Archive | March, 2015

Time for some “healthy skepticism”

31 Mar

I had some healthy questions about the claims being made by consultant Randy Cohen in a presentation to the mayor,

http://www.chicoer.com/general-news/20150330/economic-impact-study-reports-arts-employ-451-people-in-chico

but was unable to attend the presentation. So, I sent Cohen an e-mail:

First Name: Juanita
> Last Name: Sumner
> Email: Juanita Sumner
> Area of Interest/Concern: Meetings & Events
> Subject: presentation for Chico, Monday March 30 2015
> Message:
> Hi,
>
> I can’t make the presentation you are giving the city of Chico on Monday
> (March 30) and have some questions about the survey. Am I to understand that
> this survey was anecdotal, or was data such as financial records made
> available? Where can I see the specific data for Chico?

Cohen answered my inquiry very quickly.  He seemed offended by my use of the word “anecdotal,” which means, based on personal observation, case study reports, or random investigations rather than systematic scientific evaluation.”

Randy Cohen (rcohen@artsusa.org)3/27/15

To: Juanita Sumner
 
Anecdotal?? I hope that is not the rumor working around town. It’s based totally on data collected from local arts organizations and their audiences which is then pumped into an econometric input-output analysis model done by our economist from Georgia Tech’s School of Economics. 

It will be released next week. The report would be available then I would expect (since I’ll be presenting the findings next week).

Thanks for your inquiry, Juanita, and sorry you can’t attend the presentations.

Best,

Randy 

data collected from local arts organizations and their audiences which is then pumped into an econometric input-output analysis model done by our economist from Georgia Tech’s School of Economics. ”  Fancy words for “anecdotal”.  

I tried to be nice. This guy claims “the arts” generate hundreds of jobs and bring money into our community, city and county, millions of dollars. That is a claim, so I asked him for numbers to back it up.

Thanks for your prompt reply.   I got a copy of your outline from Chico city staff, and what I’m looking for are financial reports that support your data.  Given the figures you are presenting, surveys, hearsay, are not enough.  

For example, the race track here in town can give figures based on receipts from the motels and restaurants that support their claims that they bring a few million a year into town. You are claiming a lot more than that, but I’m not seeing the same kind of reports. It looks like fluff to me. 

Did you receive or your organization receive any financial compensation for this presentation?

Thanks for your time, Juanita Sumner

Ask a simple question – I’m honestly sorry I said “fluff,” I should have said “anecdotal“, but I was trying to be honest. Be too honest, and you get this –

I appreciate a healthy skepticism, Juanita. I’d suggest you read the report next week. This survey methodology has been used for years and been vetted by banks, White House Council of Economic Advisors, and biz/elected leaders across the country. 

Sincerely,Randy

See how he sidestepped the compensation issue? I’m saying, a guy like this doesn’t just hop out here from Maryland, where he lives, for no compensation. His tone tells me there’s plenty of money in this somewhere, and I’d bet my last $5 it was public money at one point. 

I’m not saying arts don’t contribute to our economy. I have a friend who is employed full-time at a longtime screen print company. They just expanded, meaning, more employees. They make mostly t-shirts, with clip art really, but my friend has learned to use technology that has helped him found his own small business and further his own original artistic endeavors. He makes a nice salary and has decent health benefits, which he pays for himself. He pays rent and buys groceries and supplies locally, so in this way his art contributes to our economy.

But I am skeptical about Cohen’s claims of an ultimate $17 million plus a year being pumped in, and I wonder how many of those 451 jobs pay a liveable wage, or offer upward mobility? I wonder how many of those 451 people have good enough insurance to get them into Enloe Hospital.  

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CARD approves hiring of consultant to vet aquatic center to public

28 Mar

Last week I attended CARD’s monthly board meeting to hear the agendized report regarding the aquatic center committee. I have been trying to get into the committee meetings, have been told I’d be noticed for any meetings scheduled, but they keep telling me there haven’t been any meetings. So, how do they come up with these reports on every agenda? That’s the beauty of “ad hoc” Folks – that’s Latin,  for “hide what you’re doing with public money from the public…”

The board received a report from Chico Aquajets manager Brad Geiss – “on behalf of [former CARD general manager] Jerry Hughes…”  It was more of a demand, really, that the board hire a consultant to sell the aquatic center to the public. This was supposed to be Aquajets’ job, but Geiss was very adamant – they want the board to spend $26,000 of the taxpayers’ money on a consultant to shove a tax assessment down the taxpayers’ throats.  The board voted unanimously to do so, even though Tom Lando tried his best to act disinterested.

