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Good question Bob: Why do we need to replace Constantin with anyone?

14 Nov

One last word on the departure of Chris Constantin – from a comment Bob left the other day:

Why do we need to replace Constantin with anyone? The truth is the City is over its head in debt and we can’t afford a replacement.

Besides, why should we continue to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for a bureaucrat who does nothing but scheme how to raise our taxes and get us deeper in debt with things like POBs while letting our streets and everything else fall apart.

Wow, good question Bob! So I wrote a letter to the ER about it.

When departing Chico administrator Chris Constantin was hired in 2013, he spoke to the Tea Party. He said our previous finance director was “Loosey Goosey”, bragging about his qualifications to “straighten out the mess” she’d left. He told us, once he fixed things, “you can hire someone cheaper, with less initials behind their name.”

Seven years later, I see a bigger mess. Constantin himself has told us, staff deferred maintenance on streets and other infrastructure while they continued to make bigger payments toward their pension liability (UAL) – this year $11,000,000. But the UAL continues to increase –  this year, the city manager created three new management positions with $100,000+ salaries.

When Brian Nakamura was hired, he went on a firing spree, gutting lower level staffers and bringing his own friends in for management positions – Mark Orme and then Constantin. Since then the assistant manager’s salary has gone from $142,652 to over $189,000/year. Orme and Constantin have also garnered themselves 457 Plans worth an additional $20,000/year each.

From a 2018 report to the California League of Cities: “City pension costs will dramatically increase to unsustainable levels.” Their first suggestion – make more aggressive payments to CalPERS. Meanwhile, “Change service delivery methods and levels of certain public services.” Meaning, squeeze the taxpayers for more money.

Top heavy management and perpetual demands for higher salaries and more benefits has our city upside-down. Constantin’s position should be eliminated, along with other unnecessary management positions, so we can hire the lower-paid workers we need to get this town “straightened out.” 

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

Chico since Nakamura, Orme and Constantin – do you feel “healed”? Or “heeled”?

12 Nov

Chico disaster timeline – rough montage of the last 8 years of city management, or, mismanagement?

Sept 2012 – Nakamura hired from Hemet – Hemet was shocked, said Nakamura had not told them he was looking for another job

Jan 15 2013 – Asst City Manager John Rucker’s “sudden departure” https://www.newsreview.com/chico/content/sudden-departure/8827217/

Mar 7 2013 – Nakamura hires his former asst mgr from Hemet Mark Orme – from the above article – “This week the Chico Enterprise-Record reported the story and also published in its classified section an ad for the position. The ad says the salary offered for assistant manager is $142,652 per year with the potential to reach $172,382 based on performance. The ad refers to the city website for more information.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: 7 years later, as of his resignation, Constantin was making $189,000+ as Asst City Mgr. Let’s see what council intends to pay his replacement]

Mar-Apr ? 2013 – Jennifer Hennessy resigns as finance director – “As the city’s finances worsened, Hennessy was often the target of sharp criticism from some council members and agenda-driven citizens. ” CN&R article link below

April 16 2013 – Nakamura hires former Hemet employee Chris Constantin from an auditor position in San Diego “

“In an interview prior to the council meeting, the 37-year-old Constantin talked about his decision and the controversies he is escaping in San Diego, where he’s served as assistant auditor since 2010.”

https://www.newsreview.com/chico/content/money-man/9619285/

“I made a three-year commitment in San Diego that was up in February,” he said. “At about that point I wasn’t really happy because I wasn’t feeling appreciated.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Read the N&R article – Constantin left San Diego with a shit storm at his heels.]

May 28, 2014 – Nakamura leaves https://www.newsreview.com/chico/content/so-long-nakamura/13622217/

““It caught us a little bit off guard,” said Mayor Scott Gruendl, who received Nakamura’s resignation letter last Wednesday (May 28) during a breakfast meeting.”

“When Nakamura arrived in September 2012, the city was in a bad place financially and it was his job to fix it. About six months into his time in Chico, Nakamura laid out his three-part plan to Gruendl. Part one was to identify the problems. Part two was to put a team in place to remedy those problems. Part three was to step back and allow the town to heal.

