Archive | May, 2013

Chico Taxpayers Association meeting, Sunday June 2, 9am, Chico library – city finance discussion led by our guest, council member Randall Stone

30 May

I am really looking forward to our meeting Sunday. Council member Randall Stone is planning to attend and will try to answer our questions regarding the budget crisis.

Stone is a member of the Finance Committee and sat through the Horrible Truth report from Chris Constantin last Tuesday. He will give us his take – I know I missed stuff while my brain was screaming.

I read Tom Gascoyne’s story in today’s News and Review and it jogged loose a lot of details I forgot, like the Downtown parking discussion. They were talking about  raising fees, and the subject of parking fines Downtown got a little hot. Like Brian Nakamura said, there is a divide  between people who don’t want parking enforcement because they say it drives away business, and those who do want parking enforcement because a lack of it is driving away  business.  Now, there’s a dilemma! Let’s just cut that baby in half and see how they like it!

That is the problem all over town. People in Chico can’t agree on what government is supposed to do. We can’t get a collective voice, because we all want different stuff. Alot of our wants are contradictory.  I will give Scott Gruendl credit for having asked this question before – what level of “service” do we want? But he never asked, “what is a reasonable price to pay for it.” With Gruendl it’s  My Way or the Highway.

In the real world it’s a bargaining session, and all the “stakeholders” have a voice. If you don’t like the price of eggs at one store, you find another, and the first store will either be throwing eggs in the dumpster or they will lower their price. The public sector doesn’t want to have a public discussion. They’ve kept the contract talks and the entire discussion of how much they get paid and payment of the “employee share” completely behind closed doors. They don’t want to hear what the public thinks, and even more so – they don’t want the people whose kids go to school with their kids, or the people who clean their teeth down at the dentist’s office, or the people who stand on a concrete floor all day at the grocery store to know what they make or how much of their benefits are taken out of our paychecks.

They’ve kept it behind closed doors with the help of council.  I once asked then-councilor  Larry Wahl if I could get in on those talks, and he actually tried to get me in.  But the other council members – including Sheriff Billy Bob Bertagna – wouldn’t go for it. Mary Flynn Goloff made it loud and clear from the dais – if I wanted to be in on the contract talks I could run for city council. Evita speaks! Bertagna, bless his heart for his fresh ground pepper honesty,  told me they couldn’t let the public in because they needed secrecy. He explained to me without shame – they play the various employee groups – especially the cops and fire – against each other, and they need a cone of silence to pull that off.

The stuff that goes on down there, please!

This dialogue with Randall Stone is what we need, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate him having the balls to come down to our meeting. I hope we can get more members of council and staff to come in. I’d like to invite Police Chief Trostle and Fire Chief Beery in another time to explain why their employees can’t pay their own share of benefits – there is actually some legal explanation for that, and I’d like to hear it.

So, come on down to the Chico Library,  Sunday morning, I’ll have the doors open by 9am. 

Henny Penny tried to tell them about Loosey Goosey, but would they listen? Nooooooooooo!

29 May

Yesterday I put aside a bunch of junk I had to do to go to a meeting Downtown.  I don’t know about the rest of you people, but when I don’t work, it shows up pretty immediately on the balance sheet as no dinner, or clean underwear.   But, I figure, a few hours spent each month riding herd on the city monkeys is worth the effort. 

They had to hire some out-of-town gun to tell us, our city staff has been operating, as Chris Contantin puts it, “loosey goosey.” So, that’s why they called me “Henny Penny” every time I said they needed to slow down on the spending? 

I have to say – I really like these new guys. I like Brian Nakamura. I like Chris Constantin. And, I like Frank Fields,  a guy who’s been with the city for some time. I also have to say, I didn’t like Jennifer Hennessy. I wanted to like her – her kid played hockey with my kid, her husband worked with my husband on the rink in Ham City. But she was a petulant little spoiled rotten bitch who cared more about herself than her job. She was lazy, I’ll say it. She just didn’t want to do her job.  She expected to have that salary and those clothes and that hair and that little hot rod, but she didn’t want to do the work that paid for it. No, I”m not jealous – women like her make me embarrassed for the gender.

So, excuse me  if  yesterday, when Chris Constantin came into the Finance Committee meeting and gave the type of report that we’d been asking, begging, demanding from Jennifer Hennessy all these years – NO POWER POINT PRESENTATION?! – just the horrible facts, Ma’am – I just about blew up trying to hold back with “I TOLD YOU BASTARDS SO!” 

We all knew, the entire time, that money was being moved from fund to fund, excuse me for REPEATING MYSELF – like peas under nutshells. If I used the shell game analogy once, I used it a hundred times.  And yesterday Constantin reported to those in attendance exactly that – money was allowed to be moved, from one fund to another – willy nilly, loosey goosey, whatever – without any supervision from Hennessy or the Finance Department or the city manager. Departments were padding their budgets so they’d have a surplus to “spend or lose” – how many times did I tell you that? Like that episode of The Office where Michael has to choose between a new copy machine or new office chairs, and then finds out he can simply give the money to himself as a bonus and does so. 

I think most of the senior management staff needs to be fired. This is why Rucker and McKinley were fired. This is why Hennessy was quietly found another job elsewhere – it wasn’t all her fault – how many times did the council listen to Hennessy say we were in deficit and simply refuse to act? I know I sat in those meetings for years. I sat in one meeting with my then-6-year-old son, during which Scott Gruendl took a fistful of marking pens and a giant tablet and tried to draw a picture of how much financial trouble we were in. He jokingly put aside the red pen, not wanting to alarm anybody! But he made it clear, the city of Chico was spending alot more money than it was taking in. 

