Category Archives: Reblogs

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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Local Candidate Forums – Get Involved!

Juanita Sumner over at Chico Taxpayers Association (CTA) has organized a series of local candidate forums at the Chico library, to give the public an opportunity to meet the people who want to be in charge of our community. Bob Evans will be at this Sunday’s forum, which begins at noon. Links to the CTA blog posts about the forums are provided below, for more information about upcoming speakers.

If you don’t already follow Juanita’s blog, you should. She regularly attends both City and County meetings and has a long history of telling it like she sees it. In my personal opinion, she is one of the most well-informed citizens in Chico, and her blog posts are quite entertaining, as long as you don’t mind a bit of <ahem> colorful language.  🙂

Like us, she is even-handed in dispensing her opinions; no one is exempt from her BS detector, regardless of how they label themselves politically. While we don’t always reach the same conclusions as Juanita, we definitely respect her hard work in trying to get information out to the public and get the citizens involved. It can be a lonely and exhausting business, repeatedly sounding the alarm and being rewarded with few if any tangible results, but she’s a trooper; she’s been at this for years.

Anyway, we encourage you to read the CTA blog posts and get involved in this series of meetings with the candidates. Do what you must to be an informed voter, and help protect Chico from the consequences of poor decision-making at the ballot box. As we have mentioned before, a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against bad government.

Here are the links to the CTA blog posts about the candidate forums:

From January 23: Calling all roustabouts – come on down and help me set up chairs for Bob Evans, candidate, Butte County Dist 3

From January 17: Trying to get more candidates for our forum – sign up for our contact list

From January 12: Thanks Al Petersen for a wonderful meeting – next up, Bob Evans, candidate for Supervisor Dist. 3

From January 5: Ever wonder how your house is assessed and your property tax bill figured? Well come on down to the library Sunday and ask Butte County Assessor Candidate Alan Petersen

We thank you for your readership and for continuing to share our posts with your family and friends. As always, we welcome your questions and comments.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

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!

The Emperors’ New Clothes

I had originally prepared this fable to share at the August 20, 2013 council meeting, but the meeting ran late and I didn’t want to “waste” it if my audience was past listening. Lo and behold, today another local blogger referenced The Emperor’s New Clothes in relation to Chico city government. I find it interesting that I’m not the only one to draw this comparison.

Photo from Chico Enterprise-Record

Photo from Chico Enterprise-Record

The Emperors’ New Clothes (that would be plural, possessive)

Not so very long ago, there were some Emperors who were so excessively fond of new clothes and their perceived appearances, that they directed all resources towards that goal. They did not care in the least about their soldiers, nor their parks, nor their lands, except for the opportunity each afforded them to display their new clothes.

One day, three rogues came to town, pretending they were expert weavers and tailors. The men set up a loom and spread the news that they wove the finest of cloth, in the most beautiful designs and colors. But, said they, only a really wise man could see it; for to stupid, dull or foolish people it was completely invisible.

The Emperors said they must have suits of this marvelous cloth, and caused large sums of money to be given to the weavers in order that they might begin their work directly.

So the pretend weavers set up looms, and affected to work very busily, though in reality they did nothing at all. They asked for the most delicate silk and the purest gold thread; put both into their own knapsacks; and then continued their pretended work at the empty looms until late at night.

“I should like to know how the weavers are getting on with my cloth,” said the Emperors to themselves; they were, however, rather embarrassed, when they remembered that a simpleton, or one unfit for his office, would be unable to see the fabric. To be sure, they thought they had nothing to risk; but yet, would prefer sending somebody else, to bring them intelligence about the weavers, and their work, before troubling themselves in the affair. People throughout the city had heard of the wonderful property the cloth was to possess; and all were anxious to learn how wise, or how ignorant, their Emperors might prove to be.

When an officer of the Emperors’ court reported that there was no fabric, he or she was called a fool and publicly beheaded. Other officers (who could see nothing on the loom, either, because of course there was nothing there to see), not wanting to be thought fools, praised the cloth, telling the Emperors that its gorgeous design would be sure to dazzle all who beheld it; and they were rewarded with new ranks and riches.

Soon the great Procession of the Year was to take place, and the rogues promised the Emperors that their new suits would be ready for the occasion.

The night before the Procession, the rogues worked late into the night making the royal costumes. They lit all the candles in the shop so that everyone could see they were hard at work. They snipped the empty air with scissors, they sewed with threadless needles, and at last they stood up and shook out the beautiful clothes that were not there.

In the morning the Emperors came to try on their suits. They stood straight and still while the rogues took away their clothes and put on the imaginary new ones. “Light as a spider’s web! What superb color!” said the rogues, and the attending courtiers echoed, “Superb! Superb!”

So the Emperors walked proudly under the royal canopy in the Procession. They were sure that their new clothes made them look magnificent, although they could not see them.

They bowed graciously to the left and right, as some people cried, “How splendid are the Emperors’ new clothes! How beautifully they fit! Such color, such rare and costly cloth!”

“But the Emperors have nothing on at all!” said a little child. And though she was hushed quickly, what the child had said was whispered from one to another.

“But they have nothing on at all!” at last cried out all the people. The Emperors were vexed, for they knew that the people were right; but they thought the procession must go on now! And the officers of the court took greater pains than ever to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold.

The End

(If you want to check out the other blog I mentioned in the intro, here’s the link: http://chicotaxpayers.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/city-another-700000-in-the-hole-wow-thats-about-exactly-what-they-appropriated-for-the-new-management-salaries/)

Asleep at the Wheel?

Chico Taxpayers Association

I’ve been trying to follow the efforts of a group called “Truth Matters Chico”, ex city employees who are asking sticky questions.  One thing that’s come up as a result of their chain rattling is that months of minutes and videos are missing from the city council website.  I mean, we can’t even see what measures were passed or failed, who voted how, nothing. A news reporter gets a story up in 24 – 48 hours – sometimes less – why can’t the clerk’s office get the minutes posted in less than seven months?

If you go to the city website, follow the links through “minutes and agendas,” you will find that there are no minutes posted pasted February (clerk Debbie Presson promised that the Jan/Feb minutes would be posted by today).  Minutes can take a lot of forms – some cities even use court reporter machines to capture every…

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Koyaanisqatsi! The Meagher has turned on the Mayor!

Chico Taxpayers Association

Did you happen to see our mayor, Scott Gruendl, on tv last night? Gruendl actually called a press conference before last night’s council meeting, to complain about how people have been complaining!  Seems the heat is getting too hot for Gruendl, he’s getting a little hysterical.

On the Channel 7 news website, Gruendl claims there’s been violent threats made toward Brian Nakamura, and insinuates others. Randall Stone jumps in with a story that does not include time, place, or names of those who supposedly wanted him “punched in the face.”

Gruendl also says people are trying to “paralyze” our local government – with requests for minutes? Well, at a meeting I attended recently, they said the minutes were months behind. Debbie Presson’s staff has been cut down to Dani, who isn’t worth the rubber foam in those crutches we’re paying for. They aren’t covering all the meetings, and when they…

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