“He pulled the covers back on stuff, and also came up with responses on how to deal with it,” Gruendl said. “That meant a lot of layoffs, unfortunately. What was devastating for a lot of people is how many people we had to let go. Each time, it was more seasoned and experienced people, and it got harder. There was no good way to reconcile that.”

“He’s the lightning rod for the hard decisions that were made—the significant number of layoffs that we did, the collapse of 11 departments into five, the actual moving out of key management people who, for no better explanation, blatantly fucked up,” Gruendl said. “We had people who had good intentions but really didn’t know what they were doing. Brian dealt with it.”

“But the drastic reorganization of city departments has certainly left some with a bad taste in their mouths. Layoffs included many employees who had dedicated years—decades, even—to the organization, and key positions were eliminated, leaving things like the city’s trees untended.”

June 3 2014 – Orme appointed interim city manager

Same article – “Looking forward, Mark Orme—who was promoted from assistant to interim city manager at the City Council meeting Tuesday (June 3)—said he’s excited to work with Chico to begin the healing process.

“There’s been a lot of pain and heartache. That takes time to heal,” Orme said. “There are also external challenges. There’s been a lot of impact on the community financially as it relates to community organizations and a lot of the norms Chico was used to.”

[EDITORS NOTE: “the norms Chico was used to…” What the hell did he mean by that? If you lived here before 2013, let me ask – do you feel “healed”, or “heeled”?

SURPRISE! Assistant City Manager Chris Constantin seeking a manager position in San Dimas CA – $220,000/year!

8 Nov

Dear Chris Constantin,

So you are off to San Dimas? I heard it through the Grapevine. (ha ha, get it? Through the Grapevine? Old trucker joke)

It seems like just yesterday you bragged to a Tea Party gathering about all he “initials” after your name. You bragged about the consulting positions you held with agencies all over the state. You told the assemblage that our town was in a terrible financial shape, because our former Finance Director was “Loosey Goosey”. But you bragged about your credentials and promised that you would fix everything, adding, “then you’ll be able to hire somebody cheaper, with fewer initials behind their name…”

Wow, looking around myself, I don’t see that. I see our town is a bigger mess than it was when you got here, while you’ve done very nicely for yourself. You’ve garnered almost $200,000/year in salary and about a $50,000 package. You paid little to nothing for not only a 70% pension but a $20,000/year 457 Plan (special 401K for public workers). Now you’ve used Chico to step along to an “Annual salary of $220,000” as city manager in a rich Southern California town.

I realize you’ve paid the price. I remember when you bragged and bragged about your gorgeous young wife, showing her off around town like a trick pony. Then you left her at home to pop out kids like a popcorn machine.   When you told me about your first child, I told you, “Quit your job, or you’ll miss the best years of your life.”  You should have listened to me Bud. Instead you made an ass of yourself at the podium, whining like a bitch about our town causing your divorce?

That’s on you! Jesus Christ Chris, look what YOU’VE done to our town! 

Good Bye, and Good Riddance Chris Constantin, and please, don’t let the screen door hit you on your ass on your way to San Dimas. It’s already had enough abuse.  

To the people of San Dimas – GOOD FUCKING LUCK with this guy. Here’s what you can depend on – your town is about to get more expensive!

Juanita Sumner

FROM THE SAN DIMAS CITY COUNCIL AGENDA FOR THIS TUESDAY

CITY COUNCIL MEETING AGENDA
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 10th, 2020 7:00 P. M.
SAN DIMAS COUNCIL CHAMBER
245 EAST BONITA AVENUE

a. Consideration of Appointment of Chris Constantin as City Manager, with a start date of January 4, 2021, and approval of City Manager Employment Agreement

RESOLUTION 2020-61, A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE
CITY OF SAN DIMAS, COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, APPOINTING CHRIS
CONSTANTIN AS CITY MANAGER AND APPROVING A CITY MANAGER
EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENT
RECOMMENDATION: Adopt Resolution 2020-62, Appointing Chris Constantin as
City Manager and Approving the City Manager Employment Agreement.

