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Budget Workshop, June 19, 2012

The annual Budget Workshop is scheduled for Tuesday at 4:00 pm ahead of the regular Tustin City Council meeting. We are still pouring over the proposed budget and a couple of things have already jumped out at us.

Remember how we told you the rumored shortfall in revenue was anywhere from 2 to 6 million dollars? According to the summary of the proposed budget, the loss due to the demise of corporate welfare…, redevelopment, is just under 6 million.

The proposed budget also relies heavily on city reserves which, earlier this year, Mayor Nielsen told me they would try to reinforce. Now, it seems while they reinforce, they will also be using it to pay the bills. There is a tradeoff in that the city is attempting to keep service levels up for city residents. The city is also depending on higher projected sales tax revenues which may or may not appear. However, they do admit this is a volatile revenue that could go up or down.

It also looks like Christine Shingleton, in her new role as Assistant Executive Director, is fully funded for the coming year. As we’ve said before, they need to rid themselves of the extra help if they want to balance the budget.

The city council meeting will convene at 7 pm with just a few noteworthy items. On the Consent Calendar is the resolution for Candidate Statement Fees. This item also discusses  Jerry’s Folly, the measure that would let voters decide if councilmembers will continue to receive compensation for their service. We will have a lot to say about this particularly egregious issue in the coming months leading up to the election in November. By the way, for those of you wondering, the time for candidates to file begins July 16th. We will be checking regularly for new filers and will keep you updated a they come in.

Also on the consent calendar is Item 11, Master MOU between the City of Tustin and the County of Orange for Public Safety Realignment and Post-release Community Supervision. Of course, you can thank Governor Brown for this mess as they release prisoners with almost no oversight. In some counties, such as LA, the duties will be divided between the Sheriff and the Probation Department. Unfortunately, they are overrun with DJJ parolees from several years ago (thanks, Arnie) and will have a difficult time dealing with this new influx. Here in Orange County, we have already seen a more than 150 percent increase in the number of parolees released and prisoners returned under realignment.

Under Regular Business, the two major items also come from Hizzoner. Item 13, City Council Attendance Policy, is a direct attack on Councilmember Deborah Gavello who has required absences due to medical reasons. The proposed policy, which is sure to be adopted by the Gang of Three, has no direct effect on a councilmember. They could receive a reprimand (oooohhh, I’m scared…..). Better that than having to hear Hizzoner squawking from his end of the dais.

Item 14, Teleconferencing of City Council Meetings will probably not fare so well, although it would resolve many of the absence issues of the past as well as allow councilmembers who are traveling to continue to participate.  The issue is in complying with the requirements to teleconference.

We apologize for not getting this out earlier. Our usual day for writing the agenda posts is Sunday. But, as it was Fathers Day, my family requested I man the BBQ and sate their appetites. In a couple of weeks we will be on the road for vacation. We have scheduled campgrounds that have WiFi so we will be writing form the road. Let’s just hope the city website doesn’t crash.

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.