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!

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Posted on September 22, 2013, in Free Speech, Truth vs Lies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. The poor coverage of what is going on at City Hall by the Enterprise Record and the local news stations is overtly apparent in today’s editorial. A false correlation between two independent variables, continued downsizing of City Hall and an increase in the security of the building, is being made. A discussion about increasing the safety of City Hall has been going on for at least six years and largely has to do with the fact that City Hall is a public building, end of story. Security measures, including coded locks on the interior doors, were added over a year ago. That the ER editor is so simple as not to investigate the true nature of the two independent problems is a direct indicator of poor reporting. It shows weak-mindedness as he is obviously caught up in the hyperbole of Gruendl and Nakamura.

    Additionally, there are some points being missed by the editor of the ER and by the Chico City Council. People are not mad at the fact that Chico needs to tighten its belt. People are upset at the way that it is being done. It seems that no one, not even the City Council, have investigated the treatment of City employees and the severely low morale that the current city management team propagates. When employees are given their lay-off notice there is no continuity for handing off their work, there is no proper exit interview; these are conducted by low-level HR personnel when they should be conducted by the HR Director, Chris Constantin. Additionally, employees who have given years of service to the City and have helped City Council to make informed decisions are turned out without any severance because Mr. Nakamura refuses to negotiate severance by stating that there is no money to do so.

    There are some serious problems with what is happening at the City and people do need to ask questions. Upper management is receiving large raises, raises equivalent to the yearly income for some families, and then cutting jobs at City Hall, this is a problem. Mr. Martinez, one of the recipients of a sizable raise this past June, has the audacity to do an interview with the local news station and ask the community to donate their time and money to keep areas of Bidwell Park open, this is also a problem. The Finance Director and HR Director are one in the same, which invites a hostile work environment, and this is a problem. When the Mayor abuses citizens for asking for public information that should be available, there is a problem. When a blatant conflict of interest such as Mr. Sorensen filing for a grand jury investigation against a council that he sits on, and then he is put in charge as the respondent to that claim, there is a problem. When the mayor and other council members are pointing fingers at previous administrations even though they have been on the council for 10+ years, there is a problem. When Councilman Stone wears his campaign t-shirt to breakfast and one of the things it says is “Job Creator” and that is not what he is helping do, there again is a problem.

    True disconnect between the decisions being made at the City and the needs of the community create this tension. Something would be wrong with the members of the Chico community if they were not bringing these and many other things into question.

    And, to the editor of the ER, the city is not “outsized” as you state in your comment. It is underfunded. Please consider the words you are using to make your point and check out your facts. There is quite a bit of work to be done at the city, and increasingly there is no one to get it done.

    As for the racially directed and vulgar emails that Gruendl claims have been sent him or Nakamura (this point, like so many others, is unclear), let’s see them. Those are public record too and should be available for verification if an accusation is being made. If it is true that such shameful things have been written and that the City Manager’s property has been damaged, that is a matter for the Chico Police to handle, not an issue for the Mayor and the Enterprise Record to wave around as an attempt to gather sympathy for someone who is doing a bad job.

    Until this week I was against contracting services for the City as a means for saving money. But, in considering what a savings contracting would be, as is pointed out by Nakamura and other members of management, maybe it’s a great idea. If the Council is responsible, then they will contract the City Manager’s position, the Assistant City Manager position, and the finance director. This has been done with great success in other cities. It would save the City upward of half a million dollars.

  2. Just which “unstable person” are they afraid will storm into CM office after being “pushed over the edge”? Poor Heather, wouldn’t want to be in her shoes these days. Doesn’t look as if they put any protection around the front desk.

    Love the idea to “contract the City Manager’s position, the Assistant City Manager position, and the finance director” – wonder if they’ll go for it?

  3. I think they should have to name names and make the e-mails public when they make these kind of charges.

  4. This is one of the most outrageous and sad editorials I have read from ANY paper, much less the “more credible” newspaper in a decent sized city.

