Category Archives: Layoffs

City Attorney Update

Back in October, we wrote a post about City Attorney Lori Barker’s announcement that she would be retiring in April after 24 years of service to the City of Chico. In our original post we speculated, among other things, that she might have been ‘invited’ to retire.

Here’s one of the points we made in the original post:

Ms. Barker is the sole remaining member of the City’s former Budget Reduction Strategy Team. She knows the facts and circumstances surrounding every action the City took to address the impacts of the recession and its accompanying loss of sales tax revenues, the loss of Redevelopment Agency funds and Vehicle License Fees via State takes, and the subsequent defeat of Measure J (the cellphone tax) that resulted in refunds of prior years’ revenues. We suspect that her narrative about what actually happened differs significantly from the Council’s recent public statements, and we wonder whether she was quietly attempting to correct it, to her ultimate peril.

We also expressed concerns about contracting out City Attorney services:

We have had our suspicions all along that the City Attorney function would be contracted out, which should be cause for public concern. A City Attorney who is a public servant has a duty to the citizens. An outside law firm hired by the Council might not operate within the same constraints, and we believe a conflict of interest might exist if there was no duty to faithfully put the community’s best interest above the Council’s direction. We don’t like it and hope it does not happen, although the Mayor mentioned it in the final paragraph of today’s article: “Gruendl said the council could decide to fill the city attorney position or consider options for contracting out.” [Alicia actually called that play in her very first chat with the Council on August 6. She says somebody owes her five bucks!]

At its meeting of December 17, 2013, the City Council considered and approved (4-3-0 with Schwab, Stone, and Gruendl opposed), and the City subsequently issued, a Request for Proposals (RFP) for City Attorney services. The staff report is here: 2013-12-17_Staff Report_Request for City Attorney Proposals, the RFP is here: Request for Proposals City Attorney Services, and the video discussion is here at time signature 03:19:00: Council Discussion of City Attorney RFP.   [As an aside, this video contains one of my favorite Gruendl maneuvers. He actually counted the votes to make sure the motion passed before deciding which way he would vote. He tried to explain it away afterward, but I call BS.] The closing date for receipt of proposals was Friday, January 31.

Here’s where this gets interesting:

Former Councilmember Andy Holcombe, who is currently residing in Australia, got wind of the RFP and wrote a letter to both the Chico News & Review and the Chico Enterprise Record (both published on Thursday, January 23). Here is the text of his letter:

I recently learned that Chico City Attorney Lori Barker is retiring.

I am happy for her but, as a former councilor, worried for the city she served so well.

Lori’s great sense of fairness and what is right will be missed.

The city was her only client. We were better councilors, a better council, and a better city thanks to her professionalism.

What worries me is that the position of an in-house city attorney may be contracted out to a private firm. That would be a costly mistake. The cost of an outside firm providing the same level of service and accessibility to it would be more.

The value of day-to-day legal advice to staff may not be quantifiable, but it is huge. An even greater loss if attorney services are contracted out is the intrinsic value of the city attorney position. The city attorney is one of only two city positions hired by the council. The other is the city manager.

The city attorney reports directly to council as an independent city legal voice responsible to council on behalf of Chico, its client. The position is an important balance and buffer to the city manager. The in-house city attorney position has a significant procedural and substantive role in the running of our city. Whatever budget balancing may be desired, we cannot afford to lose the systematic checks and balances of a city well run.

— Andy Holcombe, Victoria, Australia

Then, on Thursday, January 30, the Chico News & Review published an article, an editorial, and a response to Holcombe’s letter submitted by Councilmember Mark Sorensen.

What’s so interesting about that?

The article states that, “[Ms. Barker] did not want to comment publicly on the matter other than to say her decision to retire was not triggered by any inside pressure to do so, as has been suggested by some city government watchdogs.” This statement is followed immediately by the word “But.”

The article then goes on to give an overview of Mr. Holcombe’s letter, points readers to Mark Sorensen’s response, and then provides the following additional quotes received from Sorensen via email:

He went on to say that Barker “was one of the four primary people in the old ‘Budget Team.’ It seemed that the ‘budget team’ carefully plotted the course, developed the talking points, and decided how information would be provided, when, and carefully filtered and shaped the information that was allowed to come to the public and to council.”

