Archive | September, 2013

At last we’re talking nuts and bolts on employee contracts – ER does a story on vacation and sick day accrual

28 Sep

I was pleasantly surprised to see Ashley Gebb’s story on city employees’ accrued sick and vacation days turning into massive payments at lay-off time. Wow, at last the media is paying attention to these insane city contracts. 

http://www.chicoer.com/news/ci_24196124/layoffs-come-price-tag

Gebbs explains  how employees accrue unused vacation and sick days, and then get paid for all these unused days when they leave.  Think about that – they already  got paid for those days. This system allows an employee to get paid twice for one work day.  Chris Constantin makes it sound onerous – these people aren’t getting vacations!  Hey, that’s their choice, and it works out pretty good for them if you ask me.  Gebb’s reports that this round of layoffs cost over $80,000 in vacation and sick leave payments. 

What Gebbs doesn’t mention is, those contracts are  being hashed over right now, to  be negotiated in December. It’s never too early to write to council and let them know just what you don’t like about the employee contracts. You can see those here:

http://www.chico.ca.us/human_resources_and_risk_management/labor_agreements_home.asp

I will bring copies of contracts to the next Chico Taxpayer’s meeting so we can discuss a list of items we can forward to council. The next CTA meeting is postponed to the Second Sunday in October, the 13th. 

 

Aquatic Center? Bullshit – pensioneer Jerry Hughes is just trying to get more money for CARD to pay to CalPERS

25 Sep

Monday night I attended a meeting called together by former Chico Area Recreation District General Manager Jerry Hughes, who also served quite a number of years on the CARD board after he retired from the manager position.  Hughes and his friends at Aquajets want an aquatic center, and they want the general public to pay for it through a bond or assessment on our homes.  But it was pretty clear – while they claim they will offer programs for the public, Aquajets private swim club will obviously be the main user of this facility.

And, one thing that hasn’t been talked about before the public – it looks like they will abandon Shapiro and Pleasant Valley pools altogether, having neglected them for so long they are now in need of major repair and ADA updating.  Staff tried to make it sound like it’s all because of ADA compliance – well, shouldn’t a public facility be ADA compliant? And shouldn’t they have been keeping up with the laws all along, instead of siphoning out all the money to pay their salaries, benefits and pension? 

I’ll tell you the funniest thing I saw that night – the little room was pretty packed, at least 40 people attended, at least 10 or 15 of them stood up to proclaim they wanted a pool, but I tell you what – no matter how Hughes and current General Manager Steve Visconti cajoled them, they mostly slipped out of that room without signing the list to be on the vetting committee.   As the room emptied, Hughes announced there were only two names on the list, one of which he was putting on it himself.

It’s official – the more money people have the more taxes they expect to get. You’ve seen this Downtown – our police department reminds me of this black bear I saw at the San Diego zoo – paw out front, mouth open – give me MORE!

Most of the people in the room were affiliated with Aquajets. I looked over the Aquajets website – you have to have quite a bit of dough if your kid wants to swing with this crowd – it’s not about your kid’s talent for swimming, if that’s what you think. It’s about raising enough money to pay their manager, a fellow named Brad.  Brad was the only one who willingly signed up for the committee. Boy, was he willing. 

Brad mentioned USA sports, a nationwide membership organization  that consults their fee-paying members –  local sports teams – and helps them get started. Brad said, that as part of Aquajets membership in this organization, they get consulting in these matters.   But former Chico Olympian Haley Cope Clark said, point blank, “we don’t want to let the public know right away about USA’s involvement…” She didn’t explain that, so I will – it means, Aquajets is taking over this project, period. Sorry, nudie girl, the public needs to know that point right off the bat.

The Aquajets are a non-profit with a paid director – why haven’t they garnered sponsors the way my kid’s hockey team did and build their own facility?   This NEVER came into the conversation.

Of course, Hughes was foxy – he never mentioned the bond or assessment – that was out of the conversation. But he made it clear, they want the public to pay for this thing, and they need to come up with an argument why we should. Cope and some others stressed the need to convince us that the place would be used for swim lessons and water safety training. Yeah, just like PV Pool, where we paid for stuff like that, having been dragged out at 7am on Saturday morning to stand in a line that snaked around the PV parking lot, to sign up and pay for the lessons, only to  be told at least once a session that we would not get our lesson that day because Aquajets was  commandeering the pool. 

Some old timers in the audience impatiently demanded to know, “why this effort didn’t go through in 1986″.    A couple of older Aquajets parents recalled that the public complained then about paying for something that would be used exclusively “by rich people.”  Well, duh, old man, how do you feel about welfare?  They didn’t seem to get that connection, expressing disgust, shock and embarrassment that the people of Chico were not willing to lay down money from their own kid’s college fund to pay for a tribute to rich people’s spoiled kids.  

The board discussed an aquatic center in 1986, and here’s the story Hughes told about it. “We had the meeting on the wrong night – Friday,” he explained.  He said, “people who didn’t want this to happen (the aquatic center)”  went out to bars at Happy Hour and dragged in a mob that shouted down the board. The board, he said, was intimidated by this mob and the discussion was ended. Never to be resurrected until now? 

