Category Archives: PRRs

Parent category for Public Records correspondence.

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!

3minutes

Photo credit: escunited.com
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PRR Update: ACM Salary Comparison

It’s been a whirlwind first month for Truth Matters, Chico! Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to check us out, shared, commented, and otherwise helped spread the word about our little grassroots effort. We have had a mind-boggling 12,000+ views of our 33 posts in just over a month, yet we are only getting started in all that needs to be told.

One of our early posts included images of the 20 Public Records Requests (PRRs) that we submitted to  the City on August 21. Now that we are spending less time defending ourselves from personal attacks by city leaders, I have time to update our readers on the status of these requests.

PRR001

This PRR was for the salary review of comparable sized cities used to establish the new Assistant City Manager’s baseline compensation. It was part of the March 5 debacle, and the justification for ACM Orme’s $185K salary. It seems like this should be a very simple request to fulfill; after all, the research and analysis were supposedly done prior to the March 5 council meeting. Just attach the file to an email and press ‘send.’

Alas… As of October 6, no response. That’s 30 working days. Three times the ten working days allowed for a response.

I’ll be sending the city clerk an email about this PRR today. Just for fun, here is your chance to anticipate what her response will be.

Priorities: Upper Management versus Police Officers

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.  I’m also among those who believe that crime is on the rise, and a larger police force is needed; but that’s just my opinion.

When times are tight for my household, as they are now, we have to weigh priorities.  If I took a survey of my household, the individual wish list items might look like this:  hire a cleaning service, pay insurance, buy more Legos, get faster internet.  We could try to do it all, but that would cause us to live beyond our means, so the decision makers (my husband and I) would need to put that list into some sort of order, dividing the items into luxuries versus necessities.  Insurance protects our family – necessity.  Internet is needed for school and work – necessity, but maybe we can’t afford the fastest option.  Cleaning service and Legos – luxuries.

The City of Chico experienced turnover in the position of Assistant City Manager (ACM) in 2013.  All of the following numbers come from documents received from the City, which are linked throughout this post.  For fiscal year 2012-13, ACM John Rucker was budgeted with a salary of $158,462 and benefits of $64,860, for a total of $223,322 (Rucker_PAWs_12-13).  It’s important to note that 50% of Rucker’s salary and benefits were budgeted out of the General Fund (Fund 001): $111,661.  For fiscal year 2013-14, Rucker’s replacement, Mark Orme, is budgeted with a salary of $190,318 and benefits of $100,104, for a total of $290,422 (Orme_PAWs_13-14).  100% of Orme’s salary and benefits are budgeted out of the General Fund.

That turnover cost the citizens of Chico $67,100 in cash, at a time when the City is crying about being cash poor.  But what’s even more painful is to realize that it cost the General Fund – the fund that pays for Police, Fire, Parks, and street repairs – a whopping $178,761. 

Almost $180,000.  Let’s pause for a moment and reflect…

Before I dig into more numbers, I’d like to take a little side trip, because while this post is really about numbers and facts, there’s also a whiff of something stinky, just below the surface.

On December 11, 2012, the Press-Enterprise reported that Hemet employee Mark Orme, who had been appointed as the Interim City Manager after Brian Nakamura left Hemet for Chico, was being “returned to his previous position as assistant city manager.”  I know that Chico’s current Mayor has a beef with believing what’s printed by the media, but here’s the link so you can decide whether or not that’s a believable moment in history.

http://blog.pe.com/news/2012/12/11/hemet-city-council-decides-to-make-change-at-the-top/

Less than 30 days later, on January 8, 2013, Chico’s former Assistant City Manager seemingly vanished into thin air, without a single word from Nakamura to staff, ever.  The Chico Enterprise-Record finally ran an article on January 15, reporting that Chico’s ACM John Rucker had “abruptly retired.” Yep, he went out for coffee and said to himself, “I guess I’ll retire right now.”  Interesting that it took a full week before the media got wind of it, and we suspect staff must have finally leaked it. (There was quite a bit of that going on at the time, in an attempt to get someone to pay attention.)

Here’s the link to that article:  http://www.chicoer.com/ci_22374396/chicos-assistant-city-manager-abruptly-retires

So Mr. Rucker “abruptly retired” on Tuesday, January 8, and the recruitment for his replacement was announced internally on Thursday and published a day or two later, approximately January 12.  The application deadline was February 1 ­– a three-week recruitment period for the new Assistant City Manager.  Doesn’t sound to me like Nakamura already had someone in mind to fill that spot, does it to you?

