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.
There’s not much to get excited about on the Tustin City Council agenda this week. It is nice to see an agenda without the usual City of Tustin v. TUSD closed session item. In fact, there are no current lawsuits listed for discussion and only the usual two each, initiation and exposure to, litigation. There are also two liability claims (precursors to lawsuits) under consideration.
One item on the Closed Session Agenda does deserve scrutiny, the performance evaluation of the City Attorney, David Kendig. Since taking over from predecessor Doug Holland, Kendig has displayed less than stellar performance, in our view. Both lawyers hail from the Law Office of Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart which has handled the city’s legal affairs since 1995. At one time, we lauded the city for continuing to use the firm for legal guidance, particularly with Holland as the chief representative. We had high hopes for Kendig but he has proven that he is more of a panderer than an attorney. He quickly aligned himself with the right side of the dais and has since become entrenched. He has given questionable advice and, in some cases, has blatantly attempted to mask wrongdoing on the dais with opinion that doesn’t come close to proper legal advice.
That said, we have a few new/old faces on the council who, hopefully, will take a focused look at this attorney’s off-track decisions. Continued use of Kendig should go against the grain of each councilmember who ran on an open-government-transparency ticket in the last election. In fact, it is perhaps time to take a look at the contract law office as a whole.
There is at least one item on the Consent Calendar that should be discussed openly before the city council. City staff are recommending that Notices of Completion for capital improvement projects be allowed to be filed “administratively”. This means the city council would not necessarily be aware that projects have been completed. While staff call this “streamlining”, we would call it an improper delegation of authority by the city council who should be kept apprised of the status of all projects involving city funds. We recommend the city council pull this item for discussion and vote.
Other than these items, it should be a pretty easy meeting for the city council. That will give the three amigos more time at their favorite watering hole after the meeting.
Conference with Legal Council – Two each, exposure to and initiation of litigation.
Public Employment- Performance Evaluations of the City Manager and the City Attorney.
Liability Claims- Consideration of claims of Carlos Cortez and Gresel Montes.
Conference with Real Property Negotiators- 3 items, all on the MCAS property.
Specific Pan Amendment – 2012-02 MCAS Tustin Specific Plan – The 9th or so amendment to make what appears to be minor changes in language and items of the plan for clarification.
Adopt Resolution Ordering Preparation of Engineer’s Report- Tustin Landscape and Lighting District levy of annual assessments for FY2013-2014 – Tustin Ranch.
Adopt Resolution Authorizing Director of Public Works or City Engineer- to accept capital improvement projects and complete and file Notices of Completion.
Terminate Contract for Annual Catch Basin Insert Cleaning- The contracted company has given a notice they have gone out of business. This is an interim measure until a new RFP can be advertised.
Office Lease Extension- Successor Agency offices located at 245 Centennial Way. Perhaps we should look at eliminating an unnecessary expense and bringing these staff back to city hall.
Urban Area Security Initiative Grant- A portion of $3.6 million dollars is available for response to acts of terrorism. This is the annual re-authorization of the Chief of Police as the official representative for the UASI Grant.
It’s nice to know somebody reads my blog once in awhile. While watching Tuesday’s Tustin City Council meeting, I learned that our City Manager, Jeff Parker, has enough time on his hands to at least occasionally peruse my stuff. How do I know this? Hmmm…. it was probably the comment he made as he addressed the city council about an item on the agenda.
Item 8, on the consent calendar, had to do with amending the city’s classification and compensation plans to incorporate some class name changes and the addition of a few new classifications. Now, you have to understand, I am still running on Amantetime. So, it was natural for me to question the validity of this and what the city manager was up to. I mean, I had already discovered he could hire (and we presume fire) a deputy city manager without permission. When I had asked the human resources about their procedures, I found out there really weren’t any and City Manager Jeff Parker could pretty much do what he wanted. There was one little slip in the fact that the position, Deputy City Manager, did not exist at the time (yeah, there was an Assistant City Manager but that’s not the same as I later found out). The hire date of just before the end of the year seemed peculiar since, when asked, I was assured there was no difference in compensation. I still think there was a reason, but I have yet to figure it out.
With this item on classification though, I just knew I had them. And when Parker said he pulled the item for discussion because, “recently, there’s been some articles about the item,” (that would be here) I knew I was on to something. That feeling was reinforced as Parker went on to say how all of this was in line with addressing budget issues. He spoke about how, overall, these actions would save the city an immediate $450,000, give or take. After appropriate questions by Councilmember Gomez, the matter was voted in and Parker had another pat on the back.
I wasn’t buying it. I was sure I would dig up some cronyism or nepotism or some other type of ism somewhere. So, I decided to go straight to the horse and hear him try to squirm out of it. Emailing Jeff Parker myself, I asked him several questions regarding the changes. Sure, he might be encompassing an overall savings but at what price? Were the new classifications receiving more as individuals? Would there be a spate of employees who formerly worked for the good CM at another city coming to roost in Tustin? It is a fact that, when the news is potentially embarassing from the city, it takes ten days to get the information; when it is good news, I get a phone call or email the same day.
