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On the City Council Agenda, June 5, 2012

There is a busy session for the City Council coming up this week. The highlight of the evening is the approval of the Federal Court Order regarding the design review for the T-Mobile West wireless facility in Cedar Grove Park. The residents of Tustin Ranch have battled this issue for several years and, it looked like they would win when the City Council approved the appeal to deny the design review in October of last year. That was thwarted when T-Mobile sued the city, saying they had no right to deny the design review. And, faster than Jerry Brown’s hi-speed rail project, the city agreed to a stipulation that allows the whole project to proceed.  I am sure Jerry Amante is thrilled to death that he won another one for his cohorts at ATS. Did I say ATS? Why yes, I did. ATS is the city consultant that developed the cellular overlay plan for our town. It appears they are the big winners as, for their efforts in this particular case, they will receive 25% of the proceeds or $86,444 from a total contract for this single location of 345,776. That’s fiscal responsibility at its best.

The other big ticket item the city council will look at is Item 18 that would offer an early retirement incentive to current employees. The idea is that the city would save money by leaving vacant position unfilled and by filling some of the needed positions with new hires who, by coincidence, would have lower tier benefits. The Agenda Report for the item shows some pretty significant savings as well as some pretty hefty retirement incentives of 7% of an employee’s salary on top of their regular retirement. This is equal to 3 years of service, by the way. A nice way to reward employees and subjugate others who did not play ball with the establishment. Also, no where in the agenda report did we see the cost of administering this program. Frankly, this smells of another one of the Gang of Three’s programs to shift money to their private sector friends while fleecing the taxpayers of Tustin. Until savings can be demonstrated in writing, there should be no agreement.

The Closed Session has plenty to offer as well. This is the super-sized negotations with nearly all of the city’s represented employees in the mix. We hear things are not going as smoothly as the city would like. While they laid a five percent raise on the Chief of Police, they are claiming a two million dollar budget deficit will require drastic cuts and layoffs. Oh, and let’s not forget in the midst of all of this, the city still keeps our favorite retired former city manager, Bill Huston, as well as his former assistant, Christine Shingleton on the payroll. There is definitely fat-trimming to be had. But the executives and electeds should be looking toward the top and not the bottom.

Hopefully, one of the councilmembers on the left of the dais will have sense enough to pull Item 9 from the consent calendar. This is one time I would strongly suggest the city council spend a few extra dollars and go outside the city attorney’s office to have lawyers who understand the term, “conflict of interest” and “or the appearance thereof”. Unfortunately, the city council is supposedly the “reviewing body”. So, I doubt there will be much to discuss.

Closed Session

  • Conference with Legal Counsel – One each for exposure to litigation and initiation of litigation.
  • Labor Negotiations – All of the associations representing city employees.
  • Conference with Legal Counsel – City of Tustin v. Tustin Unified School District (two lawsuits), Mira Properties v. City of Tustin, T-Mobile West v. City of Tustin (Federal District Court)
  • Conference with Real Property Negotiators – MCAS property

Public Hearing

  • Consider levying of Annual Assesments for the Tustin Landscape and Lighting District 2012-2013 – Consideration a change of levy fees on the district (Tustin Ranch area) to cover a projected deficit in costs of maintenance.

Consent Calendar

  • Item 6, Award Construction Contract for Frontier Park Energy Efficiency Improvements – Staff recommend the contract be awarded to the lowest bidder, Global Power Group.
  • Item 8, Tustin Sports Park Baseball Diamond #2 Renovation – Staff recommend the contract be awarded to Lehman Construction as the lowest bidder. There is no discussion in the Agenda Report as to the “construction credits” to be authorized as the lowest bidder came in higher than projected estimates.
  • Item 9, Review of City’s Conflict of Interest Code – Biennial review of the code. This action will authorize the city manager or designee to review and report back to the city council. We strongly recommend the city manager utilize the services of an outside attorney to make recommended changes.

Regular Business

  • Item 13, Adopt Resolution to Approve Plans and Specs for Construction of Tustin Legacy Fire Station – Authorizes the City Clerk to advertise for bids for the new (relocated) fire station near the District.
  • Item 14, Federal Court Order Approval of Design Review…T-Mobile West at Cedar Grove Park – Formal adoption of the design review to allow T-Mobile West to pursue construction of the wireless facility in Cedar Grove Park. Sorry, Tustin Ranch.
  • Item 15 Approve a Modified Project Funding Approach and Award the Construction Contract for Tustin Ranch Road Phase 2 – Due to the demise of Redevelopment Agencies and the inability to pay for the improvements as originally planned. Creative financing at its best.
  • Item 17, Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance Regulating Various Forms of Solicitation on Certain Public Rights of Way, and Private Property and Acts of Trespass on Private Commercial Property – This is an anti-homeless ordinance carefully crafted to keep you and me from also soliciting money on major roadways throughout Tustin.
  • Item 18, Offering the Public Agency Retirement Services Early Retirement Incentive Program to Eligible Employees to Achieve Budget Savings – PARS is a private entity the city would contract with to offer early incentive bonuses to eligible employees as an inducement to retiring. The plan would allow the city to keep unfilled vacancies caused by the program and also reduce salary and benefits by offering new hires lower tier benefits.

