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.

The city is running a tax blitz, and it’s all about the pensions

8 Dec

Staff’s comment to my inquiry about the rental tax bothers me – “The recommendations will likely come back to Council in January.” So I wrote a letter to the editor about it. I think it’s important to remind people – the city is running a tax blitz, and it’s all about the pensions.

I was glad to hear Chico Internal Affairs Committee directed Staff to stop pursuing the rental tax on the Dec 6 agenda. But a staffer told me, “The recommendations will likely come back to Council in January.”

Staff has repeatedly recommended a “gross receipts” tax on both businesses and all rentals within the city limits, as well as an annual registry fee. According to the staff report, “The City could consider removing the unit exemption entirely requiring even renters of single family homes to pay the tax. Furthermore, the definition could be changed to residential and non-residential property, picking up any property rental within the City.”

Staff’s only concern is to “raise additional local funds”. They are desperate for revenues to cover their pension deficit, created by unrealistic employee contributions. Council has already approved a general sales tax increase for the 2022 ballot. A general tax measure has no restrictions on spending. The mayor has suggested sales tax revenues would be used to secure bonds. The city has already attempted to secure a Pension Obligation Bond without the approval of the voters.

They’re determined to ignore the obvious solution – instead of raising the price of everything all over town, Staff needs to pay more realistic shares toward their generous pensions, or accept smaller pensions. Council instead grants salaries over $100,000/year and 70-90% pensions, with employee shares only 9 – 15%, the taxpayers on the hook for increasing payments. Let’s change the structure of our payroll from Defined Benefits to Defined Contributions.

Juanita Sumner, Chico

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.

Rent is going UP in Chico – meet your new landlord, Mark Orme

6 Dec

Today the Internal Affairs Committee is going to discuss the rental tax that was shelved earlier this year. This tax includes a “rental registry” (and a fee) and a tax on proceeds. One provision that ruffled my tenants – they want to inspect the rentals. I don’t think that’s appropriate – are they going to start inspecting owner-occupied housing? Read your constitution – they’re not allowed to treat citizens differently based on their housing situation.

Here’s another thing – the agenda does not include a report. There’s a reference to the May 2021 meeting at which it was first discussed, but I had to email staff to ask them where I could find that meeting agenda or minutes. I’ll get back with that.

https://chico.ca.us/sites/main/files/file-attachments/12-06-21_internal_affairs_agenda_packet_reduced.pdf?1638489659

Some years back, when the state proposed a sales tax increase, local manufacturer Ken Grossman said he would simply add that tax to every bottle of beer he sold. And then some. I’ll say, landlords will do same. So, it’s not really a “rent tax,” it’s a “renter tax”.

This tax, part of a bigger “business tax”, is just part of the tax blitz being brought forward by Staffers desperate to fund their outrageous pensions. According to the constitution, any tax should be on the ballot for the voters to decide, but Staff is making all the preparations to institute these taxes without voter approval. Let them know what you think – write letters to the editor, to your district rep, and to the council at large.

That meeting takes place today at 4pm, with members (newly appointed) Chief O’Brien, Dist 7 Deepika Tandon, and my rep Kasey Reynolds in the Chair. I will try to make it, because getting information out of these people is like pulling teeth.

Thank You Kelly Meagher

4 Dec

When I don’t hear from or about an old friend for a while, I check the obits. Or I check Arts Devo, in the Chico News and Review.

I picked up a copy of the News and Review at the grocery store, in fact, I picked up several copies, cause they are good for all kinds of things. I read them as I spread them out under the sink, under the dog’s dish, as I wrap packages or trash, or as I crumple them into our charcoal chimenea to start our BBQ. The other day as I was getting ready to start a pile of charcoal, I found this announcement in Arts Devo.

Kelly Meagher (11/25/21), environmental activist, philanthropist, Chico icon, beloved local human of the highest order

Also in that issue, a reprint of a pretty good 2011 profile by Tom Gascoyne, another guy I regularly check the obits for. Both of these men have affected my life in ways they probably don’t even realize.

I met Kelly through my old friends Liz Merry and Aaron Standish,

https://www.merrystandish.com/catalog/item/3220638/4943752.htm

but I knew him because of his “political activism”. Kelly taught me a lot about perseverance, persistence, or, how to get what you want simply by refusing to go away.

