With 25 meetings, including those very special meetings where the public was not invited, the Tustin City Council is on the verge of calling it a wrap. I was about to bet my readers they would not hold a final meeting on December 18th but history shows this is the meeting they slap each other on the back for a job well done and pick each other (or mostly so) for mayor and mayor pro tem.
In the meantime, this week’s agenda starts off with the usual Closed Session Items. We notice that they have not apparently made much progress on any of these, particularly the issue with the Army Reserve Center swap that was a feature item in Regular Business exactly one year ago. At that time, the Army made it clear they were not interested in a swap and were quite happy with what they had. I guess everyone has their price. The city just hasn’t hit theirs yet.
Regular Business will start off with The American Legion Post 227 posting the colors. Their Color Guard, by the way, has won awards at The American Legion State Conventions in the past.
Under Public Hearing Items, the city will have the second reading and adoption of State Buildling Codes, a procedure that is mostly formality. As the city was having problems (again) with posting the video of the last meeting, I’m not sure if anyone even bothered to show up for this. In any case, staffers recommend passage.
The second item, is a routine funding for COPS. $100,000 is slated to be received by the department. No real changes to how the department intends to use the money for a Crime Analyst position and related software. Except for complaints by former councilmembers, most of us think the police department does a pretty good job of allocating resources where they are most needed.
Under Regular Business, the council will be asked to approve an amendment to the classification and compensation plans to award the Director of Finance, Pamela Arends-King, a whopping $8,000 raise for essentially doing what she has always done, manage the finances of the city. The staff are correct in their report that it will save the city money. But, considering the Finance Director was already probably checking the previous Treasurer’s work, did she really rate a raise, particularly when every other line staff took it in the short end during contract negotiations?
After the fiasco caused by the city’s use of a shady collection agency to catch business license scofflaws, the staff have come up with a proposed ordinance to exempt real estate agents from obtaining business licenses. The recommendation is to pass the ordinance on a single reading and be done with it. I guess they are hoping to sweep the whole issue under the rug.
The final issue at hand for our busy city council is to select the new mayor and mayor pro tem for the coming year. As usual, I have no doubt this years selections have been made and they do not include the sole female on the dais. That’s a shame because, out of all of the bodies on the city council, Beckie Gomez has proven to be the most level headed among the crew. But, intelligence and experience have no bearing here. The most likely candidate for Mayor is, of course, Chuck Puckett. Chuck has the experience although we suspect he will be about as effective as the current mayor in conducting city business to the betterment of our residents. At least Chuck returns our phone calls.
What we really have to worry about is that they will make the Podiatrist Councilman the
Podiatrist Mayor pro tem. That would leave him as heir-apparent next year. That is a scary thought…
We didn’t bother to post the agenda for the Planning Commission last week due to its brevity and lack of interest. The only item of note was an item on AT&T utility cabinets for servicing their U-Verse internet and cable-like system. It seems the city’s resolution of their video issues was short-lived as, a week later, the video is not up so we can’t report on the outcome. We’ll keep you posted.
Tuesday’s Tustin City Council meeting should be a bit more interesting with several items of interest, both on the Consent Calendar as well as the Regular Business Items.
Not much on the Closed Session for the City Attorney to report on even if there is any movement. There is one new item listed as existing litigation regarding the estate of an individual and the police department.
Police had previously declined to discuss the case publicly, stating potential litigation as the reason. TPD did have an encounter with the young man, nineteen year old Paul Quintanar, prior to the accident that took his life. No one has been charged in the incident.
There are also several continuing negotiations concerning MCAS property and swaps with both the TUSD and the US Army Reserve.
The Regular Meeting Agenda is headed by three presentations including one for outgoing Audit Commissioner Richard Hilde.
One glaring item on the Consent Calendar that may be pulled for discussion is Item 4, City Option to Retain or Delegate Authority for Award of Ambulance Contract. Currently, the city retains the authority and, judging from the issues the county is having with its ambulance services, it sounds like it might be a good idea for the city to retain that authority rather than delegate it to the County. The staff report indicates city staff feel the same way.
We’re not sure if Item 5, AB109 MOU on Realignement which would authorize a bank of overtime cash is just for purposes of obtaining what OC Supervisor Janet Nguyen calls, “free money”. AB109 involves the realignment of responsibilities of post-release supervision of prisoners to the community. Previously, most of this was handled by state parole agents. It is now handled almost exclusively by county probation officers.
