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Ralph Nader: “If you don’t turn on to politics, politics will turn on you” – let’s put the “public” back in “public meetings”!

2 Jan

Well Happy New Year to you!

Here’s a resolution for you – attend a public meeting this year – make that TWO!

Here is the agendas page for City of Chico meetings:

http://www.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas.asp

There are three kinds of “committees” – those made up of elected officials, those made up of official appointees (spoils committees) and there’s one that’s made up of staffers – the Maps Committee. That’s a fairly new committee – I’m guessing, they either got in trouble for making these decisions behind closed doors or some rule changed and now they have to make these meetings public. 

Let’s face it – these meetings are only “public” if the “public” attends.

Chico Area Recreation District has a whole new website – you  gotta wonder, why? Their old website was fine, everything was available from the home page – now I had to search for information about the board, and I had to e-mail manager Ann Willmann to ask where to find the agendas. 

You also  gotta wonder, how much did the new website cost? 

Take a good look – this website is going to cost you a new bond or assessment on your home in 2018.

http://www.chicorec.com/board-of-directors

In 2018 let’s put the “public” back in “public information,” “public meetings” and “public participation.” 

UPDATE:  I was kind of shocked to receive this response when I e-mailed CARD manager Ann Willmann yesterday (1/2/18) about agendas for upcoming meetings:

 Sorry I missed you. I am currently out of the office until Monday, January 8th. The CARD office is  closed 12/25-1/5/18. I will be checking email occasionally during the break and will respond to emails as needed. Thank you and have a wonderful holiday season. Ann 

 

So, does this mean, parks and playgrounds are going unattended? Are CARD workers currently laid off, being designated “part time,” and living through the holidays without pay?  Or does it mean, the actual workers have to work while management gets two weeks off, with pay?  Either way it’s costing us. 

Willmann e-mailed me later yesterday, from wherever. 

Hi Juanita, agendas for our regular meetings are posted 72 hours prior to the meeting date. I’m sorry you are not finding the new website more user friendly, thank you for the feedback. I did make a few adjustments to better communicate when the agendas will be posted.  Thank you, Ann

And yes, she’d made that notation on the website. I’m not allowed to ask too many questions at a time, or I would have asked, “One meeting a month – don’t you think you could get those agendas up more than three days ahead?” 

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Go ahead and laugh, you’re paying for it

17 Dec

I was spreading an old issue of the Chico Enterprise Record under my dog dishes and I noticed a story I had missed.

http://www.chicoer.com/article/NA/20170923/NEWS/170929854

The Butte County Association of Governments – BCAG – runs the B-Line.

http://www.blinetransit.com

When I looked at the schedules for the B-Line, I was reminded how riding the bus really sucks. Have some fun – use those schedules to get yourself to the airport, in less than an hour. Because you can drive there in less than 20 minutes from just about anywhere in town, and then you have your car for whenever you want to leave. Please note – there are hours long blocks without service in the middle of the day and then only two buses leaving the airport at the end of the work day. And no stops – it’s an EXPRESS line. You get on Downtown – which means, you have to get Downtown.

Which leaves the use of the bus to catch a plane almost out of the equation – because the buses aren’t for the airline passengers, they’re for employees of airport located businesses. The story says they need at least 64 people a day to pay for this line, and so far they’ve managed to convince about 30 to ride.   Until then, the taxpayers will subsidize this line while BCAG tries to convince employers to buy monthly passes. 

Do you have a car?” is one of the first questions most employers ask. “Missed the bus” is the last excuse you want to pitch at your boss – sounds made up. Until you see the schedules, one misstep and you will be left for an hour. That’s not your boss’ problem, unless he’s Ken Beerman or Dan Got-t-shirts, who are also pitching the New Urban Life Without a Car. Of course, Ken Beerman lives in Forest Ranch, on a private road. Gonzales lives Downtown – if you can get picture of him boarding B-line I will give you a crisp five-spot.

The story is a push piece – thank you Laura Embedded Reporter! The reporter actually tries to tell us employees should take the bus to avoid road damage to their cars. 

