After 16 Year Battle Former Police Officer Delivers $600K Challenge to Mayor Scotto

A tense uneasiness rested over the council chambers this past Tuesday evening when gulf war veteran and former Marine Sniper John Brumbaugh rose to speak and issued a $600K challenge to Mayor Scotto and the Council.  The challenge stemmed from a long legal battle Brumbaugh fought with the City in which he sought his reinstatement to the Police Department after having been dismissed in 1998.  The City of Torrance has spent at least $570K litigating this case.  According to Brumbaugh, “most of these funds have been spent unwittingly defending the illegal, unethical, and out of policy background investigation conducted by then Lt. Ross Bartlett.”

Brumbaugh urged the Mayor and council to “order a comprehensive independent investigation into the conduct/factual nature of the background investigation Lt. Bartlett submitted to the City Council.”  In his statement, Brumbaugh promised Mayor Scotto that he would reimburse the City of Torrance the entire $570K already spent in litigation, plus the cost of the independent investigation if that proposed investigation does not uncover the ethical violations he believes that it will.

All of this stems from an incident in 1998 in which his then girlfriend claimed she was physically assaulted.  He was convicted at that time, but the convictions were overturned seven years later on appeal.  To help win his case on appeal, Brumbaugh accumulated substantial evidence of his innocence including a letter his girlfriend had written him acknowledging that she had lied to the detective about the assault because she was mad at him.

The Torrance Police Department dismissed Brumbaugh after his initial conviction.  Brumbaugh claims, however, that the Department promised to reconsider his termination should his criminal conviction be overturned on appeal.  That’s why he sought reinstatement to the Department once his name was finally cleared.  The City, however, refused to entertain his request for reinstatement and Brumbaugh ended up turning to the courts once again for justice.

That course seemed to yield positive results as the court, at one point, directed the City to reinstate Brumbaugh absent a compelling reason not to do so. Prior to the reinstatement, however, the Council ordered that a background investigation be conducted by then Lt. Ross Bartlett. The Council then relied upon information contained in the report in their decision not to reinstate Brumbaugh. Brumbaugh, however, claims that the report generated by Bartlett contained evidence the Police Department knew was factually untrue and that relevant positive information was purposely left out.

Now, nearly 16 years later and having exhausted all of his legal options Brumbaugh showed up at the council meeting and made an emotional appeal directly to the Council. In his speech he referenced a letter he had sent directly to Mayor Scotto that he believes was intercepted by the City Manager. In that letter Brumbaugh commented:

“The fact of the matter is you [Mayor Scotto] and the other City Council members have been so thoroughly deceived by the Police Departments Background Investigation (regarding my fitness for duty) that for all intents and purposes the documentation you relied upon to deny my reinstatement was a complete sham.”

A former Daily Breeze reporter, Ian Gregor, who initially wrote a negative article pertaining to Brumbaugh, also spoke at the council meeting in Brumbaugh’s defense. Gregor claimed that Brumbaugh had reached out to him after he wrote his initial story. After sharing with him thousands of pages of evidence in support of his claims Gregor became convinced of Brumbaugh’s position. Gregor also asserted that Bartlett had interviewed him as part of the background investigation and that Gregor had provided a positive character assessment of Brumbaugh at that time. His interview as well statements from others that gave positive assessments were not included in the report by Bartlett.

In response to Brumbaugh’s plea, Mayor Scotto meagerly offered that a staff member might contact him. Thus, the question remains what, if anything, can or should the Council do? Is Brumbaugh a tragic victim of a Department that cast off and left for dead one of its own and that is now trying to save face? Or is he just another disgruntled former employee with an ax to grind? I might normally think the latter, but his impressive display of perseverance in pursuing this matter for the past 16 years has me wondering if there isn’t some scenario in which Mayor Scotto could take Brumbaugh at his word and order the requested independent investigation. After all if Brumbaugh’s claims are proven unfounded, then the City stakes to recoup its $600K invested into the matter.

What do you think? You can review Brumbaugh’s plea to the council here starting at the 02:09:00 mark.

“Just Rewards” – Torrance’s $146K Gift Card Reward Program for Ridesharing

This evening the City Council approved an $80K one year contract to “Just Rewards” to administer a gift card reward program to city employees that take advantage of alternative forms of transportation such as carpooling, walking, public transit, vanpooling, and bicycling. This matter was heard under the consent calendar which is reserved for matters that are considered routine and therefore not open for discussion. I believe, however, that this use of taxpayer dollars is worthy of a conversation. According to the staff report:

“Just Rewards provides incentives in the form of gift cards from various companies…this service is necessary as utilizing Just Rewards will reduce the City staff time as the company procures, coordinates, and distributes the rideshare incentives. If the City staff were required to take on these tasks it would cause the program to be too labor intensive to manage.”

In addition to the $80K expense approved for Just Rewards, the City also hired a consultant on a $65K one year contract to help market and promote the Program to city employees. Between the two contracts, the City approved nearly $150K to encourage employees to rideshare.