Sorensen said such a setup led to excessive city spending that took the city close to insolvency. “[This] further demonstrates the need for far greater levels of city attorney objectivity and independence from internal management and staff,” he said.

That sure suggests internal pressure to me. And it seems eerily similar to what we speculated about in our original post. [It also appears that Sorensen wasn’t wearing his tin foil hat when he wrote that email. “…carefully filtered and shaped the information that was allowed to come to the public and to council?” Really?] What do you think?

At any rate, kudos once again to the Chico News & Review for reporting rather than repeating. It’s good to know we have one local newspaper that isn’t simply parroting whatever is put forth by Nakamura and his lap-dog Council.

We thank you for your continued readership and welcome your comments and questions. Please continue to share our posts with your fellow Chicoans. Nothing we do makes any difference unless we can get the citizens and taxpayers involved.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!


Don’t Forget the Revenue

Today is the last day of work for employees impacted by the latest round of layoffs implemented by the new Executive Team. There are multiple things that bother me personally about these layoffs that targeted City employees on the second floor (Engineering, Planning, and Building Divisions), but the one issue that troubles my logic-based brain the most is the lack of consideration towards the revenue side of the equation.

The new Executive Team has been placing a lot of focus on the deficit in Fund 400, Capital Projects. If I am to give them some credit, I would offer up that their inexperience and lack of institutional knowledge is the basis behind the energy expended trying to tie the Fund 400 deficit to second-floor employees. This is because those of us who have a basic understanding of how employees account for their workday and how salaries are funded, would have known to pull timecard reports to account for the Fund 400 deficit. We will discuss this in more detail in our upcoming Fund 400 post.

But what about the revenue? How can you base layoffs on the expenditure side of the equation only? In this budget-constrained era, is it not even more important to consider how and where a business obtains its revenue? If you had to look at reducing expenditures, would you not also be considering how to increase or even maintain revenue?

The City’s revenue comes from a number of sources. Revenue sources include but are not limited to Sales Tax, Property Tax, Utility Users Tax, Maintenance and other District Funds, Enterprise Funds (such as the Private Development Fund), Development Impact Fees, and miscellaneous Grants received (usually for Capital Projects).

Appendix A-1 of the City of Chico’s Budget is a section entitled Comments Regarding Funds, Revenues and Expenditures. This section of the Budget is a quick summary of the funds available to the City and gives a short description of each of the abovementioned revenue sources. If you are so inclined, you can pull up the Budget on the City of Chico’s website; Appendix A-1 of the current Proposed Budget starts on page 249. I am including the four pages of interest here – the City’s security settings on their Budget document prevent me from providing a more clear document for you.

Without getting too technical (which I have been accused of!), only the Development Impact Fees, most of the Enterprise Funds’ revenue sources, and any Grants received are directly related to work completed by employees. In fact, the only consistent direct link between revenue generation of the prior three sources and employee work efforts exists with the second floor employees (again…Engineering, Planning, and Building Divisions).

While one could argue that efforts towards economic development result in additional tax-based revenues, it is not possible to quantify a direct correlation between hours invested and additional taxes received.

This whole issue is why I told Council on October 1 that unless they want to try and fund all City operations with a limited General Fund, they must take into account which departments generate the City’s additional revenue. Instead of heeding my warning and considering the big picture of expenditures and revenue, the Executive Team proceeded with handing out layoff notices after the October 1 Council meeting to twelve employees on the second floor.

Let me be clear – – – of the 18 notices sent, 12 were delivered to City Hall’s second floor. That is 67% of the notices. The numbers are even more appalling when you consider the number of employees that exist in each department. While I will not digress on this point…just consider that in a City of approximately 350 employees, the departments/divisions on the second floor are not even in the top four for number of employees.

