Archive | December, 2012

Chico’s very own “fiscal cliff”

26 Dec

Today I attended the monthly Finance Committee meeting to participate in the ongoing bullshit session regarding our very own “fiscal cliff.” 

For months now committee members Scott Gruendl, Mary Goloff, and Mark Sorensen have sat through a monthly presentation regarding our tense financial future.  New City Manager Brian Nakamura has been trying to politely but firmly shove a single concept down their throats – the “unfunded pension liablity.” 

The UPL is the amount of money that we have agreed to pay our city employees in retirement, but we don’t really have it.  Our city leaders, encouraged by $taff, went along with a scheme hatched by the California Public Employees Retirement System, promising public employees 70 – 90% of their highest year’s earnings with little or no investment on their parts.

CalPERS told cities and other public entities all over California that they could pay only 14 – 18 % of the actual cost of these packages, and the rest would come rolling in from clever stock market investments. Many public entities bought onto this stupidity. It looked very good the first year or so, with 22 percent returns. But after returns like that, you can always expect the market to “correct” itself, and CalPERS has since lost millions of dollars. They’ve  been bailed out once by the state, asking the feds for a second bailout a couple of years later (I don’t know how that turned out). 

Now CalPERS is increasing our “contribution”. Over the last few years the city’s “share” of the premium has grown from about 26 % (of the cost of the package) to about 31%. That’s millions of dollars a year. And, our city council has signed contracts guaranteeing we would pay not only the “employer’s share,” but most or all of the “employee share” as well.

Today Jennifer Hennessy told me that the city pays 7% of the “non-safety” employees’ 8% share, and ALL of the “safety” employees’ share – 9%. 

I know, last month I told you, I had asked Jennifer Hennessy for a dollar amount on that “employees’ share” of the pensions. At that meeting she had told me, $7 million. Later she corrected herself via e-mail, and she used the word “pensions,” specifically. She said the actual amount was $10.1 million. 

But, reading the minutes of that meeting recently, I noticed they’d written “pensions and benefits.” I’d asked that question very carefully. I’d written it down on my notebook the day previous, and practiced saying it clearly and correctly. I said “pensions” at the meeting, and Hennessy said “pensions” in her e-mail. These are two different amounts, health insurance is a different plan.  So, I asked for clarification this morning.

I was told Hennessy had meant “pensions and benefits.” “Pensions are a subset of benefits… ” she said. But, they’re paid separately, they’re different plans, I asked specifically about “pensions.”  I start to feel like I’m just getting the runaround at these meetings. What I finally got was, we pay about $10 million toward pension premiums annually – including roughly $2 million toward the “employee share”.

The whole meeting was a runaround. Why Gruendl would schedule a meeting for the day after Christmas is beyond me. Unless of course, he wanted to discourage people from attending? The discussion was worthless, just a rehash of the discussion had at the meeting in October. New city manager, Brian Nakamura, was not even present – neither were Assistant City Manager John Rucker nor City Clerk Debbie Presson. When I attended last month, they had the same agenda, but another non-discussion. 

They’re just spinning their wheels on this. They’ve had to have seen this coming, it’s been predicted by economists since 1999.   An issue is so important, you need to schedule a meeting for 8am the day after Christmas, but it’s not important enough to DO ANYTHING about? 

I asked Gruendl why the city employees weren’t being asked to pay their own shares. He ducked my question, and  tried to tell me that new legislation that would affect future hires would “forbid” public employers from paying “employees’ share,” but Lori Barker cut in to say, this was not a law, merely a suggestion.  SHEESH! 

At one point during the meeting, Gruendl actually suggested it’s a good thing we’re laying off employees – it lowers expenses, that’s for sure! But he doesn’t mention the corresponding drop in service levels. There’s pot holes on my street you could break a leg in.

That’s their only answer – cut services in a chicken match with the public to see who will cave first. Gruendl is counting on us to knuckle under and pay more taxes to support the increases in our employees’  retirement contribution. 

Ironically, all this on the heels of a 10 minute discussion of the loss of Measure J – another rehash from last month, and the month before. Again they lamented the loss of an estimated $900,000 a year – although, Hennessy said this year’s loss would only “actually” be $500,000 – and then turned around and talked about a $63 million liability for these obscene pensions they’ve promised. The $2 million we pay toward the “employee share” would more than cover the “loss” of Measure J, but I was unable to shoehorn this idea into their heads. They have an agenda, and they’re sticking to it. 

If you don’t think this really stinks, if this doesn’t make you really mad, then you need to take your temperature. Or better yet – stick a fork in your ass – you’re done! 




This is embezzlement. “Nice people” don’t embezzle.

