As expected, much of the evening at city hall last night was spent fawning over a couple of former planning commissioners who, we presume, are moving on to greener pastures. Both Ken Eckman and Fred Moore a couple of the only paid gigs in city service as they either termed out or decided on their own to move on.
The rest of the evening was spent with the commissioners hearing themselves talk, congratulate staff for the great job they always do and repeat nearly everything said in the various presentations.Unfortunately for them there were not many folks in the audience this time around as no one really cares if the staff want a berm to protect the street view aesthetics in front of a new Starbucks.
Speaking of, however, one of our newest commissioners, Ryder Smith (oh, I’m going to have fun with that name over the next two years), brought up a very good concern about the proposed drive-thru Starbucks at the new hotels.
His concern was over the traffic coming South on Newport in front of the complex heading to the freeway on-ramp. “If anything, it’s potentially a near term risk for this development during the 3 to 6 o’clock traffic because it backs up along that street..” He went on to say that he did not know how the installation of a traffic signal will affect the situation.
We, of course, brought up the same concern in our last post. There really did not seem to be much discussion on the issue as the staff, seeing sale tax revenue before their eyes, quickly blew it off and there was no more discussion before the vote. Smith seemed to think it was outside the purview of the Planning Commission. Really? If the Planning Commission can’t discuss this or bring their concerns to staff, why are they meeting, Ryder? We’ll chalk it off to his being a newbie but hope he mans up in the future.
Most of the rest of the evening was spent discussing the General Plan Amendment for the MCAS that would include an agreement for a new street to accommodate the college district. The new street generated some discussion by Jeff Thompson on the increase in traffic caused by the addition of a new backbone street. Staff scrambled to allay the fear of the commissioners over the 10,000 trips that would be generated in the area. After listening to the discussion, I am not sure why there was no opposition from the folks who live in the Legacy over the number of trips. In any case, staff appeared to satisfy the Thompson’s concerns over this and the land use as a whole as he, along with the other kids voted to approve.
At the close of the meeting, Elizabeth Binsack announced there may be a tour before the next regular meeting and that it would be properly noticed. At one time, I was invited by the city’s former public information officer, Lisa Woolery, to sit on the bus with them. That was, of course, before we had our falling out and before Lisa, who has since taken a job with Wells Fargo, had her falling out with the city. Perhaps Elizabeth will extend the same courtesy. I promise to be nice.
It’s good to be back in SoCal. We spent a long weekend in the gold country last week for a convention and apologize for the lack of articles. It has been a busy week around the nation and locally as well. We’ll try to catch up on things this week.
Locally, the Tustin Planning Commission will begin the evening with a workshop beginning at 6 pm. According to the agenda, the “Housing Element” is intended to provide various updates and input to the Housing Element including an update schedule and discussion of public participation. It’s interesting neither a staff report or copy of the presentation is attached to the workshop agenda. It is, however, supposed to be available at the Community Development Department during business hours.
On the regular meeting agenda, beginning at 7 pm, there are three public hearings. Prior to that, however, the boys have to hand off proclamations and certificates of appreciation to former commissioners Ken Eckman and Fred Moore. We join the rest of the commissioners in saying thanks and so long. Both Moore and Eckman are Amante holdovers and it is probably just as well they move on. In the grand scheme of things, they neither helped nor hindered progress in our fair city. Both of them readily caved on the most important issue of the past year, the Wilcox Manor debacle. So, the loss of their expertise is no big loss.
At first glance, I thought the first Public Hearing item was a repeat of the April 9th hearing on a fitness gym on Chambers Road. A second glance made me realize this is another fitness gym intending to do business in the same area. This particular business has actually been around awhile but they are looking to expand into a larger location. The location under consideration already houses another fitness type of business so this should pretty much be a no-brainer for the commissioners. The only question is, how long will we have to hear these folks talk to themselves over petty issues regarding the project that they will, undoubtedly, approve.
The second Public Hearing of the evening is for a Conditional Use Permit for a Starbucks that will be located in the complex with the new Marriott and Fairfield Inn hotels behind Microcenter and adjacent to the freeway. The Starbucks will have a drive-thru and they are also asking for modifications to the signage. Issues of concern seem to be the aesthetics of the drive-thru which will be located on the front side of the building facing Newport Avenue. The staff feel the addition of a berm with shrubs will hide the cars (as if anyone wold really care) from the street view. My concern would be that the planned que only holds 12 cars. Does staff really think that is enough for a rush hour at Starbucks? I seriously wonder how many of the staff drink coffee? I foresee cars lined up on Newport to get in the place. Seriously, this should not be a factor in determining whether the use should be allowed. It fits with the retail aspect of the overall project and, if a bush or two allays the staff concerns then approval is in order.
The final Public Hearing is on General Plan Amendment 2013-001. It seems the South Coast Community College District would like to add a new local street on their part of the MCAS property. It would also make substantial changes to the plan by allowing private, non-educational uses and increasing allowable building square footages in the Education Village. A land exchange is also in the works. The considered work was enough to cause the city to prepare an addendum to the Environmental Impact Report.
So, there you have it. Not a whole lot to pique our interest but enough to keep the band of brothers busy for a couple of hours as they justify their stipends. Maybe the crew can get the new fitness folks to give them a few freebies. I see more than one pot belly peeking out from the dais.
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.
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.