Tag Archives: Steve Visconti Chico Ca

Aquatic Center efforts go underground

18 Oct

I came away from last night’s CARD board meeting feeling like they aren’t going to fully discuss their aquatic center plans in front of me because I’ve criticized them publicly. I also saw something last night that tells me, these kind of people serve on these boards to forward their own interests, CARD doesn’t really serve the community. It serves the board members’ friends.

We sat through an audit report from Mattson and Isom. The woman reminded me of a school  teacher, she was very professional and cheerful.  I won’t pretend to understand or care. Of course she found everything in order – as long as they keep records of where the money goes, an auditor doesn’t care that they spend it all on their own salaries and pensions.  She was speaking as an auditor, not a person who pays for it out of her property taxes. Of course she gushed all over the board at the end of her report and told them how thankful M&I is to get their business, leaving as they moved along to the next item.  

The bottom line was, CARD revenues are down because the board has cut programs and cut staff, but they have continued to make the payments to CalPERS for benefits and pensions. Two of the board members, Tom Lando and Ed Seagal, are CalPERS pensioners, and Herman Ellis receives a pension through Cal State Chico. The conflict of interest seems obvious to me.  But the board moved right along to “Unfinished Business.” 

A regular item on this list, the Humboldt Skate Park is of constant concern down at CARD. From the time it was built, we’ve seen that it was poorly planned, never should have been done. It’s too small, stuck in a corner of town where no kids live, and destined to be a homeless hangout. It’s concealed by that stupid fence so people can do drugs, ride bikes, even cars! and vandalize, without the scrutiny of the non-interested cops or the unknowing public.  I’s closed due to vandalism at least twice a year, for weeks at a time. It has a bigger maintenance budget than larger area parks.  

Maintenance superintendent Jake Preston showed photos taken from the internet of “brawls” and even of a small car being driven inside the gated fence.  Board member Jan Sneed reported that she went into the skate park and had a conversation with some “hardcore skaters” who told her they’d “beat up” any high school kids who tried to use the skate park.  Instead of having these losers arrested, she says they need to  be part of the committee to figure out what to do about the problems. 

Does she think this is Mayberry RFD? 

Maintenance director Preston laid out four possibilities: 

  • leave the park as is
  • close and eliminate the park
  • give it back to the city of Chico
  • create a positive atmosphere with some supervision and even programs

I was surprised when about half dozen members of the established “skate community” attended the meeting, three of them stood up to talk about ways the park could be improved. Two of them agreed the park was too small. All three agreed with Jake Preston that the park is in a horrible location. They all blame the “bums” for the drug and alcohol use, the syringes and other paraphernalia that litters the site, and the constant reek of pee. They also pointed out that the best skate parks are private and charge a small entrance fee.  They said they drive regularly to Sacramento and San Jose to pay to skate. 

The board listened attentively and respectfully to these people. One thing I’ll say about CARD meetings is, the speakers are treated better. The board members don’t go on with their bullshit philosophy for hours on end, these meetings are very businesslike. But, I also noticed a distinct difference between the way they treat the skate board park and how they later treated the  folks who want an aquatic center.

For the skate board park, they want to “create ownership” – have some non-profit take it over. For one thing, bless his heart – Jake Preston is sick of the Humboldt Skate Park. I don’t blame him. He’s being made to be a babysitter for druggies and creeps who want to hide in that fenced yard where the cops can’t see them doing deals and shooting up. Preston clearly does not want to be responsible for the skate park anymore, and neither does the board. They want to hand it off to some bunch of dummies like the Outsiders, who took on the frisbee golf course at Five Mile.  These groups can then apply for grants to do the maintenance, and CARD washes their hands of it. 

That sounds great until that group falls apart. These facilities always end up degrading with time and neglect, and turn into a problem again. And, the skate park is poorly designed, too small to be safe, and tucked away into a corner where everybody admits – the homeless have “owned” that spot since before I was born. When I was a kid, that’s where “Bidwell’s indians” used to sit around and get drunk all day along the creek. 

