa stayed with the safe topics- not where the investigation to the mismanaged bond money is, why Honowitz hasn't been directly involved with the situation, where's the vote, etc. He interviewed safe people as well. Did he interview Miramontes? See what I mean?

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    2. James Figueroa reported what happened at a meeting. A reporter. You may have heard the term. Investigative journalism? Journalists. Takes longer than a couple of hours sitting in a room. You sound imperious.

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    3. Figueroa is a kickass reporter. Don't know if you've noticed, but this blog links to a lot of Pasadena Star News reporting. Nobody does local like these guys. They are a valuable bunch of folks over there. We'd be in big trouble without them.

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    4. James Figueroa signed his name to his article as does Joe Piesecki. You, 2:20 pm, chose to leave your barb under anonymous. I ask which is safer? Twit.

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    5. Figueroa is diligent and a true professional. Just doesn't take the easy way to writing an article, actually gets facts.

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    6. And you, Anonymous 4:28, chose to leave your barb in the same manner.

      Sincerely,
      Mr. Twit

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    7. Now Brian Charles is a great reporter.

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    8. Mr. Twit does make a point, Figueroa could have interviewed a couple of the board members- they were there milling around at the end. But, true- he is not an investigative reporter. I'm sure there's lots of hidden information on this that is ripe for the picking- right Moderator?

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    9. Brian Charles took Moran down hard on his Matheson fib. It was pretty awesome.

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  8. Squirels are easy. Once confronted by man or dog they run up the nearest tree and fancifully swish their tails taunting the intruder. Now a real encounter is with the mid west black starling. They fly in enormous flocks perhaps thousnds waiting for the sun to set. At dusk they occupy every limb in an Elm or Oak and squawk. Enterprising folks went into the back yard with a large dish pan and a metal spoon banging away to coax them into the neighbors tree. My dad using the same shotgun that protected the chicken coop, and would aim it up into the tree, and fire away. Propblem was the shot resulted in thousands of Starlings pooping at once, with a few unlucky ones falling to the ground, so you had to develop a talent for firing and running at the same time. No one ever reported the illegal gun shots within the City Limits. This act was not considered "illegal".

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  9. This is probably a stupid question, but who made the decisions to hire the thieves and embezzlers?
    In the business world there are specific people or a person who has the task of evaluating potential hires, and deciding who will get a job.
    So is there some locus, some person or group of people who hired the thieves?

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    1. Putting $350 million dollars into the hands of an organization like the Pasadena Unified School District is a recipe for disaster. every hustler, con artist and half mad social engineer descended upon them like locusts.

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    2. Ostensibly they were not thieves when they were hired, but regardless, both people put on admin leave we're high up and thus their contracts were surely approved by the board. Within the district hierarchy the superintendent holds the ultimate responsibility.

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    3. Navigio, who's the 2nd administrator on leave besides Azcarraga?

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    4. Robin Brown. You need to read the Mod's post.

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    5. Brown was a consultant. is there a second staff member?

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    6. Notvigiyoyo, I did read the mod's post. Robin Brown is a hired consultant NOT an upper administrator like Azcarraga. Thus, the question is a valid one-so what's it to you?

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    7. I wonder if Robin Brown got to keep the $300,000 contract, or if he had to return a portion?

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    8. The Great and Mighty OzFebruary 7, 2013 at 8:44 PM

      I think I understand now why so may board members have consultant companies of their own. They are sort of like nest eggs. Honowitz will be hired as one for a princely sum.

      The contracting consultant who made a wad of cash and was dismissed made more on that contract than I make over 5 years. Who says crime don't pay.

      I have also surmised that there probably is not a second staffer, but that there was a miscue in the thread.

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    9. can we get back to talking about what a great mayor we have?

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    10. I like the little upsweep of hair over his forehead. It is like the handle on a cookie jar.

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    11. Or the spigot on a keg.

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    12. A bit like a unicorn horn.

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    13. Brown was the 2nd person. He was a consultant (not a district employee) thus his contract is also approved by the board. Looks like in June 2011:
      http://pusd.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=12&clip_id=389&meta_id=59623

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  10. 11:27, that would be Human Resources. Steve Miller is the Director, but don't ask him for any info, he "forgets" everything. He can't keep track of anything, but he's in charge of a lot- including investigating discrimination complaints- doh.
    ~Mary

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    1. Thanks Mary, and I figured there had to be someone ultimately responsible. So why is he still there? In my world, he's the first guy to get fired, and the job search for his replacement looks for someone with strengths in exactly the areas of Miller's obvious weaknesses.

