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Clerk admitted members of the public were not able to sign into today’s Finance Committee meeting, but it went on anyway

26 Jan

On Saturday (1/22) I posted the letter I wrote to the Enterprise Record. Wolcott ran it Monday. I have complained here many times about trying to participate in closed committee meetings via Zoom, and I’ve made city staff and council members aware that I was not able to sign in or even watch meetings. I’ve also complained here and asked staff many times to make recordings of the meetings available to the public – they simply respond that they are not required to do so. They are required by law to post meeting minutes, but do so at their own speed. As of Christmas they were 6 months behind, so I complained about that. The clerk came back from Christmas vacation and posted the missing minutes in less than two days, without any explanation as to why those minutes weren’t posted within two days after the meetings.

My district rep Kasey Reynolds told me that the meetings would remain closed for the duration of Newsom’s mask mandate, February 15. Instead of holding important business – including various tax increases – until the public could be included, they scheduled an 8am Finance Committee meeting for today. Frankly, I’ve given up on trying to sign in. I have work to do, I can’t sit around all morning being held out of public meetings by the forehead. I was surprised to receive a notice from the clerk’s office about a half hour into the meeting.

We are having difficulties with Zoom this morning.  Please try the link again.

I received this message while I was at the grocery store. My grocery store does not enforce the mask mandate. Neither does the home improvement store at which I purchased a new washing machine this morning. I think that’s ironic – businesses I patronize are not supporting the mandate, why is the city of Chico still holding citizens out of meetings?

Today the agenda included discussion of a sewer tax. The city wants to tax the public according to how much water they use, water we not only already pay for, but water on which we pay a 5% Utility Users Tax.

And then there’s this scheme – read carefully, they’re basically issuing bonds on your toilet, another attempt at taxation without public approval:

For Option 1, The utility issues bonds secured by net revenues of the utility to pay the “sales” price. The General Fund receives an upfront cash payment from the utility. Alternatively, the City can do “seller financing”, where the City’s General Fund owns a note payable by the utility over time for the purchase price of the sale. In either the scenario, the utility is generating income for the General Fund, over and above what can normally be done under Proposition 218.
If the “sales” price is paid entirely upfront, and if the publicly offered bonds used to finance the
sale were sold on a tax exempt basis, then the proceeds of the sale/bond issue must be used by the City for public improvements. If the “sales” price is paid over time through “seller” financing, then the annual payments can be used by the City for any lawful purpose.

Read it again. They want to sell the sewer plant to themselves, and then issue bonds to pay themselves back? They put the money in the General Fund, and then it can be used for anything, and that’s going to be the pensions.

Read more here:

https://chico.ca.us/sites/main/files/file-attachments/1.26.22_fc_agenda_packet.pdf?1642784160

Mayor Andrew Coolidge and council member Sean Morgan are on the committee, Morgan is the chair. These guys are already under recall. Let them know how you feel about them planning to raise our taxes in meetings they have closed to the public.

andrew.coolidge@chicoca.gov

sean.morgan@chicoca.gov

City staff reports not everybody has adequate internet participate in remote meetings, but Council continues to close the meetings anyway – all the while discussing ways to raise our taxes

22 Jan

In the early 2000’s, the phone company came through our mid-Chico neighborhood, replacing the phone lines. They were out there for about two weeks, our service was interrupted, and we were able to chat with them about what was going on. The senior technician told me, “people all over this town are paying for internet, but they’re not getting it.” He said the phone lines were over 50 years old, and starting to crumble. He said we were lucky to get phone service.

Well, now that he had mentioned it, we realized – since we had moved into that house in 2001, we’d immediately found that we got better reception for our phone in the front yard. We also noticed that many of our neighbors would stand in their front yards, talking on their cell phones. It was an “a-HA!” moment.

We were new to internet, it hadn’t occurred to us – our internet would be out for days at a time, and we just figured that was par for the course.

Here we are, 2022, and it hasn’t changed much. We have better phone service, but our internet is still sketchy, we’ve had to learn to turn devices on and off to reconnect. I found out how weak it really is when I tried to participate in Zoom meetings after the city closed meetings to the public in 2020. I just couldn’t get into the meetings a lot of the time, and while staff was sympathetic, they couldn’t help me – they don’t run the internet.