So, I got an email from Parker a few hours after I sent the request assuring me there was no subterfuge. In fact, the change from Assistant City Manager to Deputy City Manager netted a savings of $41,000 with an additional downgrade of responsibility Jeff told me, “The DCM serves like a Department head as opposed to being the number 2 in the organization.”
Likewise, he related, changing the communications manager to a management analyst would result in a $34,000 cut and downgrading the HR position to a manager from a director add another $35k in savings. The only upswing were the two Deputy Public Works positions that now top out several thousand dollars above the abolished positions. Oh well. The tradeoff was two new positions for four old ones.
Overall, Jeff assured me the savings to the city would be $370,000 with an additional savings in benefits of $80,000. Not bad for a day’s work.
It is not often we get to pat someone from the city on the back. In this case, Al Murray’s “Good job” was well deserved. Although we still have our doubts about the PARS retirement package, we do appreciate when the city manager discharges his duties in a responsible manner. More and more he is showing us that he is capable of running the city in spite of the city council’s efforts to the contrary.
That said, there are a few items of interest on the calendar including closed session items that relate to the sale of several parcels of MCAS property. Item 12 on the Open Session Calendar also concerns Tustin Legacy as a request for extension for negotiations is considered.
Item 6 on the Consent Calendar is a request to adjust lot lines in Tustin Marketplace to accommodate a new restaurant. It is not much concern unless you eat at In-n-Out, in which case you’ll be happy to know the adjustment will provide a longer drive-through lineup.
Item 8 should be pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion. Remember PARS? That was the early retirement plan the city council approved last year that was supposed to save the city big bucks by giving an incentive to employees to retire early. Besides the cost of the retirement of 43 personnel, the idea was to eliminate and restructure staff to bring on further savings. We wonder, then, how they can justify employee raises and the addition of new executive employees, in this case a Deputy City Manager, as a cost saving measure. A new classification of Principal Management Analyst is also being considered at a cost of $107 thousand dollars a year.
It looks like everyone gets a bump in salary as new classifications come into play in Human Resources with a Human Resources Manager ($117,200 p/yr), and three new classifications in the Public Works Department which will gain a Deputy Director of Public Works – Engineering (141,000 p/yr), a Deputy Director Public Works – Operations ($135,600 p/yr), and a reward….er, modification to the Water Services Manager salary (129,840 p/yr). One has to wonder where the savings will be from.
The Open Session Calendar has a few interesting items as well as both the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for last year and the Mid-Year Budget Review are both up for discussion.
The CAFR holds no real surprises other than the city attempting to justify spending of reserves due to the overall decrease in revenue from the demise of Redevelopment Agencies. The auditor does report two “material mistatements” regarding the dissolution of the redevelopment agency. They also recommend the adoption of a formal purchasing policy. The CAFR does show economic recovery in our fair city in the form of sales tax increase of the previous year. That trend should continue. I’m no accountant and won’t provide any analysis but, if you want to see it for yourself, you can find it here.
The Mid-year Budget Review is not looking so rosy. There are a total of nine requests to pull money from city funds to pay off unforeseen costs on projects. This includes seven appropriations from various reserve funds for a total of $626,798. We wonder how Team Tustin, who ran on fiscal conservancy, will justify the additional expenditures from reserves. On the bright side, the city reports an increase of $1.5 million in sales tax over what was projected. Let’s see if that pans out. According to the report, the General Fund Balance Reserve will still be above the minimum %20.
Conference with Legal Counsel, Initiation and Exposure to Litigation, 2 each.
Liability Claim – Andrew Cawood, Claim No. 12-31
Conference with Real Property Negotiators – O.C. Propertiy Co., Standard Pacific Homes, Regency Centers, various parcels on Tustin Legacy
Item 3 – Quarterly Investment Report – the City of Tustin and the Successor Agency for the Tustin Community Redevelopment
Item 6 – Adopt Resolution No. 13-02 – Approve lot line adjustment No. 2012-03 Bonefish Restaurant & In-n-Out Burgers
Item 7 – Approval of Plans and Specifications – Authorize advertisement for bids for park playground equipment and installation at Cedar Grove Park
Item 8 Amend the City’s Classification and Compensation Plans – Reflects new classifications and raises for other positions
Regular Business Items
Item 9 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report 2011-2012
Item 10 Fiscal Year 2012-2013 Mid-year Budget Review – Appropriation of additional reserve funds and funds from the CFD for bond debt service
Item 11 Resignation of Commissioners Upon Running for City Council – Discussion of the requirement of all city commissioners filing papers to run for city council to resign their commission seats. Council could also discuss any change in the ordinance for future elections. The recommended action would have the city attorney prepare a resolution to clarify timing of replacement procedures.
The last item could be host to an interesting discussion. Concilman Chuck Puckett was requiired to resign last year upon filing his papers for the city council election. Could this indicate a change in attitude?