City Attorney Announces ‘Retirement’
Today’s Enterprise-Record ran an article announcing City Attorney Lori Barker’s upcoming retirement.
Wow. Another City executive is jumping ship. Sheer coincidence? We think not.
While we have no direct knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Ms. Barker’s retirement, we do have intimate knowledge of Nakamura’s methods and the Council’s recent statements and actions to support him. We wonder whether she was ‘invited’ to retire, rather than getting the Monday night hammer, to allow the Council an opportunity to find a suitable replacement for this critical role.
Consider these points:
(1) Ms. Barker is fairly young, perhaps early to mid-50s, and she is ‘retiring’ after 24 years of service. The City’s pension formula for existing employees is 3% at age 60. If we guesstimate her age at 54, and she retires in 2014, her pension formula drops to 2.4%, multiplied by 24 years of service, rather than the full 3% at 30 years if she had chosen to stay another 6 years. That is a huge chunk of change that will affect her family’s finances forever.
Here’s a rough calculation using our age guesstimate:
Formula: Salary x Percentage x Years of Service
Year 2014: $185,440 x 2.4% x 24 = $106,813
Year 2020: $185,440 x 3.0% x 30 = $166,896
That’s approximately $60,000 difference in annual pension payments, for the rest of her life, to hang in there a few more years… Something smells.
(2) Ms. Barker is the sole remaining member of the City’s former Budget Reduction Strategy Team. She knows the facts and circumstances surrounding every action the City took to address the impacts of the recession and its accompanying loss of sales tax revenues, the loss of Redevelopment Agency funds and Vehicle License Fees via State takes, and the subsequent defeat of Measure J (the cellphone tax) that resulted in refunds of prior years’ revenues. We suspect that her narrative about what actually happened differs significantly from the Council’s recent public statements, and we wonder whether she was quietly attempting to correct it, to her ultimate peril.
(3) Ms. Barker is a direct report to the Council, not Nakamura, in order to ensure her ability to serve the public interest unfettered by the administration’s agenda; however, since the Council appears relentless in its defense of Nakamura, despite the growing list of public concerns about his methods and actions, that must be taken into consideration.
We noticed that Ms. Barker had back-to-back performance evaluations on the Council’s Closed Session agendas for 09-17-13 and 10-01-13. [Update: Closed Session performance evaluations for Ms. Barker also occurred on 10-15-13 and 11-05-13, for a total of four back-to-back meetings.] Had she spoken up in opposition of Nakamura’s behavior once too often? Had she told the Council that what we have been saying in open sessions is true? Had she taken away the Mayor’s fun by telling him he could not continue to threaten us without exposing the City to potential litigation? We will likely never know, but we find this highly suspect, and that is a shame. Someone needs to be speaking the truth from the inside and reining in the recent bad behavior of both the Council and the Executive Team, and she was the only one who could have done that.
(4) We have had our suspicions all along that the City Attorney function would be contracted out, which should be cause for public concern. A City Attorney who is a public servant has a duty to the citizens. An outside law firm hired by the Council might not operate within the same constraints, and we believe a conflict of interest might exist if there was no duty to faithfully put the community’s best interest above the Council’s direction. We don’t like it and hope it does not happen, although the Mayor mentioned it in the final paragraph of today’s article: “Gruendl said the council could decide to fill the city attorney position or consider options for contracting out.”
We guess we’ll wait and see whether the two remaining employees in Ms. Barker’s office get pink slips. If so, someone owes Alicia five bucks for having called that play months ago.
Whatever happened to inspire Ms. Barker’s early retirement, we wish her every happiness and success in her new life. We can only hope that yet another of Nakamura’s old buddies won’t be hired or contracted with Chico’s tax dollars. Even if what is done is legal, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is the right thing to do for the public good.
In matters of government, perception, like truth, matters.
Photo credit: Chico Enterprise-Record