So today I will shake my head in wonderment, once again, at actions implemented by the new Executive Team and allowed/approved by our community’s City Council. I will take some comfort in knowing that we here at Truth Matters, Chico! will continue to do our best to speak out and document any wrongdoings we discover and I suppose I will just keep my fingers crossed that the City Council opens their eyes and ears to the big picture soon. Hopefully before it’s too late to right the ship… Which, in my opinion, is honestly almost upon us.

Layoffs in the New Chico Way

Fair warning, readers, I am mad as a hornet and this post is a pure rant, full of my own personal observations and opinions. Alicia and Quené are innocent of this; I own every bit of whatever is written. I will get back to the routine technical stuff once I get this off my chest, but for now, Katie bar the door.

It never ceases to amaze me that the Chico Enterprise-Record continues to be nothing more than the mouthpiece for the City’s new regime. What has happened to true journalism? Today’s seemingly innocuous article, “Two Chico city employees eligible for layoff bump decline to do so,” finally set me off.

Here’s a quote from the City’s nice-guy ambassador, Assistant City Manager Mark Orme:

“Once again the city had to unfortunately lose a vast amount of knowledge, know-how and amazing employees due to the financial situation we are in,” Orme said. “It’s a devastating hit to the city and we look forward to the day we can look back upon this time and hopefully never have to repeat it.

First of all, what exactly does that last phrase mean? It’s just more of the same feel-good, meaningless babble from the top. Here’s more of Orme’s double speak: an email sent to City staff about the layoffs. The person who sent it to me wrote, “Well, that sure makes me feel better.” Yeah, especially the part about looking for someone to blame; that’s real class right there. And I’m pretty sure the employee quotes in the final paragraph either came from his own imagination or a couple of other Executive Team members. I call BS.

Just prior to the first round of layoff notices being issued, while we were all waiting to see who would get the axe, I found myself in the elevator with Nakamura, Orme, and Presson. Presson was regaling the other two with an apparently hilarious tale. They were yukking it up and knee-slapping like it was the funniest thing ever, and they continued their hilarity after they exited the elevator into the main lobby, and on out into the parking lot where they all three climbed into one car. It’s really too bad they couldn’t drum up enough true compassion for their employees, who were still worrying about whether or not they would soon find themselves in the unemployment line, to keep their raucous antics behind closed doors. That’s the way it is with this bunch. Disgusting.

Secondly, the current regime has intentionally rid itself of institutional knowledge, beginning with former Assistant City Manager Rucker in January 2013, and continuing with a broad swing of the scythe across department heads and other staff who were knowledgeable about the City’s financial history. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but Nakamura told former Building & Development Services Director McKinley (in my presence) that the Council did not want to know what happened. Very telling, that little tidbit, particularly in light of the current barrage of disinformation being put forth by that same Council.

The current round of layoffs includes former Capital Project Services Director Tom Varga. Nakamura unofficially but publicly demoted Varga, in front of roughly 45 other employees, the same day McKinley vanished. That happened months before the “rightsizing” had been approved and implemented. Nakamura and Public Works Director Ruben Martinez have been toying with Varga since then, alternately promising retention and threatening dismissal. They needed him for awhile, to get the capital budget prepared (since Martinez can’t even figure out his own department’s operating budget without help) and later to take the blame if the Highway 32 project fell through. Varga never really had a chance of being retained, though, since he can actually explain what happened with Fund 400 and the overhead. That just doesn’t fit into the new ‘Chico way.’

City Attorney Lori Barker, the final member of the current Executive Team with full knowledge of the events leading up to the City’s current financial crisis, is also jumping ship. We can only hope she is leaving on her own terms and not being forced out. It must be terribly uncomfortable for her to watch in silence while this campaign of defamation based on a false narrative is carried forward.

But I digress. Back to the article:

An assistant civil engineer decided to retire and an associate civil engineer decided to accept the layoff, in turn allowing two other employees who would have been bumped to retain their jobs. 

The Assistant Civil Engineer who ‘decided’ to retire had already announced his retirement, to be effective at year end. Would it have ‘destroyed what is left of the City’ to have simply allowed him to stay on board through December? Given the level of shenanigans witnessed so far, I suspect the regime hoped he would go ahead and bump the Engineering Tech II. Then, once he retired, that job could have been eliminated as well. Instead, he chose to do the honorable thing and retire before he was quite ready. Kudos to Mr. Gillispie for his personal sacrifice on behalf of another.

