Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Year in News and Review

The 12/26/2013 issue of the Chico News & Review did an excellent job of summarizing the myriad of stories that have been in the headlines over the past year. I have combined the City-related stories into one document and have copied and pasted below, rather than describing each one and adding commentary.

Links to the original articles can be found here.


City Hall cut to the bone

Last week, the Chico City Council voted on a plan that is expected to take certain city funds out of a $15.2 million deficit position—losses that occurred over many years, in part from state take-backs of redevelopment and vehicle-license funding, and largely as a result of the recession, as the city borrowed from the funds to pay for operational costs, rather than eliminating jobs and city services.

The so-called “fund deficit mitigation plan,” which makes repayment the top priority among all other city expenditures, will take a decade to accomplish. Administrative Services Director Chris Constantin unveiled that plan during the council’s last meeting of the year, Dec. 17, and the panel voted 6-1, with Councilman Sean Morgan dissenting, to approve it.

Aside from the city’s ongoing negotiations with employee bargaining units, including the contentious negotiations with the Chico Police Officers’ Association, approval of the plan was the council’s last budget-correcting decision in a year of sweeping cuts at City Hall. Those reductions have come under the recommendation of a whole new management team, following the council’s hiring of City Manager Brian Nakamura, former city manager of Hemet, and the subsequent sudden departures of several managerial staff, including Assistant City Manager John Rucker and Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy.

Shortly after the first of the year, just weeks after Rucker disappeared, Nakamura revealed that the city was operating with a $3.2 million structural deficit (a figure that later ballooned significantly). He also unveiled during a City Council meeting, to the surprise of almost everyone in attendance, including city employees, a wholesale reorganization of city staffing—from 11 departments to five—a move that ultimately led to the demotion of many department heads and the dismissal of others.

Constantin, from San Diego, and Assistant City Manager Mark Orme, who worked under Nakamura in Hemet, were both hired in March. By May, the new management team estimated the city was operating with a $4.8 million structural deficit and Nakamura recommended the implementation of $7 million in cuts.

In early June, calling the financial problems “the darkest time for the city of Chico,” Nakamura released a 333-page draft budget that recommended dozens of layoffs of city personnel. Later that month, the council adopted a 2013-14 fiscal-year budget that eliminated 55 jobs, a figure that included a number of vacancies. Most of the casualties were at City Hall. Included among them were the elimination of the three park workers and the city’s four-person tree crew—a move that led to a temporary four-day-a-week closure of Caper Acres (a public-private partnership reopened the playground, and a new Butte County Sheriff’s Office collaboration, in which convicts clean the facility, looks to keep Caper Acres open indefinitely, or at least until the city’s fiscal state improves).

In September, following news that the capital-projects fund had a greater-than-anticipated deficit, city management announced that additional cuts of $1.2 million were needed to keep the 2013-14 budget on target. The next month, during a second round of layoffs, the city cut loose 11 employees, several of whom had vast institutional knowledge after working there for decades.

Homelessness addressed

The issue of homelessness raised its head locally this year more than ever before, and the city and community members responded with both aggression and compassion. The end result, in November, was the City Council’s passage of a civil-sidewalks ordinance—also known as a sit/lie law—targeting those who recline on sidewalks.

Pressure from some downtown business owners and their supporters led to the ordinance. Some merchants said customers were afraid to come downtown to shop because of the homeless people they found sleeping—and sometimes defecating or doing drugs—in the alcoves and doorways of storefronts.

Prior to the council taking that action, a group called Clean and Safe Chico developed programs like the Downtown Ambassadors, which, according to its website, was formed to address community issues in the downtown area including “business stress, ‘homeless issues,’ and ‘college-town’ alcohol problems that our community experiences…” Clean and Safe Chico also created a program called Redirect Generosity to discourage direct handouts to the homeless and instead steer the generosity toward local service providers such as the Jesus Center, the Torres Community Shelter and local food banks.

In October, a local group of business owners formed the R-Town Coalition, whose draft mission statement included the short-term goal of “removing drug offenders, transients, loiterers, vagrants and individuals exhibiting anti-social behavior from private property in the downtown area.”

The coalition is headquartered at 325 Main St., in an office next to the now-closed Towne Lounge. With $60,000 raised through donations of certain downtown business owners, the coalition hired a firm called Armed Guard Private Protection, and in early November, private armed guards began walking the streets and policing the nonpublic property downtown, which amounts to certain parking lots and storefront alcoves that offer shelter to the homeless.

At about the same time, the coalition also teamed up with the Jesus Center to create and fund the Cleanup Brigade for which Jesus Center clients were hired to work two hours a day, six days a week, sweeping and cleaning the downtown sidewalks, trash bins and large concrete planters. The pilot program was scheduled to last until the end of the year, as was the employment of the private guards. The effectiveness of each will be evaluated to determine if either or both programs will continue.

