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!

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About Alicia

Please send coffee.

Posted on September 21, 2013, in Budget, Public Record Response, Reblogs, Truth vs Lies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I just love this, from one of the Hemet articles: “Orme is leaving a city at a crossroads. Like many California cities, Hemet has struggled with its budget in recent years. With fewer police officers on the streets, the city has seen an increase in crime and residents have formed community groups trying to restore the town to what it once was.” Sounds like they’re getting Chico headed down the same road.

  2. I knew from the beginning, Nakamura is an “assassin” – essentially a consultant who comes in to do the dirty work of getting rid of staff. Council members don’t know the legalities, and they have no taste for firing people, so they hired Nakamura, who has done this in town after town.

    I learned about this from an episode of “King of the Hill”. Character Dale Gribble, an exterminator by trade, is told he can no longer handle pesticides, so he finds a job in the headquarters of a big corporation, firing people. He finds he’s really good at it, and enjoys it almost as much as killing bugs. I thought it was just a tv show at the time, but you know how art mirrors reality.

    Of course I’m not insinuating that Brian Nakamura gets his kicks firing people, I’m sure he has feelings, etc, but he does it nonetheless. And he most certainly enjoys what we used to call “The Good Old Boys Network” – they act as though there is nothing wrong with this “you scratch my back, and I’ll make sure you get a good salary” system, like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.

    They howl at us about being civil – it seems, you can DO things that are completely un-civil, as long as you keep a civil tongue in your head. And “civil” seems to mean to them, “no complaining.”

    I keep waiting for Scott Gruendl to shake his finger at us from the dais and exclaim, “Don’t make me come down there!”

    thanks you gals!

  3. Glad Nakamura and Orme are gone!

    Are you aware Nakamura did his doctorate thesis on contracting out fire services? Stand by…

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