23 Dec

Below is one page of absolute SHIT sent to me by Chico City Manager Brian Nakamura regarding our city’s unfunded pension liability. He sent me two downloads, hundreds of pages of gunk. You’d need to lay down bread crumbs to get through this stuff. Sent to me just the other day, I feel this is just a distraction for me, to read over Christmas Holiday? And show up at a meeting scheduled very purposely for one day after Christmas.

Look over the table below – what you should get out of this is, our city council has promised these ridiculous pension packages, promised an “employer share” that is more than the “employee share”, and then promised to pay most of the “employee share” too. Also, you should see, CalPERS promised they’d fund these crazy pensions, including their own, by investing on the stock market, and it’s not working. Compare the liabilities with the assets, and you’ll see CalPERS tanking. When CalPERS tanks, Brian Nakamura and his friends want us to think we’re liable for paying these pensions. 

Why are we putting up with this? Please write to Brian Nakamura,, and tell him we want new contracts, and we’re sick of paying for these plush pensions and benefits packages, including his. Write to your new mayor, Mary Goloff too, at  Tell her we’re sick of paying her benefits package too. 

Nakamura tries to act as though he’s here to help us out! At $212,000 a year in salary, a roughly $50,000 increase over retired city manager Dave Burkland. In fact the council’s first act after hiring Nakamura was to approve a $50-something-thousand budget increase to pay his salary – it’s in the minutes folks, look that up yourselves.  And, Burkland just joined the pension club – at 70% of his $165,000+ salary. 

Let me make something  clear to  all these other public employees that have been wishing me a “Merry Christmas” with one hand in my purse: I don’t like you. I think you are an evil person who steals from and uses less-fortunate, or “not publicly employed”,  people to feather your own nest. I have lost all my respect for the concept of “public servant.” You people are public leeches. When CalPERS crashes, I don’t care what happens to you. I don’t wish you a Merry Christmas, in fact, I hope your Christmas sucks. 

Here’s the message Public Worker: I need your phony good will like a moose needs a hat rack. When you can stand up on your hind legs like homo sapiens instead slithering along like blood-sucking annelids, I might get some respect for you. Until then, just stay the hell out of my way and do your fucking jobs. 

CalPERS ID 6818749730
Page 11
Development of Accrued and Unfunded Liabilities

1. Present Value of Projected Benefits

a) active members – $78,271,949

 b) Transferred members – $5,531,540

c) Terminated Members $2,951,837

d) Members and Beneficiaries Receiving Payments – $76,270,600

e) Total – $163,025,926

2. Present Value of Future Employer Normal Costs – $13,282,215

3. Present Value of Future Employee Contributions – $9,362,722

4. Entry Age Normal Accrued Liability

a) Active Members [(1a) – (2) – (3)] – $55,627,012

b) Transferred Members (1b) – $5,531,540

c) Terminated Members (1c) – $2,951,837

d) Members and Beneficiaries Receiving Payments (1d) – $76,270,600

e) Total – $140,380,989

5. Actuarial Value of Assets (AVA) $103,493,220

6. Unfunded Accrued Liability (AVA Basis)  [(4e) – (5)] – $36,887,769

7. Funded Ratio (AVA Basis) [(5) / (4e)] – 73.7%

8. Market Value of Assets (MVA) – $93,027,024

9. Unfunded Liability (MVA Basis)  [(4e) – (8)] – $47,353,96

10. Funded Ratio (MVA Basis) [(8) / (4e)] – 66.3%


Get ready for Special Election January 8 – mail those ballots now!

22 Dec

I know, a lot of you have already forgotten what a mess the Fourth Senate District turned out, where Dan Logue, for some reason known only to him, decided to run for two offices at the same time – State Assembly and US Senate.  Logue isn’t a bad guy, I don’t know what was going on there.

Sure, I guess you could blame Doug LaMalfa, for jumping ship in the middle of his State Senate term to run for Wally Herger’s US Senate seat. But, frankly, I’m glad he did. I wasn’t always thrilled with Wally Herger’s performance, but  the last thing we need in that seat is some entitlements-happy liberal out to turn the North State into a bigger tax generator to pay salaries in LA.

But it did start a mess that’s going to cost us pretty good. Since Logue stuck his thumb in the Fourth District pie, we are faced with a stupid legal snaptrap – Jim Nielsen came less  than a percentage point of getting the required 50.1% of the vote, with 49.8. Meanwhile, Mickey Harrington came scraping in with a pathetic 27.7%. But still we will have to shell out the bucks for a run-off election.

Harrington should throw in the towel. And a stinky towel, I imagine. He’s been running unsuccessfully for an assembly seat since 2006. He’s dropped out of one race due to health problems. But last October, admittedly behind the 8-ball because of his last-minute scramble, crying “fix!”, Harrington decided to switch gears and run for Senate District 4. And that’s my fault?