While the number of downtown homeless seems to have dwindled, it’s not clear if that’s because of the efforts made to address the issue, or due to the recent cold weather, or a combination of both.

Farmers’-market flap

There was much ado this year surrounding the fate of the popular Saturday-morning Chico Certified Farmers’ Market (CCFM), which has been held for the last 21 years at the parking lot at East Second and Wall streets.

In May, after the city of Chico’s Finance Committee gave the thumbs-up to a two-year franchise agreement (instead of the usual year-to-year contract) for the CCFM, based on its offer to pay $16,000 for power and sewer lines to be extended to the market’s lot, the City Council deadlocked in a surprising 3-to-3 vote (with Councilwoman Ann Schwab recused because she is a downtown business owner) that killed the infrastructure project and threw the future of the market into limbo.

And, despite the results of a 2009 study showing that the farmers’ market brings thousands of shoppers to the downtown area, claims by certain downtown business owners that the CCFM negatively affects their business grew louder. Some of them said they wanted to see the CCFM relocated to the parking lot in front of City Hall, an area that many market vendors believe is too small to accommodate them properly. Some critics suggested the day of the market move to Sundays.

In June, the council extended the CCFM’s franchise agreement to Dec. 31, 2014, and an offer was made by the city to the CCFM to take part in a group put together to address issues surrounding the farmers’ market, but the CCFM declined.

In October, a buzz surfaced indicating that CCFM supporters—including members of Friends of the Farmers’ Market (FFM)—might be considering drafting a ballot initiative so that voters could have their say as to the long-term fate of the market. This followed a July CN&R guest commentary by former Chico Mayor Karl Ory, a member of FFM, in which he noted that the CCFM’s “franchise agreement was terminated effective next year.”

When asked recently for an update, FFM spokeswoman Cheryl King offered these words in regard to the current situation of the CCFM: “The farmers and the people of Chico will make sure we stay at the present site. … The FFM will be making an announcement soon in regards to moving forward to protect this invaluable weekly Chico community event,” she said.

Plight of the urban forest

It was a tumultuous year for trees, specifically those—valley oaks, claro walnut trees, California sycamores and so on—that make up Chico’s “urban forest.”

In June, the Chico City Council passed a budget that eliminated the city’s tree-maintenance crew, and in July, Denice Britton—the city’s urban-forest manager—departed from her job. She still has not been replaced.

Add to that shake-up the fact that the city’s Urban Forest Management Plan has languished in the draft stage for months (go [here] to read the current draft) and a gloomy picture is painted as far as the future of the urban forest goes.

In fact, bits and pieces of the urban forest have already been taken out as a result of what is perceived by a number of local tree advocates as rash moves on the part of a cash-strapped city lacking adequate urban-tree oversight.

In August, in response to the looming removal of a number of 75-foot-tall walnut trees at Third and Chestnut streets, local heritage-tree advocate Charles Withuhn formed the Chico Heritage Tree Committee—later renamed Chico Tree Advocates. He also tied yellow ribbons around four of the trees in an attempt to save them by calling attention to their plight, but the trees were chopped down anyway.

A similar story is playing out with the stately valley oak tree that resides in the parking lot at the corner of West Eighth and Salem streets. It (along with the other, smaller trees in the lot) is slated for removal to make way for two duplexes that will serve as transitional housing for Salvation Army clients. A Butte Environmental Council appeal of the tree’s removal was withdrawn; BEC board chairman Mark Stemen explained at an early-December City Council meeting that BEC doesn’t “want to fight tree-by-tree battles with our fellow nonprofits.”

For his part, Withuhn—who was recognized by the CN&R in the 2013 Local Heroes issue (see “Local Heroes 2013,” Nov. 28) for his tree-advocacy work—called for more members of the public to become involved in advocating for the survival of healthy historic trees.

“We need to have more tree advocates show up for these meetings,” he said, referring to the twice-monthly meetings of the city’s Architectural Review & Historic Preservation Board. “We need more citizen involvement.”

Booze battle rages on

In January, Chico State President Paul Zingg released “A Call for Community Action,” signed by 28 officials from the university, the city of Chico and Butte County, which urged the community to address its “serious alcohol problem.” A meeting on Feb. 22 drew 400 Chicoans who provided their input on everything from use of fake IDs to personal responsibility.

That effort stemmed, in part, from the death of Chico State student and fraternity pledge Mason Sumnicht, whose Nov. 4, 2012, binge-drinking episode left him brain-damaged and on a respirator. His death 12 days later—the fourth alcohol-related student death toward the end of 2012—prompted outcry that reverberated throughout 2013.

