Archive | March, 2019

Keep rattling your chains – write letters to both papers, tell them we know where the money is going

31 Mar

Dave Howell wrote a great letter to the News and Review, taking on the pensions. Thanks for going to the trouble to write these letters Dave, I know it’s not easy to get a letter in the N&R. 

The problem is pensions

Re “Taxes and police” (Letters, by Martine Stillwell, March 14):

Martine Stillwell is justifiably outraged that our city’s politicians are pushing a tax increase to fix the roads after letting them fall into disrepair thus increasing the cost to repair them.

I wonder how much more outraged she would be if she knew that tens of thousands of our tax dollars are being paid to an opinion research firm to sell us that tax increase. And that doesn’t include the cost of the city bureaucracy’s staff time.

The reason for the awful condition of our infrastructure and the reason for this tax increase are the unsustainable cost of government employee compensation, especially pensions. For many years money for infrastructure repair has been siphoned off for raises and unsustainable pensions. Does she know our bureaucrats have pensions worth millions?

Yet instead of pension reform, our politicians believe that in a county with low wages, very high living expenses and a 21 percent poverty rate, the answer is to pass a tax increase that hits the poor the hardest.

I wonder if Martine and others will be outraged enough to vote in the next election against the tax increase and the politicians who push it and encourage others to do the same.

Dave Howell, Chico

In the same issue this letter appeared, editor Melissa Daugherty bitched about the park budget being shorted these last few years – but she didn’t mention why?  So I wrote a letter about it.

Melissa Daugherty is correct (3/28), Bidwell Park has suffered deferred maintenance since massive layoff of park staffers over the last six years. The park department was absorbed into Public Works, where director Eric Gustafson oversees not only the park, but the airport, city buildings, street trees, right of way zones, street cleaning, traffic safety, city vehicles, and the sewer plant.

Like Dave Howell said (3/28), the problem is “the unsustainable cost of government employee compensation, especially pensions.” I’ll add, management top-heavy.  Twelve  management positions overseeing the park, including Gustafson, cost over $1 million in total compensation. The park division only has five “maintenance workers”, amounting to less than $300,000 in total compensation.

While staff defers maintenance in the park and other infrastructure all over town,  they continue to pay almost $20 million a year toward their pensions, about $8 million of that toward the pension deficit. At the April 2 council meeting, staff recommends renewal of the CalPERS agreement, requiring employees to pay only 11% of the cost of their pensions, the taxpayers expected to pick up the deficit.

As long as council and staff continue to place the pensions ahead of the public, infrastructure will continue to be short changed, including Bidwell Park.

Juanita Sumner, Chico 

I got my information from publicpay.gov (GCC, secretary of state)

https://publicpay.ca.gov/Reports/Cities/City.aspx?entityid=79&year=2017

and the city website – management contracts are available on the Human Resources page.

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

At the GCC website, you’ll see, the park budget also pays for several police/traffic officers, interns, and two “administrative assistants”. The city has to bring in Salt Creek inmates because they don’t have enough workers. And management is without a clue.

Eric Gustafson spends most of his time in meetings, same for “Resources Manager” Linda Herman. I’d bet my last $5 they don’t even own an appropriate pair of shoes to walk in the park. Both are clinically obese, and neither has any kind of credentials suggesting they are qualified to run a park. 

The city continues to use the park and other sagging infrastructure to press for a revenue measure – I think we need to press for some firings Downtown. Starting at the top, with Mark Orme, followed by Chris Constantin, Scott Dowell, and every department head. It’s time for a tick dip. 

City staff, local media still heaping the blame on fire victims, while welcoming criminal transients with open arms

20 Mar

This morning the Enterprise Record has two front page stories – more surveys blaming the Camp Fire evacuees for an uptick in crime and council votes to  fund a “cooling center” at the Jesus Center. 

Are you hearing what I’m hearing? Paradise residents, be damned! But you bums, you come with a stipend that goes directly into the salaries and benefits, so come on down!

The last letter I wrote about it is still sitting in “the queue” at the ER. New editor Mike Wolcott, already on two weeks vacation after less than six months on the job, tells me, “we are running about a week behind right now. We will run some extras later this week to catch up!”

