Happy Cinco de Siete. The bad news is, my desktop is in for repairs and will, hopefully, be out by this next weekend. Of course, depending on the cost, a new one may be in order. In the meantime, I will struggle to get out posts with the reliable but anachronistic netbook. Isn’t it amazing that, just a few years ago, the netbook was the hottest thing on the market? Now, they are right up there with…desktop computers.
It looks to be a busy night for the Tustin City Council as they hold a couple of public hearings preceded by a slew of feel good presentations. The presentations are likely to be lengthy with lots of pomp and circumstance (emphasis on pomp).
The first public hearing is to establish a new Community Facilities District and accompanying mello-roos tax for an area of the Tustin Legacy. You might think this a routine issue but, it is a timely one for the city. It should be unsurprising that, the vote on establishing a CFD, when there are no residents in the location, falls to the landowners, in this case, the city. So, why wait until there are pesky homeowners to get in the way of establishing a tax base? Trust me, the entire hearing is pretty much pro forma for establishing the CFD and it is doubtful there will be much input from the public. It is probably a good thing the staff know what they are doing. That way the Four Amigos only need to say “yes”. One thing the folks moving in should know is this is a forever tax that will be passed on to future landowners owners. That tax will increase by two percent per year ad infinitum.
The second Pubic Hearing concerns the disposition of the Community Development Block Grant funding allocation. As you know, in the past we have been critical of the method used by the city council to disseminate CDBG funds. Specifically, the relationship of members of the city council to the executive director of the Tustin Community foundation which the city used to manage funds was questionable, to say the least.
Most recently, a committee made up of city staff members evaluated the current funding and made recommendations that can be found in the staff report. Of course, I am always amazed that, with funding and programs the community depends on we would allow city staff, most of whom live elsewhere, to determine what is best for us. In the end, worthy projects are being recommended for continued funding, including Human Options, Laurel House and Mercy House, all of which go to assist those most in need in our community.
One item I find interesting is the “Old Town Study” which is funded at $27 thousand dollars. This study appears to be a marketing study to see how the city can eke the most tax dollar out of the cultural overlay district. Could this project be the one to take precedence over the recent community development project to determine changes in the Old Town zoning regarding guest houses and second units? When an inquiry was recently made by a resident, they were told the guest house ordinance would be completed some time in the future, that it wasn’t a priority for city staff at the time. Really? Perhaps the city staff, which we have shown time and again is out of touch with city residents, should rethink that. More in a future article.
All in all, the proposed CDBG update is in order, regardless of how we got there, and it should pass muster with the residents of the city. It should be interesting how much back slapping the city council does before approving it.
The third Pubic Hearing has caused quite a bit of discussion both on the dais and in the community. Chad Ortlieb has managed to segue the Wilcox Manor issue in with the zoning amendments when they were before the city planning commission and he may show up at this meeting to discuss the issues again.
While the ordinance was being considered by the planning commission, more than 50 comments were received and supposedly considered by the commission. The city attorney attempted to block Ortlieb’s critical letter based on a timeframe until Ortlieb demonstrated that he actually was within legal limits. That in itself should tell you how desperate city staff are to get these amendments in. Why the hurry? In any case,it would not surprise me to see a few more comments at the public hearing and I imagine we will see another appearance by Lindburgh MacPherson who is sweating bullets over the Wilcox Manor CUP application being kept in the limelight when he hoped it would fade into oblivion. Sorry, Lindburgh, we still don’t want your dog and pony show in Old Town.
Item 7 on the Consent Calendar is to appropriate supplemental funds for the completion of Tustin Ranch Road and other road improvement projects. It appears to be a housekeeping issue more than anything else but, I’m no accountant so you may want to look at the agenda report yourself.
That’s about it. Unless you are a glutton for punishment, come late and go home early. By the way, the agenda doesn’t mention it but, I could have sworn The American Legion Pot 227 was back in good standing. If so, the should provide they best presentation: our Flag.
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.
As with every previous mayor in Tustin, Al Murray was no exception in presenting a set of goals that he has committed to during his tenure. Like his predecessors, he seems to forget, or not understand, the almost strictly ceremonial aspect of his office. Perhaps someone should remind him that it is the entire city council that set policy. In that respect, it might be better to collaborate with and present the city council’s goals rather than the mayor’s goals. In any case, Murray’s stated goals demonstrates how completely unambitious and unimaginative the good mayor may be. Unless he steps it up a bit, don’t look for anything interesting to happen under his tenure.
