Tag Archives: Jennifer Hennessy

Finance Committee meeting: Monkeys in suits moving peas under walnut shells

27 Nov


Here sits the brain trust of Chico. Be afraid, be very, very afraid.

Here sits the brain trust of Chico. Be afraid, be very, very afraid.  

It was a chipper 38 degrees when I headed Downtown for the monthly Finance Committee meeting, a cold that penetrated two pairs of pants, two shirts and a heavy jacket. It is a trip that would hardly impress my hillbilly relations, but I feel pretty exhilarated when I arrive at  the city building, my face stinging, eyeballs watering, my hands frozen, fumbling with the bike lock.  It’s good to be awake before you wander into one of these meetings.

They have got a lot better since Chris Constantin arrived, I’ll say. It’s a lot to chew over, some of it hard to understand if you don’t have a degree in administration, but it’s all really important in explaining how our town got into the shape it’s in and why we’re not getting out in any big hurry.

Not long after  Constantin came to town, he introduced the nursery words “loosey goosey” into the official fiscal lexicon (I dare you to say that three times, fast!). He was talking about the way this city had grown accustomed to spending money, each department using their own imaginary credit card with no oversight from Jennifer Hennessy, Miss Finance Mis-director. They were just spending as they pleased and handing Hennessy the bill, and she was using her own personal accounting style to stay a hair’s breadth  ahead of the bill collector. Of course many of us had imagined something like that was going on, we screamed and yelled for her to present the monthly accounting, and she said it was too much work. Dave Burkland said she didn’t have to do it. This may never have changed if Toby Schindelbeck hadn’t made issue of it during the last election. Council finally leaned on Hennessy, but she still didn’t give the kind of reports Constantin has been giving.

Hennessy liked to give power point presentations with  bullet lists and cartoons. A little man standing under a raincloud with the caption, “how did we get here?”  Constantin’s reports are dryer and look boring, but contain more meat.  If you look at the agenda, available here:


you will see sheet after sheet of figures, monthly revenues and expenditures for each department.  When I think how many times Hennessy just flat refused to produce these reports, I get a headache. At first, I was a little intimidated by these stacks of figures, but I just started reading through. Starting with the reports,  I just peruse through them, writing down words I don’t understand, then google them.

In short, departments continue to spend money “loosey goosey” without oversight, and, Constantin says, “we’re still letting our costs drive our funding instead of letting our funding drive our costs…” 

The problem I have with his statement is the use of the word “costs”. They don’t ever really tell us the true “cost” of anything down there, instead they mean, “price” that they assign stuff, which includes their salaries and benefits. See, this is how 1500 feet of plastic pipe and a couple of hydrants ends up costing $432,000 – they figure in the “overhead” of salaries and benefits of every employee who dotted an ‘i’ on a form having to do with that particular job.

What they talked about for about an hour yesterday was the process by which they transfer money from one fund to another, making it legal to use the money for uses it could not originally be used for. Over at Truth Matters they are discussing the use of sewer funds to fix the streets. Well, you say, they ripped up the streets to fix the sewers, isn’t it appropriate to use the sewer funds to fix them back?  No, sorry. There’s a road improvements fund for that purpose, which is fed through stuff like the gas tax, and all kinds of federal and state grants, etc. Unfortunately,  Jennifer Hennessy told us at one meeting years ago, that money all went to salaries and benefits, including every dime of that gas tax, which was supposed to be restricted to fixing streets. 

I thought the fund raiding would end with Hennessy, but it’s still a matter of everyday business Downtown. Yesterday they discussed “overhead” – salaries and benefits. They discussed the process by which these salaries and benefits are supposed to be charged to the specific project on which an employee is working – like a subdivision. Then the charges would go to the developer who brought the plans in. Let them complain about the salaries. But no, that’s not how it’s happening,  because council decided a few years back to defer developer fees until a project is built out. In other words, these developers come and go from the city building, using city staff like their own private toadies, and PAY NOTHING. That’s why the development fund is like, what, $9 million in deficit? And capital projects is another $3.4 million in the hole – I’m sure on that figure, they bounced that around a few times yesterday. So, they spend a lot of time talking yesterday about where they were supposed to get the money to pay salaries and benefits of those staffers remaining employed. They need about $36 million dollars to cover that. Anybody got any ideas?