After the meeting, my son was aghast – “if the city is in so much trouble with money, what’s Scott doing with all those marking pens?” He noted that Gruendl was using more than one at a time, leaving the caps off, not really acting like a guy who might not be able to afford another set of marking pens. This is the same man who has voted to spend money on overpriced real estate, bar a major retailer from expanding unless they lay down a million dollars to swap out wood stoves, and who has led the city on a windmill chase over banning plastic bags that has cost God only knows how many hundreds of thousands in $taff time.

Furthermore, to listen to Ann Schwab and Mary Goloff sit on that dais and say they didn’t have any idea what was going on is like listening to the captain of the Concordia say it wasn’t his fault the ship ran aground because he wasn’t present at the time.

But let’s face it, it wasn’t just the way $taff was running the books, it was that MOU that raised Tom Lando’s salary from around $60,000/year to over $150,000. That MOU was the killer, linking salaries to revenue increases but not decreases.  It was like some kind of time release poison, it has taken us to The Brink. Gruendl voted for that MOU, in fact, I believe he was one of the proponents who pushed it forward for $taff.  The same thing was going on in Glenn County, where Gruendl’s salary went from around $50,000 to $103,000 in less than five years.

When the public found out about that MOU, it was canned, but they replaced it with this practice of paying most or all of the employee share of pension and benefit premiums. Now our city has adopted a resolution requiring all new hires from out of the CalPERS system to pay “50 percent,” of what I’m not sure. But, Constantin explained to me yesterday – even if the new hire is from out of state, if they come from “an agency” that has an agreement with CalPERS, they come in as a member of CalPERS, and they will not be required to pay the new share.

Furthermore, Gruendl has already informed us, that if we are going to require employees to pay more of their share, we will have to pay them more salary.

At yesterday’s meeting, I sincerely thanked Chris Constantin, but I told the committee of Randall Stone, Sean Morgan and Scott Gruendl that we need to get management and public safety to pay their own share of their pensions. Constantin agreed with me. He  said he’d tried to pay his own share, but apparently the union won’t allow it? I didn’t get a very good explanation. But he also said that if public safety would pay their own share, their pensions would be cheaper.  I think he meant, they’d be cheaper because the city wouldn’t have to go into debt to pay them, the payments would be taken directly every month instead of put off. So, there would be enormous savings in interest. I’m not sure on that, but I think that’s what he meant. It makes sense. 

But there it sat. They won’t push it. Trying to get them to do something is like trying to push Jello. 

So, we have to put the heat to the people who really have control – the council. We have to start holding a match to Mark Sorensen’s ass – he’s up for re-election in November 2014, along with Gruendl and Goloff. They all need to be told, loud and clear, that they shouldn’t even bother to run in 2014 if they re-sign these contracts in January. 

Oh God our city is doomed

22 May

Thanks to John Salyer, Stephanie Taber, Sue Hubbard and the other citizens who showed up at last night’s catastrophe city council meeting. 

I went down, but left at 10 pm. I have a rule, and they also made a rule, that these meetings should not go on after 10pm, it’s just counter-productive. I get up too early, can’t always take a nap in midday, and by 10:00, I lose confidence in my motor abilities – you don’t want to be on the road with a woman who can’t tell a big raccoon from a person in the dark. Last night I slowed down because I thought I saw a pack of mice scurry out in front of my car – I screamed out loud – it was leaves blowing across the street. 

Better safe than sorry.

I also have a low tolerance for bullshit – I can’t eat it, I don’t care how much sugar you put on it. And Scott Gruendl is a regular lawn feeder. When he started rambling about his experience with the mentally ill, I made my way toward the lobby. At 10:00, with a full agenda, they had still not made it past Item 4.1.

And let’s talk about Item 4.1. I don’t remember when I’ve seen three items crammed into one before. Item 4.1 was supposed to be three reports from the city attorney, on three different ordinances, all slightly related by way of ALCOHOL. But all three deserving of separate conversations. Instead we got fixated on the sit/lie aspect of the item, and the other two subjects – a “social hosting” ordinance and a fee for “alcohol related businesses” got swept off to the side. Only a couple of speakers mentioned those subjects on a side note.

“Social host” ordinances involve holding the “host” of a party responsible for underage or other problem alcohol consumption. In Chico, when we discussed the Disorderly Events ordinance, Chico PD made it clear they want the city to go after not just the “host” of the party, but the landlord or property owner. That provision failed, I believe, because the city attorney and local property owners groups convinced them it was slippery legal ground. The Disorderly Events ordinance was passed without the landlord responsibility clause, and the cops have been trying to get it back in the door eversince. This “Social Host” ordinance completely lends itself to holding landlords responsible for their tenants’ activities, even though tenants can sue their landlords for harassment if landlord oversteps his right to control the property. 

Chico police officer and president of the Chico Police Officers Association, Peter Durfee, expressed support for both the sit/lie and social host ordinances, as well as a general distaste for landlords. He feels landlords are responsible for their tenants’ behavior.  The Disorderly Events landlord provision fell apart  when they realized, they’d have to notice landlords, some of whom live out of town. How would they identify which houses were rentals, and which were owner-occupied? The impracticalities just started to pile up, and the subject was dropped. That’s how far I expect them to get with any kind of “social host”ordinance.  There are too many subjective decisions to be made – and no, I don’t trust Chico PD to make subjective decisions, I don’t think they are the sharpest pencils in the plastic pocket protector. The salaries Chico pays only attract greed, and greed isn’t a good indicator.