In reading the agenda report for this item, we found the city has assigned a “Compliance Detective” to monitor the activities of released offenders. Of course, this is what the Orange County Probation Department, who has a full-time deputy probation officer assigned to Tustin, does. So, we’re not sure why the need for additional manpower in this area. We do recognize the detective also monitors sex and drug registrants, not a bad thing in our book.
Under Regular Business, city staff have finally answered all the questions the city council had when they last addressed a recommendation to appoint City Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King as the city’s Treasurer. As we’ve noted before, we endorse the idea of Arends-King being officially appointed to the position. We are opposed, however, to the hefty $8,000 increase in pay, particularly since the previous City Treasurer, George Jeffries, did the same job for half the amount.
The staff report indicates a savings to the General Fund and the Water Enterprise Fund of $19k but they provide no evidence, other than “because we said so”, of the savings. Where is the transparency to the public when calculating these so-called savings?
It seems Boss Tweed Parker is cementing his executive relationships at taxpayer cost.
Item 8, Business License Program, is a request by city staff to continue to use a questionable company to assist them in business license compliance. MAS, a company that has made a living off cities by making it a practice to offend the business owners, has a checkered history in collecting fees for errant businesses who have failed to obtain a license to operate in the city.
When the city first contracted with MAS to collect delinguent business license fees and taxes, we foretold the issues they would have. Businesses have reported harassment and unqualified accusaitons as they have been contacted by MAS representatives who have combed the city on a witch hunt for transgressors. The backlash to the city appears to be catching up with them as they back track on collections.
The proposed recommendation involves refunds and reassessments of the operations. What it should involve is a complete investigation into the business practices of the contractor to determine whether this is appropriate action for a city like Tustin, who purports to be business friendly, to be conducting.
To deflect attacks from the root problem, the staff report addresses the questions asked by the city council regarding business licensing for realtors. The city currently has a policy in place that seems adequate. Perhaps they should leave well enough alone and concentrate on MAS operations.
That’s it for this week’s meeting. We’ll try to keep you posted on any changes.
Conference with Legal Counsel -
Two items each Exposure to and Initiation of Litigation.
Existing Litigation – Marie Sales on Behalf of Paul J. Quintanar v. City of Tustin et al.
Confernence With Real Property Negotiators
MCAS properties, 14 lots, OC Property Company (Cushman Wakefield).
Price and Terms of Payment APN: 430-391-12, 430-391-09, and 430-391-03, Tustin Unified School District.
Property Address/Description 2345 Barranca Pkwy and 15 acres of the N/E corner of Red Hill Avenue and Warner Avenue – Army Reserve negotiating.
Regular Business Agenda
Item 4, City Option to Retain or Delegate Authority for Award of Ambulance Contnract.
Item 5, Master MOU Between City of Tustin and County of Orange for Public Safety Realignment and Post Release Community Supervision Authorized Expenditures.
Regular Business Items
Item 6, Approve Agreement with the City of Irvine, et al, to Fund the Peters Canyon Wash Channel Water Capture and Reuse Pipeline.
Item 7, Recommendation of the Finance Director’s Appointment as the City Treasurer.
Item 8, Business License Program.
Awhile back, we wrote an article on an Orange County Grand Jury report titled, “The Use of Government Influence on Private Education Institution“. The report alleged that then Tustin City Councilman Jerry Amante and Laguna Niguel City Councilman Alan Songstad misused their positions as elected officials to unduly influence and discredit a report on city manager compensation authored by a couple of students at Brandman University.
When the report was issued, it was lauded by OC Supervisor, Shawn Nelson who honored the two authors, Cindy Smith and Janet Voshall, for their integrity and for bringing to light the incredibly high salary of high ranking government officials. The report became even more significant when the Bell scandal, outlining heavy corruption by that city’s highest ranking officials, became news.
Unfortunately, it also brought heavy fallout to Fred Smoller, the founder and head of the Public Administration Program at Brandman as well as the authors of the original report. According to the LA Times article, Smith and Voshall had to leave Orange County to find work. Smoller also wound up resigning from the program he founded:
Fred Smoller, who founded the master’s program in public administration at Brandman, accused college leaders of buckling to pressure from conservative local politicians and trampling academic freedom.
