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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!