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on February 14, Nakamura responded to a direct question from an employee about where the City was in the ACM hiring process by saying the recruitment had yielded 50+ applicants, roughly half of whom were qualified, and assured staff he would keep them posted as the process moved along. By 9:00 a.m. the top four candidates had not only been culled from the herd, but lo and behold, they were being interviewed.

In Appendix B-1 of the fiscal year 2012-13 budget, the ACM’s maximum salary was $172,383 (12-13_Budget_SalTable). At the March 5, 2013, Chico City Council meeting, the Council was asked to adopt a resolution establishing compensation for department directors, and it included an increase in the maximum salary for the new ACM to $185K.

Here’s that document: 2013-03-05_CM Agenda Report with Resolution

There was quite a bit of discussion at that meeting about the supposedly not-yet-selected ACM, including a specific question from Mark Sorensen verifying that the maximum was just that – a maximum, not necessarily the compensation at which the new ACM would be hired.

The next morning, March 6, the Press-Enterprise ran another article on Mark Orme, this time noting that he was leaving behind his $180K position in Hemet for a similar one in Chico, where the maximum salary had just been increased to $185K. 

Here’s that article: http://www.pe.com/local-news/riverside-county/hemet/hemet-headlines-index/20130306-hemet-assistant-city-manager-resigns-post-with-city.ece.

Nakamura was meeting with his department directors when the original article hit the web Wednesday morning (it was subsequently updated to the time currently shown). Staff had suspected that Orme would be hired, so by 11:30 a.m., most of us had already heard the news. When the department directors came out of their meeting with Nakamura, imagine their surprise when they were told about the hire by their subordinates. We guess Nakamura was not expecting the Hemet press to pick up the story, so he had not told the directors during their meeting. That is ‘the new Chico way’ inside City Hall; everything is secret squirrel until someone else leaks the news and Nakamura is forced to fess up.

The Chico Enterprise-Record did not pick up the story until the next day, March 7, and I agree with their decision to list it under “Weird News.”  How embarrassing for the Chico paper to be a day late on the story. 

Here’s the Chico ER article: (http://www.chicoer.com/weirdnews/ci_22736113/assistant-city-manager-from-hemet-will-fill-chicos.

Let’s recap that timeline:

  • Nakamura leaves Hemet to become Chico’s City Manager.
  • Orme is appointed as Hemet’s Interim City Manager.
  • Orme is bumped back to ACM, and replaced by a different Interim City Manager.
  • Rucker “abruptly retires” as Chico’s ACM.
  • Chico City Council, at Nakamura’s recommendation, sets the ACM maximum salary to $185K – a whopping $26,538 higher than Rucker’s actual salary, and $12,617 higher than the former maximum.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, it was also exactly $5K higher than what Orme was making in Hemet. 
  • While Nakamura cited a salary survey that was conducted to establish that maximum, we have yet to receive any response whatsoever to our August 22 PRR for it.  Which seems strange, because you’d think it would be a simple matter of attaching an existing document to an email and pressing ‘send.’  Unless maybe that document doesn’t exist, because the only salary that really mattered was that of the Hemet ACM?
  • Orme resigns from Hemet and comes to Chico.

Although the Chico ER didn’t capture the entire timeline, they found enough of the timing suspicious enough to note that it had “damaged trust,” as expressed in the following editorial:

http://www.chicoer.com/opinion/ci_22758464/editorial-salary-setting-swift-hiring-raise-suspicion.

Now, maybe it really is just a string of coincidences.  Or maybe it’s irresponsible cronyism that Chico taxpayers are being forced to fund.  I’ll leave that to our readers to decide for themselves.  But, either way, at this moment of financial stress for Chico government, does it not seem like a luxury to have an Assistant City Manager at all?  Throughout the city organization, when employees have left positions, those positions have remained vacant whenever possible.  I could go on and on about this, but instead I will refer you to a blog written by former Chico Chief of Police Mike Maloney, who makes a reasonable suggestion as to how to fill that staffing gap.

http://mikemaloneymusings.blogspot.com/2013/06/budget-and-police-in-chico.html

As a citizen who is concerned about what I perceive to be a rise in crime in Chico, I was interested in knowing how many Police Officers the city could fund if it wasn’t employing ACM Orme.  Referring again to budget numbers provided to the City, I see that in fiscal year 2013-14, the least amount budgeted for a Police Officer was a salary of $55,865 and benefits of $33,663, for a total of $89,528 (13-14_PoliceOfcr).  I’m assuming that amount is representative of an entry-level officer, which seems reasonable based on their MOU’s starting pay of $25.55/hour, times 2090 hours in a year, which would be an annual salary of $53,400 (CPOA_Salaries_MOU).  The variance would be due to POST or other specialty pays.