Zingg acted first, temporarily suspending all Greek activity late in 2012. (At the time, 10 of Chico’s 26 Greek organizations were tied up with the university’s Student Judicial Affairs for violating alcohol and hazing policies.)

Around the same time, the university’s Greek community was given a list of guidelines for reinstatement that spelled out tighter rules for hosting events, and stricter punishment for violations, including permanent disaffiliation from campus. Greek chapters in compliance with the new rules were allowed to resume activity on March 1. (In May, Sigma Chi fraternity was suspended over allegations of brewing beer in its Chico annex and subsequently cut ties with the university.)

With the community hyper-aware of alcohol issues, it became much more difficult for downtown businesses to apply for liquor licenses. In May, Police Chief Kirk Trostle “drew a line in the sand,” publicly stating the city should stop granting licenses. Several businesses—the Mangrove Mini Mart, the Winchester Goose, and the yet-to-be-opened B Street Oyster Co. bar on Broadway—encountered varying degrees of difficulty with applying for licenses.

In July, Trostle released his now-infamous “Chico Conditions,” a set of 32 proposed rules for new alcohol licenses that included such items as prohibiting “happy hours” and other cheap-drink promotions, requiring security for entertainment at some establishments and banning entertainment outright at others.

The last item drew the ire of the music community, which has been mostly absent from the alcohol debate. During a July 30 meeting to discuss the conditions, local musician and record-label owner Josh Indar asked, “What does live music and entertainment have to do with kids dying?”

The police department has since maintained that the conditions—based on a 400-plus-page report of how other communities have dealt with similar alcohol issues—were intended as examples, not recommendations.

As the year draws to a close, the city’s policy on alcohol sales remains in flux; Brendan Vieg, a Chico city planner, recently told the CN&R that the city is “making some changes to the [municipal] code.”

Caper Acres saved by convicts

Early in July, Bidwell Park’s Caper Acres began closing four days a week. The popular children’s playground is a sacred place to many Chicoans. But it got caught up in city efforts to balance the budget, which included the elimination of three park workers. That meant a cut to cleanup efforts and playground inspection.

An online petition was launched and collected 2,578 signatures in about a week. The petition carried no legal weight, but it did send a message. Local maintenance company ServPro stepped in and offered its services in other areas of Bidwell Park, which freed up the remaining park workers to take care of Caper Acres. When that arrangement ended in November, the city brought in Butte County Alternative Custody Supervision inmates, who otherwise sit at home under house arrest. They now work in the park twice a week to help keep Caper Acres open.

Facebook feud

On Nov. 9, a Saturday, Chico City Councilman Randall Stone fired off an email to Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle, informing him that Officer Todd Boothe had posted racist pictures on his Facebook page.

“[I]t is my concern that this perspective has transcended free speech and become a procedural issue (job performance),” Stone wrote to Trostle. “I originally stumbled across Officer Boothe’s Facebook page early Tuesday morning after he posted a profane comment to my public Facebook page (nonthreatening, but very public).”

Boothe called Stone incompetent and an asshole, and most of the racist postings Stone “stumbled across” on Boothe’s page were posted in 2009. Stone said in his email to Trostle that he was concerned Boothe’s posts could jeopardize the safety of his fellow officers. On Nov. 10, Stone sent the email to the local media, and the next day, TV’s Action News Now broadcasted the story.

The Police Department is conducting in internal investigation, and Peter Durfee, president of the Chico Police Officers’ Association, has called for Stone to step down from the Police Community Advisory Board. This is all taking place while the city negotiates a new labor contract with the CPOA.

No free meal?

At an Oct. 15 Chico City Council meeting, Councilman Sean Morgan objected to the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission’s issuance of a permit allowing a church to feed the needy at City Plaza. Orchard Church, headed up by Pastor Jim Culp, had been conducting that outreach each Sunday evening at that location for more than five years without any complaints from the public. However, a park ranger, who spotted the group last summer, informed the congregation its gatherings required a permit.

Morgan said a “disturbing chain of events” had led to the permit being granted and felt the council’s power had been usurped by the commission. He wanted to appeal the decision himself. However, doing so would preclude him from discussing or voting on the matter as a council member. Hotel Diamond owner Wayne Cook, whose business is less than a block away from the plaza, ended up filing an appeal.

On Nov. 19, the day the appeal was to be heard by the council, Culp and city management came to a compromise: The handouts could continue but had to take place outside of the Chico Municipal Center. That move, which remains controversial, removed the need for the church to obtain a permit.

A booze-debate casualty

When Charanjiv Singh purchased Mangrove Mini Mart back in January 2012, he was under the impression that he would have little trouble obtaining a license to sell beer and wine at his convenience store.

