Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Emergency Reserve Fund and the $80,000 Labor Negotiator

On September 3, the City Council Consent Agenda included a request to approve an $80,000 Supplemental Appropriation from the City’s Emergency Reserve Fund to pay for a labor negotiator. The Consent Agenda is reserved for matters considered routine, and all items on the list can be approved by one motion; in other words, there is no public discussion unless someone requests it to be pulled from the list.

Quené and I had questions, so we asked to pull it. The Mayor didn’t seem very happy, but even Councilmember Schwab questioned Nakamura about paying someone from the outside when we have highly paid staff that should be able to do it — thankfully, she has continued to ask him about things that don’t make sense. Nakamura said some stuff, and then Councilmembers Sorensen and Stone made some excuses.

Quené was very concerned that this request had somehow made its way onto the Consent Agenda with absolutely no public discussion beforehand. She also noted that Administrative Services Director Constantin had recently said there was no cash in the Emergency Reserve Fund. She asked, “If there is no money, where is the $80,000 really going to come from?”

When I first read the agenda report, three more things caused me concern:

(1) In an attempt to justify the new Administrative Services Director’s $160,000 salary, supporters of Nakamura’s “rightsizing” efforts have repeatedly said that Constantin is doing four people’s jobs, including Human Resources Director.

I went back and pulled Nakamura’s February 19 agenda report (which, perhaps not-so-coincidentally, is no longer on the web), wherein he described the new departments and attached directors’ job descriptions for Council’s approval. Quoting directly from Attachment_A: Administrative Services Director, he is to “…act as Chief Negotiator.”

Then I went to the City’s website and looked up the official job description that was effective July 8. Lo and behold, that phrase is absent!

(2) This request was not included in the recently approved budget and required a Supplemental Appropriation. Didn’t the Executive Team know it would want a labor negotiator in addition to its $160,000 executive? So, will we be seeing an $80,000 pay cut for the City’s Administrative Services Director?

(3) The money for the labor negotiator was being taken from the Emergency Reserve Fund, which, in addition to having no cash, is restricted by Budget Policy E4a(2): “The purposes for which funds could be allocated from the Emergency Reserve Fund include, but are not limited to, payment for compensated employee absences and other emergency needs as determined by the City Council.”

How is failure to hire an Administrative Services Director who is qualified to “act as Chief Negotiator” determined to be an emergency?

Peter Durfee, President of CPOA, also expressed concerns. He pointed out that three members of the Executive Team have labor negotiations in their job descriptions and asked why they can’t negotiate. Then he pointed out that $80,000 would surely not be enough money to complete negotiations with all nine bargaining groups and asked, what then?

Finally, Emily Alma read letters from two individuals with additional concerns.

So then, we find out that the Council had already interviewed negotiators and selected a top candidate. When did that happen? It obviously happened without any public discussion, and it was pretty clear that the entire Council was aware.

As usual, the Council went barreling forward and approved it, once they convinced themselves they might not really even need the money… Right.

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September 29 Letter to the Editor

For those of you who do not subscribe to the Chico Enterprise-Record, we wanted to share Quené’s most recent letter to the editor, which was published today:

Letter: Council knew what was happening

Chico Enterprise-Record
Posted: 09/29/2013 12:32:47 AM PDT

In response to the recent editorial, “Has Chico been cooking books?,” this paper continues to presume to have knowledge of former employees’ perspectives on past practices, and the three of us who have created truthmatterschico.com wonder why we have not been contacted to confirm those assumptions. The fact is, we all agree that the city of Chico is in a financial mess. Collectively, we believe it has been in a mess for quite some time.

The gripe is not with the spending cuts. Rather, it is with the continuing stream of inaccurate information being put forth in public meetings and the media, and the shady methods with which the cuts are being made. The city has been overspending for years and the cuts should have been made long before Brian Nakamura swept into town. However, city staff works at the direction of the council, and for members of council to assert that staff was making choices without the council’s knowledge and support is disingenuous at best and downright deceitful at worst.

City Council has always had the power to have made spending cuts and staffing reductions that could have helped prevent the troubling financial times Chico finds itself in now.

The City Council works for the members of this wonderful community, and it is about time the citizens start giving them some marching orders.

— Quené Hansen, Chico

As always, we thank you for your continued readership and welcome your comments and questions.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Councilmember Stone said the F-word!

The current issue of Synthesis Weekly includes an article by Sara Calvosa entitled “Caper Acres Chain Gang: An Interview with Randall Stone,” in which the Councilmember discusses City business, including convicts working in Caper Acres and the deficit in the Capital Projects Fund (Fund 400).

Before we get into the meat of this post, we want you to know that we follow Sara on Twitter (@scalvosa) and find her City Council posts hilarious. A favorite of ours was during the meeting of August 20, when she tweeted, “Gruendl is rambling gibberish at this point. He needs to get back into his sarcophagus. #mayorkingtut”

We also laughed when we saw Stone’s Facebook post about the interview, a photo of which a friend emailed to us just before the post was deleted. (Serendipitous, indeed!) Perhaps he removed it after considering the potential of us seeing it and using it to mock his pretentiousness? We would never…

2013-09-23_STONE_FB_SYNTHESIS

Having said that, we do take issue with some of Stone’s “cavalier responses” on the Fund 400 budget and will be correcting his misstatements in this post.

It isn’t particularly that we don’t sympathize with him for not understanding the Fund 400 budget; municipal finance is very complicated. Our concern is that he goes out in public and talks as though he has it mastered.

Here’s part of what he said in the interview:

The Big Ugly here is that we—not me, I wasn’t on the council [then]—were being told, and certain departments were reporting that we were in such-and-such a condition and that we were making necessary cuts. But in reality that wasn’t what we were doing. And I think you’re going to find that the audit reports that too. I don’t know how and why—you couldn’t, shouldn’t, and wouldn’t have known as a staffer that what was going on there was apropos. It’s outrageous. 

