Archive | March, 2022

Be careful what you wish for! Orme’s departure leaves us out of the frying pan and into the fire

28 Mar

Well, if wishes were horses, eh? I’ve wished for Mark Orme to be fired many times. I’m sure resignation under pressure is almost as bad for his professional reputation. But, he’ll get another job, if he hasn’t already, and probably a higher salary. His former assistant manager, Chris Constantin, at least as culpable in this mess as Orme, did exactly that.

But what is council thinking, installing Police Chief Matt Madden as interim city manager? We have an assistant city manager, Jennifer McCarthy. McCarthy was hired away from her position as Butte County Deputy Administrative Officer (asst mgr). It seems to me she would be the natural choice to move into Orme’s position. And then you know what? I’d eliminate the Assistant Manager position altogether. The city has actually paid consultants, Chad Wolford for one, to tell them they are “management top-heavy” and have “too much overhead”, but they don’t listen. Council just keeps making the same left turn right into a pile of doo-doo.

I’d sure like to see the argument that was made in favor of moving the police chief into the city manager position. He’s been chief of police for less than two years, and I don’t think he’s done a very good job as of this point. One concern I had was when he took the Police Advisory Board off the radar, holding “private meetings”. Comments he made regarding his relationship with council were very alarming.

Madden told the News and Review in July 2021, “This is not a City Council-run board; this was created by the chief of police, for the chief of police,” he added. “If council wants to create some different type of board, ad hoc committee, whatever—similar to what we saw last year [with then-Mayor Ann Schwab’s Policing Ad Hoc Committee]—they have all the authority to do that.”

He has held PAB meetings in “private”. What right does he have to take public business into his back room? And with his chosen board members, he’s rewritten the rules for participation. According to board member and failed city council candidate Jovanni Tricerri, “You’re not going to find on this board somebody who doesn’t want the police department to exist… ” Who does he mean exactly? I thought the whole purpose of this board was “community input”.

This is not a good direction for the city of Chico. As of now, I’m looking for somebody to run against Kasey Reynolds. I will support you.


24 Mar

Every picture tells a story, don’t it?


A city vehicle on site at the non-congregate housing property, which is nearly ready to open. (Photo by Ken Smith, Chico News and Review)

They keep us in the dark and feed us on bullshit – namely, the lie that Mark Orme has not had a raise “in years”…

22 Mar

My mom used to have a sign over her desk – “They must think I’m a mushroom – they keep me in the dark and feed me bullshit.” It was a crude reproduction of a reproduction of a reproduction – before we had forwards, we had the Xerox machine.

I have felt same lately. The city of Chico has gone completely off the radar since the COVID shutdown. Masks are off and meetings are open again, but they are doing stuff behind closed doors, using “special meetings”. A special meeting is not publicly noticed, unless you have signed up for notifications from the clerk, or you happen to check the front door of City Hall every day by 5 pm. I’ve been signed up for years.

Late yesterday afternoon I received a notice for a meeting scheduled for 5:00* (see post script) tomorrow afternoon, with the attached agenda, which reads:

SPECIAL AGENDA – Pursuant to Government Code § 54954.3(a), the City Council is prohibited by law from considering any other business at this meeting.
2.2. CLOSED SESSION – Council will recess to Closed Session in Conference Room 1
2.3. PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PERFORMANCE EVALUATION: (Gov. Code section 54957(b).)
Title: City Manager

Government Code 549543(a) says “Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body’s consideration of the item, that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body, provided that no action shall be taken on any item not appearing on the agenda unless the action is otherwise authorized by subdivision.”

What a mouthful. What they are saying, put simply, is that they have to give the public an opportunity to speak on this subject. What’s the subject? Mark Orme. It’s his performance review.

The first question I have is, what’s the emergency worthy of a special meeting? Special meetings are supposed to be reserved for emergencies, like lawsuits against the city, or pending bankruptcy. Both of which are common problems facing the city of Chico. This is a perfunctory employee review. I never understood why these reviews, which should be a matter of public information, are closed. And now they’re held in special meetings, without real notice of the public. I know it says they are not supposed to discuss anything that’s not on the agenda, but things come up in these conversations, and who is there to report it?

I have an opinion on Mark Orme’s performance – I think he’s lied to the public. For one thing, he is constantly reporting that no member of management has received a raise for years – what about his 457 Plan?

