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On the City Council Agenda, March 19, 2013

Hidden Agenda ClipartAlthough the Special Meeting originally scheduled for 4;30 PM was cancelled, the Tustin City Council may still have a busy schedule ahead.

It’s that time of year, again, as labor leaders line up for negotiations. Although councilmembers are scheduled to discuss the state of negotiations, I’ve been told the first meeting with labor has not taken place yet. These talks are probably to discuss what would be acceptable. In recent history, the police associations have been willing to change their pension plans for new hires and for all members to pay more into their retirement while foregoing raises. Changes to state law this year will mandate other changes for retirement. As far as raises go, all employees should be reminded the Chief received a 5% raise to make sure he doesn’t go elsewhere. Should the rank and file get the same?

There is only one Public Hearing which the city staff are asking to be continued. As we recall, this item was continued once before. Apparently, they haven’t stacked the deck enough in Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack’s mind after the Fairbanks debacle. Still no draft to peruse. We would like to see this published several days before the meeting it is to be heard at as we are sure it holds the interest of more than a few of our residents.

One thing that can be said for this city council, they certainly don’t want to be bothered with the details. The rest of the agenda, save for a couple of items, consists of the consent calendar where some of the items clearly deserve discussion if not for clarity’s sake then the sake of the residents who foot the bill. Alas, I guess this is the result of having zero stipends for the boys.

Item #4, Authorization to Sell an (Housing) Authority-Owned Affordable Home, certainly deserves open discussion. The staff report recommends allowing the Authority Director to set the price and conduct closed session meetings with proposed buyers “in order to receive Commission approval” for the sale. Fine, except the public will not know any of the details of the purchase until after the fact. That includes the purchase price and proposed buyer. Surely, this should be public knowledge so we will know what we are getting and to insure the buyer is truly qualified. Apparently, the city seems to think the purchase and sale of publicly owned property should automatically be conducted behind closed doors. In this case, we think it should be in public view.

Item #6, an Agreement with Municipal Auditing Services and Approval of Resolution 13-13 should also be up for discussion. The proposed resolution would turn over public records of business licensees to a private firm (we call this outsourcing) for collection activities. According to the description, MAS would be allowed to perform collections of delinquent business licenses, audit current business licenses, and “engage in the discovery of unlicensed businesses.”

According to the staff report, the business license division consists of one employee. Rather than add staff, the city suggests outsourcing the investigation of businesses to make sure they obtain a license prior to doing business in the city. The target for these investigations is, obstensibly, the millions of dollars in lost license fees the city incurs when transient businesses such as plumbers and delivery services transact business within city limits. So, rather than rely on the past practice of concerned citizens calling in reports on errant businesses, the city has decided to hand this task over to a private collection agency at a whopping 40% commission fee. It should be noted that at least one business takes issue with their alleged witch hunt activities. Perhaps the staff should do a bit more research themselves before contracting with this company. Oh, and what happened to our RFP process. If this is a valuable contract, isn’t the city required to publish an RFP?

We have a better idea.

How about saving the commission and assigning this task to Code Enforcement officers. Tustin PD patrol could also be on the lookout for suspicious plumbers and convey that information to Code Enforcement as well. If the task is too great to assign to code enforcement, perhaps they should rethink the additional staff. Laughably, the staff report says the reason staff want to outsource this is to maintain Tustin’s “business friendly” atmosphere by insuring all businesses are correctly taxed. I doubt using a collection agency with the authority to conduct witch hunts using city resources will convey that positive feeling. The city council should send this proposal back to the drawing board.

Item #11, City of Tustin Strategic Plan 2013-2018, has been an on-again, off-again project of the city council. Discussion of this plan has taken up way to much time cosidering there is nothing new at all in this. One has to wonder if the city council actually paid for this plan considering it appears to be a template of dozens of plans of other cities and companies across the country. And, as with most strategic plans of this type, it is mostly a feel-good piece of publicity that does not address the core of issues related to the city. Although Management Partners, the true authors of the plan, did their research, they found severe issues with the city’s operations citing alienation of the school district and civility of the city council along with poor succssion planning as examples of what the city lacks. The proposed strategic plan simply says they will fix those things by being better. It should be interesting to see how fast this gets swept under the carpet after approval (Oh, come on, you know they will approve it).