When I tried to “attend” a Finance Committee meeting last year, I was unable to get in. I called the clerk on my phone as instructed, but neither she nor the IT guy could get me in. When they informed committee members via email (which is funny, they could get my emails but I couldn’t get into the meeting), Randall Stone was the only member who seemed concerned. Meanwhile, Sean Morgan observed, “she must have poor internet...” – as if that was my fault?

Fast forward to Mark Orme’s scheme to sell us internet service. Orme is planning to use COVID relief money to get into the internet business – $4.8 million – telling us he can offer it at a more affordable rate. While I don’t understand the mechanics of this proposal, it’s very clear – staff and council know we don’t all have equal access, but they keep closing the meetings and telling us we can “participate” via Zoom.

https://www.actionnewsnow.com/news/local/chico-city-council-unanimously-votes-to-approve-the-interim-broadband-master-plan-moving-closer-to/article_adcd2f6a-8a18-52e2-bd9b-bbb1665c40a2.html

According to the city’s consultant ($$$$), there’s not only gaps in service, it’s based on how much you can pay. So they are shutting out people who could least afford all the taxes they are bringing up in their closed meetings.

“There are gaps in affordability in Chico and there are gaps in service availability meaning that it is not ubiquitous. There are different pricings and different availabilities in different areas of town based on the infrastructure available,” said EntryPoint Networks Solution Services Director Bruce Patterson.

That’s right, “based on the infrastructure available…” So yes, we’ve been paying for service we don’t get, and with Staff’s knowledge.

Patterson says the average person pays per megabit is around 70 cents but says he’s seen cities using this same model that people pay as little as 3 cents per megabit.

And here finance director Scott Dowell admits those of us who don’t have good internet are “at a disadvantage…” This isn’t what they said when I was struggling to get into that meeting.

“You are at a disadvantage if you do not have a speedy, reliable internet service. We’re almost shifting the concept that, shouldn’t we treat internet service as a utility that everyone should have access to at a reasonable price?” says Dowell during a phone interview with KRCR Tuesday morning.

I’m fed up with the closed meetings. When I complained to my district rep, Kasey Reynolds, she just shrugged it off. “We discussed meetings last night, we will be having the next two by zoom (while the Governor has indoor mask mandate still) then returning to in person meetings. Trust me I would rather be in person too i hate zoom!

She has obviously heard the consultant’s report regarding the state of our internet infrastructure and service, but she unapologetically tells me that meetings will remain closed for another month, while they put the tax measure on the ballot. Having hired a consultant with taxpayer money already, in closed meetings. I’d like to see the screen door bust her right across the ass next November, but I don’t have the money to run against her, I’m hoping some good candidate will step forward. We’ll see.

So I did what I usually do, I wrote a letter to the editor.

As the city of Chico uses taxpayer money to pursue a sales tax increase measure, discusses a consumption-based sewer tax, and anticipates a state-wide rental tax, they continue to work in meetings closed to the public. Staff and council claim the meetings are available on Zoom, even while acknowledging that internet service in Chico is not equitable.

According to the city’s consultant, “There are gaps in affordability in Chico and there are gaps in service availability meaning that it is not ubiquitous… based on the infrastructure available.”

When I tried to participate in a morning Finance Committee meeting via Zoom last year, I made it clear to Staff and committee members that I was not able to sign into the meeting, it kept cutting out. Sean Morgan observed, “she must have poor internet.” But the meeting went on anyway.

Council and Staff are well aware that Chicoans do not have equal access to internet, but they continue to close meetings to the public. Furthermore, committee meetings, even though it is possible, are not recorded for further viewing. When one member of the public asked about this, the clerk informed him that is not required. That is council’s decision.

Furthermore, council and committee members are allowed to review and redact anything they do not want in the minutes, keeping the minutes held up for months at a time.