Staff is chomping at the bit to start the Hwy 32 widening project, not because CalTRANS will sue us if we don’t – that never even comes up. No, they are desperate for grant money to pay salaries. Does Hwy 32 really need widening? No. But the city needs the money like a hype needs a needle.  Ruben Martinez said it in exactly so many words – “We need to get $36 million in projects done to meet our budget.” 

And Scott Gruendl asked, “How many staffers would we be able to get out of that…”

There it is folks, just what Contantin said earlier, “we’re still letting our costs drive our funding instead of letting our funding drive our costs…”  And by “costs” they really mean, staff salaries and benefits.

There was more to this meeting, I’ll get back to it when I get a chance, but for now here’s how I’d describe our city government – a bunch of monkeys in suits moving peas around under walnuts shells, waiting for more peas to appear out of the clear blue sky. 

Ask a simple question.

3 Dec

We had another great meeting over at the library yesterday, and I was so happy to see, despite the ominous weather, a cheerful group showed up for a lively discussion. 

We crowed momentarily over the defeat of Measure J. Casey Aplanalp pointed out that we should consider it an important victory, and proof that a small group can make a difference.  Sue said we should remind other people, even if our voices are a little drowned out on the national level, we can make a more noticeable difference on the local level – it’s a matter of getting involved. We talked for awhile – what’s the best way to get people to be more involved in their local government? 

We could ask Stephanie Taber what motivates her to be so involved – attending meetings several times a week, writing notes back and forth to staffers, asking questions that get kicked all over the city building for as long as Stephanie is persistent in getting the answers. Stephanie combs over the reports and find the discrepancies, and asks the questions that need to be asked. We need more people willing to go to the meetings, morning, afternoon and evening, and ask the same kind of questions. And, go back time and time again, e-mail again and again, and get the answers. 

I’m just too easy – when I asked Jennifer Hennessy about the annual amount the city pays out in pension premiums, she told me about $7 million, and I swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Stephanie was not able to attend, or she probably would have caught it. Mark Sorensen caught it, and asked Hennessy about it later. He had some other figures that added up to more like $11 million. Hennessy sent me a note today – her figure is $10.1 million

Whoa. And here I was, thinking $7 million was a lot of samolians! What a dupe I am!

$1.9 million of that total is the “employer paid member contributions” – there’s that confusing terminology again – they mean, the “employee’s share” of the premium that is paid by the employer

Stephanie Taber pointed out, that $1.9 million would pay for a lot of police officers. 

Here’s the breakdown of how much the city currently spends annually paying the employee share of pension premiums:

Bargaining Unit  FY10-11 Amount  # of Members FY10-11 EPMC% Current EPMC %
Chico Employees Association  $      128,340.54 79 4% 2%
SEIU – Trades & Craft  $      179,805.62 68 5% 5%
Confidentials  $        12,295.11 10 4% 0%
Management  $      216,952.12 56 4% 4%
Public Safety Management  $      119,193.35 9 9% 9%
CPSA  $      175,646.81 44 8% 8%
CPOA  $      727,452.38 91 9% 9%
IAFF  $      425,517.02 69 7% 7%
 $    1,985,202.95 426

The police and fire employees  complain that safety is at jeopardy due to budget cuts, but read the chart. You see,  if they’d pay the “employee share” of their pension premium, we could save those officers and that 2/3’s of a fire station that Nakamura is threatening because of the failure of Measure J. The police department alone gets well beyond the $900,000 that Nakamura is claiming the city will lose if they can’t tax our cell phones.

Look at their salaries – it would certainly be no skin off their nose to pay their own damned pensions. And, it would leave the city the revenues to hire the extra personnel they’ve been screaming for. And then we could stop paying overtime, and there would be money to hire almost as many more.

I got these figures because I rode my bicycle to an 8am meeting and asked a simple question.  


Finance Committee to take up Section 908 – will Jennifer Hennessy do her job? What does the new city manager think?

27 Aug

I don’t know how many people are available for an 8am meeting Downtown, but tomorrow morning the Finance Committee will take up the issue of Jennifer Hennessy not complying with Section 908 of the Chico City Code. 