“While there is no precise data on the cost of wear and tear on vehicles encountering potholes on Cohasset Road, AAA has determine that nationally potholes cost drivers about $3 billion annually.

Hitting potholes and deep cracks can damage tires, rims, struts, steering and suspension, according to AAA, but what may be worse is that the damage may not be immediately noticeable and deepen as travel continues.”

But the city has no immediate plans to do anything about the road, despite the current jingle for commercial air service.  

“While the city will be improving Cohasset Road in 2018, repair stops short of the airport.

“‘Yes, we are working on the design for road rehabilitation on Cohasset Road from about East Avenue to Eaton Road. This will not do anything to widen or improve Cohasset to the airport from Eaton Road,’ Chico Public Works Director/Engineering Brendan Ottobani wrote this publication on Wednesday.”

That’s interesting. You will not find that kind of information in any story about the city streets, the garbage franchise, or the pensions. But here she uses it to try to get people to ride the bus. 

You really think it costs $250,000 to run one bus half a dozen times a day out to the airport and back? No. BCAG wants  that money for salaries and pensions for themselves. The director of this agency is compensated at over $200,000 year.  Eleven employees – not counting board members – are paid over $777,000/year in wages and another $350,000 in pensions and health benefits.

http://publicpay.ca.gov/Reports/SpecialDistricts/SpecialDistrict.aspx?fiscalyear=2016&entityid=3468

The board is made up of other salaried individuals, including two county supervisors and council members from every town in Butte County, as well as representatives of other public agencies like CARD. Yes, CARD director Ann Willmann, for example, gets paid over $100,000/year plus pension and health insurance to sit in these meetings, facilitating the looting.

According to various sources online, the average transit bus driver in California makes between $30,000 and $40,000/year. I didn’t see anything about benefits. I don’t know where to look to see what they spend on the buses but I’m going to guess that’s less than they spend on the driver. So that leaves a couple of hundred thousand a year to go into the coffers, to pay those management salaries and benefits, or pay down BCAG’s pension deficit.  

These government entities – of which there are far too many – drum up a confusing babble, they seem to contradict each other around every corner. Here the county is pushing a bus line that nobody really wants, while the city won’t fix the road. Why don’t they just use the grant funding to fix the road? 

How ’bout Urseny’s little pitch about air quality – “Buses also help curb air pollution from vehicles.”  That’s bullshit – buses are not only gross polluters, they grind the roads to a pulp. All to carry 33 passengers a day – what’s that, five passengers or less per trip? All the way across  town? 

The airport is a viable business park, many businesses there are tenants of the city of Chico. But their landlord won’t maintain the road in. Meanwhile a group is using city funding – yes, the city paid $15,000 for that last consultant – trying to re-establish commercial air service – but they don’t think the airlines pay attention to stuff like this? 

Go ahead and laugh – you’re paying for it.

 

 

Why do we keep paying consultants to tell us the same thing – we will have to bribe airlines to come here

11 Dec

I finally took airport mangler Sherry Miller up on her offer to drive out to Chico Municipal Airport and check out the DVD from the November 8 “special” airport commission meeting.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2017/11/15/mutineer-sherry-miller-says-i-have-to-make-an-appointment-and-drive-out-to-the-airport-if-i-want-to-see-the-video-she-promised-to-have-on-the-website/

I realized it had been exactly one month since the meeting, and I wondered, why am I doing this? My husband reminded me, this woman said, in two different e-mails, that if we couldn’t make the meeting it would be on video on the website to watch later. When a giant dumper opened up on the night of the meeting, I thought, why drag myself out in that, when I can watch the video in my own house tomorrow. The big meeting room at City Hall is all set up to videotape meetings, the videos of city council meetings are usually available the next day.

But Miller immediately reneged on her promises to have the video loaded onto the website, citing technical problems. When I pressed her about having promised a video she offered me the copy, but told me I had to make an appointment and drive to the airport to get it.