But only a couple of people even mentioned “social host”. Most of the comments were directed toward the sit/lie ordinance, with most of the speakers in favor. It’s hard – I so agree there’s a problem, but I don’t think a sit/lie ordinance will help.

In San Francisco, where they have the ordinance in place, the arrested are processed and back in their own pee puddle in less than four hours. How’d you like to be the shop owner who made the complaint? Last night I watched career homeless man Bill Mash go off on a rant that Colliers is harassing “the homeless.” Wow. If I were the owner of Colliers, I’d get an armed security guard. Bill Mash is unstable. He’s exactly the kind of creep that, as Wayne Cook put it, is “poisoning” the atmosphere Downtown.  He’s hostile, in your face, and bigger than me. One woman said if I didn’t like “looking at” those people, I didn’t have to go Downtown. Maybe she’d like to set up an escort service for small women and children who don’t feel safe around these freaks. It’s a lot more than “looking at” them. 

But a sit/lie ordinance is not going to do it, not when the DA won’t prosecute, whining that he has no space in his jail. They will just be processed at our expense and turned back out on the street. One guy in that article on San Francisco had amassed 10’s of thousands of dollars in fines for the same violation.

Randall Stone also made one of the best points of the meeting – most of the annoying things these people do are already against the law. You aren’t allowed to block a public sidewalk, urinate or defecate in public, have an unruly dog – most of the stuff they do is illegal. But the cops won’t do anything.  Trostle admitted – all a person has to do, is refuse to obey a cop, or even mouth off to a cop, and it’s “malicious,” and the cop can arrest them.

Let me tell you my own personal experience with Peter Durfee, mentioned above. One morning, I woke up to find my neighbor had again had a loud party, and there was one of her friend’s vehicles parked in my driveway, right next to a “NO PARKING” sign. So, at 8:30 on a week day morning, I walked over, knocked on her door, asked if she knew whose vehicle that was, and when she said yes, I asked her very politely to tell them they’d have to move it, it was on my property – thanks! You’ll have to take my word for it, I was perfectly nice and sweet. And then, as I walked away, she said, perfectly audibly, “Or what?”  I turned and told her, “or I’ll have to have it towed.” And I hot-footed it out of there. I don’t like trouble – are you kidding, at my size?

I left the property for about 15 minutes to ride my bike over and  take in one of my tenant’s trash cans – they were out of town for the weekend, and asked me to get their cans in – and when I got back about 15 minutes later, Peter Durfee and his partner were sitting in my driveway, blocking not only my gate but my other  tenant’s driveway. He stayed a half hour, telling me I wasn’t allowed to go to my neighbor’s house to tell her to move her car off my property. He never said exactly what I was accused of, just said, next time I have a “problem” with my neighbor, call him. I still have his card with that message on back. I told him I thought it was crazy that, at a time when the cops were whining short staff, he would come to my house and stay over a half hour, blocking my ingress and egress from my home, over 100 feet onto my private property, harassing me over my neighbor’s trespassing on my property. Officer Fat Ass has no respect for private property rights – I asked him to leave several times and he refused, still blocking my tenant’s driveway as well as mine.  He seemed to be determined to get me to obey him, like some fat little god.  He finally told me that if I ever went to my neighbor’s door again, for ANYTHING, he’d arrest me. In exactly those words, he threatened to arrest me. I went in the house, and he and his partner sat in my driveway for another five minutes, then turned around and left. 

So, there you have the “quality” employees we attract with these salaries, and this fat little creep with the extra chin is the PRESIDENT OF THE CPOA!  Sums it up, as far as I’m concerned.

But even Officer Fat Ass did not discuss the ACE ordinance, the third subject of attorney Barker’s report. The ACE – or “Alcohol Compliance and Education” ordinance should be a dead fish, but the cops keep bringing it back – it’s a fee, that would go straight to the cops, to be used at their discretion. Chief Trostle says he’ll hire a cop to dedicate to alcohol related issues – how vague and – excuse me – unenforceable is that? Is this “dedicated” officer just going to be laying around in some kind of wrapper, to be brought out just for alcohol-related problems? No, they just want another $100,000 + a year to hire a new cop, I got Trostle to admit that at that Chamber function I attended.

Well, Barker shot ACE down last night – she said in 2010 the state legislature passed Prop 26, prohibiting a government from just tacking fees onto stuff without a specific purpose. Prop 26 “defines ‘tax’ as every charge that is imposed by a municipality...”  Furthermore, “alcohol fees were used as an example of what should not be imposed…” 

Any fee must have a specific service that is provided, for example, Barker cited license fees, inspection fees, or a fee for an employee education program that is directly provided by the city.  They can’t just charge a fee and use it as they please. 

Mark Sorensen, feeling his balls last night, asked, “how does this differ from the ABC (Alcohol Compliance Board)?”, and Barker answered that Prop 26 essentially says that the only things a municipality CAN do are things already done by the ABC.

So, we don’t need an ACE ordinance. The cops are just phishing for money, again. We have about a $43 million budget. The cops get $22 million of that. They pay NONE of their pension premium or health insurance.  They repeatedly tell us, they need more money and “new tools” to do their jobs. Talk about “aggressive panhandlers”! 