908 says that the Finance Director is supposed to give a current update regarding our budget, just like you do every month with your check book. You see what you’ve taken in, and you see what’s gone out. It should all be there, so you don’t get in trouble with your finances! Heck! You wouldn’t want to write rubber checks – Mike Ramsey will slap you in jail for that! 

The city of Chico is in a deep amount of deficit-doo right now because Hennessy hasn’t been making these reports. The only reports she will make are “after the fact” – by the time she tells us anything, we’re already in trouble. And the reports she gives are never clear – she spends hours on these ridiculous “power point presentations,” with little cartoon figures and charts and graphs, without ever really telling us exactly how much money has come in and where it’s gone. We just see budgets – like Scott Gruendl said, “budgets are a fairy tale…”. They’re speculative, imagined, hoped-for,  but rarely achieved. And Hennessy announces so many budget changes due to “unexpected downturns” that it’s hardly worth the paper to even write the damned things. 

I’d frankly rather have a neat little accounting of what she’s taken in for each fund every month, and what’s  she’s spent. She won’t give us these details – leaving a suspicious person to speculate that she is doing something inappropriate with the money. 

The state parks department was funneling money into a secret fund that was being used to buy state worker’s unused vacation time. I’m sorry, but until Hennessy tells us what’s going on, I’m a suspicious person.

So, if you have the time tomorrow morning, that’s 8am, at City Hall, in the little conference room off the main chamber. There’s speculation that new city manager Brian Nakamura will make an appearance, I’ll keep you posted. I can only stay half an hour cause I got a dentist appointment. Yeah, I saw Marathon Man too, Stop It! 

First Mate Dave Burkland declares MUTINY! Schwab too busy campaigning to take the helm.

15 Aug

As you may have read, local business owner and city council candidate Toby Schindelbeck has been after  Finance MisDirector Jennifer Hennessy and City Mangler Dave Burkland to comply with the city code and hand over monthly budget updates that include all the pertinent information demanded by the code – including our revenues. 

Maybe you’ve lived here long enough to remember a string of embezzlements that made the news – several local non-profits and a couple of long-time local businesses – all hookwinked by older women bookkeepers, for  10’s of thousands of dollars. One popular Esplanade business owner recently said he’s still suffering the effects, almost 10 years later.

Besides the fact that they were all older ladies with good reputations, the common thread in these crimes was how they did it – they just didn’t report all the revenues they were taking in, taking the money themselves instead. That sounds like an old trick, doesn’t it? Well, obviously, it still has the potential to work.

Those of us who’ve been watching the city $taffers consistently have heard budget reports that just didn’t make sense – most recently, the vast discrepancies in the budget report Hennessy gave early this year, and a May report in which she was suddenly short so much money the city had to close Fire Station 5.  Now, if she was doing the job for free, that might fly, but we pay this woman roughly $160,000 a year, and you’d think she could do the job for that kind of dough. 

So Schindelbeck’s request for the monthly finance reports required by the code is not only reasonable, it’s necessary. We need to press this woman to make better explanation of where all this money is going. 

I’ll tell you where it’s going – Hennessy’s salary has increased by over $30,000 since she gave her first warning of “deficit.” 

But Hennessy will only do the job her bosses require, and Dave Burkland tells Schindelbeck in this e-mail below, he’s not going to make her do it, even while admitting it’s perfectly do-able.

From: “David Burkland” <DBURKLAN@ci.chico.ca.us>

Date: August 10, 2012 5:26:26 PM PDT

To: “Toby Schindelbeck”
Cc: “Jennifer Hennessy” <jhenness@ci.chico.ca.us>, “Lori Barker” <LBARKER@ci.chico.ca.us>
Subject: Re: Public Records Request response