So I ground my teeth all the way across town, with real zeal as we drove out Cohasset Road, which is lined with garbage on either side. That is a pretty vital economic corridor, lots of viable businesses, but you’d never know that given the view from the road – asphalt pitted with potholes and cracks, narrow and broken on the edges, no visible maintenance. Weeds on either side, broken fences – Cohasset Road is the textbook definition of “blight”.  I kept thinking – this is what people like Governor Swarzenegger and Oprah Winfrey saw when they flew into CMA. Is that why President Barack Obama landed in Redding and drove south to view damage from wild fires a few years back?

The airport itself looks like post war Berlin.  Here’s a scene from a great old Jimmy Cagney movie – One, Two Three – with footage of East Berlin from 1961. It actually looks nicer in some parts than Chico Airport.

Empty lots, dotted with weeds, trash, even dumped asphalt and cement chunks. The parking lot next to the terminal, which is supposed to be for “rental fleet vehicles” is un-surfaced and has weeds growing up through the old asphalt. The rental fleet cars fill the “visitor” parking lot in front of the terminal.

There were about half dozen people waiting around the ticket counter inside the terminal. There was talk of “boarding” as I walked toward Miller’s office. So I see the airport is still used for flights, even if there aren’t many people waiting to get on one.  I’m going to guess the rental car business is busier – I know people rent cars here to drive to Sacramento or San Francisco airports.

Miller’s quarters are over to the back corner of the terminal – two rooms, with a small, private office in the back. I could see her through the windows, sitting at her computer, but was greeted by her small dog. She put the dog out into a fenced area when she opened the door for us. I couldn’t help but be jealous – wouldn’t everybody like to take their dog to work, not have to worry about leaving a pet alone all day, have a friend to take your mind off your job once in a while. Must be nice.

There was a sign-out sheet, which I filled out, and then she handed me the DVD. My husband chattered about the dog, which lightened the atmosphere slightly. I forgot to ask if I’d have to make an appointment to turn in the DVD – and then I wondered, does she even come in to the office every day? Any entire days? Or is she only there by appointment?

Must be nice.

I’d asked to have it over the weekend because I knew it would be hard to sit down and watch it over night. When I got home, I realized – it might take a day or so to figure out how to watch it. I had wanted to download it into my computer so I could try to post it on youtube – silly me. The DVD wouldn’t even play in my computer. I fiddled with it for half an hour, and then my husband came up for a snack, and he fiddled with it some more. He got it to work for a few minutes, but when I tried to rewind it a few minutes later, it froze, and continued to do so every time we loaded it. 

I decided to try it in our DVD player. Same thing – a blue screen came up and froze. As with the computer, I just left it and walked away, did some chores. What a morning – I had a batch of dog food on the stove, 10 pounds of frozen chicken parts thawing in the sink, bread dough rising on the counter, and it  was a gorgeous day, so I was trying to catch up on some laundry. 

Tote that barge, and lift that bale!  Somebody’s got to WORK around here!

Patience was it’s own reward as I suddenly heard the sounds of a meeting starting up, chairman’s voice announcing the Pledge, yadda yadda, and then here comes the consultant from Intervistas. The picture reminded me of my grandma’s old tv – snow! So much for the Power Point Presentation.

I don’t know who hired the consultant – Chris Warren – or who paid him – I put that question to Ms. Miller, and I’ll post her answer when/if I get it.

Warren ran through a short recent history of the airlines. He talked about the deregulation of the late ’70’s, and how that resulted in many tiny airlines, all vying for customers, offering crazy deals. He didn’t mention – we had a lot of ugly airline accidents over those days, with poorly maintained planes, overworked pilots and air traffic controllers. 

Then oil prices spiked, he recalled, and things started to fall apart for the airlines. The 80’s and 90’s were an era of “Boom and Bust” for the airlines.

As of 2000, Warren went on, the smaller airlines collapsed, many “logos” disappeared. Bigger airlines went about gobbling up the littler companies, investors came in, making the industry more “stable.”

But that wasn’t  good for smaller community airports, because the smaller airlines weren’t coming in, and the bigger airlines switched from turbo prop engines to jets.

