Category Archives: Free Speech

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

I’m disappointed that my household chores kept me close to home over the weekend. According to Mayor Scott Gruendl’s official Facebook page, there are “Impeach Gruendl” signs posted in north Chico, and I would like to take a selfie in front of one before he tears them all down. Or requires city staff to remove them (your General Fund dollars at work).

Along with a photo, the esteemed mayor posted this politically savvy, academy award worthy spin of a take on the signs:

“This is what motivates me politically. A constituent sent me a photo of these signs that have appeared in north Chico. Flattering that someone would take the time and effort to promote my name. Of course, the act of impeachment is something reserved for a Federal official, such as the president, so quite flattering indeed! However, it is also serious to accuse me of criminal wrong doing as a public official, so it is very concerning that someone would do this in such an anonymous and cowardly way. In fact, for me to be denied the opportunity to face my accuser is quite un-American.”

My thoughts? Why yes, I happen to have a few to share.

1)  Someone being disappointed enough in his performance to post negative signs “motivates [him] politically”? To do what? Actually vote in a manner that he feels benefits Chico citizens, instead of voting along with the Council majority (since, as mayor, he votes last)? Stop mocking voters/taxpayers/citizens? Run for a higher office, inspired by this thinly veiled adulation?

2)  He’s flattered “that someone would take the time and effort to promote [his] name.” Nice spin. Even if I wasn’t acutely aware of his shortcomings as an elected official, seeing “Impeach Gruendl” on a sign isn’t a real motivator for me to vote for him, at any level. And with a distinctive name like his, it’s easy to remember. I don’t think the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” necessarily applies in local government. Especially when this council is about to pull off a sleight of hand maneuver that will result in spending six figures’ worth of our tax dollars to pay a company to turn around and impose a garbage tax on us.

3)  I actually snorted when I read that “it is also serious to accuse me of criminal wrong doing as a public official,” when over the past six months or so, that has been the modus operandi of Gruendl, Sorensen, Flynn, and intermittently, some of the other councilors. Rather than admit they have changed their colors under their latest city manager, they continue to cast unfounded accusations — some of them involving criminal wrongdoing — at previous administrators. And at “disgruntled former employees,” such as the three of us.

4)  He’s concerned that someone has posted their opinions “in such an anonymous and cowardly way.” So writes the guy who abuses his bully pulpit at every opportunity, clearly more interested in making accusations than revealing truths that might paint him in an unflattering light. We at Truth Matters, Chico! have been sharing our opinions in a very public way, à la blogging and speaking at meetings; yet I don’t see the mayor taking what we are saying to heart. For example, why don’t we see an indignant Facebook post from him about protecting the integrity of the public record or not abusing closed session privileges?

5)  Rolling right in with my fourth point is a snicker at Gruendl being “denied the opportunity to face his accuser,” who must, therefore, be “un-American.” When the mayor accused my colleagues and me of great wrongdoing on his Facebook page [Have you read the now infamous Facebook rant?] and threatened — repeatedly — to release “embarrassing things from [our] personnel files” (perhaps embarrassing to him in their total lack of embarrassing things?), I don’t recall getting an opportunity to face him. He did it while cowering behind the council dais and from the safety of his computer, like so many Internet trolls, as well as through a statement to the press, which he later attempted to have retracted. Apparently, Gruendl’s reputation is sacrosanct, while the professional and personal reputations of dissenters, nay, taxpaying citizens, are his to tread upon with impunity. I would also refer you back to my third point; I have yet to hear of any former administrators being allowed an opportunity to face those councilors who routinely accuse them of wrongdoing and mock their professional reputations during the council’s twice monthly grandstanding sessions.

For the record, we at Truth Matters, Chico! are not responsible for the signs. If we make signs, they will read, “RECALL GRUENDL”  with our web address clearly displayed beneath. That’s the way we roll.

If anyone wants to start a recall effort, contact city clerk Debbie Presson at (530) 896-7250. Having been recalled as a Town of Paradise councilmember, she’ll surely know the drill.

And if the anonymous sign maker is reading this, and I hope you are… If you make a new set of signs to RECALL GRUENDL, I’d like one for my yard.

Impeach_Gruendl

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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!

closeddooraward

Photo credit: southdacola.com

Update: Stoning a Cop

Since last Friday, when we published our original post regarding Councilmember Randall Stone’s public accusations of racism and homophobia against Chico Police Officer Todd Boothe, new information has been steadily developing. We want to keep you updated, because Stone must be held accountable for his outrageous and irresponsible behavior. If the Council will not hold him accountable, then the citizens must hold the entire Council accountable at election time.