He blames LaMalfa and Nielsen, but that’s just sour grapes talking.  In this most recent race, over 60% of the voters went with Republicans Nielsen and Logue. Harrington would have to get every one of Logue’s votes, as well as all of the other candidates’ combined votes, to come within spitting distance of Nielsen. I think he’d have to get some of Nielsen’s votes too!

But look at the time frame Jerry Brown placed on this election. According to the rules, this election could have been called as late as April. But Brown called it for January 8 – two weeks after Christmas. Only two months after that last contentious election. And right in the middle of the holiday mail season, he’s got postal workers handling our vote-by-mail ballots.  You know the Governor and his flying monkeys are banking on certain  people not voting. 

Well screw them, I voted already. My ballot came in the mail last week, and a mailer from Nielsen reminded my husband and I how little time we had to get it right back in the mail. So I penned in my vote and put it right back in my mailbox. Bon Voyageee!

A friend of mine was asking me how I feel about the issue of Nielsen’s residency. I thought about that, and realized, what’s legal is legal.  Nielsen has lived in this area, done business here, knows farming,  knows our issues.  He appreciates the lifestyle we have up here and how important it is to the health of the general state economy. For example, Nielsen and LaMalfa have been recognized for their efforts to keep ag programs alive in schools.

Meanwhile, ex-Chico Mayor Ann Schwab, who owns a spacious house in Forest Ranch, bought an apartment in Chico when she wanted to run for Chico City Council. I don’t see anything wrong with Nielsen living in a “trailer” in Gerber.

There’s always been talk of Nielsen taking money from Mansanto – but I’ve never heard of him being convicted or even warned about any kind of inappropriate behavior. And, a lot of farmers around here would say, Mansanto is a stakeholder in this community, they are as much a part of the local economy as prunes and nuts and rice. As long as they abide by the rules, they can donate money to whichever candidate they want – just like Scott Gruendl can take money from the National Gay and Lesbian PAC’s and Ann Schwab can take money from the Service Employees International Union and the firefighters’ PAC.

Harrington lives in Magalia – where he retired after a long service with PG&E and a long membership with the electrical workers’ union. Who knows where he’s from, or why he left to come out here, but his residency leaves him no more suited to represent the district than Nielsen. In fact, I feel his background leaves him more likely to represent corporate and union interests than those of rural ranchers, farm workers, small business owners, and small town residents.

I won’t vote for Harrington because he admittedly supported Prop 30 and opposed Prop 32. He also seems to have no interest in pension reform. According to his pre-election interview with the Chico Enterprise Record, Harrington said that “the majority of people with public pensions work for less than $20 an hour, and take less knowing a pension is included.”

That’s not correct in Chico. The police and fire departments make up the lion’s share of our employees, and they make well over $20/hour, especially when you tack on the overtime, sick leave and vacation accrual, and “special pay.”  Harrington is not thinking for the taxpayers, he’s thinking from the point of view of a very well-pensioned PG&E retiree. PG&E has many of the same policies in place in the public sector, of course he’s going to support the public sector on this – he’s not going to rock the boat.

I have not had a chance to poll the other regular attendees of the Taxpayers Association, I’ll be sure to ask around at the next meeting and see what other people think. But I’ve already voted for Nielsen.

The City of Chico owes $63 million in “unfunded pension liabilities” – and counting!

21 Dec

I’m sorry, I’m just now digging out this report from the October Finance Committee meeting. I missed it, and the clerk has just recently posted the report, or minutes, for that meeting. The clerk’s office is getting faster at posting these minutes, they’re more complete, at least, better than before, and easier to read.

That is, if you have your dictionary handy. These people are experts at the legal lingo that’s intended to keep the rest of us out of the discussion. But, if you’re patient, persistent, and maybe throw down a trail of breadcrumbs, you’ll maybe come out of it with your head twisted on straight.

The blob below is cut and pasted right out of the report. It’s like one of those steaks – if you eat the whole thing, you get it free?  NO!

 I’d recommend, take an aspirin before you start reading these reports, but that’s up to your doctor.

These people use obtuse language to hide the truth. Here you see, “internal operational obligations” means workers comp, sick leave and vacation accruals. By “accruals” they mean, these people don’t use their sick or vacation time, and they get a cash pay-out for it later. They worked those days, and got paid, and then they get paid again for the vacation or sick days they didn’t take.  In other words, they get paid twice for the same block of time, just one of the scams these people use to jack their salaries up from a reasonable range to over $100,000 a year.

And, if you look into it, you’ll find study after study that links over work and excessive overtime directly to excessive workman’s comp payout. Twice I’ve heard Jennifer Hennessy report that the city has been over budget on workman’s comp, so they’ve just raised the budget projections to cover it.

If your child goes “overbudget” on their texting, do you pay more on your plan, or do you take the kid’s cell phone away?  My son was told that if he wants to text, he needs to get a job and pay for it himself. Being a taxpayer living in the City of Chico is like being tied to a chair while somebody goes crazy with your credit cards. 

