Monday, January 5, 2015

Live Blogging: Pasadena City Hall "The Embezzlement Show Trial" Starring Michael Beck and a Cast of Dozens

Somebody is in trouble!
We are here tonight because you just don't get to see many shows like this in the local government realm. The excitement is due to roll out at 5PM, though there may be some delays due to polite inquiries about the holidays of each of the City Council and staff members. I suspect they all had a great Christmas and lots of fun on New Year's Eve. Except for that "one thing." We will be updating you about that and everything else that goes on this evening. Unless, of course, it gets boring. Then I'll pack up and go home.

Not too sure about the "show trial" title. I was leaning towards the Robert Coover phrase, "The Public Burning." But we don't know what has happened yet, so I don't want to get too dramatic.

They're handing out speaker cards to the assembled. The room is half filled, but I suspect more are on the way. It is a middle aged crowd, which is fitting. Nobody does indignation quite so well as us gentlemen of experience. 15 minutes to go. Back soon.

5PM - Bill Bogaard has entered the chambers. TV cameras have magically appeared. Other Council members have yet to filter in. We have been greeted by Bill.

5:05 - Michael Beck has entered the room and taken his seat. He seems composed and ready for his ordeal. Terry Turtleneck is now in the hizzy.

5:05 - Madison is absent. We have a quorum. The Mayor is telling us that we will receive more information about the arrest of Wooten and others. All here seem anxious to receive it. The audit continues. We will have 3 formal presentations. The first by Beck.

5:07 - Beck speaks. He is using terms like "misappropriation of funds" and "commitment to transparency." The presentation will be made available on the city site at the end of the meeting.

5:15 - Beck is being kind of dull I'm afraid. He is explaining the city's process for burying wires. Like most city processes, it lacks in excitement.

5:16 - The theft all happened up until 2014. Seems recent. Beck has mentioned the dismissal of Wooten for "personnel reasons." Does anyone know what Wooten was canned for? That has not come out yet. Didn't he pinch some of the office ladies?

5:17 - Beck has informed us that the original personnel investigation was limited. The man lacks for irony.

5:20 - Beck has informed us that Wooten added extra digits to checks. "Used Wite Out." Damn him. If only more people knew it was so easy! Beck describes this as a "weakness in our system." Beck also says that they are always looking for ways to strengthen their system. He followed that up with an explanation of  the process. It goes on until 2017.

5:25 - Beck notes that they have established a fraud hotline. Bunch of other things as well. He recognizes the need to upgrade their systems. God this guy is dry. They're doing audits that have linkage. Like sausage I suppose. Looks like they are going to try and "process" their way out of this.

5:30 - Beck says they are going to try and get their money back. Not good news for certain religious institutions in the area. Beck says he will report back to the Council in 60 days. Beck concluded with an assuring message of returning trust to city hall.

Next we will be hearing from Siobhan Foster of Dept of Public Works. She too has a PowerPoint presentation. It is available on-line if you care to follow along, though death might be preferable for some.

5:30 - Ms Foster says 300 employees of the DPW are honest and hardworking. She seems nervous. Voice cracks a little. She to is going the process route, going to walk through the steps of implementing an "accountability work plan." It too is process. They are checking checks more closely, etc. Financial Management Services Commission is being initiated. All DPW personnel will get new training every two years. "Multi-level management review." The horse has left the barn, but Ms Foster is sweeping up as hard as she can. Hopefully the horses appreciate her sacrifice.

5:35 - "Expenditure reviews." "Anomalies observed." "Operating budget clean up report." "Service  Laterals." "Sped up the process." "Another layer of checks and balances." "Accountability work plan."

5:40 - There can't be a process without jargon. Ms Foster has beaucoup jargon chops. "Systematic review of department initiatives." "Enhanced service delivery." "Space analysis."

5:15 - Foster is now listing the many oversight initiatives each of the DPW divisions has cooked up for the City Council. All are being restructured. A dedicated FMS analyst will walk each transaction through the process. Process is everything. "Multilevel analyst review.'' Reinforcement of expectations." "Monitoring of capital fund performance." "Full transparency." Ms. Foster concludes.

5:45 - Terry Tornek speaks. He is not happy. How did something of this scale and duration happen? Maybe because Mr Tornek was the Councilmember in charge of overseeing ye olde DPW? Terry says there is no shortage of regulations already. Audience chuckles knowingly.

