What have I learned after 10 years of attending city meetings? Be a bitch, or get screwed.

29 Aug

Wow, isn’t that great that acting city Fire Chief Keith Carter has found a way to make those cuts at Chico Fire. The story behind that is, Brian Nakamura told an “exclusive membership” audience at the Chico Chamber luncheon he was considering out-sourcing the fire department to Cal Fire. Wow, all the sudden Carter got real imaginative on ways to save money! I honestly don’t think “public outrage” had anything to do with it – unless it was public outrage directed toward Nakamura.

I get a kick out of the editorial in today’s paper, saying the department could have kept the public better informed – what’s Nakamura doing, discussing city policy at private chamber meetings? This was never discussed before the full public in any council or committee meeting.

I bet you all wonder how much stuff goes on Downtown without any public oversight – plenty! At yesterday’s Economic Development committee meeting, that was a large part of the discussion. Unfortunately, Nakamura and  council have decided to cut expenses by cutting the staff who usually keeps the public in the loop. There was no clerk at yesterday’s meeting, and I didn’t notice anybody at that table taking notes. If you don’t attend these meetings, you wouldn’t know stuff like, they have a staffer almost completely dedicated to servicing the Chico Chamber, Shawn Tillman.

Tillman was apparently one of the staffers who was kept through the makeover but “bumped down” a couple thousand in salary – he used to make about $92,000/year, now only $89,000. At another meeting, I found out, his salary is paid out of the RDA because he also administers the oft-cancelled “RDA Successor Agency” meetings.  That means we really pay him about $250,000 – most of which goes to the interest on the RDA money. 

The Economic Development Committee is currently struggling with this problem – even while we spend $38 million of our $43 million dollar budget on salaries and benefits, they keep whining we still don’t have enough staff to cover meetings, notice citizens via e-mail or post agendas and minutes online. Paubrecitos!

Yesterday’s meeting started out with a discussion about how they will run this committee. Gruendl has foisted a plan by which there will be “regular business meetings” every other month, during which the committee can take action. In alternative months, the committee would meet with the business community via “events” orchestrated by Katie Simmons, director of the Chico Chamber of Commerce.

Simmons already has a city staffer, Tillman, assisting her with business that really ought to be done by the chamber. Why are we handing the Chico Chamber a free staffer, in addition to money they get every year from community grants?   Tillman administers “Team Chico,” a group of consultants, including Simmons, who are supposed to be reaching out to local businesses, telling them about programs they otherwise might not be aware of!  This little club of matrons visits businesses they choose to visit, offering them perks and benies of Chamber membership, as well as notifying them of city programs.

Isn’t that Katie Simmon’s job? All a business has to do to find out about what the city offers is come to the website. 

This is the kind of crap that passes for “Economic Development.” Tillman gives roughly the same glossy report every meeting – “our business climate is healthy!” He says there’s been 400 jobs added by existing businesses – businesses he’s actually contacted!  Do tell?

But I wish you’d also tell me Shawn, other than contacting these businesses and then reporting it to us, what did you do to create those job? Well, nothing.  It has become more than apparent to me that Tillman’s part in all this is simply the part of cheerleader, yakking up the marvelous magic of Economic Development! 

At one point, Mark Sorensen raised an interesting issue – just how far should the city, a public entity, go to promote private business? That went out the window.

I think they’ve already gone too far. There was the Mayor’s Business Advisory committee, with Ann Schwab and Mark Sorensen meeting privately with businesses – – like PG&E! Enloe Hospital!  – – but Sorensen, Schwab and the staffer attached to that committee denied me access to those meetings, saying the business people didn’t feel comfortable talking in front of the public.   Well, that tells me more than an agenda! What the hell could they be uncomfortable talking about in front of the public?

When I asked Gruendl about these meetings, he said they will be “absorbed” into the Economic Development Committee, I’ll have to keep an eye on that.

I was pleasantly surprised that yesterday’s agenda included something like a business roundtable – several members of Team Chico, local business owners, had come in to give reports about their activities with TC. Unfortunately, Item 1 was allowed to go all over the place, at least 20 minutes spent completely OFF TOPIC, and by the time these reports came up, I had to leave. 

