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San Clemente claimed the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA), which manages toll roads in Orange County, illegally withheld public records, including payments totaling millions of dollars to lobbyists and public relation firms.

“I can say that they (TCA) have sent over some of the documents requested, however the original request has still not been fulfilled,” said Assistant City Manager Erik Sund in a Thursday phone interview.  

The city filed a lawsuit against the agency June 19 in an attempt to get the rest of the records it said it didn’t receive.

“We don’t understand why the TCA just won’t turn over public documents. It does create a level of ‘is there something that’s being hidden,’” he said.

San Clemente has been in a fight with the toll road agency for over a year, after a potential toll road extension was proposed through the small beach city. San Clemente residents attend nearly all monthly TCA board meetings and voice their opposition to the extension and the City Council expresses its opposition from the dais during its meetings.

The toll road agency claims it did provided San Clemente all requested records, according to an email from Spokeswoman Sarah King and comments made at Thursday’s TCA board meeting by contract attorney George Joseph, who represents the agency.

During the TCA meeting, board member and San Clemente Councilwoman Kathy Ward blamed agency staff for the lawsuit.

“Also, one thing I want to say … this board needs to take back control from the TCA staff who are making arbitrary and costly decisions —  who are costing the TCA … tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees,” Ward said. “We are asking for all the invoices, including hourly, for each and every one of  the consultants.”

Ward said without detailed invoices and hourly breakdowns, people won’t know what type of work the lobbyist and consulting firms are doing.

“One thing that’s disconcerting is this board pays (former Anaheim Mayor and current lobbyist) Curt Pringle and Associates directly and apparently as a subconsultant to another contract,” Ward said. “It’s been five months since we made our initial request and we still don’t have all the documents. I believe TCA should just act like a public agency … and respond to the records request and stop wasting taxpayers money.”

In response, Joseph said “I would simply confirm … that, in fact, the requested documents have been provided …  All the information has been provided and the one thing I would agree on is the pending lawsuit is unnecessary, but unfortunately the city has chosen to proceed with it in any event. Other than that, I don’t think we ought to be debating the merits of that suit in open session.”

The toll road agency also disputed the claims in a July 23 court filing when it claimed it sent records to the city June 8, 21 and 28.

“Even now, TCA is continuing to compile and review documents, and anticipates producing a fourth batch of documents before the court ever hears this demurrer,” reads the filing.  

But San Clemente, in a Thursday morning news release, said the TCA didn’t hand over all the lobbyists’ contracts and detailed invoices.

“Instead, they (TCA) have decided to spend tens of thousands of Orange County Taxpayer dollars on legal fees in order to keep these documents secret and out of the reach of those looking for the TCA to justify the tens of millions spent for lobbyists and consultants. The TCA’s failure to to comply with the California Public Records Act is a violation of California law,” reads the news release.

However, King, the toll road spokeswoman, said the city is wrong.

“…contrary to the assertions in the City’s press release, on August 9, 2018, TCA has provided all of the requested documents. Some of the documents took some time to provide because they included requests for expense reports which needed to be searched for in storage and then redacted to remove credit card or social security information, etc.; but all of the requested information and documents have been provided,” King wrote in a Thursday email to Voice of OC.

In Thursday’s phone interview, Sund said, “We still have a number of outstanding items that we have communicated to TCA.”

In the news release, Sund reported how much some of the consulting and lobbyist firms were paid through the TCA board’s June contract reviews. Here’s a list of what Sund says is missing from San Clemente’s records request:

  • Nearly a year and a half of invoices from lobbyist firm Venture Strategic. The firm makes $1.8 million a year.
  • Venture Strategic’s detailed invoices for the past four years and hourly billing statements, including subconsulting invoices from Curt Pringle and Associates and other subconsultants. Pringle and Associates makes at least $72,000 a year.
  • Four years of contracts and invoices from numerous consultants, including Robert Naylor & Associates and Nossaman LLP, which provides the TCA with contract attorneys. Naylor, a lobbyist and lawyer, was the Assembly Republican Leader in the early 1980’s and later was state Republican chairman. His firm makes about $85,000 a year.
  • Reimbursement expenditures and stipends for toll road CEO Michael Kraman, who made $412,000 in salary and benefits in 2017, according to Transparent California.  

“We are asking for all the invoices, including hourly, for each and every one of the consultants,” Ward said during the meeting. “It is time for us, the board … to take back control of this organization from staff. We cannot allow them to dictate the actions of this organization.”

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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