That was last Saturday, and I still haven’t seen the letter.  The ER didn’t run any new letters for three days after that. Gee, too much criticism of the city manager? I got this comment yesterday:

Janet Thorup Paradise, CA  March 19, 2019 

I too take offense with the constant implications that the people from Paradise are somehow the cause of the increase in crime in Chico. I would like to see proof the increase has been from Paradise residents. Also, the increased traffic have caused the roads of Chico to be in disarray, they were in disarray before the Camp fire. The people of Paradise have gone through, and are still going through an horrendous ordeal. I understand we have impacted your city but believe me would have rather not. You have a large homeless population which increased because people from all over the state were benefiting from our loss. I understand that Paradise residents have inconvienced Chico, but please don’t add to our nightmare by pointing fingers and casting blame for everything that is negatively happening in Chico.

 

One letter to the ER also pointed out, most Paradise residents already shopped here and many work in Chico. Those people already drove to Chico almost daily.  Like Ms. Thorup says, Chico streets and roads were already a mess.  Street maintenance was already a hot topic, with long time residents in older neighborhoods all over town complaining of potholes, flooding, tree hazards, etc.

One entire neighborhood went up in arms over sewer connections that had ripped up the surface of their street, the city telling them there was not enough money to resurface.  Sewer connections cost 10’s of thousands each, but no money for street repairs?

We’ve been calling the city staff on their bullshit for years – now they throw the fire victims up like a shield? 

Enough. If the newspaper won’t print your complaints, first send them here:

mark.orme@chicoca.gov

and then send them to me, and you’ll see them here before you see them in the Enterprise Record.

 

“you have no right to go into police officers’ personnel records”

19 Mar

Butte County League of Women Voters held a forum last week (March 14) – “Law Enforcement Records: Public or Private?”  There’s been a lot in the news over the past year regarding the protection of police officers’ personnel records.

According to the LWV announcement, “Topics include public access to public records, the process to access records, a review of Senate Bill 1421, alternative means for transparency, public review and oversight, and the role of media in transparency and public access to information.”

I looked into our right to access records on the web, and found the following at AVVO.com a “lawyer directory”.

Question:  Can a person get hold of a police officer personnel record’s that have complaint’s in the file, if so how do I get it. And how long does the police/sheriff dept keep the file after he is no longer working for the department?

If the officer arrested you, you can ask your lawyer to file a Pitchess motion. The police officer has to have either used excessive force, or lied or made a misleading statement in his report. When your lawyer files the motion, if the judge finds that there is good cause, he will order the department to give the names of people who’ve filed complaints. The records on complaints go back five years.

  • Answer From Lewis Robert Rosenblum, attorney from Santa Ana

Your question doesn’t elude to the fact that you were arrested or have a case pending, and I am assuming that you don’t have a lawyer or he would answer this question. So if you don’t have a case pending, you have no right to go into police officer’s personnel records. There is a police officer’s bill of rights protecting them from such intrusions and as the prior answer indicated, you would never get access to their files anyway, only the names of people who might have lodged complaints and only after you have established the threshold requirements that you are entitled to them. Your lawyer won’t get to see the files either.

Wow, “ you have no right to go into police officer’s personnel records.” Police officers have a bill of rights protecting them. Included in that bill of rights is Obama’s proclamation that a cop who feels his life is in any sort of danger is allowed to kill without retribution or accountability.

Some people feel police officers have more right to privacy than the rest of us, while others feel this practice perpetuates bad cop behavior, refusing to hold cops accountable for what would be considered aggravated assault if one of us did it. A cop can even get fired by one city and, unless he is convicted of an actual crime, apply for a job in another city without disclosing anything about why he was fired.

To my knowledge, Butte County DA Mike Ramsey has cleared every officer who has come before him in a shooting incident. Last year he finally charged Chico PD officer Scott Ruppel with aggravated assault for an incident in which he was caught on body cam strangling a restrained prisoner in the back of his squad car.

https://www.actionnewsnow.com/content/news/Charges-filed-on-former-Chico-Police-Sergeant–465548443.html

“[Officer] Ruppel’s face was tensed with what appeared to be anger and his upper body moved into the rear of the SUV continuing to press on Rowley’s throat. “

Just three weeks previous Ruppel had fatally shot unarmed Tyler Rushing. Ramsey called the shooting justified.  But I have to wonder – did/does Ruppel have an anger management problem? Ramsey dismissed that notion, saying Ruppel’s behavior in the strangling incident was “understandable” but not “justifiable.”