At a previous meeting, the board said Aquajets would take care of selling this idea to the public. Have you heard a peep out of Aquajets? Laura Urseny won’t even use their name in connection to this bad dog, referring to them as a “local swim group.” There are no other local “swim groups.”   They’ve discussed the connotation at previous meetings, one Aquajets grandparent complaining that the public feels they will be paying for the privileges of others. Well, that’s the truth, isn’t it Grandpa? Aquajets doesn’t even have as many members as the Bocce Ball club, but they expect the taxpayers to lay out $10 million PLUS for a private swim center. 

I also found out they’ve been taking proposals, which haven’t been made public. I asked CARD employee Jennifer Marciales for various documents presented to the board, all of which are supposed to be available to the public at the meetings. It was like pulling teeth – they aren’t forthcoming, you have to go over everything with a fine-toothed comb to see what else they’ve been withholding, and ask for that too. When I asked her for too many documents she turned me over to Robert Hinderer, who sent me documents that can’t be cut-and-paste.

What he sent me are proposals for this job of coming up with a design and then telling the public how bad they want it. Here you go:

3-9-15 Jerry Hughes Document

The other documents he sent won’t post, I’ll work on it.  Or, you should write to Robert Hinderer at rhinderer@chicorec.com and ask for the information, which is supposed to be available to the public. These people are making plans for millions in taxpayer dollars, and they aren’t even being up front about it. 

They still won’t talk in front of the public about the assessment they are planning to pursue, not since that meeting I attended over a year ago at which Jerry Hughes told everybody they should wait until the legislature lowered the voting threshold for a tax assessment from 2/3’s to 51 percent. I think that’s insidious.

From “Future Community Aquatic Center Comments” – When we have a preliminary plan and cost estimates ( which is what you see above) we can start planning how we will promote the project to the community…The survey [which came back negative according to the consultant] suggested two methods to fund the project; Special Tax and Benefit Assessment. We will review those two methods at the meeting [this was when Hughes told the audience about the voting threshold being changed].”

This old man is sly like a fox. He is worming something past the taxpayers, and he knows it.  I just can’t figure out what his interest is – I’m sorry, I don’t think he really cares about children when he sits in on discussions about cutting kids’ programs to make pension payments. He gets a sweet pension out of CARD.

None of this has been discussed in public meetings, only at the privately noticed Aquatic Center Committee meetings – Brad and Jerry being the “ad hoc” committee. Brad Geiss also gets a salary, as Aquajets manager, and I’m guessing he dreams of being the manager of the new center. He sure drives a pricey little sports car! All off of a children’s swim team – this is the kind of person we are dealing with here, a man who looks out for his own interests. 

They have also changed their meetings from the CARD center right in mid-town to the Cal Park Lakeside Pavillion, which sits on the eastern boundary of their district. This might not be a Brown Act violation – meetings are to be held in the district – but they are certainly pushing it. The Pavillion is not what I’d call “available to the public,” located in a snooty subdivision with “No Trespassing” and “Residents Only” signs all over the place.

When I asked Marciales why the switch, she simply replied “the Board has requested that the Regular Board Meetings be held at Lakeside Pavilion.  However, there will still be times when Board Meetings will need to be held at the CARD Center.  The location of the meetings will be specified on the Agendas when they are posted.”  No reason, just the board wanted it. 

Chico now follows Yuba City into the abyss

25 Mar

Here’s a story from the Appeal Democrat in Yuba City/Marysville. The title states the problem – read further – city expenses have increased to pre-recession levels while revenues have continued to fall, retirement costs have increased by almost 10  percent a year while 32 positions have remained vacant. 