CalPERS deferred compensation plans include the 457 Plan and Supplemental Contributions Plan. ” Yes, Orme receives “supplemental contributions”, in addition to the usual employer-paid contribution toward his pension, plus the catch-up payments, he gets a special kind of 401K into which the city contributes most of the money. He received this 457 Plan for agreeing to pay a part of the “employer share” of his pension. So Orme pays 14% of his cost, and gets the 457 Plan, into which the city puts over $20,000/year. This is how they try to deceive the public into believing the employees are paying more. Orme has not had a raise? But he gets an additional $20,000 in a secret bank account? Liar, liar, liar – don’t stand too close to this guy, the seat of his pants is likely to spontaneously combust. (You Repo Man fans know that can happen, but did you know why?)

Hey, do you have an opinion on the city manager’s performance that you’d like to share? Well, share it – send your opinions directly to council.

*Here’s a post script – they rescheduled the meeting to 6:30, due to a scheduling problem with one or another members of council. That gives you an extra hour and a half to contact council.

It’s St Paddy’s, let’s spread some enlightenment – write those letters, emails, yak it up – council is putting a simple tax measure on the ballot, and the proceeds can be spent any way Mark Orme decides to spend them. And that will be, on the pensions.

17 Mar

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, all ye faithful. Like St. Patrick, you might try a little enlightenment!

Start with the truth about the city’s proposed sales tax measure. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around about this measure, but if I were to pick the most important non-truth being forwarded, purposefully, by the proponents, here it is: Mark Orme is trying to make people believe that the revenues generated by this new tax will go toward infrastructure and public safety. He spreads this willful misinformation, knowing fully well that council is planning to pursue a simple measure, requiring only 51% of the vote to pass, and that means there are no restrictions on the spending, and none can be made.

I’m not going to sit here while a guy who makes over $200,000/year to mismanage our town uses his position of respect in the community to spread a bunch of lies. So here’s my letter about that.

The city of Chico suffers from poor leadership and mismanagement. While city manager Mark Orme boasts that Chico is in  “the best financial shape it has been in recent years…”, taxpayers experience deteriorating infrastructure and increasing lack of services. Mayor Andrew Coolidge responds to our concerns as petty complaints, telling us to “roll up your sleeves and get to work…” What does that mean?

Orme and Coolidge propose a one-cent sales tax increase. Orme says, “It’s an opportunity for the public to make a determination of what they want their future to look like…”

Let me guess what the future will look like if we pass this tax. The city’s biggest debt at present is the over $150 million Unfunded Accrued Liability, or pension deficit, to CalPERS. While deferring maintenance and services, Staff makes increasing payments toward the UAL, millions a year.

According to NSPR News, “Orme made indications during Thursday’s address that investments in police and fire departments, road maintenance, homelessness solutions and small business support would be made.”

But Orme can’t make any promises, since council and staff have made it clear they will put a simple majority measure on the ballot, and the revenues will be deposited in the General Fund, with no restrictions on spending. The voters, if they pass this measure, will have absolutely no determination how the money is spent.

If the past is any indication of the future, we’ll watch the price of everything go up, while infrastructure and services continue to deteriorate.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

City Manager Mark Orme and Mayor Andrew Coolidge are trying to mislead the public regarding the sales tax measure

12 Mar

In a recent news conference, Chico Mayor Andrew Coolidge chastised those of us who are unhappy with the direction the city has taken. “You have the choice to be a critic and complain about the issues we face, or roll up your sleeves, get to work and help make Chico a better place to live,” he said, adding, “Progress was never made by complaining.”

Roll up your sleeves? Who the hell does this total jackass think he’s talking to?

Coolidge likes to avoid the real issues that are causing people to criticize. He won’t admit, Chicoans have plenty to complain about. City manager Mark Orme boasts that, “The City of Chico says it’s in the best financial shape it has been in recent years,” the next minute telling Chicoans they won’t get the usual basic services if they don’t pass the upcoming sales tax increase measure. “It’s an opportunity for the public to make a determination of what they want their future to look like. I’m not going to advocate one side or the other, but what I am going to be is honest about the constraints on current resources.”

Despite his dire warnings, Orme continues to make sure he and the rest of staff get their pensions, funneling millions of dollars from city departments – money intended for services and infrastructure – into the Pension Stabilization Trust. Every year that Orme has told us they have deferred maintenance because they can’t afford to fix the streets or clean the parks, or guarantee our safety in our own homes, he’s paid increasing amounts toward the pension deficit. We’re under “constraints” but we are still able to dump $11.5 million into the pensions? Apparently Mr. Orme gets to decide who is under “constraints” and who is not.