The prior years’ budgets clearly show the cuts were made; there is no question about that. If there is a problem with prior audits to be revealed in the new-and-improved audit, Stone should talk with the City’s current Accounting Manager, Frank Fields, who has been responsible for audits for at least the past four years. We don’t understand anything else Stone said in that paragraph. And we don’t think he should be using grownup words like ‘apropos’ if he doesn’t know what they mean.

So, we book administrative time. We book overhead. Say employee A is going to be working on a project, some Capital Project. So staff works on it, and we say staff is going to have 10 hours on a Capital Project out of 40 hours of their week. We book staff-time of 10 hours that’s supposed to come out of the Capital Projects budget. Well, let’s say there’s only 5 hours worth of work in Capital Projects. We’ve billed 10 hours. That means that 5 hours has to come out of somewhere, and where does it come out? The General Fund. That’s how we incur a debt. So employee A shouldn’t have been billing 10 hours to Capital Projects.

Huh?

Fund 400 has neither revenue nor expenses. It is a holding fund for costs. Those costs include direct charges to specific projects (including staff time, consultant costs, contractor payments, etc.) that are budgeted in various other City Funds; the former Capital Projects Services Department’s operating budget (such as office supplies, postage, and gasoline); direct overhead costs for support to the overall department (non-project specific salaries & benefits such as department head, clerical, and leave time); Internal Service Fund costs for direct support to the overall department (such as building maintenance, vehicle maintenance, insurance, and information services); and Citywide indirect overhead costs via the Cost Allocation Plan (CAP).

Capital Projects staff charges specific projects when working on them, and charges overhead when they are doing non-project specific work (such as attendance at staff meetings or training). The only circumstances under which their work would default as a fixed percentage of their time would be when they are on vacation, sick leave, etc.; and that time would be charged to overhead, not projects.

It’s fraud, really, when you do that. I mean, fraud is the wrong word because it’s an f-word… but what you’re doing is overbilling to a particular account.

Really? The f-word? These are all legitimate charges.

So we created work for staffers to work on things. 

There was no ‘created’ work. The 2nd floor as a whole lost 30% of its staff, that’s 22 bodies, during the two rounds of early retirements and other attrition. As part of the staffing workout plan, initially presented to the Council by former Assistant City Manager Rucker on June 15, 2010 (at 01:47:00 on the video) and again by former City Manager Burkland on June 21, 2011 (at 00:37:28 on the video), some remaining staff who had been working in areas that no longer had sufficient funding were transferred and cross-trained to pick up a portion of the workload resulting from the staffing reductions. We will be writing a separate post to describe exactly who went where, and what they were doing. Again, there was no ‘created’ work.

We were 2.5 million dollars in deficit, and now it turns out we were 3.3 million dollars in deficit because we can’t account for almost $800,000 of those 10-hour slots. So that has to be paid back from somewhere, and it always has to be paid back by the General Fund.

The Council approved Supplemental Appropriation No. 11-12 04 and adopted the FY 2012-13 Proposed Annual Budget on June 19, 2012. The agenda report and exhibits (SA 11-12 04) clearly called out the initial policy decision to allow Fund 400 to carry the fiscal year end negative balance of $1,116,300 into the new budget year.

Ten-hour slots have absolutely nothing to do with the increase in the Fund 400 deficit. This is not the time to climb into the weeds on this topic, so suffice it to say for now that with each dollar of gas tax or transportation funding that is shifted away from Capital Projects and used instead for General Services operations (e.g., street crews), the likelihood of Fund 400 ending in a negative position increases.  In the coming weeks, we will provide a detailed explanation of the relationship between project actuals and overhead allocations, as well as capital versus operating budgets. (Whee.)

If there is an additional $2.2m unaccounted for at fiscal year end 2012-13, Stone should discuss it further with Mr. Constantin and his budget experts. Or he could reach out to us; we can explain it.

That type of double billing, back billing, incorrect billing of hours… they asked me if I was surprised if this was the case and I said, yeah it was surprising, but I wasn’t shocked. I don’t know how you can be shocked.

The only thing that makes any sense above is the double billing, which had been City practice for at least 15 years. It only applied to certain staff charges that fall within the CAP, and until Mr. Rucker ‘abruptly retired’ in January, Mr. McKinley ‘mysteriously resigned’ in February, and Ms. Hennessy barely made it to the front door before Mr. Constantin came aboard in April, it was being aggressively addressed and unwound in coordination with additional structural changes to the budget.

No one was hiding it. In October 2012, Mary told Nakamura all about it during a 2-hour presentation on the issues surrounding the Private Development Fund. In mid-April, she made a similar presentation to Mr. Constantin, Mr. Orme, and Mr. Martinez. Mr. Wolfe was in attendance at both of those presentations, and he had known about the double billing since we began the funding analysis in March 2010.

The point is, no one should have been shocked about it, because everyone knew. This is another topic that deserves, and will receive, a separate post.

There are a few funds that are our big behemoths. If you’re looking at these [budgets] like they’re big rocks, and Fund 400 is one of those huge rocks—you see a whole bunch of crap going on with the General Fund, and you see a whole bunch of crap going on with the Redevelopment Agency—guess what’s gonna happen when you turn over that rock? We know Fund 400 is going to be messed up. When you have three cookie jars and one’s been stolen from, and you see a kid with chocolate all over his face and he says, “no I wasn’t in the cookie jar,” but it’s all over his hands and face, what do I think I’m going to see when I open up the other cookie jars? I’m guessing, yeah, they’re going to be taken from as well. So no, I was surprised, but I wasn’t shocked.

That sounds like a bunch of huge crappy rock cookies to us. ‘Stolen’ is an s-word he will surely regret.

We’re in crisis mode and we need to address the problems. The ship is going down and I’d rather get the ship back up, fill the holes, and make sure everyone has life rafts in case we do have to bail out. We’re not going to have to do that; we’re not going to declare bankruptcy, so that analogy is a little bit bad. But the ship is taking on water, and I can’t get into the mix about who/why/how right now; I’ve got to address Caper Acres. I’ve got to keep these things moving.

That analogy is a whole lot of bad. Not everyone will have life rafts, since the City has recently announced that a second round of layoffs is imminent; however, some folks will float away in yachts.