Sound familiar? Well, not if you’ve been listening to Chico Assistant City Mangler Chris Constantin lately – he just made a Pollyanna speech about how everything will be getting better and we need to pump more money into police salaries for cops who only pay 12 percent of their pensions, 90 percent available at age 50. Constantin assumes higher property tax and sales tax revenues – I’d like to see the crystal ball he’s been using, cause my crystal ball says we’re headed straight for the second dip in the ‘W’. Housing prices are going up too fast, builders are building in a glutted market.  In my neighborhood, the same contractor is flipping three houses – putting lipstick on pigs, and jacking the price up to $400,000 plus.  

Below, Constantin admits we can’t really afford these raises for the cops, but insinuates they won’t stay if we don’t pay them more. Meanwhile, interim chief Dunbaugh told Stephanie Taber we had more than 100 recruits for those three positions they just filled the other day. The lies just keep on flowing – Chris Constantin is full of double talk.

“While this agreement includes base pay adjustments, the CPOA has agreed to pay more of their pensions costs (the highest of any employee group) and to convert to a new employee 14-step schedule that reduces the annual step increases from 5% down to 2.5% (a new salary schedule also agreed to by our non-public safety management group). This is a unique solution to the unique issue faced by this high priority area. Unfortunately, it is not something we can afford to give to others without compromising our financial future; however, I believe the return on the investment will positively impact all of us and will bring relief to a workforce that is struggling to maintain even a minimum safe staffing level.”

I predict Constantin will fly the coop before the city announces plans to pursue a sales tax increase. But, read below, you see we’re on the same road as Yuba City. 

 

 

Yuba City budget deficits remain as costs rise

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for Yuba City’s budget woes, but it’s obscured by a mountain of pension debt and rising health care costs.

Those rising costs mean budget deficits will remain until 2018, when the city pays off its pension obligation bonds. Consequently, it’s unlikely the city will be able to add or expand services, Finance Director Robin Bertagna told the City Council during a mid-year budget update at last Tuesday’s meeting.

 Basically, city expenses have increased to pre-recession levels, while revenues, despite an uptick from the improving economy, have not, Bertagna said.

Bertagna projected the city would have a $2 million budget deficit by the end of the fiscal year, although the actual number will likely be lower due to one-time savings realized by 32 vacant positions in the city, said City Manager Steve Kroeger.

Since 2004, retirement costs have increased by almost 10 percent each year. Health benefit payments have increased by 5 percent annually and overtime costs have risen by almost 8 percent each year. Comparatively, general fund revenues have increased by almost 3 percent a year over that same time period.

And required contributions to the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) will increase by 33 percent by 2021, which will add just less than $2.2 million to the city’s budget.

The city has handled the budget deficit in several ways. Employee furloughs have resulted in significant savings — without the 10 percent furlough, the projected deficit this year would be $4.2 million, Bertagna said.

The city has also used a reserve fund, the Economic Stabilization Fund, to balance the budget.

Currently, the fund has a balance of $4.5 million, which Kroeger said should sustain the city’s deficit through 2018.

In 2018, the city will have paid off its pension obligation bond. The city sold the bond to make a one-time PERS payment of about $7 million.

The bond was sold in the interest of saving money, as the bond’s interest rate is two percentage points lower than the unfunded liability rate that PERS charges the city, Kroeger said.

Even with the one-time payment, the city’s total unfunded PERS liability, representing the difference between the assets the city has to pay pension costs and the amount of pension obligations it has, is $53 million.

Kroeger said the city has planned well for the extended economic slump.

“It’s a downturn that most expected to recover sooner than it has,” Kroeger said. “The city’s conservative fiscal planning has served us well.”

CONTACT reporter Andrew Creasey at 749-4780 and on Twitter @AD_Creasey.

Cal Water profits up 20% over 2013, attributed to rate increase, lower expenses

23 Mar

SAN JOSE, CA–(Marketwired – Feb 25, 2015) – California Water Service Group (NYSE: CWT) today announced 2014 net income of $56.7 million, an increase of 20%, or $9.5 million, over 2013, and diluted earnings per share of $1.19, an increase of 16.7%, or $0.17 per diluted common share, compared to the prior year. The company also reported that it spent $132 million on capital improvements during 2014, an increase of 7%, or $9 million, compared to the prior year.