 Mr. Schindelbeck,
I am responding to your email dated August 7, 2012, to the City’s Finance Director, Jennifer Hennessy.  As you know, the Council directed the Finance Committee to agendize an item to determine the form and content of monthly financial information that would best benefit the Council and community. As I mentioned at the Council meeting, staff researched Section 908 of the City Charter and found that monthly reports provided to the Council over the years had varied significantly and had included the monthly claims and investment reports that the Finance Director recently provided you. 
In your email you acknowledge the receipt of information which Ms. Hennessy provided you in response to your Public Records Act request for monthly financial reports as defined by the Chico City Charter section 908. 
You then repeat your request for such monthly reports and state that you understand the Public Records Act to allow the City 10 days to provide the requested information and that “[t]his applies to Public Records which are created, or which should have been created…..”
The Public Records Act requires the City to provide records which are in existence at the time the request for those records is received.  It does not require that records be created.  To the extent that you are requesting the City to create records in a form that you feel should have been done in the past, there is no requirement that the City create those records. 
At this time, the City has provided you all of the records that it has which we believe are responsive to your request and, therefore, has fully complied with your request. 
I believe that the Finance Committee will take this opportunity to focus on financial information needs going forward.  Any recommendation from the Finance Committee will go to the full Council for final action.  We’ll keep you informed of the dates and times of the meetings and hope you have an opportunity to participate.  If you have any questions, please call me at 896-7201 or email: dburklan @ci.chico.ca.us.
Dave Burkland
City Manager
Well, there it is – a guy who is paid nearly $200,000 a year telling us he’s not going to do his job.  And where’s his boss, Ann Schwab? 
Currently Schwab is too busy running her re-election campaign, playing Evita! for the students, to do anything about running the city of Chico.  
But you can make use of the above mentioned e-mail addresses to let Burkland and Hennessy know how you, the taxpayer, feel about this. Notice how they both took steps to make it harder to figure out their city e-mail address – most employees just use their first initial and last name – notice how Burkland does his all in caps, and both he and Hennessy leave off the last letter of their name. They don’t like their e-mail addresses given out, so be nice.  But be firm. Tell them we want to hear the reports Burkland admits are do-able EVERY MONTH, like it says in the charter.
Like Toby Schindelbeck often reminds us – the city Charter is our constitution, and we should take it more seriously. 

Jennifer Hennessy is incompetent – she can’t do her job and Burkland says she doesn’t have to

15 Jul

I’ll never forget my first real job – a clerical position at a manufacturing plant. I would compare it to the story of the miller’s daughter. On the first day, I was told that the employee I was to be replacing would stick around for a week to train me. At noon that day, having shown me where everything was and how to use the coffee maker, she got up from her chair, smiled, and told me she thought I could “handle it,” then left. At one o’clock, the plant manager came over to my desk followed by several “production” workers. They brought cart loads of microfilm, on rolls, in little white boxes. I was to label all of those boxes, three carts, piled high. This job had gotten held up, he explained, it would be “great!” if it could go out today.   Did I think I could get them done by 4 o’clock?  I wanted to make everybody happy, so said I yes without thinking, and set to work loading the labels into the typewriter.

It was a disaster. I had never typed anything like those labels before – typing class had been all about letters and envelopes, columns and reports. The labels skittered all over the platen, getting glue all over the inside of the typewriter. About every 50 or so labels, the platen had to be taken out and cleaned with alcohol. I typed and typed.   By 3 o’clock I knew I was in trouble. The production workers had come over to my desk to help me affix the sticky labels. We were nervous, labels were getting screwed up. At 3:30 the office manager and receptionist came back to my desk to help with the labels. I typed and typed, and tried not to cry.

We didn’t make it. The plant manager was flustered. The salesman who’d promised the job was really pissed off, he said mean things.  I apologized again and again, they told me it wasn’t all my fault, but could I please be more careful what I committed myself to in future. I could tell they also expected me to get a hell of a lot faster, but they were just trying to be nice.

So, I got faster. I came in early in the morning and worked through lunch until I got better at my job. I had signed up for a typing job, nobody had described all the weird stuff they expected me to type.  It started with typing and labeling, not only sticky labels, but microfiche jackets. They have a little quarter inch tall label strip across the top that chips and peels if you aren’t careful loading them into the typewriter, and strips or frames of 35 and 16 mm film  that falls out in your typewriter. Then there were the three-part work orders, with carbon paper, and the  three-part shipping labels, also with carbon paper. There were the mistakes – whole orders that had been indexed incorrectly, and therefore typed incorrectly, and therefore had to be corrected and typed all over again. I won’t describe what I had to go through to correct microfiche labels, it was too stupid.  I hated doing that, so I asked for my own little “eye-loup” – a little magnifier that you hold up to a light to look at the tiny little page numbers on the film – to make sure the cards had been indexed correctly before I typed them.