I’ll say this – what a bullshit insulting story. I can’t stand being treated like an idiot.  Name names Jerry. Who “didn’t want this to happen”?  Who brought in a mob to disrupt a public meeting – that’s against the law.  And here’s the hum-dinger – you let this mob disrupt your meeting, tell you what you are allowed to discuss, and then you never attempted to agendize this issue again? 

Again, bullshit story. I was raised by a Texan Honey, you gonna have to do a little better than that!  Is this just a preview of what they are willing to pull out on anybody who opposes this Taj Majal idea?

At least maintenance director Jake Preston  continued to remind the audience, beyond paying to build this thing, they have to maintain it in the future. This is the dynamite point as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think Aquajets is big enough to support this thing, I  don’t even know how consistent their membership is, they don’t give out any information like that on their website. You never read about their events in the paper, nothing about fund raisers or anything like that. They expect to use this thing almost exclusively, but I sure don’t see them being able to maintain it.  Visconti also voiced his belief that rec programs shouldn’t pay for themselves. This is a man who expects the general public to keep him like a fat whore.

Read the article below, from less than a year ago, when Hughes and Mark Sweany stepped down from the CARD Board of Directors. They mention a bond, knowing that the RDA is history. Sweany expresses the opinion that CARD is not good at handling debt? So, they need a bond to pay off projects they’ve built, like the $900,000 they sunk into building and landscaping the CARD center back in 1975. I remember people being floored at spending that kind of money building one building. They made it a Taj Majal, looks like some rich guy’s hunting lodge in there with all the wood paneling and stone work.  Done on a piece of city property leased by CARD, that building is sadly underused. I think the fees are too high – when a friend of mine had a wedding there, she paid $400 for four hours, and you have to clean the place yourself, so she had to throw off her shoes and she and the groom and their families had to spend the last hour cleaning up  the joint. Of course everybody pitched in, but we all thought the time was a little short, and the money a little high. That was about 20 years ago. I have no idea what they charge now, I’m guessing it’s onerous, but I put in a request for information, we’ll see.

I think CARD is horribly mismanaged. They spend all their money on salaries, benefits and pensions for the staff who pay none of their own expenses. Then they cut hours on their employees, part time employees, so they are not eligible to get benefits. Finance director Scott Dowell says they will have to make more cuts when Obamacare takes effect next year (for businesses).  More cuts? How about cutting Dowell’s $96,000 a year salary. How about getting rid of Visconti all together – he doesn’t do anything but host meetings. The reports he gives are all made up of information he gets from Dowell and the other subordinates – why do we need to pay him $112,000 year, plus ALL his benefits and pension? 

These questions never game up. The whole evening was just an idea session about how they could get the public to pay for this thing. 

Below Hughes and Sweany discuss ” the reason that CARD exists — that is, to help the community with all kinds of leisure activities.”  I find it ironic that they’d already strayed from their mission by that time, and become a salary trough.

Toward the end of the meeting, Hughes discussed timing on this thing. They don’t think they can put a bond on the 2014 ballot, because they’re waiting for the dirt to settle on a series of constitutional amendments that are slithering through the state legislature right now, amendments that will lower the voting threshold for local tax measures from 66 2/3 to 55 percent.   Hughes said that if these amendments are successfully implemented over the next few months, they might put a bond or assessment on the ballot for 2014, but more likely they will shoot for 2016. 

These people have been plotting and planning to throw their financial malfeasance off on the public for the last couple of years as they’ve systematically jacked up their salaries. Don’t forget  – Hughes gets a pension for his years as manager, but I’m guessing, it’s chump change compared to Visconti’s $112,000/year. Still, Hughes knows, just like Tom Lando, that continued payment of his pension depends on agencies like CARD continuing to make their $300 – 400,000 a year in pension payments, as well as the occasional half-million dollar interest payoff.  They can’t do that without more taxes from us.

 

http://www.chicoer.com/ci_22207098/chico-recreation-directors-talk-about-their-multi-year

Chico recreation directors talk about their multi-year spans

By LAURA URSENY-Staff Writer

POSTED:   12/16/2012 10:34:17 PM PST
Click photo to enlarge

Mark Sweany (left) and Jerry Hughes prepare for a CARD board meeting on Nov. 15.(Jason…

CHICO — Two longtime directors on the Chico Area Recreation and Park District board said they didn’t run for re-election in order to make room for new voices.But both were proud of their legacies on the board, which honored them in November for their service.

Jerry Hughes served on the board for four years, but had been the recreation district’s general manager for nearly 20 years before that. He held the gavel as chair for the past year.

Mark Sweany served for more than 16 years, and said it was “time for a life. CARD was an easy branch of government, but politics can be all-consuming.”

Both said they ran for their seats because they thought they could help out.

When he was hired for the CARD general manager’s position in 1972, Hughes already had been involved in recreation for the city of San Jose since 1957.

Of his accomplishments, Hughes mentioned construction of the Chico Community Center at 545 Vallombrosa Ave., where CARD’s office is, along with classrooms and a general hall that are busy with weddings, assemblies and meetings.

