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!
Most people have probably heard that quote about the conquerors writing the history books, and I think we have a massive case of that in Chico’s current council and administration. At every council meeting, I hear another hostile pronouncement about how bad the City’s finances are, and how no one ever told council, or the bad situation was being hidden, or how no information was provided, blah, blah, blah.
That rhetoric is getting a lot of buzz, especially with the help of the Chico Enterprise Record. But here’s the deal, folks: My memory is long, and my tolerance for this grandstanding has grown short. Luckily for me, there’s a solid paper trail to dispute the history that Chico’s conquerors are attempting to write. Unluckily for some of those council members, public records demonstrate that they are either lying now about not being told, or were too incompetent to be paying attention at the time they were told. Either way, I hope Chico’s citizens will keep that in mind when election time rolls around later this year.
Let’s start with the October 22, 2007 Finance Committee meeting. You’ll want to take a peek at the minutes — trust me, this is pure gold in our search for truth about who told the council what and when: Finance Committee Minutes.
Who was on the committee at that time? Mayor Gruendl was the chair, along with Mary Goloff (then Flynn) and Larry Wahl (now a Butte County Supervisor). The first item in the minutes clearly explains that this was the first of three evening meetings to discuss topics relating to the General and Park Funds’ structural (annual) deficit.
Following are excerpts from the Finance Director’s presentation to these city leaders:
The General Fund has had a structural deficit (annual expenses are greater than revenues) since 2001: Structural Deficit;
Revenues have been inadequate to meet demands for service, with a steep downward trend, since 2001: Revenue Trend; and
Deferred maintenance (specifically on roads) has been an ongoing concern, since the City has been transferring gas tax funds to the General Fund since 1990: Roads.
But no one ever told them, until our hero Nakamura came along!
Want to see the entire presentation for yourself? Understanding City Finances
Much, much more to come…
Thank you for your continued readership, and please help us spread the truth by sharing this blog with your family, friends, neighbors, and baristas.
Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!
So, I had planned to stick to my Into the Weeds posts for awhile, but yesterday morning’s Chico Enterprise-Record article on Free Speech Day compelled me to switch gears temporarily.
Here’s part of the article:
A spokesman for the group says Mayor Scott Gruendl, Police Chief Kirk Trostle, Melissa Daugherty from the News & Review, and Sue Hilderbrand from KZFR will be speaking at the event.
Under other circumstances, I might have laughed about the Mayor speaking at that event; however, he has made such a mockery of free speech rights in recent months that the irony did not elicit so much as a smirk.
As you may know, we were unable to attend the October 15 Council meeting. Rather than remaining silent about our absence, the Mayor felt obligated to comment on it after the conclusion of Business from the Floor. A true defender of free speech, this guy is.
Here’s what he said (watch the video clip):
I forgot to honor the, for the nice business from the floor we had tonight, too, as well, so it’s a break. So I appreciate that for the folks listening at home. Thank you for giving us the break as well. Um [giggle] I mean that in a sincere way I mean, it’s been a long time since we haven’t had to address such serious concerns so um.. Not that we don’t address serious concerns on a regular basis. I’m really digging myself a hole, so with that um [giggle] so with that we are adjourned…
But wait, there’s more!
Here is the full text of the Mayor’s September 3 press release addressing free speech and access to public records:
Press Release from the Mayor (12:45 PM, 9/3/13)
CHICO MAYOR RESPONDS TO CRITICISM OF CITY LEADERSHIP
Chico faces extraordinary times and our success lies in the strength of our citizens. Seeking truth and civic involvement are critical, yet some utilize protections of democracy in a selfish and counterproductive way. City hall has seen an unprecedented number of public information requests with many from the same party so it appears the intent is not to discover truthful information, but to punish those implementing measures necessary to keep our city solvent and serving the public.
Many requests relate to meeting minutes not yet completed. When an information request is received, the same officials responsible for the minutes are legally mandated to respond to the request, but are not mandated to produce the minutes. One can see how certain members of the public, while appearing to appropriately use a powerful democratic tool of democracy, may actually have harmful intent, that becomes evident when the very information sought is available on the Internet immediately for all to see and hear at their own desire.