Murray’s first goal? To establish a Community Emergency Response Team. This would be a great idea if Murray hadn’t taken a page from Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan’s playbook. In the TPD’s 2012-2015 Strategic Plan, one of Chief Jordan goals is to establish a team of citizen responders for disasters and emergencies. Murray, who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time slurping coffee with officers at the local Keane’s, is riding piggyback on the chief’s plan to have a team established by September. I wonder how the chief feels about a former Irvine PD captain stealing his ideas?
Murray’s next goal is to continue moving forward with the Tustin Legacy Project and Tustin Ranch Road. Of course, these projects are well underway and it is doubtful the good mayor or city council could have much effect on its progress. The fire station project, likewise, is well under way. We will give Murray credit for being on the city council over the past two years when crucial decisions were made. Still, not much more can be done at this point to move these projects any faster.
Transparency and the Entrance to City Hall. Raise your hand if you think this city council will be any more transparent than the last one. Everyone likes to talk about transparency but they all have their own ideas of exactly what transparency is. In fact, Murray appeared to mix transparency with new telephone systems and “access to the internet”, as if that makes city hall more transparent. Murray, who has declined to return any email I have ever sent to him, has a long way to go personally before attempting to tackle transparency at city hall, where the only way to obtain information is through a public records request… unless you happen to catch Jeff Parker or Elizabeth Binsack in a good mood that day.
The Shadow Knows. Murray’s next big project is an obvious attempt to make it appear that his administration will be more friendly toward the Tustin Unified School District. His idea is to have the school district select one student each quarter to shadow a government official for a day. Murray’s idea is to introduce students to government and its function. I would suggest that, unless they are looking to see how corruption runs and how government executives manage their fiefdoms, the students continue to learn about government as they do now – from textbooks and teachers. At least that way, they see government as it should work, not necessarily how it actually works at the local level. Perhaps, then, we can get the system back on track by making sure they learn from an unbiased, untainted source.
Collaboration with other government agencies and private businesses. Expect to see Murray and the Fab Five continue down the same path as the previous council. That is, to make Tustin more business oriented at the expense of resident’s quality of life. It remains to be seen just how much damage Murray can do with his limited business connections. He still has Nielsen to help him get the most from business contribution-wise. After the OC Watchdog outed Nielsen and Team Tustin for their gross contributions to campaign funds, it was also noted that Nielsen voted to extend the trash contract another year. I am sure John can introduce Al to a few of his business connections before the next election cycle.
So, what do we think should be the goals of this administration?
Certainly, we agree the city should do whatever it takes to end the lawsuits between TUSD and the city. That would take more than paying lip service to the school board and making empty threats to implement term limits. It would mean taking a serious look at the situation and settling the issues, including an offer to pay some attorney fees for the district. A stipulation that the city would no longer unduly interfere with school construction and affairs would go a long way toward mending fences. Yes, I’m saying go to the school board, hat in hand, and beg forgiveness.
A long term goal that could be started under this administration is to resurrect the idea of a park around the hangar Tustin is responsible for. With the Orange County Board of Supervisors ready to commit money and effort toward a regional park for their hangar, it could work to the benefit of the citizens in the Legacy area if Tustin joined forces with the county to preserve as much of that area for park an non-commercial use as possible. With the waning prospect of a “great park” in Irvine, a regional park that preserves the best example of Tustin’s military history would bring visitors from around the county and the country to enjoy these monuments to freedom. And, do we really want to say, “there used to be two hangars but…”.
Settle all aspects of the Tustin Legacy. Stop putting roadblocks up to development. Last year, the city retook control of the development of the MCAS property when they designated city officials as the master developer. Almost immediately, the city went to work locating property developers and making necessary changes to get building started. They made some difficult and, sometimes, unpopular decisions. The important thing is, development has started once again. The completion of Tustin Ranch Road will throw things into high gear but will require a rethinking of regional transportation projects. (I know, this is a goal of Al’s… It’s the only one worth keeping, in our opinion).
The first city council meeting of the year was mercifully short at an hour and fifteen minutes. Hopefully, that trend will continue. In the coming year, we don’t see a whole lot coming from this bunch. Gomez continues to play the nice guy and the other four are too dull to really bring any fireworks to the dais. Murray, a retired police officer from Irvine, shows that he has way too much time on his hands. Nielsen is too busy with personal issues and the podiatrist councilman reminds me of Ted Kennedy during the camelot era. Wake me up if I fall asleep.