5:50 - Terry is concerned. "Reaffirming the values of our corporate culture." Thinks it might have happened in other departments as well. What level of confidence do we have that it isn't an epidemic of theft at city hall. Need to rebuild the public's confidence re: handling their money. Terry gets applause from the audience. Tornek was also in charge of all of this, yet somehow seems to be wiggling off the hook. Stupid fish. Tricks are for politicians.

5:55 - Andrew Green of the Finance Department now speaks. He too has changes to discuss. Not all that surprising, I suppose. He also has a PowerPoint presentation. Seems to be some sort of bureaucratic Pavlovian defense instinct. A forensic auditor has been hired. All contracts are being checked to make certain they are in the system. "Budget module."

6:00 - Andrew Green is reviewing forms. "Policy and process improvements." Hiring someone to watch over the process. "Redo the process." Dude loves the "P" word. "Five basic goals." One can only wonder. Checks will now have an extra eyes before being released. This is to prevent anomalies, which I guess is the process word for embezzlement. Or theft.

6:05 - Green continues. "Need to get the process done." "Special handling." "Single part form with individual documentation." "Chain of custody." "Implement a series of procedures." "Process improvements."

6:10 - All of this reminds me of an old Carla Bley lyric: "They don't bite, they chew." Green just said "process improvements" for the 10th time. Green wants to look at the polices and update them so that they are following (ready for it?) Best Practices! Can't have a process without best practices!

6:15 - Mayor Bogaard said this Green fellow was going to take 10 minutes. He is pushing 20, and it seems like twice that. "Take a look at all of our processes," Green mercifully concludes. Mayor Bogaard says there are "8 or 10" persons from the community who wish to speak.

6:20 - Victor Gordo wants staff to describe the internal investigations that are going on, and how the dollars are going to be recovered. He wants this conversation to take place before public comment. He wants to know if the city atty is going to go after organizations that may have been a part of the crime. I assume he is talking about certain churches Wooten was associated with. "Public has a right to understand these issues before weighing in." Gordo also feels the guilty parties should not be allowed to enter a plea before everything is known.

6:25 - Mayor McCheese wants to hear from the public. "Then we will get back to serious dialog." Huh?

6:25 - First public commenter. Record were destroyed from past investigations. Andrew McDade information results were not released by the City Manager. Past indiscretions by the Police have been swept under the rug.

6:25 - 2nd public commenter. The barn door is being closed after the horse had gone. All the bureaucratic things are being done. Mr Tornek asked a lot of questions that led to this being investigated. Anemic oversight by part-time elected officials.

6:30 - 3rd public commenter. The auditor, KPMG, has been cited often for their lousy work. Why were they chosen? Beck calls KPMG one of the "big 4" auditing forms that does a lot of forensic investigations. And here I thought it was a radio station.

6:35 - 4th commenter. He is mad at the presentations made tonight. An hour and a quarter of powerpoint presentations being read to us without a single apology. No admission of responsibility. $6.4 million disappeared and by a modern miracle nobody but the arrested is at fault. He also calls out the CC for being there for the entire time and didn't notice anything. Finally! Where is $5 million dollars in undergrounding.

6:37 - 5th commenter. The PowerPoint 3 have indicted themselves. They're presentations were impossible to follow and meant nothing. Admissions that were made tonight would cause such persons to be fired in the corporate world. Tells the City Council it is time to do their job and do the proper oversight.

6:43 - 6th commenter. Most city employees have no evaluation on file. Why reward these departments with more employees and more money? She is detailing the whistle blowers who have been laid off by Beck. Beck is blinking at her. She was an analyst, challenged things the the DPW, and was laid off.

6:45 - 7th commenter. Upset about all the lip service given to public oversight, yet the decreased amount of commissions says otherwise. Another speaker who wants to increase public participation. No transparency.

6:50 - 8th commenter. Citizens must stay involved. He is from a neighborhood organization and seems to want to hype what he does as a solution. Holding a candidate forum on the 14th.

6:53 - 9th commenter is Sole Teramae! Sole rules. Why is Mr. Beck not fired? Why aren't the other 4 employees not fired? To CC: It has been going on for 11 years, you didn't notice? Had to have been more than 4 people.

6:55 - 10th commenter. A culture problem. (Madison has arrived, despite his illness). People speak out and the city does not respond. Could these things have been stopped earlier if the city did not seal itself off?

7:00 - 11th commenter is an Edison employee. Brr. She thinks she is an outlier because she believes the city employees she has worked with have done a great job. City employees should be discouraged from using city equipment for personal uses. Cross train management so that they are involved in more than one fund. Public comment ends.