I am a vanguard of the public’s trust, so it is difficult for me to make the claim that the very systems that are available to enhance this trust appear to be abused by some. My intent is not to limit the voice of our community or access to government, but when these sacred instruments appear to be used as tools of abuse, my oath of office requires action.
City Council meetings are used by some to attack the city’s administration. Some have grievances due to separation from city employment and others falsely believe that the city’s financial calamity was caused by the very people hired to fix it. The truth is that this administration has taken action that no predecessor would and the total salary cost is significantly less than past executives whose failures resulted in the extraordinarily difficult times we experience today.
As Mayor, let me be perfectly clear, speech is a protected freedom, but when speech is used to bring physical and emotional harm, it is an abuse of freedom’s sanctity and a disservice to all that have given to protect it. Just because speech is a protected freedom, does not make what is said right. Civility, character, and intent define a discussion in a way that can be meaningful debate. Hate, vitriol, and racism define a discussion that can be criminal.
What defines a Chicoan? Must one be born here, lived here long, or own property? We are defined by civic involvement, willingness to protect and enhance our community, and desire for what is best for this special place. There is no other place like Chico and most want this city to prosper to its full potential. I cannot be the judge of what truly defines a Chicoan, but I do judge those that hide behind the good work of our great citizens throughout history for the purpose of discrimination and breeding hate.
What defines who is right or wrong? Who determines whether the financial distress of the city was caused by present or past employees? Who makes the choices necessary to assure local government remains a viable servant of the public? The duly elected representatives of the people, sworn to an oath to protect the public, in conjunction with all community members, do. It pains me greatly that certain citizens that I have come to know and trust, do not trust me. What these very persons believe to be the truth is actually a campaign of misinformation that is merely selfserving and their efforts are causing more harm than good and this harm appears to be with intent.
What is the truth? The truth is found in the 2012-2013 Butte County Grand Jury Report. The truth is in video posted to the city’s website. The truth is in the information collected and analyzed by expert third parties that will report their findings in the coming months. The truth is in very detailed minutes that were initiated by the City Clerk responsible for access to information, that some citizens appear to be using to paralyze our city, which is as great a threat to Chico’s long term success as is the financial mess these individuals deny exists.
But there’s even more…
We have written several previous posts about his abuse of the power of his office to attempt to quash dissenting opinions. For instance, he blew his cool at the September 3 Council meeting and interrupted me mid-sentence. Here is another post that contains some excerpts from a rant on the Mayor Scott Gruendl official Facebook page. If you haven’t read the full rant, it is quite revealing. You can find it here.
And last, but certainly not least, there are the threats the Mayor has made in order to attempt to silence us.
Just my opinion, but surely the Free Speech Day event deserves speakers who are true believers. The Mayor only believes conditionally.
We thank you for your continued readership and welcome any comments or questions.
Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!
Photo credit: chicoer.com
Mayor and Council,
It is my sincere hope that by now, you have all taken the time to review the video of the March 5, 2013 Council meeting and realize the error you made in approving the minutes as submitted on September 17. If you have not, the section of the March 5 meeting in question can be viewed at approximately the 01:00:00 mark and runs for approximately 30 minutes.
Here is the link, for your convenience:
I respectfully request a public apology from the city clerk at your October 1 meeting, prior to your consideration of the consent agenda. The apology should be delivered with the same fervor as her September 17 denial of the true and correct facts, and the Council should revisit the minutes and revise per my request. If it does not happen, rest assured that I will be demanding it from the podium.
Further to that, and something I did not mention in my remarks, are the comments by both the city manager and the Mayor that some of the information contained in the March emails was confidential and could have been known only by an insider, and suggesting an ulterior motive of sabotage. Three points on that:
(1) None of the information contained in the memorandum was confidential. As I mentioned to you on August 20 during Business from the Floor, the city manager had announced the candidate information in more than one open meeting. If it was confidential, he is solely responsible for the breach. The remainder of the email questions addressed the Hemet budget and the lack of transparency in the city manager’s agenda report and attached resolution, all of which were posted to the web.