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, during Business from the Floor, Chico Police Officers’ Association (CPOA) President Peter Durfee and Chico citizen Stephanie Taber spoke out against Stone.

Durfee asked that Stone be removed from the Chico Police Department’s Community Advisory Board; that Stone recuse himself from any and all Council matters related to the CPOA and its members; and for a formal apology from Stone to Officer Boothe, his family, and the members of the CPOA. Perhaps his most compelling comment was, “This Association protects your streets, your families, and the City. It’s hard to protect from the front while you are getting stabbed in the back.”

Stephanie Taber echoed Durfee’s call for the Council to remove Stone from the Advisory Board and specifically identified the policy he violated when he publicly aired what was clearly a confidential personnel matter. She also said, “By taking his concerns regarding what he found on a Police Department employee’s personal Facebook page and publicly describing them as racist, he has undermined his position as a positive link between the community and the Police Department.”

We could not agree more.

The entirety of Mr. Durfee’s and Ms. Taber’s comments are transcribed here, or you can watch the short video clip from the Council meeting.

After the City Council meeting, Action News Now reported that “Several issues were decided at tonight’s Chico city council meeting but it was an item not on the agenda that may have people talking. It was the first city council meeting to take place since Councilman Randall Stone publicly called out a Chico police officer accusing him of posting racist pictures on his Facebook page.”

You can read the report and watch the video here: Police Officer Association Asks Stone For Apology

On Wednesday, Action News Now reported that Stone had not attended that evening’s Chico Police Department’s Community Advisory Board meeting, due to a scheduling conflict. [I believe that, don’t you?]  The report also stated that City Attorney Lori Barker is investigating Stone’s behavior to determine whether he violated policy or law by making an internal investigation public.

So, Ms. Barker will be investigating Stone, her boss, right after an unprecedented number of Closed Session “performance evaluations” over the last few months. We hope her upcoming retirement will permit her the freedom to be neutral, rather than being persuaded to look the other way, which seems to be the MO at city hall these days — It’s the new Chico way

You can watch the entire news video here: First CPAB Meeting Since Councilmember Accuses Officer of Racism

KRCR-TV also reported on Wednesday, saying in part, “We tried contacting Stone but he referred us to city attorney Lori Barker for comment. We tried calling Barker but she declined as well saying this is an ongoing investigation.” Durfee was quoted as saying, “Where does it stop? Can we not publicly criticize our public leaders anymore?  Can we not criticize the President of the United States if we don’t agree with our [sic] policy?  Can we not criticize our city council people?”

Haven’t we read that somewhere before? Why, yes, yes we have! In our very own blog! This is just another instance of a strict zero-tolerance policy on criticizing the Council or Executive Team.

You can watch the entire news video here: Police Officers’ Association demands councilman’s apology

While all of that is interesting and relevant, today’s Chico Enterprise-Record article, “Flap over police post continues,” contained some astounding quotes from Stone. Here is a personal favorite of mine, because it really gets to the heart of Stone’s attitude and belief system. “The police community advisory board is just a press conference,” he said. “It’s like lunch with the chief; not that it doesn’t have value, but I don’t know what it does.”

Who is this guy, anyway? He doesn’t know what the Advisory Board does, yet he openly devalues it, and then he refuses to step down. I personally sort of hope the Chief serves up a a sh#t sandwich for Stone at his next luncheon. (Or maybe a huge crappy rock cookie would be more appropriate.)

Our advice to Stone is to step down quietly, apologize for his misbehavior, and hope the citizens will forget about this debacle before election time rolls around. He is an embarrassment to the City Council and the community. (Disclaimer: That is just my opinion… On the other hand, I do think I’m correct in my assessment, having closely observed him in action since he was elected and seated.)

Since we linked to bloggers in our last post, here are the latest posts from Mike Maloney and Chico Taxpayers Association, with very different opinions:

What’s next Randall Stone? (November 19, 2013)

Trostle needs to GO! (November 21, 2013)

Thank you for your continued readership. As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

A Matter of Minutes

At Tuesday night’s Council meeting, the minutes for the first four meetings at which we spoke were on the agenda for approval. As expected, they did not reflect the nature of any of our comments. The clerk either ‘misunderstood’ the points we made, or ignored them altogether. This inane effort to pretend everything is coming up roses during the meetings is completely out of hand.

