Category Archives: Tustin City Council
Normally, this is my day to let you in on the intricacies of Tuesday’s City Council meeting. But, as with last week’s meeting of the Planning Commission, there is not much on the agenda worth talking about. In fact, there is only one item and it is a biggie, in my opinion.
Item 9 is innocuously titled, “Amending the City’s classification and Compensation Plans and Establishing a Targeted Recruitment and Selection Process.” Surprisingly, it is exactly what it seems. Unsurprisingly, it is actually an attack on the transparency that, two weeks ago, this city council and staff supposedly embraced as desirable for its future relationship with Tustin residents.
Essentially, Tustin City Manager Jeff Parker is asking the city council to approve a resolution that would, in effect, do away with the hiring and firing rules whenever he deems it necessary or appropriate because they are just too darn cumbersome for him. If you think this is not the case, then remember that Parker recently hired his crony and former subordinate, Charles Robinson, as Deputy City Manager. At the time, we patted Parker on the back for his cost saving measures as they were couched in overall savings to the city. As it turned out, that recruitment, if you could call it that, was a sham.
With tonight’s action, Parker seeks to solidify his hold on the city by abrogating the city’s hire and fire rules with a major change in policy. The staff report on Item 9 states the city manager has, in effect, the right to hire and fire “all department heads and employees of the city”. We wouldn’t argue with that. However, what is arguable, is how candidates for employment are brought to the attention of Parker or anyone involved in the selection process.
Currently, as with most cities in Orange County, a job opening is advertised and applications are received. The human resources staff go through the applications discarding those that do not qualify for the position. Interviews and selection boards may ensue and, in the end, a short list of the most qualified individuals is produced for the department head to make a final selection. It is a good and proven process that canvasses the widest number of qualified applicants and limits cronyism and nepotism in public affairs (think Boss Tweed). It also keeps the process transparent and open for public scrutiny.
Parker seeks to change that with his, so-called, 21st Century Hiring Process. From the staff report:
The distinction between the 21st Century hiring process and a typical public sector recruitment is in the initial recruitment phase of the process. Rather than posting a job announcement on the City’s website and publishing an advertisement on a variety of websites and/or publications, a method that typically results in hundreds of applications from individuals of widely varying qualifications, the 21st Century hiring process involves direct solicitation to specific individuals and/or professional organizations to seek out prospective candidates who are believed to be highly qualified for a particular position. This type of process is commonly employed in the private sector.
Let’s take that last statement first. Although direct solicitation is common in private sector, this is public sector where the citizens served have an expectation of transparency and deserve the best candidate for any position the city has open. By his own words, Parker seeks to limit the employment pool for any job he deems necessary. He will not be required to publish job openings and will not be required to follow previously established rules for selection and hiring of anyone for any position he sees fit. That is absurd on its face and the city council should see it for the sham it is.
It is, in fact, the selection process that seems to be a problem for our good city manager. Although the report says the “21st Century hiring process” is not designed to replace the traditional recruitment process as the City’s standard operating procedure, there is nothing that will require the city manager to consult with human resources before he hires anyone, whether it is a crony or former employee. And, according to Parker, the new employee must meet all of the requirements expected of any city employee hired through a traditional recruitment process. If that’s so, then why change the rules? Surely, the process of culling hundreds of applications for the most qualified can’t be that strenuous, especially considering neither Parker nor any other department head has to do the culling.
And, that is also the point of having a human resources department, a recruiting process and a final selection process. It is the job of human resources to advertise and make initial selections of applicants for any job in the city. It gives the city the widest possible avenue of selecting the best individual for a particular job and frees managers from the mundane portions of the selection process.
It also prevents a high ranking official from feathering the city nest with his cronies and yes-men regardless of whether they are qualified or not. So, the real reason for the change?
Baby steps. It is obvious that our good city manager seeks to consolidate his power in the city through corrupt practices such as this. It remains to be seen whether the city council will see this for the obvious scam it is (and, hopefully put the CM in his place) or whether this is part of a larger plot by all concerned to remove the citizens of Tustin from the equation altogether.
In any case, this is certainly not a move toward transparency.
I am so glad the city is kind enough to videotape and publish the city council meetings so I can sit in the comfort of my own home to wade through the thicket of self-congratulatory muck. Besides, since the departure of Boss Tweed Amante and Deborah Gavello, the meetings have been decidedly dull. Nonetheless, as we recover from our accident, I felt obliged to report on Tuesday night’s meeting.