Hughes said he helped facilitate meetings with neighbors who might have opposed the community center, but gave it their support. Hughes felt the effort resulted in a stunning, landscaped building in 1975 for $900,000.

Community Park, off East 20th Street, was another project that turned an empty field into the biggest developed park in Chico at the time.

Hughes recalled many meetings and phone calls that resulted in the trade of numerous government- and privately-owned properties that would leave Chico with a big field to develop into a park for the community, as well as for nearby Chapman School.

What he really appreciated about the project was the large community support — from volunteer workers to city hall cooperation.

Sweany was initially attracted to CARD because of the community effort to create an aquatic center.

Sweany said he was always interested in how projects were funded.

“That’s the key with any small local government, you can’t run up a huge amount of debt.”

CARD is a special district, funded in part by a portion of property taxes within the Chico area.

Sweany says the board is always looking at ways to save tax dollars, such as privatization of some recreation-linked tasks like landscaping and maintenance.

The financial future of CARD, with redevelopment funding disappearing and talk of a bond issue still in the early stages, is an area Sweany said needs watching.

“CARD is good at not incurring bad debt — projects it’s invested in like a big lawn mower, lighting at Hooker Oak ball field, solar panels at Community Park — have been wisely made. “It would be nice to wipe out debt completely.”

Happy with the way DeGarmo Park has developed, Sweany said there’s “a long way to go” on the park next to Shasta School, off The Esplanade.

Sweany notes it’s not only the cost of creating a project, but what further costs are in terms of replacement and maintenance.

“It’s not about building the building. It’s got to have staff, be maintained …”

Asked about advice for the new board members, Sweany said, “They need to be careful what they think their income is. There’s a danger of losing property tax money. With the housing inventory as it is, there’s less property tax coming to CARD. That and money from programs are the biggest income streams.

“If property tax drops, there will be some serious questions to ask,” Sweany said.

Hughes said, “Honor the reason that CARD exists — that is, to help the community with all kinds of leisure activities.”

Sweany said he feels the need for a second dog park should be considered. CARD opened the first dog park in Chico at DeGarmo.

Hughes and Sweany both recognized the staff.

“Sometimes we take them for granted. They’re tremendous,” Hughes said.

As general manager, Hughes said he was afforded extra insight into what the staff goes through, not to mention the efforts put in by volunteers and board members.

“Our staff made us look good,” Sweany said. “It’s an amazing group of people. Sometimes there’s conflict between labor and management. Even when we all weren’t in agreement, everyone pulled together for the community,” Sweany said.

Chico voters only had two choices to replace Hughes and Sweany, electing Tom Lando and Michael Worley for the posts. They will be seated this month.

Additionally, retired Chico State University administrator Herman Ellis was appointed by the board to fill the post left vacant by former board member Fred Brooks, who resigned after the election deadline had occurred.

Own our water?

25 Sep

Thanks again to Connie Walczak of Marysville for Reasonable Water Rates – it looks like the office of Ratepayer Advocate is looking into the water rate hikes, and we might not have to bite as big a bullet as we thought. 

But here’s something to think about – owning our own water? Read Lou Binninger’s article below, shared from the Marysville for Reasonable Water Rates Facebook page and the Territorial Dispatch out of Marysville. You should check out the TD, here’s the link:

http://www.territorialdispatch.com/

From Connie:

Below is an article in todays Territorial Dispatch, written by Lou Binninger. Please keep in mind that right now there are various percentages floating around for the proposed Cal Water increases for Marysville. Nothing has been confirmed.

This article provides a lot of food for thought.
Please share this article.

Local Water War Looming, by Lou Binninger, from the Territorial Dispatch
In the 1990s, former prosecutor Stephen Goldsmith became mayor of Indianapolis, a city that was blighted and broke. Goldsmith put city services out for competitive bid, cut costs, improved performance, reduced taxes four times and presided over $1.5 billion of infrastructure improvements in 8 years.


Today, Marysville and Yuba County could use some Stephen Goldsmiths. The city council and county supervisors have either been asleep or confused on how to govern. The latest example is water. With water everywhere in the county, Marysville residents are paying costs like it is in short supply.

Over the last 9 years, California Water Service (CW) increased its rate 133.7%. CW is proposing additional annual increases of 18.4% in 2014, 20.1% in 2015 and 9.4% in 2016.
Not once did any government official question or show concern for the increased demands on public and private coffers for water use.

While running out of money and shedding employees, Yuba County supervisors were oblivious. However, their water bill for county facilities in Marysville was $133,351 (FY 2012/2013) and going to be $167,064 as new rates take effect? If a supervisor paid that water bill for a personal business, he wouldn’t be sleeping at night. It’s always easier to spend someone else’s money.

Marysville City Council’s answer to the increases? Turn off the water to parks and allow hundreds of volunteer-planted trees to die. Former supervisor and city councilman Bill Simmons said it isn’t the first time the city has allowed trees planted by volunteers to perish. Bounce Backward?

In April after a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) meeting here, it was three nonpolitical East Marysville ladies who said “enough already” to the rate increases. Elected officials yawned.