But that discussion ended with Ed Seagle’s suggestion to start a “Chico Skate Board  Club” to pay for some supervision of the park.  Charging a membership fee to get in, and demanding membership cards would “get rid of the riff raff,” he says. As for the “money issue,” Seagle mentions contacting local businesses, “so we don’t have to spend any money…” on a CARD owned property. Wow, great Ed, thanks for your support. The discussion ended with the formation of another committee to continue studying things – more study?    Jake Preston handed his card to the skaters as they left the room.

And then it was off and running to the aquatic center discussion, which was a whole new ballgame.  They talked about the 15 people who signed up for the committee (only one had signed up at the Sept 23 meeting), but argued over that being too many – “we’ll never get anything done with that many people,” opined one board member. Director Steve Visconti suggested the list be paired down by having each applicant submit “a letter of intent,” with information about themselves and their interest in the project. Oh? Pick and choose, eh? This committee is starting to sound kind of exclusive.   They talked about wanting more “stakeholders” on board – they only have one right now – and I’m guessing, that’s the Aquajets manager who was the only one to sign up at the Sept 23 meeting.  Aquajets are considered a “stakeholder,” but not a member of the general public? They want people with some sort of credentials, is what I get. How about this – I  can bring my cancelled tax payment checks? 

At one point in the conversation, Jan Sneed, one of the longest running members, declared that the board needed to decide whether or not CARD would take an active part in this aquatic center promotion before there was any further discussion. She seemed to feel they were violating some rule.  So, they voted unanimously to support this project.  

While they refused to talk about funding, Visconti mentioned that the next step would be for CARD to pay an artist to come up with drawing of the proposed center.   Here we go – CARD money! This is not appropriate, as far as I’m concerned, but they also chose to pay about $40,000 for a survey that they aren’t listening to. The survey indicated the public would not support an aquatic center, but Laura Urseny indicated in her article in yesterday’s ER that they still intend to pursue a bond. They refused to talk about that last night, I believe, because I was sitting right there. 

Ed Seagle did make a remark about finding a “stakeholder with deep pockets,” but that didn’t even get a response. Instead they opened the meeting to public comment, and of course the first “member of the public” to stand up was former CARD director and board member Jerry Hughes. First Hughes argued that they should have another publicly noticed meeting, try to get more members of the public “to commit”. But, he also detailed past attempts at “getting the public to commit.” Failure 40 years ago, failure 20 years ago, and he still insists we “need” an aquatic center. He ignored the results of the recent survey, which indicated, not enough support.  Two public swimming pools that CARD has refused to maintain, a skate park they are trying to pawn off on somebody else, but we NEED an aquatic center? The people have spoken again and again, but Hughes and his friends, mostly Aquajets grandparents who remember how many times this effort has failed but refuse to see why, still insist we need this ridiculous money pit.  There is NOT sufficient interest in swim sports here to build a fucking Taj Majal aquatic center, get over it!

Hughes and another speaker tried that old tack – “what an economic boon to Chico!”  One woman claimed a swim meet in brings 3,000 people to town. I don’t want to call her liar, but I would like to see some numbers on that from a more reliable source, like local hotels, restaurants and gas stations. Maybe she meant, several meets over a year? 

Here Ed Seagle broke in,  admitting, in a very frustrated tone, “The reality is, most pools barely break even…”

But Seagle had a bad case of double speak last night.  He acts like he’s uninterested, but went ahead and voted to form a committee of Sneed and Worley to oversee the citizen’s committee, and at a future meeting, they will vote to pay for the artist’s rendering.  I’ll drop a note to CARD staff, let them know I want to be noticed of these meetings.

I’ll try to keep an eye on this effort, you should too.

I find it weird that the skateboard park, which is already an existing problem, is left to “new ownership,” but this aquatic center rainbow is getting a  conceptual drawing, a  citizen’s committee, and according to the story in yesterday’s ER, a bond measure on the 2016 ballot.