First things first. The meeting was attended by our newly crowned Miss Tustin, Shea Marie Frates, and part of her court. Mayor Al Murray presented them with a congratulatory certificate and the few in attendance gave them a round of applause. Good Luck, ladies, you may need it. Now, I admit, even the thought of Miss Tustin receiving a certificate would not get me to come to the meeting in person. But, then, neither would the rest of the meeting which was pretty run-of-the-mill.
I was glad to see Item #6, Approval of Agreement with Municipal Auditing Services, pulled. The main question I had which, apparently did not bother anyone on the council, was why this contract, potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, was not put out to bid. It seems the firm was found the usual way by a bunch of finance people discussing it at a finance officer association meeting (I can see that conversation). The contract, which is open-ended and has no renewal date, calls for MAS to get a 40% cut of profits from scofflaw business owners who do not pay their license fees on time. Claiming this was a standard fee, supposedly justifies not going out to bid.
And your city council does not seem to care about the potential for abuse of our business community by a bunch of cut-throat collection agents. Doing a bit of due diligence, it was not hard to come up with those who are not so satisfied with MAS’ collection techniques. Even Councilmember Gomez, who pulled the item for discussion, wasn’t concerned about abuse and, instead, asked simply about how far back a business would be penalized for not obtaining a license (5 years plus 3 years penalties, in case you are wondering).
None of the other Consent Calendar items I suggested to be pulled for discussion were but Councilmember John Nielsen asked that Item 8, concerning a resolution to accept dedication of property in Tustin Legacy for streets, be discussed. Could it be he is planning or has already purchased his new home? We heard that, sometime after the election, he finally stopped cohabitating with his estranged wife and was living down by the Legacy. In any case, Nielsen asked the item to be pulled due to a potential conflict. That at least adds credibility to his residency here in the city, something that more than a few of my readers have questioned.
The 5 Year Strategic Plan was next up for discussion. The city contracted with Management Partners last year to develop a 5 year strategic plan that would guide the city in all aspects of governemt. I don’t recall the cost for this report but the result was, decidedly, non-specific to Tustin. The plan is a generic document that, save for inserting the name Tustin in appropriate places, could have been purchased or plagiarized from multiple sources on the net. The glad handing and pats on the back from the councilmembers was pretty interesting to watch. Councilmember Beckie Gomez was the only one to give credit where it was due: with the executives and staff that actually helped put the report together.
Now, regardless of the resulting report, I will give then Mayor John Nielsen credit for coming up with a laudible idea for a strategic plan. Although not a new one, it was refreshing for the city of Tustin, which has been wracked by bureaucrats intent on imposing their idea of what the city should be on Tustin residents, to now add what amounts to driving instructions to the mix. Although the plan is generic in structure, it is a start. My main concern, that Mayor Al Murray brought up in his remarks, is how the city will now define the term “transparency”. To date, the city believes all they have to do to remain transparent is post a page of financial information on their website. Will they now take the word to heart or will they continue to conduct business behind the smoke and mirrors effects that have become the hallmark of city government? Time will tell whether they actually use this document as a benchmark or toss it in the trashcan when it become too difficult to follow.
An interesting presentation was made by City Attorney David Kendig during discussion of Item 12, Removal of Commissioners from Office Upon Running for City Council. It seems, we are the only ones who require the resignation of a commissioner who files papers for city council office. Kendig pointed out that, although there has been a rule regarding this and commissioner term limits since 1972, the latest rule has only been in effect since 2007.
Although Kendig outlined a variety of actions the city council could take on the matter, including one we favor that would allow a commissioner to continue serving until and if he or she is elected to the city council, his report focused on a staff recommendation that would make no changes to the current policy but provide a specific method and timeline for selecting a replacement. After a twenty minute discussion which included Councilmember Gomez complaining that the policy addresses only the Planning Commission and not other city commissions, and John Nielsen not seeing the point of removing commissioners at all, the Podiatrist Councilman was called upon to comment and utterly failed to comprehend the issue.
Then the real issue arose. Councilmember Gomez asked the question of why, since the city council no longer receives stipends, the city commissiners continue to recveive compensation. Nielsen’s lame excuse that the city council received benefits as well, so the issue is “apples and oranges”, didn’t really fly. According to him, it was a “transparency” issue and referred to the financial statements candidates are required to file as proof there are no conflicts.
Now Al Murray, who hasn’t had an original thought since he joined the city council, agreed with Nielsen regarding the financial statements and went even further to say that it was incumbent on all of them as public officials to state any conflicts of interests. Sure….except, that did not prevent any of the Three Amigos from receiving financial assistance from the Orange County Business Council or its other entities trying to pass themselves off as concerned citizens during the boys most recent bid for city council.