Nakamura’s Doctoral Thesis

We have requested this document from the USC library and will provide an update once we receive and review it. Interesting topic…

Nakamura Dissertation

P.S. Many thanks to our reader who pointed this out.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

An Open Letter to the Chico City Council

Mayor and Council,

It is my sincere hope that by now, you have all taken the time to review the video of the March 5, 2013 Council meeting and realize the error you made in approving the minutes as submitted on September 17. If you have not, the section of the March 5 meeting in question can be viewed at approximately the 01:00:00 mark and runs for approximately 30 minutes.

Here is the link, for your convenience:
http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=373

I respectfully request a public apology from the city clerk at your October 1 meeting, prior to your consideration of the consent agenda. The apology should be delivered with the same fervor as her September 17 denial of the true and correct facts, and the Council should revisit the minutes and revise per my request. If it does not happen, rest assured that I will be demanding it from the podium.

Further to that, and something I did not mention in my remarks, are the comments by both the city manager and the Mayor that some of the information contained in the March emails was confidential and could have been known only by an insider, and suggesting an ulterior motive of sabotage. Three points on that:

(1) None of the information contained in the memorandum was confidential. As I mentioned to you on August 20 during Business from the Floor, the city manager had announced the candidate information in more than one open meeting. If it was confidential, he is solely responsible for the breach. The remainder of the email questions addressed the Hemet budget and the lack of transparency in the city manager’s agenda report and attached resolution, all of which were posted to the web.

(2) Most of your employees are Chico citizens, and all are Chico taxpayers, who have the same rights as anyone else to address wrongdoing and lack of transparency. In fact, if the emails did come from employees who felt the need to disguise their identities for fear of retaliation, what does that tell you about what was going on inside the organization?

(3) As I asked in a previous letter, is it the new Chico way for Councilmembers to speculate on the motives of those who correspond with them and openly suggest they are attempting to sabotage Council’s agenda? For that matter, is it the new Chico way for Council to carry forward an agenda that can be sabotaged simply by asking for truthful answers to salient questions?

One final note on the March 5 meeting: The city manager said he had not had an opportunity to check his figures with Finance between Sunday night when he received the emails and Tuesday afternoon, which is absurd on its face. (Finance has a spreadsheet into which the proposed salaries could have been inserted, and it would have immediately calculated the benefits.) Then, in the Mayor’s closing remarks, he stated that the Council would have received the salary tables with or without the citizen emails. If so, why did the city manager not have sufficient time to involve Finance? Which is the truth?

As Ms. Hansen, Ms. Meyer, and I have stated publicly and written in our blog, our goal is unrelated to politics or personalities. We want the entire truth told, without regard for anyone’s agenda. While there have certainly been some past decisions and practices that were less than wise, and there is no doubt they should be identified and corrected, they pale in comparison to what is being said and done during this city manager’s “rightsizing” effort. I realize that it will cost you nearly a quarter million dollars to correct your mistake; however, continuing to deny the truth in the face of irrefutable evidence that this city manager has repeatedly lied to and otherwise misled both the Council and the citizens will ultimately prove far more costly. We will not stop until full transparency is achieved. If you are going to air the City’s dirty laundry, it should not be limited to that of prior administrations. The current administration has a far bigger load than the prior three combined.

Among us, we have a full and complete working knowledge of municipal finance, coupled with institutional knowledge your current Executive Team lacks. Unlike you, however, we do not have unlimited time during the Council meetings to carry on and on; we have three-minute intervals during which we can put forth the facts. It would behoove you to listen, rather than summarily dismissing us. What we have to say will become important as we begin to reveal what really happened, and who was responsible. No one will be exempt from our truth telling.

Regardless of whether or not you approve of what we say during your meetings, we deserve and expect the same courtesy and consideration afforded other members of the public who criticize or disagree with you. The ongoing disdain and condescension displayed by the Mayor, coupled with his not-so-subtle threats from the dais and in the media, are unacceptable, and until they stop, we will continue to aggressively comment on them at meetings and publish commentary on our website.

And, as an aside, if any portion of our personnel records ever sees the light of day, the Executive Team would be well advised to concurrently submit an additional Supplemental Appropriation from the Emergency Reserve Fund to pay for the cost of the litigation that will ensue.

For those of you on the Council who consider yourselves conservatives, where is your passion for the truth? Have you abandoned it in favor of the politics of personal destruction, in furtherance of your political careers? I was among a handful of supporters you had in City Hall, but I am so very ashamed of your recent behavior. You should be fighting for our right to be heard, regardless of the political fallout, rather than standing in a show of support while the Mayor publicly attempts to quash dissent. That’s what conservatism is about, after all. I do hope you will re-examine your recent behavior and begin standing up for what is right, rather than what is politically expedient.

Finally, I recommend that you make certain your microphones are off before making snide remarks such as “disgusting,” which is clearly audible on the September 17 video recording after Ms. Hansen and I addressed the Fund 400 agenda item. You are not dealing with amateurs. We know the processes and the facts, and we are watching everything you do. We will hold you accountable, in public, and let the citizens decide your fate at the ballot box.

Sincerely,
Mary Fitch

Sent on 9/26/2013 at 7:33 p.m. to the following recipients:

to:  Mark Sorensen <msorense@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Scott Gruendl <sgruendl@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Mary Goloff <mgoloff@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Sean Morgan <smorgan@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Tami Ritter <tritter@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Randall Stone <rstone@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Ann Schwab <aschwab@ci.chico.ca.us>
cc:  Brian Nakamura <bnakamura@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Mark Orme <morme@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Chris Constantin <cconstantin@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Debbie Presson <dpresson@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Lori Barker <lbarker@ci.chico.ca.us>,
David Little <dlittle@chicoer.com>,
Robert Speer <bopob@comcast.net>

The ‘racist’ email we’ve seen…

If you’ve been keeping up with the media, the Mayor, and Nakamura lately, or reading our posts, you’ve likely heard much about racist emails and threats of violence resulting in the need to add security to protect staff on the 3rd floor of the municipal center. I responded to that over the weekend, and since most of the comments we received on that post call for the emails to be made public, we thought we should share with you the only incident of which we are aware.