Who will pay the unfunded liability? Taxpayers living on a median income of $43,000/year, or well-paid, well-heeled, entitled public employees making over $100,000/year?

5 Nov

It’s been said, the campaign begins the day after an election.  I like to hit the ground running. Here’s a letter I just sent to the ER. 

Butte County, like the city of Chico, is considering a Pension Obligation Bond.

POBs are a financing scheme that allows state and local governments to get the taxpayers to pay unfunded pension liabilities by issuing a bond guaranteed by tax revenues. Like CalPERS, POB proponents claim investments will pay for both the bond and the retirement fund. According to Oregon PERS manager Mike Cleary, “Some people call this arbitrage, but it’s not, it’s really an investment gamble.”

In fact, in 2013, Stockton and San Bernardino went bankrupt. According to the court, “Generous pensions awkwardly propped up with ill-timed POBs contributed to both debacles.”

In recent years, returns on POBs have often fallen below the interest rate paid by agencies to borrow the money, digging the liability hole even deeper. Nonetheless, they remain popular because they are instant money without voter approval.

Chico’s Unfunded Pension Liability has grown enormously over the past year – from $123,000,000 to $140,000,000, with another $146,000,000 interest – because of unrealistic employee contributions. Chico employees pay, at most, 15% for pensions that run from 70 – 90% percent of hundred-thousand-plus salaries. Meanwhile, taxpayers not only contribute a payroll share, but the annual “catch-up” payments come at the expense of city services – this year $11,000,000.

Who will pay the unfunded liability? Taxpayers living on a median income of $43,000/year, or well-paid, well-heeled, entitled public employees making over $100,000/year?

Let your elected representative know what you think of this scheme to leave the taxpayers holding the Pension Deficit Bag.

Juanita Sumner, Chico

Letter to the Editor: City services will never be adequately funded until employees start paying their fair share

28 Oct

Dave was reminding me the other day (thanks Dave), elections come and go, but the suits are always working on  tax increases. It’s true, elected officials are here today, gone tomorrow, but The Song Remains the Same – City of Chico Staff is always trying to  find a way to  get us to pay their outrageous salaries and  benefits, without providing us with any services. 

I thought BC really wrapped it up good when he said, “Chico taxpayers… are guaranteeing the generous salaries and benefits of well heeled, well paid, privileged city employees.”

So, I wrote a letter to the editor about it! I borrowed generously from BC’s remarks made a week or so ago here, I hope that’s okay BC! I did change your comment about “average income” to “median family income” because that’s the only statistic I could verify. Still works. 

At my blog, chicotaxpayers.com, we’re discussing the Pension Obligation Bond currently being considered in closed door meetings Downtown.

CalPERS promises to fund the pensions with a 7% investment return, but have not met that target, forcing city of Chico to dip into the General Fund to make increasing payments. That’s right – Chico taxpayers, with a median family income of $43,000/yr, are guaranteeing the generous salaries and benefits of well heeled, well paid, privileged city employees.

A Pension Obligation Bond must  be paid ahead of everything else, at the expense of city services. In the event of a bad return, the bond holders can take our entire General Fund. 

To use a credit card analogy: The City has run up so much credit card (pension) debt, they can’t even make the minimum payment. So while they keep spending at the same or greater rate (hiring three new management positions this year), they mortgage the house to pay down the credit cards. They can’t afford to keep the house up (deteriorating municipal facilities, parks and public areas), can’t fix the driveway (deteriorating streets), can’t afford a security system (fire and police), and eventually can’t afford to put food on the table for the family (homeless).

City services will never be adequately funded until employees start paying their fair share.

Tell Mayor and Finance Committee member Ann Schwab what you think, at ann.schwab@chicoca.gov

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

POST SCRIPT:  I’d also like to see Mark Orme fired, but maybe if we apply enough heat to the seat of his pants we can just make him quit. 

 

Quiz: How much do you know about Chico’s pension deficit?

18 Oct

Here’s Part 1 of the quiz I was promising. These questions are all from the first 10 or 15 minutes of the video presentation posted here:

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2020/10/09/heres-the-video-from-that-sept-23-finance-comm-meeting-ever-wonder-what-people-are-saying-about-your-money-behind-your-back/

If you feel like it, send this video to your district representative/candidate, see how many of these questions he/she can answer.

