Category Archives: Rants

Gruendl Whines Again

Former Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney recently posted on his blog an unflattering opinion piece about Mayor Gruendl, who lashed out in the comments like a toddler throwing a tantrum. If it weren’t so pathetic, I would have laughed at him… But he’s the Mayor, for crying out loud! He needs to grow up. There’s no whining in politics.

Here’s a link to the blog post:  Chico: We have a problem….with our Mayor….

We’ve told you before all the reasons why Scott’s got to go. Please send him on his way (and Mark Sorensen, too, while you’re at it) by using the power of the ballot box.

Truth Matters, Chico!

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Beyond Hypocrisy, Indeed

At last Tuesday’s Council meeting, Chico Police Officers Association (CPOA) president Peter Durfee addressed the Council regarding the $25,000 Supplemental Appropriation for the City’s labor negotiator. (Quené also addressed the item, but I want to leave that for a separate post, since my comments will differ significantly.) When we posted the meeting notice, we mentioned that Durfee had also commented on the original appropriation to hire the negotiator, saying in part that $80,000 would certainly not be enough money to complete negotiations with all nine bargaining groups and asking, what then?

So, on Tuesday, Durfee spoke again saying, “I told you so” and calling the City’s negotiator a “hired gun.” Here’s the brief video clip of his comments:  Durfee_Hired Gun

Quené followed him at the podium, and after she finished speaking there was a discussion among the Councilmembers, during which Mark Sorensen opined that complaining about the City having a hired gun when the CPOA had one of its own was “beyond hypocrisy.” Here’s the video clip containing that comment: Sorensen_Beyond Hypocrisy

Newsflash: The City has three top Executive Team members, each with a six-figure salary, whose job descriptions include “labor negotiations.” The CPOA does not. Now, I’m not saying one way or another whether I agree with some of the tactics used by the safety groups during negotiations. I am saying, however, that comparing CPOA’s resources with the City’s is the height of hypocrisy.

If the City’s Executive Team does not have someone qualified to negotiate, among the half million dollars plus in salaries it pays to the three who are supposed to be doing it, perhaps the citizens should take another look at who should be filling those positions rather than dipping into the Emergency Reserve Fund (and the taxpayers’ pockets) to fund an additional six figure contract to correct the deficiency in internal talent. Just sayin’…

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!

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Image: deviantart.com (by askgriff-d5myy33)

Additional Annexation Thoughts

Kudos to members of the Chico City Council for sticking to their guns and standing strong against the bully Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCo) on January 21! Instead of breaking and bowing to LAFCo’s threatening letter, you stood up for your constituents by directing your staff to work towards finding an alternate solution. Granted, Mayor Scott Gruendl sounded wishy-washy when he talked himself out of supporting LAFCo (at least that was my take); but all seven of you did end up voting correctly. How refreshing!

Last Tuesday, in the rush leading up to the Council meeting, we provided the Council with information about the history of the LAFCo issue that was conspicuously absent from Nakamura’s staff report. We then shared it with you in the post, Chapman, Mulberry and the LAFCo Stick. Now that the pressure is off, here are some additional thoughts about the City’s position on the annexation debate.

Before expounding further, I want to be clear that none of us at Truth Matters, Chico! has a horse in this race. We have no enduring loyalty to the City’s policies, and none of us lives in an unincorporated island within the boundaries of Chico’s Sphere of Influence.

Having established that whatever the outcome of this debate, we will not be personally impacted, following are some additional technical and historical data, as well as points of general information (and some opinions) for you to consider.

Disenfranchisement? – LAFCo has repeatedly accused the City of disenfranchising the residents of the Chapman Mulberry area, which LAFCo’s Board and staff consistently label a “low rent” district. The facts, however, do not support the claim. The City has also chosen NOT to annex the areas of El Monte Avenue and Chico Canyon Road, notably two of the most “high rent” districts in Chico’s Sphere of Influence.

Want to be annexed? – While annexation proceedings can be initiated by the City, there is absolutely nothing preventing any property owner from submitting an application for annexation. In fact, when a resident submits an application for sewer service, there is an opportunity to indicate interest in being annexed concurrently with sewer connection. So, if someone personally feels disenfranchised by living in a County pocket, the solution is as simple as going to City Hall and submitting an application! In fact, the required forms are provided on the City’s Planning Department website. Here are the links to the application for annexation only or the application for annexation with sewer connection. Disenfranchisement? I think not.

