Ron Kaye: The incessant buzzing of the gadflies

“If you kill a man like me, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me,” Socrates declared in arguing that his role as a gadfly was “to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth.”

Barry Allen is no Socrates.

But as much as the power structure of Glendale dismisses him as being an annoying hyper-critical person, he scored the kind of victory gadflies sometimes do in nailing former Glendale Councilman John Drayman.

It’s far from clear whether Drayman is a crook, but Glendale cops and the FBI are asking a lot of questions and have serious suspicions that allow them and the media to use the word “investigation” in the same sentence with his name.

Drayman — a colorful figure who became the first-ever Glendale City Council member from Montrose — is an innocent man until proven guilty in a court of law. That distinction was largely lost Thursday morning among the 20 deeply concerned citizens who were in the back room at Foxy’s restaurant for a meeting of Allen’s Vanguardians.

“Bribes, Embezzlement, Conspiracy, Building Code Violations, Search Warrants – all the elements of Drama,” according to Allen’s email blast for the meeting.

He promised his fellow citizen watchdogs — the vanguard of a revolution that hopes to bring honesty, efficiency and transparency to local government — a presentation of the photos, documents and other evidence against Drayman, as well as a “special guest.”

The “special guest” turned out to be none other than Rafi Manoukian, the former Glendale mayor newly returned to the City Council to fill Drayman’s soiled shoes.

Like Allen’s army, Manoukian is obsessed with a desire to know every single detail of every single thing government does and to question the who, what and why of it.

In just a short time back on the council, he has made a nuisance of himself with his incessant questions about such issues as why the cost of medical insurance for city employees has jumped 500%, and his demands for endless details of city revenue and spending.

He got under fellow Councilman Dave Weaver’s skin to the point that he stormed out of a recent budget session, demanding Manoukian be silenced so they could get on with their task of balancing a budget with an $18-million deficit.

That alone has made Manoukian a hero to a crowd that sees dark shadows of corruption in everything from city credit cards to take-home cars.

“I’m not trying to aggravate anyone,” Manoukian told the Vanguardians. “I just believe all the information needs to be made available to the community so the decisions that are made are in its best interests. We have to stop making decisions solely on what the staff view as important. They won’t silence me, you can be sure of that.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a gadfly view of the city of Los Angeles, and have done all I can to expose wrongdoing at L.A. City Hall for the past 30 years. It gives me hope that the FBI has a major investigation of corruption in L.A. under way.

But Glendale? Who knew?

From the details enumerated during a 90-minute meeting, the Vanguardians knew. They are on the case, demanding documents from the city, developing sources inside City Hall, questioning the decisions of officials when it seems hardly anyone else in town is paying much attention.

“Our goal is to be the champion of the little guy, like the people in this room,” Allen declared at the outset of the meeting.

It didn’t take long to get to Drayman and how Allen got a tip back in September from “Mr. No Name” about the former councilman’s links to Advanced Development & Investment Inc., and how the information was turned over to the FBI — information that he claims triggered, or at least spurred on, the massive investigation of fraudulent billing by the developer of affordable housing projects in Glendale, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

He produced a 2-inch thick dossier of the evidence of alleged wrongdoing and giant photos of remodeling at Drayman’s condo, work reportedly done by firms with ties to ADI.

Vanguardians shared their suspicions of just about everything the city does, from dog-catching to firefighting.

“We’re allowing people to abuse the system because there are no checks and balances,” said one participant.

Added another: “We need to look behind closed doors to see what’s really going on.”

Manoukian, who found himself awkwardly admitting he supported some of the projects the group found questionable when he was last on the council, offered an encouraging note as the meeting was breaking up.

“I’m not alone,” he said. “There are receptive ears on the council to bring about positive change in the city.”

At a time when so few people are really informed, the news media is declining and government too often does the public business in private, the gadflies who haunt City Council meetings and demand information from officials have an important role to play.

Their “facts” don’t always stand up to scrutiny and they tend to leap to conclusions that support their dark vision of government.

But if you’re sitting on the sidelines and hardly paying attention while services are being cut and fees are rising in these hard times, know you have left your city in the hands of people elected by a few thousand votes and to a handful of “little guys” to hold them accountable.

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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