My husband and young children used to attend Chico City Council meetings with me, in the old days, there was a lot more public participation in those meetings. Kelly was a regular attendee and speaker. One night I won’t forget – he got into it with Dan Herbert, who could be a real ass on occasion. Herbert tried to argue with Meagher, who was at the podium, and Kelly just kicked his ass. Kelly just held his ground, he wouldn’t let Dan shut him down. I think Herbert finally conceded in about these words: “Kelly, you’ve interrupted me so many times, I can’t remember what I was going to say… you win.” He was laughing as he said it, and very sincere.

I didn’t always agree with Kelly, and he knew that. He was one of the only liberals who never tried to talk me out of a position. In fact, believe or not, he’d often admit that he agreed with me on an issue, despite the stance of the local Democrats. He was the only one of my liberal friends who never got mad and stopped talking to me. We never really talked politics, we just yakked. He just liked me, and I liked him, and politics should never get in the way of a good friendship.

So, I’ll say something sappy here – Thanks Kelly, for your respect and friendship. I feel lucky to have known you, and I’m grateful for the way you treated my kids and the respect you gave my husband. I’m sorry I didn’t try harder to find you over the last few years, but I figured you were enjoying your own time, with your old friends. And, I believe, we carry our friends in our heart. I’ve put one of those special lift chairs in there for you Old Buddy, come on in, take your shoes off, set a spell. I’ll tell you what, I don’t even care if you want to light a cigarette.

As a “last minute effort to house” people, the Torres Shelter is handing out tents

2 Dec

Chico Enterprise Record 12/2/21

CHICO — A program assisting unhoused people with shelter access ended earlier than expected causing 36 people occupying 26 rooms at the Town House Motel to be evicted by Nov. 30. Five of the parties could not find shelter within their 15-day eviction notice, and were given tents as last minute effort to house them by local shelters.

The program to which this story refers used to be called Project Room Key. Local shelters worked with local motels to get rooms for “unhoused” persons whenever the local shelters could not house them, for whatever reason. Here they insinuate COVID is the reason.

The Butte United Shelter Program was created in July 2021 by United Way of California and True North Shelter Team to protect unhoused people who have no option to self-quarantine by providing them temporary shelter and access to housing resources.

In years past, the program, with very little supervision, was a disaster. I think they were taking advantage of local motels to dump drug users that the shelters wouldn’t take, but that’s just a guess. Rooms at motels were trashed, other guests were harassed, and the troublemakers refused to leave the premises when asked. Last year, in a very candid phone conversation, my district rep Kasey Reynolds told me, “I hate Project Room Key.”

Well, does she advocate giving them tents and sending them to Bidwell Park or other city owned land?

It seems to me there is a more sensible option than just putting them out. These people need proper supervision. This is why churches stopped participating – none of the agencies or groups that advocate for the “unhoused” would provide supervision, or clean up the mess left next morning.

City manager Mark Orme created a new position in 2020 – Homeless Coordinator – and hired his friend Joy Amaro, with a salary over $100,000/year. Amaro apparently found some conflict in the job, and almost immediately quit to head over to a “non-profit” called True North Housing Alliance. True North is now running Torres Shelter, and have administered and now closed the motel program. They boast a “19% success rate.” What?

The Torres Shelter sits on city land and gets public funding from both the city and the county. The shelter director gets a salary – at last I checked, when Brad Montgomery ran the place, it was about $65,000, plus benefits. They also routinely have empty beds but still turn folks away.

I don’t know what kind of person would brag of any kind of “success” here. I don’t know what kind of idiot would give a transient an tent and send them on their way. Furthermore, what kind of public official would condone this arrangement? And ask yourself – who keeps voting these people into office?

You know how it goes – you hear about things on the news, but it doesn’t hit you until it’s right under your nose. Until you can smell it.

30 Nov

For years now I’ve been talking about the illegal camping, the defecating, the urinating, the trash, the crime – the smell of Chico. I’ll have to admit, it’s driven me out of Bidwell Park and other “public” areas of town, I avoid non-food shopping, and local restaurants, I don’t attend public meetings anymore – I’ve lost my appetite for Chico. I don’t even like to bike or drive around town anymore.