“The resignation was the only way I could draw attention to the backdoor politicking that threatened the independence and academic integrity of the MPA program,” Smoller said.
And, although Smoller remains at Chapman University (Chapman, Brandman, what’s the dif?) he has lost faith in the program he founded.
Cindy Smith summed it up when she said, “The Good Old Boys Club is alive and well.”
Jerry Amante should know. His efforts to establish a corrupt legacy of influence in the city of Tustin are well documented. Amante, for his part, claimed he and Songstad did not try to influence anyone. He claimed the grand jury report was inflated and incorrect. There was no influence put upon school officials. At one point, he slammed the grand jury saying that James Doti, Songstad and he were the only ones in the room (remember, the smartest guys in the room) and they were the only ones who knew what was said.
But that is not the indication from Songstad who, according to the report, said they did, in fact, discuss the issue with James Doti and made what the grand jury later construed as veiled threats to not hire any students from Brandman. Well, we know of at least two who have not been hired.
Fred Smoller, for his part, defended the students actions. He also refused to buckle under pressure to release their email addresses and phone numbers to Laguna Hills City Manager, Bruce Channing, then the highest paid (and apparently most angry) city manager in Orange County. Channing did get one thing: Smoller agreed the title page should not carry the institution’s brand and that was subsequently changed.
Remember the League of California Cities? They are one of the chief lobbying and quasi-governmental entities that really run the government. In essence, it’s a club for local politicians where the makers and shakers throughout the state decide in unison what’s best for us. Amante and Songstad, as members of the club, asked the League to respond to the report. Shortly after the League refused, Orange County broke away from the League and formed a separate good-old-boys club known as the Association of California Cities-Orange County. Yup, that’s right. When the conservatives couldn’t get their way, they stamped their feet and took their ball home, leaving Orange County with even less influence in Sacramento than it had before.
We’d like to get Amante’s side of the story but, according to the Times story, he isn’t answering the phone these days. I doubt any of the other players are either.
Alas, we may never know whether lies or truth came out in the Grand Jury investigation. A lawyer hired by Fred Smoller was unsuccessful in getting the transcripts of grand jury session released to the public. The lawyer who headed the investgation for the grand jury stamped the report “particularly sensitive”.
Barbara Kogerman, the one who commissioned the report to begin with is now Mayor of Laguna Hills. During the investigation, she had been accused of making the report a campaign piece. Perhaps so. But, it was also a factual piece of information that should have been brought before the public long ago when the city manager’s office stopped being about public service and began being sold to the highest bidder.
So, where are they? According to the Times article, Cindy Smith is selling insurance in Phoenix, Voshall works for the United Nations and Smoller is at Chapman University hoping to start another public administration program. All of them have found a higher calling. Talk about a blessing in disguise.
Not much has been happening lately in our town Tustin. The hallowed halls of the city were originally scheduled to be dark for the next few weeks. That is, until the city council, who cancelled a regular meeting for July and then rescheduled for tonight, July 24, 2013. The only items on the agenda are the awarding of a contract for a storm drainage project and a closed item session (which we would bet is the real pressing issue) to discuss negotiations for real property that looks to be on the MCAS. We’ll have to see if they can manage to get the video up after the meeting. They had a bit of trouble (again) for the last meeting and we are not sure if it ever did get posted.
It doesn’t take a video to determine the level of corruption and inept governing by this bunch however. One simply has to look around at the obvious cronyism and corruption that is considered “good government” by our conservative city council.
One item on the last agenda was the acceptance of the contract for the last of the city employee unions, Tustin Municipal Employees Association. As we have told you before, management of the association is actually contracted to the Orange County Employees Association, a public employee union that handles the contract affairs for about 17,000 city, county and special district employees in the county.
Among the provisions of the TMEA contract is one that should send shivers up the spines of any rank-and-file worker. As part of the deal, the TMEA has agreed to pay the full employee cost of pensions. That in itself is long overdue and we agree that it is about time all employees, including management and executives, pay their fair share of pension costs as determined by their respective pension plans (in this case, CalPers).