  1. What is the city’s current Unfunded Actuarial Liability (aka “pension deficit”), not including interest?
  2. How much has that figure grown in the last 5 years?
  3. What are the two types of payments the city currently makes to CalPERS?
  4. How much are those payments projected to increase over the next 5 years?
  5. What is CalPERS investment return target, and what have they been averaging over the last 20 years?

Well, that ought to give you something to chew on, I’ll get more questions when I have a minute.

The Elephant in Election 2020: The pension deficit and staff’s efforts to shift the burden fully onto the taxpayers

7 Oct

Yes, I am still pissed off about being locked out of the Finance Committee meeting two weeks ago. But, I got a flash drive from staff, and having loaded it onto my laptop, I will post that video asap, with my usual snappy narrative. 

I wish I had waited until I saw the  meeting. I had endorsed all three members of that committee – frankly, on a “lesser of evils” strategy. After I watched the meeting, I found myself even more in support of Randall Stone, while my feelings for Morgan and Schwab have cooled considerably. 

I still say those latter two are the best bet (mind you, we’re talking about gambling) in their respective races, but I can’t endorse them. If they were horses I’d turn them out to pasture. Both of them voted to take this Pension Obligation/Lease Revenue Bond scam to the full council. But I don’t expect their challengers would have done any different. They all have a vested interest in funding the pensions. 

Finance Committee Chair Stone was the one who reminded everybody at the meeting that the consultant’s proposal was assuming CalPERS would achieve their full investment target of 7%. The consultant acknowledged this fact, adding,  I quote, “but we know that’s not going to happen…”  He repeated almost those exact words several times in the subsequent conversation.

Even though Morgan acknowledged same – “we’re certainly not going to fix CalPERS, I don’t expect they’re ever going to do any better on returns…” – he also said “we owe it to staff...” to continue the conversation with full council. Schwab agreed. Admitting that the conversation “raised a lot of questions,” she predicted the consultant would have a “much better, more prepared presentation for council.” Yes, I’m sure he will, having heard the criticisms of the plan, he will downplay the risks and play up the supposed benefits. 

Stone was the only committee member to speak plainly about the risks of these schemes – namely, the CalPERS debt and the bond debt will be paid ahead of any other expenses, including staffing and services – including law enforcement and fire personnel. The consultant spelled that out very clearly under the power point heading “Eyes Wide Open to Risks” .  If these proposals were ski runs they would be labeled “Black Diamond”.

Stone was the only one to openly discuss the truth behind these bonds. ” I’m uncomfortable shifting the burden from the beneficiaries to the rest of the city.” Meaning, not only does this proposal shift the burden of payment from the employees to the taxpayers, it shifts our resources away from services to paying the pensions. Period. Both the consultant and Chris Constantin made it clear this was a risky proposal that could bottom out our General Fund and cause layoffs. The consultant specifically mentioned public safety. So, this proposal to guarantee the pensioners their pensions would come at the cost of future employees, and that means, city services.  

The pension deficit and staff’s efforts to shift the burden fully onto the taxpayers is the Elephant in the upcoming election, but nobody cares? Chair Stone announced that no other members of the public had signed in, having acknowledged that I couldn’t get in. So, I’m pretty sure the only candidates who “attended” the meeting were the committee members. I wonder where the challengers stand on any of this? You might want to ask your candidate about that, if your district is on the ballot. 

The consultant set a timeline for this bond – including the discussion period – staff hopes to be signing off on this deal by next spring. So the public needs to weigh in. Now, because, the “upside” to these bonds, as pointed out by the consultant, is there’s no “validation process,” meaning, no voter approval. Is that really okay with you? 

It’s not okay with me, so I wrote a letter about it:

The city Finance Committee discussed restructuring the pension debt – now at over $280,000,000, including $140,000,000 interest. Two schemes presented: 1) Pension Obligation Bond, 2) Lease Revenue Bonds, using our city streets as collateral. The borrowed money would be invested. Ideally, the investments would pay off, and staff would make bigger UAL payments, eventually achieving a lower interest rate from CalPERS.