I believe in ridesharing and the benefits to the environment as well as the traffic alleviation it provides. Do we really need, however, to spend this amount of money promoting ridesharing amongst city employees? The staff report included data reflecting that the current ridesharing program only has 530 employee participants. Of these, my guess is that a large percentage would likely be commuting to work under some type of ridesharing arrangement without any designed Ridesharing Program marketed by the city.  Given this information, I have a hard time believing the Program couldn’t be managed within the existing pool of city employees. This is definitely a reward for those city employees willing to rideshare, but I’m not so sure it is a “Just” reward for the Torrance taxpayer.

Elections Reflections Part One: “The Torrance Way”

Shortly after making it known that I was running for City Council I became aware of a concept that is common vernacular within the Torrance political establishment, but that was previously foreign to me.  This concept is the “Torrance Way.”  I’ve since heard it described as many things such as a certain pride in maintaining a hometown feel, a desire to uphold Torrance’s vision of a well-balanced city, or even an administrative preference for hiring within.  I’m still not sure what the “Torrance Way” is exactly, but I do know what it felt like as a candidate running for City Council. The best way I can describe it is a well cultivated culture of “insiders” and “outsiders.”  I have lived in Torrance for seven years and I never felt like an “outsider” here until I decided to run for City Council. Let me explain.

You see, unbeknownst to me prior to this experience, according to the “Torrance Way” there are certain unwritten qualifications that a candidate for the Council is supposed to have before you are embraced within the insider circle – needless to say I didn’t meet any of them.  First, you are supposed to have been born and raised in Torrance.   An oft quoted credential of Mr. Rizzo’s for example was the fact that he has lived in the same Southwood home he was born in nearly 60 years ago.  How long have you lived in Torrance was a common question at our forums as if you have to live here a certain number of years before you can be trusted.  I’m still not sure exactly how many years that is.  Is 30 years sufficient?  What about 20 or 15?  If anyone can enlighten me, I would surely appreciate it.

Second, as evidenced by the current council that has an average age of at least 65, there is strong preference for retirees or “near” retirees.  I must admit that when I looked up the council for the first time I was struck by the fact that in a city as culturally diverse as Torrance that we are led primarily by, hmm how should I say this, white men of a mature age. The notion here is that retirees have the requisite experience and time on their hands to properly attend to the affairs of the city. I don’t disagree with that, but what is lost in that argument is that the Torrance Councilmember position was intentionally designed to be part-time to purposely allow for people with full-time jobs to fill the position.  Thus, in my view the unwritten preference for retirees only serves to deter those with full-time jobs from running for the office thereby promoting a certain well-seasoned “insider” demographic to the position.

Third, you need experience.  Indeed, the key criteria one must have to become a Torrance insider is to gain experience. When I say experience in this context, I don’t mean professional, educational, or even volunteer experience. According to the “Torrance Way” it matters little if you’re a CEO of a successful corporation, built your own small business, run a successful non-profit, or if you went to Yale or Harvard. The only thing that really matters when it comes to experience is if you have followed the appropriate path by serving on a city commission. You can start out of course by volunteering in various organizations the “Torrance Way” deems less important such as the various HOA’s, the PTA, AYSO, the Torrance Ed Foundation, etc, but it’s the commission experience that counts. And if you really want to become an “insider” then not only do you need to serve on a commission, but you need to work your way up to serving on the powerful Planning Commission. Once on the Planning Commission, your “insider” status is confirmed and you are free to make the jump to the City Council.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I believe the “Torrance Way” has its merits and there is nothing wrong with gaining the experience I have described. That said, I am concerned about the culture of “insiders” and “outsiders” the “Torrance Way” seems to have created. What I don’t think many residents realize is that the City Council controls all commission appointments. This not only allows them to groom “insider” successors, but perhaps more importantly gives them the power to ensure “outsiders” stay on the outside. What I found troubling during this past election is that the quickest way to find yourself off the insider path is to criticize any decision made by the current “insiders” in power. The next quickest way is to openly deviate from the “insider” message that all is well in Torrance and that the “status quo” should be maintained. This results in a culture of cronyism, political favors, and “yes men” candidates who are loathe to challenge the powers that be. Another troubling aspect of all this is that “insider” candidates, especially those on the Planning Commission, become embedded with powerful local political interests, such as developers and unions, that may not always have the best interests of the Torrance community in mind.

The results of this past election were telling. The 16 candidates were, for the most part, divided into two camps of eight “insiders” and eight “outsiders.” The platforms of the majority of the “insider” candidates could be summed up almost entirely by their “experience” and the lengthy list of “insider” endorsements they had accumulated.  What candidates actually thought about the issues facing Torrance seemed to matter very little.  In the end, the insiders dominated the election and ran the table by taking the top eight positions. Not one “outsider” candidate was able to beat even one other “insider” candidate. The insiders supported by the unions did especially well taking the mayoral slot and the top five council positions.  What this says about the future of Torrance remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain the “Torrance Way” is alive and well and continues to dominate Torrance politics.

1 51 52 53 54