On the Agenda, December 6, 2011

As the year winds down, so does the city council. Don’t expect a whole lot of interesting things to happen before the end of the year. Coming up on the Agenda for Tuesday:

In closed session, the Council will discuss the two lawsuits between Tustin Unified School District and the City. Recently, the city of Tustin offered to settle both cases if TUSD would agree to pay their own legal fees and return the Heritage school to its original intended use by the fall of 2012. The school board will not be meeting until December 12th and, as their public information officer told me in a phone call, the city is well aware of that. So, the earliest discussion that can be held on the matter will be after the first of the year as the council has already moved to cancel its final meeting of the year.

It is also doubtful that the TUSD Board will agree to the offer. They have already set up shop at Heritage for the school year. It is not likely that the remodeling and construction at Hillview will be completed along with whatever construction will take place to replace any of the lost office space at the District’s headquarters in Tustin within the next year. Moreover, school district officials are not likely to see the solution as equitable. The issue of legal fees aside (it is the taxpayer’s money, either way), there is the question of what happens in the future regarding permitting of school district projects. A judgment, stipulated or otherwise, would have the force of law when dealing with the city in the future. TUSD has a strong argument, backed by state law. After the city’s lame attempt to close the perceived loophole by rescinding the grading ordinance, TUSD may be looking for a solid legal judgment to rely on in the future. In any case, you can bet this won’t be the end of it.

In public hearings, the Council will vote on a Planning Commission recommendation to deny changing the requirements for retail alcohol sales to reduce minimum square footage for stores. Walgreens is asking for this change to benefit stores located in our town. They had asked for an extension to bring in new information. That does not seem to have arrived. Expect the denial to be approved. And, don’t expect to buy your booze when you pick up your prescriptions at Walgreens.

A few items of concern on the consent calendar starting with Item 4, Police Department Vehicle Purchases. I am always interested in seeing if the city puts high cost items out to bid and this time they did and they did not. 8 police vehicles are proposed to be replaced. In replacing some of these, the city “piggybacked” onto another contract from a city they claim has the same bidding process as Tustin. I’m not sure how that works, but OK. Other vehicles were purchased under the Department of General Services contract which most department use and it usually gives the best price to the city.

One unit that did go out to bid was a Dodge Durango, assigned to a police captain. I was pleasantly surprised to see that, although the lowest bidder was a dealership in Anaheim, the staff recommended purchase from a local Tustin dealer. The difference between the two was less than $700. The cost in helping business in our town? Priceless.

Item 11 Limitations on Gifts to Councilmembers may generate some discussion. Remember that Mayor Amante made a big deal out of gifts and council stipends a few meetings ago. He asked staff to ensure that councilmembers were held to the same limits as city staff. Guess what? They are. That should be the end of discussion. But, knowing Jerry, he will want to crow about this. Also, knowing Jerry, he knew in advance the staff response. So, how about Jerry actually putting his money where his mouth is?

A few weeks ago, the City Council voted on the issue of letting voters determine whether councilmembers should continue to receive stipends. A divided council voted to place a measure on the ballot in November 2012, conveniently at the end the Amante’s term. So, here is the question. If Jerry is so concerned about the $800 a month he receives (we won’t go into how much he receives for sitting on the TCA, the water board, OCTA or other boards and committees right now) as a councilmember, why doesn’t he elect to give up his stipend? It does not require any council action. It requires no decision by anyone except Amante himself. So here is the proposition, Jerry. Make a good faith gesture and put your money where your mouth is. Publicly state that you will refuse to accept your stipend for the rest of your term. That would show the good folks of Tustin that your motives for proposing the ballot measure is altruistic. What do you say?

Speaking of altruistic motives, does anyone want to bet who will be mayor of Tustin next year? I was pretty sure it was going to be Amante. Now, I am not so sure. He has his black ops guy on one side, chomping at the bit, and I hear the councilmember on the immediate left side of the dais has been warming up to him. They hail from the same school. He even calls her by her correct title.

All just supposition of course. But, I may have to run a poll on this one.

On the Agenda November 15, 2011

A few items of interest pepper the Tustin City Council agenda for Tuesday night. The Council apparently decided to split the Closed Session off to it’s own agenda and call it a “special meeting”. That is, presumably, so they may make decisions on hiring the new city manager. We’ll explain below.

Before that, however, the city has the second reading and adoption of the “new” PERS retirement tiers for miscellaneous and public safety employees. The cops will be returning to the old 2%@50 formula for all new hires. This tier actually should provide police officers deciding to retire at 55 with a rate of 2.6% or so. This is a pretty reasonable response and one that many other cities are taking as they grapple with rising pensions costs caused by changes in the way pensions must be accounted for. We’d go into it but that is fodder for another article, another day.