Closed Session

Conference with Legal Counsel 2 each Initiation and Exposure to Litigation

Public Employee Performance Evaluation City Manager, Jeff Parker and City Attorney, David Kendig. We remind the City Council that any proposal for raises for Parker or change in services for Kendig require public discussion.

Labor Negotiations – All Public Employee Unions and Non-represented employees.

Conference With Real Property Negotiators – Three properties on Tustin Legacy MCAS property.

Public Hearings

Ordinance to Amend Hearing Officer Guidelines – Postponed to Aporil 16th City Council Meeting.

Consent Calendar

Authorization to Sell Affordable Home – Located at 14554 Newport Ave., #3 by the Housing Authority Commission.

Second Amendment to Rental Agreement – Warehouse building used by National Office Liquidators to increase the amount of space rented at market price.

Approval of Agreement With Municipal Auditing Services To provide collection services for business licenses.

Approve Agreement For Information Technologies Services Network Migration Project– Funding was appropriated to upgrade the computer and telephone system in City Hall.

Regular Business Items

City of Tustin Strategic Plan– Approve Strategic Plan developed by Management Partners. Plan durations 2013-2018.

Removal of Commissioners From Office Upon Running For City Council – Directs staff to devise a proposal for resignatin/removal of commissioners and timetable for their replacement.

On the Agenda, January 15, 2013

Hidden Agenda ClipartThe first meeting of the year will have the new Tustin City Councilmembers rolling up their sleeves and digging in. With only a week away, the TUSD lawsuit is a topic of discussion in closed session. The council is also set to approve the employment contract for a new deputy city manager as well as a request for additional funding for construction projects related to Tustin Ranch Road.

Closed Session

Conference with Legal Counsel – Initiation/Exposure to litigation – Four cases, altogether.

Item 3 – Conference with Legal Counsel – Existing Litigation – Unless continued again, the main lawsuits between Tustin and TUSD are set to begin January 28th. This is the last chance for the city council to do the right thing and authorize the city manager or other negotiators to come to terms with the school district. That is, assuming the school district still has a mind to negotiate. Frankly, we think it may be past that. TUSD is heavily favored to win any trial and has nearly $1.5 million in attorney fees that can only be recovered through agreement (not likely) or litigation.

Conference with Real Property Negotiators – A variety of property at the MCAS base will be the subject of discussion including a parcel with the Army Reserve Center. In December, the US Army apparently sent a letter to the city declining an alternative site and providing them with an Draft Finding of No Significant Impact on the original site. The city subsequently sent them a response asking them to reconsider or provide construction information on the site. Is the city contemplating another grading lawsuit?

Open Session

Public Hearing

Item 1 – CUP for Wilcox Manor – We had hoped to get this issue over and done with. All those in Old Town Tustin can stop beating their drums for the time being. It appears Lindburgh and Silent Mike have decided to postpone their request for a conditional use permit to turn their home into an events center. The date, September 17, 2013, is rather interesting. That would make it about a year from the last fundraiser for Team Tustin and take some of the “ethics” heat off of them. It could also be that the Wilcox boys have not been able to find suitable parking since their last deal was bashed by a concerned citizen. There has been no indication on the Wilcox Facebook page as to the postponement.

Item 2 – Code Amendment Various Parking Ordinances – This item originally came up for discussion at the Tustin Planning Commission in December, 2012. A lengthy discussion produced some minor changes for clarification. Most of the wording is to update the parking ordinances and bring private and commercial parking requirements in line with each other.

Consent Calendar

Item 5 – Ratification of Deputy City Manager Employment Agreement – This item should be pulled for discussion if for no other reason than to give a show of decorum. Jeff Parker, at the last meeting, alluded that he had found a candidate for Deputy City Manager to replace Christine Shingleton who retired last year after a final stint as scab extra help to pad her retirement. The candidate, Chuck Robinson, worked for Parker as a deputy city manager for Walnut. Robinson’s contract was effective December 26, 2012. We were briefly concerned that Parker was covering his buddy as CALPERS Retirement System now caps new pensions at 2%@62. This wouldn’t apply to Robinson as he would be considered a continuing member under the new rules. There are other benefit issues that would be affected by hire date. Don’t worry, we are asking those questions for you. In any case, the new guy gets 139k a year and benefits.