I also believe Orme is publicly insinuating that the measure is a specific tax. According to NSPR, “Orme, however, made indications during Thursday’s address that investments in police and fire departments, road maintenance, homelessness solutions and small business support would be made.”

Council members and staff have said repeatedly that this measure will only require a simple 51% majority to pass. That means – Sean Morgan has reminded people – if they state any intended expenditures for this money, it has to be a 2/3’s majority measure, that would be dedicated to those specific expenditures. Morgan has made it clear that he, for one, wants a general measure that can be spent as council and staff determine among themselves.

Let’s all remember, council and staff wanted a Pension Obligation Bond until Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association made it very clear that such a bond had to go before the voters, and threatened to sue the city of Chico if any such bond was passed without voter approval. And it would have had to get 2/3’s approval.

When Yuba County used specific promises to pass a simple majority tax measure, they were sued by HJTA and two Yuba County citizens. The first judge decided against the county, but the county used taxpayer money to take it to a higher court, where their appeal was approved. Very unfortunate for the taxpayers of Yuba County.

Let’s not make the same mistake in Chico. We have to make sure the voters get the straight facts. Don’t depend on Mark Orme to “educate” anybody.

I’d also discourage people from participating in the online survey – they can screw your submission any way they want. That’s why your responses are not made public on the site, you don’t even know if they are read by anyone but Staff.

Instead, notify your district representative, and include the entire council in your email, that you will not support this tax.

I knew cars and even bikes were a hot commodity in Chico, but socks and underwear?

9 Mar

I think most Chicoans would agree with me – our town is suffering an unbelievable crime wave. Today it really hit me – I went to buy socks at Walmart, and I had to ring a bell for assistance, because socks and underwear are now in glass, locked cases. I had to point to the pack of socks I wanted and then wait for the employee to take out a key and hand me the socks. Maybe I’m the last one to know – I found a lot of articles about it online, dating back about a year.

There’s a good reason that specific Walmart has added security to stockings and underpants: theft.”

But not all Walmart stores are doing it, just those stores that are seeing significant losses due to theft. 

‘Some products are subject to additional security. Those determinations are made on a store-by-store basis,’ Walmart headquarters said in a statement to Bring Me The News. “

So, hmm, Chico a hotbed of sock and underwear thieves, very interesting… uh, I mean, embarrassing. I knew cars and bikes are hot items, but socks and underwear? That’s troubling on a number of levels. First of all, whether it’s a loss, or loss prevention, the additional cost will be added to every pair of socks and skivvies we buy. Second, these people walk out of Walmart and into our neighborhoods, stealing packages off of our porches, parts from our cars, tools, etc. Posts I’ve seen on social media express frustration with Chico PD’s handling of the problem. Store owners as well as residents are left to take matters into their own hands.

So Walmart responds by hiring additional security and locking up everyday items. I’ll guess other stores are doing it too. I’d also guess that the discount stores have a bigger problem with shoplifting because of the reclassification of thefts of less than $950 as misdemeanors. The added employee costs, as well as the specialized equipment, along with the inevitable losses, are tacked onto our purchases.

That’s just another aspect of the inflation we’ve been seeing, in everything. A sales tax increase is just adding insult to injury. Let your district representative know what’s going on in your neck of the Chico woods, and how you feel about paying more for less.

Passing the pension buck – letter writer tries to ignore the “catch-up” payments, which are all on the taxpayers

3 Mar

Last week a regular letter writer responded to my last letter to the editor. He misquoted a figure, and then he falsely stated that most of CalPERS benefits are paid through investments.

I am concerned with an error in fact appearing in a letter in the Feb. 23 edition on your Opinion page. Juanita Sumner (who often writes good fact-based letters) is clearly mistaken. At the conclusion of her second paragraph she states that public employees pay (at the most) 27%* of their retirement benefit “leaving the rest … to be picked up by the taxpayers.”

(*NOTE – I didn’t say “27%”, I said 22.7%, and that’s the correct number. That’s a big difference with these numbers, pay attention. I’d also like to see ER Editor Mike Wolcott PROOFREAD SOMETHING once in awhile. This is how misinformation gets out there. )

At least 60% of every CalPERS retirement benefit dollar annuity paid (to about 633,000 retirees) at this point in time is paid from investment profits gained with the CalPERS fund (now at least $475B). This leaves local contracting agencies, like the city of Chico, or state taxpayers to pay, at the most, 27%. These percentages vary little from year to year, from fractions of 1% to a very few percentage points over the past several decades.