“External operational obligations” are CalPERS and health care. How many of you are without insurance? How many of you have NO retirement fund? In the real world, it’s all fine and good to talk about saving away for the future – well, how do you do that with excessive taxes on your home, excessive fees for sending your kid to college, excessive fees on your small business? Most people are struggling just to make ends meet. I know I’ve had to make more than one foray on my “retirement fund”.   My new plan is, DIE BY 65! I’ll let you know how that’s going!


FROM THE OCTOBER FINANCE COMMITTEE MEETING – available at this link, under “2012 Minutes”:

C. Discussion of Unfunded Obligations – The City Manager asked the Committee to begin discussion of
Unfunded Obligations. Discussion from this meeting will provide the framework for future discussions on
this item. (Verbal Report – Brian Nakamura, City Manager and Jennifer Hennessy, Finance Director)
City Manager Nakamura has been working with Finance Director Hennessy on creating a draft table of
unfunded obligations. She has been able to divide the unfunded obligations into three general categories:
internal and external operational and capital. This is more commonly termed unfunded liabilities, which
means these are items that the City may be responsible for in the future in terms of what could be paid
for PERS or workers comp. Examples of internal operational obligations include workers compensation,
sick leave and vacation accruals. External operational obligations include PERS and health care. Capital
obligations include infrastructure improvements and maintenance, vehicle replacements and facilities
expansions and development.
City Manager Nakamura noted in the table there is approximately $63 million for unfunded liabilities for
CalPERS. This is difficult to get your hands around because it relates to employees who are either retired,
are going to retire or who are currently with the City. However, that amount would only be incurred if all
employees retired at once. With pension reform happening, we know that number will start to shrink. We
can also be hopeful that CalPERS investments start to increase and we start to see a more positive
Committee Member Sorensen stated he would like to have a better understanding of fleet and technology
replacement and find out where we are versus where we ought to be, knowing that we shorted these funds
in previous years. Chair Gruendl added to also find out if there is a budget policy that says where the
funds ought to be.
Finance Director Hennessy replied that there is a fleet replacement schedule, however staff hasn’t
prepared a full update since implementing a lot of the budget reduction strategies along with the new ways
staff is managing the fleet. On technology replacement, in 09/10, staff put together a schedule related to
hardware replacement. Staff has not quantified what it would be to replace all the software systems, such
as financial accounting software and the police department system.
Chair Gruendl noted that the fleet replacement fund is down $500,000. He asked if this is a result of
purchases that have already occurred and we have failed to put an adequate amount in to cover it, have
we put nothing in there since 07/08 and are we not meeting a budget obligation for what should be going
in there.
Finance Director Hennessy replied that the obligation of the budget policy is not being met. Prior to 07/08,
we were putting around $600,000 in annually and the fund balance was around $4 million. After 07/08, we
felt it would be okay to reduce that annual amount due to the fleet optimization implemented by GSD.
There is currently $2.7 million in the fund.

The squeaky wheel might get the grease, but that’s not all it’s going to take to shut her up.

21 Dec

Debbie Presson sent me a note to say she’d had the report for the November 27 Finance Committee meeting amended to reflect the other questions I asked at the meeting, and the answers from staff. You can see that here:

Click to access 2012Minutes.pdf

The minutes for that meeting are posted there at the end of 2012.  

I also got a note from Brian Nakamura, with attached documents regarding the city’s share of CalPERS costs – yeah, it’s bad alright. You have to write to your council, and ask them what made them promise these outrageous packages in those closed door bargaining sessions they’ve held us out of for so long. Now we’re allowed to look at the contracts, sure – like a condemned prisoner stares out the cell window at the gallows. These idiots have put us on the hook for MILLIONS of dollars, a YEAR, in pension payments, more than the employees pay. And then there’s the “unfunded obligations” – that is on the agendas for the next six months! Nakamura is trying to spoon-feed us that manure, and I don’t know about you, but I’m spitting it out. 

We need to shut this city down. 

How can we have a discussion when the records aren’t accurate? How can we trust a staff that always seems to be working toward their own interests instead of the Public Interest?

20 Dec

On November 27, I mounted my 1956 Raleigh Superbe, aka “Myrtle the Turtle”, and set off through Bidwell Park at about 7:45 am to attend a Finance Committee meeting Downt0wn. By the way, I don’t ride my bike to be annoying, I ride it because it doesn’t cost any money and it pays to stay in shape these days. On a bike you can take the alternate routes that aren’t available to a car, it’s just entirely more logical. 

I don’t mind telling you though, what a pain in the ass it is to attend these meetings. Sure I enjoy the bike ride, but then what? Hours of my life have gone into these stupid meetings, hours I could have been using productively. But I feel somebody has to keep an eye on these people, give Stephanie Taber a little back-up once in a while. Stephanie attends all these dam-ned meetings, but this one she had to miss, and asked if somebody would attend. So I did.