How does the City or Council know what their constituents want? – The City proposed, and the Council approved, the idea of initiating annexation proceedings for a County pocket upon receipt of 50% plus one requests for sewer hookup. One of the great things about that proposal is it operates as an informal survey. If every time the City receives an application for sewer service, it asks the applicant to indicate whether or not there is an interest in annexing the property, and/or to sign a Consent to Future Annexation to obtain the sewer connection, then obviously the data to determine whether property owners in a County pocket are ready to annex is being collected. Can you think of a better way?

Condition of infrastructure in County pockets? – There has always been a lot of back and forth between the City and County regarding infrastructure in County pockets. What I can attest to as documented truth is the Overall Condition Index (OCI) of the City’s streets, how that number was negatively impacted by the many annexations that have already occurred, and how that number will be further negatively impacted when the remaining County pockets are annexed.

One of my responsibilities as a City employee was the Pavement Management Program (PMP), which kept an eye on the overall condition of the City’s roads and prioritized repairs based on taxpayers receiving the most bang for their bucks. (There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to road repairs.) Please bear with me – I am trying to not get too technical here, but this is important!

The PMP assigns a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) to sections of roadways by taking into account multiple variables. This data goes through a complex mathematical calculation, via a computer program, and produces a number between 1 and 100 (where 100 is perfect and 1 is completely failed), which identifies the “condition” of the pavement in each section of roadway. All of the PCIs combined determine the OCI – ultimately assigning one number to establish the quality of Chico’s pavement.

Before Chico annexed approximately 7,000 acres of County pockets, its OCI was in the mid-70s, in the Very Good category. After those annexations occurred, Chico’s OCI dropped to the high 50s, the mid-range in the Good category. While I was managing the PMP, we decided to survey all road sections in the remaining County pockets, so we would be prepared to add them into our road maintenance program upon annexation. This survey informed us that Chico’s OCI would take an additional hit, putting Chico’s roadway network at the higher end of the Poor category.

Sales Tax Agreements? – It is difficult to discuss the existing Sales Tax Agreements between the City and the County without sounding overly opinionated; so I will limit my comments to the fact that the Agreements do exist, and in my opinion, it would be imperative that these Sales Tax Agreements be revised or eliminated upon annexation of all County pockets within Chico’s Sphere of Influence. Unfortunately, since both the City and County are parties to the Agreements, both agencies would have to agree to a renegotiation of the terms.

LAFCo staff has been working with City staff for years without resolution? – I can attest to LAFCo’s assertion that it has been working with City and County staff for two to three years, attempting to resolve the annexation issue. Mind you, the term “working with” is being used very loosely. Meetings had been occurring; however, in my experience, for about the first year plus some months, LAFCo staff would brainstorm with City and County staff and agree to proposed solutions, and then make a 180-degree turn at their Board meetings. LAFCo staff would repeatedly blindside both City and County employees with unexpected declarations, and would provide agreements and/or other documentation to the LAFCo Board that had not been shared with the other impacted parties.

The LAFCo Board and staff also had a very different view of the sewer connections permitted within County pockets. The City and County had been working together for years in an effort to assist property owners in complying with the Nitrate Abatement Order (linked in my previous post), which required abandonment of individual septic systems to reduce the impact of nitrates on the groundwater, without imposing additional financial burdens such as forced annexation.

LAFCo, on the other hand, wanted to use the sewer connections as a “stick” to enforce annexations. Both the LAFCo Board and staff publicly stated that if the City allowed property owners to connect to sewer service without annexation, property owners would have NO OTHER REASON TO ANNEX. Not to receive local police service. Not to have drainage issues resolved. Not to have roadway upgrades completed by the City. Not to be included in the street sweeping and leaf pick-up programs. Not to vote on local issues. Did you get that last point? LAFCo believes those property owners don’t care about the ability to vote; they just care about getting that sewer connection! So much for disenfranchisement.

What else might the community not know? – Did you know that only parcels that are already developed can be connected to sewer without annexing? Any new development within a County pocket would require annexation in order to connect to sewer, which would bring in all other adjoining parcels – likely at the developer’s cost – to receive City services and infrastructure. In fact, there are a few undeveloped parcels of land in the Chapman Mulberry area that were discussed in meetings between the City, County, and LAFCo. In addition to an initiation of the annexation process at 50% plus one sewer connection, annexation would also be initiated by any new development.