Normally, we would never release any email from our readers; however, since it has become clear that this guy (Dylan) is ‘playing dirty’ and copying the media and members of the Council, we feel it is appropriate to at least share the content.  We won’t release his full name or email address, because we know how crappy that feels, having had our personal contact info recently released to the public.

On September 4 we received Dylan’s original email, in which he used one racial slur in his last sentence. We discussed it and decided to ignore it, since even jerks have a right to question and criticize the government, so we simply responded to his request for information. He replied back, with an expletive, but no more racial remarks. And there were no threats whatsoever.

In the meantime, we got word that Nakamura had a hard copy of the email and was waving it around, showing it to staff in an attempt to hold us responsible for the words of another. We, of course, realized that Dylan must have either blind copied or forwarded to someone within the City; otherwise, there was no way Nakamura could have had it. We have an idea who this Dylan character is, but no proof, so we’ll just skip that issue for the time being.

So, we decided to just wait and see what happened next.

On September 19, we received two more emails from Dylan, this time openly copying the media, the Mayor, and two Councilmembers. These emails offered up specific opportunities for us to engage in character assassination, including what appear to be court cases and a link to one of Juanita Sumner’s blogs that described some previous unpleasant encounters with the Mayor.

Wow. What is this guy’s agenda?

So, last night we decided to ‘reply all’ and hopefully bring this whole thing to an end. As we have repeatedly written, our only interest is in exposing the truth behind the shenanigans at City Hall. We have no interest in personally attacking anyone involved; we just want them to be held accountable for their actions that have affected, and are still affecting, Chico’s citizens and taxpayers.

Here’s what we wrote last night:

Dylan,

Unfortunately, you have mistaken the intent of our website, truthmatterschico.com. We have no desire to ‘play dirty’ with anyone; we are simply seeking to expose the entire truth about the goings on in Chico’s administration, regardless of the political fallout. The three of us hold varying political views, but our determination to inform the public remains firm and is what binds our team together.

We are sure you know that we have been excoriated in the media as a result of the racial slur you used in your original email to us. Because none of us is your mother and therefore not responsible for correcting your behavior, we chose to ignore the slur and simply respond to your request for information; however, you should know that one of us has four stepchildren of Asian descent, and we disapprove of your use of the derogatory reference to the city manager’s heritage, as we disapprove of any racial, religious, or other personal slurs.

Since it has become clear that your agenda conflicts with ours, and your writings have become an obstacle to accomplishment of our goals, we ask that you refrain from contacting us in the future. We did not make the decision to speak out without thoughtful consideration of the risk to our personal and professional reputations, so this is not child’s play to us. Any further correspondence from you will be deleted without response.

Alicia, Mary, & Quené
Truth Matters, Chico!

Here’s the entirety of the email exchange, redacted as necessary to prevent further spread of Dylan’s ideas on ‘playing dirty’:

DYLAN_EMAIL_REDACTED

Again, under ordinary circumstances, we would never release any email exchange between our readers and us, but Dylan is playing an extraordinary game that could have dire consequences for all parties involved, and we aren’t going to play.

As always, we thank you for your continued readership and welcome your comments and questions.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

A Tale of Two Opinions

In case you missed Alicia’s post yesterday, let me repeat her opening statement:  “The City of Chico is in a financial mess; there’s no arguing with that. In fact, cast my vote among those who say that it’s been a mess for quite some time.”

Our gripe is not with the spending cuts; rather, it is with the continuing stream of inaccurate information being put forth in public meetings and the media, and the shady methods with which the cuts are being made. We know the City has been overspending for years and believe the cuts should have been made long before Nakamura swept into town; however, City staff works at the direction of the Council, and for the Council to assert that staff was making choices without the Council’s knowledge and support is disingenuous at best and downright deceitful at worst.

This morning, an editorial appeared in the Chico Enterprise Record entitled “An unfortunate sign of the times” which opines in part:

“As the bad news keeps piling on and more people lose their jobs at an outsized city hall, which should have started taking corrective actions years ago, the mood continues to sour. Former employees and others in the community who don’t like this sudden rush of fiscal oversight have stirred some hostile feelings.

Vulgar, racist emails have been flying around that are directed at City Manager Brian Nakamura, his top department heads and city councilors. Nakamura also has been accosted in public and his car has been vandalized. “

We are more than tired of our particular criticisms of this administration being tied to overt acts by others. There is example after example of citizen outrage directed toward Nakamura dating back to January, including public outcry over former Assistant City Manager Rucker’s “abrupt retirement,” with neither a thank-you-very-much nor a fare-thee-well from the Council after 24 years of dedicated and honorable service to the community; ongoing development community and staff anger over the “mysterious resignation” of former Building & Development Services Director McKinley; open criticism of the shameful salary increases approved for the City’s Executive Team and new Assistant City Manager while layoffs of worker bees were being proposed; angry citizen and police and fire staff commentary regarding the proposed cuts to safety; the community’s outspoken criticism of the Farmers Market debacle; the community’s equally outspoken criticism and downright disgust related to Caper Acres; the social activists’ and homeless population’s open protests regarding the Sit/Lie Ordinance; and the political right’s vocal opposition to the Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance. And that list is not all-inclusive.

Nakamura’s administration has generated more anger and distrust across the entire spectrum of citizen groups than we have ever seen, and for that we cannot claim credit. We never said a word until August 6. So, enough already, okay?

But I digress.

I would direct your attention to a second Chico Enterprise-Record editorial from March 10, 2013 entitled “Salary setting, swift hiring, raise suspicion.” I wrote a post detailing this particular incident two days ago, but after this morning’s editorial, it seems appropriate to revisit it.

The final paragraphs of the March 10 editorial read:

“Government wants the best, not the best the taxpayers can afford.

The department head salary ceiling was particularly galling when Finance Director Virginia [sic] Hennesy began giving her budget update. Again and again through her report, she mentioned her numbers were based on the assumption that 11 vacant police positions would not be filled.

