Block: Democracy in Garden Grove Depends Upon Investigation of ‘No Show’ Employment Contract

On March 22 the Garden Grove City Council will receive proposals for Council District Maps for the November General Election.

That same day the Council will again consider what action it will take in response to the OC District Attorney's Report finding the Council violated State Law when it secretly made a sweetheart deal in 2014 with its former Fire Chief, David Barlag.  Barlag was directly involved in authorizing the hiring of former Mayor Broadwater's son to a Fire Dept. job he apparently wasn't qualified for.

The election of City Council members by district was required by the successful courageous lawsuit of Rickk Montoya, himself a former and declared Council candidate to run in 2016.  [As a retired attorney, I've learned very well there are no "sure things" in the law.  Many litigants and their counsel risk excessive amounts of time, energy, money and prestige in pressing lawsuits against powerful vested interests, only to end up with absolutely nothing.]

The Montoya lawsuit ultimately resulted in a settlement which requires the City to create six equal Council districts, four of which will be up for election this November.  The City-hired demographer has generated several proposed options for the district maps for the Council to begin considering March 22.  The Council also must vote on which of the six new Districts will be up for election in 2016.

[It is important to note that the most critical aspect of the selected District Map is that the six Districts be exactly equal in population size.  This is the fundamental principle of a representative democracy:  the concept that each person's vote is equal to every one else's vote.  When Districts are unequal in size, even by one to five percent, the voters in a smaller population District have a greater voice than the voters in the larger Districts.]

The Connection to the Secret Barlag Deal

Concurrently with the Council's consideration of district election maps, it will again determine what action, if any, it will take in response to the DA's recommendations.  The Council has indicated its willingness to abide by the DA's recommendations to make and maintain recordings of closed Council sessions, to create new city positions in open session prior to filling those positions, and to not hide the creation of new city positions with the secrecy of non-public Council sessions without immediately reporting its action following the secret session.

But the DA's fourth recommendation is the most important one and the one most resisted by the current Council.  It requires the City to audit the work and performance of Barlag at his new "Public Safety Admin. Ofc." position to prove it was not a "no show" job.  At its last session, the Council rejected a motion to carry out this recommendation together with an effort to replace the Law Firm which authorized the secret deal with Barlag in the first place.

It is no surprise the Council is not moving forward with the DA's recommendation to investigate the secret sweetheart Barlag deal and its aftermath.  The deal was worth more that half a million dollars.  Although Mayor Broadwater is gone (for now), three of the other four votes for the secret Barlag deal still sit on the council:  Steve Jones, Kris Beard, and Chris Phan.

I know more than a little about personnel investigations.  My specialty in the law is labor-management and employee relations.  I've worked in the field since 1970; I have earned a Master of Laws in Labor/Employment Law from the Graduate Division of New York University School of Law.  I've handled hundreds of discipline and discharge cases in Michigan, New York and California.  I've represented employees as diverse as New York Times reporters, IRS Agents, Beverly Hills Police Officers, Hollywood Screenwriters, Chemistry Research Directors and underpaid lower profile workers like hospital workers, janitors, bus drivers, printers and groundskeepers.  I've represented management as well as unions and individuals.

There is one absolute immutable rule about keeping your job-- you've got to show up, you've got to perform.  There is no such thing as a valid "no-show" job.  It is a crime for the government to pay a public worker for not performing work.  It is considered a gift of public funds.  This concept is so important it is specifically written into the California Constitution, Article XVI, Section 6.

The DA's investigation did not include examining the Barlag "no show" issue.  The DA's recommendations to the City specifically asked the City to do its own investigation.  It is well known that former Chief Barlag did not show up for work for months after his secret deal with the City until the press reported on the matter.  The people of Garden Grove deserve to know if their representatives agreed to pay over half a million dollars for Barlag to not show up for work.

It is important to remember that this all happened in the middle of a hotly-contested Mayoral election in which then Mayor Broadwater was under fire for the apparent nepotistic hiring of his son by Barlag.  Broadwater was under the gun, and it clearly served his political interests for Barlag to just "disappear."  That's what Barlag apparently did at the time, being a "no show" at City Hall despite his huge $200,000-plus salary in his new position.

The Connection to the Upcoming Council Decision on District Maps

Because Garden Grove must now conduct elections for City Council by District this November, the boundaries of the Districts must be established soon.  Beginning in the month of July, City Council Candidates may circulate nominating petitions.

The Council must give adequate notice to potential Council candidates of where the Council District boundaries are going to be established.  District lines cannot be official until they are adopted by a City Ordinance, which requires at least two readings at different Council Meetings.  The final Montoya lawsuit Settlement Agreement and the Court Order require final action on the District election ordinance no later than May 31, 2016.

One question must be asked:  With all the needed haste for establishing Council Districts, will the Council simply avoid its responsibilities to investigate the Barlag  "no show" issue?  Should the three current Council members who were responsible for the secret Barlag agreement be allowed to determine the new Council District maps before the Barlag matter has been thoroughly investigated?

The three Council members have a vested interested in the drawing of the District lines.  The Court Order provides that they keep their Council positions until their current terms are completed AND UNTIL THEIR SUCCESSORS ARE ELECTED AND QUALIFIED.  They are all politicians with futures in Garden Grove City politics and elsewhere.

How will it help the public for them to be making the critical choices on Garden Grove's new Council District elections while the Barlag "no show" investigation is stalled because of their inaction?

March 22 should be a very interesting meeting for all Garden Grove residents and others concerned with the City's future.  Hope to see you there.

Joel Block is a retired labor management/employment attorney.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at