I pulled the minutes from the Consent Agenda to address concerns about the integrity of the record. Because there were five sets of minutes included as one agenda item, it was clear I could not cover them all in the three-minute time limit. So, I submitted a separate speaker card for each of the four meetings I wanted to address. I opened my remarks by telling the Council what I had done and respectfully requested their indulgence in allowing me to finish my comments without interruption.

It didn’t work, but l guess the outcome made for a pretty interesting show. The video clip is about 12 minutes long and is definitely worth a watch.

Did you notice in the video how the Mayor was absolutely intent on keeping me from getting through my comments on the September 17 meeting? As l mentioned to him, that’s because he knew what was coming next.

September 17 was the meeting at which the March 5 minutes debacle occurred, but more importantly, it was also the meeting at which l exposed the Mayor’s crazed Facebook rant. The difference is that l originally exposed it during Business from the Floor, when the Council Chambers were virtually empty; last night l was speaking during the Consent Agenda, in front of a packed house.

I was also unable to point out that, in addition to having denied the existence of the March 5 memo, the clerk had responded to our Public Records Request for the backup documentation related to it by stating that “Nothing exists that is responsive to your request.” Well, now that we all agree the memo exists, rest assured we will be demanding the supporting documents again.

Is it just me, or would you also agree that having received a request for the backup documentation in August, the clerk might have thought it prudent to go back and watch the meeting video to make sure her recollection was correct? She sure made a big enough stink about our records requests disrupting her life. Perhaps watching the Council meeting video would have been a better way to spend her time than giving that television interview griping about how we were trying to destroy the City by asking for public information.

And here’s some alarming news: According to the Mayor, the official record is neither the video nor the minutes. Apparently there is an expand-o paper file somewhere in the clerk’s office that contains any items that were not included in the agenda packet, not posted to the web, and/or not identified in the minutes. Somehow, citizens must divine that there might be a document of interest in the paper records — even if its existence has been denied. If true, shouldn’t that gap in the public’s web access to City Council public records be called out somewhere on its information page?

Councilmember Schwab was the only one who seemed to acknowledge the importance of having a correct permanent record, and l applaud her for continuing to stand up for what she believes is right, particularly in the face of the ongoing condescension and mockery from others on the Council. Although she and l are miles apart politically, she has the courage of her convictions, and my admiration for her continues to grow. Truth matters.

Councilmember Sorensen’s comments were a bit disturbing. If you watched the video clip, you saw how aggravated he was about the Council being asked to “tinker with the minutes… especially post-mortem.”

Well, l agree that Council should not have to tinker with them. The clerk should get them right before she puts them on the agenda for review; that’s her job.

The ‘post-mortem’ remark is puzzling, though. When, exactly, do the minutes become post-mortem? Is it when they are placed on the Council agenda for approval? If so, how can anyone comment on or tinker with them ante-mortem? Just wondering…

He also seemed to be suggesting that as long as the minutes get done, their accuracy is immaterial. Maybe in his view that is true; however, as l mentioned during my comments, inaccurate minutes are a disservice to the public. How else can a citizen who is unable to attend meetings get a true accounting of what happened, unless he or she has hours to spend watching entire meeting videos? Why even bother with minutes if there is no requirement for them to be accurate?

What really disturbs me most is Sorensen’s comment that the minutes are action only, and Business from the Floor is not an action item. To me, that screamed foreshadowing.

One thing we at Truth Matters have struggled with on an ongoing basis is whether we should publish predictions about the Council’s next dumb move, to try to head them off at the pass and prevent it, or allow them to go ahead and do the dumb thing and then call them out on it afterward. In this case, I am going to go with making a prediction, because the official record is important stuff. Perhaps when Sorensen reads this (and we’re quite sure he will), it will dissuade him from suggesting what I suspect he is already considering.

So, here goes: I predict that the Council will direct the clerk to change the Business from the Floor section of the minutes to a simple list of persons who addressed them, with no description whatsoever of what was said. This is what the clerk already does with other agenda items. The problem with changing Business from the Floor to a list of speakers is there is no detail in the agenda that would identify the topics. It would make the clerk’s and Councilmembers’ lives easier, for sure, but it would be a horrible disservice to the community.