Eleven.

If the department head number was $130,000, could we get that down to 10 police vacancies? We’ll never know, as the council approved the proposal.

The assistant city manager’s salary was put at $185,000 in the same vote. John Rucker, who held the post until he abruptly “retired” in January, made $158,461. Again, a pretty hefty raise, but defensible if department heads are making $160,000.

And what happened next really rubs us the wrong way. The council approved the $185,000 figure Tuesday night. By 11 a.m. next morning, the Riverside Press Enterprise was reporting Nakamura’s former No. 2 in Hemet — Mark Orme — had quit to take the same position in Chico.

And his salary in Hemet? $180,000, suspiciously close to the $185,000 cap the Council had set just a few hours before.

Nakamura claims he didn’t decide on Orme or offer him the job until Wednesday morning, but the speed with which it happened makes us skeptical. It sure looks like a salary schedule was foisted on the council — and the taxpayers — that would allow Nakamura to bring his old buddy on board.

But that kind of stuff doesn’t happen, right?

We hope Orme is thick-skinned. And we hope he’s good at his job, because Nakamura’s going to need help overcoming the damage he’s done to the community’s trust in him.

Who, exactly, was responsible for those critical comments? And, again, that editorial was published in March — five months before we ever said a word. Now, when we are pointing out the same and similar deceptions, we are somehow held responsible for racist emails, threats, and vandalism?

Mayor Gruendl recently told Alicia after her comments during business from the floor that the Council is accountable for its words and actions during public meetings, and we intend to hold him to that. We accept responsibility for every word we have spoken or written, and we will hold city administrators and the press accountable for theirs, as well.

Meanwhile, we are hearing that things are getting more and more unpleasant inside City Hall. Current employees, who are still unable to speak freely about the ongoing shenanigans for fear of swift and merciless retaliation, are once again expressing their concerns and frustrations with this administration’s methods via indirect outlets. The Mayor’s all-out assault on us as former employees proves their fear legitimate.

This photo was taken in the lobby of City Hall a few days ago. GSD staff is primarily comprised of laborers — some of the lowest paid folks who do the hardest work — park cleaning and upkeep, street and sewer repair, vehicle maintenance, etc.

Drinking Fountain Signs

Rumor has it the Assistant City Manager is leading an investigation into which naughty employee is responsible for that bit of free speech, and that management considers this a fire-able offense. We think the taxpayer dollars funding Mr. Orme’s salary could be better spent in pursuits other than investigating harmless signs (and, for any of you present at the most recent Council meeting, watering plants?).

We encourage you to become involved in your community’s government and make your voices heard. Attend Council meetings and express your opinions, write or email your Councilors, write letters to the editors of the Enterprise-Record and the Chico News & Review. Act now, because until the Council members hear from enough of us to cause sufficient concern about their re-election, they will continue to barrel along with their agenda, with or without the community’s support. The Councilors work for US, the citizens and taxpayers. It is time to give them some marching orders.

As always, we thank you for your continued readership and welcome any comments or questions.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Priorities: Upper Management versus Police Officers

The City of Chico is in a financial mess; there’s no arguing with that.  In fact, cast my vote among those who say that it’s been a mess for quite some time.  I’m also among those who believe that crime is on the rise, and a larger police force is needed; but that’s just my opinion.

When times are tight for my household, as they are now, we have to weigh priorities.  If I took a survey of my household, the individual wish list items might look like this:  hire a cleaning service, pay insurance, buy more Legos, get faster internet.  We could try to do it all, but that would cause us to live beyond our means, so the decision makers (my husband and I) would need to put that list into some sort of order, dividing the items into luxuries versus necessities.  Insurance protects our family – necessity.  Internet is needed for school and work – necessity, but maybe we can’t afford the fastest option.  Cleaning service and Legos – luxuries.

The City of Chico experienced turnover in the position of Assistant City Manager (ACM) in 2013.  All of the following numbers come from documents received from the City, which are linked throughout this post.  For fiscal year 2012-13, ACM John Rucker was budgeted with a salary of $158,462 and benefits of $64,860, for a total of $223,322 (Rucker_PAWs_12-13).  It’s important to note that 50% of Rucker’s salary and benefits were budgeted out of the General Fund (Fund 001): $111,661.  For fiscal year 2013-14, Rucker’s replacement, Mark Orme, is budgeted with a salary of $190,318 and benefits of $100,104, for a total of $290,422 (Orme_PAWs_13-14).  100% of Orme’s salary and benefits are budgeted out of the General Fund.

That turnover cost the citizens of Chico $67,100 in cash, at a time when the City is crying about being cash poor.  But what’s even more painful is to realize that it cost the General Fund – the fund that pays for Police, Fire, Parks, and street repairs – a whopping $178,761. 

Almost $180,000.  Let’s pause for a moment and reflect…

Before I dig into more numbers, I’d like to take a little side trip, because while this post is really about numbers and facts, there’s also a whiff of something stinky, just below the surface.

On December 11, 2012, the Press-Enterprise reported that Hemet employee Mark Orme, who had been appointed as the Interim City Manager after Brian Nakamura left Hemet for Chico, was being “returned to his previous position as assistant city manager.”  I know that Chico’s current Mayor has a beef with believing what’s printed by the media, but here’s the link so you can decide whether or not that’s a believable moment in history.

http://blog.pe.com/news/2012/12/11/hemet-city-council-decides-to-make-change-at-the-top/

Less than 30 days later, on January 8, 2013, Chico’s former Assistant City Manager seemingly vanished into thin air, without a single word from Nakamura to staff, ever.  The Chico Enterprise-Record finally ran an article on January 15, reporting that Chico’s ACM John Rucker had “abruptly retired.” Yep, he went out for coffee and said to himself, “I guess I’ll retire right now.”  Interesting that it took a full week before the media got wind of it, and we suspect staff must have finally leaked it. (There was quite a bit of that going on at the time, in an attempt to get someone to pay attention.)