I went to this particular meeting to ask a question that I thought was very important – How much does the city spend a year on the “employee share” of pension premiums?   Sounds simple enough. I didn’t expect to get an immediate answer, I almost expected to be put off – imagine my surprise when Jennifer Hennessy just answered me right off the top of her head: “About $7 million.” Just like that.

I was floored, not only that she’d answered me, but WOW! Seven million dollars!  That’s a lot of dough. I’ve been sitting in on these meetings for about 10 years I’d guess, listening to these reports about the city being in deficit by millions of dollars – but I think the biggest deficit figure I ever heard Hennesy project was $10 million dollars.  And here we find, $7 million of that was  just paying “the employee share” of pension premiums.

Well, as I may have told you in a previous blog, it’s not just $7 million. After being questioned about that answer by committee member Mark Sorensen, Hennessy sent me another figure via e-mail – the $7 million is just the amount that’s taken from one fund.   Remember all those nutshells Jennifer has – 60 different funds?  – well, the total she takes from all funds is more like $10 million.

I wanted to ask this question at a public meeting so there it would be, on record. That’s why I got so irritated when the minutes were made available a couple of weeks ago, and there was not one mention of that conversation. They’d actually recorded another question I’d asked, but not the one about the $7 million on “employee’s share”.  I wrote a note to Debbie Presson about it, and she told me she’d check into it. A week later, I checked the minutes again, and there was no change. So I e-mailed her again:

Hi again Debbie,

 I wonder if you’d like me to forward you the e-mail discussion I had with Mark Sorensen and Jennifer Hennessy regarding the question I asked that was omitted from the minutes of the meeting? I’m sure Scott Gruendl and Mary Flynn also heard my question and Hennessy’s answer. 
My question and Ms. Hennessy’s answer (answers?) need to be part of the public record. I’m just wondering, why do the minutes mention the one question I asked, but not the other?  The record needs to be complete. This is another reason people don’t participate. I rode my bike through the park to that meeting, at 7:45 in the morning, just to ask that question, and it’s important to me that the question and the answer are part of the official record. Is it a waste of my time to attend these meetings? A waste of time for the public to pay attention? 

I’ll be at the next Finance Committee meeting, I’d like some kind of resolution to this problem by then  – thanks, Juanita Sumner

Excuse me for being a little bitchy, but I don’t like the way they record these meetings – the entire council voted to restrict the minutes to “action only” – but still, the clerk picks and chooses which remarks she records? It’s either all or nothing, as far as I’m concerned. “Action only” would mean, the agenda item, the motion(s), and a count of the vote(s).  “Verbatim” means, every word.  But in Chico they seem to be somewhere in between. They need to make up their mind on that. As it stands, committee members and staffers can ask that remarks be stricken from the record, and that seems a little weird to me.   It’s not a  true record, it’s written the way they want it to appear. 

Here’s the response I got from Presson:

Hello Juanita.

 I have researched your questions regarding the discussions that occurred at the 11/27/12 Finance Committee Report (minutes) and found that the report does not reflect all of your comments regarding employee share of pension and benefit costs and subsequent responses by staff.  That report is currently under review and once the report is amended, we will provide the Council with the report, with a copy to you as well.  Please note, it is always our intent to provide a thorough report from these meetings.  The reports however, are typically in summary format.  Council’s formal action in 2001 was to direct staff to provide “action only” minutes, with some summary when needed.  That motion carried 7-0. 

 On a side note, but still related to this topic…. City Manager Nakamura sent you an email following that November Finance Committee meeting which included two attachments pertaining to safety and miscellaneous costs as well as an overview of the range of healthcare benefits that employees can chose from and for which they pay a share of the costs.  Would you mind confirming if you did or didn’t receive this information?  We would like to make sure he has your correct email address.

 As I had mentioned in my 12/12/12 email, your email will be included on the January 2, 2013 agenda under Reports and Communications.  At that time, I will be able to address regulations regarding the types of minutes required.  Hope that helps. 

 I wish for you and your family a wonderful holiday and will see you on January 2, 2013.



First question: why does it take so long to amend the report? They have a tape recording. And she could have asked Jennifer, or any of the committee members. 

Second question: I never received anything from Brian Nakamura – did he send or not? Can he use cut and paste? I’ve been in contact with several staffers, using the same e-mail address, for YEARS. I don’t know why Nakamura would have trouble contacting me. 

Third question: what is their excuse for not taking verbatim minutes? The Police Advisory Board has verbatim minutes of their casual conversations. The Willows School Board even takes verbatim minutes, and that’s in Glenn County! Why don’t we have  verbatim minutes? Why is Scott Gruendl constantly allowed to strike his comments from the minutes of meetings? 