If they wanted to add service to the community, they could certainly do that by moving Business from the Floor to the beginning of the meeting. As it currently stands, people wait through hours of bureaucratic double speak and political grandstanding just to get their 3 minutes in front of the Council. There are many communities that provide that courtesy to the citizens, including Hemet, which hears Communications from the Public immediately after the Consent Calendar. (As an aside, Hemet also provides an opportunity for public comment on Closed Session items, which I addressed in a previous post.)

If you’re interested, here is what was left unsaid last night, due to the Mayor’s interruption: Remainder of Minutes Presentation

Based on the reactions of Sorensen, Stone, and Gruendl, one would think I had asked the clerk to spend her entire life doing something irrelevant. All I want is the truth, because it matters.

We thank you for your continued readership. As always, your questions and comments are welcome.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

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Photo credit: escunited.com

Stoning a Cop

So, about this week’s big story, Councilmember Randall Stone publicly accusing a Chico police officer of racism and homophobia… We have decided to add our two cents to the discussion, despite the likelihood that regardless of our conclusion, one or more rogue Council members will resume accusing us of inciting, or at a minimum embracing, racism. For the record, we abhor hate speech in all its forms; however, we passionately defend an individual’s right to express unpopular views to the extent it is protected by the First Amendment.

(If you haven’t kept up with the Stone vs Boothe story, links to media articles and local blogs are provided at the end of this post.)

Moving along….

To begin with, we neither support nor condemn Officer Boothe. We don’t know him, and it is not our place to judge his fitness for duty. It is also not the media’s place, or even the citizens’ place, until after all internal fact finding is complete and the City’s personnel procedures have been followed. We don’t know enough about the cop shop to even have an opinion as to whether or not Boothe’s private Facebook activity can be introduced into the official investigation. What we do know is that personnel matters are among the very few City procedures that are confidential, and they are therefore not subject to the public records act. So, on that point, we remain neutral.

What we wholly condemn is Stone shamelessly compromising that process out of some bizarre need for public retaliation and self-aggrandizement. His status as a Councilmember permits him virtually unlimited access to a bully pulpit, and he has abused the power of his office by identifying Boothe as a police officer and then making damning statements about him to the television and print media. Trial by public opinion will ruin this cop’s reputation to such an extent that even if he is fully exonerated, the spectre of the accusations will follow him wherever he goes. That is unacceptable. Period.

That’s not to say we haven’t formulated an opinion of Boothe as an individual. We think that at best, he is either technologically challenged and can’t figure out how to work Facebook’s privacy settings, or not politically savvy enough to realize how damaging those photos could be to his reputation; at worst, he may actually be a racist and a homophobe. We just don’t know. We haven’t searched the web to find what he posted, because truthfully, his personal views are none of our business. Having said that, this should serve as a good reminder to us all to carefully consider what we share on social media. What may seem humorous today can come back to haunt us later. Boothe is learning this lesson the hard way, as many have before him.

But, here’s the rub: As a private individual, Boothe has a right to express his personal views, whether Stone likes them or not. Protecting unpopular speech is at the core of the First Amendment. As a private individual, he also has an unfettered right to criticize elected government official Stone without fear of being publicly crucified in retaliation.

There is a glaring difference between elected government official Stone publicly labeling Officer Boothe a racist cop, sans any investigation into the facts or regard for his right to due process, and Joe Citizen accusing Boothe of being a racist and demanding an investigation.

What makes this incident even more despicable is Stone’s position as the Council appointee to the Chico Police Advisory Board. He is either fully aware of Boothe’s rights and protections under the City’s personnel rules and willfully chose to circumvent them in favor of pursuing his own agenda, or he is indisputably unqualified to sit on that Board and should be removed immediately.

This type of retaliatory behavior has become entirely too common among members of the current Council. The current city manager has convinced these elected officials that they operate as a board of directors, and as a result, they behave as though they are corporate bigwigs rather than servants of the public.

While we are not condoning Boothe’s personal behavior, we have tremendous empathy for the damage Stone has caused to his reputation. We, too, have felt the effects of public condemnation as a result of this Council’s inexcusable reaction to criticism.

Because we had the audacity to speak out against the current city manager, this Council, led by Mayor Gruendl, launched an all-out public assault on our personal and professional reputations. They used their bully pulpit at the dais, held press conferences, showed our home addresses to a television crew, ranted on social media, and made outrageous accusations that our free speech was the cause of physical and emotional harm, racism, and threats of violence. As if that were not enough, the Mayor actually threatened to release ‘embarrassing information’ from our personnel records.