(2) Most of your employees are Chico citizens, and all are Chico taxpayers, who have the same rights as anyone else to address wrongdoing and lack of transparency. In fact, if the emails did come from employees who felt the need to disguise their identities for fear of retaliation, what does that tell you about what was going on inside the organization?
(3) As I asked in a previous letter, is it the new Chico way for Councilmembers to speculate on the motives of those who correspond with them and openly suggest they are attempting to sabotage Council’s agenda? For that matter, is it the new Chico way for Council to carry forward an agenda that can be sabotaged simply by asking for truthful answers to salient questions?
One final note on the March 5 meeting: The city manager said he had not had an opportunity to check his figures with Finance between Sunday night when he received the emails and Tuesday afternoon, which is absurd on its face. (Finance has a spreadsheet into which the proposed salaries could have been inserted, and it would have immediately calculated the benefits.) Then, in the Mayor’s closing remarks, he stated that the Council would have received the salary tables with or without the citizen emails. If so, why did the city manager not have sufficient time to involve Finance? Which is the truth?
As Ms. Hansen, Ms. Meyer, and I have stated publicly and written in our blog, our goal is unrelated to politics or personalities. We want the entire truth told, without regard for anyone’s agenda. While there have certainly been some past decisions and practices that were less than wise, and there is no doubt they should be identified and corrected, they pale in comparison to what is being said and done during this city manager’s “rightsizing” effort. I realize that it will cost you nearly a quarter million dollars to correct your mistake; however, continuing to deny the truth in the face of irrefutable evidence that this city manager has repeatedly lied to and otherwise misled both the Council and the citizens will ultimately prove far more costly. We will not stop until full transparency is achieved. If you are going to air the City’s dirty laundry, it should not be limited to that of prior administrations. The current administration has a far bigger load than the prior three combined.
Among us, we have a full and complete working knowledge of municipal finance, coupled with institutional knowledge your current Executive Team lacks. Unlike you, however, we do not have unlimited time during the Council meetings to carry on and on; we have three-minute intervals during which we can put forth the facts. It would behoove you to listen, rather than summarily dismissing us. What we have to say will become important as we begin to reveal what really happened, and who was responsible. No one will be exempt from our truth telling.
Regardless of whether or not you approve of what we say during your meetings, we deserve and expect the same courtesy and consideration afforded other members of the public who criticize or disagree with you. The ongoing disdain and condescension displayed by the Mayor, coupled with his not-so-subtle threats from the dais and in the media, are unacceptable, and until they stop, we will continue to aggressively comment on them at meetings and publish commentary on our website.
And, as an aside, if any portion of our personnel records ever sees the light of day, the Executive Team would be well advised to concurrently submit an additional Supplemental Appropriation from the Emergency Reserve Fund to pay for the cost of the litigation that will ensue.
For those of you on the Council who consider yourselves conservatives, where is your passion for the truth? Have you abandoned it in favor of the politics of personal destruction, in furtherance of your political careers? I was among a handful of supporters you had in City Hall, but I am so very ashamed of your recent behavior. You should be fighting for our right to be heard, regardless of the political fallout, rather than standing in a show of support while the Mayor publicly attempts to quash dissent. That’s what conservatism is about, after all. I do hope you will re-examine your recent behavior and begin standing up for what is right, rather than what is politically expedient.
Finally, I recommend that you make certain your microphones are off before making snide remarks such as “disgusting,” which is clearly audible on the September 17 video recording after Ms. Hansen and I addressed the Fund 400 agenda item. You are not dealing with amateurs. We know the processes and the facts, and we are watching everything you do. We will hold you accountable, in public, and let the citizens decide your fate at the ballot box.
