Everyone here at OTT would like to wish the United States Air Force a Happy 64th Birthday. The Air Force was quite young when I joined during Vietnam. Like my father and mother, who joined when it was still called the Army Air Force, I have great pride in America’s newest branch of the armed forces. They have led the way in technology, airborne weaponry and there would be no space program if it was not for the proud members of the Air Force team. So, if you are a veteran or a current member, thank you for your service. Go Air Force!
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As if one lawsuit is not enough between the City of Tustin and the Tustin Unified School District, Jerry and His Kids are at it again. This time it is over a new elementary school located on the old former Tustin Marine Base.
The Heritage Elementary School was built specifically for new housing developments on the former marine base and was scheduled to open this fall. However, as the Orange County Register reported last month, there are only 78 students for the new school. That prompted TUSD officials to temporarily redesignate the school as a continuation high school, along with some support and special education offices. The low number of students, due mostly to the economic downturn, is apparently not a good enough reason for Amante. Calling it a “classic bait and switch” tactic, he has persuaded the council to pursue another lawsuit against the district.
To be fair, the Tustin City Council may have a legitimate complaint. Noting that special taxes were collected from the homeowners in the Columbus Square section of the base, they say the district should keep its word and open the elementary school as planned. TUSD argues that the school cannot be sustained with 78 students amd that the city has not kept its part of the bargain by properly developing housing in the area. Caught in-between are the parents and students living in the area who expected to have a school nearby for their children to attend.
The issue goes a lot deeper. The feud between Tustin and TUSD goes back to last year when the city council, led by Amante, demanded grading permits and other oversight for the new high school the district is building. That prompted a lawsuit by the district, which believes that they are a sovereign entity of the state and are not required to come under the purview of the city. This lawsuit is a double whammy to the pocketbook of the taxpayers. The cost so far is almost one million dollars and will surely pass that mark before the lawsuit is heard. It is interesting to note that councilmember Gavello is against the original lawsuit and appears, if not against the permitting process, to be asking both sides to come together without further cost to either side (which, as taxpayer, there is only one side).
But, hold on a minute.
At the closed session of the city council meeting on August 2nd, the city attorney reported that the council unanimously voted to sustain a lawsuit against TUSD over the Heritage School issue. Why? When one considers all of the issues, why would Gavello now choose to go forward in a new lawsuit against the district? Although the issues are different, the cost of initiating a lawsuit, with the potential for another million dollars to be spent out of pocket would seem to be a good argument for trying some type of mediation or arbitration before going full bore into suing the district again. We have an email in to Gavello. we’ll let you know what, if anything, she has to say.
So now, here the city is, gearing up for another lawsuit with the district. The city is spending more and more taxpayer money and staff time suing the district and not getting input from the citizens of Tustin who are affected by these actions. Add to this, the recent decision by the city to act as master developer for the former base rather than try to look for another master developer with expertise in the field. Apprently, Jerry feels his extensive real estate experience can be used to the city’s advantage. Is it any wonder Jerry has a recall action against him?
Ooops. Sorry. Not much going on this week around Tustin. That is probably because Jerry and the Kids are on Hiatus for a few weeks. There sure has been much going on around us, though. My blog mentor told me I should post regularly so here we go.
Our friends over at the A Bubbling Cauldron blog have been up in arms over the antics of their mayor and his cronies on the dais. Mayor pro tem Jim Righeimer has been busy trampling the local public employees union over missing campaign signs, intimidation of teenage athletes and “gun-toting” private investigators. We don’t know where he got the gun-toting part from. Jennifer Muir, spokesperson for OCEA and CMEA, while readily stating reasons for having a private investigator look into the missing signs, adamantly denied the investigator was armed with anything more dangerous than a pen and notepad. Knowing OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino’s aversion to guns, we don’t doubt Jennifer in the least. In fact, there was probably a “no guns” clause in his contract.
Does any of this sound familiar? Costa Mesa has three hard-right, ultraconservative council members who march in lockstep to rule the city, largely without the public’s input (unless you count the chamber of commerce as the public). They have a blowhard mayor that berates citizens and their very own yes man. I watched a 30 second clip on the Cauldron that showed Righeimer spewing lies about the local public employees union. These are, by the way, the same folks who refuse to take any responsibility for the death of Costa Mesa employee Huy Pham. Some of this makes our city look like a quiet hamlet.
Of course, we know that is not true.