But when we heard about the problems with the Chico ice rink – lack of “access”, vandalism – my husband got so curious we made a side-trip through Downtown on our way out to run errands the other day. I was shocked. It’s true what that woman said in her letter to the editor – they’ve blocked off all the parking spaces at the plaza with the kind of ugly chain-link fencing you see at construction sites and toxic waste dumps. They’ve installed a fence around the actual rink, and I’m not sure where “observers” are allowed to stand, but if you want to get into that rink, it’s 12 bucks.

But, apparently, it’s free to camp alongside the fence, in the street, we saw the little makeshift tents propped right up against the chain link. It’s free to camp in Bidwell Park, Commanche Creek, the Devil’s Triangle, and any patch of city-owned property around town. We’d been hearing all kinds of news about Commanche Creek – including news of one notorious transient kicked out, by other residents of CC, for sexual assault. So we wound our way over to see what’s become of that mess – wow, just when you think something’s bad, it gets worse. I happen to know some “street people,” and the news isn’t reporting everything that goes on at Commanche Creek, most notably, the rapes. Anybody who takes the time to listen to an “unhoused” person knows that rape is a problem in camps all over town.

I don’t understand the reasoning behind various council decisions, including the redeclaration of the Shelter Crisis Designation. I do know city manager Mark Orme is motivated by money to pay the outrageous pension deficit he and other employees have racked up through unrealistic pension contributions. Council members, some of them also pensioners, are motivated by the money they get from the unions at election time. The unions know the transients not only generate a lot of money in state and federal funding, but they keep the rest of us scared, ready to shell out any amount of money to keep them from pitching their tents in our front yards. Mark Orme reminds me of the Nazi soldier who demands that Sophie make her choice.

Then we have people like Patrick Newman, and people he has misled into believing that the city of Chico has any responsibility for housing anybody. A recent letter Newman penned, blaming anybody who isn’t destitute for the problem, really pissed me off. Newman reminds me of the lady from Dr. Zhivago – “all this house, for just ONE family?!”

She scolds Zhivago for living in a house that could house 13 families – yeah, in conditions no intelligent, hard working person would live in. You work your ass off, build your own place, and the leeches just start marching in. If you have ANYTHING, these people act as though you are the criminal. Having an entitled, soft-handed little perp like Newman tell me I have to give the fruits of my labor to support dead beats, that was just over the top. I wrote a pissed off letter and sent it to Wolcott.

Here’s a story from Aesop:

“One bright day in late autumn a family of Ants were bustling about in the warm sunshine, drying out the grain they had stored up during the summer, when a starving Grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and begged for a bite to eat.

What!’ cried the Ants in surprise, ‘haven’t you stored anything away for the winter? What in the world were you doing all last summer?’

‘I didn’t have time to store up any food,’ whined the Grasshopper; ‘I was so busy making music that before I knew it the summer was gone.’

The Ants shrugged their shoulders in disgust.

Making music, were you?’ they cried. ‘Very well; now dance!’ And they turned their backs on the Grasshopper and went on with their work.”

Fellow human Patrick Newman likes to take up his fiddle, damning those of us “housed” individuals for our “materialism”. Well, winter is coming Mr. Newman, it’s time to put down your tiny violin, and get to work.

I have to ask – who wouldn’t have known that Commanche Creek would flood as soon as it started to rain? With rain coming next week, and shanties propped in flood zones all over Chico, our city staff and council are caught with their Shelter Crisis Designation hanging around their ankles.

Old Yiddish Proverb: When the fish stinks, it’s the head of the fish. Our Chico fish has eight stinking heads – council and manager Mark Orme.

Something certainly stinks around here.

Well, this has been a week of “Firsts” for me – I went grocery shopping on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and then I participated in Black Friday

27 Nov

Thanksgiving snuck up on me this year. What a stupid holiday. I am a thankful person every day, I don’t need a holiday. I don’t need my significant others to get out on the freeway, or swarm to an airport, to show their gratitude. Every year, watching the news footage of idiots sitting on their luggage at the airport, now sporting face diapers, is embarrassing. On Monday they’ll tell us how many people died on the highways. And, the most important detail – how much did the average family spend? (they never mention the debt load created at this time of year)

Cause that’s all it’s about. In my husband’s culture, they call it “Potlatch”. Psychologists have come up with a diagnosis – “conspicuous consumption”. And that’s what I’d call a little old grandma juggling a gi-normous tv on a shopping cart screaming “I got it! I GOT IT!