City resident Connie Walczak then filed an official complaint with the CPUC about the “ridiculous water rates.” CW defends those rates as needed to replace aging pipes and to comply with water regulations. They cite other costs like health care, pension commitments, shareholder dividends and personnel benefits to attract competent employees. Walczak responds, “Good work if you can get it, but what about the high rates?” She contends that Yuba City, Linda and Olivehurst all provide the same quality water for about half the cost.

The City of Marysville can find no agreement on file for CW to have a water monopoly. CW advertises that they have been here for 83-years. If that is true, then why do they blame the condition of the water system for raising the rates? Whatever the rates have been, they should have kept the infrastructure in top shape. That is their job.

Utilities are guaranteed an 8%-10% return on investment by the CPUC. In addition, utilities can over spend and then ask for additional monies. Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) found that CW has overspent its budget 25%-116% every year from 2002-2011. “CW has exhibited no desire to control costs or improve efficiency. This is a blatant disregard for the budgeting process.” The problem is that Marysville residents are picking up the tab.

So what is the alternative? The CPUC’s monitoring of utilities is broken. There is no way the public can sustain an ongoing fight against constant increases. The option the citizens of Felton (near Santa Cruz) chose was buying out the water company.
They put an initiative on the ballot to raise the money for the purchase. The measure passed with 75% of the vote. The people forced the private water company to sell via the threat of eminent domain. They contracted with a nearby municipal water district to manage the system.

Voters chose to accept a property tax increase of up to $600 per year for 30 years. However, the average citizen’s water bill decreased by at least 50%. Even with the tax increase, most residents are already saving as much as $400 per year overall.
Unhappy Marysville citizens have been networking through the “Facebook” page “Marysville for Reasonable Water Rates.” With the page getting thousands of hits a day this is a movement nearly void of elected leaders. John Maxwell says, “If you think you are a leader and no one is following, you’re just out for a walk.”

Politicians have created today’s Marysville. A different future would take a citizen uprising. The question is will people act or relocate.

From Howard Jarvis Association: Bills that threaten homeowners, renters, and small businesses are moving through the legislature – contact your representatives NOW. And then do it again and again until they get the message.

24 Sep

The most important thing I learned at the CARD meeting last night was, there are constitutional amendments advancing through the state legislature that will lower the threshold of votes needed to RAISE YOUR TAXES for stuff other people want, like a fancy aquatic center for Aquajets.   Jerry Hughes, the former CARD director who called the meeting, said they will probably hold off efforts to get this bond they want on our property taxes until  they see how these amendments fare in the legislature.

Excuse me – I don’t know if I made this point when I posted this earlier – we don’t get to vote on these amendments – the Democrat-controlled legislature is expected to  pass them, making it will be easier for our local governments and districts like CARD  and CUSD to flop a bond or assessment on our homes. We have to CONTACT OUR LEGISLATORS.

I’ll post a separate report about that meeting last night, but I’d like to tell everybody now, this below is what’s important in Election 2014, and this will likely be the focus for the Chico Taxpayers Association.

Our next meeting, by the way, has been scheduled for the SECOND SUNDAY, Oct. 13, hope to see you there.

From Howard Jarvis Tax Association:

http://www.hjta.org/legislative/major-threats-proposition-13-and-homeowners

Bills That Threaten Homeowners and Small Businesses Are Starting to Move Through the Legislature!

The new Legislature is dominated by pro-tax politicians, and bills, that undermine the taxpayer protections in Proposition 13, have been introduced and are starting to be heard in committee. If approved, these bills could cost every property owner thousands of dollars.

On May 15th, six of these bills that directly undercut various provisions of Proposition 13 (SCA 3, 4, 7, 8, 9 and 11) were heard in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. Despite strong testimony from HJTA these were approved on a party-line vote (Democrats in favor). The battle now shifts to the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee. While the bills have not yet been set for a hearing, they could be taken up at any time. We will continue to alert you promptly regarding these and other threats to Proposition 13.

An additional two bills, Assembly Constitutional Amendments 3 and 8, also diminish Proposition 13’s protections. These have not been set for a hearing yet.

THE FOLLOWING BILLS PUT A BULL’S-EYE ON PROPOSITION 13 AND TAXPAYERS:

Senate Constitutional Amendment 3 (SCA 3), Mark Leno (D—San Francisco): Lowers the threshold for school district per-parcel property taxes from two-thirds to 55%. This is a direct assault on Proposition 13 because it makes it easier to increase property taxes above Proposition 13’s one percent cap.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 4 (SCA 4), Carol Liu (D—La Canada) andSenate Constitutional Amendment 8 (SCA 8), Ellen Corbett (D—San Leandro): Lowers the threshold for the imposition, extension or increase of local transportation special taxes from the Proposition 13-mandated two-thirds vote to 55%. Most transportation special tax increases consist of very regressive sales tax hikes. These add to the burden of California taxpayers who already pay the highest state sales tax in the nation.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 7 (SCA 7), Lois Wolk (D—Davis): Lowers the threshold from two-thirds to 55% in order to approve a bond to fund public library facilities. Lowering the threshold for school facilities to 55% has already resulted in billions of dollars of additional property tax payments that otherwise would not have been approved by voters.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 9 (SCA 9), Ellen Corbett (D—San Leandro): Lowers the threshold from two-thirds to 55% to increase special taxes to fund community and economic development projects.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 11 (SCA 11), Loni Hancock (D—Berkeley): Lowers the threshold to 55% to allow for voters representing ANY local government entity to approve a special tax for ANY purpose. This is far and away the broadest application, and thus the most egregious, of these constitutional amendments.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 3 (ACA 3), Nora Campos (D—San Jose): Lowers the threshold to 55% for voters within cities, counties and special districts to approve EITHER a local bond measure or a special tax in order to fund emergency service facilities projects including police and fire services.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8 (ACA 8), Bob Blumenfield (D—Woodland Hills): Lowers the threshold to 55% for city and county voters to approve a local bond measure in order to fund emergency service facilities projects.