Taxation without representation – the quandary of a populace that is required by law to pay taxes but has no say in the matter.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

 

Chico City Staff (Orme) is duping the taxpayers into paying a lot more of the pensions than they are telling us

17 Jan

I was cleaning my computer files and found this report from a January 2018 Council agenda. I’ve contacted Jamie Cannon in the city Human Resouces Department and asked her to direct me to a more recent report with current figures, I’ll post any response I get from her.

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=280&meta_id=57592

This is an old report but it shows how the city’s (taxpayers’) contribution GOES UP AUTOMATICALLY EVERY YEAR, with no input from the taxpayers, while any increase in employee share has to be bargained and approved by the employees.

This report also shows that we pay ALL OF THE UNFUNDED LIABILITY, WHICH MEANS, WE’RE PAYING MORE SHARE THAN IS REPORTED IN THE “REGULAR” PAYMENTS. They don’t include the UAL when they figure shares, they exclude it and just leave the taxpayers to pick it up. The whooooooole thing!

Tomorrow night council will consider asking employees to pay part of the city’s payroll share – 3 – 6%. But no mention of what a consultant told the Finance Committee in September 2020 – “each year the city makes two types of payments to CalPERS – the ‘normal cost’ or ‘payroll’, and the ‘extra’ payments toward the Unfunded Actuarial Liability (UAL)…”

https://chico-ca.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?meta_id=79891

Look at the city’s share of the cost, and compare it to the employee shares, and then join me in demanding that the employees pay not only bigger shares toward the payroll share but pay the same share of the UAL.

Chico Staff and Council using the COnVID scam to shut the public out of meetings – meanwhile, they’re using OUR money to hire a tax measure consultant

14 Jan

Another COVID shut down – are you getting sick of it yet? Being told to wear TWO MASKS? Being told to vax-vax-vax, then BOOSTER? Then mask anyway? Get OUT!

Don’t worry, while we’re sitting around wringing our hands, Rand Paul is kicking the shit out of COVID.

Here Paul takes Fauci on over his fascist “take down” tactic – using his $420,000 salary, to “take down any scientists who disagree with him.” Paul reads directly from emails between Fauci and friends. Fauci protests like a teenager, “you just attack me...” But, as Paul asserts, Fauci’s own email trail confirms it. Hearing his own words, Fauci just keeps protesting that Paul is out to get him. “You keep distorting the truth!” protests Fauci, as Paul reads verbatim the private emails between Fauci and other “scientists”. Fauci claims this is a personal attack – wow, just like the personal attacks he initiated against doctors from Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford?

What a world we are living in. Yes, politicians are using COVID for political gain. And as a power tool, they just like to screw people!

Right now, Chico City Council is using taxpayer money like a power tool, to hire a consultant to screw a sales tax increase up our collective ass. And they’re doing it in closed meetings, under cover of COnVID. I’m going to go back to calling it “COnVID” because that’s what it is – a big CON job, a SCAM, a FLEECING of the American public. With no real science behind it, Chico City Council used hysterical calls for reinstitution of the mandates to shut down “public” meetings, oh gee, just as they are hiring a tax consultant?

Here’s a good morning stretch exercise – put both hands back there on your ass. Find your tailbone. Run your finger up from there – that’s your backbone. Learn to use it, and write to your council now, tell them to get their hands out of your purse.

Mark Orme’s sales tax increase measure: With salaries well in excess of $100,000/year, the people who really make and implement these decisions are well-insulated from any negative impacts. In fact, they directly benefit from any increase in taxes

6 Jan

Here’s another letter writer who does not support the city’s sales tax increase measure. From the Chico Enterprise Record:

Don’t trust this council with more money

As a current taxpayer in Chico,, I do not support the proposed sales tax put forth by the city council’s conservatives. They already can’t manage the current city budget, what makes them think they can take on more responsibility? For example, millions of dollars are spent on Chico PD “overtime” pay and for Chico Firefighter’s “disability claims” right before they retire. They need to do a better job of examining loopholes and the exploitation of city funds by these groups.