So, if one entry-level Police Officer costs the citizens $89,528, then two would cost $179,056.

Whoa! ACM Orme’s General Fund impact (over what ACM Rucker was costing the same fund, which pays for Police as well) is $178,761. Could the Police Department find $295 in savings elsewhere in its budget, and then add that savings to what would be saved by paying an ACM at Rucker’s pay and distribution, and end up with two new Officers on the streets of Chico? 

Or perhaps the City could trade in the entire ACM salary and benefit cost of $290,422 for THREE new Police Officers (at a cost of $268,584) plus have $21,838 left over for Caper Acres?

Please know that, as Nakamura has said many times, this opinion is about positions, not people.  I do not know ACM Orme personally, but he certainly seems like a nice enough person.  Here he is, visiting with former watchdog Stephanie Taber during a break at a recent council meeting.  Afterwards, near the parking lot, he came up and put his arm around her.  I can’t say that’s ever happened to me after a council meeting!   

Taber-Orme

During these challenging financial times, having a $290K nice guy downtown seems like a luxury that doesn’t actually contribute to improving Chico’s safety.  For my money, hiring more Police Officers seems like the necessity in this priority comparison.

As always, we thank you for your continued readership and welcome any comments or questions.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Now the Master Municipal Clerk has chimed in!

On the KNVN/KHSL 5 o’clock news, they ran a piece entitled “City Clerk Bogged by Public Record Requests.” We are hoping by now they have taken the video down, since Chico’s Master Municipal Clerk showed our public records requests, complete with our home addresses, to the cameraman, who dutifully included them in the news piece.  It ran before we knew about it, but Quené did call and make a brief comment. You can read the updated article here.

We are appalled that the City would provide the media with our home addresses, particularly in a piece wherein the Clerk seems to be linking our requests for public information to potentially bankrupting the city. (Apparently blaming us for her minutes being 8 months behind was not getting sufficient traction.) The Mayor and some members of the City’s new Executive Team have been openly threatening us (read about that here), and we would prefer not to endure any additional threats as private citizens in our homes.

Following are our written comments in response to the story, which are supposed to be included in the 11 o’clock segment:

 Of the 20 Public Record Requests we submitted on August 21, 2013, only two would have been the responsibility of the City Clerk’s office. While the City Clerk does respond to PRRs, she is only responsible for compiling information specific to her department, such as how long has a Councilmember been on Council; otherwise, the information comes from the responsible department. In most cases, the compiled information passes through the City Clerk’s office for transmittal only.

     In the 5 o’clock news segment the City Clerk mentions that these PRRs are impacting her ability to complete City Council minutes. At the time we submitted our requests, the last posted Council meeting minutes were for January 15, 2013 – an almost eight-month backlog. Our requests for information are not responsible for that.

     The website shown on the 5 o’clock news segment has no correlation to our group; our website is https://truthmatterschico.com/ and we welcome you to visit our site to become more familiar with who we are and what we are doing. In fact, on this website, we have provided a copy of every PRR we have submitted (without our personal contact information). 

     As former City of Chico employees with over 40 years of combined public service to the community, we know that the information we requested is readily available in electronic format. However, in an apparent effort to make it more difficult for us to use the information, the City has taken additional time to put the information in different formats (this is contrary to Section 6253.9.a of the California Government Code which I am attaching as a point of information).  One example would be in a request for emails, which could have been simply attached to the City Clerk’s response to us, it was instead provided as a copy and paste from each individual email into the text of her response.  Why would she take the time to do that?

     Additionally, some of our requests were met with incomplete or inaccurate information, making it necessary for us to request the information again.  One example is providing only training expenses when training and conference expenses were requested.  This report takes only minutes to send through the financial software, and both expense codes could have been run in a single report.

     We are no longer City of Chico employees.  Through a resignation and layoffs, we are now concerned private citizens.  As employees, we knew what information was available and where to go to get it.  Now that we are private citizens, the only legitimate way to obtain information is to submit a Public Record Request.  In our pursuit for transparency, to share the truth with the citizens of Chico at https://truthmatterschico.com/, we believe it is important to also share the backup documentation upon which our analysis and opinions are based.

