CARD board of directors and staff plan “community” letter writing campaign to respond to my comments about their budget, bond campaign

20 Apr

My husband and I have been concerned over all these tax and rate increase proposals lately, so we’ve been attending meetings. Thursday night we attended the regular monthly meeting of the Chico Area Recreation District board of directors to see what we could find out about their plans to put a bond or assessment on our property taxes. They sent a survey out a few weeks ago, testing the waters. Here’s a scanned image of the one my family received:


I also posted a spreadsheet from their budget report:

I wrote letters to both papers trying to get people to look at the budget because I didn’t feel CARD was being honest about why they are asking for this money. A look at their budget shows, instead of the aquatic center and other fantabulous projects they’re dangling like candied carrots, they really want the money to cover a sudden “side fund pay-out” demanded by CalPERS for their own pensions. You can see they drained the capital projects fund of over $350,000, and went over budget making that $400,000  “side fund pay-out.”

Regular board meetings are held over at the CARD center on Vallombrosa Ave, on a Thursday mid-month, in a little office room off the lobby. They start at 7 pm, pretty good time, gives a person a chance to get home and get some kind of dinner and clear the dishes aside. The agendas are available on the website under “CARD resources”.

I assume these meetings are usually attended by the board members – Ed Seagle, Jan Sneed, Herman Ellis, Michael Worley and Tom Lando – and various staffers, led by Steve Visconti, General Manager.  Lando was absent from this meeting,  but the other board members were present, along with Visconti and about half dozen staffers. Another half dozen folks sat in the audience, including Laura Urseny from the Chico Enterprise Record, and a head umpire from the baseball program, there to give a report.

These meetings are a refreshing change from city council meetings – well run, no dumb ceremonies or proclamations, just straight business. We wanted to be there for the Finance Committee report and the  “New Business” portion of the meeting, hoping to skip the mundane stuff in the beginning. We came in just in time to hear that Ann Willman, senior recreation supervisor for CARD, is leaving for a new job at Feather River Parks and Rec – gooshy best wishes all around – she’s taking the job Lando has been filling, how cozy.  Then we heard the umpire’s report – eight year old girl ejected for cussing out an ump – I was waiting for Amy Poehler to step through the door at this point. The brief and comical veteran’s and dog park memorial conversations were something that could have taken place on NBC”s “Parks and Rec.” But I will say, it has to be handled one way or another, and this group moves right along.

But you have to pay attention at these meetings. I come to find out about one thing, and I always hear some other interesting stuff. Oftentimes, it helps me to make sense of something else. When a Park Division manager got up to make a request for more workers, I found out, many of the people who do the work to maintain our parks are only part-time workers. These workers are limited in the number of hours they can work by CalPERS, because if they work too many hours, they qualify as full-time and therefore must get benefits. The Parks Division is the actual maintenance branch of CARD. They mow the lawns, stripe the ball fields, take away the trash, and fix damage like graffiti. This fellow was saying, the parks are extra busy over those fair weather months of March through October, and that they take a pretty sound beating, with folks leaving picnic tables and garbage cans piled with trash, and vandals regularly targeting spots like the skateboard park. He wants to hire some additional seasonal employees, part timers, whose positions would be “largely customer service and education.”  He added that maintenance like removing trash and cleaning tables was “difficult” to perform while people were in the park, he just wanted employees to direct the public to do the right thing, keep an eye on things. 

He called this “coverage.” What I was hearing from this man was, we need some kind of park supervisors, you know, like RANGERS, duh.  I’ve long felt the neighborhood parks, particularly playgrounds like Caper Acres and the skate board park, should have one or more trained supervisors, like the high school and college age kids who watch over the swimming pools. Even if just to say, “You’re not allowed to do that…” and call 911 when they do it anyway. Would they think of leaving the swimming pool gate open, free access to anybody, no life guards, use at your own risk? Why in the hell would they think that’s okay with a skate board park or a play ground?  Besides, it would provide good jobs for young people coming out of the Butte College and Chico State Recreation management department. Like life guards at Sycamore, Pleasant Valley, and Shapiro pools, these employees would be part-timers with small salaries and little or no health benefits, but they’d be getting good job experience and a solid reference for their resumes. 