There is a razor’s edge to this proposal. Worst case and very likely scenario: both CalPERS and the city fail to meet their investment goals, the taxpayers end up owing both the bond investors and CalPERS.

Committee member Randall Stone commented that the consultant’s recommendation assumes a CalPERS investment return of 7%. The consultant acknowledged this fact, admitting, “but we all know this isn’t going to happen.”

Staffer Chris Constantin added, if the city’s not able to pay, “they could forcibly take the money from the General Fund… “ without regard to direct impacts on staffing and services. The consultant reported that a large Southern California county may soon lay off public safety personnel “so they don’t violate their bond covenants.”

Stone voted NO, commenting, ”I’m uncomfortable shifting the burden from the beneficiaries to the rest of the city.” Members Schwab and Morgan voted YES. Morgan admitted he doesn’t expect CalPERS “will ever do any better on their returns…” Schwab concurred.

The Government Finance Officers Association does not recommend these bonds, their first objection being CalPERS’ history of poor returns. What are Schwab and Morgan thinking?

 

Another hair-brained scheme from Orme and Constantin – Finance Committee to discuss leasing our streets to pay the pension deficit. No, I’m not joking.

21 Sep

This Wednesday the city Finance Committee will be discussing the Unfunded Pension Liability. The agenda says they plan to “restructure,” but you know, the real dirt is in the reports, available at this link. 

https://chico.ca.us/sites/main/files/file-attachments/9-23-20_finance_committee_agenda_packet.pdf?1600381637

So, I wrote a letter to the paper about it yesterday. We’ll see if Speed Wolcott (if he’s even in town) can get it in before the meeting! 

Chico Finance Committee meets this week (9/23) to discuss “restructuring” the $146,000,000 pension deficit. Topics include a Pension Obligation Bond and “lease revenue bonds”.

Pension obligation bonds (POBs) are taxable bonds used to fund the unfunded portion of pension liabilities with borrowed money.  The presumption is that investments will pay the debt service. However, as with CalPERS, failure to achieve the targeted rate of return means the taxpayer is stuck with the debt service on the bonds.  And, we’re still stuck with the pension deficit. POB’s are a jump out of the frying pan, into the fire.

“Lease revenue bonds” involve municipalities issuing bonds (borrowing money) using their own city streets or buildings as collateral to pay down their unfunded pension liabilities. From the 9/23 agenda: “A lease revenue bond structure (leased asset required, such as streets or buildings) would avoid validation process [meaning, the voters] and could proceed on quicker schedule.”

Essentially, a city leases their streets to a special Financing Authority, which will pay the city their up-front money, and “rent” the streets back to the city, in order to pay off the bonds. (Forbes)

And the taxpayers pay the “rent”.  “The municipality will generally appropriate money during each budget session to meet the lease [rent] payment.” (Forbes) These appropriations come at the cost of public safety and infrastructure.

Lease revenue bonds are essentially pension obligation bonds, but can “proceed on quicker schedule” because there’s no voter approval.

A real solution for the pension crisis – ask employees to pay more.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

New trend – California municipalities are “leasing” city streets to pay their pension deficit – a sneaky way to get a new tax past the voters

13 Sep

I was looking at Pension Tsunami

http://www.pensiontsunami.com/

and found this recent article from Forbes about how a city can make an end run around the voters by using streets and roads as security for bonds. You have to read it to believe it. 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2020/09/02/forget-pension-obligation-bonds-two-cities-areno-jokeleasing-their-streets-to-fund-pensions/#3cf8ccfa2233

“They’re using a bond-issuing mechanism called ‘lease revenue bonds.’ We’re all used to cities paying for public works, stadiums, and the like by issuing bonds which are paid off by a dedicated revenue source — sewer bills, hotel taxes, etc. But lease revenue bonds are different.”

According to Charles Schwab, “Instead of issuing long-term debt, like general obligation bonds do, to finance improvements on a public facility, the municipality may enter into an arrangement that uses lease revenue bonds. Often a trust, not the municipality, issues bonds and generates revenues to pay the bonds back by leasing the facility to the municipality. The municipality will generally appropriate money during each budget session to meet the lease payment.”