Regardless, Ruppel was acquitted by a Butte County jury, and allowed to retire with full pension and benefits. If he wants to, he can apply for another job, without telling any future employer about his past record. He could get a job at your kids’ school.

Yesterday was the two year anniversary of Desmond Phillips’ death. In Sacramento Black Lives Matter advocates are observing the first anniversary of the shooting of Stephon Clark. In both cases family and friends have complained about having trouble getting records that many people believe should be made public as a matter of routine.

So it seemed like a good idea to have a public forum, allow the public to question our local officials, including DA Ramsey and Chico PD chief Mike O’Brien, as to why these public employees are so protected. I was sorry that I could not attend. But a friend of mine attended and sent me the following remarks. 

There were about 30 or 35 people there.  It seemed about a third or more of the people there were wearing League of Women Voters badges.

Former city of Chico council member Andy Holcombe was moderator. Butte County Sheriff Cory Honea was there to answer questions, with County DA Mike Ramsey and current council member Scott Huber in the audience.

I didn’t see anyone from the ER or N&R, or anyone from the local TV or radio, although the event was being filmed by multiple cameras.

Most of what they talked about you could have got off the Web or through a google search and a lot was a discussion of police response/violence.

The audience was allowed to ask questions.  One person asked why nobody from Chico PD bothered to show up. Holcombe responded that they invited the chief but he said he couldn’t attend and since the chief thought this was a chief level event he would not delegate it to one of his underlings.

Another person asked if Butte County or the City of Chico conducted asset forfeiture and if so what records were available on that.  Honea answered the asset forfeiture question.  I was surprised that he was so matter of fact about it because asset forfeiture is very controversial.  The government can take your property with absolutely no due process. You don’t have to be convicted or even accused of any wrong doing. Honea said both Butte County and the City of Chico use it. He said you can go to the court to get records, but did not elaborate.

One member of Concerned Citizens for Justice said the City of Chico is refusing to release records prior to Jan 2 of this year but there was no conclusive answer to her question. 

Panel member Dave Waddell mentioned the $900/year clothing allowance given to Chico PD officers. According to Waddell,  officers are allowed to keep it for their personal use. It doesn’t have to be clothes. And he said many of the cops use it to buy guns. He was trying to find out what guns they are buying but the city refuses to say.

Waddell also mentioned a “tank” the city bought but Honea quickly corrected him and said it was an “armored vehicle.”

Thanks Rob, I really appreciate you sending me your take on the meeting. I wish I  could get more people to attend meetings and send reports like that. You don’t have to be a journalist to write about what you see, or what concerns you. 

I didn’t find any report in the media, but here’s Dave Waddell on why they needed to have the meeting in the first place.

http://chicosol.org/2019/03/14/butte-county-slow-id-recent-deputy-shooters/

My feeling is that we need a new DA. 

 

Was the “oaks massacre” in Bidwell Park really a mistake?

16 Mar

The Nature Center used to be a special place,  run by a professional and caring staff,  and then the money grabbers from CARD took over. Now the programs for kids are expensive – CARD makes no bones about wanting more money.

Now they want the city to forgive a loan made to the previous management.

So excuse the mismanagement, CARD isn’t in this to serve anybody but themselves.

I assume you’ve heard the outrage over a stand of perfectly healthy valley oaks mowed down at the center recently. The city contracted Cal Fire, who brings in inmates from a low security jail called Salt Creek. These crews are trained to do fire safety clearance, and they’re great. But they’re not foresters and they need to be told exactly what to cut. According to an article in the News and Review, city public works director Eric Gustafson admits – they had no consistent symbols for marking the trees.

Oh give me a fucking break!

We have a city forester, hired a few years back, that’s supposed to be exactly what he was hired for. We have a “Parks and Resource Director” – Linda Herman. We have Gustafson. And the Center is supposed to be overseen by CARD. All this “management ” – Honey, I’m calling it MISMANAGEMENT.