When my kid’s hockey club went to CARD, asking for a spot in the facility they planned for DeGarmo Park, they told our kids NO – it’s bad for Cal Skate! They said it would be directly competitive with a local business. But here the aquatic center isn’t competition for In Motion? It isn’t going to negatively impact the school swim teams? What about PV and Shapiro pools? Will CARD close those pools due to inability to maintain them? They’re already in such bad shape that the school swim teams “are forced” to use In Motion Fitness.  This conversation was completely different than the conversation they had with our hockey club.  And completely different than the skateboard park discussion.

Why aren’t we screaming “MISMANAGEMENT” ? I sure wish the rest of you would get some letters to the paper on this. I think we could beat it down before any CARD money is spent on it.

NOTE:  I e-mailed CARD manager Steve Visconti and he has placed me on the notice list for the aquatic center committee. I’ll keep you posted. 

Jan Sneed attacked me at today’s CARD finance meeting – this woman is out of control, and isn’t suitable for public office

13 May

I tried to attend the CARD finance meeting today, I had an appointment that ran long, and came in just as the meeting was getting over (wow, less than 25 minutes!)

 As I was apologizing and asking Finance Director Scott Dowell how I could get a paper copy of the finance report that he’d given at the meeting, longtime CARD board member Jan Sneed walked by me and whispered at me, “oh, the woman who’s harassing Maria Rock!” or something to that effect. In shock I turned and said, “Excuse me?” And she just launched at me with a verbal attack, her face got red, she raised her voice and she started poking at me with one finger, actually touching me at one point.
 
I kept telling her to back off, my husband stepped between us and told her to back off – she start pushing and poking him.
 
I kept telling her, if she wanted to  talk to me, she needed to write a letter to the paper. She kept saying, “I AM talking to YOU!” and kept advancing on me.
 
I turned to Dowell and frantically asked him again about the report. I was very polite to all staffers. Dowell held me off for a few moments, he said he wanted to hear what Sneed had to say!  I asked him, why are you holding us here to be attacked by that woman?” but he wouldn’t answer.  
 
She was ranting and raving about my letters, saying I’d accused them (CARD) of “being dishonest.”  I just kept telling her she needed to write a letter to the newspaper.
 
She also mentioned several times that I am “harassing Maria Rock.”  
 
We went to the office and she followed us down the hall, despite my husband telling her to stop following us. At this point I was near tears, shaking, and about ready to throw up – I’m sorry, but I work for a living, I’m tired, I make a lot of arrangements to attend these  meetings, and this crew of publicly paid people allow this woman to verbally attack me when I ask for public records. They all just stood there listening to her as though she was speaking for all of them. 
 
We told desk staff that if she came into the office while we were waiting for Dowell to get the records, we wanted them to call the police. Hearing this she turned and walked the other way down the hall. 
 
Staff never once apologized. Dowell gave us the report and told us it was the report he’d given at the meeting today.  The desk staffed offered to staple the pages together for us, but we politely declined.  We thanked Dowell and Visconti personally for their politeness, we thanked staff, and left with the report. 
 
When we attended the last regular board meeting, she made a similar move leaving the meeting – came up close to me and whispered something at me, but I didn’t make the mistake of saying, “Excuse me, ” so I didn’t get attacked. 
 
This isn’t appropriate behavior for a public official. All I did was tell the public what I’d heard at the last meeting. None of them denied any of the stuff I said in my letters to the papers, it’s all true. They just don’t seem to want people talking about their CalPERS payoff. 
 

Any advice would be  welcome – but what I’d really like, is some other people to attend the meeting Thursday night. 

I sent this above to county supervisor Larry Wahl, David Little over at the Enterprise Record, and some other folks in my mailbox.  Sneed’s behavior is outrageous. I wondered what happened to former director Mary Cahill – now I get it! 

From the Chico News and Review, Sept 15 2005:

Mary Cahill, who was terminated Sept. 6 as general manager of the Chico Area Recreation District, took issue with CARD board and media characterizations of her parting.

While a press release issued by CARD attorney Jeff Carter stated Cahill was “terminated … without cause,” Cahill said she left by “mutual agreement” after much discussion over a period of time. She was given $100,000 in severance pay as required by her contract.

