By FRED SMOLLER, Voice of OC
For more than a year our community has been fighting about an Orange County grand jury report which accused Jerry Amante and Allan Songstad of misleading the panel, misusing their positions and engaging in misfeasance.
The grand jury report stemmed from an investigation initiated by Barbara Kogerman. Her complaint regarded the fallout from a city manager compensation report she had written in the spring of 2010, when she was running for the Laguna Hills City Council.
Ms. Kogerman is now the mayor of Laguna Hills. Students in the masters in public administration program at Brandman University assisted Kogerman in gathering data for the report. At the time, I was the director of Brandman University’s MPA program and the students’ advisor.
Amante and Songstad and others feel that the grand jury got it all wrong. Mr. Songstad said their conclusions are “stupid” and “misguided.”
The Tustin and Laguna Hills city councils voted to ignore the report’s recommendation that Mr. Songstad, who was a Laguna Hills council member in 2010, and Mr. Amante, who was Tustin’s mayor, receive ethics training. Mr. Amante cast the deciding vote on the motion which questioned his conduct, a clear conflict of interest. Both Songstad and Amante are attorneys.
Others — myself, the students, The Orange County Register’s editorial page and other prominent elected officials such as Supervisor Shawn Nelson and former Assemblyman Chris Norby, and a big chunk of the public — feel the grand jury got it right.
However, both sides are in agreement that the 13-page report was incomplete and that many of the conclusions did not flow from the evidence that was presented in the report.
The only way to find out the truth is for the grand jury testimony to be released so that interested persons can examine the evidence upon which the report’s conclusions are based.
This is an instance where the confidentiality promised those who testify before the grand jury should be put aside in favor of a greater public interest, which has intensified in the wake of local government scandals in places such as Bell, Vernon, Cudahy and San Diego.
Moreover, the decisions by several local governments to scoff at the grand jury has put the court’s own credibility on the line.
The fact that this matter continues to be reported on says that questions remain unresolved. Releasing the transcripts will also allow for the assessment of the grand jury’s work, which has been harshly criticized by some members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
I hope Mr. Amante and Mr. Songstad and their former respective city councils and the others who criticize the report will join the effort to daylight the grand jury transcripts so we can find out the truth.
If the grand jury does sloppy work, we need to know it, and fixes need to be put in place. If on the other hand the independent volunteers who serve on the grand jury do honest and comprehensive work that serves the public interest within the constraints that they face, then those who feel they are above the law and their enablers should be called out.