Here’s the link to that article:  http://www.chicoer.com/ci_22374396/chicos-assistant-city-manager-abruptly-retires

So Mr. Rucker “abruptly retired” on Tuesday, January 8, and the recruitment for his replacement was announced internally on Thursday and published a day or two later, approximately January 12.  The application deadline was February 1 ­– a three-week recruitment period for the new Assistant City Manager.  Doesn’t sound to me like Nakamura already had someone in mind to fill that spot, does it to you?

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on February 14, Nakamura responded to a direct question from an employee about where the City was in the ACM hiring process by saying the recruitment had yielded 50+ applicants, roughly half of whom were qualified, and assured staff he would keep them posted as the process moved along. By 9:00 a.m. the top four candidates had not only been culled from the herd, but lo and behold, they were being interviewed.

In Appendix B-1 of the fiscal year 2012-13 budget, the ACM’s maximum salary was $172,383 (12-13_Budget_SalTable). At the March 5, 2013, Chico City Council meeting, the Council was asked to adopt a resolution establishing compensation for department directors, and it included an increase in the maximum salary for the new ACM to $185K.

Here’s that document: 2013-03-05_CM Agenda Report with Resolution

There was quite a bit of discussion at that meeting about the supposedly not-yet-selected ACM, including a specific question from Mark Sorensen verifying that the maximum was just that – a maximum, not necessarily the compensation at which the new ACM would be hired.

The next morning, March 6, the Press-Enterprise ran another article on Mark Orme, this time noting that he was leaving behind his $180K position in Hemet for a similar one in Chico, where the maximum salary had just been increased to $185K. 

Here’s that article: http://www.pe.com/local-news/riverside-county/hemet/hemet-headlines-index/20130306-hemet-assistant-city-manager-resigns-post-with-city.ece.

Nakamura was meeting with his department directors when the original article hit the web Wednesday morning (it was subsequently updated to the time currently shown). Staff had suspected that Orme would be hired, so by 11:30 a.m., most of us had already heard the news. When the department directors came out of their meeting with Nakamura, imagine their surprise when they were told about the hire by their subordinates. We guess Nakamura was not expecting the Hemet press to pick up the story, so he had not told the directors during their meeting. That is ‘the new Chico way’ inside City Hall; everything is secret squirrel until someone else leaks the news and Nakamura is forced to fess up.

The Chico Enterprise-Record did not pick up the story until the next day, March 7, and I agree with their decision to list it under “Weird News.”  How embarrassing for the Chico paper to be a day late on the story. 

Here’s the Chico ER article: (http://www.chicoer.com/weirdnews/ci_22736113/assistant-city-manager-from-hemet-will-fill-chicos.

Let’s recap that timeline:

  • Nakamura leaves Hemet to become Chico’s City Manager.
  • Orme is appointed as Hemet’s Interim City Manager.
  • Orme is bumped back to ACM, and replaced by a different Interim City Manager.
  • Rucker “abruptly retires” as Chico’s ACM.
  • Chico City Council, at Nakamura’s recommendation, sets the ACM maximum salary to $185K – a whopping $26,538 higher than Rucker’s actual salary, and $12,617 higher than the former maximum.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, it was also exactly $5K higher than what Orme was making in Hemet. 
  • While Nakamura cited a salary survey that was conducted to establish that maximum, we have yet to receive any response whatsoever to our August 22 PRR for it.  Which seems strange, because you’d think it would be a simple matter of attaching an existing document to an email and pressing ‘send.’  Unless maybe that document doesn’t exist, because the only salary that really mattered was that of the Hemet ACM?
  • Orme resigns from Hemet and comes to Chico.

Although the Chico ER didn’t capture the entire timeline, they found enough of the timing suspicious enough to note that it had “damaged trust,” as expressed in the following editorial:

http://www.chicoer.com/opinion/ci_22758464/editorial-salary-setting-swift-hiring-raise-suspicion.

Now, maybe it really is just a string of coincidences.  Or maybe it’s irresponsible cronyism that Chico taxpayers are being forced to fund.  I’ll leave that to our readers to decide for themselves.  But, either way, at this moment of financial stress for Chico government, does it not seem like a luxury to have an Assistant City Manager at all?  Throughout the city organization, when employees have left positions, those positions have remained vacant whenever possible.  I could go on and on about this, but instead I will refer you to a blog written by former Chico Chief of Police Mike Maloney, who makes a reasonable suggestion as to how to fill that staffing gap.

http://mikemaloneymusings.blogspot.com/2013/06/budget-and-police-in-chico.html

As a citizen who is concerned about what I perceive to be a rise in crime in Chico, I was interested in knowing how many Police Officers the city could fund if it wasn’t employing ACM Orme.  Referring again to budget numbers provided to the City, I see that in fiscal year 2013-14, the least amount budgeted for a Police Officer was a salary of $55,865 and benefits of $33,663, for a total of $89,528 (13-14_PoliceOfcr).  I’m assuming that amount is representative of an entry-level officer, which seems reasonable based on their MOU’s starting pay of $25.55/hour, times 2090 hours in a year, which would be an annual salary of $53,400 (CPOA_Salaries_MOU).  The variance would be due to POST or other specialty pays.

So, if one entry-level Police Officer costs the citizens $89,528, then two would cost $179,056.

Whoa! ACM Orme’s General Fund impact (over what ACM Rucker was costing the same fund, which pays for Police as well) is $178,761. Could the Police Department find $295 in savings elsewhere in its budget, and then add that savings to what would be saved by paying an ACM at Rucker’s pay and distribution, and end up with two new Officers on the streets of Chico? 

Or perhaps the City could trade in the entire ACM salary and benefit cost of $290,422 for THREE new Police Officers (at a cost of $268,584) plus have $21,838 left over for Caper Acres?

Please know that, as Nakamura has said many times, this opinion is about positions, not people.  I do not know ACM Orme personally, but he certainly seems like a nice enough person.  Here he is, visiting with former watchdog Stephanie Taber during a break at a recent council meeting.  Afterwards, near the parking lot, he came up and put his arm around her.  I can’t say that’s ever happened to me after a council meeting!   