7:05 - Jacque Robinson is speaking. She apologized to the city, and hopes we can find out how these things happened. Did not hear anything about that from staff. Tornek wants a Q&A.

7:10 - Beck now speaks. Butter does not melt in this dude's mouth. Admits he is responsible to put procedures and policies in place. Apparently Wooten did not follow those procedures. Says oversight is working. It's just that it took 11 years. "Overspecialization of our employees." Back to process, I guess.

7:10 - Jacque Robinson wants to know if the problem is systemic. How do we know? Beck says he is confident this level of theft is not happening elsewhere. Says it is a unique situation, but he is looking for other weaknesses in the system.

7:13 - City Comptroller discusses the fraud hotline. 19 calls so far. Beck says they are all investigated. Jacque continues to question, answers are given by Beck and Green that sound plausible, but who knows. Jacque: How did we decide which employees needed to be interviewed by KPMG. Doug Farrell from KPMG has jumped up to the podium to introduce another KPMG employee. She tells us they identified the names of individuals whose names appeared on relevant documents and looked into them.

7:20 - Jacque: Why wasn't the interim finance director interviewed? KPMG wants the time period. Beck says the personnel investigation will be much broader in the future. None of this is going anywhere, Hiring an internal auditor position. How do we know that is enough? Beck says it will be just fine. Policies are in place, employees are good, strengthen the policies, training catalog, yadda x 3. Jacque steps down.

7:25 - Gene Masuda finds the whole thing to be so unbelievable. He wants to understand what happened. How much money has been collected to date for the undergrounding fund. Green doesn't know the number. $39 million remains? Beck doesn't have the info either. Needs to do some additional research. Isn't this something they should know? Gene wants to know how they will get the money back? Beck says they are trying to identify assets. City Atty wants to go after others. Gene says 60% of the city's employees would steal if given the chance. This according to a study. Beck says he wants to make that more difficult. Masuda steps down.

7:40 - Steve Madison has risen from his sick bed to address us. He admits that everyone bears responsibility, staff and elected officials. Steve then butters up Boguss a bit. Was the undergrounding fund a slush fund? A third of the money was used legitimately, 2/3s stolen. Beck demurs, even though he didn't have those figures before? Madison then nailed it. People on the dais patting themselves on the back for asking questions in the 11th year? Room laughs nervously. Not sure Tornek enjoyed that observation. A third of the money was stolen in 2013. Appoint a special committee to oversee the investigation. No mayoral candidates need to apply. Then Madison trashed the PowerPoint presentations of the 3 bureaucrats as "basic management." Best speech of the night.

7:45 - Margaret McAustin wants to reestablish the public's trust. Likes the KMPG report, found it helpful. This guy was running his own little company. The worst part of tonight's meeting was the PowerPoint presentations. Showed how weak the system was. It was all just basic stuff. Why wasn't that done before. Why didn't the huge dollar amounts raise a red flag? Green says unfortunately policies weren't followed.  McAustin wants to know why there were no consequences. People get away with things at Pasadena City Hall, and that culture led to $6.4 million in embezzlement. Are we retraining people to jobs they are already supposed to know how to do? Wooten made over $130,000 a year. Lots of PeeDee employees do. Are these City Hall people worth the money they are being paid? HR type stands up and gives us a lot of HR jargon, and then asks if that answers McAustin's questions. Margie says yes, but I think she said it to end the madness. Interesting woman.

8:05 - Victor Gordo speaks. Restitution issue - Have we talked to the DA about this? City Atty says yes. Will there be litigation? Yes. Could be a wide range of individuals and companies. Also supports Madison's committee idea. That makes 3 votes. Good questions, why didn't the inspection department catch any of this? Why wasn't work that was paid for inspected by anyone? They would have gone out and seen nothing. Where were the checks and balances? Gordo also goes down the "no one is innocent route." Staff or Council. Task force needs to like at every fund, department by department. Need to be more aggressive than just a hotline. Does Pasadena have whistleblower protections? A whistleblower could be monetarily rewarded. Beck doesn't like the idea. Gordo wants an auditor general and employee protections for whistleblowers.