The increase in net income is attributable primarily to the approval of the General Rate Case (GRC) of the Company’s largest subsidiary, California Water Service Company (Cal Water), as well as reductions in administrative and general, other operations, net interest, and property tax expenses. Reductions in these expense categories were partially offset by increases in employee wages and health care, income tax, maintenance, and depreciation and amortization expenses.

Read more here:

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=399586053534416&id=176321489194208

Read it yourself – they raised our rates, gave themselves salary increases  and better benefits packages. Those increases in our rates had nothing to do with service, or, ha ha, the drought! There it says, expenses, aside from their own wages, went down.  

Remember the old saying, “When the fish stinks, it’s the head of the fish that stinks.” The head of this stinking fish is Jerry Brown, and he is just one head of a monster called the Democratic Party. 

I hate to say, the Republicans are no better. We have two major political parties in our state – two groups of ultra-rich assholes, fighting over the little pie we call California. Here we are in the middle – the middle class, the working class, the not-poor-enough-to-matter class. Do you feel unwelcome here sometimes, like, if they can’t get a salary off you, they just want you to move to Nevada? 

CARD moves meetings to Cal Park, moves ahead hiring consultant for proposed aquatic center

22 Mar

Thursday night I attended the regular Chico Area Recreation District Board meeting to see what I could find out about plans to build an aquatic center. What I saw and heard made me feel even more strongly that there’s a back room effort to get this project past the voters. The board voted unanimously to hire a consultant to come up with a proposal to sell to the taxpayers.

Jerry Haynes is out as CARD general manager and Steve Visconti has stepped back in to fill the interim while the board has (you guessed it!) hired a consultant to get a new director. They have had one director after another, Visconti “retiring’ last year only to be tapped to fill in again. One woman left citing “differences with the board” and the paper insinuated there was hostility. Now Haynes has left, citing same.  I don’t frankly know how anybody can get along with Board member Jan Sneed, who attacked me verbally and physically one night after a meeting. She’s hostile, I’ll tell you what, and I’m guessing you either do what she wants or you’re out of a job. CARD has an interesting staff history.

The General Manager of Chico swim team Aquajets was asked for a progress report on that committee that hasn’t been having any meetings. He said he was speaking on behalf of longtime CARD manager and board member Jerry Hughes, who has been the spokesperson for this effort from the beginning. I realize, they’ve taken everything into an “ad hoc” committee of Hughes and Brad, and therefore do not have to notice the meetings or include me in any way. But, Brad had a proposal for the board, they said they’d all received it. Despite Brown Act rules saying any document presented to the board must be available to the public, there were no copies. 

Brad told the board they needed to hire a consultant to design the new center, and the board voted to do so. End of conversation! 

I had to leave at that point, so I emailed the next morning asking for that proposal. CARD staffer Jennifer Marciales sent me a version that won’t cut and paste, but here’s the link:

3-9-15 Jerry Hughes Document

I noticed a little strain between the board and Brad. When he was done making his demand, Brad left with my husband and I, got into a very expensive little sports car, and zipped out. I really get a kick out of these people who come with their hand out for public money – same for the Cannons and their Bocce Ball request – they never come to these meetings, they don’t know ANYTHING about the CARD budget or the other programs, but they come in and demand money for something that serves less  than one percent of the city population.   But never any talk about how they will pay for it when they’re laying off workers to avoid paying Obamacare.

I noticed in this report that there have been three design proposals already submitted, but the only one I’ve seen is from local consultant Greg Melton, I posted that on this blog previously. So, I asked Marciales to send me the other two proposals,  but I haven’t heard back from her yet. 

Since I sat in on the Brown Act workshop with League of Women Voters, I’ve realized how little respect these  agencies have for the public.

I also asked Marciales why the meeting location was suddenly moved from the central CARD center on Vallombrosa to the very distant and removed Lakeside Pavillion. She answered, “the Board has requested that the Regular Board Meetings be held at Lakeside Pavilion”  That’s it, no explanation, just “let them eat cake…”

Thank You League of Women Voters for a great presentation on the Brown Act

18 Mar

I’m so sorry I didn’t take my camera with me to the League of Women Voters’ “Brown Bag the Brown Act” presentation today – I’ll have to tell you about it.