CARD still stumping for a property tax increase to pay for Taj Majal aquatic center for Chico Aquajets

23 Sep

You might have read the story in the Enterprise Record about Chico Area Recreation District’s special meeting called tonight to discuss motivating the public to put a bond or assessment on their homes to pay for a new aquatic center.  I knew this aquatic center bullshit wasn’t over, I’ve been waiting to see what their next move would be. Apparently they’re wheeling in Old Mister Dunder to rally the troups.

Jerry Hughes was director of CARD for 20 years, and served a stint on the board.  Assuming credit for the building of the CARD center on Vallombrosa against the protests of the neighbors, Hughes has been dusted off and brought in to exert his formidable power of persuasion over us lackluster money bags. 

CARD did a survey earlier this year, spending a chunk of their dwindling finances on a consultant who came back with a vote of no confidence from the people of Chico. Respondents, according  to the consultant’s report, were  concerned about the economy, recent revenue measures (school bond E; increase in CA sales tax), and government spending.”

CARD board member Tom Lando reacted to this news claiming he’d gotten a positive response on his sales tax increase survey, but as far as I know, he never shared the results of this survey publicly, and I have not heard another word about it. He never even got it on an agenda, it just comes up in the idle chatter during the meeting. I often wonder if the other board members refuse to talk about stuff like that in public, they just seem to turn away from Lando when he starts talking about it.

So now Hughes has come/been brought forward, saying he’d been waiting for years to get an aquatic center, and that the board ought to lay aside all their other projects to pursue building this monument to the private Aquajets swim club.

Funny thing – this meeting was not noticed on the CARD website as of this morning, they got their pet reporter Laura Urseny to slide in a quick bit about it in yesterday’s paper. Says they sent out invitations? Yeah, it’s for Aquajets, they will get priority to use it, just like they were allowed to kick out kids who’d paid for swim lessons or rec swim over at PV pool.  We’d just be told – “you have to leave now, Aquajets has a meet.” If we had swim lessons, our teacher would usually warn us the day before that we would be paying for a lesson we would not receive.  But they didn’t even warn us during the rec swim, no sign, nothing.  They let us pay, time and time again, and swim for half an hour,  then we got told to leave.  Period.  They acted as though Aquajets owned the pool and that we were just being allowed to use it as some sort of social welfare program. So, it hardly surprises me they hope have a private little meeting with their peanut gallery about how to screw the rest of us to get what they want.

How they expect to finance it is one thing – how they will maintain it is another question. Pleasant Valley Pool was never maintained properly while we were there, it degraded right in front of our eyes. One day I overheard a contractor telling the head lifeguard that a crack in the bottom of the pool was allowing too much seepage. Not only was water being wasted but it was hard to keep the pool at a comfortable temperature on all but the hottest days. Aquajets was complaining! I heard the contractor tell the lifeguard it would cost about $2500. That’s it, $2500, to fix this crack, and make PV pool functional again. The kid told me later, CARD did not approve the repair, too much money? 

Aquajets left because of this. They now train at In Motion Fitness, which is great for IMF’s bottom line, if not great for their other customers. Don’t try to use the pool at In Motion on Thursday or Friday afternoons.

I notice Aquajets have no sponsors posted on their website. I can’t believe they don’t have some sponsors – if only the businesses of the parents whose kids are on the team. My kid’s hockey league proudly boasts their sponsors on their website here:

http://nvhsc.org/Sponsors.asp?n=62270&org=nvhsc.org

My son’s hockey league tried to get a facility here in town, in fact, they tried to work with CARD. Unfortunately, CARD often works with Cal Skate, and therefore felt that another facility would create undue competition for their friends, turning the hockey kids away. They didn’t understand – the facility at Cal Skate is not adequate for real hockey, not for kids over about age 10. The rink is concrete, the walls are concrete – I watched a boy break his arm there, running into the wall during play, just as simple as that.   The league had been given a real rink by UC Davis, their used rink. It is modular, can be take apart and set back up. There is a “sport court” floor to cover the concrete, like all the rinks in other towns we play. The rink is much bigger than the floor at Cal Skate, and the walls give when a kid runs into them. This rink made it possible for our kids to compete in other towns, and better yet – invite other teams to their rink. 