That feels horrible. Even though we knew before we began speaking out against the city manager there would be a price to pay, we never imagined that price would be personal and professional attacks from the Council. But because we weren’t cops, the long-term effects on our livelihood are likely to be minimal, and our families will not be forced to endure lifelong stigma as a result of the unfounded accusations.

Officer Boothe’s consequences will be much more severe. He and his family will undoubtedly pay dearly over the course of their lives for Stone’s public assault on his reputation. Accusations of racism against a cop cannot simply be rescinded as if they were never made. People are generally quick to remember an accusation, because it is so inflammatory, but far less likely to remember the exoneration, which may not even make the front page of the local paper. The accusation is all over the media. It is all over the internet. It can’t just be taken back. Words have power.

And so, when it is all said and done, we are very angry about this situation and ask, who will hold Stone accountable? Who will investigate him to determine whether he violated this cop’s civil rights? Even if Boothe is ultimately found guilty of racist writings, where are Stone’s consequences for his petty and ruthless behavior? Two wrongs will never make this right; in fact, the second wrong makes a complete mockery of the concept of elected officials as public servants.

These overt attempts to bully and intimidate individuals in order to stifle or retaliate for free speech must be stopped. Stone and the rest of this unprincipled, self-serving Council must be held accountable.

The next person targeted for criticizing them could be you, or someone you love. These people work for you, so don’t let them forget it. We urge you to attend and speak out at Council meetings, write letters to the editors, write letters to the Council, and please do your civic duty and VOTE! Elections have consequences.

As promised, here are some links to media pieces and local blogs about this story:

Action News Now (November 11, 2013): Chico City Council Member Accuses Police Officer of Racism

Action News Now (November 12, 2013): Police Chief Angry “Racism” Investigation is Public

KRCR-TV (November 12, 2013): Councilman accuses police officer of having racial material

Mike Maloney Musings (November 12, 2013): Randall Stone(r), Incompetence and Racism

Chico Enterprise Record (November 13, 2013): Chico police officer’s Facebook photos, comments spur department investigation

Chico Enterprise Record (November 14, 2013): Editorial: Officer’s online posts imprudent

Chico News & Review (November 14, 2013): Opinions: Police drama

Chico Taxpayer’s Association (November 14, 2013): Thanks to Randall Stone for shedding light on some cockroaches. See how they run!

Clearly there are very strong views on this story. And Officer Boothe sits by silently, while he is tried in the court of public opinion. Councilmember Stone, we have one word for you: Disgusting!

Thank you for your continued readership. As always, your questions and comments are welcome.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

LORD STONE

Mayor to Speak at Free Speech Day Event

So, I had planned to stick to my Into the Weeds posts for awhile, but yesterday morning’s Chico Enterprise-Record article on Free Speech Day compelled me to switch gears temporarily.

Here’s part of the article:

A spokesman for the group says Mayor Scott Gruendl, Police Chief Kirk Trostle, Melissa Daugherty from the News & Review, and Sue Hilderbrand from KZFR will be speaking at the event.

Under other circumstances, I might have laughed about the Mayor speaking at that event; however, he has made such a mockery of free speech rights in recent months that the irony did not elicit so much as a smirk.

As you may know, we were unable to attend the October 15 Council meeting. Rather than remaining silent about our absence, the Mayor felt obligated to comment on it after the conclusion of Business from the Floor. A true defender of free speech, this guy is.

Here’s what he said (watch the video clip):

I forgot to honor the, for the nice business from the floor we had tonight, too, as well, so it’s a break. So I appreciate that for the folks listening at home. Thank you for giving us the break as well. Um [giggle] I mean that in a sincere way I mean, it’s been a long time since we haven’t had to address such serious concerns so um.. Not that we don’t address serious concerns on a regular basis. I’m really digging myself a hole, so with that um [giggle] so with that we are adjourned…

But wait, there’s more!

Here is the full text of the Mayor’s September 3 press release addressing free speech and access to public records:

Press Release from the Mayor (12:45 PM, 9/3/13)
CHICO MAYOR RESPONDS TO CRITICISM OF CITY LEADERSHIP

Chico faces extraordinary times and our success lies in the strength of our citizens. Seeking truth and civic involvement are critical, yet some utilize protections of democracy in a selfish and counterproductive way. City hall has seen an unprecedented number of public information requests with many from the same party so it appears the intent is not to discover truthful information, but to punish those implementing measures necessary to keep our city solvent and serving the public.