General obligation bonds require voter approval, but as staff described in their sales tax measure pitch earlier this year, there are ways to get bonds without voter approval. This is just one way.

Here’s how it’s a tax – once they make this deal, they can just “appropriate money” during each budget session to make whatever payments the lender demands.  “Appropriate” is a Legalese for TAKE. If you look at the agendas for city council meetings you see an appropriation at almost every meeting. A “lease revenue bond” is how they officially pass their pension deficit onto the taxpayers – they borrow money specifically to pay their pension deficit, using city infrastructure as collateral, and then it’s OUR debt, not theirs. 

This is what Chris Constantin and Mark Orme were intending to do with the money generated from the sales tax measure they tried to put on the November ballot. They were going to “secure” bonds, using the sales tax proceeds they told us would go toward fixing streets to make the payments. You can watch Orme’s presentation regarding the bond at the June 23 meeting and Constantin’s emotional plea for the tax measure at the July 7 meeting here:

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2

Nobody brought that bond up during the council discussion. When members of the public raised the question Orme actually denied it – having made a presentation that is available on tape? They were trying to pull a fast one, and they knew it. Stone rejected the proposal, ending the conversation about a tax measure for now, but he never raised the issue of the bond. I would fully expect Chico City staff to try to pull out something like this in future, and we need to let council know it’s out of the question. 

If your district is up in this election, you need to grill your candidates about the pension liability and how it will be paid.  Let the candidates know you’ve done your research, ask pointed questions. Don’t let them fake their way through another election. 

Chico’s Unfunded Pension Liability – the 8,000 pound gorilla in the room that none of the candidates want to talk about

13 Sep

As Dave reminded us yesterday, “the 8,000 pound gorilla in the room” that nobody will talk about in this election is the Unfunded Pension Liability (UAL).

The UAL has been created and perpetuated by the tiny shares that employees pay toward their own pensions – they pay less than 15% but expect to get 70 – 90% in retirement. That only works if somebody picks up the other 80 – 90%. They expect us to be that somebody, and I’m saying, NO!

And while the city manager claims repeatedly that “staff” has not had raises “for years”, the new police chief just got $21,000 more a year than the old police chief. Chico police officers get automatic raises, they are on a “step increase” plan. They also get to “cash out” unused overtime, sick and vacation days on a formula that actually pays them more not to work. They also use these cash-outs to “spike” their salaries and therefor their pensions.  Look at their contracts here:

https://www.chico.ca.us/post/labor-agreements

Finance manager Dowell told me, in August 2019, that city employees pay between 9.75 and 15% of their pension cost, depending on their union group. See, the city manager negotiates these contracts with each group, and then the council just rubberstamps them. It’s time for council to do some of the negotiating. And that means, we have to hold a candle to their rear-end.

Other towns are actually cutting salaries, Chico is not only raising salaries but creating new positions – the new Public Information Officer and another management position for Public Works. This is like throwing gas on the UAL fire. Another thing that goes up automatically every year is the UAL “catch up” payment.  Finance director Scott Dowell just paid almost $10 million to CalPERS. And next year he says it will be over $11 million.

Here are questions for your district candidate:

  1. What is the UAL?  (answer: Unfunded Actuarial Liability, or pension deficit)
  2. How much is Chico’s current UAL?  (the last figure I have from Scott Dowell is $128 million, I believe it’s now over $130 million)
  3. How much money did Scott Dowell just pay toward the UAL in July of this year? (over $9 million)
  4. What are the various shares paid by different employee groups? (between 9.75 and 15%, depending on employee group)

These are terms any council member or candidate should know and understand, since they agree to all this stuff when they roll over the contracts every year. If they don’t, it’s a deal breaker as far as I’m concerned, they should not be in office.  The main reason we are currently in financial trouble is ignorance of these terms. 

So don’t let the candidates tell us what the issues are in this election – don’t let them distract you with pictures of bum camps and trash piles.  Tell them, the issue is the UAL, and who is going to pay it.