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
Chico

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 
Chico

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