Well, here’s what was going on in Chico at that time.  Our airport was in deficit – the city had been pilfering the airport fund to pay salaries and benefits for non-airport employees. Instead of upgrading the runway to accommodate the new jets, they bottomed out the airport fund on themselves. It got so bad – just a few years ago, city mangler Mark Orme announced we were in danger of losing the fire fighting planes because we hadn’t kept our water tanks up to code. The federal government was going to pull funding that was necessary to keep operations running. 

According to Warren, airlines are putting planes in “bigger markets.” Turbo props are becoming museum pieces for hobby pilots. Too bad for Chico – we don’t have a runway to accommodate nor do we have passengers to fill a jet.  Warren reminded us that the airlines are not going to fly a jet half full. 

I recalled the tiny group that had been in the terminal when I picked up the DVD – I only saw a couple of suitcases. This is the Big Lie – a small group of proponents keep telling us there’s a demand for commercial air service, but there isn’t any. It’s just too easy to drive to Sacramento, where they are light years ahead of us on infrastructure, and leaving us farther behind every day. 

Warren cited a 2014 report in the Wall Street Journal – “Why Small Airports Are In Big Trouble…”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/behind-huntsville-airports-ill-fated-bid-to-boost-service-1396901376

To reverse years of declining traffic and fewer flights, Huntsville International Airport last year decided to offer its few remaining airlines incentives if they enhanced service to the small, northern Alabama city.

The city of Huntsville wrote up a plan to offer up to $5 million to airlines that “added flights, lowered fares, or otherwise encouraged” people to fly out of that airport.

Unfortunately the full article is not available, but there’s my segue – that’s where the consultant was leading the conversation.

Warren said that despite this trend away from smaller airports, there are “tools” the city could use to get commercial service in Chico. The first three are government grant programs – but he as quickly dismissed these avenues because we either wouldn’t qualify or they were a lot of work with little return. 

He cut quickly to the chase, just as the DVD was starting to freeze up on me again – a “revenue guarantee.”

The DVD was so bad at this point, I wouldn’t have understood what he was talking about if a previous consultant hired by the city had not explained the same scam. They want us to guarantee them – sit down – $600,000 in passenger fares, or pay them the difference. 

Again, I’ll say – there were less than half a dozen people at the terminal, and I don’t even know if they all had tickets to board. 

Warren went on to say, these funds can’t come out of the airport fund, they have to come from local government or the private sector. He chirped that if people fly “then the community doesn’t have to pay!”

And then the DVD froze and I gave up. I know he went on in depth about how they could convince the community to get behind this scam. The previous consultant suggested we put staffers in pilot and stewardess uniforms and send them to venues like Farmer’s Market – show people FLYING IS FUN!

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_eye/2015/06/25/air_france_flight_447_and_the_safety_paradox_of_airline_automation_on_99.html

 

So I was interested in hearing what this consultant had to pitch, but the DVD was a wash. 

The airport is just another piece in the city’s pending sales tax increase campaign. They are promising unicorns and rainbows when we need better schools and jobs. And, one of the players behind “Jet Chico” is Howard Slater, one of Chico’s biggest old school developers. Here’s my guess – he wants the city of Chico to pay him to develop the airport. 

Now I have to make plans to drive out to the airport to return the dysfunctional DVD. I’ll post whatever answers I get from Miller. 

 

Mutiny! City $taff decides they don’t have to answer questions

14 Nov

I’ve been distracted by city of Chico improprieties lately – I have two requests for information that are being point-blank ignored by $taff.

Last week the clerk’s office posted the city council agenda with an item regarding the current Chico Police contract negotiations. The agenda report referred to a document – 

“Section 1. That an amendment to the contract between the City Council of the City of Chico and the Board of Administration, California Public Employees’ Retirement System is hereby authorized, a copy of said amendment being attached hereto, marked Exhibit. and by such reference made a part hereof as though herein set out in full.”

that was not attached to the agenda. I had to ask for it. The clerk sent me the document later in the day – it turns out, last March, council signed a release, indemnifying CalPERS from any harm caused to the city by that agency.

The document clerk sent was not cut-and-paste and she did not provide me a link through which I could share it. 