Taber-Orme

During these challenging financial times, having a $290K nice guy downtown seems like a luxury that doesn’t actually contribute to improving Chico’s safety.  For my money, hiring more Police Officers seems like the necessity in this priority comparison.

As always, we thank you for your continued readership and welcome any comments or questions.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Minutes edited to cover Nakamura’s snow job?

At the September 17 Chico City Council meeting, the minutes for the March 5, 2013 meeting were on the agenda for approval. On the night of March 5, I was still employed by the City and was in the Chambers, along with a considerable number of other staff who had routinely begun attending Council meetings on their own time in hopes of finding out what was going on at work, since we were getting absolutely no information from Nakamura.

The goings on that night changed my opinion of Nakamura forever. What had until then been limited to concerns about vanishing staff and questionable management practices — along with some political posturing surrounding the User Fee Study, the Private Development Fund, and the 2nd floor staffing plan — suddenly erupted into sheer disbelief, bordering on horror, that Nakamura would intentionally deceive the Council and the public in order to push his agenda through.

Before I go any further, I must confess that I have had a piece written about that meeting for months, waiting to get through my introductory items before taking it to Business from the Floor. Then I got distracted by the Mayor’s attacks on us and was focusing on our free speech rights instead of moving forward with the Nakamura issues.

When the September 17 agenda was posted, I rewrote my piece to address the lack of transparency in the minutes. I pulled that item from the consent agenda and spoke from the podium to address my concerns.

Here is most of what I said (I’ll link to the video below):

    I understand the concept of action only minutes… I do, really. And I understand how overworked the city clerk’s office has been lately. However, when something extraordinary happens during a meeting, it needs to be included as part of the permanent record, to provide the public with a true and correct picture of what occurred. In other words, for transparency.

    At the March 5, 2013 Council meeting, the city manager presented the Council with a 5-page memorandum that amounted to a supplemental agenda report, in response to email inquiries received from two community members. Neither the original emails nor the city manager’s memorandum were published on the web or read into the record, there were not a sufficient number of hard copies of the memorandum provided at the meeting for all who wanted one, and neither the emails nor the memorandum is even mentioned in the minutes. The result is that this report vanishes from the public’s knowledge base.

    This memorandum is critical because it was used in the Council’s decision making process. The Council was asked in the original agenda report to approve the new department directors’ salaries; however, the assistant city manager’s salary increase from $158,000 to $185,000 was also tucked into the attached resolution — with no mention of it in the report.

    Councilmember Schwab asked the city manager why it was not mentioned, said that Council had not discussed it, expressed her concern about the lack of transparency, and pointed out that if the community member had not inquired about it, the Council would not have had that information before adopting the resolution. Despite Councilmember Schwab’s concern, the city manager never answered the question as to why that salary increase was not called out in the agenda report, either in the memorandum or in his verbal response to her. This should be part of the record.

    Councilmember Sorensen specifically asked the city manager whether the director and assistant city manager salaries were just maximum caps, rather than the amount at which the directors and assistant city manager would necessarily compensated. The city manager said yes, but by 11:00 a.m. the next day, Mark Orme had been hired at the $185,000, plus a car allowance that brings his budgeted salary to more than $190,000. The recently adopted budget has all of the department directors at the $160,000 max, with some even higher due to cell phone allowances and special safety pay. This should be in the record.

    Mayor Gruendl also pointed out during the meeting that the salary tables included in the memorandum were incorrect, and Councilmember Sorensen agreed. Although they discussed it briefly, the subject was dropped quickly, and the public, again, has had no opportunity to review those tables, which supposedly support the city manager’s claim that rightsizing the top would result in over half a million dollars in annual savings.

    Finally, the city manager’s memorandum contains a non-responsive paragraph to address the question about January department director priorities. As I mentioned to you before, Councilmember Ritter came right out and asked him about it, and he lied directly to her face.

    For the sake of transparency, I respectfully request that the city manager’s memorandum be transcribed verbatim into the minutes for the March 5 meeting. If the Council opts not to direct the Clerk to revise the minutes, then I ask that my comments tonight be transcribed verbatim into the minutes of this meeting.

The response to my remarks, after I had already left the podium and could not respond (as usual), were surreal, something like watching a very bad episode of The Twilight Zone.

First, the Mayor said:

    Okay with that, then, we’ll close the public input… So I’m not sure we had specific questions there, but would the city clerk or the city manager like to respond? Obviously, for me the natural response would be we had to pass ordinances related to carrying out what was proposed to the rightsizing, which occurred at a different meeting, but (big sigh)…

What does that have to do with the March 5 meeting minutes?

Then Debbie Presson, the City’s esteemed Master Municipal Clerk, came a bit unwound. You can watch it for yourself on the video linked below, but here is what she said:

    That is correct, and actually there were 2 hearings on that, and then it didn’t go into effect for 30 days.

    One thing I would like to state for the record is that I don’t believe that this actual report or letter or memorandum to the Council was actually made public at that meeting and handed out, nor was it, nor was it stated that it is part of the record.

    This is something that was correspondence, I believe; correct me if I’m wrong, City Manager Nakamura. This was an email that you sent out to the council, correct? (Nakamura agrees)

    So first of all I did not have it at the meeting, and again, it is the council that determines to tell me if you choose, if you want this… Actually I would have to say that I would not read this into the record nor type it into the record because it did not happen at the Council meeting. I truly believe in the integrity of the minutes. I take it very seriously, and I would never, ever put anything in the minutes that didn’t occur at the meeting. This letter was not read into the record.

Well, she got that completely wrong, except her first and last sentences, the latter of which was exactly the point of my comments. Since the memorandum was provided to the public at the meeting, but never posted to the web or read into the record, it should have been transcribed into the minutes, for “integrity” and transparency. Well, I guess I will just have to memorialize it, since the Council went ahead and approved the March 5 minutes as submitted, and refused my request to have my comments transcribed into the September 17 minutes. Transparency at its finest…

Here is Nakamura’s original report and resolution posted with the agenda:

2013-03-05_CM Agenda Report with Resolution

Here is Nakamura’s supplemental memorandum. I was lucky enough to find an abandoned copy on my way out of the Chambers, but as I mentioned above, most people in the audience never saw it, and it was never posted to the web or called out in the minutes.