Many requests relate to meeting minutes not yet completed. When an information request is received, the same officials responsible for the minutes are legally mandated to respond to the request, but are not mandated to produce the minutes. One can see how certain members of the public, while appearing to appropriately use a powerful democratic tool of democracy, may actually have harmful intent, that becomes evident when the very information sought is available on the Internet immediately for all to see and hear at their own desire.

I am a vanguard of the public’s trust, so it is difficult for me to make the claim that the very systems that are available to enhance this trust appear to be abused by some. My intent is not to limit the voice of our community or access to government, but when these sacred instruments appear to be used as tools of abuse, my oath of office requires action.

City Council meetings are used by some to attack the city’s administration. Some have grievances due to separation from city employment and others falsely believe that the city’s financial calamity was caused by the very people hired to fix it. The truth is that this administration has taken action that no predecessor would and the total salary cost is significantly less than past executives whose failures resulted in the extraordinarily difficult times we experience today.

As Mayor, let me be perfectly clear, speech is a protected freedom, but when speech is used to bring physical and emotional harm, it is an abuse of freedom’s sanctity and a disservice to all that have given to protect it. Just because speech is a protected freedom, does not make what is said right. Civility, character, and intent define a discussion in a way that can be meaningful debate. Hate, vitriol, and racism define a discussion that can be criminal.

What defines a Chicoan? Must one be born here, lived here long, or own property? We are defined by civic involvement, willingness to protect and enhance our community, and desire for what is best for this special place. There is no other place like Chico and most want this city to prosper to its full potential. I cannot be the judge of what truly defines a Chicoan, but I do judge those that hide behind the good work of our great citizens throughout history for the purpose of discrimination and breeding hate.

What defines who is right or wrong? Who determines whether the financial distress of the city was caused by present or past employees? Who makes the choices necessary to assure local government remains a viable servant of the public? The duly elected representatives of the people, sworn to an oath to protect the public, in conjunction with all community members, do. It pains me greatly that certain citizens that I have come to know and trust, do not trust me. What these very persons believe to be the truth is actually a campaign of misinformation that is merely selfserving and their efforts are causing more harm than good and this harm appears to be with intent.

What is the truth? The truth is found in the 2012-2013 Butte County Grand Jury Report. The truth is in video posted to the city’s website. The truth is in the information collected and analyzed by expert third parties that will report their findings in the coming months. The truth is in very detailed minutes that were initiated by the City Clerk responsible for access to information, that some citizens appear to be using to paralyze our city, which is as great a threat to Chico’s long term success as is the financial mess these individuals deny exists.

Well, harumph!

But there’s even more…

We have written several previous posts about his abuse of the power of his office to attempt to quash dissenting opinions. For instance, he blew his cool at the September 3 Council meeting and interrupted me mid-sentence. Here is another post that contains some excerpts from a rant on the Mayor Scott Gruendl official Facebook page. If you haven’t read the full rant, it is quite revealing. You can find it here.

And last, but certainly not least, there are the threats the Mayor has made in order to attempt to silence us.

Just my opinion, but surely the Free Speech Day event deserves speakers who are true believers. The Mayor only believes conditionally.

We thank you for your continued readership and welcome any comments or questions.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Gruendl_ER

Photo credit: chicoer.com

Telling it to the ER

In another move that appears to support our theory that the Chico Enterprise-Record is guzzling Nakamura’s kool-aid, the editor seems to have begun selectively queuing up those pesky little Letters to the Editor according to whether or not they fit his agenda. We thought any letter submitted that conformed to the ER’s 250-word limit and included all of the writer’s personal identification for authentication would be included in the queue and published in the order received. Apparently that is not the case.

Now, I know the death of the “Tell it to the ER” column probably resulted in an increased number of letters; however, if their publishing queue operates in a manner such that all submitted letters are treated fairly, it would operate as a ‘first in, first out” queue.

Just what am I blathering about, you ask? While I was thrilled to see Mary’s recent letter to the editor published yesterday, that served as my notification that a letter I had submitted 10 days prior to Mary’s would not be published.

I wonder why the ER would not want to publish my response to the recent editorial entitled “An unfortunate sign of the times.” Could it be I hit a nerve by calling out what I suspect is a lack of interest in investigative reporting?