But in May, the Chico City Council voted 6-1 to deny Singh’s application for an offsale beer-and-wine license. The council was under pressure from Police Chief Kirk Trostle, who—following the string of alcohol-related student deaths and Chico State’s Call for Community Action released in January—publicly stated the city should stop granting new liquor licenses entirely.

For weeks, it looked like Singh would be an innocent casualty of the booze debate—he estimated the loss to business would force him to close the store within six months—but the council eventually reconsidered its initial decision and ended up approving Singh’s application.

They’re in the money

The city made some new hires at the top of the pecking order this year after bringing on City Manager Brian Nakamura, former city manager of Hemet, as the city manager last August. Nakamura was offered a salary of $217,000 a year by unanimous vote of the Chico City Council. That’s about $40,000 more than his predecessor, Dave Burkland, was paid.

In March, the City Council approved the hiring of Mark Orme as assistant city manager at a salary of $185,000 a year, about $27,000 more than that of his predecessor, John Rucker, who mysteriously stepped down in January. Orme and Nakamura had worked together previously, filling the same managerial roles in the Riverside County city of Hemet.

The City Council then hired Chris Constantin out of San Diego as the new finance director in the wake of Jennifer Hennessy’s decision to move to Temecula. Constantin came in at $130,000 and was bumped up to $160,000 two months later, when his title changed from finance director to administrative-services director. His salary is now about $30,000 more than what Hennessy pulled in.

Altogether, taxpayers are paying $97,000 more a year for the three new hires, whose initial message to the council was that the city is broke.

OPINION: Take caution on franchising

Last week, the Chico City Council approved a supplemental budget appropriation of nearly $100,000 to hire a consultant with expertise in waste-hauling franchising—something the panel is considering establishing. During the meeting, several council members were very clearly in support of the idea, which—if estimates from the dais and city management are accurate—could bring in $1.5 million to $2 million annually.

In addition to buoying the city’s general fund, the establishment of a franchise agreement would have a number of other beneficial outcomes. Currently, two waste-hauling companies—which pay a so-called “fee agreement”—traverse the same residential streets, creating extra wear and tear on the roadways. A franchise agreement would eliminate that inefficiency by, say, creating zones that would keep the two companies within particular regions of the city, or franchising with only a single company. In addition, either of these changes would mitigate smog production.

From several standpoints, franchising seems like a no-brainer. So, what’s the rub? Well, there’s a big one.

A franchise agreement may translate into a multimillion-dollar windfall for the city, but it won’t come without a price tag. And that price tag will be paid for by every resident who has trash collection. That’s why we want to urge the council to proceed with caution and to help ensure that it will not place an undue burden on the community, especially those who live on commercial properties and may be on a fixed income.

Trash collection at commercial properties is already efficiently run, so the companies conducting that work likely won’t see any savings like they would in residential areas. In other words, the haulers will have no choice but to pass on the franchise fees to their customers, and the ones of lowest income are likely to take the brunt of it. It’s the council’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen.

There were also two letters to the editor related to City goings on that were published in this edition, one from Quené, and the other from a current City employee.

Council comedy: Re “Ship-righting continues” (Newslines, by Melissa Daugherty, Dec. 5):

I got a kick out of a recently published article [about a recent City Council meeting]. The statement that made me giggle like a school girl was provided by the subject of the article, Chris Constantin, the city of Chico’s administrative-services director.

The article stated that Mr. Constantin had given a preview of the upcoming budget for fiscal-year 2014-15, and implied that his department is well ahead of where it was last year in the budget process. Ha! As shown on the city of Chico’s website, Mr. Constantin’s department never even completed a final budget for fiscal-year 2013-14! Rather, they have stuck with the proposed budget, allowing any supplementals or modifications to be completed in a manner that makes it more difficult to analyze actual impacts to the budget.

Sticking with the proposed budget apparently also means they don’t have to complete quarterly reports, as I have yet to see one of those presented this fiscal year. Maybe I have ingested too many holiday cookies, but you can’t really be ahead in a process if you never completed the same prior process.

Quené Hansen

Note to the City Council

Lemon juice or chicken soup? I have given this matter less than considerable thought, yet as I hiccupped the ideas, lemon juice made the most sense. When one seeks to find an explanation regarding the City Council’s continued toga-esque behavior protocol (olive-branch excluded), or a critical accounting of the discretionary use of city funds (as noted in the grand jury investigation and massive city-wide layoffs), it has to be lemon juice!

The liquid exhibits an unclear lucidity that blurs the ability to be transparent. The very color of the peel itself has often been associated with debilitating courageousness. Invisible messages were written in lemon juice to keep secrets hidden until enough heat was applied to reveal a codified message. A distinction should be made here between invisible ink and disappearing ink—as in continuity of council minutes or the ongoing fund-’scapade debacle.