     Rather than treating us with the courtesy due private citizens, the City of Chico is giving us the runaround.  If staff would simply provide the information and the City Clerk simply forward what is compiled, this whole process would be far less onerous.

This is getting ridiculous. Here are some examples of our requests, along with the inadequate or incomplete responses we have received.

PRR016

Here is what we got: INADEQUATE RESPONSE TO HIRES_PROMOTIONS_RAISES

Now, does that look like a list of hires, terminations, promotions, reclassifications, and raises?  I can tell you that the City’s Human Resources Department does have that list, since it was recently provided to one of the employee unions. Why don’t they want us to have the list? (Hint: They know what we are going to do with it.)

Here’s another example:

PRR003

Here is what we got: INADEQUATE RESPONSE TO COUNCIL SERVICE YEARS

This is one of only two requests for information for which the Master Municipal Clerk is actually responsible.  Does she expect us to believe this is all she could come up with in response to our request? Please! Do you believe this is the response she would have provided to anyone else who asked?

We will be providing a full update on the status of our PRRs as soon as we can take a break from answering the ongoing media assaults and get back to the business of telling the truth.

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

Submitted PRRs Impacting City Clerk’s Office?

As was previously mentioned, we submitted 20 PRRs on August 21, 2013.  Responses started entering our mailbox as of September 3.  This appears to indicate that the required 10-day response period refers to 10 working days and not 10 calendar days, a question that we are still searching for a definitive answer.

By the beginning of the Mayor’s September 3 press conference to complain about “disgruntled former employees,” we had received responses to one quarter of our submitted PRRs, with a statement indicating more time was needed to respond to the others.

Of the responses received, some were incomplete, so we will be requesting the missing documentation.  Our request for cell phone records was met with a response indicating “no records exist.”  If the City pays a monthly cell phone allowance, should that phone’s records by subject to a public information request?  We intend to find out.  As such, we will be asking the City Attorney’s office for an explanation as to why “no records exist” for cell phones paid for with City funds.

The Mayor was quoted in an email to the Chico News and Review as stating ,”The folks that prepare the minutes are also the ones that must respond to the info requests.  When one puts these two points together, well, it just looks like some people are trying to make life difficult for a couple of hard-working city clerks, and that is nothing more than being mean.”  (We have included a copy of this article for you below.)  In making this statement, is the Mayor attempting to place blame on concerned citizens (like ourselves) for the posted Council minutes being eight months behind?

2013-09-05_CNR_A matter of minutes

The City Clerk does have the responsibility of responding to PRRs; however, she is not responsible for compiling the requested information.  Unless the requested information is specific to her department, such as how long has a Councilmember been on Council, the information comes from the responsible department.  Therefore in many if not most cases, the compiled information passes through the City Clerk’s office for transmittal only.

As mentioned above, we submitted our PRRs on August 21.  At that time, the last posted Council meeting minutes were for January 15, 2013.  The math works out to just shy of seven months and one week.

Considering the above, the Mayor is going to have to find someone else to blame for the delay in posting Council meeting minutes.

Validity of PRRs Submitted

At a recent press conference held by Mayor Gruendl, it was mentioned that a recent influx of Public Records Requests (PRRs) were “bordering on unreasonable” and an attempt to tax the limited time of the current City employees as “most of [the requested information] is already available.”

We have shared on this website every one of the 20 PRRs we have submitted to the City of Chico to-date.  After hearing the Mayor’s comments, I personally reread each of our submitted PRRs and concluded, once again, that a PRR was the only legitimate and proper way to obtain the requested information as a citizen and especially as former employees.

We believe the only way to break the cycle of misinformation is to go directly to the source, and in this case, that would be City of Chico documents.  In the pursuit of transparency, and to share the truth with you, we aim to share the documentation that our calculations and analysis are based upon.

So we ask you, our readers, did we ask for something that already exists in a public forum that could be quoted and labeled a “fact” or the truth?  We welcome your comments and suggestions on alternative locations to obtain the requested information.

PRRs Submitted on August 21, 2013

This is our first set of Public Records Requests.  So far, no answers — but we are within the allowable 10 day response period.  As responses from the City are received, they will be posted, and later followed by analysis.

PRR001

PRR019 PRR018 PRR017 PRR016 PRR015 PRR014 PRR013 PRR012 PRR011 PRR010 PRR009 PRR008 PRR007 PRR006 PRR005 PRR004 PRR003 PRR002 PRR020

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