Sent on 9/26/2013 at 7:33 p.m. to the following recipients:
|to:|| Mark Sorensen <email@example.com>,
Scott Gruendl <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Mary Goloff <email@example.com>,
Sean Morgan <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Tami Ritter <email@example.com>,
Randall Stone <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Ann Schwab <email@example.com>
|cc:|| Brian Nakamura <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Mark Orme <email@example.com>,
Chris Constantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Debbie Presson <email@example.com>,
Lori Barker <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
David Little <email@example.com>,
Robert Speer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
If you’ve been keeping up with the media, the Mayor, and Nakamura lately, or reading our posts, you’ve likely heard much about racist emails and threats of violence resulting in the need to add security to protect staff on the 3rd floor of the municipal center. I responded to that over the weekend, and since most of the comments we received on that post call for the emails to be made public, we thought we should share with you the only incident of which we are aware.
Normally, we would never release any email from our readers; however, since it has become clear that this guy (Dylan) is ‘playing dirty’ and copying the media and members of the Council, we feel it is appropriate to at least share the content. We won’t release his full name or email address, because we know how crappy that feels, having had our personal contact info recently released to the public.
On September 4 we received Dylan’s original email, in which he used one racial slur in his last sentence. We discussed it and decided to ignore it, since even jerks have a right to question and criticize the government, so we simply responded to his request for information. He replied back, with an expletive, but no more racial remarks. And there were no threats whatsoever.
In the meantime, we got word that Nakamura had a hard copy of the email and was waving it around, showing it to staff in an attempt to hold us responsible for the words of another. We, of course, realized that Dylan must have either blind copied or forwarded to someone within the City; otherwise, there was no way Nakamura could have had it. We have an idea who this Dylan character is, but no proof, so we’ll just skip that issue for the time being.
So, we decided to just wait and see what happened next.
On September 19, we received two more emails from Dylan, this time openly copying the media, the Mayor, and two Councilmembers. These emails offered up specific opportunities for us to engage in character assassination, including what appear to be court cases and a link to one of Juanita Sumner’s blogs that described some previous unpleasant encounters with the Mayor.
Wow. What is this guy’s agenda?
So, last night we decided to ‘reply all’ and hopefully bring this whole thing to an end. As we have repeatedly written, our only interest is in exposing the truth behind the shenanigans at City Hall. We have no interest in personally attacking anyone involved; we just want them to be held accountable for their actions that have affected, and are still affecting, Chico’s citizens and taxpayers.
Here’s what we wrote last night:
Unfortunately, you have mistaken the intent of our website, truthmatterschico.com. We have no desire to ‘play dirty’ with anyone; we are simply seeking to expose the entire truth about the goings on in Chico’s administration, regardless of the political fallout. The three of us hold varying political views, but our determination to inform the public remains firm and is what binds our team together.
We are sure you know that we have been excoriated in the media as a result of the racial slur you used in your original email to us. Because none of us is your mother and therefore not responsible for correcting your behavior, we chose to ignore the slur and simply respond to your request for information; however, you should know that one of us has four stepchildren of Asian descent, and we disapprove of your use of the derogatory reference to the city manager’s heritage, as we disapprove of any racial, religious, or other personal slurs.
Since it has become clear that your agenda conflicts with ours, and your writings have become an obstacle to accomplishment of our goals, we ask that you refrain from contacting us in the future. We did not make the decision to speak out without thoughtful consideration of the risk to our personal and professional reputations, so this is not child’s play to us. Any further correspondence from you will be deleted without response.
Alicia, Mary, & Quené
Truth Matters, Chico!
Here’s the entirety of the email exchange, redacted as necessary to prevent further spread of Dylan’s ideas on ‘playing dirty’:
Again, under ordinary circumstances, we would never release any email exchange between our readers and us, but Dylan is playing an extraordinary game that could have dire consequences for all parties involved, and we aren’t going to play.
As always, we thank you for your continued readership and welcome your comments and questions.
Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!
In case you missed Alicia’s post yesterday, let me repeat her opening statement: “The City of Chico is in a financial mess; there’s no arguing with that. In fact, cast my vote among those who say that it’s been a mess for quite some time.”