A popular adage suggests that when one is given too many lemons, a concoction should be prepared that allows the bitterness to be made less sour, more palatable. Why then did the City Council, in its infinite wisdom, purchase an orchard?

Rick Vagts


Again, excellent job Chico News & Review! Thank you for your consistently fair and thorough reporting.

Readers, we thank you for your continued support and welcome your questions and comments. Please continue to share our posts with your family, neighbors, and friends.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!


2nd Floor Staffing/Finance Workout Plan

Although this post is related to the Private Development Fund, known internally as Fund 862, its purpose is not to explain what happened to cause the balance to go negative. That subject requires its own post, which will be forthcoming in the following weeks. (For any of you who are fans of self-torture, I will go ahead and provide a link at the end of this post to my February 2013 Finance Committee report that does explain what happened, and you can read it at your leisure.)

Rather, this post explains the measures taken to correct the annual structural deficit; in short, it describes the plan we developed and implemented to stop the hemorrhaging. It was a good, solid plan, and it worked.

Now is probably a good time to point out that the $9m negative Fund balance always was, and still is, a General Fund obligation. Fund 862 is what is known as an Enterprise Fund — it provides services for a fee — and new fees are not permitted to pay for old debt. What that means is any annual shortfall in Fund 862 revenues should have been matched by a transfer from the General Fund.

Of course, therein lies the problem: General Fund dollars are premium, since they pay for Police and Fire. Fund 862 can legally carry a negative balance, so the General Fund transfer to cover operating shortfalls was pretty far down on the list of budget priorities. But enough of that for now; we need to get back to the purpose of this post, which is to explain how we arrested the annual operating losses.

While it may seem the two Fund 862 posts are being published in reverse order, this one is in direct response to the ongoing sarcastic commentary emanating from the Council dais, which I addressed from the podium at the December 17 meeting. I’ve just really had enough of the Council’s political grandstanding at the expense of staff who worked diligently (and successfully) to correct a decades-long error in funding development operations.

Here is the video clip of my 3-minute presentation and responses to questions posed by the Mayor:


And here is the chart I distributed to the Council during the meeting:

Fund 862_Annual Deficiency

Note that the chart represents the annual structural deficit. To reiterate, nothing but General Fund dollars will ever correct the negative Fund balance.

And now, for your edification, here is the detailed version of the workout plan story:

In February of 2010, former Assistant City Manager John Rucker, whom l had never met, stopped by and asked me to walk across the street with him to get coffee. Although l was very nervous, l went along to see what he had on his mind.

He opened the dialogue by saying, “Mary, tell me about the Private Development Fund.”

And so, he and I talked at length, and I explained what I knew, although at that time I had never even seen the Fund-level accounting. I only knew what I could see from a Planning operations standpoint.

I cautioned him that the Council would never let him daylight what had gone wrong with the Fund, since it was a political bomb that would get everyone very messy when it went off. Nevertheless, he assured me that he had been directed to analyze the Fund and repair the structural (annual) deficit, and that the Council did in fact want an explanation of what had caused it.

I had been trying for some time to call attention to things that weren’t working right for Planning operations, although I had never been included in City Manager level budget meetings until the lead-up to fiscal year 2007-08, after Steve Peterson was hired as Planning Director and needed me there to explain his budget. Once I got into the meetings and was able to express my concerns, former Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy began making adjustments based on my working knowledge of Planning’s operations and funding. I suspect that either she or former City Manager Dave Burkland had pointed Mr. Rucker in my direction, since I had been a squeaky wheel for a few years.

But once Mr. Rucker put his shoulder behind the effort in 2010, and I was given full access to the City’s financial software and the ability to request custom reports to see all the moving parts, what a can of worms that Fund turned out to be! While the funding adjustments Ms. Hennessy had made were definitely steps in the right direction, they had really only scratched the surface of the operational issues that still needed to be addressed.

Former Building & Development Services Director Fritz McKinley led the 2nd floor team, collaborating with former Capital Projects Services Director Tom Varga to identify work efforts that had been pushed to the back burner after two rounds of early retirements had cost the 2nd floor 31% of its staff — that amounted to 22 bodies.

I have such a fond memory of watching the two of them using different colored markers to draw floor-wide organizational charts on sheets of butcher paper and brainstorming to identify opportunities to cross-train staff and build interdepartmental project teams. It was the beginning of an enormous undertaking, but they committed themselves to the plan and worked together even when things got very uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, I was working on developing the finance plan, coordinating with Ms. Hennessy and my current partner-in-crime, Alicia Meyer. We built an interdepartmental alliance, where in the past there had been distrust, and we developed a plan to properly finance 2nd floor operations. Ms. Hennessy made changes to the budget that allowed for greater transparency, so 2nd floor staff could clearly see what was impacting our funding.