Fourth question: who asked for my question and Hennessy’s answer to be stricken? 

Here’s the minutes of the Measure J discussion, which is where I asked my question and Hennessy answered it. It’s an interesting read alright, but it’s not complete.  As you’ll read below, they are still crying spilt milk over that $900,000 “lost” on Measure J (not to mention the election cost, of course), but not a word about the $7 – 10 million spent on the “employee’s share”.  

Discussion of Chico Measure J
Chair Gruendl began the discussion regarding the failure of Measure J, the Utility Users Tax, by asking
what this means for the City and when does the revenue loss hit the City’s budget.
City Attorney Barker stated that she will be bringing this matter forward to the full Council in December.
The City will experience some revenue loss this fiscal year. Staff will need to look at the projections, at
possible refund requests, whether to notify the carriers, and whether the tax should have been imposed
in the first place.
Chair Gruendl asked if the City may have to pay back the tax prior to the failure of Measure J if its
determined the tax shouldn’t have been imposed.
City Attorney Barker stated yes, but the City would only have to go back for one year.
Finance Director Hennessy stated the funds received from cell phone companies are being held in a fund
for possible future refunds. The funds received from companies that provide both land and cell service
aren’t segregated to show how much of the tax is from a land use or cell use.
Chair Gruendl stated that the revenue decrease is expected to be around $900,000 and the number is
expected to increase over the years due to more people dropping land lines.
City Manager Nakamura said this discussion blends in with the unfunded liabilities discussion. The City’s
budget reduction measures have included decreasing payments into certain funds, such as facilities
maintenance. The question becomes how do we continue to do that with a potential $900,000 decrease
in revenues. To put $900,000 in context, that could mean 7-8 police officers or two-thirds of operations
for the fire stations. There are significant impacts. The matter of reducing payments to other funds, such
as maintenance on facilities or Bidwell Park, has to be addressed. The City absorbed a significant amount
of the costs with the loss of the redevelopment agency. Staff is looking at renegotiating the sales tax
sharing agreement with the County and also the Cost Allocation Plan. There will be significant budget
discussions in January to address all of these concerns.

More questions for Ken Campbell – every answer is just another can of worms!

16 Dec

As I was saying in a previous blog, I recently been struggling through the city firefighters’ contracts, and I don’t mind saying, it’s all Greek to me. “Legalese,” I think it’s called. The worst thing is, they treat you like a moranus because you don’t understand the gobble-ty-gook they spin up just to make sure you don’t understand.

Here’s how they explain the pay rate in the current IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters, the union) contract:

Regular Hourly Rate

 1.2.5. Regular Hourly Rate. Regular Hourly Rate shall mean an hourly rate calculated by summing all non-overtime and non-out of class pay for the bi-weekly pay period, with the specific exception of Holiday Pay as defined in Section 2, Subsection 5.3.1, and dividing the total by 112 for Employees assigned to a fifty-six (56) hour work week, and by 80 for those employees assigned to a forty (40) hour work week.

As my friend Stephanie Taber said recently about the firefighters’ contract, “confused???? so am I!”   Stephanie is way more patient than I am, when she doesn’t understand these documents, she e-mails the appropriate department and asks the questions, then sticks around long enough to get an answer. 

In the letter I wrote to the editor, I asked about the 56 hour week – did that mean 16 hours of guaranteed overtime? Is that how some of these employees almost DOUBLE their salaries?   One person I saw on the salary charts had added $80,000 in OT to his $90,000 salary – and he’s not the only one who does that.  As I pointed out in my letter, the fire department alone bills for over a million dollars a year in overtime. I wonder, how do they do that? 

When Stephanie asked the human resources department about overtime, here was the response: “Under the terms of the IAFF MOU City firefighters get paid overtime for any hours they work in excess of 56 in a seven day period.”

Okay, now I’m confused. You can schedule people for 56 hours without paying them overtime? News to me. And, I still don’t understand, how do they rack up the overtime pay when they have to work over 56 hours a week to get  it? I mean, there’s not a house burning down or an accident every freaking minute. In fact, hours and hours go by, every day, when nothing justifying the use of gasoline even happens around here. 

I got a new question. Are we paying people to sleep? To watch tv? To take the hook and ladder to the grocery store? 

Human Resources offered more explanation: “In addition, under the terms of the Fair Labor Standards Act, they get paid overtime for any hours they work in excess of 182 in a 24 day period.  For the City of Chico this equates to an additional 5 hours of pay for each person every 24 day period.”

I keep seeing that word, “work”, and I keep wondering, “what do they mean by ‘work‘?” 

So I will keep asking my questions.

Get ready for your cell phone tax refund!