I won’t lie – I buy stuff, and I like to think of myself as a smart shopper. One rule I have is, don’t participate in mob behavior, because you never know when the mob will turn on you. I’ll never forget the Black Friday my family was in the Bay Area, so we went shopping at a huge mall. I had my hands on a pair of pants for my husband, standing shoulder to shoulder with women who didn’t even have the decency to acknowledge my presence as they nudged and squashed, when another woman reached out and literally stripped those pants out of my hands and took them.

What did I learn? Stay the fuck out of the Bay Area.

Even the grocery store is dicey after Tuesday. Hey, have you ever seen a flock of turkeys? Go to the grocery store on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. If you find yourself, as I did, staring into an empty fridge on Tuesday night, make your list and get out at the crack. By 11 am it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Checkers get frazzled, it’s like working the front lines. So be early and be nice. And get the hell out.

I like to buy Christmas gifts – candy and Christmas ornaments (and underwear/socks for the family). This year I picked up some hand-made hum-dingers at a crafts fair, including this ginchee crocheted necklace for my friend, as well as some one-of-a-kind ornaments. And Monday I’ll probably hit Joy Lyn’s candies in Paradise – they have a very nice variety of candies that are safe to ship, and you don’t have to worry about parking or stepping in bum turds.

I’ll leave you with this trailer from one of my favorite movies – “What Would Jesus Buy?” Made by Morgan Spurlock, the guy who made “Super Size Me” – another movie about America’s fascination with over-consumption. WWJB is a light-hearted look at America’s addiction. Bill Talen is an “actor-activist”, he’s got a good sense of humor, trying to make a serious point – “America, you got a problem...”

Reynolds and Brown, and I think, O’Brien, are up in 2022, let them know what you think of the tax measure they endorsed for the 2022 ballot

25 Nov

Well, as I was trying to decide whether or not to renew this blog, it automatically renewed itself. So here we are for another year, fellow taxpayers!

What’s on the menu? Well, all I got in my sights is the sales tax increase measure that the city of Chico has announced for the 2022 ballot. Mayor Andrew Coolidge says the revenues from this sales tax increase would be used to secure a bond. He’s talked about “road bonds” but has not come forward with the details.

Talk is cheap, you have to watch what these people actually do. Earlier this year, council, led by Staff, tried to get an illegal Pension Obligation Bond approved by the courts. They had to be threatened with a lawsuit from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, even after then-council member Kami Denlay correctly stated that instituting a tax without voter approval is against the law.

It seems clear to me that Chico City Staffers are desperate to get money to pay down their pension deficit. That’s why they finally persuaded council members to put forward a general tax measure, with no restrictions on spending, and only 51% voter approval to pass it.

And what the badge bunnies don’t understand is that the revenues will go to public safety alright – cops and fire are responsible for over half the pension deficit. That’s what you get when you allow somebody making over $100,000/year to pitch in $15,000/year for a $90,000/year pension. Plus benies, with Cost Of Living Increase. If you can’t see how unsustainable that is, you need to go back to Mr. Shipplehoute’s math class.

And, just as I predicted over a year ago, Mark Orme brought in a consultant to put up a skating rink, as suggested by an earlier consultant. $400,000+ in taxpayer money, needed so badly to fix streets and tweak infrastructure. Orme cries poormouth when it comes to the streets and services, but he’s willing to bring in a $100,000 consultant to spend $300,000 putting up an ice rink. Here’s why – the earlier consultant said his firm had used a skating rink to pitch a sales tax measure in the Tahoe area, and it worked.

So here we are, we got our work cut out for us between now and the next election. Do you want to pay more taxes? For a small class of privileged elites to have their Downtown party? Well, start writing those letters. Start telling your friends who are registered to vote in Chico.

Don’t forget to drop a quick note to council members Alex Brown and Kasey Reynolds, whose terms are up in 2022. I think Mike O’Brien is up as well, having been named to replace Scott Huber. Let them know, that if they plan to run, they better not be stupid enough to back a tax measure. Don’t forget to tell them what you think of them ILLEGALLY using tax money to run it.

Frankly, I don’t think council had any business appointing anybody (certainly not a pensioner). Furthermore, Reynolds and Brown have had their run, and need to be shown the door. But, if by some miracle, they all three reversed their vote to run this measure, I’d be willing to think about supporting their candidacy. I’d have to think pretty hard on it.