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On The City Council Agenda – January 20, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartUnless the councilmembers suddenly get an urge to actually discuss something, it looks like it will be a fairly short meeting of the Tustin City Council on Tuesday. Councilman Bernsein, are you back yet? Chuck missed you.

The Closed Session, which begins at 5:30 PM, hosts the usual suspects. Several discussions regarding existing or potential litigation include a long standing case, now an appellate case, between the city’s old Redevelopment Agency and the Department of Finance. And, while the city attorney decided to keep the wraps on the case, we’ve been able to surmise it involves several million dollars of disputed RDA funds. It turns out the parties reached an agreement in December and we should soon see this issue drop off the radar.

Redevelopment agencies were dissolved by law back in 2011. Unfortunately, as is the usual case with a half-baked legislature, they only did half the job and made up for it by creating, so-called “successor agencies”. Much of this was in the middle of the state attempting to remain solvent by grabbing as much tax money from cities and counties as possible. This, of course, generated millions of dollars in business for lawyers which, I’m sure, our city attorney is happy to keep going as long as possible.

Most of the Regular Session items are on the Consent Calendar. Perusing the Demands and Payroll, the only item of interest is the apparent high cost of our mylawyercontract city attorneys at Woodruff, Speadlin & Smart. Perhaps City Attorney David Kendig is trying for partner. Total cost of our attorney services this month is $17 thousand and change. That’s apparently in addition to the $34 thousand plus the lawyers charged for Successor RDA work and other legal fees hidden sprinkled throughout the report. You’ll have to be the judge of whether we are getting our money’s worth.

Most of the other items on the agenda are routine business and we doubt they will generate much discussion. Item 6, Long Range Property Management Plan and Item 7, Amend and Reinstate the Working Capital Loan, etc., are two more pieces to the puzzle left by the RDA. We know the city council would love the legislature to reinstate the RDAs in California. Like most cities, they have been dragging their feet and crossing their fingers in hopes of resurrection. With any luck, they will run out of excuses and money to play with and disappear completely before that happens.

Two items will round out the Regular Business. Item 8, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2014 is the annual financial analysis of the city. I’m not much for numbers but you can read the report here. The short version is here.

Item 9, Commission Vacancies, lists the expiring terms of the Planning, Community Services and Audit Commissions. There are three terms expiring on each. Most of these carry a tidy stipend for a bit of community service. As soon as they are posted, we’ll let you know (along with who has applied).

That’s it for this meeting. We’ll let you know if anything interesting happens…..or anyone shows up for the meeting.

By the way, welcome back Chief Cellano.

Who Is That Guy?

With the resignation of Chuck Puckett from the Tustin Planning Commission, the city council has been left with the task of selecting a new candidate for the position.  As you know, Puckett left the Chair of the planning commission to run for city council. The city then advertised the open position which the council may choose to fill tonight.

Of the two candidates who filed papers, one was disqualified for not meeting residency requirements. That left only one qualified candidate. He is Wisam (Sam) Altowaiji and he is an insider. In fact, he is a Public Works Manager working under Doug Stack. Altowaiji has a civil engineer background, as does current Planning Commissioner Jeff Thompson, and has worked for the city for the past 25 years. His wife is a real estate broker in town and they live and own property here in Tustin. Altowaiji states he has worked for the city for 25 years and, while planning to retire at the end of October, would like to “continue to serve/contribute to and share” his knowledge.

Never mind the pool of applicants should not be limited to one or two, there are huge potential conflicts of interest for Altowaiji. He will be an immediate past employee of the city, from their public works department. By his own admission, he is familiar with what the city staffers (read Jerry and Elizabeth’s) “vision” is for the city. While not a legal conflict of interest here, there is an ethical issue. Will he just stroll in and speak with whom he chooses, conducting behind the scenes meetings out of view of the public? There is little to prevent that from happening.

He and his wife own property here. A quick records search revealed several deeds recorded in his name. Owning a personal residence is one thing but owning businesses or rental properties within the city could also pose a problem. And, while these conflicts could be quickly remedied by an abstention on a vote, the question would remain that, with his wife being a real estate broker, how many of her clients would benefit from insider information he could provide.

The city council has several options at this point. First, they can proceed with an “interview” and appoint Altowaiji to the position. The outward appearance of this appointment would be that Altowaiji, supposedly having his finger on the pulse of the city, would be under the thumb of The Gang of Three. Altowaiji is filling an unexpired term that ends in 2014. The new city council could recall him before that but it’s doubtful that would happen without cause.

A second option for the city council would be to extend the deadlline for applicants, advertise more broadly and hope they get a larger pool of qualified applicants to choose from.

The third option would be to postpone appointment of a new commissioner until the new council is seated. This would allow the new council, whoever they may be, to have the candidate of their choice appointed to the position rather than a leftover lame-duck appointee from the Amante era. The commission would continue to run with four commissioners which, based on their usual unanimous voting scheme, would not hinder their ability to conduct city business. This option is our preference and should be the preference for a city that touts its transparency.

The Special City Council meeting will be held at 4:30 pm before the Closed Session convenes. As most residents who attend city council meetings are not available until later, the council will be free to do whatever is in their hearts. Let’s just hope they do the right thing.