“I was not fired,” Cahill said. “It was a discussion and it was definitely both-sided. … It makes it look like I did something wrong when I didn’t,” she added.

Jan Sneed is the longest running member of the CARD board, having been there since before any of the other standing board members, and before Steve Visconti was promoted to the rank of General Manager. I wonder how much her personality problems had to do with Mary Cahill’s “mutual agreement” to leave CARD, taking $100,000, just in severance.

I’ve long wondered what’s wrong at CARD, and now I’m figuring it out.

UPDATE:  This morning I came in from a few hours of weed pulling and raking to sit down with a cup of coffee and watch a quick episode of “Leave It To Beaver.” 

It seems Wally’s big friend Lumpy has been picking on Beaver. Beaver asks his dad for advice, and Ward tells him a comical story of a prank he himself had pulled on the neighborhood bully when he was a boy. Beaver pulls a similar stunt to get back at Lumpy, but instead, Lumpy’s dad ends up getting into it, and gets really mad. This creates a sticky situation for Ward – Lumpy’s dad Fred is not only his long time friend but a partner in his business. Of course Ward straightens the whole thing out and the boys apologize, and Fred forgives them, admitting that not only Lumpy but he himself had pulled some stunts too.

But the best part of every episode is the private chat between Ward and the boys.   Ward explains to Beaver, there will always be people who bully “to get their way, and you can’t always do anything about it. You just have to learn to live with people like that.” 

Hmmmm – how do you “live with” people like Sneed, without being taken advantage of?

Sneed complained loudly that I had insinuated the board was being dishonest. Well, yes, I am. I still have that survey, posted here:

img003

Look that over and show me where they mention their nearly $400,000 CalPERS side fund payoff, or their nearly million dollar budget overrun. Instead they make promises they can’t keep – “In order to construct and maintain a new aquatics facility…” AND  “to construct and maintain a new gymnasium…” These are totally unrealistic goals – during the RDA discussion about building an aquatic center, the figure they produced was EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS. Just for construction. And what does a new gymnasium cost? The survey insinuated that an assessment of $130 would pay for that,  adding  suggestions like  “Well maintained and accessible sports fields for sports programs help keep kids off drugs and out of gangs.” 

Right now the capital projects fund that would pay for all that bling is TAPPED OUT. That fund was cleaned out of over $350,000 to make that side fund payoff. 

Yes Jan, I’m accusing you, point blank, of  being dishonest with the public in asking for a bond or assessment to pay for an aquatic center or new gymnasium. Like I said at the meeting, you can answer me in your letter to the editor. 

CARD and the income gap: How public agencies perpetuate poverty and disparity in the pay scale

3 May

For a long time now I’ve complained about the disparity in the salaries Downtown and at Oroville. The management make 10’s of thousands more in salary and pay less than half their “share” of benefits and pensions premiums, while the lower paid staffers pay the whole share. You must realize, living in the same town on a $35,000 salary with people making over $100,000 is difficult, and I think that’s an understatement. They drive up the price of everything from housing to daycare to gas to a dozen eggs. 

And then there’s the problems the medical benefits packages cause. Our mayor receives a package valued at about $21,000 a year. That’s more than $1500/month. How much does your health care package cost? My family can’t afford $1500/month, that’s for sure. So, when we go to the doctor, we are competing with these benefits packages we pay for – isn’t that ironic?  You can pay your premiums for years, and then when you need help, you find the ER does not accept your insurance. 

Believe it or not, a lot of public employees are in almost the same boat as their private industry counterparts. Sure, they get a nice package, but they don’t get the same packages their bosses get, and they pay more. 

I know I’ve bitched alot about city salaries and benies, but recently I started taking a hard look at other agencies, “special districts,” “quasi-public” – like the Chico Recreation and Parks District, who is fishing around for a property tax bond or assessment to pay off their CalPERS “side fund payoff”. 