8:30 - John Kennedy wants to know if Pasadena has a whistleblower statute. City Atty kind of mumbled around that. Wants more employee evaluations. Beck says it is a priority, he monitors it, but does it happen? Asks a good question. Everyone seems to think all the bad guys have been arrested. How does anyone here know that? It isn't over, so why act that way? Kennedy says that during his campaign he asked for an audit of the undergrounding program. He feared that the vaults (?) being used were substandard. His request fell on deaf ears. Draws the comparison between PeeDee and Bell. Puts this city in a category that nobody wants. Kennedy wants a whistleblower ordinance. As does Gordo.

8:50 - Bogaard says this has been a vigorous and thorough vetting of the issues. He will now give us a consensus for staff that will bring this meeting to a close. Civil lawsuits, follow up with insurance carrier, hire an internal audit, training and policy review, implement KPMG recommendations, reaffirm our values in our corporate culture, accelerating a citywide risk assessment, a task force with persons from the community, look at in-house reporting of malfeasance, special committee of councilpersons, role for a special legal council to work with the special committee, possibility that another auditor can strengthen the audit committee, department by department review, and that the internal auditor be given a degree of independence. Risk assessment is big for McCheese. Brought it up with several of these suggestions.

Frank Girardot on Facebook: "Pasadena city employees are doing a lot of CYA tonight as officials explain how $6.4 million will never be embezzled again. Meanwhile they haven't said how they got ripped off on the first place."

Yep. Process solves all problems. Except, in this case, the big one question. Which really was the only thing that counted tonight. but then, that's not what McCheese and the PowerPointers were actually looking for.

Interesting point from InvoiceGate Pasadena:
Question #27: If the KPMG Audit was finished by 11/11/14, did the City hold its release so that Pasadena residents would not know about the embezzlement before the close of the nomination period for the 2015 council races? Would the two unopposed councilmembers have faced any opposition if the scandal had broken when the City knew everything they needed to know?

We'll have Beck's report in 60 days. The world awaits.

And yes, that's all folks!! At least for now. G'night!

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

63 comments:

  1. Back off on Beck you jackals!!!!!! Stop nip nip nipping at him!!!!! jackals be warned!! I'm no hyena you jackal!!!! Wait... the big guns just rolled in... got to go grab a seat before the real nipping begins.

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  2. Thanks for being there Tattler. Keep those updates coming.

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  3. FIRE MICHAEL BECK!!! The guy makes more than $300,000 and is INCOMPETENT!!!

    Watch the 1/5/15 Pasadena City Council Meeting questioning Michael Beck here:

    http://pasadena.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=9

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  4. Ms. Foster may have to take the fall for Beck. She knows it and that's
    why she's nervous. You can hear it in her quivering voice.

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    Replies
    1. She's only been here for 6 months. Rather green for the drop.

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    2. Siobhan Foster stated she had been with the City of Pasadena 36 months and had 20 years of public service experience. Beck brought her from the City of Riverside in 2011 when Martin Pastucha left for greener pastures.

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    3. She said she's been there for 36 months.

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  5. Finanace Director says he has 80 people working in his Department. How were these people vetted before they
    were hired? What about contract employees? How are they being vetted?

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  6. Line of the night from the public comments:

    "Michael Beck is the city MISmanager!"

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    Replies
    1. The City Council missed it all as well. Why let them off?

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    2. Nina Chomsky is a Pasadena mover and shaker and well known to the Mayor, Council, City Manager and the Directors. She knows whereof she speaks.

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    3. The CC should be held accountable, but they don't make $300,000 + in salary/benefits.

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  7. Those two ladies calling for the firing of City Manager Michael Beck. One of them a current Pasadena employee in finance. BOOM!

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    Replies
    1. she'll be unemployed in a year. try to catch her name

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    2. Only if Beck stays. Being the snake that he is he will have her fired for speaking the truth.

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  8. Sounds like Foster has a PhD in Municipalese.

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    Replies
    1. Process jargon. It is the equivalent of chewing blubber.

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  9. Beck is a well meaning idiot, who feels that explanations and reassurances are enough to solve any problems. He was the same way after the 2011 windstorm. If that was a test of how we handle emergencies, we failed, but I never felt he wanted to learn from the problems. All he wanted to say was "everyone was working as hard as they could", yes, that was the problem...

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    1. This is all standard bureaucratic response. The system is the solution to the problems of the system. New processes solve everything. This meeting is sliding into the "total waste of time" category.

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    2. Beck has been at the center of several incidents in Pasadena. The windstorm of 2011, the ballooning costs of the Rose Bowl renovations, trying to ram (pun intended) an NFL team in Pasadena against the wishes of the residents of the Arroyo Secco of which a lawsuit has been filed and now the Wooten embezzlement.