14 Dec

Well, just when I was getting the posse together to write a letter to the city attorney, giving her a little prod to write letters to the cell phone carriers and tell them to stop collecting that cell phone tax, she’s already on the ball! Here’s an item from next Tuesday’s council agenda:



From the staff report:  “Because the measure (J) did not pass, City staff will be taking action to notify companies currently providing non-land line telephone services that the city will no longer collect the tax for those services. Additionally, amounts received will be placed in a holding account to be available for refund requests that may be received. The statute of limitations to request a refund is one year. Any amounts remaining after one year will be deposited in the  city’s general fund. “

Well, isn’t  that interesting – there’s a time limit on collecting something that was stolen from you – how charming! 

And, the staff report goes on to say that there’s a stipulation that you prove you tried to get the money back from your cell phone provider first – but they’re going to talk about dropping that requirement, apparently. Well, that’s mighty big of them!

So, it is now up to those of you who have been RIPPED OFF to get down there and get your money. When they took it out of my bill, I went down every year and got my Utility Tax rebate, so they don’t owe me anything. Well, aside from the hours taken from my life, but that’s another blog, for another day.

The other item on the agenda that gets my attention is committee and board appointments. Notice  Ann Schwab’s request to start ANOTHER AD HOC COMMITTEE, this time, “focusing on the homelessness issue.” Oh, come on! Nakamura has already said that we need to get rid of  these ad hoc committees, because “they take on a life of their own,” meaning staffers who get salaries and benefits to do nothing but forward e-mails. Look at the Sustainability Task Force page on the city website – they haven’t even posted the cancellation for the meeting they had announced for December. Please!  Schwab doesn’t want people at these meetings.  These ad hoc committees are just a way to keep the public out of the discussion. They don’t even have to post the schedules for the meetings, and they don’t. 

Meanwhile, they can’t seem to get anybody on the airport commission, which I would say is probably the most important committee they have. To think, this is how  they run the airport – the city manager puts on a different “hat”, and sits down at an empty table with a couple of people handpicked by council because they gave good campaign donations.  The airport needs a professional manager and a board of “stakeholders” – meaning, the people who run their businesses out of the airport. There are a lot of disgruntled business owners and plane owners out there, pissed off over the sloppy management and downright nepotism going on at Chico airport. Chris and Maria Rock are being allowed to monopolize fueling at the airport and they’re not even doing a good job of it. According to the budget, the city is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on maintenance, but still the airport is unusable because the runways are inadequate for modern aircraft and the fueling station is being run like the gas station in Mayberry RFD. 

I think I will attend next Tuesday’s meeting, just to give a rebel yell when they read Item 4.2. 


Time to write to the city council about these pension payments – Scott Gruendl thinks “pension reform” means making US pay MORE!

12 Dec

Hi Debbie, Council members, 

I was just going over the minutes for  the Finance Committee meeting I attended earlier this month. I see that one question I asked, about the cost of certain consultant reports, was included in the minutes, but not the question I asked regarding what the city pays toward the “employee share” of pension premiums. Jennifer Hennessy stated at that time, “about $7 million.” Later she sent me an e-mail correction – the actual figure was closer to $10.1 million.
I wonder why my question and Hennessy’s answer are not included in the minutes? I asked this question during the discussion regarding the loss of Measure J. I was trying to point out, that while the city is complaining about losing $900,000 on a failed tax measure, they spend millions paying THE EMPLOYEE SHARE of pension costs, in addition to the employer share. Our city’s financial problems would be solved if the contracts were rewritten so that the employee pays their own share. Why isn’t this option coming up in the discussion? 
I also notice, the police advisory board gets verbatim minutes. I wonder, why aren’t all the committee meetings, including the ad hoc meetings, recorded verbatim? 
I’d like this letter to be attached to the next city council agenda as a “communication.” 
I’d also like to thank Fritz McKinley for answering my flood notice question. 
Thank you for your anticipated cooperation, Juanita Sumner

I got a few questions for Ken Campbell

8 Dec

NOTE: a person recently tried to contact me through the ER editor – if you want to discuss this post look for the “comment” button at the bottom of the page. If you want to be anonymous let me know or use an acronym.

A week or so ago, firefighter and fire department political action committee chairman Ken Campbell wrote a pretty condescending letter to the Enterprise Record, insinuating that anybody who criticized the fire department would change their mind if they just came down for a tour of a fire station.

He says, “In the last month there have been a few letters to the editor criticizing the response of the emergency services within the city of Chico, particularly the Fire Department.” But I looked, I never found any letters to that effect. What I did find were comments regarding the fire department budget, the contracts and the excessive amounts the city is paying for the “employee’s share” of the benefits.

Stephanie Taber brought up these points in her response to Campbell.

Reference Ken Campbell’s (Chico Fire Dept.) letter of December 1 which invites the public to visit a Fire Station and talk with any department member so we the public can better understand their mission.