2013-03-05_CM Memorandum

As a point of further information, we submitted PRRs for both the original citizen emails and the salary survey of comparable cities called out on page 3 of the memorandum.  We have received absolutely nothing regarding the salary survey, and in response to our request for the citizen emails, this is what we received:

2013-09-17_DPresson_Re Smith Simons Emails

Fascinating, really… The City auto-deletes emails after 6 months. According to Nakamura, the emails were dated either March 3 or 4, so they still would have been there on August 22 when we requested them, but (conveniently?) auto-deleted by September 17 when the City’s Master Municipal Clerk responded to our request.

Although the March 5 minutes were approved on September 17, they have not yet been posted to the City’s website. Here is a copy of what was approved. The topic we are interested in is Item 4.1 on page 3.

2013-03-05_Minutes_Approved Sept 17, 2013

Here is the link to the official video of the March 5 Council meeting. Click on Item 4.1 of the agenda or forward to time signature 00:58:57 to see that what I have written is the truth.

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=373

Here is the link to the official video of the September 17 Council meeting. Click on item 2.3 of the agenda or forward to time signature 00:17:50 to watch my comments, the Mayor’s disdain, and the Clerk’s indignant denial of the facts.

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=420&meta_id=35527

Now, you tell me, what are they trying to cover up? Ironically, this is the first time the veracity of my public comments has been challenged, other than a feeble attempt to justify the city manager’s actions in a recent Mayor Scott Gruendl Facebook rant, and when the challenge finally came, it was about an issue that should have been crystal clear. Doesn’t the City’s Master Municipal Clerk watch the video while she is doing her minutes? Or, as Mayor Gruendl commented in a recent article, could it be that she is one of those people who “just are too lazy to watch a council recording”?

As always, we thank you for your continued readership.  Your questions and comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Now the Master Municipal Clerk has chimed in!

On the KNVN/KHSL 5 o’clock news, they ran a piece entitled “City Clerk Bogged by Public Record Requests.” We are hoping by now they have taken the video down, since Chico’s Master Municipal Clerk showed our public records requests, complete with our home addresses, to the cameraman, who dutifully included them in the news piece.  It ran before we knew about it, but Quené did call and make a brief comment. You can read the updated article here.

We are appalled that the City would provide the media with our home addresses, particularly in a piece wherein the Clerk seems to be linking our requests for public information to potentially bankrupting the city. (Apparently blaming us for her minutes being 8 months behind was not getting sufficient traction.) The Mayor and some members of the City’s new Executive Team have been openly threatening us (read about that here), and we would prefer not to endure any additional threats as private citizens in our homes.

Following are our written comments in response to the story, which are supposed to be included in the 11 o’clock segment:

 Of the 20 Public Record Requests we submitted on August 21, 2013, only two would have been the responsibility of the City Clerk’s office. While the City Clerk does respond to PRRs, she is only responsible for compiling information specific to her department, such as how long has a Councilmember been on Council; otherwise, the information comes from the responsible department. In most cases, the compiled information passes through the City Clerk’s office for transmittal only.

     In the 5 o’clock news segment the City Clerk mentions that these PRRs are impacting her ability to complete City Council minutes. At the time we submitted our requests, the last posted Council meeting minutes were for January 15, 2013 – an almost eight-month backlog. Our requests for information are not responsible for that.

     The website shown on the 5 o’clock news segment has no correlation to our group; our website is https://truthmatterschico.com/ and we welcome you to visit our site to become more familiar with who we are and what we are doing. In fact, on this website, we have provided a copy of every PRR we have submitted (without our personal contact information). 

     As former City of Chico employees with over 40 years of combined public service to the community, we know that the information we requested is readily available in electronic format. However, in an apparent effort to make it more difficult for us to use the information, the City has taken additional time to put the information in different formats (this is contrary to Section 6253.9.a of the California Government Code which I am attaching as a point of information).  One example would be in a request for emails, which could have been simply attached to the City Clerk’s response to us, it was instead provided as a copy and paste from each individual email into the text of her response.  Why would she take the time to do that?

     Additionally, some of our requests were met with incomplete or inaccurate information, making it necessary for us to request the information again.  One example is providing only training expenses when training and conference expenses were requested.  This report takes only minutes to send through the financial software, and both expense codes could have been run in a single report.

     We are no longer City of Chico employees.  Through a resignation and layoffs, we are now concerned private citizens.  As employees, we knew what information was available and where to go to get it.  Now that we are private citizens, the only legitimate way to obtain information is to submit a Public Record Request.  In our pursuit for transparency, to share the truth with the citizens of Chico at https://truthmatterschico.com/, we believe it is important to also share the backup documentation upon which our analysis and opinions are based.

     Rather than treating us with the courtesy due private citizens, the City of Chico is giving us the runaround.  If staff would simply provide the information and the City Clerk simply forward what is compiled, this whole process would be far less onerous.

This is getting ridiculous. Here are some examples of our requests, along with the inadequate or incomplete responses we have received.

PRR016

Here is what we got: INADEQUATE RESPONSE TO HIRES_PROMOTIONS_RAISES

Now, does that look like a list of hires, terminations, promotions, reclassifications, and raises?  I can tell you that the City’s Human Resources Department does have that list, since it was recently provided to one of the employee unions. Why don’t they want us to have the list? (Hint: They know what we are going to do with it.)

Here’s another example:

PRR003

Here is what we got: INADEQUATE RESPONSE TO COUNCIL SERVICE YEARS

This is one of only two requests for information for which the Master Municipal Clerk is actually responsible.  Does she expect us to believe this is all she could come up with in response to our request? Please! Do you believe this is the response she would have provided to anyone else who asked?

We will be providing a full update on the status of our PRRs as soon as we can take a break from answering the ongoing media assaults and get back to the business of telling the truth.

As always, thank you for your readership.  Your comments and questions are welcome.

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