I want to see dead brush, non-native species and sick trees removed from the park, this is work that needs to continue,  but I don’t want the whole park turned into parking lots and buildings.  I’m afraid this wasn’t really a mistake. The city has wanted to develop the area around the Nature Center for a long time, build more money makers like the center.

CARD, with the city’s blessing, has taken a facility that was a free resource for everybody and instituted an admission fee. Low cost Summer “nature camp” has turned into a daycare scheme that closes the center to the public for weeks at a time. The south side neighborhood has complained all the way back to Shakespeare in the Park about cars flooding their streets for these events, it’s no different with the daycare center.

Now the city is talking about a  Maidu Village -another attraction that will bring in cars and necessitate more parking.

A friend reminds me – if Gustafson asked the city for permission to remove the trees for a parking lot, the shit would hit the fan. But now he can blame it on Cal Fire and oh well it’s just too late to do anything about it.  He doesn’t even seem sorry about the incident.

This is how the city and CARD will continue to “manage” Bidwell Park unless we step up and say GUSTAFSON NEEDS TO GO. The park needs a true resource manager.

Write to the Park Commission and tell them you want your park back.

 

Hey Mr. Orme, is the seat of your pants getting a little warm?

14 Mar

I got a kick out of the letters section in the Enterprise Record today – sometimes I think I’m the only person who takes offense to the city’s actions. This guy takes on the public toilets and other poor spending choices. 

Letter: Leaders need to spend our tax dollars wisely

Regardless of individual political beliefs, most citizens within a community have much in common.  We work, we pay taxes, and we care for our families and friends. Within this framework, what is the role of government?  To collect taxes and spend funds appropriately, and to make laws and enforce them.  The questions of how various income/wealth levels are taxed, how funds should be spent, what types of laws are created, and the way laws are enforced, are the fundamental topics of many political debates.

That said, elected officials have a fiduciary responsibility to the overall community they represent.  Does this mean that politicians must make decisions that make everyone happy?  No.  It means they have a responsibility to benefit the overall community. In other words, how can they support the quality of life for as many citizens as possible?  When politicians divert focus, funds and energy to pet projects that do not benefit most of the citizens, they are neglecting their obligation to the entire community.

Let’s get specific. How will 24-hour public toilets benefit the overall community? Just look at how it worked out at the Sundial bridge in Redding.  If by miracle the door is unlocked, you’ll be rewarded with a floor covered in human waste and used needles.

If our local leaders can’t spend public funds in a manner that benefits the overall community, they are failing to do their job.  Let’s be sure to vote them out of office.

— Matt Dutton, Chico

This one made me laugh out loud – 

Letter: The streets are pleading for some warm weather

Let’s see, “I gave at the office;” “The check is in the mail;” “Hi, I’m from the government and I’m here to help you;” or we can’t paint stripes or lines on your Chico streets becauseLetter: The streets are pleading for some warm weather we use special paint that needs warm weather to bond with the asphalt.  It will be some months before we get that kind of warm weather.  I guess Chico hasn’t had any “warm weather” for six or eight years.

— Dennis Anderson, Chico

And here’s a real ass-kicker – 

Letter: Ridge residents not to blame for increase in crime

Just to let you all know, we are very offended by the comments from the Chico City manager, Mr. Orme, about the Camp Fire survivors who were forced to take up residence in Chico after our town, our homes, our businesses and our lives were destroyed by the Camp Fire.

He implies that the increase in violent crime and traffic accidents are all the blame of the “invasion” of Chico by displaced people from Paradise and Magalia.  None of the stabbings or armed robberies that I have seen reported have been committed by Paradise people.  They all seem to be from Chico.  Traffic has increased, yes, but pay attention and most accidents can be avoided.

Many Paradise and Magalia people have always come to Chico to shop and I certainly haven’t heard any whining about us spending our money here, now even more money than before the fire.  Mr. Orme, have you considered that Chico’s liberal policies toward the homeless caused many new people to move here to take advantage of the relief help that was and is intended for the wildfire survivors and they just decided to stay here?  Why don’t you use some of the increase in sales taxes to help fund a few more police officers?  Or put in some new shelters and bathrooms?