      Michael Beck must go!

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  10. Don't think for a moment they dn't know 1) how much had been collected since inception; 2) how much had been expended inception to date; 3) how much of the work has been completed; and 4) how much of the work is left to be completed. And, what is the impact to the fund and the project that this theft represents.

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  11. Please someone give Michael Beck a cough drop. Trying to gain sympathy? The guy might not be a Rizzo, but he seems very incompetent and a snake.

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  12. Madison is such a twit. He could have stayed at home and been just as relevant.

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  13. Okay, Madison lobs a broadside to the Torneck side of the dais. This could get nasty. Bogaard didn't flinch. Cool dude.

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    Replies
    1. Madison nailed Tornek. People who sit at the dais and pat themselves on the back for asking questions in the 11th year. You go, flu boy!

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  14. Good question from Gordo. Why didn't anyone go out to inspect work that was paid for? Where were the inspectors? Sleeping?

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    Replies
    1. Union mandated breaks

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    2. Pretty long breaks. Months at a time.

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  15. Honestly, I think we need to pay our city council and mayor enough money to work full-time, then they can't fall back on the "I'm just part time" defense when bad things happen.

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    Replies
    1. The part they do is the talking part. The other stuff they leave to staff.

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  16. John Kennedy needs to stop trying to use big words he can't pronounce.

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    Replies
    1. Don't mess with him. He has Michelle Obama on speed dial.

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    2. Haha. Faux pas. Like six million stolen dollars is a social glitch.

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  17. not after he made a fool of himself publicly asking the president for a job for his sister

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  18. John J. Kennedy questioning Michael Beck over the Pasadena employees and whistle blowers that were fired under his management of the city. Beck talks a lot and says nothing.

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    Replies
    1. He watches mccheese with puppy dog eyes

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    2. i kept waiting for mccheese to scratch him behind the ear or toss a stick for him to fetch

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  19. Snitch buying. There's accountability. Holy cow.

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    Replies
    1. How else will you get anyone to talk? They're all scared they'll get canned.

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    2. As crazy as I sound, sometimes I believe the criminals are the ones incarcetated, and that this junta are just oblivious observers. It will turn into a turkey shoot between political positions. I doubt there are insiders here. Their crime is being ignorant to the skeezy thiefs that got rubber stamped by this big top.

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  20. John Kennedy calling for the firing of Michael Beck!!! BOOM!!! "Highest paid employee"

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  21. Steve Madison dyed his hair.

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  22. Madison is a joke!! He just thanked Michael Beck.

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  23. The establishment has circled the wagons. This is damage control at its, well, not its finest.

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    Replies
    1. i would have felt sorry for them if their deer in the headlights patheticism wasn't so funny

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  24. When Wooten gets out of jail, he'll still be millionaire. It's a freedom of religion issue.

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    Replies
    1. He is answering to a higher authority.

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  25. After the KPAS VIDEO ends "APPLY FOR A JOB WITH THE CITY OF PASADENA" appears on the screen. HAHAHAHAHA

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    Replies
    1. Snitches need apply.

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  26. City's page with the infamous powerpoints is up at

    http://www.cityofpasadena.net/invoiceinvestigation/

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  27. Dude, where's my six million dollars?

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    Replies
    1. In my backpack!

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    2. Dunno. It was here 11 years ago.

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  28. PowerPoint PinHeads.

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  29. I was speaking with Terry's campaign manager after the meeting. They have a new campaign strategy that he believes cannot fail. They're putting all of his campaign gear into boxes and mailing them to the voters. It's called a Tornek Kit. You wrap it around your neck and turn red.

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  30. Where does the buck stop in Pasadena?

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  31. Did anyone hear Beck or his 14 Directors utter anything like an apology? I sure didn't. Just how "we're" going to change our systems so this can't happen again - until next time, that is.

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  32. I did enjoy watching Steve Madison pull the soap box out from under Terry Tornek. It was a thing of beauty.

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  33. While I've never been a Madison fan, I agree it was well done. Tornek taking credit when he's been on the Committee for over 6 years is nothing but bull and political cover. I would have loved to see the face on Terrible Terry's face when Madison pointed out 1/3 of the money was taken in the last year or so. I'm not missing the next one!!

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  34. Another day goes by and I still haven't heard Michael Beck being fired.

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    Replies
    1. Haven't heard about any city council recalls, either. Looks like all people are doing is talking.

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