Also on the agenda is the final reading for the Body Art Ordinance. I may start a pool to see when the first tattoo parlor arrives in our fair town. This ordinance was actually well thought out by both the Planning Commission and the City Council with some good input from the community. A moratorium had been placed on these types of facilities when it was first found that excluding them was unconstitutional. Did you get that? “We can’t prohibit these nasty places from coming into the city, so we will temporarily prohibit them from coming in.” Oh, never mind. Some things city councils do are just beyond understanding.

Of course, there is the final reading of the “Ordinance Clarifying the Meaning of Legal Nonconforming Uses and Structures in the City of Tustin”. The simple title is, “How can the City of Tustin eliminate any historical building we wish, just give it time.” This is the culmination of Jerry Amante and Elizabeth Binsack’s war against Old Town, sparked by the simple act of a homeowner wishing to sell his property. That fight is still being held and is in the hands of a hearing officer who we understand offered his services to mediate a solution. The city, meaning Jerry and his talking head, Binsack, refused the offer. Hopefully, the hearing officer will be reasonable in his findings and will issue a just edict for Bret Fairbanks and his family. In any case, I suspect the entire issue is far from over.

As we said, Item 16 promises to be the highlight of the evening. It looks like Interim City Manager, Bill Huston, will be out of a job pretty soon. We hear he didn’t really want to come back anyway, and did it out of a sense of responsibility. It seems our double-dipper has some ethics. After all, who else could put up with Hizzoner? Well, we are about to find out.

The Super Secret Committee

The Super Secret Selection Committee

Rumors around City Hall are that the super secret committee charged with hiring a new city manager have found their candidate and have authorized the super secret headhunter to make an offer.

Hopefully, we will have the name of a new city manager Tuesday night. I just hope there is a clause in the new manager’s contract that limits the

amount of yelling and screaming from Jerry by decibel/time. Maybe there is a whip and chair involved.

Only one more City Council meeting this year. Not many more chances for Jerry and His Kids to blow up at Gavello.

On The Agenda Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Looking over the agenda for the Tustin City Council this Tuesday are several items of interest. Of course, the first thing on the agenda is the closed session. Prior to that session, the public is allowed to comment on any items the council will discuss in private. Two items of concern for every Tustinite are the pair of lawsuits pending between TUSD and the City. If nothing else, members of the community should comment on the waste of money by Tammany Hall Tustin on these two lawsuits. The City has spent a small fortune on litigation that serves no purpose but to drive a wedge between the city and the district.

A public hearing will be held regarding the JAG Grant. The police department is asking to use the grant to combat methamphetamine (no, we don’t have a meth problem in Tustin) and for related equipment. A great idea. We recommend the city council approve the grant.

One item we should be concerned about is the proposed double-dipping of Christine Shingleton. It is Item #10 under Regular Business. Shingleton currently works full-time as the Assistant City Manager. According to accompanying documents, she plans to retire effective at the end of the year. Apparently, the city has not heard of succession planning and they intend to rehire Shingleton in the newly created position of “Assistant Executive Director”, a new title for a job with much the same job responsibilities she had as Assistant City Manager. The alleged reason for hiring her back immediately is that she is the only one (we’ve heard this before) with expertise in the Redevelopment Agency with regards to MCAS property. One question we have, of course, is why not hire a new assistant CM and have Shingleton bring them up to speed before she retires? Why the creation of a new position?  The answer, of course, is obvious. Shingleton will receive her pension along with a nice salary that could reach $105,000 per year plus minor benefits. That’s not cheap at any rate. Of course, the staff report states that there is no increase in cost, indicating that her current pay and benefits already exceeds the proposed “part-time” pay.

So, we looked into it and found that Shingleton is at the top of her pay scale and receives $180,987 per year in base pay. That is about $87.00 an hour. She also receives a car allowance, health and pension benefits that boost her total compensation to over $230,897 or, about $111.00 per hour. That is not really out of the ballpark for a good assistant city manager, which we assume Christine is. But, instead of using the base pay amount to calculate her double dip in January, the city chose to include total compensation. So, she will continue to effectively receive the cash equivalent of a car allowance, health benefits and pension payment benefits even though PERS should be paying for her healthcare after she retires. That means she pockets the money and, in anyone’s book, that is a raise along with a nice, new executive title.

And, what about when they finally hire a replacement assistant city manager (or a city manager, for that matter)? There is every indication this is an open-ended contract and that Shingleton could continue to serve endlessly, albeit for only 960 hours a year, at the council’s pleasure. We are not accusing anyone specifically around city hall but there is a definite smell of cronyism in the air. And anyone who says this is cost neutral goes to the City of Bell school of accounting. This is one item the council should take a close look at. When I contacted one member of the council, they said they could not discuss an agendized item but that it was “all good”. That indicates to me that this is a done deal unless some citizen stands up and questions what appears to be a common practice for well-liked retiring employees.