Item 6 – Appropriate Supplemental Funding re Construction Management Services and Utility Charges for Tustin Ranch Road Improvements – Another one that should be pulled for discussion. If I am reading the staff report correctly, someone has come up short and the usual excuses of unexpected construction costs has arisen once again. Staff are asking for $1.2 million dollars in bond money to be paid out of other funds so that construction can proceed. The question that should be asked is, what are the chances this money will not be replaced when proper funding becomes available?

Regular Business

Item 10 – Appointment of George Jeffries as City Treasurer – We can’t seem to get rid of this guy. Jeffries was the previous focus of former Councilmember Deborah Gavello, who went to great pains to pull his appointment each year for discussion and then vote against him. her chief complaint was an alleged illegal investment the old boy continued to make. One thing Jeffries has going for him is that he has not asked for a raise in years. His investment strategy is conservative and he has, Gavello’s complaint not withstanding, been a good steward of Tustin’s money. On the down side, he is a one man office and over 80 years old by our calculations. It might be time to at least shop for a new investment manager.

Item 11 – Set Interview Dates for Open City Commission Seats – There are several openings coming up on the Planning and Community Services Commissions. We know who we would like to see on the Planning Commission, although he has told us he has changed his mind about applying.

Not a bad workload for the new city council. There are significant issues that need to be answered. Let’s see whether the new guys will show their own style or just cave to the will of Jerry….uh, I mean, John.

On the City Council Agenda, October 16, 2012

It should be a busy night for the Tustin City Council as the clock counts down to election day and a new council makeup. Heading the list on the Closed Session are the usual suspects along with a few liability claims and a conference with real property negotiators on two items. Also, expect a couple of items to be pulled from the Consent Calendar for further discussion.

The council should pull Item 3, Completion of the Frontier Park Fitness Element so councilmembers can give kudos to each other for the work and praise our staff for the fine job in getting this completed. It is a nice addition to the park.

Item 6 is a Response to a recent Grand Jury report on the demise of redevelopment agencies and the implementation of successor agencies to manage debt. The city was required to make a response to three of the findings and four of the recommendations regarding oversight and costs. The city’s response, which starts on page 38 of the staff report, basically says, “Yeah, we know we didn’t have the proper amount of oversight but, trust us, we did the right thing.” OK, but we wonder if the grand jury will be happy with that response. To their credit, they have since formed the required Oversight Board as required.

Item 8, regarding environmental insurance for the Tustin Legacy Project may raise some eyebrows. We are not sure how this one passes muster as council should have been foreseen that insurance would be required. After the budget process, staff are now recommending a $700,000 outlay for the insurance from undesignated Legacy funds. The way the city went about this, it seems like a little subterfuge was involved.

Under Regular Business, Item 10, is the second reading of the ordinance that will amend zoning for housing owned by Redhill Lutheran Church. Although one resident expressed concern over the impact of traffic and parking, we noted that the church has been using these houses and the storage as adjuncts to the church for some time. This ordinance will simply change the zoning to allow the church to come into conformance of zoning laws. As far as we know, there was no opposition from the neighbors in regard to how Redhill Lutheran was using the houses. If the public or a councilmember does not pull this item for discussion, it will be a simple vote of the council.

Item 11, City of Tustin Strategic Plan 2012-2017, is a big-ticket item. We first wrote about the strategic plan when Mayor Nielsen outlined it as one of his priorities during his term. In August, we reported that Management Partners, a consulting service with expertise in the field, produced a report that criticized the city fathers for, among other things, maintaining a poor relationship with TUSD, and not enough cooperation and civility between city council members.

The staff report from City Manager Jeff Parker, attaches the MP product to an outline of the strategic plan with key components addressed. There is a lot here to take in and we don’t know if the city council would actually implement the plan as outlined. There is a lot of discussion about demonstrative leadership, fairness and integrity that will be difficult for this council to accept. There is also that issue of transparency in government. While the city complies with all laws regarding transparency, there is no will to go above and beyond. An exception to that is the recent decision to continue to publish city meeting agendas in advance and make them available to the public under the Brown Act. A better response, however, would be to see this codified in a sunshine ordinance (along with lobbyist registration).

Another topic of discussion is Respect. Well, OK. It seems, for the most part, our current city council has a problem with that. The exceptions are Al Murray and Beckie Gomez, whom I have never observed being disrespectful of anyone, resident or colleague. As to the other three, well they give us a lot to talk about here on OTT.