I was impressed with turn-out – I counted at least 30 heads, with my eyesight, and the bobbing around, I’m guessing about 35 all together. And I didn’t count the presenters, or the women who stood at the door to greet everybody. Or the guys with the Action News camera. I am thrilled to see people – and the media! – interested in this topic. I’m so sick and tired of the “whatever” attitude that seems to be seeping into people’s heads these days.

As LWV President Jane Wanderer put it, the Brown Act is about “the public’s right to know what government is doing and why.” 

Speaker Susan Wilson moved right along in her presentation, well aware there was a speaker behind her, but wanting to be sure  everybody present got a rudimentary lesson on the BA, pointing out things she feels are important along the way. I went to a presentation by Chico City Clerk Debbie Presson, given at an early meeting of the current Sustainability Task Force, and boy was this different. I realized these rules can be interpreted.  Of course, Presson interprets them on behalf of the city council and staff, while Wilson works as “watchdog” of local government. Of course their viewpoints are going to be quite different, and I found Wilson’s presentation to be much more extensive and enlightening. 

Here’s where Wilson and Presson have a difference of “interpretation” – Wilson says these agencies “don’t have the right to decide what the public should know…“, the rules are very precise. Except in the instances of employee contract negotiations, pending litigation, and real estate transactions, which can be done in closed session, all conversations involving a majority of the board (which would be four of our city councilors) are to be reported to the public. That includes meetings, phone calls, e-mails.  

Presson seems to think she can pick and choose what is kept in the record. She’s supposed to keep complete notes of the conversations that go on in the morning meetings, which are not video taped, but I’ve caught her so many times leaving out whole conversations from the record, the public couldn’t possibly know what’s been going on with the trash franchise deal or other business the city is conducting. 

Wilson lamented that more people don’t take their government agencies to task over violations, but she admits it’s hard. She spoke about “ad hoc” committees – “a way people sort of skittle around the edges [of the Brown Act]...trying to avoid involving the public…”  The Sustainability Task Force, as well as the Economic Development Committee, have gone just about completely ad hoc, avoiding even having to notice their meetings to the public. When I tried to get on the notice list for  the STF, committee chair Mark Stemen told me he’d have to do it himself because the city wouldn’t give him any staff.  But if you watch the agendas, you see council receives regular reports and recommendations from the STF, and has recently dedicated staff time to a new website. 

http://www.chicosustainability.org/

I feel the city of Chico pushes the public back by the forehead all the time.  The rules are simple, and as you guessed – the city of Chico is not compliant with a lot of this stuff. Like, they’re supposed to be specific in the agendas, so you know what the discussion is.  We used to get reports on the website for the various items – now we get “Finance Report”, and something like, “Frank Fields will give an update on our finances…” That’s all they had at that last meeting – but then the newspaper comes out with the story about the $4.8 million they found laying around – why wasn’t that in the agenda? Why wasn’t Frank’s report attached to the agenda? Instead we get “verbal report.” 

And, we can demand any of those reports or documents received by council at those meetings, but they get out of that by saying, “oh, we have no idea who will come to these meetings, or how many…” And, if you ask for copies, Presson can charge for them, and has.

I had to leave with the end of Wilson’s presentation, I had to get a corned beef on the stove for dinner.  I am sorry I missed Tim Crews’ presentation, I’m guessing he talked about his adventures getting public documents out of people like Debbie Presson.  Crews is a great advocate for Sunshine. 

But these people can work and slave for this law, and if the public is not paying attention, all the Sunshine in the world will not change anything. The Brown Act, as somebody remarked, is a tool – like a hammer or a screw driver, it’s useless unless you pick it up and use it. 

Thanks to the League of Women Voters for having this presentation. If you’d like to support this type of event, they will be having a fundraiser,  an evening of  wine, beer and olive oil tasting, with “gourmet appetizers”, at Manzanita Place on April 19. Tickets are on sale now – $35 advance, $40 at the door. Find out more here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/791411917606762/

 

 

 

Don’t forget that Brown Act workshop tomorrow at the Women’s Center – that’s Wednesday March 18, noon to 1:30 pm. It’s FREE!

17 Mar

Rose reminds me, it’s free, and don’t forget to bring a bag lunch.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2015/03/07/league-of-women-voters-to-talk-about-brown-act-march-18-chico-womens-center/