This is not our home.  We want to go home, but we can’t.

Mike Johnson, Paradise

I know a lot of Paradise evacuees, and that’s the main sentiment – they want to go home. Hearing Randall Stone and Mark Orme, among other staff members, on the news, citing all these problems they are supposedly causing, is like a knife in the back. 

Thanks to all these letter writers – I hope Orme is  feeling a warm sensation in the seat of his pants.

Speak now or forever hold your hands over your behind

13 Mar

I was thrilled to  read letters from Dave Howell of Chico and Steve and Lorraine Christensen of Oroville. I speak to people all the time who feel Californians pay too many taxes, but people seldom get around to writing letters about it. I think it’s important to let your “civic” leaders know how you feel, let them know you’ve had enough, let them know you’re ready to do something about it.

Now that the city of Chico has made it clear they will pursue a tax measure, I’m not mincing words – Mark Orme needs to  go. Old Yiddish proverb – when the fish stinks, it’s the head of the fish that stinks!

Orme claims he’s done a lot to lead out city out of deficit, but he’s overseen the siphoning of money from various departments into the pension deficit. Rather than fess up and pay more of his own salary toward his pension, he continues to take pay increases while offering up a mere 11% of his base salary toward his benefits, FURTHERMORE adding a tax deferred IRC 457 to his package. This guy is enriching himself out of the public cookie jar, time to slap his hands.

Write those letters!

  • letters@chicoer.com
  • chicoletters@newsreview.com
  • debbie.presson@chicoca.gov

At the February 27 Finance Committee meeting, city manager Mark Orme said he has resisted revenue measures in the past, but that Chico’s current situation calls for a new tax to mitigate the impacts of the Camp Fire evacuation.

City staff has been  calling for a tax increase since well before the Camp Fire.  They wanted to tax our cell phones. Then they said garbage trucks were wrecking our streets and added a franchise fee to our rates. Long deferred street and park maintenance. Transients  straining public safety agencies.  Now it’s the evacuees.

But on February 27 Orme finally acknowledged the “elephant in the room” – pensions. The city spends almost $20,000,000 annually on pensions. About $8,000,000 of that goes to the pension deficit.

Orme insisted staff has learned to “live within our means.” Really? The city manager’s base salary has gone from $192,000 to $207,500 since his hire,  but his total pay is over $225,000,  including perks such as a $400/month car allowance. Tack on another $82,000 in pension and health benefits, including $18,000 for an IRC 457 added to his contract just last year.

Orme only pays 11% of his base salary for a pension of 70 percent of his highest year’s salary at age 60.  This is how the deficit was created, the employees expect a lot but only want to contribute a  fraction of the cost.

The question isn’t whether we need a new tax, but why the taxpayers should bear the burden of a pension deficit created by public employees.

Juanita Sumner

Oroville transfers $366,000 in Camp Fire money to Pension Stabilization Fund

5 Mar

PUBLISHED OROVILLE MERCURY NEWS:  | UPDATED: 

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

“Let the games begin, or should I say, let the shell games continue.  On Feb. 19,  Oroville Financial Director Ruth Wright,  gave an update on Oroville’s city  budget. She caught my attention when I heard her say $366,000 in FEMA funds were applied to the “Pension Stabilization Fund.”

Oroville’s previous council decided to repurpose all “one-time money”, to this fund.  This year over $1 million was swept  away from city improvements and funneled into the  CALpers stabilization accounts.

For those that voted themselves a one percent tax increase in hopes of fewer crimes, street repairs, and clean parks, I fear you will be disappointed. It’s all about  the unsustainable CALpers fund. Oroville now has a one percent added-on sales tax plus a five percent Utility Users Tax. Look at the five utility bills you receive each month. Check out the UUT you are paying.

The city has been asked to repeal the five percent Utility Users Tax now that the one percent sales tax has passed.  City staff has recommended “no,” citing the city’s precarious financial situation. The council decided to delay that decision for a year.

I would predict there will be no repeal. The shell games will continue. The city will still be crying poor. New fees and tax proposals will be pursued. The proceeds will be used for CALpers contributions in a futile attempt to delay its inevitable collapse.

— Lorraine Christensen, Oroville”