Our gripe is not with the spending cuts; rather, it is with the continuing stream of inaccurate information being put forth in public meetings and the media, and the shady methods with which the cuts are being made. We know the City has been overspending for years and believe the cuts should have been made long before Nakamura swept into town; however, City staff works at the direction of the Council, and for the Council to assert that staff was making choices without the Council’s knowledge and support is disingenuous at best and downright deceitful at worst.
This morning, an editorial appeared in the Chico Enterprise Record entitled “An unfortunate sign of the times” which opines in part:
“As the bad news keeps piling on and more people lose their jobs at an outsized city hall, which should have started taking corrective actions years ago, the mood continues to sour. Former employees and others in the community who don’t like this sudden rush of fiscal oversight have stirred some hostile feelings.
Vulgar, racist emails have been flying around that are directed at City Manager Brian Nakamura, his top department heads and city councilors. Nakamura also has been accosted in public and his car has been vandalized. “
We are more than tired of our particular criticisms of this administration being tied to overt acts by others. There is example after example of citizen outrage directed toward Nakamura dating back to January, including public outcry over former Assistant City Manager Rucker’s “abrupt retirement,” with neither a thank-you-very-much nor a fare-thee-well from the Council after 24 years of dedicated and honorable service to the community; ongoing development community and staff anger over the “mysterious resignation” of former Building & Development Services Director McKinley; open criticism of the shameful salary increases approved for the City’s Executive Team and new Assistant City Manager while layoffs of worker bees were being proposed; angry citizen and police and fire staff commentary regarding the proposed cuts to safety; the community’s outspoken criticism of the Farmers Market debacle; the community’s equally outspoken criticism and downright disgust related to Caper Acres; the social activists’ and homeless population’s open protests regarding the Sit/Lie Ordinance; and the political right’s vocal opposition to the Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance. And that list is not all-inclusive.
Nakamura’s administration has generated more anger and distrust across the entire spectrum of citizen groups than we have ever seen, and for that we cannot claim credit. We never said a word until August 6. So, enough already, okay?
But I digress.
I would direct your attention to a second Chico Enterprise-Record editorial from March 10, 2013 entitled “Salary setting, swift hiring, raise suspicion.” I wrote a post detailing this particular incident two days ago, but after this morning’s editorial, it seems appropriate to revisit it.
The final paragraphs of the March 10 editorial read:
“Government wants the best, not the best the taxpayers can afford.
The department head salary ceiling was particularly galling when Finance Director Virginia [sic] Hennesy began giving her budget update. Again and again through her report, she mentioned her numbers were based on the assumption that 11 vacant police positions would not be filled.
If the department head number was $130,000, could we get that down to 10 police vacancies? We’ll never know, as the council approved the proposal.
The assistant city manager’s salary was put at $185,000 in the same vote. John Rucker, who held the post until he abruptly “retired” in January, made $158,461. Again, a pretty hefty raise, but defensible if department heads are making $160,000.
And what happened next really rubs us the wrong way. The council approved the $185,000 figure Tuesday night. By 11 a.m. next morning, the Riverside Press Enterprise was reporting Nakamura’s former No. 2 in Hemet — Mark Orme — had quit to take the same position in Chico.
And his salary in Hemet? $180,000, suspiciously close to the $185,000 cap the Council had set just a few hours before.
Nakamura claims he didn’t decide on Orme or offer him the job until Wednesday morning, but the speed with which it happened makes us skeptical. It sure looks like a salary schedule was foisted on the council — and the taxpayers — that would allow Nakamura to bring his old buddy on board.
But that kind of stuff doesn’t happen, right?
We hope Orme is thick-skinned. And we hope he’s good at his job, because Nakamura’s going to need help overcoming the damage he’s done to the community’s trust in him.“
Who, exactly, was responsible for those critical comments? And, again, that editorial was published in March — five months before we ever said a word. Now, when we are pointing out the same and similar deceptions, we are somehow held responsible for racist emails, threats, and vandalism?
Mayor Gruendl recently told Alicia after her comments during business from the floor that the Council is accountable for its words and actions during public meetings, and we intend to hold him to that. We accept responsibility for every word we have spoken or written, and we will hold city administrators and the press accountable for theirs, as well.