This is the second time I’ve had to ask for a document that was supposed to be attached to a  report on an agenda.  So, I wrote an e-mail to city $taff, asking why the document wasn’t attached to the agenda, as was described. They just aren’t responding. 

Here’s an article Dude sent that might shed some light – thanks Dude!

http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article184235683.html

Meanwhile, I’ve been waiting for airport commission $taffer Sherry Miller to post the video of the “special” airport commission meeting held last week. She had been posting notices of the meeting for about a month, saying, “As I noted in an earlier email, the meeting will be videoed and a link posted to the Airport Commission web page.”

I would have attended that meeting, but about half an hour previous, the heavens opened up for a dumper, and I thought, “well, she did say the video would be posted…”  I was born here, I know – you think twice before you go out in a storm. I’ll never forget the time I went to an evening meeting, it was storming, public works hadn’t cleared drains, and not only the city building parking lot and courtyard but two businesses across the street flooded. I remember standing inside the lobby with a group of people, including then assistant city manager John Rucker, telling Rucker I had to walk on curbs to get in from the parking lot.

Miller also said, “In addition, the City Council Chambers are not under construction so the meeting will be held in the usual location at 421 Main Street in the City Council Chambers.  This works out better for viewing the presentation.”

But the agendas page still posts the meeting at the old Municipal Building, “441 Main Street, upstairs…”  In red.

So, if the meeting was held in the council chambers, why did she later claim that the video is not in the right format for posting or sharing? That’s the same chambers the council holds meetings in twice a month, and those videos are available the next day, almost without fail. 

So, I’ve been asking her when that video will be available, and she’s just not answering. 

Mutiny on the Good Ship Lollipop?

 

City has no financial emergency policy, $taff suggests a policy for revenue measures

25 Sep

The report I got is not cut-and-pastable, you can read it for yourself here.

http://www.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas/documents/FinanceCommitteeAgendaPacket-9-27-17.pdf

I’ve again asked the city clerk’s office to send me a cut-and-pastable copy, there’s stuff in this report that needs to be discussed publicly. 

Those of us who paid attention watched council first deny and then flub their way through near-bankruptcy.  They hired an out-of-town gun to “fix” things, he gutted $taff and walked away having established unprecedented salaries for management and a policy that allowed management to pay less than 10 percent of their own pensions.

So yeah, we need a emergency plan, but what I see here is a plan to pay down their pensions. 

“pay down scheduled debt payments…” 

The city’s biggest debt schedule is the $185 million-plus they owe on the pensions. $taff is currently paying $500,000/year on that debt, but payments will go up to $1.5 million within the next few years. 

How will they find the money?

“This policy authorizes the city manager…to investigate…enhanced revenue sources…including…tax increase proposals…”

I don’t have time to re-type the whole report, and our $100,000-plus clerk $taff screwed up sending me the report – as I’ve established with Presson and Brinkley, the reports are supposed to be loaded in such a way that they cut-and-paste, but Stina Cooley, recently promoted to the position, apparently does not know this. Or is just trying to put one over, I don’t know. 

Read it for yourself. 

UPDATE: Sorry to be so testy when I posted the above from my phone, but I get so sick and tired of $taff. Stina Cooley has been with the city for a while now, recently took on some clerk duties, and ignored me when I asked her to resend the reports in “cut-and-paste” format. 

I know people don’t hit the links – Word Press puts eyes in the back of my head. I know a lot of people read the posts without hitting the links, and I use cut-and-paste to quote sections of the reports so they will see, in exactly so many words, what $taff is up to. 

So today I resent my request, and done as I should have done in the first place – cc’d Cooley’s supervisor Dani Rogers. I cc’d Mark Orme because I want to keep him abreast of his $taff’s performance. 

And of course Rogers responded very quickly that the reports would be converted to text, and then she sent me the link. 

These people get paid a lot of money to have some old landlady tell them how to do their job. 

Loyalton Calif cuts pensions – why can’t Chico do same?