Alicia taught me to run complex financial reports, and together we unwound decades of less-than-transparent time card coding. Direct charges to other Funds ceased, in favor of a multi-Fund allocation tied to Fund 862 salaries. Cost centers were assigned to specific staff activities to provide solid data for the User Fee Study projections. These changes enabled us to identify the true cost of processing development applications.

Revenues and expenses were monitored on a bi-weekly basis in an effort to stay ahead of any negative trends. Historically, 2nd floor Departments simply monitored their Operating Budgets, without regard for whether or not revenue projections were being met. That obviously didn’t work out very well.

Citywide Indirect Cost Allocation Plan (CAP) bases were analyzed to determine which allocations should be redirected to operating budgets in Funds other than Private Development. The allocation to Fund 862 was reduced to reflect what was being used in the most recent User Fee Study.

Development projects subject to time and materials billing (rather than flat fees) were moved into the Subdivision Fund. This enabled us to more accurately identify true City costs, without having to sort them from charges that would be passed through to project applicants.

A General Fund operating budget was established for Planning, to account for unrecoverable operating costs related to non-fee activities (e.g., Tree Ordinance, Historic Preservation Ordinance, Economic Development Committee).

Floor-wide operations were thoroughly analyzed to maximize service levels while living within constricted means. Staff were cross-trained across department lines to ensure they were working where there were both need and funding. There was no “created” work. As I mentioned earlier, the 2nd floor had lost 22 bodies, all of whom left work behind that needed to be redistributed. In addition, the Federal ARRA (Obama’s shovel-ready) grant projects had come in, which required extensive staff work and reporting. There was plenty of work, and we built a team to get it done.

Specifically, we consolidated the remaining six administrative staff into a floor-wide team to absorb the duties of seven who had opted for retirement; we transferred one Building Inspector to Construction Inspection to absorb the duties of two retired Inspectors; we assigned double duty to the Senior Development Engineer, who absorbed the work of the retired Senior Civil Engineer in Construction Inspection; we transferred a Senior Planner and an Associate Planner to Capital Projects Services to work on environmental review, the ARRA projects, the update to the Bike Master Plan, and the “ultimate annexation” that was to incorporate the entire Chapman-Mulberry area; we moved an Assistant Planner to Sewer/Storm Drain Engineering to work on the Nitrate Action Plan projects and provide backup support for the public counter. In short, everyone was working on whatever needed to be done.

Here is an email from Mr. Rucker reinforcing the cross-department assignments during the workout plan. This was serious business, not some ploy to avoid making tough decisions.

2010-08-06 JRucker Re: Notify Staff_Workout Plan

What the 2nd floor staff accomplished — working at that level of efficiency to give the taxpayers the maximum bang for their buck — should serve as a model for all City departments. Yet the Council continues to say staff did nothing.

Now, as promised, here is the report I wrote for presentation at the February 26, 2013 Finance Committee meeting. This is the last iteration before Nakamura directed me to strike all references to Council actions. He told Mr. McKinley, in my presence, that the Council actually did not want to know what had happened. (Odd, isn’t it, that the Council has subsequently spent so much of their grandstanding efforts accusing staff of withholding information?)

As it turned out, Mr. McKinley “mysteriously resigned” the night before the meeting, so the report did not get presented. As I mentioned earlier, lots of important folks would have had messy stuff blown all over their pretty faces if that bomb had been detonated. And we can’t have that…

2013-02-26_Finance Committee_Memo_Final

Next up will be the Private Development Fund, I guess. If you read that memo, you’ll likely want it to be translated from bureaucrat-speak to English, so I will oblige. I’m really sorry this stuff is so complicated, but if it were simple, the government would have to find some other way to do it, right?

Thank you for your continued readership. As always, your comments and questions are welcome. Please continue to share with your family, friends, and neighbors. An informed citizenry can create an accountable government.

And finally, a very special Merry Christmas to all City staff, former and present, who made the 2nd floor staffing and finance plan work. You did an excellent job.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Into the Weeds: Revenues, Transfers, and Allocations

We’ve stepped Into the Weeds over the course of several posts now, and we’re just about ready to start looking at the larger picture and delving into some of the issues that have been in the news over the past months. We need to take a look at one more piece of the puzzle, though, and that is how money is received and moved around in and between Funds. The primary mechanisms are Revenues, Transfers, and Allocations.

Revenues are simply monies coming into the City from outside sources. They include taxes (e.g., General Fund, Gas Tax Fund), fees for service (e.g., Private Development Fund, Sewer Fund), time and materials billing (e.g., Subdivision Fund), development impact fees (e.g., Street Facility Improvement Fund, Community Parks Fund, assessments (e.g., Maintenance District Administration Fund), and grants (e.g., Capital Grants Fund, Community Development Block Grant Fund). Revenues are listed by specific types in the top section of each Fund Summary.