Aquajets, in past, has tried to say they bring millions and millions of tourist dollars to town for one of their meets. I suspected this wasn’t true, but now that I’ve had experience with the hockey league, I know it’s not true.  Our family is by far the lowest income family in our league. Most of the others are a lot better off, but they’re just the same kind of people as us – just because they have money doesn’t mean they blow it out their asses. When we go to a tournament in another town, their league does everything they can to get us to stay at hotels in town. They offer us a discount on our team fee – but this is usually chump change compared to what we save at the hotel by going online and getting our own deals. Some of the families have multiple kids playing, and have to stay up to a week at a time. They bring motor homes if it’s close enough, but if they have to stay in a motel, they do everything they can to save money.  Some don’t stay at all  – we have a couple of families that commute everywhere anyway, and have no problem driving in the wee hours, taking turns sleeping, etc. 

 There is a two week tournament in Southern California, depending on how many kids you got playing, you could get stuck there the whole two weeks. There is nothing cheap in this tourist town, but luckily, there’s a campground with reasonable rates. Some bring their motor homes, my husband and son opted for a little bungalow with bunk beds.   It’s not the kind of place we’d plan a vacation – for such a spendy, elitist town, it’s still a cramped in shit hole, just has more expensive stuff.  But, since they spend most of their time at the rink, they don’t care.  

We do enjoy a tournament or two in San Jose. What we think of as “San Jose” is really a collection of once charming little towns, like Sebastopol. We stay at a nice hotel – the Hayes Mansion, their version of Bidwell Mansion, and still open to the public for special events. But we eat there, ain’t worth leaving the grounds to look for a restaurant. We usually get a nice dinner there, but we live out of our cooler the rest of the time.

Another town we like is Pleasant Hill.  One of those towns you can say, “a nice place to visit, but Hell No! I wouldn’t live there.” Nice to eat out, nice to shop cheap, but cars are the dominant life force. It’s nothing but a big mini-mall along the freeway, which roars incessantly right outside our motel room window. But, it’s a good area to do your Christmas shopping, especially if you don’t mind getting on the freeway to visit other towns like Campbell. Campbell is one big mall. They have the biggest sporting good store I have ever seen, a whole room just for snow sports, so big you have to say, “Dick Who?”

And, when we were buying our last car, we found, even though the sales tax is higher in the Bay Area, their prices are so much lower than Chico, we could afford to pay the higher sales tax and still hit Jack’s for dinner, pull out all the stops, order whatever we want off the menu. 

http://www.jacksrestaurants.com/

They got meatloaf there, I don’t care what your mother did to meatloaf, these guys know how to do meatloaf. 

But, I doubt my little family, or any of the families in our league, make a blip on the radar in these towns, and if you think the Aquajets are really responsible for any TOT in Chico, you might ask for endorsement from the local hotels.

And look at their website – see how much they expect you to pay, and then your kid has to participate in fund raisers – a “minimum” of $50 raised. That means, Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and all the relatives are expected to kick in for every fundraiser.  And the kids who raise a lot of money get prizes, t-shirts, totes, etc, to show everybody who brings in the most money. Ever had a kid from Aquajets knock at your door, or assail you at the entrance to a grocery store? No, they hold private fundraisers, it’s the families who chuck in most of the dough. They don’t want your little snot nosed brat in their league, if you can’t afford to swing with them, your kid isn’t good enough. 

I thought our hockey fees were expensive, but the league found ways for the kids to do work at the rink to offset their fees. All this from a volunteer finance manager, a great guy named Mike Hislop. Mike has done the books for our league for years without compensation, figuring out what each kid owes, based on practices and tournaments attended. When one kid’s parents wouldn’t let him attend a tournament because his grades had slipped, Mike cut his fees to show the league approved of the parents’ decision. The rest of the kids all chipped in more to cover it. 

When the league couldn’t get a building in Chico, they went to a warehouse in Hamilton City. I don’t know how that worked, but I know our league president Jeff Novak is a tireless and enthusiastic guy who loves to play hockey with his kids. Jeff is also responsible for a lot of our sponsors – even got Pepsi!  We sure needed the money. The warehouse had been used for sugar beet processing, the floor had tracks that came in off the railroad track so train cars could be brought into the building. The floor was the first hurdle, and the dads and kids worked so hard for most of a year. If they hadn’t taken pictures, nobody would believe it. They fixed up the place, set up the rink and the tile floor – all of which was used, had sat in a barn for years, covered with owl plop. They pitched right in and cleaned it, what a job in that cold warehouse.  Besides my husband and a couple of other general contractors, none of these dads had any experience doing this stuff. It was new to everybody really. My husband had to do research online to figure out how to fill the pits in the floor – and at first, it didn’t look like it was working, they just had to keep trying, have faith.

Glenn County treated the league better than City of Chico or CARD, coming up with about $30,000 in grant money to do required code work. All of that money went into the building. 

A lot of faith went into that building. I would say it is holier than most churches.  When I hear these Aquajets bastards howling for tax money, I just want to stuff a pair of Speedo’s in their mouths. 