There is also a very touching personal story behind the Associate Civil Engineer who accepted the layoff rather than bump the other Assistant Civil Engineer. I won’t go into details, except to say that as with Mr. Gillispie, Mr. Green chose honor over personal financial gain. These are just two of many stories about the people who truly make the City a family, and there is nothing the current regime can do to destroy the bond the employees have carefully built and nurtured over the years.

So, here’s the portion of the article that shoved me over the edge:

Some of those to be laid off contacted by this newspaper declined to talk. 

Excuse me, but what the hell did they expect? The City employees have watched what happened to Alicia, Quené, and me when we spoke publicly: The Mayor openly attacked us both personally and professionally; the City Clerk showed our home addresses to a television crew; we were labeled as ‘disgruntled former employees’ and tied to alleged incidents of racism and violent threats by nearly every media outlet; and all the while, the Enterprise-Record has continued to run with Nakamura’s party line and editorialize about us without ever even bothering to speak to us.

After all that, does the Enterprise-Record really believe there is another City employee who would dare speak out to one of its reporters? I think it’s pretty much a given that the only talking employees will be doing in the foreseeable future will be to truthmatterschico, where their voices will be heard without the filter of Nakamura’s BS.

Okay, I’m done now. Thank you for your continued readership. I welcome your comments.



More Monkey Business with Admin Layoffs

Well, we called this move. In our October 1 tag-team presentation to Council during Business from the Floor, Alicia, Quené, and I closed with these words:

While it is clear that none of this will undo the wrongs that have been done, perhaps bringing it into the light will prevent similar bad acts from occurring during the impending layoffs. And we certainly hope we do not see elimination of the additional Admin Assistant positions created to protect the new HR Analyst. That would be the Executive Team’s ultimate backhand to the rules set forth in the Municipal Code. As Councilmember Stone would say, “Disgusting.”

Sure enough, the following day, the new layoff seniority list was published. And what did it include? Elimination of one of the two brand new Admin Assistant positions created in July to protect the least senior member of the citywide admin staff. The net result is that yet another senior admin staff member will take a double hit, from Admin Analyst I to Admin Assistant to Police Records Technician II, complete with a second pay cut. The protected employee is now two full classifications higher than her.

Here is an old chart showing the various positions within the Administrative Career ladder (we do not have the new one, if it even exists) so you can follow along: Admin Career Ladder

We suppose the next logical move will be to reclassify the remaining ‘extra’ Admin Assistant position to Office Assistant, to get back to a zero sum game. But stand by, there’s more…

Also notable among the current admin layoffs is the elimination of the two remaining Office Assistant III positions. The more senior of these two employees will be transferred from Engineering and demoted to an existing .74 FTE Office Assistant II position in Fire; this will reduce both her pay and her hours.

(As an aside, the current occupant of the position in Fire was just bumped in July from Admin Assistant in Planning, down two full classifications to Office Assistant II, with a double pay cut and a bonus 26% reduction in hours. She will be bumped all the way out the door during this round. Nice…)

The less senior Office Assistant III currently serves as receptionist and clerical support for the City Manager and City Clerk. In fact, after the July layoffs, she is the only general clerical employee on the entire 3rd floor. The new layoff seniority list demotes her to Office Assistant II and reduces her from full-time to half-time, resulting in a reduction of both pay and hours, but leaving her in her current job.

Now, we know and like all of these women, so our opinions about the position shifts are not intended to be personal. We are, however, going to go out on a limb and make a call as to what will come next with that 3rd floor position.

This gets a bit convoluted, so please bear with us. If you are trying to wrap your head around the not-really-very-fun games that are being played internally, this is important stuff.

Here’s the first question: Do any of you believe that a single half-time, low-level clerical employee can provide sufficient support for both the City Manager and City Clerk offices? Something is beginning to smell…

Because we are former employees, we know where to look for information that might appear meaningless to anyone on the outside. We requested and received the current year’s Personnel Allocation Worksheets (PAWs), which are documents used to prepare the budget. These documents do not reflect current staffing; rather, they anticipate staffing as it will exist at some point during the fiscal year.