Here are some examples of how the Revenue section of a Fund Summary looks: General Fund, Community Development Block Grant Fund, Capital Grants Fund, and Private Development Fund. In the City budget, each Fund has its own separate page. I combined them into one document for our purpose, which was to look at how different types of Revenues are called out.

Transfers shift dollars from one Fund to another to pay for expenses. They are used, for example, when an Operating Expense is paid out of one Fund, but all or a portion of the Revenues designated to cover the expense has been paid into a different Fund. A simple example of this type of transfer is from the Parking Revenue Fund (853) to the Transportation Fund (212).

It is important to note that there are no “hidden” transfers in the budget. Both the dollar amount and the purpose of any transfers are clearly identified in the Fund Summary for both the donor and recipient Funds.

Transfers out of a Fund are labeled 9FFF, where FFF represents the recipient Fund number. Likewise, transfers into a Fund are labeled 3FFF, where FFF represents the donor Fund number.

This is how the Parking Revenue Fund (853) Summary describes the transfer: “Transportation transfer (9212) reflects the estimated cost of the Downtown Employee Free Fare Program which allows employees to ride the Transit system for free as an incentive to increase the availability of parking downtown.”

You will find a similar description in the Transportation Fund (212) Summary: “Parking Revenue Transfer (3853) reflects the estimated cost of the Downtown Employee Free Fare Program which allows employees to ride the Transit system for free as an incentive to increase the availability of parking downtown.”” 

So, the $36,000 is moved from Fund 853 to Fund 212, and then the cost of the Downtown Employee Free Fare Program is included in Transit Services payments due to Butte Regional Transit (B-Line), out of the Transit Services Department (212-653).

Allocations distribute expenses from one Fund to one or more other Funds. The largest and most complex Allocation is the Citywide Indirect Cost Allocation Plan (CAP), which will be coming forward to Council in the near future. That Allocation deserves and will receive its own separate post, once the basics of all the moving parts have been explained.

Simpler to understand are Internal Service Fund Allocations, which distribute costs for providing certain services to City Departments. Some of the Funds that receive their Revenues via Allocations are Central Garage (Fund 929), Municipal Buildings Maintenance (Fund 930), and Information Systems (Fund 935).

The basis of the Allocation depends on what services are provided. For example, the Information Systems Allocation (from Fund 935) is based on the number of computers per Fund-Department. It is allocated at the Department level, but accounted for at the Fund level. [Stay with me — I’ll explain!]

In a previous post, we discussed Planning operations, so I will use it as an example here as well. Planning’s Department code is 510, and it has operations in the General Fund (001), the Private Development Fund (862), and the Subdivision Fund (863).  In order to see Planning’s Allocation detail, you would need to look at all three of its Operating Budgets: 001-510, 862-510, and 863-510. As you can see, the Information Systems Allocation for Planning is spread across all three Funds. Please note that those are last year’s figures, since I no longer have access to internal budget pages without submitting a PRR and causing an uproar in the City Clerk’s office.  🙂

This level of detail is not available in the published budget. Instead, it contains an Operating Summary Report for Planning, which shows its total Allocations and only separates them by General Fund and Other Funds.

The important thing to remember is that Transfers and Allocations are related, in that they both effect inter-Fund cost sharing; however, the mechanisms are different. Transfers distribute dollars, and Allocations distribute expenses.

Clear as mud, I know.

Next in line for the budget posts will likely be the Private Development Fund. I had planned to move from this post directly to the Cost Allocation Plan, since it went to Finance Committee earlier this month; however, insider information has it that there was a problem with figuring out the Fund 400 piece [audible gasp!], and the study is now back at the staff level for further review rather than moving forward to the full Council. We’ll see which topic inspires me more the next time I feel compelled to wield my machete and continue blazing a trail through the weeds for you. Yee haw…

Thank you for your continued readership. We welcome your comments and questions, and ask that you please continue to share our posts with your family, friends, and neighbors.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!


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Council Meeting Tonight

Tonight’s City Council Meeting starts at 6:30pm at 421 Main Street.  The meeting agenda can be found here.

Of particular interest on tonight’s agenda are:

(1) a request to approve additional $99,200 from the Emergency Reserve Fund to pay a consultant to evaluate trash franchise haulers and draft an agreement (R3_Consulting_Request for Use of Emergency Reserve Funding), bringing the total cost of the consultant to $113,700;

(2) consideration of a deficit reduction plan that will severely impact the availability of General Fund revenues for services such as Police and Fire (Budget_Deficit_Reduction_Plan);

(3) consideration of a request for proposals to contract out City Attorney Services (Request_for_City_Attorney_Proposals); and

(4) Councilmember Ritter’s request for an update on Fire Station 5’s mold remediation costs, including the costs for the trailer as well as the funding source and  the term of the agreement. There is no staff report for this item, so we have no idea what inspired it or what her concerns might be.