Thanks for letting me spout off on this LAFCo business; I’ve needed to get it off my chest for some time now. That said, I hope it brings some additional enlightenment to those interested in, and/or potentially impacted by, the annexation debate.

If you have specific questions regarding this or any other topic we write about, please always feel free to email us if you do not want to publicly comment on the post. Odds are, if you have a question, someone else might have the same question. Letting us know gives us an opportunity to further explain anything that seems clear to us but muddy to you non-bureaucrats. Among the three of us, there is a lot of information and specific data floating around in our heads that we may not realize is important or interesting until someone asks!

So if you have a question, bring it to us! We love hearing from our readers. And, we love it when our readers share our posts with their friends, families, acquaintances, mortal enemies…whomever!

Thank you for continuing to follow us and never forget:

Truth Matters, Chico!

Seen or Unseen: 03/11/2008 Finance Committee Meeting

Next up in our Seen or Unseen series, where you, the reader, get to decide whether your local politicians are dishonest or merely incompetent… The March 11, 2008 Finance Committee meeting!

As before, let’s start with the minutes, so we can establish who the players were: 2008-03-11_Finance Committee_Minutes. Lo and behold, in early 2008, the Finance Committee was still being chaired by Scott Gruendl, with Mary Goloff (aka Flynn) and Larry Wahl rounding out the party.

(As a point of information, note that the Finance Committee minutes are prepared as a memorandum to the full council. This is standard procedure, so whatever information is contained in the minutes gets passed along to each and every council member.)

The first item on the minutes: Consideration of Deficit Reduction Strategy Implementation. According to the minutes, the council adopted a balancing strategy on December 18, 2007. So, why all the hoopla at the December 17, 2013 council meeting about the new-and-improved Executive Team “breaking new ground” by addressing deficits?

Want proof? Here are the minutes from that meeting: 2007-12-18_City Council Minutes_re_Finance Committee

I took the liberty of highlighting some fun details, such as Gruendl specifically calling out that “a significant reduction in costs totaling $912,323 has already been realized,” and seconding a motion that, among other things, reduced the Fleet Replacement Reserve by $300,000 for the next four years and reduced the transfer to the Private Development Fund [oh no he di’int!].

That intentional reduction in the Fleet Replacement Reserve should be kept in mind for a later blog post, which will delve into the Administrative Services Director’s shocking revelation to the 2012-13 Grand Jury about the decline of Fund balances over the last several years. The Private Development Fund deficit, always a council sweetheart, was clearly part of these discussions and the General Fund contribution to it was intentionally reduced. Yet now we’re being asked to believe that this is all news to the current council, including Gruendl and Goloff.

(As an aside, these minutes also demonstrate that Larry Wahl had to disqualify himself from downtown issues, along with Ann Schwab. So why all the recent flap about Schwab’s disqualification from the Sit/Lie Ordinance discussions?)

Now, back to the March 11, 2008 Finance Committee meeting. Next up on the minutes is a Financial Status of All Funds. Of particular interest is the following passage: “…as of 6/30/07 a total of 12 funds were in a deficit position.” [audible gasp] But I heard at a recent meeting that no one ever told them there were negative Fund balances!

While the Mayor has routinely snarked over the last few months that he didn’t like the flashy power point presentations provided by former staff, I’m finding them to be PRICELESS. Here are a few of my favorite slides; Gruendl and Goloff obviously nodded off and missed them.

The 12 funds in a deficit position as of June 30, 2007, and the two types of deficits: 2008-03-11_Finance Committee_Deficit Funds

The Private Development Fund’s existing and structural deficits, explained and with solutions offered. Wow! Does one of those bullet points read, “To resolve existing deficit, the City needs to transfer funds from the General Fund”? I thought no one ever told them the negative Fund balance was a General Fund obligation! 2008-03-11_Finance Committee_F862

The impacts of deficits, including the statement that “large deficits negatively impact the City’s cash flow.” But wait! No one ever warned them of cash flow issues! 2008-03-11_Finance Committee_Deficit Impacts

Want to flip through the entire presentation? Happy to oblige: 2008-03-11_Finance Committee_Status of all Funds

So, do we have convenient memory lapses, or intentional false accusations against prior staff? Ultimately, the council is responsible for all city actions, and plausible deniability doesn’t work when there are public records to dispute that plea.