Meanwhile, we are hearing that things are getting more and more unpleasant inside City Hall. Current employees, who are still unable to speak freely about the ongoing shenanigans for fear of swift and merciless retaliation, are once again expressing their concerns and frustrations with this administration’s methods via indirect outlets. The Mayor’s all-out assault on us as former employees proves their fear legitimate.
This photo was taken in the lobby of City Hall a few days ago. GSD staff is primarily comprised of laborers — some of the lowest paid folks who do the hardest work — park cleaning and upkeep, street and sewer repair, vehicle maintenance, etc.
Rumor has it the Assistant City Manager is leading an investigation into which naughty employee is responsible for that bit of free speech, and that management considers this a fire-able offense. We think the taxpayer dollars funding Mr. Orme’s salary could be better spent in pursuits other than investigating harmless signs (and, for any of you present at the most recent Council meeting, watering plants?).
We encourage you to become involved in your community’s government and make your voices heard. Attend Council meetings and express your opinions, write or email your Councilors, write letters to the editors of the Enterprise-Record and the Chico News & Review. Act now, because until the Council members hear from enough of us to cause sufficient concern about their re-election, they will continue to barrel along with their agenda, with or without the community’s support. The Councilors work for US, the citizens and taxpayers. It is time to give them some marching orders.
As always, we thank you for your continued readership and welcome any comments or questions.
Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!
At the September 17 Chico City Council meeting, the minutes for the March 5, 2013 meeting were on the agenda for approval. On the night of March 5, I was still employed by the City and was in the Chambers, along with a considerable number of other staff who had routinely begun attending Council meetings on their own time in hopes of finding out what was going on at work, since we were getting absolutely no information from Nakamura.
The goings on that night changed my opinion of Nakamura forever. What had until then been limited to concerns about vanishing staff and questionable management practices — along with some political posturing surrounding the User Fee Study, the Private Development Fund, and the 2nd floor staffing plan — suddenly erupted into sheer disbelief, bordering on horror, that Nakamura would intentionally deceive the Council and the public in order to push his agenda through.
Before I go any further, I must confess that I have had a piece written about that meeting for months, waiting to get through my introductory items before taking it to Business from the Floor. Then I got distracted by the Mayor’s attacks on us and was focusing on our free speech rights instead of moving forward with the Nakamura issues.
When the September 17 agenda was posted, I rewrote my piece to address the lack of transparency in the minutes. I pulled that item from the consent agenda and spoke from the podium to address my concerns.
Here is most of what I said (I’ll link to the video below):
I understand the concept of action only minutes… I do, really. And I understand how overworked the city clerk’s office has been lately. However, when something extraordinary happens during a meeting, it needs to be included as part of the permanent record, to provide the public with a true and correct picture of what occurred. In other words, for transparency.
At the March 5, 2013 Council meeting, the city manager presented the Council with a 5-page memorandum that amounted to a supplemental agenda report, in response to email inquiries received from two community members. Neither the original emails nor the city manager’s memorandum were published on the web or read into the record, there were not a sufficient number of hard copies of the memorandum provided at the meeting for all who wanted one, and neither the emails nor the memorandum is even mentioned in the minutes. The result is that this report vanishes from the public’s knowledge base.
This memorandum is critical because it was used in the Council’s decision making process. The Council was asked in the original agenda report to approve the new department directors’ salaries; however, the assistant city manager’s salary increase from $158,000 to $185,000 was also tucked into the attached resolution — with no mention of it in the report.
Councilmember Schwab asked the city manager why it was not mentioned, said that Council had not discussed it, expressed her concern about the lack of transparency, and pointed out that if the community member had not inquired about it, the Council would not have had that information before adopting the resolution. Despite Councilmember Schwab’s concern, the city manager never answered the question as to why that salary increase was not called out in the agenda report, either in the memorandum or in his verbal response to her. This should be part of the record.