Among other things, the Strategic Plan discusses working collaboratively with other agencies on mutual interest issues. They specifically call out TUSD on this. They also recommend providing a method for obtaining feedback and “strengthen our partnerships with the community.” This includes communicating the outcomes of the strategic plan to the community. We’ll see how that works.

A critical part of the plan, to our minds, is the establishment of succession planning for professional staff. With the city council’s inane approval of a golden parachute for 37 city employees, including the city clerk supervisor, a vacuum has been created that will take some effort to fill. The plan addresses this, albeit after the fact, by establishing training and creating an internal leadership academy. This is a proven idea that works but we will see if the city is willing to do what it takes to establish true succession planning.

Likewise, with the change in attitudes necessary for the council to stop bickering and move on with the business of the city. One of the implementation plan items is to “Promote and enhance a strong culture of ethics.” The plan falls short by simply giving the same old tired response of providing required ethics training and training on how to cultivate a culture of ethics. Hint to MP: you can be ethical and a jerk at the same time. Just ask John Nielsen. Perhaps the newly seated council will see the value in treating everyone with consideration.

One of the most useful items in the strategic plan document is the environmental scan that begins on page 29. This really gives a snapshot of Tustin in relationship to the rest of the county. It shows that we are in above average shape overall.

All in all, the Strategic Plan is a good read and deserves the consideration of the City Council. But, the plan is just that- a plan. That is, until the city council and the city manager make a genuine effort to implement it.

Courtesy of the Liberal OC

Item 14 on the agenda is a response to Councilmember Deborah Gavello’s request for an anti-lobbying ordinance. While Jerry Amante pointed out that Gavello was targeting him and his new job, the idea of a sunshine ordinance that would incorporate lobbyist registration and the publishing of councilmember calendars should be a priority to any city that touts transparency. The staff report on this item refers to the state law limiting lobbying efforts by councilmembers and city managers for the first year after leaving office. It also specifically states that state law does not preclude local agencies from adopting policies or ordinances that are more restrictive. We are disappointed that neither the City Manager, Jeff Parker, nor the City Attorney, David Kendig, recommended enhancing state law with an ordinance or, at the least, a strong policy that would open city council dealings to the public.

The final item on the agenda is a response to Mayor John Nielsen’s goal of establishing a stronger and better defined reserve fund for the city. We never argue with rainy day funding, especially when it is established to support infratstructure and emergency situations the city may face. Kudos to Nielsen for establishing this as a goal. We have to wonder why it was not addressed until well after this year’s budget was approved.

On The City Council Agenda, September 4, 2012

This week’s fairly long agenda is marked by a notable absence – no closed session discussion of the TUSD lawsuits.  There are the usual suspects, however. They include conference with legal counsel on exposure and initiation of litigation and a new liability claim from Gaurav Sasspal. There is also discussion over the sale and disposition of Tustin MCAS property.

On the Regular Agenda, their are 18 items for approval, most of which come under the consent calendar. Seveal of these items may be pulled for discussion. My bet would be Item 7, Tustin Ranch Road Phase 2 Improvements. For some reason, the city council always seems the need to discuss the extension whenever it comes up on the agenda. Folks who live in the area, however, should know that the upcoming phase will include lots of noise from the pile driving equipment as well as a suspension of the railroad’s quiet zone program that squelches train horns in the area.  While most of the noise will be during the weekdays, there will be some weekend activity to accommodate the railroads. The city’s website is supposed to have up-to-date information for local residents in the affected area. I know it’s tough, but it’s progress. And just think, you will eventually have a direct rout to the District….oh….

Item 11, Biennial Conflict of Interest Review, should also be pulled for discussion. I realize the city, in conformance with state law, is required to have certain classes of employees file annual reports under conflict of interest laws. The additions recommended to the City Manager in the staff report include upper level management from several departments, including positions in the city manager’s office, the community development and the police departments. But, there are several questionable deletions, including that of the Police Civilian Commander and a Senior Redevelpment Project Manager who, although the RDA has gone away, I am sure is still working for the city in some capacity.

The fact is, most positions, from supervisor to executive manager should be filing conflict of interest documents. After all, this is a city that claims transparency in government. If that is the case, it is a small issue to have employees at the lower classifications also fill out the forms. Oh, and post them on-line, of course, so we can decide for ourselves whether that Mercedes they are driving is due to graft or their paycheck.