Extra workers in Summer, when kids are out of school and a lot of parents are working in other towns,  and on Summer weekends, when more people are bbq’ing and picnic’ing, seems like a no-brainer to me. But the board seemed unconvinced, Ed Seagle asked for more information, and tabled it for the future. Seagle remarked, “With the funds we have, we need to be as judicial as we can.” I think he meant “judicious“, but I’m no editor. 

That was a good segway to the Finance report, which was over in 60 seconds or less – Jan Sneed announced she’d looked over the books and everything looked okay to her and the board accepted that report. I will have to attend the monthly Finance Committee meeting if I’m going to find out anything there. It seemed to me they’d be talking about their budget alot, but I’m new to these meetings. 

Board member Herman Ellis, appointed last year to fill a vacancy, reported on his park tour with staff, and of course had glowing reviews. “Everyone should do it,” he said, but didn’t elaborate much. He’s a pleasant man but not one to ramble on. 

It was just after 8pm. I didn’t have the agenda in front of me, but I thought we were getting pretty near the end of the meeting, so started to put away my notebook and slip into my sweater. That’s when General Manager Steve Visconti brought up the survey – I immediately grabbed my notebook out of my bag, having almost forgotten this was why I had come to the meeting anyway. He said the survey should be ready for the next meeting! Well Great! Good timing! Then Ed Seagle began a discussion about the bond/assessment campaign, saying, “Do we really want to push the aquatic center? It sounds like too much…”  Seeming to feel that an aquatic center is an unrealistic option, Seagle wondered if they should be shooting for more practical projects like fixing a gym floor somewhere.

The other board members muttered it over, and then Visconti announced, “We need to discuss whether we’re going to have some effort to get some community members to respond to Juanita Sumner’s letter to the paper…” 

Of course this caught my ear, I was already scribbling in my notebook as fast as I could. I was floored by Seagle saying, after they’d already planted this aquatic center bullshit in people’s heads, he didn’t think it was really going to happen. Well duh. But to hear Visconti organizing an effort to what? undermine my credibility? dispute the facts in my letter with nonsense?  is just unbelievable to me. We pay these people to sit around plotting against us. 

Not once did they say there was anything untrue in my letters, they just seemed to be as mad as a hive of bees that I had outed their budget to the public. They made that $400,000 side fund pay-off, sure, but wanted everybody to know, “we saved 7% percent by making that payment!” Yeah, 7% off the employees’ pension premiums, for pensions they will collect regardless of what the economy holds for the rest of  us.  Pensions we guarantee with bonds or assessments against our property taxes, no matter what happens.

This after hearing Seagle declare they can’t hire more part time workers to care for our neighborhood parks because “With the funds we have, we need to be as judicial as we can…” Yeah, right Ed.  

They are mad about my letters to both the ER and the N&R, but they can’t respond as a public entity or as individuals because they’re too chickenshit to take a stand that might jeopardize any of their positions. So, they’re cooking up a plot to have their friends, relatives, people in the programs, etc, write letters. We’ve seen this kind of campaign before, it will be interesting to see what they come up with. They already have a management staffer who devotes her time to stuff like setting up Facebook accounts – her report was a hoot – “we went up from 1,000 to 1,300 fans!” 

Laura Urseny sat right through the whole meeting, including the part about the survey,  and all she reported in today’s paper was the conversation about the dog park memorial. 

UPDATE:  Somebody has been searching terms “income for Juanita Sumner Chico Ca” and “Juanita Sumner credit”. Who could be interested in that? How low do you think these people will stoop? How personal do you think they’ll take it? How long do they think they can outlast an old turtle in a mud wrestle? Time will tell. 


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