This city does not need more money: what we need are people who know how to manage city funds in ways that actually support the community and address issues such as homelessness, poverty, climate change, etc. — Alicia Trider, Chico CA

I’m so glad this person is familiar with the police and fire contracts. People need to read this stuff, we are on the hook for it. The cop and fire contracts are very generous, I’ve written here about it many times. Here are a couple of posts from last year that proved very enlightening:

CTO = “compensated time off”
Look at the calisthenics these people go through to spike their last year’s earnings and, subsequently, their pensions.

I don’t know if Trider actually read the contracts, as I have many times, but if she did, she’d find all kinds of stuff that just raises the cost of public safety for no other reason than PURE GREED.

Trider goes on to list her priorities, which put her at 180 degrees from previous letter writers. So, this sales tax measure has already raised hackles on both sides of the aisle, as I expected. The skating rink also raised hackles on both sides of the aisle, as did using taxpayer money to hire a consultant to push the measure. So far, Staff and Council seem to be putting their foot in their own doo-doo at every turn. In fact, I’d say, Council keeps stepping in Mark Orme’s doo-doo.

A tax increase is a negative for everybody – business owners and consumers are connected at the hip. Businesses need healthy consumers, and consumers need healthy businesses. Raising taxes eats people’s “disposable income,” and that means less money to spend to support local businesses. I’m not threatening to leave – think you’re gonna get rid of me that easily? I’ll just take my business elsewhere. In 2012, when disgraced ex-city-manager Brian Nakamura and despicable ex-city-manager Tom Lando initiated this conversation, I discovered online shopping, and I love it. I also enjoy a trip to Oregon now and then, where they have NO SALES TAX.

Well, I should say, this measure would be a negative for almost everybody. With salaries well in excess of $100,000/year, the people who really make and implement these decisions are well-insulated from any negative impacts. In fact, they directly benefit from any increase in taxes.

Write to your district rep, include the whole council, ask them to pull out of this dive before it’s too late.

If we allow the city’s sales tax measure to pass, the taxpayers will be on the hook for the outrageous pensions and benefits forever

3 Jan

A couple of letter writers weighed in recently on the proposed sales tax increase measure our city manager and council are moving toward the ballot. I don’t want to get too confident, but I’m starting to wonder if this measure will be the slam dunk the city is hoping for.

From the Enterprise Record:

More jobs, no tax increase
Here’s a novel idea. Have Chico’s “less fortunate” get jobs and become self reliant (like the rest of us) and we won’t need a city sales tax increase.— Jeff Saine, Chico

Long time local newscaster and well-known meteorologist Anthony Watts included the measure in his 2022 predictions:

Forecasts for 2022
No. 1: The legislature will pass and Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign an “exit tax” on people leaving the state for a better life. They’ll tax U-Haul, Ryder, Bekins, United Van Lines, etc. on any out-of-state move contract. This will create a black-market for clandestine movers. It will also create a reverse “Grapes of Wrath” effect; people loading up their vehicles and leaving the state to escape the “great depression” of California.


No. 2: State sanctioned theft of electricity becomes the new normal. On Jan. 27, 2022, The CPUC will approve the new NEM3 system that will create the highest solar tax in the country and hugely reduce the bill credit solar customers get for selling electricity back to the grid. It also imposes new fees for the “privilege” of connecting to the grid. NEM3 will pay 25 cents on the dollar per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by home and small business solar owners, where under NEM2 it was 95 cents on the dollar. The result; a huge drop in installed solar on existing homes, and black-market electricians to wire solar to directly power homes instead of the grid.

No. 3: “Climate change” will be blamed for Nos. 1 and 2. Newsom and/or some idiot lawmaker will say “climate change” is the real reason people are leaving the state, and “climate change” is the reason we must steal electricity from your solar panels without fairly compensating homeowners.

No. 4: If it makes the ballot, the proposed 1% sales tax in Chico will fail spectacularly in November. Anthony Watts, Chico

I’m fairly certain this measure will make the ballot, but I’d like to believe it will fail. Now that the city is hiring a consultant to peddle it, it’s up to us to make sure the voters get both sides of the story. Important facts have been left out of the media interpretations of this measure – most important, staff and council members have already talked about using the revenues from this measure to secure bonds, including a Pension Obligation Bond. Bonds are permanent debt. As of now the city has no bond debt. The only real obligation against the city is the pension deficit, and who’s responsible for that is negotiable. If we allow this measure to pass, we’ll be on the hook for the pensions forever.