But, let’s not forget the dilemma CARD is in right now. An aquatic center? They can’t even staff the programs they have now, having had to cut their workers to less than 28 hours a week to avoid paying Obamacare on anybody.  Of course their fulltime staffers all make in excess of $50,000, their director taking home $112,000/year and finance director $96,000/year.  And here’s the sticker – NONE of them PAY ANYTHING TOWARD THEIR PENSIONS.  See page 24 of that audit report linked above.  Regular pension payments average about $300,000 a year.   Staff also takes reimbursement for unused vacation and sick time – about $153,000 in 2009, the latest figure I found. 

I would say the board also makes some pretty questionable spending decisions – a five year non-cancellable lease on a copier and a postage machine cost them about $75,000? They also transfer money fairly regularly from the Park Development fund to the General Fund to pay down debts, like the $400,000 “side fund payoff” they made to CalPERS last year. That is in addition to their regular payment mentioned above. 

The board also spends a lot of money on consultants – for example, services and supplies fund went 5% over budget due to “special contracted services for grant writing and board consulting.”  Frankly, at $96,000 a year plus fully paid benefits and pension, finance officer Dowell should be perfectly capable of writing grants.  As for consultants – here they just paid SCI Consulting out of Fairfield to run their duplicitous survey last spring.   I think they paid about $15,000, judging from a similar survey run last year in the city of Belmont California,  only  to be told that the voters would not support a bond or assessment, one reason cited being “GOVERNMENT SPENDING”.   But they’re still pursuing a tax increase to pay for an aquatic center?

I think that’s funny, but not ha-ha funny.  It’s pretty clear, Hughes and the board are out of touch with reality. They’re in touch with the Aquajets –  determined to make the general public pay to build a temple to special privilege. 

So, I will have to go down to the CARD center tonight to see what I can find out.  I’ll keep you posted. 

The fist puppets Downtown – manipulated from behind closed doors

21 Sep

Our town is broken, anarchy reigns. I used to think it might be fun to be an anarchist, but this really sucks.

I don’t know if you ever read Woody Allen’s short essay “A Brief Yet Helpful Guide to Civil Disobedience.” Allen discusses various tactics to annoy the shit out of government.  I know this may sound like a ripping good time, but I frankly prefer accomplishing something more practical. 

For years a lot of us have worked for more transparency in our city government. Not just because we’re nosy control freaks, but because we know, when you allow something to fester and rot behind a curtain you will certainly be left cleaning up a big mess when that curtain finally falls.

For a while, thanks in part to former councilor Larry Wahl,  the city website was usable by citizens who wanted to keep tabs but can’t walk away from their job or household responsibilities to go to these run-away meetings.  The committee meetings are shorter and better run, but held during most people’s work day. The council meetings are onerous – poorly agendized, time thrown out the door on stupid proclamations, trendy theology and off-topic chatter that goes out the door and around the block.  These meetings are more of a circus, a performance event, everything is scripted ahead of time.  Council all know how they will vote, they’re privvy to reports and communications from staff that we don’t get.  This stuff used to be more available on the website, for anybody, but lately it’s been hard to get anything out of staff, and more stuff is being taken behind closed doors, via memos and reports that the public never sees. 

Here’s an interesting story from Mary over at Truth Matters Chico:

http://truthmatterschico.com/2013/09/20/minutes-edited-to-cover-nakamuras-snow-job/

There she describes a report that was handed to council and some hard copies made available to the public, but none of it was recorded in the minutes or read into the video. It was never made available or mentioned on the website. This indicates to me that plenty of stuff goes on Downtown almost completely out of the public oversight. You have to be a fulltime council watcher to keep up with this stuff, and they know nobody can do that, not even Stephanie Taber. 

I attended the August Economic Development committee meeting, during which there was a discussion regarding future agendizing and scheduling of meetings for that committee.  Brian Nakamura has suggested dumping that committee a couple of times now because he says he doesn’t have enough staff to cover it. Shawn Tillman has supposedly been taking notes, but there’s no reports available on the website. Last meeting, they decided, I  thought, to change the schedule to include regular committee meetings, meetings at which the committee could “act” on various agenda items (make recommendations to staff or council), in alternative months, and then in between these meetings they would have what they called “listening meetings” with various local businesses. The “listening meetings” were to take place at various businesses around town. 

I told them the “listening meetings” sounded like opportunities for the business community to lobby the council, and that would be really inappropriate if the public were not included. They all agreed. The committee – Gruendl, Sorensen and Morgan – as well as Katie Simmons from Chico Chamber of Commerce and Audrey Taylor of Chabin Concepts (gets CBGF money) all acknowledged the Brown Act and the rules governing their activities as a committee. But I don’t believe they were sincere. Shawn Tillman, the staffer attached to the committee, said later he didn’t think it would be necessary to notice the “listening meetings” to the public, and frankly, if I hadn’t been there, I think that would have been the end of it.  I spoke up right away and said that would NOT be okay, that they needed to notice the same list of people who’d signed up to be noticed for the “regular” meetings. Tillman repeated what I said as though he was just told to eat a bowl of his own poop. Gruendl and the rest of the committee gave their lackluster affirmative.

They said the first “regular” meeting would be this month, on schedule, but just the other day I got the cancellation. They’d also said at the last meeting that the retail survey the city sponsored in part would be introduced at the October “listening meeting,” which was quickly metamorphosing into a series of workshops for Downtown businesses. I wondered, how will the public be included in that? Sounds like a Chamber event. But Katie Simmons made it clear that she’d be announcing that survey publicly, and the public would be welcome. She wouldn’t give me the details, she was pretty stubborn about that. 

Because they don’t want the public in those workshops, Dummass! At an earlier meeting, Tillman gleefully explained that the survey was going to show them “we’re not taking full advantage of the student population…” Wow, don’t be afraid to offend anybody Shawn, just blurt it out! Take advantage? As the mother of two college age people, I had to do a double take there.  And, it offended me as a consumer – here my city just used my tax dollars to help DOWNTOWN businesses find out how to better take advantage of my  college age kid, not to mention, my whole family. 

When I got the notice of cancellation for this month’s meeting last week, I replied to Tillman, including Gruendl and Sorensen, reminding them I’d asked to be noticed of all events scheduled for this committee, including the “listening meetings.” I also asked about the retail survey and whether the workshops would be open to the public. I didn’t get any response for two days, so I re-sent. This time I got an auto response from Tillman – he was out three days last week, won’t be back til Monday.  And, I got  this response from Gruendl. 

“The presentation of the retail market study will be at the October 15 city Council meeting at 6:30 PM. Instead of a September economic development committee meeting there will be an economic development committee meeting on its regular day in October on the fourth Wednesday at the regular time. “

Sure, they’d noticed me about the September meeting being cancelled, but when did they change their minds about the “listening” meeting in October? I’m assuming this was done in a discussion behind closed doors or on the phone or via e-mail with Katie Simmons.  And now we’ll see the survey, I guess, but we won’t be invited in on the Chamber activities.  

Simmons made a point to say, several times at the August meeting, that she’d be including the public in more of these business meetings that she schedules regularly with members of city staff and council. If you watch the Chamber website, you’ll see, these events are open to the public, at a charge, averaging $20 a pop. Or, you can just force your way in to the free business luncheons that she schedules over at the old Muni building. She can’t really say no if there’s a member of staff or a council member involved. Brian Nakamura speaks regularly at these meetings, including a meeting at which he disclosed that he was currently considering negotiating with Cal Fire to take over the fire duties of the city.  That conversation never went public, but it sure motivated acting Chief Carter to dump structural overtime and change the schedules at his fire stations.  You’d think that would have been a public conversation, but it was all handled behind closed doors with an “exclusive membership audience.” 

I did make one meeting, but it was a total pain in the ass, right in the middle of my work day I have to get cleaned up and change my clothes and forego my lunch to be spoon fed crap – no thanks.  They all know me anyway – the conversation is always different when I’m in the room – abbreviated, lots of body language and facial gestures. It’s always fun to get ahold of somebody who’s never heard of me, stupid enough to give me straight answers. That only happens once. 

Some of these people – and I’ll admit, some of them I know personally – really believe it’s okay to have secrets from the public. Makes them feel special, like one of the “in” crowd.   They think some information should be privileged.  That seems to be the going attitude Downtown these days. 

From Truth Matters Chico: Mayor Gruendl threatens to release personnel files – why is he so desperate to shut these people up?

19 Sep

The following is a repost from Truth Matters Chico, with permission from Mary. Read more discussion at

http://truthmatterschico.com/2013/09/19/mayor-gruendl-threatens-to-release-personnel-files/

Mayor Gruendl threatens to release personnel files

Posted by 

In today’s Chico News & Review, Bob Speer writes of our interaction with the Mayor during September 17 Business from the Floor, wherein we exposed his recent Facebook rant:

Interviewed after the meeting, the mayor was unapologetic, though he acknowledged he may have been “a little over the top.” Obviously frustrated by what he called a “cover your ass” effort on the women’s part, he said they’d waived their right to employee confidentiality and threatened to reveal embarrassing things from their personnel files.

We will be addressing the entirety of the article shortly; however, we wanted to get this out to you right away. Every person who has a personnel file at a prior employer should be outraged.

Again we ask, why is it so important that the Mayor silence us? Could it be that, although we have only exposed the tip of the iceberg, he knows what lies beneath the surface? Could it be that, as the longest-seated member of the Council, his prior words and voting record would reveal that he contributed to the City’s current financial situation? Does he want to stop us before we reveal a truth he does not want to acknowledge?

This behavior is frightening. It is an abuse of power for a government official to assault private citizens and attempt to quash their right to free speech. Only your voices can stop this out-of-control official. Please attend Council meetings and be heard, or write your Councilors and demand that they cease their efforts to silence dissenting opinions. Remember, the next person who disagrees with the Mayor could be you or someone you love.

If you did not see the Mayor’s Facebook rant, it is here:

2013-09-06_Mayor Scott Gruendl_FB

The entire Chico News & Review article can be found here:

http://www.newsreview.com/chico/on-the-chopping-block/content?oid=11501932

As always, we thank you for your readership and encourage your comments.

Remember, Truth Matters, Chico!

GRUENDL_CHICOER