There is no Office Assistant position whatsoever in either the City Manager or City Clerk PAWs. Instead, there is a brand new job classification of “Executive CSA” that we think probably means Customer Service Assistant or something of that nature. The Executive CSA is budgeted 50% each to City Manager/City Clerk, as is the current position; however, the budgeted salary is 5% higher than the top pay for the Office Assistant III classification. The smell is getting worse…

So you might be asking yourself at this point, why demote the only 3rd floor general clerical employee and cut her hours by half? The answer lies in the personnel reduction rules set forth in Chico Municipal Code Section 2R.72.

Had the 3rd floor Office Assistant III position been left intact, the more senior of the two employees would have had bumping rights to it [a position she previously held for many years], and the less senior employee would have been bumped out to Fire. Of course, that would be unacceptable in this new era of personalities before positions, so the 3rd floor position had to be adjusted, at least temporarily, to be less desirable than the position in Fire. That would be the only way to achieve the desired effect of keeping the less senior employee on the 3rd floor. Have you caught a whiff of it yet?

After the July layoffs were completed, we watched in dumbstruck awe as the least senior admin employee in the entire City, who had been protected from layoff by creation of additional Admin Assistant positions, got promoted without notice or an opportunity for others to compete. As we mentioned in our earlier post, this move put her in a higher classification than other qualified employees with far more seniority.

Our guess is we will see that happen again, once this round of layoffs is complete. We bet five bucks the 3rd floor position will be restored to full-time and reclassified to the new “Executive CSA” position, from which the incumbent cannot be bumped. That would really stink.

More of the new efforts at transparency and morale building….


Photo credit:

No Grievance, No Problem?

At the October 1 Council meeting, after my colleagues and I raised the issue of improprieties that occurred during the first round of layoffs, Mayor Gruendl engaged the City’s Executive Team to hear ‘their side’ of the story. The City Attorney stated that no grievances had been filed by the CEA administrative staff during the initial layoff process  (note CEA is only one union group of the nine existing within the City); in response to which the Mayor implied if no grievance or labor practice complaint was filed, then there must have been no issue with the layoff procedures.

The idea of measuring the ‘correctness’ of layoff procedures by whether or not grievances were filed is absurd.

As laid out in our recap of the administrative layoffs (linked above), City employees were witnessing the new Executive Team targeting specific individuals by laying aside adopted personnel rules to enact favoritism. While some employees were rewarded with promotions and raises for demonstrating a ‘yes-man’ personality and not questioning management’s actions, most employees were experiencing a very different, extremely uncomfortable, environment. In this more common and negative environment, we wonder, what employee who needed his or her job would be willing to stir the pot by individually filing a grievance, an act equivalent to placing a target on their chest? It had become all too clear that those not willing to keep their heads down and mouths shut would find themselves in danger of being demoted, or even more devastating to their personal and family welfare, terminated from employment.

In light of the new round of layoff notices delivered last week, employees who have been impacted by improper layoff procedures may want to consider whether filing a grievance is now in their best interest. If we are to believe the Mayor, filing a grievance or labor practice complaint may be the only way the Executive Team will be held accountable.

Section 2.72 of the Municipal Code requires Council adoption of personnel rules, and states in part, “High morale shall be maintained by fair administration of this chapter and by every consideration of the rights and interests of employees consistent with the best interests of the public and the city.” Your Union Steward can provide you with additional information on the grievance process.

These back-room deals on layoffs, reclassifications, and promotions should cause concern to every Chico citizen. The Executive Team’s willingness to come up with a ‘legal’ work-around that violates the spirit of the Municipal Code and Administrative Policies and Procedures should send up a large red flag. This time, the victims were employees, but what could be next? Possibly a loophole to obtain a tax increase by calling it something else . . . perhaps a solid waste franchise fee levied on citizens via their garbage service bills?

Only time will tell. Remember, just because the government has the right to do something, does not make it the right thing to do.

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