27 Aug

Thanks to Jim for picking up this article, from the Los Angeles Times, about a little town not far from Chico.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-loyalton-calpers-pension-problems-20170806-htmlstory.html

I think we have a similar situation here. Early in the 2000’s, a city council including current county supervisors Maureen Kirk and Larry Wahl, at the behest of then city manager Tom Lando, signed an MOU with city employees, attaching salaries “to revenue increases, but not decreases…”  

Staff then went on a permits binge, permitting development all over town, houses piled into Grandma’s back yard, raising city revenues and salaries along with them. Staff got 14, 19, 22 percent raises over a very short period.  Lando’s own salary went from around $65,000 a year to over $120,000 a year within a very short time. 

When this scam was figured out by the public, they stopped it, but started paying the “employer paid member contribution” –  the city started paying most, even all of the employee’s pension share.

We’ve been screeching about that, so lately they just  raise the employee’s salary to cover their new pension share – they are determined that the taxpayer will foot the bill for these pensions (the following list is from 2012, remember, these people get cost of living increases) :

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2012/01/30/heres-why-lando-wants-to-raise-your-sales-tax/

Tom Lando hasn’t been pumping the sales tax increase lately, but I’m sure he’s behind it. Lately, in his position as Chico Area Recreation District Board member, he’s been pushing for a bond on our homes. It doesn’t matter which agency gets the money, as long as they pay their CalPERS deficit with it. 

Loyalton only had four employees – can we do the same thing? I think we can sue the city for the outrageous raises given these pensioneers – spiking – right before they retired, like Lando. But I’m not a lawyer. 

What do you think? 

Sales Tax Increase Anyone?

30 Jul
 

The headline read, “Chico government can’t be trusted with tax increase.” The letter implied current city management is deceitful in its handling of city finances. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the letter writer attended monthly Finance Committee meetings, any accusation of supposed mishandling of taxpayer monies could be explained. I know, I attend those meetings.

Since our new management staff (Mark Orme, city manager, Chris Constantin, assistant city manager, Scott Dowell, administrative services director, and Barbara Martin, deputy director-finance) took office many positive changes in financial reporting have taken place. Detailed financial reports are presented at both the committee meeting and at City Council meetings. Those reports are published online for all to see and pick apart if the public chooses. I cannot recall the letter writer coming forward with a question, comment, or criticism this entire year.

Most of the letter seemed focused on past majority driven ultra-liberal councils (2004-2012) and the old management team that was either unwilling or incapable of controlling their spending. Things have changed dramatically. All it took was one conservative council member and the Grand Jury report of May 2013 to shed light on the mismanagement of taxpayers’ money.

I have no misgivings in suggesting that the city raise sale tax by one-quarter of 1 percent (7.25 percent to 7.50 percent) equaling $4-$4.5 million annually. I will gladly pay that extra 12 cents on a $50 purchase if that meant we could repair/replace our hazardous city streets in this century.

— Stephanie L. Taber, Chico

 

My response to Taber, e-mailed 7/29/17 (we’ll see if this is printed, ER staff removed similar comments I made on Taber’s letter )
We have been assured that all Chico’s financial problems have been put to bed under our “new” staff.  
Former finance director and current assistant city manager Chris Constantin instituted the policy by which whenever a fund is in deficit money is “administratively” transferred from other funds. For example, the gas tax, which most people believe is dedicated to road repairs and improvements is routinely “allocated” for  salaries, pensions and benefits, just like when Jennifer Hennessy was our finance director.
Current administrative services (finance) director Scott Dowell was with Chico Area Recreation District when they failed to make recommended repairs to Shapiro Pool, instead spending $400,000 on a “side fund payoff” to CalPERS.   When he left that agency CARD had over $1.7 million in pension deficit for less than 35 employees, despite spending over $300,000/year in regular payments.

The city’s pension and benefits liability is now over $180 million, and the state is demanding an escalating payment scale. Meanwhile, we continue to pay the majority of our employee benefits, giving them raises to cover their increased shares.  We will never get out of our financial morass until our management staff agrees to pay 50 percent of their own pensions and benefits without corresponding salary increases to cover it.

A quarter cent sales tax increase would be spit on a griddle.

Juanita Sumner, Chico