Crime is most certainly on the rise in Chico – ask your gas station attendant

22 Dec

For years now crime has been on the rise in Chico, and city “leaders” have repeatedly tried to deny that fact while also telling us we need to give the cops more money, higher salaries, and “defined benefits” for all their sacrifice. Our city Staff and Council also refuse to believe that the Shelter Crisis Designation they just reinstituted has anything to do with it.

https://www.actionnewsnow.com/content/news/Chico-sees-a-rise-in-gas-station-robberies-575958411.html

Just after 6 a.m. the station in Chico located next to the Co-Op was robbed and the suspect got away. This same gas station was robbed exactly one week ago at just after 1 a.m. where the suspect also got away.

Simply put, we have criminals moving freely all over town while you can’t get a cop when you need one. It’s the funniest thing – the more we increase the cop budget, the more cops we hire, the more crime we seem to get. It reminds me of Looney Tunes – Elmer Fudd sticks his gun in the knot hole and it comes out pointed at him.

Chico Police tell Action News Now, they typically see an increase in crime during the holiday season and say their patrol teams are aware of these robberies and are working to keep adequate officers staffed for patrols to protect the community. They believe this gas station was targeted twice because it has late hours and a lot of foot traffic in general due to it being in the heart of downtown.

Here we see that the police are aware of the problem but don’t post a cop to watch the station? Are they saying this business shouldn’t exist, or at least that they shouldn’t try to provide service 24 hours a day? Cause that would mean the cops would have to provide service 24 hours a day? Maybe folks living and doing business Downtown should expect to shelter in place after dark?

This is insubordination on the part of Chico PD. They’ve allowed Downtown Chico to become a crime zone. And council just keeps handing then raises and hiring new positions. Cops use criminals to keep the rest of us in line, keep us paying our taxes.

Well, it’s raining, and not donuts. You know what that means for the rinky-dink.

Orme is lying when he says city employees have not received raises since 2013 – management salaries have gone up while worker salaries remain stagnant

9 Dec

Fighting a lying machine like Mark Orme is tough. You know what they say – liars never sleep. Over the last few days, we’ve been hearing about a group of Chico Public Works employees who went before council the other night to expose the disparity of pay in the PW Department. I’ve always noticed that the lower-level workers get paid squat compared to management. Here’s the story from Action News in Chico:

https://www.actionnewsnow.com/content/news/City-of-Chico-Public-Works-employees-express-concerns-at-the-City-Council-meeting-tonight-575880811.html

CHICO, Calif. – Dozens of City of Chico Public Works employees were at the City Council meeting tonight sharing their concern with low wages and lack of workers to the council. 

The story quotes one senior worker who makes the usual complaints about losing employees and difficulty in recruiting due to low wages. We’ve all seen the result – just drive around town. So I looked at the secty of state’s website, publicpay.gov, as well as Transparent California. Both sites depend on information given by the agencies, and most agencies aren’t too anxious to hand over this information. So you see some discrepancies, mostly due to how they list the figures. Let’s take a look at Erik Gustafson, who is listed under “Operations and Maintenance Director”, or by his original title, “Public Works Director”.

https://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/search/?q=Erik+Gustafson

https://publicpay.ca.gov/Reports/PositionDetail.aspx?employeeid=27693769

On both sites you’ll see that his salary has gone up every year. Contrary to claims made by City Manager Mark Orme. In an interview with Chico Enterprise Record, Orme claimed city employees haven’t had raises for years.

Look at those two sites – they have slightly different figures, but both show a steady increase. According to TC, Gustafson’s salary has gone up every year, from total pay (which includes overtime and holiday pay but not benefits) of $132,623.06 in 2016, to total pay of $144,482.54 in 2019. Public Pay lists his 2020 salary at $147,925.