Gomez gained an ally after the Podiatrist Councilman woke up and figured out what everyone was talking about. But, even though he agreed that commission stipends needed a second look, his comments regarding integrity were laughable. Let’s not forget this is the guy who, during his bid for city council, posted a Facebook photo showing him on the city council dais underneath the city logo looking, for all intents and purposes, like he was a sitting councilman. Likewise, he was seen running around last year’s Chili Cookoff sporting a campaign button with the city logo on it and, underneath in small letters the disclaimer, “candidate”. In any case, he needs to go back to reading his notes so he can complete a sentence.
In the end, the vote was 4-1, with Councilmember Gomez dissenting, on a motion made by Nielsen to change the ordinance to allow commissioners continue to sit until such a time as they are actually elected to the city council.
We had hoped for some interesting stuff during the councilmember comments but were, instead, treated to a drudging monologue about the Podiatrist Councilman’s trip to various water and sewage treatment plants (At least he went back to reading off his notes rather than trying to wing it). I only got through part of it before moving on to Councilmember Gomez who is much more interesting to listen to.
It’s that time of year, again, as labor leaders line up for negotiations. Although councilmembers are scheduled to discuss the state of negotiations, I’ve been told the first meeting with labor has not taken place yet. These talks are probably to discuss what would be acceptable. In recent history, the police associations have been willing to change their pension plans for new hires and for all members to pay more into their retirement while foregoing raises. Changes to state law this year will mandate other changes for retirement. As far as raises go, all employees should be reminded the Chief received a 5% raise to make sure he doesn’t go elsewhere. Should the rank and file get the same?
There is only one Public Hearing which the city staff are asking to be continued. As we recall, this item was continued once before. Apparently, they haven’t stacked the deck enough in Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack’s mind after the Fairbanks debacle. Still no draft to peruse. We would like to see this published several days before the meeting it is to be heard at as we are sure it holds the interest of more than a few of our residents.
One thing that can be said for this city council, they certainly don’t want to be bothered with the details. The rest of the agenda, save for a couple of items, consists of the consent calendar where some of the items clearly deserve discussion if not for clarity’s sake then the sake of the residents who foot the bill. Alas, I guess this is the result of having zero stipends for the boys.
Item #4, Authorization to Sell an (Housing) Authority-Owned Affordable Home, certainly deserves open discussion. The staff report recommends allowing the Authority Director to set the price and conduct closed session meetings with proposed buyers “in order to receive Commission approval” for the sale. Fine, except the public will not know any of the details of the purchase until after the fact. That includes the purchase price and proposed buyer. Surely, this should be public knowledge so we will know what we are getting and to insure the buyer is truly qualified. Apparently, the city seems to think the purchase and sale of publicly owned property should automatically be conducted behind closed doors. In this case, we think it should be in public view.
Item #6, an Agreement with Municipal Auditing Services and Approval of Resolution 13-13 should also be up for discussion. The proposed resolution would turn over public records of business licensees to a private firm (we call this outsourcing) for collection activities. According to the description, MAS would be allowed to perform collections of delinquent business licenses, audit current business licenses, and “engage in the discovery of unlicensed businesses.”
According to the staff report, the business license division consists of one employee. Rather than add staff, the city suggests outsourcing the investigation of businesses to make sure they obtain a license prior to doing business in the city. The target for these investigations is, obstensibly, the millions of dollars in lost license fees the city incurs when transient businesses such as plumbers and delivery services transact business within city limits. So, rather than rely on the past practice of concerned citizens calling in reports on errant businesses, the city has decided to hand this task over to a private collection agency at a whopping 40% commission fee. It should be noted that at least one business takes issue with their alleged witch hunt activities. Perhaps the staff should do a bit more research themselves before contracting with this company. Oh, and what happened to our RFP process. If this is a valuable contract, isn’t the city required to publish an RFP?
We have a better idea.
How about saving the commission and assigning this task to Code Enforcement officers. Tustin PD patrol could also be on the lookout for suspicious plumbers and convey that information to Code Enforcement as well. If the task is too great to assign to code enforcement, perhaps they should rethink the additional staff. Laughably, the staff report says the reason staff want to outsource this is to maintain Tustin’s “business friendly” atmosphere by insuring all businesses are correctly taxed. I doubt using a collection agency with the authority to conduct witch hunts using city resources will convey that positive feeling. The city council should send this proposal back to the drawing board.