What is scary is that city negotiators have managed to eke out another provision that will eventually go into effect. This is a requirement by employees to pay a portion of the employer’s cost of pensions. The initial three percent does not sound like much but it opens the door pension critics have long awaited. If three percent today, then how much next year? Fortunately for the city’s employees, they will get a breather next year as their contract is for two years.
What makes this situation worse is the blatant disregard for employees the city council had when they not only gave Chief Scott Jordan a raise last year, ostensibly to keep him here, but also another five percent raise as a going away present on the eve of his departure from the city employment ranks. Then, they turned around and cried pending insolvency if the employees didn’t rolll over on their pension demands. The contract, by the way, was narrowly approved indicating that nearly half the employees were not happy with the provisions.
Nick Berardino, General Manager of OCEA, recently published a guest article in the Orange County Register:
On July 6 the Orange County Register published a story highlighting excessive pension benefits for public employees, this time focused on executives and managers in the “$100K pension club.”
Ultimately, that story, helps to explain why we continue to be bombarded with stories about this issue, even after Governor Brown has signed into law sweeping pension reforms and after public employees across the state have agreed to significant additional reforms.
What continues to be missed is a consequence of the fact that some politicians understand the public employee pension issue resonates with the public. So, in order to keep the issue in the forefront, those politicians have an interest in creating doomsday scenarios and making the cost of pensions to taxpayers as high as possible.
And I believer that is what is happening at the Orange County Employees Retirement System, or OCERS, which administers pension benefits for the County, the Fire Authority and many cities and special districts [not Tustin, who is administered by CalPers-ed.] in Orange County.
Over the past year the OCERS trustees – some of whom actively bash pensions in public and belong to aggressively anti-public employee organizations – have taken one action after another to artificially drive up the cost of pension benefits.
This isn’t about “facing reality” or “not kicking the can down the road” or “inter-generational equity.” It’s about furthering a radical political agenda. And the sickest part of the scheme?
They are funding it with your taxpayer dollars and it’s you who are paying for it. You should also know some legitimate facts that are repeatedly left out of the news stories and editorials.
First, county employees represented by the Orange County Employees Association pay 100 percent of their pension costs and they pay the entire cost to the county of the 2004 improvement to a 2.7 percent at 55 year old formula.
Second, county employees do not receive Social Security benefits. Third, the average pension for OCEA member retirees is $33,000 per year. That’s a long way from the “$100,000Club” referenced in the Register’s story.
Nick, a good friend of ours, goes on to point out the fact that it is employees, not the politicians, who have been at the forefront of pension reform. Some of those reforms at the county level have included being the first employee organization to require 100 percent contributions for pensions as well as developing (despite what the politicians may say) the first hybrid plan that includes a lesser defined benefit combined with a 401(k) style component to allow for lower cost and better management of employee benefits.
What politicians are now doing, to fortify their “sky is falling” fiction, is to artificially manipulate pension numbers to make it appear as if their is a crisis when their isn’t. For example, OCERS just recently lowered the Assumption Rate, the expected rate of return on investment for the fund, by a quarter percent from 7.5 to 7.25. This, even though the market is recoverning nicely and the fund has been posting record returns for the past several years with no indication it will falter. This not only raises the employee’s pension costs by another 6.5 percent in the next two years, it also costs the taxpayer in the form of employer paid costs mandated by law. So, who is the real loser?
Tustin, as a member of CalPers, has also benefited from record gains made in their pension system. In a recent press release, CalPers stated a return on investment for the past year of 12.5 percent on an Assumption Rate of 7.5 percent. Tustin City Council and their corrupt city manager, Jeff Parker, knew this as they were negotiating the new contract. Lamenting their supposed fiscal woes at the negotiation table, the employees apparently bought it hook, line and sinker.
Like many public employees, city of Tustin workers have mostly gone without raises over the past few years due, mostly, to the economy. I say most of them, because the Tustin City Council and City Manager Jeff Parker have managed to reward executives and senior managers, all unrepresented, with lucrative raises by manipulating the system to their benefit. In the so-called open government of Tustin, managers have been given new titles and old positions eliminated, supposedly with the eye toward saving the city money. In reality, we suspect many of these so-called new titles are simply ways to reward long term senior employees while hiding the truth from a gullible rank-and-file. The only question at this point is whether the Tustin City Council is complicit or being sold a bill of goods by a conniving city management team.