    Since when is it “odd” for people to be “riled up” about politics? I’m pretty sure a watchdog operation like truthmatterschico.com wouldn’t jeopardize their own legitimacy by making stupid threats, vandalizing property, or throwing racial slurs toward the public figures they are investigating.

    This is obviously a hit piece and a warning shot over the bows of the truth seekers: “we’ve made our bed with the council and their lackeys and we’re prepared to use our circulation, stature, and gravitas to shut up any detractors of the line we’ve chosen to run with by trying and convicting you in the court of public opinion using made up evidence”.

    You know what’s a sad commentary? When a newspaper plays lapdog to a corrupt government even in the face of overwhelming evidence that their masters at city hall are merely trying to deflect their citizen interrogators long enough to get rid of the evidence.

    I seriously doubt the ER knows the first thing about the members of truthmatterschico.com (except what Mayor Gruendl tells them) and what kind of “war” they’ve just made themselves a part of. They’ve chosen their side — this much is obvious — and it’s looking more and more like the “bad guys”…

    By the way. Where exactly are the death threat and racist e-mails? If the police are worth their salt, they have merely to go to the local ISPs with a copy of the IP addresses from which the emails originated to locate the perpetrators. Last time I checked, threatening a public official was a crime. Why aren’t they locked up? Are the city manager et al not going to press charges? If not, they need to drop it. It’s either a problem or it’s not,

    I don’t know what’s worse: making up stories about threats and racism to stifle debate from your opponents (an age-old tactic if I do say so), or actually encountering the threats and racism and then doing nothing about it except accusing innocent people of perpetrating it from a bully-pulpit. Scoundrels….

  5. Hi ladies,   I would like to commend you for your bravery and willingness to speak and share the truth!  I was awake for a few hours in the wee hours of the morning trying to decide if I should write you and what I would say.  It sounded so much better in my head at 3am!   I’ve looked through your posts and have not seen one that addresses the layoffs, bumping of Admin staff and reclassification of special positions that caused them to not be affected by bumping.  If you have already addressed this, please repost as I fear we may be about to go through it again with the threat of 12 layoffs from the second floor (according to the news!). 
     
    I’m sharing this with you to hopefully help you understand why I feel it is important to share the shadiness of what happened in July.  I wish I was brave enough to post openly to your web but unfortunately I still need my job to pay for our mortgage.

    Basically, Amber, Bryna, Lynn and Dani’s positions were all reclassified, all of them with under 5 years city time and they became untouchable!  Even though CEA tried to convince them not to which in turn made them “open” the positions for all of us to apply, the end result is what they wanted all along, while those of us with way more than 5 years were shifted all over the city.  Then by some amazing luck, Amanda, with less than two years, miraculously got to keep her job, not be bumped and she was promoted to HR Analyst without a word or opening; it just happened.  I have nothing against all the ladies that were fortunate enough to remain comfortably where they were, I just want the truth out there that this happened because it is so unfair!   

    BTW ~ I love how you posted the salary changes to show how the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, classic!  You ladies are awesome and truly inspirational.  Thank you so much for what you are doing!   I hope you have a wonderful day!  
    ________________________________

    • I agree, you babes are awesome. Whoever posted this is also awesome. At last we civilians get some light on this – a housewife who only had her “women’s intuition” is finding out, it was worse than she ever imagined!

      I also agree with Daniel above – “By the way. Where exactly are the death threat and racist e-mails? If the police are worth their salt, they have merely to go to the local ISPs with a copy of the IP addresses from which the emails originated to locate the perpetrators. Last time I checked, threatening a public official was a crime..”

      David Little is a captive mushroom, living in a dixie cup of manure. You guys are journalists, he’s a newspaper editor.

      I don’t believe there were any death threats or racist e-mails, it’s just a ploy to throw asparagus on all our character.

      Ummmmm, that makes me think of eggs Benedict…

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