Here is the letter I submitted for publication:

In response to the recent editorial, “An unfortunate sign of the times,” while I would like to respond to your statement that “former employees…don’t like this sudden rush of fiscal oversight [and] have stirred some hostile feelings,” I feel like I have become a broken record; telling you over and over again to stop making assumptions.

So, what I will discuss instead is the statement that “Nakamura…has been accosted in public and his car has been vandalized.”

As a City of Chico employee, my first introduction to Nakamura was when he and his wife attended a second floor staff meeting. Having him introduce himself and then commence a banter with his wife was uncomfortable, as though a skit was being performed for staff, but it was a learning opportunity as well. What did I learn, you ask? Why, I learned that in Hemet, both Nakamura’s and his wife’s car were broken into and vandalized. He also mentioned his son’s car being keyed. His wife told of drivers running him off the road while he was riding his bike, and about the overall general threats he apparently received on a regular basis. None of this seemed to bother the Nakamuras, as the tales were told with a hefty dose of laughter.

So, do these problems follow him from city to city? Has anything even occurred in Chico or is he just retelling old stories to rile people up? This just does not sound like the Chico I know and love.

We are interested in your thoughts about whether or not the Chico Enterprise-Record has been dealing fairly with both sides of the story about the goings-on at the City over the past year. It seems to us they have planted themselves firmly in Nakamura’s corner, cheering him on with no concern for the issues we have raised.

We thank you for your continued readership.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

An Open Letter to the Chico City Council

Mayor and Council,

It is my sincere hope that by now, you have all taken the time to review the video of the March 5, 2013 Council meeting and realize the error you made in approving the minutes as submitted on September 17. If you have not, the section of the March 5 meeting in question can be viewed at approximately the 01:00:00 mark and runs for approximately 30 minutes.

Here is the link, for your convenience:
http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=373

I respectfully request a public apology from the city clerk at your October 1 meeting, prior to your consideration of the consent agenda. The apology should be delivered with the same fervor as her September 17 denial of the true and correct facts, and the Council should revisit the minutes and revise per my request. If it does not happen, rest assured that I will be demanding it from the podium.

Further to that, and something I did not mention in my remarks, are the comments by both the city manager and the Mayor that some of the information contained in the March emails was confidential and could have been known only by an insider, and suggesting an ulterior motive of sabotage. Three points on that:

(1) None of the information contained in the memorandum was confidential. As I mentioned to you on August 20 during Business from the Floor, the city manager had announced the candidate information in more than one open meeting. If it was confidential, he is solely responsible for the breach. The remainder of the email questions addressed the Hemet budget and the lack of transparency in the city manager’s agenda report and attached resolution, all of which were posted to the web.

(2) Most of your employees are Chico citizens, and all are Chico taxpayers, who have the same rights as anyone else to address wrongdoing and lack of transparency. In fact, if the emails did come from employees who felt the need to disguise their identities for fear of retaliation, what does that tell you about what was going on inside the organization?

(3) As I asked in a previous letter, is it the new Chico way for Councilmembers to speculate on the motives of those who correspond with them and openly suggest they are attempting to sabotage Council’s agenda? For that matter, is it the new Chico way for Council to carry forward an agenda that can be sabotaged simply by asking for truthful answers to salient questions?

One final note on the March 5 meeting: The city manager said he had not had an opportunity to check his figures with Finance between Sunday night when he received the emails and Tuesday afternoon, which is absurd on its face. (Finance has a spreadsheet into which the proposed salaries could have been inserted, and it would have immediately calculated the benefits.) Then, in the Mayor’s closing remarks, he stated that the Council would have received the salary tables with or without the citizen emails. If so, why did the city manager not have sufficient time to involve Finance? Which is the truth?

As Ms. Hansen, Ms. Meyer, and I have stated publicly and written in our blog, our goal is unrelated to politics or personalities. We want the entire truth told, without regard for anyone’s agenda. While there have certainly been some past decisions and practices that were less than wise, and there is no doubt they should be identified and corrected, they pale in comparison to what is being said and done during this city manager’s “rightsizing” effort. I realize that it will cost you nearly a quarter million dollars to correct your mistake; however, continuing to deny the truth in the face of irrefutable evidence that this city manager has repeatedly lied to and otherwise misled both the Council and the citizens will ultimately prove far more costly. We will not stop until full transparency is achieved. If you are going to air the City’s dirty laundry, it should not be limited to that of prior administrations. The current administration has a far bigger load than the prior three combined.