Item 14, Police Department Vehicle Purchases also deserves a look. The police are seeking to purchase replacement vehicles for some of their fleet. Unfortunately, the city, in  deciding to seek the absolute lowest bidder, will go outside of Tustin to McPeek Dodge of Anaheim for the units. Under normal circumstances, I would applaud the city for saving us money. But, just how much money did they save by going to Anaheim?

McPeek’s was the low bidder at $27,465 per unit or $219,720 for all eight vehicles. Tuttle-Click Chrysler, the local dealer here in Tustin, came in at $28,045.30 or $224,362. That’s less than $5,000 dollars difference to shop locally. It wouldn’t take too much for staff to justify the purchase and the goodwill toward our merchants is immeasurable. Maybe the city council should reconsider this issue, especially since the conversion work will be performed in the city of Orange, leaving nothing for our local businesses.

Item 16 will allow the city council to set interview dates for applicants to the Planning Commission. The tentative date is October 2, 2012, at 4:30 pm. The city has yet to announce the vacancy left by Chuck Puckett when he became a candidate for the Tustin City Council. Is a month adequate notice? Will Jerry and the Gang of Three muster a new shill in time?

It’s that time of year, again. Oh, I mean for the first time. It was unfortunate that most voters did not understand the true purpose of the City Clerk’s Office to, among other things, act as a non-partisan, unbiased, reflector for the city council. As an independently elected position, the Clerk held a counterbalance that has often been needed in city politics. In 2010, the voters chose to do away with another key component of city government and rest the fate of the city clerk in the hands of the City Council. Make no mistake, this was a move made by the Gang of Three to consolidate power on the dais and remove any semblance of dissent that could not be immediately dealt with. Yes, the City Manager will have the authority to hire and fire. But, who do you think will be behind the scenes, particularly if the City Clerk dissents in opinon with the city council? We see how that worked for Julie Folcik, the City Clerk of Costa Mesa when she was replaced after a scheduling error.

Item 17, Delegation of Authority to Appoint City Clerk, will vest the authority to appoint the city clerk to the city manager. Do not expect to see a hiring notice on the city website. This will be a purely political appointment. And, it does not matter much which way the council decides on this as the alternative is to allow the city council to make the appointment directly. Some choice.

The elephant in the closet is Item 18, Response to July 2, 2012 Grand Jury Report. We recently wrote about the slap-down Jerry Amante received from the Orange County Grand Jury for attempting to bully staff at a Brandman/Chapman University into quashing a scathing report on city manager salaries and benefits. That report created a scandal in Orange County government circles when the report outlining the exorbitant salaries and benefits enjoyed by city managers was made public by the Orange County Register.

Now, the city staff, in lockstep with Hizzoner, has come up with a plan. The evil plan is diabolically clever: Deny everything and claim the grand jury is infringing on the good councilmen’s First Amendment Rights. Did you expect anything less?

What the city’s lawyers failed to comprehend is the fact that, according to the OC Grand Jury, these two councilmen (Amante and Songstad from Laguna Beach) were acting in their capacity as city councilmen to bully an educational system into quashing an embarrassing report. That fails the First Amendment smell test in my book.

It apparently fails several smell tests, as even Shirley Grindle, the long time activist and government watchdog for the county, took notice and publicly stated her dismay:

These two officials owe professor Fred Smoller a huge apology for their unethical behavior. Then they should resign from office as they have clearly shown a lack of judgment and an abuse of their power as elected officials.

Public officials should not be able to use the access their office affords to influence an academic curriculum, which is what Songstad and Amante succeeded in doing. The Association of California Cities, that went along with their efforts to do so, should have had the fortitude to say no as this is clearly not an area that a taxpayer-funded government organization should participate in.

While Grindle went as far as demanding a resignation from the two errant councilmen, Tustin resident will be satisfied knowing Hizzoner’s days are numbered. However, a response should certainly not be, “we have free speech rights”, when it was obvious what these two tried to do on behalf of virtually every city councilman in Orange County. How about censure, as one of the staff agenda options listed?

In any case, this issue involves a sitting councilman who should recuse himself from both discussion and voting on this matter.

So, there you have it. We plan to attend the city council meeting this week. We will also be tweeting live from the audience. That is, until Jerry spots me and sends his goons to oust me from the room.