We need a new council, and a new police chief. Our mayor is incompetent, which is what I tried to tell everybody about our City Manager Dave  Burkland and our Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy, and nobody would listen. Now we have to hear it from an outside. I missed that report, held somewhere around what? 11:30 at night? As if anybody was still awake. And don’t forget, council also approved contracts that continue to pay the “employee share.”

These meetings are agendized without any sense. The ACE ordinance is dead, why was it agendized? Why were three items jammed into one public comment session? Mary even said, “we didn’t think this through” as she realized there were 29 speakers and it was already after 8pm. She wondered aloud how they would sort the comments on these three different issues. She tries to act like a mayor, but she doesn’t have the slightest idea what she’s doing.

Our council is a pack of naked emperors, all buck naked. They expect us to sit and look at their junk and not say anything about their shortcomings? What a pack of useless ninnies. 

John Salyer: Keep an eye on the government

21 May

Thanks John Salyer for this appropriately timed letter. Tonight our new finance director will announce to a stunned crowd that we are (gasp!) OVER BUDGET AND DOOMED TO DEBT! What a surprise, I for one am just shocked! 

John Salyer is one of those who has been watching and yelling at the top of his lungs, “Get everybody off the track, the train’s coming!” To a deaf crowd that apparently wants to be run over by a train, picnic baskets and all. 

Thanks John, and keep ’em coming! 


Letter: Keep an eye on the government

Chico Enterprise-Record
Posted:   05/20/2013 12:00:00 AM PDT


One of the fundamental principles underlying much of what today’s small-government advocates have to say is the idea, attributed to John Stuart Mill, that people have no right to take over other people’s decisions about their own lives. Yet today, as government expands its reach and more and more citizens give up their freedoms, government bureaucrats begin to think of themselves as shepherds and the citizens as their sheep.As one economist notes, “Tragically, too many of us are apparently willing to be sheep, in exchange for being taken care of, being relieved of the burdens of adult responsibility and being supplied with ‘free’ stuff paid for by others.” In ways large and small, if government does more, many people end up doing less.

Yes, we all make mistakes. But do governments not make bigger and more catastrophic mistakes?

One of the key differences between mistakes that we make in our own lives and mistakes made by governments is that bad consequences force us to correct our own mistakes. But government officials usually cannot admit to making a mistake without jeopardizing their whole careers.

Let’s take the example of Chico being $50 million, more or less, in debt. How many of you even knew that? I certainly didn’t until I made the mistake of actually starting to pay attention to what is going on with Chico’s bureaucrats.

Search “Townhall Shepherds and Sheep” on the Internet for more on this interesting but unfortunately true subject.

John Salyer, Chico

Wake UP Chico! Time to get to work!

20 May

I’m glad to say there’s a stink going up over the contracts being signed tomorrow night in council. I’ve received e-mails and forwards about it, all from people who’ve been watching for a long time, trying to get more people to pay attention.

Stephanie Taber is like Paul Revere. She goes to these meetings – she came to the CARD board meeting last week at my request – and reads documents with print that looks like black lines. And then she gets on her computer horse and tries to spread the alarm. 

Sometimes I can’t believe she is still standing, how does she do it.  Then I look at the eyes – little twinkly blue Santa Claus eyes I call them – always busy, like the circuit lights on my computer tower.  Stephanie’s brain is like a computer, full of data, always searching for connections, analyzing, spitting out conclusions. Working with Stephanie is like plugging my brain into the master brain. When things don’t add up, I talk to Stephanie, and we get some answers. 

The hard part is getting others to listen, to care beyond just bitching, to DO SOMETHING. I will admit, I have a hard time getting to those Tuesday night council meetings. And sometimes, I’ll admit, I worry that we don’t make any impact at those meetings, that they’ve already got their minds made up, we’re just giving them the legal closure they need by showing up at the dam-ned things. 

But, I’ll also say, I’ve seen things change, I’ve seen things get stopped, I’ve seen things get dragged down like an old water buffalo by a pack of hyenas.  It takes a mob, but it can be done. They can be worn down. 

I hate to even bring it up – it seems so silly now – but they tried to stop the frisbee golf course, and there it is. We see more cars there every time we go up. The  rangers are still up there, even on Sunday, trying to bust people for playing during wet weather, but there it is – like a big sign, saying “Screw the Friends of Bidwell Park and their Political Cronyism.” 

Tuesday night, that’s tomorrow, sorry for the late notice, but tomorrow our new finance director, Chris Constantin, will read his high school style report about how screwed our pooch is, and somebody should show up to give a damn.  Of course, they have pushed this report to the END of the meeting, after the plastic bag ban, the sit/lie ordinance, not to mention, the management contracts.  

Stephanie Taber has been concerned that the placement of this item at the very end of the meeting is a sure way to keep the public out of the discussion.  She’s asked that people yak it up, try to get more of the public involved.  I’ve written letters to the editor, I’ve posted blogs about it, I don’t know what else to do about it.   It’s time for more people to step up, express some genuine outrage yes – but more importantly, mention that three of these people are up for re-election in a year and a half, and they need to do something tomorrow night, or they shouldn’t even run in 2014.

Randall Stone invited to June 2 CTA meeting to discuss city’s fiscal issues

19 May

Chico Taxpayers Association is planning our next meeting for June 2, and we have asked city councilor Randall Stone to come on down and try to answer some of our questions regarding the city’s current financial fiasco. 