I’m not perfect, but I know I’m competent, cause I kept that job for five years while I watched others get fired, for everything from showing up late to breaking expensive equipment to stealing. I was given new jobs and increased responsibility as time went by.  I got good job reviews from my supervisors, and good raises.  Morale was high, we liked our co-workers and our managers, we felt like a team. Our customers were nice to us too. We worked for cities and counties, hospitals, banks – anybody who needed to keep records. We were trusted to handle confidential records, like people’s medical records. As we handled these confidential files we were simply told, “Don’t look at them,” so we didn’t. 

I left in 1984 in finish school. Over the next decade computers killed the microfilm industry, and the company went out of business. 

Excuse me if I compare my experiences in the private sector with stuff I’ve seen coming out of our city $taff. I keep waiting for some professional behavior, some professional accountability out of the people who run our town, and I start to wonder if I will ever get it. For a couple of months now, Toby Schindelbeck and Stephanie Taber, among others, have been asking council and Finance MisDirector Jennifer Hennessy to provide a simple accounting of city finances, as is required by the city charter, and she just plain refuses to give it. City Mangler Dave Burkland won’t make her. 

Last month she actually admitted, she is UNABLE to do it. At the June 5 meeting she admitted that she is incompetent to follow the city charter. She said that when she came to her position seven years ago, she “struggled” with doing such a report – something every house wife does – and went whining to then-city-manager Tom Lando, who apparently patted her on the head and told her she didn’t have to do it anymore. 

I don’t know about you guys, but I go over my check book every month, just to make sure everything is straight. I’ve found big, dumb mistakes, in the 100’s column even, that could have caused big, dumb problems down the road.  I’m no math instructor, like Mary Goloff, but it’s not exactly rocket science – you just add your deposits and subtract your checks and withdrawals. I’ll admit, when my kids were little, I felt like I never had time to do that, and stuff would get screwed up.  So now that I’ve got time, I make it a regularly scheduled event, and it’s amazing how much easier it is. And, I can keep the figures in my head, I know essentially how much I can afford to spend when I’m at the grocery store, or what kind of activities we can plan. My husband and son are enjoying a weekend trip right now that is already paid for, thankyouverymuch. 

But Jennifer Hennessy is unable to do that? And she has expectable stuff – over 80 percent of her budget is payroll. She doesn’t have that many emergencies.  The biggest emergency she’s had lately, is that the state has taken back the fund she’s been mis-using – the RDA. She was paying salaries and benefits out of a fund that’s supposed to be reserved for emergency public works projects. In other words, she’s been dipping into the till to pay her own salary!  

The mayor is to blame here, she’s the captain of our ship. Unfortunately, like the captain of the Costa Concordia, she’s abandoned ship for a party onshore. While she and her college chums bully their bag ban down our throats, our ship is sinking. We have less than $200,000 in our reserve fund, we have un-secured pension obligations totaling in the millions and growing every day, and we have  $taff who are using blackmail to get their way – they are just refusing to do their jobs. Hennessy won’t give the report she’s required to give because it’s BAD. I think the mayor is completely behind her on this – Ann Schwab doesn’t want us to hear that report either. Would you? 

Please write a letter to council demanding that Hennessy do her job, or get out. 

Where’s that $255,000? Nobody’s talkin’!

1 Jun

Well, aren’t I a dork!?! I promised everybody there would be a big discussion at next Tuesday’s council meeting, regarding that missing, well, at this point, it’s only $255,000.  Actually, it’s more complicated than that – if you’ve  been following the deficit discussion for the last five years you better have laid down bread crumbs or you are lost on the other side of some far away planet trying to figure out “how we got here.”

Jennifer Hennessy, Miss Finance MisDirector, has been leading us on a merry tramp these last five or six years, pretending to explain why we are perennially short of money, but not really doing so. Lately she’s been telling us one thing when it’s time for her re-evaluation and raise, and then another, BAD  thing a few months down the road. I’ll never forget a few years back – she was allowed to hire her own evaluator, and then when he gave her a good evaluation, she gave herself a $14,000 raise. Of course council approved the raise, but by the time the rubber stamp was dry, she was telling us we were up Shit Creek without a paddle again. She keeps losing that goddam paddle, and then finding one to suit her when she pleases. I think her husband makes those paddles in the garage. 