Unlike most of the people in that room, I am not compensated to sit in those meetings.  I don’t have a housekeeper at home to make my family’s dinner. I have two to three hungry family who have been working physically all day to further my bottom line as well, and I like to offer some support in the way of a hot meal on the dinner table. The fact that they schedule these meetings at the dinner hour is frustrating to me – how does this save staff time? How do council meetings that go on beyond 11 pm save staff time? 

Scott says having these alternate meetings with businesses, outside the city chambers, away from the clerk and the recording devices, will save staff time!

I will call Scott The Rubberband Man – you gonna lose control when the rubberband starts to jam.

Scott can turn anything around and make it sound positive. Yesterday he told us that these “industry meetings” would save money. Oh? How’s that? By cutting out the pubic, that’s how. The conversation covered the Brown Act – Taylor cheerfully announced that if only one or two of them attended an “event” it wouldn’t be a Brown Act violation. Sorensen agreed. They all kept repeating a lot of crap about keeping the public involved – I felt this conversation was almost fully for my benefit – thanks for the yadda-yadda wave Katie – but you know how some people say exactly the opposite of what they really mean because they know you won’t like what they really mean? 

It was Tillman who said he didn’t think they needed to notice the “industry meetings” – he waved at “the partners” from Team Chico and said, “you can promote it…” he suggested. Oh really? Well, I’m not expecting to see any tv commercials or giant glossy ads promoting the “event” they’re scheduling for the “market analysis” they did with taxpayer’s money a few months ago. Remember the retail survey, you might have participated? Tillman told us in June that report would be made at this meeting, but all they have are tentative plans for a two day “event”, workshops planned mostly for businesses. They are planning workshops designed to show retailers how to “take advantage” of the data from the survey.   

Jesus Christ Katie, do you have to be so insensitive?  Great choice of words –  “take advantage”   This woman does not pretend to have any concern for the average citizen, consumers are her bread and meat.  She said it herself – those “exclusive to members” luncheons she’s been inviting city staff and council to attend are “a fantastic opportunity for our guests (city employees, elected officials) and for our members…” Yeah, they sure are. Legally, they call that lobbying. Unfortunately, not everybody benefits when special interests are allowed an exclusive event to lobby our policy makers.

When I pointed this out, they all sadly agreed. I told them, these meetings all need to be completely open to the public, and noticed, just like they have been in the past, or it’s going to look like something inappropriate is going on.  We wouldn’t want anybody like me thinking there was something funny going on, now would we?  Scott agreed, profusely, his tail so far between his furry legs you’d almost think he really meant it! Simmons actually said that the luncheons would be made public, but again, I’m not expecting a big ad campaign pointed at the taxpayers. 

What the hell does Tillman do with his time that he doesn’t have 5 minutes to send a list-serve e-mail? “I guess I could use the notice list for the regular meetings to notice the industry meetings?” he offered meekly, like a little child who’d been told he was expected to eat the crusts too.  Yes, that’s what you need to do Shawn, duh, please stop trying to make it sound onerous, you little drip. 

Scott runs these meeting horribly, he’s no improvement over Goloff. I’m all for public comment, I demand it, but Gruendl needs to keep the comments on topic or step down. He let a man go off topic for like 20 minutes. I had my hand up the entire time to ask on-topic questions about the public noticing of these meetings, and Gruendl just ignored me. After he let the other man go on at length, repeating himself, and going way off topic, he let Audrey Taylor in ahead of me – off topic, at length. I finally had to wheel my chair – from now on I will not sit in a chair without wheels at those meetings – and physically insert myself into the conversation to ask my on-topic questions. At one point, I just had to start yelling over Tillman, regarding the noticing of what Scott called “the listening meetings” – I had to keep saying, “No, that won’t work…” until they listened.

I’m not going to be polite, I don’t care who thinks I’m a bitch. One thing I’ve learned having dealt with these people all these years, be a  bitch, or get screwed.

I’ll keep tabs on these upcoming “events”. 

 

 

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