No, Mr. Stone and I are not exactly chum buddies, this is strictly business. I know, we’ve gone pretty WWE in past, but we both promise to stick to the issues for this little Q&A. 

I hope people will have some good questions ready, I don’t want to waste this man’s time. If he enjoys himself, maybe we can get him to come back again, and maybe we can get others to come in to speak on these issues. We need to get a conversation going, we need some give and take between the elected and the electorate. City council meetings are a joke. We get three minutes, if the mayor’s of a mind to give it to us, and then councilors get to babble on forever, making personal attacks on speakers and spreading their bullshit unfettered. This meeting is going to be a conversation.   I’m hoping that Mr. Stone will take away at least as much as he brings to the table. 

This Tuesday night, council will be approving the management contracts. Management will be getting an extension of the same sweet deal that’s brought the city to bankruptcy. No, they haven’t used the “b” word yet, because three of them are up for re-election in less than two years. But, it’s hovering, like food poisoning at a potluck party.

No matter how bad they say it is Downtown, management won’t pay their own share. They will continue to pay less than half their “employee share,” 4 of their 9 percent. While we continue to pay the other 5 percent, in addition to our 15  percent. Next year our share goes up to about 22 percent – CalPERS is screaming like a junkie – we tried to make them go into rehab, but they said no-no-no!

Why should they? Their daddies on council think they’re just fine! 

Don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense to you – it probably wouldn’t make sense to you to go out into your yard and eat a pile of dog crap either.  

One question I’d like to ask Councilor Stone is why council goes on paying the “EPMC” – employer paid member contribution – the “employee’s share.” I have not been able to get a straight answer on that one from anybody. At the first CARD meeting I attended, I asked CARD board president Ed Seagle why CARD employees pay NOTHING toward their pensions – CARD (we) PAYS ALL OF IT! I asked Seagle WHY, and he gave me that line about “attracting quality employees.”  That’s it, that’s all they’ve got.

Of course, Seagle, like so many of our local elected officials, is a trough dweller himself, having held positions in the state trough, all the way to Fresno, for his entire career. Right now he’s holding down a spot at Chico State – aren’t you glad your kids are being educated by these people? What Seagle could best teach our kids, is how to get their hooks into that trough and surf it for life. Of course a guy like him is not going to shake the boat by demanding that his $112,000 a year manager pay his own pension share, that would be mutiny!

Same for our beloved council. Most of them are in the trough, including Mark Sorensen, the boy who’d like to be perceived as holding his finger in the dike.  I never saw anything like Sorensen’s sudden transformation from a private sector business owner to a public employee. He took the city manager position in Biggs, in addition not only to his duties on council but in addition to running his business where he earns “somewhere between $10,000 and $100,000 a year,” according to his Form 700. Wow, talk about a full plate, excuse me Mr. Piggie! Both those public positions come along with health care packages, and the Biggs position comes with a pension, paid mostly, I’m guessing, by the fine orchard dwellers in Biggs.

Sorensen has got some explaining to do after Tuesday night, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve invited him over to join our meeting, but you know, some people are thin-skinned to criticism. If you want anything out of Sorensen, you have to coddle him, and I don’t do coddling, or windows. 

If we don’t want our town to go on the trash heap with Stockton and Vallejo, we need to do a little finger pointing. We NEED to assign blame, I’m sick of letting people off to do it again. There’s an election in 2014, and we have a chance to change the course our city has been on for too long. Sorensen would like everybody to believe he’s on board, in fact, I believe he expects to be appointed Captain of the USS Shipwreck in a couple of years. But I’ll tell you what Mark – you’ve been signing the contracts all along. How do you explain that? 

The other question I’d like to ask Randall Stone is, will he support the sales tax increase measure being planned right now by Sorensen’s mentor, Tom Lando?  I’m afraid to ask Sorensen.

Oh No! The city of Chico faces fiscal insolvency? Time for an INTERVENTION!

17 May

Stand back and hold your breath while I enjoy a chorus of “I told you so!” 

I looked over the agenda for next week’s council meeting, and omigod! It’s an intervention!

Sheesh, what does it take to get through to people? I’ve been saying for years – me, a local property tax payer – that the city was spending out of control, that they were taking us on the road to Perdition – but did anybody listen? I wanted to cut up their RDA credit card long before Jerry Brown took it away, but did they listen? No, they just went about making these contracts that promised a perpetual six-figure salary, well beyond retirement, all paid for by the taxpayers, paying those crazy salaries and benefits and pensions out of the RDA. 

New city finance director Chris Constantin is all up there about the overspending, but he doesn’t say on what. He’s going to allow people to go on damning The Spirit Flags and The Hands. But that’s chump change. In reality, it’s Constantin’s contract, along with the other management contracts, as well as the public safety contracts. These people get the highest salaries, but pay little to nothing for their pensions – 70 – 90 percent of their highest year’s salary available at age 50. 

Management employees – and the department heads just got nearly $30,000 each in pay raises –  pay less than half their employee share, four percent of their total premium. The police and fire department employees pay nothing. The taxpayers pick up the balance of their shares – this is called, “employer paid member contribution.”  

On Tuesday’s agenda, “$taff” recommends renewal of the management contracts, the public safety contracts having been approved already, with the empc intact. 

And at the same meeting Constantin will foist his report – “City of Chico Up Shit Creek Without a Paddle.” He says we are in deep trouble, can’t make our payroll, and need to borrow money. And, here’s the catch – they’re going to have to raise fees and cut services. 