The first thing that gripes me about CARD is how they tried to insinuate they would use the bond proceeds to build a new aquatic center, when they’d just bottomed out their capital projects fund to make that CalPERS payoff. They LIED  to get people to go along with this bond crap.  They knew damned good and well, as board president Ed Seagle admitted at last month’s meeting, an aquatic center is unrealistic at this time. They have ZERO money in their capital projects fund, having spent the $350,000 or so they had on their side fund payoff.  But they went ahead and printed those surveys and sent them out, and Ed didn’t say anything until after the fact. Thanks for nothing, Ed.

Ed Seagle needs to get his story straight. He also told me and my husband, when he accosted us at that CARD meeting, that CARD employees pay their full share. Either he’s an ignoramus or a big stinking liar. Which is it Ed? 

Because when I asked Finance Director Scott Dowell about salaries and employee shares, all I got was a notice that he’s out of his office until May 6. When I asked General Manager Steve Visconti for the information he sent me to the State Controller’s website – no link, no notes, just “go to the State Controller’s website…” So, I did. Here’s the link to the “special district” page for Chico Area Recreation and Parks District:

http://publicpay.ca.gov/Reports/SpecialDistricts/SpecialDistrict.aspx?fiscalyear=2011&entityid=1875

You’ll note that General Manager Steve Visconti does not pay his own share.  We pay not only a $12,704 “employer share”, but another $7,462 of his “employee share.” That’s the “EPMC”, or “employer paid member contribution”. That they even bother to call it the “employee share” is insulting to me.   Then another $10,000 plus for vision and dental!  Add that to his $115,000+ salary, and this man is getting over $150,000 a year to run a parks district into the ground. Not only did they tap their capital projects fund making  benefits and pension payments, they went so far over budget they can’t afford to hire enough part timers to do the actual work.  

And let’s talk about the workers. CARD employs about 33 people full time, including Visconti. These people all make over $40,000 a year, with 15 of them making over $50,000/year, four of those making over $70,000/year. Just in salary. These folks all get the same deal as Visconti – we pay the lion’s share of their benefits and pension premiums. Their packages range from Visconti’s $30,000+ down to about a $16,000 package for a maintenance super.

Meanwhile, check out the salaries of the people who actually work in the afterschool programs, supervising our kids, that’s on page 2.  $38,000 for an instructor, $29,000 for a recreation supervisor. Steve Visconti makes over $150,000 a year to sit in meetings, but the people who are in charge of the kids are paid less than $50,000 a year. That’s why I quit taking my kid to CARD programs, it was pretty clear they don’t spend the big bucks to attract talent to hang out all day with your kids. 

That’s the excuse Seagle gave us when we asked him about the pensions and benefits – he said they were trying to attract “quality employees.” Oh sure – $38,000 is enough to pay somebody to spend all day with your kids, but we need the big bucks to get the right kind of stuffed shirt to pilfer and embezzle.

 And don’t forget the lowest paid, non-benefitted, non-pensioned employees – the guys who go out in whatever weather to mow, pick up garbage, clean up vandalism, stripe the ballfields, etc. I see these guys when I go out in the wee morning with my dogs. We like to go out along that levee next to the ball fields, roust some quail, see if we can spot a big rattler in the morning sun. We see young men in their 20’s, wearing poor clothing, looking poorly coiffed and underfed – they do all the real work. They get the ballfields ready for the fee-paying leagues. See, we pay for those ballfields, but we aren’t allowed to use them – I’ve been kicked off with my kids, when there wasn’t a game scheduled THAT DAY. “Field reserved,” we’re told. But we’re still expected to pay those bonds and assessments. 

For what? These salaries? 

$8,592
$8,584
$8,573

Yes, that is a year’s salary there. Please note, those columns to the right – that’s where the benefits and pension contributions would be, but these people don’t get benefits or pension.

I wonder if these people can even afford to live in Chico. They’re not high school kids who live at home with mom and dad – I’ve seen them, they’re well over 21. They’re part of our economy.  Like a ball is part of a ball and chain.

CARD and other public agencies create this disparity, and we pay for it, in more ways than you are thinking.