Item #11, City of Tustin Strategic Plan 2013-2018, has been an on-again, off-again project of the city council. Discussion of this plan has taken up way to much time cosidering there is nothing new at all in this. One has to wonder if the city council actually paid for this plan considering it appears to be a template of dozens of plans of other cities and companies across the country. And, as with most strategic plans of this type, it is mostly a feel-good piece of publicity that does not address the core of issues related to the city. Although Management Partners, the true authors of the plan, did their research, they found severe issues with the city’s operations citing alienation of the school district and civility of the city council along with poor succssion planning as examples of what the city lacks. The proposed strategic plan simply says they will fix those things by being better. It should be interesting to see how fast this gets swept under the carpet after approval (Oh, come on, you know they will approve it).
Conference with Legal Counsel 2 each Initiation and Exposure to Litigation
Public Employee Performance Evaluation City Manager, Jeff Parker and City Attorney, David Kendig. We remind the City Council that any proposal for raises for Parker or change in services for Kendig require public discussion.
Labor Negotiations – All Public Employee Unions and Non-represented employees.
Conference With Real Property Negotiators – Three properties on Tustin Legacy MCAS property.
Ordinance to Amend Hearing Officer Guidelines – Postponed to Aporil 16th City Council Meeting.
Authorization to Sell Affordable Home - Located at 14554 Newport Ave., #3 by the Housing Authority Commission.
Second Amendment to Rental Agreement – Warehouse building used by National Office Liquidators to increase the amount of space rented at market price.
Approval of Agreement With Municipal Auditing Services - To provide collection services for business licenses.
Approve Agreement For Information Technologies Services Network Migration Project- Funding was appropriated to upgrade the computer and telephone system in City Hall.
Regular Business Items
City of Tustin Strategic Plan- Approve Strategic Plan developed by Management Partners. Plan durations 2013-2018.
Removal of Commissioners From Office Upon Running For City Council – Directs staff to devise a proposal for resignatin/removal of commissioners and timetable for their replacement.
My apologies for not staying up to date for the past week. I am still recovering from inuries sustained in a traffic accident. The plastic surgeon did a great job (I look just like Sean Connery) and I have the firefighters at Station 21 as well as the accident investigators and motor officers of Tustin PD to thank for their timely response. As I am on the mend, I’ll get back into the swing of things.
The Tustin City Council faces their longest and probably busiest agenda of the year so far. Let’s just hope the Podiatrist Councilman can keep up without an iPad.
Rather than the usual closed session preceding the regular meeting, the council will hold a special meeting at 4:30 pm to interview candidates for three open seats on the Planning Commission. Election and appointments will also be conducted.
I just spoke with the city clerks office who informed me that 18 candidates have filed for the three open seats. All the commissioners whose seats are up have filed for reappointment. In order to allow enough time for interviews, the city pushed back the interviews for the other commissions to late in March. Let’s hope 2 hours is enough time.
Although the incumbents are heavily favored in this match, the city council could decide to bring in fresh faces that are not aligned with the old guard. It is the current commission sans Chuck Puckett which, amidst local opposition, approved a heavily modified CUP for the Wilcox Manor. That modified CUP was appealed directly to the city council where a number of councilmen have admitted conflict of interest. This lack of the planning commission to handle their own issues is, to our mind, an excellent reason to choose new blood.
The Regular Meeting of the Tustin City Council will commence at 7:00 pm beginning with presentations and pubic hearings.
The Public Hearing concerns the annual evaluation and acceptance of the Action Plan for the Community Development Block Grant prepared by staff. At stake is $590,000 in funding. No action is expected on the item other than to hear testimony from interested parties.
A major issue sure to come up is the us of the Tustin Community Foundation as the manager of the CDBG funds. Erin Nielsen, director of the Tustin Community Foundation, is the wife of Councilmember John Nielsen. Nielsen earlier this year recused himself from discussion on the Wilcox Manor CUP referencing his relationship to TCF and their fundraising activities at the Wilcox. Erin Nielsen, for her part, receives about $32,000 a year according to court documents. When we reported on this conflict last year, there were conflicting statements made by the city and the TCF concerning their exact role in the management of these funds. When we accused the parties of collusion, TCF issued a curt statement in their newsletter saying they do not “manage” the funds. That was sort of backed up by Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack, who said the purpose of having two hearings was to give those who did not qualify the first time around, another chance for a slice of the pie. As we stated then, however, we found it hard to believe the TCF wasn’t in fact, the manager of the funds.