Mayor Jerry Amante, his right arm, John Nielsen and his very own gun-toting enforcer, Al Murray, have been blasting the citizens of Tustin because he, apparently, doesn’t think we know what is good for us. Time after time, Amante has been seen ranting from the dais at citizens who oppose his point of view. The division between citizen and elected official has gotten so bad that a recall effort has been mounted. Last weekend, they were out in force obtaining signatures around the city.
Although we were originally not enthused with the recall idea, we have since changed our minds. The recall effort was borne of a frustration with the egotistical majority on the council and their waste of tax dollars. Their efforts to minimize citizen input as well as the lawsuit between the city and TUSD has given many cause to think about how much longer we can afford this mayor. Amante is quick to point out that the recall effort, if successful, will cost the city over $150,000. He, of course, does not mind spending your tax dollar to defend an indefensible and senseless lawsuit brought out of neccessity by TUSD. That lawsuit, by the way, is costing the Tustin taxpayer on both ends. Legal fees have more than tripled for the city, largely due to Amante’s controlling attitude and, it seems, outright hatred for TUSD board members. We are looking for an update on the Recall Amante effort but the website has not been updated in the past week. Sherri?
Tustin is looking for a new city manager and they want your help. Monday we got a Tweet from the City of Tustin saying that they are looking for citizen input for the qualities they would like to see in a city manager. The Tweet referred us to the city page and then on to a survey they had set up. It asks two simple questions: 1. What leadership qualities and characteristics are most important for Tustin to look for in selecting a new City Manager; 2. What priorities would you like the new City Manager to address during his/her first year on the job?
While we appreciate the opportunity to be able to have some input into the hiring process, the process itself remains hidden behind closed doors. At this point, there will be no open discussion of candidates at special or city council meetings. There will be no guarantee that the survey is not just a smoke and mirrors trick to fool the public into thinking that Boss Tweed Amante and his henchmen Nielsen and Murray are being open about the process. In other words, what is to stop the council and its committee, of which Nielsen is a member, from just hiring whomever they please? In the charged atmosphere that has become the City Council chambers this is a serious question.
This is probably one of the most important issues facing the city. The City Manager runs the city on a day-to-day basis. Although major issue may go before the City Council, many decisions are made by the CM that affect the lives of each and every one of us without Council concern or knowledge. This is as it should be. But, that makes it all the more important that the City Council hire the right person for the job. And, this council does not have a good track record for doing that.
For nearly 30 years, Bill Huston was City Manager.By all accounts, he was a skilled and able manager who was well-liked by the staff and the citizens of Tustin in general. He retired in July 2010 and a new City Manager, David Biggs was hired to replace him. Biggs was also an experienced manager, coming from Redondo Beach where he was the Assistant City Manger. Redondo Beach is about the size of Tustin, although the business and residential makeup is a bit different. Still, it seemed a good fit and everyone seemed happy with Biggs. That is, until March of this year when, without much warning, the City Council decided to terminate Biggs’ contract, with Mayor Amante saying that the relationship between the City Council and the city manager had been unsatisfactory. No further comment, no other reason given. Suddenly, a City Manger who beat out over 50 other candidates for the job and who had extensive experience running a city our size, was out of a job. And, we were without a City Manager. That is, until the city council decided to rehire former manager and recent retiree, Bill Huston. Well, all is calm in the realm, at least temporarily. But, did anyone notice the salary the new/old manager was going to be paid? Quick calculations have it come out to $343,200 per year. That’s a whopping $93,000 more than what Biggs was making for the same position.
To be fair, Huston is only working part-time. But, that is because he has to. He cannot take a full-time government position without affecting his retirement. He says he will only work 25-27 hours a week and, at $165 an hour, that would amount to nearly as much as Biggs was making full-time. There is no mention of a car allowance or health benefits. In a statement to the OC Register, Huston stated that he would be working 2 days a week in the office and the rest would be spent at home answering phone calls and emails. That is about as part-time as you can get. Did he get a city vehicle to drive back and forth to work those two days? Did he get enhance health benefits or other perks for coming back? Who knows?
This takes us back to the present. And, we have an idea that would further the Council’s efforts to be open about the hiring process and allow the council majority to mend some fences. How about, after the committee culls the candidates down from that 6-10 they hope to get, to a manageable “final four”, they open the interview process to the public? We are not saying question and answer time, although that would be a great option. Just open the entire interview, at least the final interviews, to the public so we can see what we are getting. That way, when Boss Tweed Amante wants to fire another City Manager without warning, we will know it was just a personality clash.