Councilmember Sorensen specifically asked the city manager whether the director and assistant city manager salaries were just maximum caps, rather than the amount at which the directors and assistant city manager would necessarily compensated. The city manager said yes, but by 11:00 a.m. the next day, Mark Orme had been hired at the $185,000, plus a car allowance that brings his budgeted salary to more than $190,000. The recently adopted budget has all of the department directors at the $160,000 max, with some even higher due to cell phone allowances and special safety pay. This should be in the record.
Mayor Gruendl also pointed out during the meeting that the salary tables included in the memorandum were incorrect, and Councilmember Sorensen agreed. Although they discussed it briefly, the subject was dropped quickly, and the public, again, has had no opportunity to review those tables, which supposedly support the city manager’s claim that rightsizing the top would result in over half a million dollars in annual savings.
Finally, the city manager’s memorandum contains a non-responsive paragraph to address the question about January department director priorities. As I mentioned to you before, Councilmember Ritter came right out and asked him about it, and he lied directly to her face.
For the sake of transparency, I respectfully request that the city manager’s memorandum be transcribed verbatim into the minutes for the March 5 meeting. If the Council opts not to direct the Clerk to revise the minutes, then I ask that my comments tonight be transcribed verbatim into the minutes of this meeting.
The response to my remarks, after I had already left the podium and could not respond (as usual), were surreal, something like watching a very bad episode of The Twilight Zone.
First, the Mayor said:
Okay with that, then, we’ll close the public input… So I’m not sure we had specific questions there, but would the city clerk or the city manager like to respond? Obviously, for me the natural response would be we had to pass ordinances related to carrying out what was proposed to the rightsizing, which occurred at a different meeting, but (big sigh)…
What does that have to do with the March 5 meeting minutes?
Then Debbie Presson, the City’s esteemed Master Municipal Clerk, came a bit unwound. You can watch it for yourself on the video linked below, but here is what she said:
That is correct, and actually there were 2 hearings on that, and then it didn’t go into effect for 30 days.
One thing I would like to state for the record is that I don’t believe that this actual report or letter or memorandum to the Council was actually made public at that meeting and handed out, nor was it, nor was it stated that it is part of the record.
This is something that was correspondence, I believe; correct me if I’m wrong, City Manager Nakamura. This was an email that you sent out to the council, correct? (Nakamura agrees)
So first of all I did not have it at the meeting, and again, it is the council that determines to tell me if you choose, if you want this… Actually I would have to say that I would not read this into the record nor type it into the record because it did not happen at the Council meeting. I truly believe in the integrity of the minutes. I take it very seriously, and I would never, ever put anything in the minutes that didn’t occur at the meeting. This letter was not read into the record.
Well, she got that completely wrong, except her first and last sentences, the latter of which was exactly the point of my comments. Since the memorandum was provided to the public at the meeting, but never posted to the web or read into the record, it should have been transcribed into the minutes, for “integrity” and transparency. Well, I guess I will just have to memorialize it, since the Council went ahead and approved the March 5 minutes as submitted, and refused my request to have my comments transcribed into the September 17 minutes. Transparency at its finest…
Here is Nakamura’s original report and resolution posted with the agenda:
Here is Nakamura’s supplemental memorandum. I was lucky enough to find an abandoned copy on my way out of the Chambers, but as I mentioned above, most people in the audience never saw it, and it was never posted to the web or called out in the minutes.
As a point of further information, we submitted PRRs for both the original citizen emails and the salary survey of comparable cities called out on page 3 of the memorandum. We have received absolutely nothing regarding the salary survey, and in response to our request for the citizen emails, this is what we received:
Fascinating, really… The City auto-deletes emails after 6 months. According to Nakamura, the emails were dated either March 3 or 4, so they still would have been there on August 22 when we requested them, but (conveniently?) auto-deleted by September 17 when the City’s Master Municipal Clerk responded to our request.
Although the March 5 minutes were approved on September 17, they have not yet been posted to the City’s website. Here is a copy of what was approved. The topic we are interested in is Item 4.1 on page 3.
Here is the link to the official video of the March 5 Council meeting. Click on Item 4.1 of the agenda or forward to time signature 00:58:57 to see that what I have written is the truth.