I will agree that they have been giving away the store. Developer fees have been out of whack for some years. For example, I just sat in on a conversation with a property owner who was hooking up to sewer – a very average  case – $24,000. But, a developer pays less than $10,000. 

But, I’m sick of hearing about more cuts in service. We spend over 90 percent of our budget on salaries and benefits. We pay more than 100 people more than $100,000 a year.  In 2012 we spent $1.9 million dollars paying “the employee’s share” of pension premiums. We just gave these guys a $30,000 each raise to tell us we don’t have enough money to pay our frigging bills. 

I predict we the people will be paying more for everything almost immediately. Right now, for example, the city and the county are in talks with the two big garbage haulers about dividing the county and city up into franchise zones, each company taking an equal guaranteed territory. Customers will lose choice. The city will get a franchise fee from each company. That fee will be added to our bills. That sounds like price fixing to me, but I’m no lawyer. 

We may have defeated Measure J, but the city will get our money by hook or by crook.

When I made predictions of bankruptcy on my old Ad Hoc blog, a current city council member came around to snipe about my use of the word, “malfeasance.” He laughed at my predictions. Well, now he’s sitting in a pants full, and he can just clean himself up as far as I’m concerned.

CARD consultant says bond is a No Go, so Lando suggests CARD pursue a sales tax increase!

17 May

Despite the weird experience I had Monday at the CARD finance committee meeting, my husband and I rode our bike down to last night’s regular board meeting to see what CARD’s consultant had to say about the survey run a couple of months ago.  

CARD was testing the waters for a bond or property assessment, insinuating they would build a new aquatic center and gymnasium when what they really need is a bailout to pay their pension premiums. CARD employees get the same CalPERS deal as the rest of the public sector, and they pay NOTHING toward their own benefits. We the taxpayers pick up their entire “employee share”. Of course, that’s for the management who have benefits and pension – most of the people who actually do the work to keep your parks open and somewhat clean are part time workers with neither benefits nor pensions.

At Monday’s meeting, board member Jan Sneed loudly ranted at me that I was accusing CARD of being dishonest – yes, I am. Read the survey for yourselves – where does it mention the $397,000+ CalPERS side fund payoff, over $350,000 of which came out of the now-empty capital projects fund?  They try to tell us they’re going to build an $8 million aquatic center off of a $20 – $52 assessment?  Maybe Sneed would like to explain why the pension fund pay-off is left out of the survey paperwork?

I guess that’s because these survey people like to, as the consultant from SCI Consulting Group  put it, go at it “blind.” Meaning, they make no attempts to educate the survey respondents, they just ask them leading questions. When I’ve studied the consultants that do these surveys, I’ve found, it’s not set up to find out what people really want or think, it’s set up to lead people into wanting or thinking what the client wants them to want  or think. Got that? It’s part of the consultant’s job, not to gauge a community’s willingness to pay more taxes, but to make them think they’re willing to pay more taxes.

From their website,

“SCI is proud of our industry leading success rate with new ballot measure for funding public agency capital improvements and services.

Part of their service includes “implementing a comprehensive strategy for clearly communicating the issue to the public.”

So, I wish I’d thought to ask this consultant (actually, a very nice woman name of Melanie Lee), “why did you throw up all that stuff about an aquatic center and gymnasium instead of being honest about wanting the money for pensions?” I would think that question kind of answers itself, but Ms. Lee is a professional analyst and very honest and forthcoming – I think her answer would have been interesting.

I did hear what I wanted to hear – she reported that the results of the survey were disappointing. For one thing, they sent out 10,000 surveys and only got about 1800 back. I’d call that a wash, but I remember past surveys that have run with less than 500 respondents, so I won’t discount this one. I just kind of wonder what CARD spent on it, is all – just to send a giant wad of tree pulp to the land fill. 

But for another thing, the surveys that were returned indicated there’s little support for any kind of leech on our property taxes, whether it be a parcel tax, or an assessment. Both came back with less than the recommended amount of support to pursue a ballot measure. 

Ms. Lee also summarized the remarks people made at the end of their surveys – bad economy; recent passage of Measure E, prop 30, and other tax increases; and “government spending”.  

And before she left, she offered the board some great advice –  spend the next couple of years “maintaining and improving the park district”. In the meantime, open up a dialog with large property owners and apartment dwellers – the groups who least supported the idea of a tax.   Above all, she reminded them, “a good campaign starts years ahead.” 

With that Ms. Lee gathered her stuff and headed out the door. Before she was even out of the building, Tom Lando moved that the board consider having the CARD attorney “look into” a “sales tax measure.”  It was as if he missed the consultant’s last words – “the economy, other tax increases, and government spending.” Is he deaf? Dumb? Or really, really smart? 

He brought up the survey he’d run over a year ago, when he wanted the city council to put a sales tax increase measure on the local ballot. He said at last night’s meeting, he’d got over 60 percent approval.  And I guess that sounds accurate – the idiot majority passed Prop 30.

I’m assuming Lando was afraid to run his sales tax increase on the same ballot with Prop 30 – so he thinks waiting two years is going to do any good? Prop 30 raised sales tax to 7.5 – now what, 7.75? 8? 

I know, that doesn’t sound like much. So I have to remind you again what it pays for – for example, the general manager of CARD makes over $112,000 in salary, and we still pay his entire “employee share.” They bottomed out the coffers, of our tax dollars, to pay their pensions. To me, that’s stealing. They’ve stolen from the funds that were supposed to pay for the upkeep and replacement of public facilities to enrich themselves. 