I think the public knows fairly well what the department’s mission is; what we don’t understand is why it costs us so much.  Of the $13 million dollar Fire Department budget $11.5 million is spent on salaries, holiday pay, overtime, gym fees, wellness physicals, and “other” benefits.  That “other” category includes Fire personnel’s share of their pension retirement benefits.  Why are we paying that 7% when we already pay the employer (taxpayer) share?  Why are we paying the employer AND employee share of FICA from the date of hire till retirement?  Why are we paying $350 each month, tax free, for every Fire Department employee toward their retirement medical from the time of hire till retirement at 50?  Do you know how many more firemen we could hire if just that one part of the department’s benefit package were eliminated?  Then add to that the Fire Department employee’s 7% share of their pension benefit and I’ll bet we’re talking about being able to fully staff the Fire Department and the elimination of all that overtime.

The City Manager should invite Chief Berry to discuss Fire personnel’s job responsibilities.  And I’d like to invite the IAFF to explain why the 47% (low income earners) should continue to pay the top 1% (Fire Dept. personnel) incredibly generous benefit package.”

To which local liberal shoofly Ron Sherman responded, “I guess you have a rather selective memory. The current contracts are successors to those approved by the conservative Chico City Councils dominated by Rick Keene and Larry Wahl, so that they could secure the endorsement of the fire department.”  Sorry, Ron, again you are confused – Larry was the only one who voted NO on that contract. It’s up for renewal right now, and our “liberal-dominated” council is about to give it the old rubber stamp, three of them having already approved the same contract, two others sure to follow their mentors on to Perdition. That’s five to two – SWOOSH! And, I’m betting Morgan will also sign the contract, he’s already made it clear he’s up there to represent “the public safety ‘workers'”.

I couldn’t find the contract now up for consideration – I think it’s buried somewhere on the city website – if anybody can send me a link, I’d appreciate it. But, here’s the current contract:

You might have to cut-and-paste that link, but it’s worth it.  It’s a confusing yet interesting read, just stick with it. For example, I have finally  figured out how they manage to rack up so much overtime – some of them as much as double their agreed-upon salary with overtime. For one thing, they are guaranteed a 56 hour week. That’s 16 hours of overtime, given for starters. And get aload of this – every week the captain is supposed to determine whether or not he’s going to need a firefighter to work his overtime. Or, get ” Compensated Time Off in Lieu of Overtime“. That means, instead of working and getting paid for an hour of overtime, the firefighter can take time off, at a rate of an hour and a half off for each hour of overtime.  And, at the end of the year, the firefighter can exchange his unused CTO for pay, again, at a rate of one and a half hours pay for every hour of CTO accrued.

Yeah, you better read that again. I’m not sure, but it almost looks like they’re  getting an hour and a half for an hour, and then getting an hour and a half for every hour of that.  For example, 4 hours of overtime becomes six hours of CTO, and then each hour of that CTO is worth an hour and a half of pay? What? 

What I understand loud and clear is, they get paid for overtime they don’t even work, overtime that is scheduled in UNNECESSARILY. Simply to guarantee a fat salary.

In his insulting little letter to the ER, Campbell suggests “The department would welcome the opportunity to answer all questions and explain what citizens receive for .41 cents a day. If you are unsatisfied with the answers you receive, then write a letter to the editor and state your opinions with credibility because you actually did some homework and tried to gain complete understanding.” 

Well, I did my homework, Ken, and now you got some explaining to do alright.


Well, just when I got around to complaining about that section of the fire contracts, it has already been changed.

(I can’t post the link, for some bizarre reason, you have to go to the city website, hit the bar at the top of the home page that says, “How do I…” and then choose “Get city salary/benefits information”, then choose “Labor Agreements” from the menu at the left. And you thought you’d never find a needle in a haystack!)

The section I”m referring to above is almost cut out of the new contracts – they’ve completely eliminated the section that says “exchange his unused CTO for pay at a rate of one and a half hours pay for every hour of CTO accrued.”  They don’t call it “compensated time off” anymore, they call it “compensating time off,” which means, they get the time off but don’t get paid? I’m still wondering there.

But, they still get 16 hours of scheduled overtime, and can exchange it, for whatever reason, for an hour and a half of (paid?) time off for every hour of overtime they actually work.  They are certainly getting paid for time they aren’t even at the station (grocery shopping with the hook and ladder?!), much less “working”.  And then, if there’s a need while they’re on CTO, another firefighter is called in, probably on overtime him/herself.

This is left to the discretion of the chief. Yeah, Chief Beery, the guy who closed Station 5 because he was pissed at the city for cutting his budget $90,000.

This is the scam through which some of these people as much as DOUBLE their agreed upon salary with overtime, still crying for more hires.  I’m still asking  Ken Campbell – why does the fire department get guaranteed overtime, even when it’s not needed? Why can’t  the fire department be staffed just like any other 24 hour business?