As OC Supervisor Andrew Do unveiled a statue of the late President Ronald Reagan in a campaign photo op, questions should be asked as to the mysterious money source behind it. And indeed questions have been asked.
The full plan calls for three statues, of Reagan, Vietnam’s 13th century general Tran Hung Dao, and Mexico’s revolutionary priest Miguel Hidalgo. So two questions naturally arise -- Why three? And why these three? I'll deal with the second question later, but first, why three?
To answer that question, just ask yourself, “Haven’t I seen this before?”
Yes you have.
Back in 2010, then-OC Supervisor Janet Nguyen unveiled a “Heroes Memorial” at Roger Stanton Park in unincorporated Midway City. The memorial was contracted with a nonprofit corporation not subject to competitive bidding, not subject to anti-cronyism laws, and not subject to FOIA requests.
The memorial consists of three (magic number!) walls, each about 10 feet long, and each featuring historical figures from the U.S., Vietnam, and Mexico. Nguyen used $350,000 from a $2 million pot allocated to each Supervisor to spend on parks in her district, called Fund 130 in OC budget lingo.
The proposal was written by, guess what, Nguyen's then-Chief of Staff and now OC Supervisor Andrew Do.
The Board voted 4-1 to approve the project, with Supervisor John Moorlach casting the only dissenting vote. To which Do commented, “Who put Moorlach in the position of being the board’s conscience?” (Yes, we already know Do doesn’t like to be questioned.)
The lucky recipient of the generous $350,000 for 30 feet of wall was identified in the proposal as the Vietnamese Community Culture and Performance Arts Society, officially known by its Vietnamese name, the Cau Lac Bo Hung Su Viet.
However, the day after the contract was announced, when I called the head of the Cau Lac Bo Hung Su Viet for comments, Mr. Song Thuan had no idea the proposal had been accepted. He wasn’t quite sure what was in the proposal, and politely declined to comment until he researched it further.
Meanwhile, another Vietnamese-language daily, the now-closed Viet Herald, got hold of the group’s External V.P. Nguyen Dinh Thuc, who said that the group was only “contributing in spirit to the project.” He stated that the group’s role was to “advise as to the design, what hero or historical figures should be included, and where it should be placed.”
Which is, of course, not what the contract called for. It required the group to do everything, not just “advising” or “contributing in spirit,” but to do all the design and construction and supervising to make the walls happen.
That's not even something the group does. They were and still are best known for writing songs about Vietnam’s history and singing them. They had never been involved in any construction before, and have not been involved in any other construction since.
The group also had no experience handling money at this order of magnitude. Before and after this project, the 990 federal disclosure forms the group filed with the IRS show they have never broken above $20,000 in any one year. In 2007, 2008, and 2009, their total income were $10,429, $5,170, and $16,380.
For the two years of the project, 2010 and 2011, their income shot up 17-fold to $276,573 and $56,960. When the project was gone, their income went straight down to $9,822 and $17,113 in 2012 and 2013, the last two years data are available.
In summary, an OC Supervisor pushed through a contract with an entity that had no idea what's in the contract, had no idea what they're supposed to do under the contract, had no experience doing what the contract wants them to do, had no experience handling that kind of money, and conveniently is not subject to any kind of check-and-balance by taxpayers.
So what logical conclusion must be drawn about the intention of that $350,000?
You've already read my mind.
Now, obviously, if you can get away with it once, you can do it again.
Hence the number three.
Why change what worked last time and jinx it.
Hao Nhien Vu formerly authored a popular blog about Little Saigon politics called The Bolsavik. Before that, he was an editor for Nguoi Viet Daily News.