Here is the link to the official video of the September 17 Council meeting. Click on item 2.3 of the agenda or forward to time signature 00:17:50 to watch my comments, the Mayor’s disdain, and the Clerk’s indignant denial of the facts.
Now, you tell me, what are they trying to cover up? Ironically, this is the first time the veracity of my public comments has been challenged, other than a feeble attempt to justify the city manager’s actions in a recent Mayor Scott Gruendl Facebook rant, and when the challenge finally came, it was about an issue that should have been crystal clear. Doesn’t the City’s Master Municipal Clerk watch the video while she is doing her minutes? Or, as Mayor Gruendl commented in a recent article, could it be that she is one of those people who “just are too lazy to watch a council recording”?
As always, we thank you for your continued readership. Your questions and comments are welcomed and encouraged.
Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!
In today’s Chico News & Review, Bob Speer writes of our interaction with the Mayor during September 17 Business from the Floor, wherein we exposed his recent Facebook rant:
Interviewed after the meeting, the mayor was unapologetic, though he acknowledged he may have been “a little over the top.” Obviously frustrated by what he called a “cover your ass” effort on the women’s part, he said they’d waived their right to employee confidentiality and threatened to reveal embarrassing things from their personnel files.
We will be addressing the entirety of the article shortly; however, we wanted to get this out to you right away. Every person who has a personnel file at a prior employer should be outraged.
Again we ask, why is it so important that the Mayor silence us? Could it be that, although we have only exposed the tip of the iceberg, he knows what lies beneath the surface? Could it be that, as the longest-seated member of the Council, his prior words and voting record would reveal that he contributed to the City’s current financial situation? Does he want to stop us before we reveal a truth he does not want to acknowledge?
This behavior is frightening. It is an abuse of power for a government official to assault private citizens and attempt to quash their right to free speech. Only your voices can stop this out-of-control official. Please attend Council meetings and be heard, or write your Councilors and demand that they cease their efforts to silence dissenting opinions. Remember, the next person who disagrees with the Mayor could be you or someone you love.
If you did not see the Mayor’s Facebook rant, it is here:
The entire Chico News & Review article can be found here:
As always, we thank you for your readership and encourage your comments.
Remember, Truth Matters, Chico!
Photo credit: Chico Enterprise-Record
Wow. What in the world is happening with Mayor Gruendl? He has been on the Council for 12 years, and he is just now noticing and condemning public speech that criticizes the City? It seems as though he has been living in an alternate universe lately.
He seems particularly concerned with what Alicia, Quené, and I have been saying during Business from the Floor. He made a snarky remark to Quené at the August 20 meeting. When I called him on it during the September 3 meeting, he busted his cool and interrupted me mid-sentence to scold me, and then said, “You asked for that!”
In case any of you missed it, he also held a press conference just before the September 3 meeting to complain about people complaining. Luckily, we found out about it in time to attend. He attempted to tie our three 3-minute free speech sessions to racism, threats, and violence. We have neither engaged in, nor encouraged, any of those things.
One of his chief complaints was related to a threat made in the Chico Enterprise-Record’s “Tell it to the ER” column, having to do with heads on spikes in the downtown roundabout. We learned via a September 15 Enterprise-Record editorial that it keeps track of names and phone numbers associated with that column, which leaves us wondering whether Mayor Gruendl already knew who was responsible for the threat but needed to inflame his audience by lobbing it out there while discussing the three of us. We don’t care for violent threats either, and especially don’t appreciate being lumped together with the types of individuals who would make such graphic comments, simply as a means to discourage our truth-telling at the podium. Bad form.
What we have been doing is criticizing the City, which is specifically protected under the Brown Act:
We are former employees who paid a very dear price to stand at that podium and speak openly without fear of retaliation. If the Council takes issue with what we say, any questions or challenges should be made while we are still there and able to respond. The public has an unfettered right to speak the truth in those meetings, and the Council does not get to pre-approve what is said.
Here is a news article about the Mayor’s press conference:
Here is David Little’s editorial about “Tell it to the ER”:
As always, your comments and questions are welcome.
Truth Matters, Chico!