Hey, Council — Here’s a suggestion: Learn the true history, and start paying attention to the lies you are being fed. Question the sudden need for drama, and what the underlying agenda — that someone else is setting — is really all about.

Hey, Readers — We appreciate each and every one of you. Doubly so when you share our blogs with a friend.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

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Photo credit: snorgtees.com

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.

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Leaking the Top Secret Operation

Well, here we go again. At the December 17 meeting, I addressed the Council about its running commentary on the 2nd Floor Staffing/Finance Workout Plan, hoping to put that baby to bed once and for all.

It was going pretty well; in fact, the Mayor was very polite and asked me some clarifying questions — and then allowed me to answer. The Administrative Services Director followed up with positive comments, acknowledging that previous staff had taken action to address the plummeting Fund balances. I was pretty satisfied with that much progress.

But then Mark Sorensen jumped right back into full assault mode — seemingly driven by some sort of clandestine, private-frequency radio transmission (perhaps from a spy drone?) reaffirming his theory that former staff had conspired to harm the Council and destroy the City by secretly driving Fund balances into the red.

You think I’m kidding? I’ll link you to the one-minute video clip so you can see for yourself, but I just want to point out that he actually used the words “top secret operation.” Yes, he really did say those words. Out loud. He did.

Here’s the clip: Sorensen “Top Secret Operation”

After Sorensen made his ill-advised (and ill-informed) remark, I emailed him to let him know he was off base, that it would have been more beneficial if he had simply asked me about it during the discussion, and that I would be happy to speak with him publicly or privately to fill him in on the details of the mini-allocation.

He responded by telling me it was something Quené said during her comments that had triggered the thought, as if that excused it, and so I politely replied and repeated my offer to talk with him openly and honestly about anything he wanted to know.

I received no further response, which has unfortunately earned him a dose of embarrassing public enlightenment in lieu of a pleasant, informative conversation. I swear, I just can’t figure the guy out.

Back in September, we three gals had some pretty lively conversations with the Mayor about believing media reports, after which Alicia finally pinned him down and asked him, if we aren’t to believe the media, can we at least rely on what is said during Council meetings? After a little soft shoe routine and some political double speak, the Mayor finally said, “Everybody holds one another accountable in this chamber.”

Mr. Sorensen, consider yourself on notice that you are going to be held accountable. You don’t get to just say whatever you want from the dais and expect it to be accepted as truth simply because you’re the one who said it. There is a truth to be told, but you have been so preoccupied with your personal mission to ruin the professional reputations of honorable public servants that you refuse to listen and therefore can’t possibly understand it, much less explain it to anyone else. You need to stop. Really.

Now, here is some factual information about the Private Development Allocation (known internally as the “mini-allocation”):

As we explored in a recent post, allocations distribute costs, as opposed to transfers, which distribute dollars. The mini-allocation distributes operating costs from the Private Development Fund (Fund 862) to a handful of other Funds that benefit from work efforts by Planning staff, and to a lesser extent, Building staff. Keep that in mind as you read along.

This particular allocation was first developed in fiscal year 2010-11, as part of the 2nd floor finance plan. It was a tool we used to clean up accounting for the Planning Services Department’s operations, so we could quantify the true cost of processing development applications. For the moment, please just trust me that it resulted in a net reduction in costs to the impacted Funds. There was no additional money being spent.

As you can see in the following document, staff cleverly hid this “top secret operation” from the Council on page 2 of the City Manager’s fiscal year 2010-11 budget message — that would be the second page of the proposed budget — where they would be sure to overlook it.

2010-07-06_Budget Message

Ooooooh, and in the next document you will see that former Finance Director Hennessy went to great lengths to bury the mini-allocation in the budget page dedicated to Fund 862 by assigning it a specific department called Private Development Cost Allocation, so no one would recognize it.

That was such a sneaky move that Administrative Services Director Constantin and his new-and-improved budget team mustn’t have even noticed it when they put it in the current fiscal year’s budget! According to Sorensen, it took the City’s super-duper fraud seeking auditors to finally discover it and bring it to everyone’s attention.

(Also notice how Ms. Hennessy mistakenly revealed the uber-classified negative Fund balance at the bottom of the page… Bad form!)

Fund 862_Mini-Allocation

And the final straw: The next document is an example of how the mini-allocation was hidden in the Funds that received the allocation. I’m using the Sewer Fund (Fund 850) budget page, since Sorensen specifically called that out in his “top secret operation,” but if you go to the City’s published budget, you can find the same line item on every single impacted Fund. This is certainly advanced trickery and foul play!