Among us, we have a full and complete working knowledge of municipal finance, coupled with institutional knowledge your current Executive Team lacks. Unlike you, however, we do not have unlimited time during the Council meetings to carry on and on; we have three-minute intervals during which we can put forth the facts. It would behoove you to listen, rather than summarily dismissing us. What we have to say will become important as we begin to reveal what really happened, and who was responsible. No one will be exempt from our truth telling.

Regardless of whether or not you approve of what we say during your meetings, we deserve and expect the same courtesy and consideration afforded other members of the public who criticize or disagree with you. The ongoing disdain and condescension displayed by the Mayor, coupled with his not-so-subtle threats from the dais and in the media, are unacceptable, and until they stop, we will continue to aggressively comment on them at meetings and publish commentary on our website.

And, as an aside, if any portion of our personnel records ever sees the light of day, the Executive Team would be well advised to concurrently submit an additional Supplemental Appropriation from the Emergency Reserve Fund to pay for the cost of the litigation that will ensue.

For those of you on the Council who consider yourselves conservatives, where is your passion for the truth? Have you abandoned it in favor of the politics of personal destruction, in furtherance of your political careers? I was among a handful of supporters you had in City Hall, but I am so very ashamed of your recent behavior. You should be fighting for our right to be heard, regardless of the political fallout, rather than standing in a show of support while the Mayor publicly attempts to quash dissent. That’s what conservatism is about, after all. I do hope you will re-examine your recent behavior and begin standing up for what is right, rather than what is politically expedient.

Finally, I recommend that you make certain your microphones are off before making snide remarks such as “disgusting,” which is clearly audible on the September 17 video recording after Ms. Hansen and I addressed the Fund 400 agenda item. You are not dealing with amateurs. We know the processes and the facts, and we are watching everything you do. We will hold you accountable, in public, and let the citizens decide your fate at the ballot box.

Sincerely,
Mary Fitch

Sent on 9/26/2013 at 7:33 p.m. to the following recipients:

to:  Mark Sorensen <msorense@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Scott Gruendl <sgruendl@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Mary Goloff <mgoloff@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Sean Morgan <smorgan@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Tami Ritter <tritter@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Randall Stone <rstone@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Ann Schwab <aschwab@ci.chico.ca.us>
cc:  Brian Nakamura <bnakamura@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Mark Orme <morme@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Chris Constantin <cconstantin@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Debbie Presson <dpresson@ci.chico.ca.us>,
Lori Barker <lbarker@ci.chico.ca.us>,
David Little <dlittle@chicoer.com>,
Robert Speer <bopob@comcast.net>

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!

Mayor Gruendl threatens to release personnel files

In today’s Chico News & Review, Bob Speer writes of our interaction with the Mayor during September 17 Business from the Floor, wherein we exposed his recent Facebook rant:

Interviewed after the meeting, the mayor was unapologetic, though he acknowledged he may have been “a little over the top.” Obviously frustrated by what he called a “cover your ass” effort on the women’s part, he said they’d waived their right to employee confidentiality and threatened to reveal embarrassing things from their personnel files.

We will be addressing the entirety of the article shortly; however, we wanted to get this out to you right away. Every person who has a personnel file at a prior employer should be outraged.

Again we ask, why is it so important that the Mayor silence us? Could it be that, although we have only exposed the tip of the iceberg, he knows what lies beneath the surface? Could it be that, as the longest-seated member of the Council, his prior words and voting record would reveal that he contributed to the City’s current financial situation? Does he want to stop us before we reveal a truth he does not want to acknowledge?

This behavior is frightening. It is an abuse of power for a government official to assault private citizens and attempt to quash their right to free speech. Only your voices can stop this out-of-control official. Please attend Council meetings and be heard, or write your Councilors and demand that they cease their efforts to silence dissenting opinions. Remember, the next person who disagrees with the Mayor could be you or someone you love.

If you did not see the Mayor’s Facebook rant, it is here:

2013-09-06_Mayor Scott Gruendl_FB

The entire Chico News & Review article can be found here:

http://www.newsreview.com/chico/on-the-chopping-block/content?oid=11501932

As always, we thank you for your readership and encourage your comments.

Remember, Truth Matters, Chico!

GRUENDL_CHICOER

Photo credit: Chico Enterprise-Record

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