But look at the “workers” salaries. You need a name to search TC, but here’s the page from publicpay.gov that shows the disparity.

Three “supervisors” in the $90,000 range, then a sudden drop to $68,000/year for the highest paid “senior worker”. Also note the disparity in the benefits packages – hey, guess what, management pays the least contribution at 9% of cost. You also see another problem with Chico – top-heavy management. Two managers? One of those positions was just created by Orme earlier this year. Both making in excess of $100,000 to sit in the office buffing their fingernails? While the guys who drive the heavy equipment and man the shovels are living on less than $70,000/year? In Chico? No. I wasn’t surprised to hear their union rep say they can’t even afford to live in town.

So here’s the rest of that piece from Chico Action News. There’s another article in the ER, linked above. I wish the workers would point out what I just pointed out, but you know, they’re afraid to push too hard, might get fired. But Orme is obviously trying to use workers’ complaints to insinuate that the taxpayers are the problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if Orme is behind this grandstanding. Don’t buy it.

“Ultimately, we wanted to point out to them that we have a serious situation with our wages and we’re trying to gain their support and trying to do that through educating them on what we do and what we bring to the city, what we bring to the table. Hopefully they got the message,” said senior maintenance worker James Erven. 

Erven tells Action News Now they have lost 12 people in the last four years to higher paying jobs and have several people who are constantly looking for new positions.

“We have positions that starting wage is beneath minimum wage, that’s a problem. We have a hard time recruiting qualified candidates,” said Erven

There was not an agenda item topic regarding this issue, but public works employees shared these issues to the council during the business on the floor portion of the meeting. 

Three employees shared their concerns, then they all left the meeting. City Council heard their concerns. Our reporter reached out to council members, but was unable to get a statement from them regarding these issues

The area director for the union representing public works, Del Mallory tells me these employees have not received a pay raise in 11 – 12 years and several can’t afford to live in the city. He says they are finally putting their foot down and addressing this issue.

“We finally reached this breaking point where folks are fed up and they’re ready to fight. That’s why we’re here because we need to engage our city council into this conversation so they know that we’re serious and that we need them to bargain with us in good faith,” said Mallory. 

He says their next bargaining meeting is tomorrow, and that they are determined to get what they need.

“We will bargain with the intent to get a deal, but we are willing to do whatever it takes to get a good deal,” said Mallory. 

City Council also directed the City Attorney’s Office to analyze the cannabis ordinance, so they can revisit the topic in a future meeting. The council was also introduced to ARDA Demographics tonight as their representative said there will be two public hearings regarding redistricting before any maps are created.

Staff report: IA Committee votes to direct staff to stop pursuing the rental tax. For now.

7 Dec

I emailed the clerk’s office about yesterday’s Internal Affairs meeting and staffer Stina Cooley got back to me with good news – “The Committee voted to keep the recommendation for the Rental Registry and Sex Trafficking Ordinance the same, so the recommendation to Council will be to direct staff to stop pursuing those items.”

But she added, “The recommendations will likely come back to Council in January.”

I’m not going to bother Stina with the obvious question (why and who would bring it back?) because she’s under a ton of work, and Staff time is expensive. But it would be interesting to know who is behind this rental registry scam. That would take a read back to October 2020, when it was first introduced in the IA committee.

As a landlady, this rental registry is of special interest to me, but really, it’s just part of a bigger push to raise our local taxes to pay the pensions. So, I’ll dig that out and start looking at it.

Here’s the original report for the “rental registry” – still waiting to hear from Staff as to the outcome of yesterday’s discussion

7 Dec

Unfortunately, I didn’t make that meeting yesterday. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I was able to get the report for the May 2021 meeting at which the decision was made not to further discuss this item.

https://chico.ca.us/sites/main/files/file-attachments/05-17-21_special_internal_affairs_agenda_packet.pdf?1620860475

Wow, what a gobstopper of a report. I’ll be looking this over today, and I’m looking forward to talking about it here later.

I’m also looking forward to hearing from Staffer Stina Cooley, who will hopefully tell me what the Internal Affairs Committee decided to do with this item.