Add to this a whole slew of conflicts of interest. While the relationship of the Nielsen’s is enough, Mayor pro tem, Chuck Puckett, is a past president of the TCF Board. And, Planning Commissioner Steve Kozak, who has applied for re-appointment to the commission, is a current member of the board. Who else? How about Linburgh McPherson, co-owner of the Wilcox who is currently listed as their Vice-president, Resource Development, a catchy title for the chief fundraiser.
In any case, if the city council really wants to show they no longer favor the TCF arrangement (and, why should they since our two protagonists are reportedly divorcing) they could return to the previous process of having a Citizens Participation Committee to handle administration of the funds. The council may well take a different direction considering the staff report makes no mention of TCF.
Although councilmembers may wish to pull items from the Consent Calendar, most items appear to be routine or, at the least, have funding attached. The synchronization of signals on First Street/Bolsa Avenue is a multi-jurisdictional project requiring funding from all participants. Tustin’s part is $42,000 and, if it helps traffic flow, is well worth it.
Perhaps Mayor Al Murray will pull Item 9, an agreement to transfer ownership of Ari, one of Tustin’s police canines if only to give him proper recognition for his retirement. He has served the TPD for over 6 years and I am sure his service will be missed. His current handler, Officer Eric Kent, will take possession and provide him a great home with, what we hear, a couple of other family dogs. Good luck in retirement, Ari. TPD’s newest canine, Elko, will have big shoes….uh, paws to fill.
We are not sure if the Community Development Department is trying to pull (another) fast one with Item 10. They bring up some “minor” changes to the guidelines for hearing officers for administrative citations. We approach this with natural suspicion since things have gone mostly south for Binsack and her crew after the Fairbanks prevailed in their property rights case. And, it is always suspicious when staff are unwilling to show you the draft. So, why even bring the issue up? There is little doubt the city wishes to stack the deck in their favor for future administrative hearings. Keep your eyes peeled for this one.
Item 11, on the Regular Business Agenda, a request for travel by the Podiatrist Councilman, bears discussion. The Association of California Cities-Orange County, a renegade association created by local entities for what they saw as a lack of interest in Orange County’s problems by a larger state organization, is sending a joint delegation with the Orange County Business Council (who donated to Bernstein and his two councilmen buddies) on a political junket to Sacramento. We would have an issue with this type of travel anytime the city is facing budget shortfalls as it currently is. But, as luck would have it, Mayor Al Murray is also attending on OCTA’s dime, making this an absolutely unnecessary for crony Bernstein on the Tustin taxpayer dollar. Why do we need two delegates attending this junket? Or, as it is a joint endeavor by ACCOC and OCBC, why isn’t OCBC, who will surely benefit the most from the meeting, footing the bill? All of this when the city council delves into reserves to balance the budget. We got rid of city council pay but other perks still remain. I bet you they won’t be staying at the Best Western or eating at McDonalds.
Item 12 should be of particular interest to folks living or thinking of living in the Legacy. This item, without apparent need of approval from residents, creates another Community Facilities District to levy more taxes on homeowners who choose to buy in the area. Mello-Roos has been the favored method of obtaining funding for infrastructure for the MCAS property and has been the subject of much argument as to whether folks are getting their money’s worth for taxes paid.
As we said before the Closed session, with the usual suspects, will come after the Regular Session to facilitate the Planning Commission interviews. The main item of interest is the commencement of labor negotiations for all line staff and public safety employee unions.
Public Hearing Items
Community Development Block Grant Subrecipients Performance Evaluation and Potential Reallocation of Funds
Approve Plans and Specifications re: Roadway and Sidewalk Repair – The annual plan for the repair of roads and sidewalks within city limits. Authorizes City Clerk to advertise for bids.
Approve First Street/Bolsa Avenue Sginal Synchronization – Authorizes agreement with OCTA and several cities plus expenditure of $42,000 for Tustin’s share of project.
Agreement to Transfer Ownership of Police Canine Ari – Caretaker Officer to pay the city $1 for transfer.
Request for Travel Approval – To allow Councilmember Bernstein funding for travel to Sacramento for ACCOC/OCBC joint junket.
Approve Creation of Community Facilities District 13-01 – Authorizes city manager to petition for creation of CFD on parts of Tustin Legacy property.
Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance No. 1426 – Approves Specific Plan Amendment 2012-002 re minor text amendments of the MCAS Tustin Specific Plan.
Conference with Legal Counsel – two each, initiation and exposure to litigation.
Labor Negotiations – TMEA, TPMA, TPOA, TPSSA and unrepresented employees.