Secret Committees Influencing
City Policies, Spending, Fees & Fines on Residents


Secret 7 Member Public Safety Committee


Jeff Heintz, Joyce Jensen, Cathy Houwen, Phil Emery, Faith Grimm, Sue Ferguson, Greg Steflre

Updated May 23, 2012:

With the last Secret Safety Committee member uncovered, we have a fuller picture of the group.

Five of the seven come off the rolls of the Improvement Association, as current or former Board members or Premium members. Mr. Emery and Ms. Houwen appear independent of the group.

The City Council has allowed the Committee to operate in secret and has not required even the function of the secretive committee to be put on the City's website.

Members questioned expressed no knowledge of what the Committee does, were uncertain if they were on the committee, and did not know when it meets.

Members

Faith Grimm is also on the Secret Parks and Recreation Committee, was on the Parks and Recreation Commission, and was chair of the Park Master Plan Committee.

Sue Ferguson is known to voters for manning the polls on election days.

Phil Emery puts on the Dog Days of Summer with his wife Krystal, the Car Show, and has the Pet Prescription Team.

Joyce Jensen is on the Board of the Improvement Association. Ms. Jensen made her feelings on open government known at the final public Parks & Rec meeting in April 2011, where she stated that the Parks & Rec meetings need not be broadcast for residents to view, and said she doesn't see the necessity of having City Council meetings put on public access either.

Greg Stefflre is also on the City Planning Commission and on the Board of La Habra Heights Fire Watch. In 2000 he was a member of M.O.R.E. which, with most residents united against the project, sought and won defeat of plans to turn Hacienda Road into a four lane highway.

Jeffrey Heintz is also on the Water Board and was on the Board of the La Habra Heights Improvement Association and the Park Master Plan Committee.

Mr. Heintz gained national attention in 2010 when he attacked a resident videotaping an LHHIA Board Meeting (see story & video of attack, more details )
In 2009, an investigation revealed Water Board members were wining and dining at ratepayer expense (story )
One receipt notes Heintz and his wife present at a ratepayer paid $471 meal.
Another receipt indicates that Board member Heintz spent a weeked at the Renaisance Hotel in Long Beach for a convention with his wife, with the Water District customers paying for the hotel (story).
Web Domain registrar information showed that Mr. Heintz's campaign website was owned by and located at Councilmember Howard Vipperman's company (story).

Another investigation in 2009 revealed that the La Habra Heights Improvement Association was misrepresenting itself as a 501(c)3 non-profit for several years, even though it was not, soliciting funds from the community in mailers erroneously touting that the contributions were tax deductible. The U.S. Postal Inpsector's Office stated such mailings are Mail Fraud.
Mr. Heintz was Treasurer of the Association at this time, signing that the group was a 501(c)4, but responded to a query stating it was a 501(c)3 (story ). The Association has since converted to a 501(c)3.


Ms. Houwen participating in December 2010 CPGP Candidates Forum

Cathy Houwen is an 8 year resident who has been interested in water issues, is a CPGP attendee, and considered a City Council run in the 2011 election, participating in a CPGP Candidates' Forum.


Through Public Records Requests, and slips of the tongue, information is coming to light about the "open government" claiming City Council sanctioning several Secret City Committees that appear to replace Public Committees and Commissions disbanded by the previous City Council.

On November 21st, this writer put in a public records request for emails to and from the city manager and committee members, for the period between September 1st and the release date, to try to ascertain how many secret committees there are, who is on the secret committees, and what they might be working on. After the 10 day legal deadline to release the documents, the city requested more time to produce them due to the volume of emails. The emails were finally released on December 27th. There were 7 emails released, only from the City Manager to the Public Safety Committee. Names and other information were blacked out on a few without reference to a records act exemption section. (See released emails here)

A follow-up public records request on December 28th sought any document that would show secret committee member's names. The City responded in writing the next day denying the request citing "privacy" of secret committee members stating; "Frequently members of the public as well as members of committees appointed by the City Manager have requested that their names not be made public as a condition of providing their recommendations."

However, those Secret Committee Members are provided with information not shared with the rest of residents, as would be the case if they were a public committee.

The released emails show that Secret Committee Members were provided with Crime Maps of the City showing locations of Part 1 Crimes (Homicide, Rape, Assault, etc), and residential and vehicle burglaries.

The Secret Committee discussed using cameras at the Park. The Secret Committee was also made privy to "an increasing number of rental houses occupied by large groups, parolees, and probationers" and "squatters who have been detected through weed abatement enforcement."

The Secret Committee also discussed, "creation of a LHH Community Foundation, with a private board in order to accept donations for service and equipment." In other words, the secret committee wants to create a secret board to collect and spend money.

The documents also reveal that the Secret Committee discussed false alarms and fines, ultimately passed by the City Council.

Spying on Residents?

The Secret Committee discussed, "reinstituting the VOP (Volunteers on Patrol) program but under a different format."
There has been speculation in the community that this "different format" would be used to spy on residents.
As referenced above, the released emails show placing cameras at the Park was also discussed.

In 2009, Councilmember Vipperman recommended hiring a helicopter service to regularly surveil the city looking for code violations and other activities, but would have been too costly (Listen to 2009 Proposal WMV | Quicktime ).

A Volunteer Patrol would be low cost.

There also has been speculation that the Secret Roads Committee will be used to give their imprimatur to a doubling of the Road Tax with residents locked out of discussions or providing comment.
Update May 2012: Roads Committee ultimately recommends TRIPLING the Road Tax.

Council Decides Residents Don't Need to Know

Limited deliberate and inadvertant releases of information from the City or Councilmembers indicates that there are at least 3 Secret Committees; Public Safety, Roads, and Parks & Rec.

Previously, the City had the Emergency Preparedness Committee, the Public Works Commission, Historical Committee, and Parks and Rec Commission. These bodies all met in public with regular meetings, open to the public and disseminated useful information to the public. Their recommendations to the City Council were made with input from other residents at their public meetings.

In August 2008, the City Council disbanded all committees and commissions. (Story)

The only one to survive was the Parks & Recreation Commission chaired by the then Mayor's wife.

In April 2011, Parks and Recreation voted to disband itself as a Commission so they could meet in private as a Committee, stating the Brown Act (Open Meeting Law) was "cumbersome". The Council approved their request (Francis opposed) at the April Council Meeting a few days later.

In July 2011, City Staff reports indicated consulting with Parks and Rec regarding new Park Fees and construction. No Public comment was allowed as P&R met behind closed doors at unknown times and places.



At the November 10, 2011 City Council meeting, Councilmember Roy Francis, appearing uncomfortable with the secret committees, asked if information about what the committees do could be put on the city website, or how interested residents could sign up. The City Manager responded that she did not want to put information about them on the city website, nor have residents submit their names to join.

Councilmember Westerhoff said he would like to see something about them on the website and a way for knowledgeable residents to make their skills known. Adding, "There's a certain comfort level in the community if at least the areas that are being explored people are aware of."

Listen to the 4 minute Discussion
WMV | Quicktime

As of December 30, 2011, there is nothing on the city website about the Secret Committees.

Had a majority of the Council wanted, it would be on the website, or agendized for a decision.

The intensity of secrecy to avoid revealing member names, committee purposes, or even how many committees there are has the feel of a Witness Protection Program and has led to heightened concerns among some residents as to what the City Council is trying to hide.


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