I know my comments weigh heavily on the staff down at CARD, I’m sorry, they think I’m just a bitch. Well, I’d be an idiot to put up with what they’re doing. Steve Visconti, in his closing remarks, wanted to make sure everybody knew, the results of that survey “in no way reflect the way people feel about CARD…just bad timing…”

Then he went on to laud “staff”, meaning himself, I believe, for a recent award from some award givers regarding their website and the transparency of their agency. I must admit, Visconti and finance director Dowell have given me answers to my questions and also documents I’ve asked for. But never once in these “public” conversations has the true reason behind this tax grab come up – they keep talking about needing money to “fund this” or “fund that.”  And when I’ve brought it up in letters to the papers, I’ve gotten attacked. That’s not transparency, that’s a cloud of suspicion, as far as I’m concerned. 

As the meeting was ending up, Lando made one last forceful pitch, even a motion to have his sales tax measure idea brought to agenda, or at least agendized for a committee. I’ll keep you posted – their next meeting is June 5. 

Jan Sneed attacked me at today’s CARD finance meeting – this woman is out of control, and isn’t suitable for public office

13 May

I tried to attend the CARD finance meeting today, I had an appointment that ran long, and came in just as the meeting was getting over (wow, less than 25 minutes!)

 As I was apologizing and asking Finance Director Scott Dowell how I could get a paper copy of the finance report that he’d given at the meeting, longtime CARD board member Jan Sneed walked by me and whispered at me, “oh, the woman who’s harassing Maria Rock!” or something to that effect. In shock I turned and said, “Excuse me?” And she just launched at me with a verbal attack, her face got red, she raised her voice and she started poking at me with one finger, actually touching me at one point.
I kept telling her to back off, my husband stepped between us and told her to back off – she start pushing and poking him.
I kept telling her, if she wanted to  talk to me, she needed to write a letter to the paper. She kept saying, “I AM talking to YOU!” and kept advancing on me.
I turned to Dowell and frantically asked him again about the report. I was very polite to all staffers. Dowell held me off for a few moments, he said he wanted to hear what Sneed had to say!  I asked him, why are you holding us here to be attacked by that woman?” but he wouldn’t answer.  
She was ranting and raving about my letters, saying I’d accused them (CARD) of “being dishonest.”  I just kept telling her she needed to write a letter to the newspaper.
She also mentioned several times that I am “harassing Maria Rock.”  
We went to the office and she followed us down the hall, despite my husband telling her to stop following us. At this point I was near tears, shaking, and about ready to throw up – I’m sorry, but I work for a living, I’m tired, I make a lot of arrangements to attend these  meetings, and this crew of publicly paid people allow this woman to verbally attack me when I ask for public records. They all just stood there listening to her as though she was speaking for all of them. 
We told desk staff that if she came into the office while we were waiting for Dowell to get the records, we wanted them to call the police. Hearing this she turned and walked the other way down the hall. 
Staff never once apologized. Dowell gave us the report and told us it was the report he’d given at the meeting today.  The desk staffed offered to staple the pages together for us, but we politely declined.  We thanked Dowell and Visconti personally for their politeness, we thanked staff, and left with the report. 
When we attended the last regular board meeting, she made a similar move leaving the meeting – came up close to me and whispered something at me, but I didn’t make the mistake of saying, “Excuse me, ” so I didn’t get attacked. 
This isn’t appropriate behavior for a public official. All I did was tell the public what I’d heard at the last meeting. None of them denied any of the stuff I said in my letters to the papers, it’s all true. They just don’t seem to want people talking about their CalPERS payoff. 

Any advice would be  welcome – but what I’d really like, is some other people to attend the meeting Thursday night. 

I sent this above to county supervisor Larry Wahl, David Little over at the Enterprise Record, and some other folks in my mailbox.  Sneed’s behavior is outrageous. I wondered what happened to former director Mary Cahill – now I get it! 

From the Chico News and Review, Sept 15 2005:

Mary Cahill, who was terminated Sept. 6 as general manager of the Chico Area Recreation District, took issue with CARD board and media characterizations of her parting.

While a press release issued by CARD attorney Jeff Carter stated Cahill was “terminated … without cause,” Cahill said she left by “mutual agreement” after much discussion over a period of time. She was given $100,000 in severance pay as required by her contract.

“I was not fired,” Cahill said. “It was a discussion and it was definitely both-sided. … It makes it look like I did something wrong when I didn’t,” she added.

Jan Sneed is the longest running member of the CARD board, having been there since before any of the other standing board members, and before Steve Visconti was promoted to the rank of General Manager. I wonder how much her personality problems had to do with Mary Cahill’s “mutual agreement” to leave CARD, taking $100,000, just in severance.

I’ve long wondered what’s wrong at CARD, and now I’m figuring it out.

UPDATE:  This morning I came in from a few hours of weed pulling and raking to sit down with a cup of coffee and watch a quick episode of “Leave It To Beaver.” 

It seems Wally’s big friend Lumpy has been picking on Beaver. Beaver asks his dad for advice, and Ward tells him a comical story of a prank he himself had pulled on the neighborhood bully when he was a boy. Beaver pulls a similar stunt to get back at Lumpy, but instead, Lumpy’s dad ends up getting into it, and gets really mad. This creates a sticky situation for Ward – Lumpy’s dad Fred is not only his long time friend but a partner in his business. Of course Ward straightens the whole thing out and the boys apologize, and Fred forgives them, admitting that not only Lumpy but he himself had pulled some stunts too.