If you’ve never attended a council meeting before, please know that there are typically plenty of seats, and you can come and go as you like (in case you can’t make it until after 6:30 and really don’t want to hang around until 11pm!).  It’s okay to just come and observe — no need to speak unless you are so inclined.  However, if you do wish to address the Council, there are speaker cards in the back of the chambers, and it’s as easy as filling out two fields and placing it in a basket.

If you can’t attend the meeting, you can watch from home via live stream or at a later date on the video recording. Our permanent link to the Council Meeting page, along with an explanation of how it works, is here: Watch Council Meetings

Again, we urge you to get involved. This is your community, and being informed and engaged is crucial. The Council works for you, so make your voice heard. Write letters, attend meetings or watch from home, ask questions and make comments on our blog posts, and hold the elected officials accountable at the polls.

Thank you for your continued readership. Please also continue to share our posts with your family, neighbors, and friends. As always, we welcome your comments and questions.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Is Council Abusing Closed Session Exceptions?

As we have previously discussed, California Government Code §549501 et seq., commonly referred to as “the Brown Act,” specifically identifies what matters are permitted to be discussed in Closed Session. It is critical to understand that allowable Closed Session items are narrowly defined exceptions to the open meeting law; they are not a series of broad loopholes available to allow staff to meet privately with the full Council and circumvent the public’s right to participate and be heard regarding its deliberations.

We have become increasingly concerned about the frequency with which the Council is meeting in Closed Session for Public Employee Performance Evaluations, under the Personnel Exception. According to the California Attorney General, the Personnel Exception exists to “…avoid undue publicity or embarrassment for public employees and to allow full and candid discussion of such employees by the body in question… Accordingly, the Act provides for closed sessions regarding the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, discipline or dismissal of a public employee. (§54957.)”

We expressed concern in a previous post about the four back-to-back Closed Session performance evaluations scheduled for the City Attorney. On tomorrow night’s City Council Agenda, it appears that sufficient direction was provided to her during these Closed Session evaluations to prepare a staff report detailing several options for contracting out City Attorney services upon her retirement. This has occurred despite there having been absolutely no Closed Session Announcement regarding the Council’s direction (although we did predict this would happen in the post linked above).

Now we are seeing recurring Closed Session performance evaluations for the City Manager on 11-05-1311-19-13, and again tomorrow, 12-17-13. Because we have been watching Council agendas carefully since Nakamura was hired on September 1, 2012, we know that this has been a frequent occurrence, so we went back and counted. Nakamura has had nine Closed Session performance evaluations in 16 months. Again with no Closed Session Announcements.

(In fact, if you review the Council minutes over the past year, what you will find under every single Closed Session Announcement is “No Action Taken.”) Interesting — and highly suspicious.

So, just how many performance evaluations does Nakamura’s contract with the City require? Section 4 states that Nakamura is to have an annual evaluation commencing in April 2013 and every year thereafter as long as he maintains employment.

That’s right. One performance evaluation per year is what is contractually scheduled, yet Nakamura is coming up on his ninth since December 2012.

That begs the question: If the Council is taking no action requiring a public announcement, what, exactly, is going on in these private sessions with Nakamura?

Are they discussing next steps in his grand rightsizing plan? Not eligible for Closed Session.

Are they discussing plans for further budget or staffing reductions? Not eligible for Closed Session.

Are they discussing how to handle public criticism of their agenda? Not eligible for Closed Session.

Whatever they are discussing, it clearly falls outside the narrow scope of the Personnel Exception.

This needs to stop. The Council appears to be using these Closed Sessions to plan and deliberate away from public scrutiny, and the public should be outraged.

In the Chico Taxpayers Association’s December 14 blog post, Sustainability Task Force meeting a lesson on “open meetings” law, Chico City Clerk Debbie Presson is reported as having commented, “[The Brown Act]… was designed to ensure the public has a chance to participate… to hear your deliberations… In other words, the public needs to know what or who influenced the decisions that are being made by our public boards and commissions… a small group behind closed doors precludes the chances of the public being able to participate…”

So, can we all agree to follow her rules?

Again, we urge you to get involved. This is your community, and being informed and engaged is crucial to keeping these elected officials in line. They work for you, so make your voice heard. Write letters, attend meetings or watch from home, ask questions and make comments on our blog posts, and hold the elected officials accountable at the polls.

Thank you for your continued readership. Please also continue to share our posts with your family, neighbors, and friends. As always, we welcome your comments and questions.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!


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