Fund 850_Mini-Allocation

In the documents above, you can see that the allocation appears in the Operating Expenditures section for both Funds. It is a negative number for Fund 862, since it is technically an offset to expenses, and a positive number for Fund 850, since it is a true expense. The numbers aren’t the same for both Funds, because Fund 862 shows the aggregate allocation, whereas Fund 850 only shows its portion of the allocation.

Now that we’ve established there was absolutely nothing “top secret” about the mini-allocation, let’s look into why we created it.

Since at least as far back as 1991, when the Private Development Fund was created, some Planning salaries were budgeted to other Funds, including the Sewer Fund and the Subdivision Fund. Unfortunately, I no longer have access to my paper files (I had to dig through dusty old budget binders to figure out what had originally happened… ack!), so I don’t have the complete list of funding sources to share with you. Suffice it to say that Fund 862 never fully funded Planning’s operations.

Instead of development staff charging their time to what they were actually doing, they charged time based on where they were funded in the budget. To make the funding ratio work out properly, some staff were charging up to 60% of their time directly to other Funds. (Click here if you’d like to see an example of pre-Private Development Allocation funding for Planning staff.) This was specific direction that came from the City Manager’s office, and it was a source of considerable concern for both Finance and development staff.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not being critical of the funding sources; there is a legitimate nexus between development staff work and benefit to other funds. The problem was a lack of accountability and transparency, which translated into the inability to properly quantify costs and develop appropriate User Fees. How can the cost of processing a Use Permit be accurately tracked when the staff person working on it is charging time to Sewer or Transportation or Redevelopment, just to make the budget numbers work?

There is much more to this, and I promise you I will break it all down when I write the dedicated Private Development Fund post, but for now it is enough to say that we unwound that particular problem by allocating costs, eliminating direct staff charges to the benefiting Funds, and then fully accounting for private development costs in Fund 862.

Here’s an oversimplified explanation of how it worked: We added up all of the private development staff charges to Funds other than Fund 862. We applied a 10% discount factor, since we were attempting to cut budgets in all impacted Funds. Then, via the mini-allocation, the costs were distributed as expenses to the benefiting Funds. Here is the official calculation for the original mini-allocation (which, incidentally, is included in the City’s files for anyone to examine — nothing top secret here):

F862 Mini-Allocation for Final Budget Resolution

Once the allocation was in place, we tied it to a percentage of staff salaries for development work, rather than allowing it to continue as a fixed cost to the benefiting Funds. The effect of this can be seen in the dollar decrease from fiscal year 2010-11 to fiscal year 2011-12. In other words, the more we reduced Fund 862 salaries, the more the allocation was reduced, for a net savings to the benefiting Funds. (There was also a reduction in the allocation due to the loss of RDA funds, but that is immaterial to this discussion.)

The other effect of allocating the costs and direct charging only Fund 862 was the ability to assign cost centers to specific Planning staff work efforts and other operating expenses. This was critical in our effort to establish solid data for a new User Fee Study. Incorrect underlying data will always result in incorrect fees, no matter how skillful the technical analysis and mathematical calculations used in the study might be.

We cleaned up Fund 862 to enable us to use a formula based on actual costs for processing the various types of applications, divided by the actual volume of applications. Unfortunately, however, once ACM Rucker and BDSD McKinley mysteriously vanished, the authority behind the effort vanished with them. But that’s another story in and of itself. What a waste.

And so, the mini-allocation was a good part of the finance plan. I doubt it is still functioning properly at this point, since there is no one left who understands the mechanism of tying it to salaries or the process we put in place for monitoring the Fund balance on a bi-weekly basis. Fund 862 finished fiscal year 2012-13 in the black (annual revenues exceeded annual expenditures); it was the first time that happened since 2001. It will be interesting to see how the Fund finishes for fiscal year 2013-14.

So much for Sorensen’s “top secret operation” conspiracy theory. Hopefully, someone who loves him will splurge on a tin foil hat for him, to keep those wacky cloak-and-dagger ideas in check. Hey, it could help…

We thank you for your readership and ask that you continue to share our posts with your family, friends, and neighbors. As always, your questions and comments are welcome. Consider making a New Year’s resolution to be more involved in what’s happening with your local government; after all, these folks work for you.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

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Photo credit: blogs.desmoinesregister.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

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.

~Mary

 

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