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    2. Perhaps they are similar to the people the PUSD does business with? There must be two sides to this picture.

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    3. Steve Miller is an IdiotFebruary 7, 2013 at 1:37 PM

      http://www.pasadenaweekly.com/cms/story/detail/suffer_the_children/6038/

      So what do yo do with a crappy principal? Promote them.

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    4. Good luck trying to fire the guy who does the hiring.

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    5. At the last Board of Education meeting, after listing numerous instances of clear failure to adhere to board policy, we requested to file a complaint against the Director of HR. No response. I asked for an outside investigator since this guy shouldn't be investigating himself- he'd probably "lose" the file.
      So, if no one tells you how to file a complaint in the district? Go to the Ca. Dept. of Ed or the Dept of Justice- they'll refer you to the correct place.

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    6. I think a mice introduction piece to Steve miller is warranted.

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    7. You know, Steve Miller is an Idiot, promoting the incompetent is common practice, including PUSD. Cronyism is rampant, and administration is top heavy. Just pass more bonds and taxes, that should take care of things.

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  11. Another child pornographer in Sierra Madre.

    http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/breakingnews/ci_22538098/sierra-madre-man-gets-20-years-sex-minor

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    1. I guess word about the leniency Matheson was shown here has gotten around.

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    2. Who knows, Matheson and Calvo could have known each other, shared materials.

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    3. The only explanation I can come up with is Matheson agreed to turn smitch in order to avoid any legal problems in the US. Maybe he turned this Calvo person in to the Feds.

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    4. Sodom and Gomorrah revisited!

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    5. FYI-------White Pages.com lists Jonathan Calvo at 130 Rancho Sierra Madre, CA

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    6. I think that his parents have a home there, and that everyone needs to respect their privacy, and their grief.

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    7. How far is that from the schools?

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    8. Another one roaming around SM in the same time frame sure wish that the sign in sheet from SME hadn't disappeared.

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    9. Do you think the police could possibly be interested in discovering if this felon has taken pictures of local kids?

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    10. Are you kidding 8:04? It's probably already "under investigation" and will be for another year, at which point it will all be forgotten.

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    11. I don't think the SMPD will be aware of this development until they read about it in tomorrow morning's paper.

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  12. Hi frieds, as I prepare for the ACLU Forum tonight, inspiration is coming from many sources.

    This PUSD election is all about "We the People" and the premise that "all men are created equal, ...endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." "...among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" "...when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object envices a desing to reduce them under absulote Despotism, it is the right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security"

    It also comes to mind the words of Martin Luther King:

    "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

    "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

    " And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

    Guillermo A. Arce
    Candidate for the PUSD Board of Education District 3


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  13. Mr Arce,
    thank you for reminding us of these truths spoken by wise and thoughtful men. good luck at your forum tonight, but do keep in mind that the ACLU doesn't hold to the truths you have shared.

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    1. You're right 2:52. The ACLU do pay lip service, but that's about it.

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    2. I gave my little speech about "We The People" and the premise that all men are created equal. Also used some of the words from Martin Luther King about joining me to the mountain to and looking over it to look at the promise land. Beautiful speech. On closing, I said that there is a contrast between candidates, once the represent the true voice of parents and students and those, who are supported by the same folks who are fleecing our school district. In all, I think the forum went well, questions were long, compounded and complex. There were no easy answers but, I think I did well.

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  14. Simply put,we have a talent for electing devious flimflam grafters who think nothing about screwing their neighbors thru fraudulent taxation,increased phony baloney rates charges and overturning through deceit the infamous Water Bond "Rusty Pipes"fraud.This is not to forget the faux overpaid constabulary which poses as police persons.Is anyone truly surprise that we could or are the "Sodom" of the San Gabriels.

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  15. Why were Buchanan, Walsh and Moran from Sierra Madre Council and Doyle Rep to the school board along with Cooper and Honowitz etc. PUSD, so quick to tear down the school?

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  16. James Figuereoa, like his articles and style.

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  17. I prefer the casual wit of Crawford and Brandenberg

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    1. Blogs and newspapers are two very different things. Newspapers are far more formal, blogs are freewheeling and less structured. It isn't realistic to compare the two.

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    2. And why is that? Personal preference is what it is. Who said I was comparing blogs and newspapers. I was responding to writing styles. You must be confusing me with another anonymous, anonymous 9:09.

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    3. Gee 9:09, what's with reality? Wake up and smell the unicorn dung.

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  18. I enjoy comic books. i understand they are not like reading Hawthorne, but I get from them what I desire. a good read, a liitle pulp, and something to think about.

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