So, when council was confronted with a mob at the last meeting, they quickly agreed to a “discussion” of why Hennessy would say everything was just Jim Dandy earlier in the year, but by May, we’re closing a fire station. Gosh, there are so many worms in this can, it’s almost impossible to move without stepping on them.

The fire station was closed as a grand stand gesture by a chief who was told he had to come up with the missing money. The chief could have restructured overtime to find that money, in fact, if the fire department would agree to DUMP STRUCTURED IN OVERTIME, they could hire more staff. But the current employees want their salaries and overtime and their spiked pensions, so the chief just closed a fire station to piss off the public, trying to force the council to give up MORE MONEY TO THE SECOND BIGGEST DEPARTMENT IN THE CITY. This city spend 89 % of it’s budget on “public safety”. Sorry Chief Beery, your buttcrack is showing. 

But, Toby Schindelbeck, Will Clark, and Ken Campbell are right in this – the city is hiding malfeasance. 

What we have here, is a bunch of tigers fighting over money. I hope they all chase each other around a tree until they turn into butter. PANCAKES FOR EVERYBODY!

But, when I read the upcoming agenda, I realized, there’s going to be no such “discussion” – see here:


I wrote a letter to council, asking for a better report about this mess:

Hi All,

 we were promised a report with figures regarding this missing $255,000. There’s no report in the agenda I received. 
When will we get a precise explanation of all the figures that don’t make sense? I try to share the “facts” with the public when I speak about these issues, but getting the “facts” out of staff and council is like pulling teeth. 
We are expected to sit through another discussion of “sustainability indicators,” presented by a staffer making more than $100,000 a year with slick glossy photos and all kinds of groovy charts – how much did THAT cost? Ann, you couldn’t even get a quorum of the STF to endorse that report, and THAT’S A FACT! 
If we don’t get “facts” regarding this latest “shortfall” we’re going to have to run on assumptions. I assume Ann Schwab has presided over an embezzlement, and until I hear some convincing arguments to the contrary, that’s going to be the “facts.” 
Thanks, Juanita Sumner, Chico 
As far as I’m concerned, this is the “facts” – Ann Schwab has presided over the economic degradation of our town, watching silently while staffers and other hangers on empty our coffers with their crazy salary agreements and “you scratch my back”contracting practices. Ann’s sustainability task force has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, with nothing to show for itself but onerous restrictions on practicing business or living in the city of Chico. This woman needs to be shown the back door in November, and given a  toe to the seat of her pants.
UPDATE, 6/5/12, 8:30pm –  Chief Beery is explaining that he closed Station 5 when he was faced with a $95,000 shortfall because Station 5 is not really essential. He claims it was built to serve development at “Bidwell Ranch,” which was never built out. Beery says he never would have built Station 5 in that location. 
Beery’s presentation has been rambling and repetitive, mostly to the point that we can’t live without Chico Fire. We are supposed to call them when our water pipe breaks in the middle of the night he says – I’m sorry, I would shut off my main water valve, and go back to bed. He says we’re supposed to call Chico Fire when we have a “miocardial infarction” – why? Why wouldn’t I call an ambulance? 
I’m not happy with the reports given tonight. There was no written back up, they’ve been rambling all over the countryside without really explaining why they are perennially over spent Downtown. 
And now Andy Holcombe is taking the old Caddy around the block. Beery is answering with computer modeling and national averages. Let’s talk about what the truck really roll out for in Chico – broken water pipes? Ambulance runs? Hook and ladder to Safeway?  Response time to WHAT? 
To best address the needs of this community, the Fire Department needs to change their staffing policies and dump structured overtime. Regular people work swing shift and graveyard for the same wages as their day shift counter parts. It’s time for the night shifts to get paid regular wages instead of overtime. Overtime is why the police and fire get over 80 percent of our budget and they still want more. 
Having listened to Jennifer Hennessy’s presentations, what I would say is, we need to spend based on what we actually take in, rather than budgeting based on her “guesses”.