But the best part of every episode is the private chat between Ward and the boys.   Ward explains to Beaver, there will always be people who bully “to get their way, and you can’t always do anything about it. You just have to learn to live with people like that.” 

Hmmmm – how do you “live with” people like Sneed, without being taken advantage of?

Sneed complained loudly that I had insinuated the board was being dishonest. Well, yes, I am. I still have that survey, posted here:


Look that over and show me where they mention their nearly $400,000 CalPERS side fund payoff, or their nearly million dollar budget overrun. Instead they make promises they can’t keep – “In order to construct and maintain a new aquatics facility…” AND  “to construct and maintain a new gymnasium…” These are totally unrealistic goals – during the RDA discussion about building an aquatic center, the figure they produced was EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS. Just for construction. And what does a new gymnasium cost? The survey insinuated that an assessment of $130 would pay for that,  adding  suggestions like  “Well maintained and accessible sports fields for sports programs help keep kids off drugs and out of gangs.” 

Right now the capital projects fund that would pay for all that bling is TAPPED OUT. That fund was cleaned out of over $350,000 to make that side fund payoff. 

Yes Jan, I’m accusing you, point blank, of  being dishonest with the public in asking for a bond or assessment to pay for an aquatic center or new gymnasium. Like I said at the meeting, you can answer me in your letter to the editor. 

A response to Gruendl and Sorensen – somebody has to say something

12 May

Below is a letter I’ve sent to the Chico News and Review in response to the letters down further. Emily Alma had written a letter and sent it to both the paper and the council. While I don’t agree with Alma on everything  – in fact, I rarely agree with Mulhullond toadies on anything –  I do agree, there’s something fishy going on Downtown. Because of e-mails I’ve received and read from Mark Sorensen, I’m absolutely positive he knows more than he and Gruendl are admitting to in the letter below. 

So, here’s my letter, I wish the  rest of you would start asking questions too:

A letter writer accuses city council of losing control of staff and two council members respond in a joint letter, insinuating “a subversive whisper campaign emanating from City Hall” against their newly hired city manager Brian Nakamura. But they want us to think everything Downtown is just copacetic. 

Councillors Scott Gruendl and Mark Sorensen claim Nakamura has the support of “a council supermajority.” But not the “unanimous council” that hired the guy? 

Gruendl and Sorensen claim “reorganization has not resulted in layoffs,” – what about the wrongful termination suit that was filed against the city on February 1?   

I wonder if the hostile atmosphere Downtown could be one explanation for the $10 million missing from the development fund, or the $50 million “structural deficit” attributed to “unfunded pension liabilities.” 

And how does raising department head salaries save money? Gruendl admitted at a council meeting that we would not see the savings from this reorganization “for years.” How many years?  

Gruendl and Sorensen insist that ” far higher levels of transparency and communication are being demanded and achieved,” but, at a morning meeting I attended, Nakamura actually used the Brown Act to keep citizens from discussing the true motives behind “surplussing” a Downtown parking lot – possible transfer to a developer.

Alma is right to be asking questions, more people should.

Alma’s letter, which appeared in the N&R April 25:

Is the council losing control?

Re “Money man: Chico’s new finance director takes his seat” (Newslines, by Tom Gascoyne, April 18):

Since Brian Nakamura’s appointment as Chico’s city manager, it seems that control of the city is slipping away from our elected City Council. We have two instances of long time, beloved employees leaving their posts without explanation, the loss of Jennifer Hennessy as finance director, major restructuring of departments, city employees nervous about losing their jobs, and Councilwoman Ann Schwab expressing disapproval at how the shakeup has been handled.

I understand that changes are needed for the city to be managed more efficiently, but the way this is coming down feels like an aggressive attack rather than a thoughtful approach to reorganization.

Now the hiring of another person from outside the area at another inflated salary, someone with a questionable history involving hostile relations with employees, adds another layer of concern. It seems that we have an increasingly toxic environment in the city offices.

I’m disappointed that Ann Schwab’s objections were not discussed at the last council meeting, and urge the remaining council members to take these warning flags seriously.

It is the City Council’s responsibility to oversee the dynamics of this major transition. I’m sure there are ways to reorganize without losing the spirit of warmth and respect that has characterized the city of Chico. I hope it’s not too late.

Emily Alma

Here’s Gruendl and Sorensen’s response, which followed in the same issue (she’d sent the letter to council as well):

A unanimous council very deliberately appointed Mr. Nakamura as city manager, and a council supermajority continues to support Mr. Nakamura’s new direction for the city.

In contrast to the subversive whisper campaign emanating from City Hall against Mr. Nakamura and Ms. Alma’s unfounded accusations about “control” or a lack of a “thoughtful approach to reorganization” in City Hall, the opposite is true. The path to positive changes has been laid out for nine months, well communicated and methodically executed.

Reorganization has not resulted in layoffs, and department heads know they may be reclassified but remain employed. Salaries correlate to new responsibilities under a leaner administration.

Ms. Alma is mistaken that city management is slipping from the council. Council is exercising its authority by restoring the “public service” focus to the organization and installing the expertise necessary to lead the city out of financial crisis.

The city has been spending more than it receives for many years, and that trend had to stop.

The city employees we speak with support the change in direction, and recognize that challenges remain ahead.

As we work through the process, far higher levels of transparency and communication are being demanded and achieved.

Vice Mayor Scott Gruendl

Councilman Mark Sorensen