All public employees (yes, I am a retired one) have negotiated their contracts with administrators under the direction and supervision of elected public office holders. We get the government we deserve by who we elect. Each reader, citizen, registered voter should decide whether they elected the right folks.

It is obvious to me that special interest groups strongly influence who gets elected. In the case of the CalPERS complex, but not always transparent, workings those groups would include: political parties, labor unions, leagues or associations of cities, counties, school board administrators and probably a few others I can’t think of right now.

Abe Baily, Chico CA

I don’t think he’s a liar, I think he was misled, or more likely, misunderstood information he got from the CalPERS website. I know retirees, and they don’t understand any of it, they don’t know how close they are to losing everything with CalPERS. They mislead themselves about how unsustainable CalPERS is, and who really pays. Yes, as taxpayers, they pay – they have to drive the same streets we do, live in the same crappy town – but they are also on the very generous receiving end. So yeah, they really don’t want to know the truth. These crazy pensions are like heroin – as long as you get your monthly fix, you don’t care where it comes from, or think about whether it will come next month.

There you have a presentation that is confusing, but if you pay attention, you see and hear what’s really going on. Look at the “CalPERS buck” – very misleading. The illustration tells us that 60 cents of every dollar paid to retirees comes from CalPERS investments, while CalPERS employers pay (an average?) of 29 cents and members, or retirees, pay 11 cents. Those employer and employee shares are close to reality, but what they don’t include, are the “extra” or “catch-up” payments made toward the deficit. That’s all on the taxpayers. (+the 29 cents!)

The deficit is created by unrealistic payments, unrealistic shares paid by members, and historically poor performance by CalPERS investments. While CalPERS made great gains this year – 21%! – there are a couple of problems. First of all, it’s a one-time gain made on the backs of people recovering from the COVID shutdown.

Second, it follows years of single digit performance. In fact, in 2016, the fund returned only .61% – that’s 61 cents on the dollar, kids. Up from 2009 when they tanked, going 24 points into the red.

With losses like that, year after year, CalPERS has racked up a deficit of over $150 million for Chico, up from $143 million just last year. That’s despite rising “pension stabilization” or “extra” or “catch-up payments” – last year, $11.5, $18 million projected by 2025. Staff and council instituted the Pension Stabilization Trust a few years ago, siphoning millions from every city fund, but the deficit just keeps going up?

How does that happen? Well, for another thing, Council just handed out a bunch of raises to cover any added share the employees have agreed to. It’s like digging your way out of a sand pit.

So, I had to respond to Baily. I don’t like the nasty tit-for-tat Wolcott likes to run in the letters section, but I’m not going to sit by while Baily spreads misinformation, using my name to do it. Sorry Abe, nothing personal. You old gas-bag.

Abe Baily is mistaken when he states “At least 60% of every CalPERS retirement benefit dollar annuity paid at this point in time is paid from investment profits gained with the CalPERS fund”.

Bailey misinterpreted that from the CalPERS website. Gains are up this year – a 21% return, attributed to COVID recovery. A one-time gain after years of abysmal performance. Meanwhile, CalPERS administrators admit, “Obviously these gains, we have a lot to thank from you (sic) our EMPLOYER community, cause your contributions, I recognize, have gone up a lot to help fund that improved funded status.” CalPERS demands more from employers every year.

Furthermore, there’s still the pension deficit, $150 million, up from $143 million just last year, created and perpetuated by a combination of unrealistic employee contributions and consistently poor performance by CalPERS investments. Every year the city must make “extra” or “catch-up” payments. Last year, Staff took $11.5 million out of city funds – money intended for services and infrastructure – and siphoned it into the Pension Stabilization Trust, which is restricted to those payments.  

Contrary to Baily’s belief, the taxpayers contribute the lion’s share, not only paying a share toward payroll, but picking up the entire deficit, with interest. At the cost of our roads, parks, and public safety services.

Employees should pay a larger payroll share, and should pay a share toward the deficit. Instead, Mark Orme suggests a sales tax increase, to replace funds siphoned into the PST.  

This is called, “passing the pension buck”.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA