To the editor,
In reading Daniela Gonzalez’s written diatribe against the duly elected Westminster council majority in the OC Tribune’s Letter to the Editor Section, dated March 27, 2020, readers can decipher facts from fiction that these allegations against Mayor Tri Ta, Vice Mayor Kimberly Ho, and Council member Chi Charlie Nguyen, are meritless, basing on half-truths and outright lies. Gonzalez’s claims against the three council members, whom she derided as the “Gang of Three”, are vague, at best, and trumped up, at worse. The iconic Wendy’s Hamburger commercial applies here: “Where’s the beef!?”
Let’s take Gonzalez’s major accusations head-on, one-by-one.
1) Cronyism – Mayor Ta practices “cronyism” by supporting a local developer with a project in the city who happens to be a donor and a fellow member of a regional government agency, the Orange County Water Board.
Response: Elected officials from the local to federal level in this country regularly solicit contributions from numerous sources and individuals. As long as these contributions are legal and the official complies with all reporting laws and the Election Codes, there is nothing wrong with accepting political donations, nor is it illegal. Recipients must submit contribution reports in a transparent and timely manner, as required by law.
There is no “pay to play” politics in Westminster as Mayor Ta knows that this is against the law, exposing violators to criminal prosecution. This is Politics 101 and the council majority respects this prohibition, as it curbs corruption and abuse of power. There is no evidence of any improper exchange. Ta’s critics have yet to produce a glint of real evidence to back up their claim of cronyism from Ta or from anyone else on the council.
2) Nepotism – Council members Ho and Nguyen appointed each other’s children to different commissions in the city and did not disclose this fact in an effort to cover up.
Response: Collins Dictionary succinctly defines “nepotism” as “the unfair use of power in order to get jobs or other benefits for your family or friends”. Gonzalez is crying wolf over a spurious issue. The appointment process is open to public scrutiny and all written records are available for anyone to review.
Clearly, the accusation doesn’t fit the facts. All appointments made by council members Ho and Nguyen, or any council members, must go through an application and interview process. These positions are non-compensated, voluntary and without any employment benefits. City commission or board members are volunteers who wanted to serve Westminster. They receive no real compensation, 401-K contributions, or pension and insurance benefits. If there is any monetary dispensation to a commission/board member, which most do not get, the modest allowance barely covers for reimbursement for out-of-
pocket costs for the members to perform their duty.
There is no law or city policy prohibiting, or even an advisory against appointing one’s relatives to these volunteer positions. Council member Ho’s and Nguyen’s children are highly qualified young professionals desiring to contribute their time and energy to their home town. They went through an open application process like any other applicants and were duly appointed based on their experience and ability to serve Westminster.
One has to wonder about the double standard Gonzalez is imposing on her current council targets. Where was she when other council members appointed their relatives to city commissions and boards, among them Margie Rice, Mayor Ta’s predecessor and a vocal recall supporter? Where was her complaint then?
3) Intimidation — The council majority passed a resolution to intimidate independent journalists and Westminster activists as agents of the Vietnamese Communist Party. This is a perplexing and uninformed assertion.
Response: This allegation is laughable but for the serious nature of this issue. One has to wonder if Gonzalez had even bothered to read the contents of the resolution, which is actually a positive response to numerous Westminster residents who have expressed deep concerns that the dramatic uptick in the turmoil and division in the city will work to the advantage of the Vietnamese communist regime. It is a declaration that directly addresses an issue of critical importance to the
Vietnamese-American community, which makes up half of the city’s population.
To deny the relevance or significance of this resolution is akin to ignoring the continuous Russian interference with our electoral system over the past four years, or to make light of the on-going efforts of Chinese agents stealing our economic and military technology. As former political refugees escaping from communist oppression, and now, dealing with subversive activities from
Hanoi, at least half of the residents of this city can personally relate to the value and meaning of this resolution.
This resolution is not a political weapon to attack the council majority’s opponents. In fact, Gonzalez should be supporting this resolution so to bring peace and stability to Westminster. There is no reason to oppose this and call it an act of intimidation.
4) Hypocrisy – Really? Is this a good reason worthy of spending half a million dollars of Westminster precious budget for a recall? Gonzalez charges that the council majority are hypocritical for condemning a Los Angeles area billionaire, Kieu Hoang, for funding the recall while doing their own fundraising out of town.
Response: As stated above, the tradition of political contributions to candidates running for different offices are as old as American politics itself. There is nothing illegal or wrong with this practice as long as there is no “quid pro quo” between the candidate and donor, and that the candidate fully and timely file all required receipts and expenditures mandated by the myriad
provisions of the elections law in the jurisdiction.
It is impressive that members of the council majority, including Mayor Ta, receive contributions from thousands of donors inside and out of Westminster. In fact, the diversity of the donors’ background, both in terms of geography and demography, is a source of pride and an indication of the strong level of support and confidence these donors have in the council majority. Indeed, so many people support the council majority because they like what the council members are doing
and the issues that they are advocating on behalf of the city.
There is no hypocrisy in exposing an inconvenient fact against supporters of the recall. This recall would never had gotten any traction, or even close to the minimum number of qualified signatures but for the single-handed involvement of a vain-glorious billionaire who lives in West Lake Village, but has no real interest or relations with Westminster. Proclaiming himself the “commander-in-chief” of the Westminster recall, Hoang, owner of a Shanghai-based blood production company, vowed to “get rid” of the council majority — all three council members with whom he never personally spoken with, or even met at any city event. Why would this LA area businessman, Kieu Hoang, who has no business in Westminster, dump over 1.3 million dollars of his own money into a local recall election? Concerned Westminster residents want to know.
David Johnson, a representative of Westminster United, the so-called grass-root organization leading the recall effort, public admitted on the Nguoi Viet Daily that Mr. Hoang provided over 99% of the financial resources to make the recall possible. This recall is no organic, grass-root uprising from local Westminster residents harboring any legitimate issues, but a naked power grab by a small group of disgruntled political opponents benefiting from the largesse of an out of town billionaire whose motives for involvement are still murky. Why is Gonzalez concerned about where the council majority raises their funds, especially when they are conducting these activities legally and in the open, while defending the action of an LA-area billionaire whose conduct has exacerbated further political disruption and financial distress in this city? Talk about hypocrisy!
5) Favoritism – This allegation of the council playing favorites with the example of a private group receiving the right to lease city land for $1 is truly without merit and fact-free. Similar to other baseless aspersions against the council majority, Gonzalez’s first inclination is to engage in pejoratives to express her disagreement with the council, all without any logic or
facts to back up her assertions.
Response: Located at Freedom Park, the Vietnam War Memorial was offered the construction of a small museum and welcome center, which it sorely lacks since the opening of the Memorial over 15 years ago. This project is a not a public works contract nor does it involves any city funds, since the applicant proposed to fully fund the structure’s
construction and operation – all with private money. In this case, there is no requirement for public bids. Moreover, the permit issued to this private organization is preliminary and only the first step in the many administrative and logistical steps to be completed prior to the construction of this project.
There are a number of phases and many procedures that the organization has to satisfy per the city’s requirements even before receiving permission to lay the first brick on the ground. The entire process, from entitlement to construction, will be transparent, public and participatory from the community, while city officials, elected and staff, will also have a role in overseeing the entire process from the beginning to end. There is no favoritism here.
6) Tai Do and the Code of Ethics – Gonzalez brought up freshman council member Tai Do and his ill-fated attempt to bring ethics back to the city, and that Do is working hard with his anti-corruption platform to clean up the city council. Who is Gonzalez and Do kidding with this?
Response: Local elected officials, including city mayors and council members, are required by state law to complete ethics courses every two years and at the time of orientation for newly elected officials. Elected officials are also required to comply with numerous political and financial reporting requirements with the state, and as public figures, not to run afoul of any criminal and election laws governing the same.
The council majority refuses to engage in the game of self-sanctimony and grandstanding by council member Do, whose own personal conduct is not exactly stellar, just to be kind. The draft created by the Ethics Subcommittee, composing of David Johnson and assistant city attorney Christian Bettenhausen, was rejected because it was subsequently discovered that
member Johnson had a conflict of interest and was biased, before resigning. Moreover, the draft submitted was rightfully rejected because its contents went beyond the scope of topics and activities set by the council, while many of its provisions would tie the hands of council members from doing their job, contradictory in language, and overreaching. The council
passed a revised Code of Ethics, adopting the contents of the Code from other neighboring cities, which worked just fine with their identical versions, while Do failed to vote for it. Fundamentally, ethics are values and morals deeply held and internalized by each individual, based on that person’s life experience and the positive lessons learned from others, not from a thick, bureaucratic manual that is full of contradictions, off-based assumptions, and impractical restrictions that may violate an official’s First Amendment right to free speech and association. The council majority refuses to respond to council member Do’s political shenanigans, knowing that it was a publicity stunt used to shield his own ethical shortcomings from the public. It is rich for Gonzalez to complain.
In her litany of reasons against the council majority, Gonzalez offered up a stale dish full of unsubstantiated accusations, selective complaints bordering on racial prejudice, and contradictory claims. Even worse, not a crumb of hard, independent, verifiable evidence is offered to back up the wild allegations made against the council majority.
Despite the political harassments and threats, the council majority is doing a diligent job representing Westminster. Mayor Ta, Vice-Mayor Ho and council member Nguyen are long-time locals who have contributed much resource, time and energy to build Westminster into a better place to work and live. The three council members are reputable professionals
who have spent years contributing to the betterment of Westminster. They are dedicated servants duly entrusted with your vote to represent the best interest of the city, and they have done a good job for the residents of this city, balancing the budget, providing the needed public safety resource, fixing the roads and infrastructure, and keeping taxes low.
Given the divisive activities of recall supporters throughout the city and at city council hearings, Westminster residents should reject the half-truths and lies propagated in this meritless recall to send a clear message to any political agitators to pack their bags and get out of town.
Attorney Van Tran represents Mayor Tri Ta and Council member Chi Charlie Nguyen in the recall election. He was a Garden Grove City Councilman and California State Assemblyman from 2000-2010, respectively.
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Orange County Tribune. The Tribune is neutral in this recall election.