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On The City Council Agenda – April 7, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartThe Closed Session business on this week’s Tustin City Council may take longer to shuffle through than the Open Session. The Closed Session will be split with the city council re-convening for labor negotiations discussions at the end of the Regular Meeting.

One interesting item on the Closed Session Agenda is a consultation with the chief of police regarding a threat to public services or facilities. It’s hard to imagine anyone seriously considering harm to our sleepy little town’s civic structure. Of course, labor negotiations are commencing….

Three liability claims and the usual real estate negotiations round out the Closed Session.

Although a Public Hearing on the Community Development Block Grant consolidated plan and action plan head up the Regular Session, I doubt there will be much discussion. This was supposed to be the second required public hearing on the report. Staff have apparently not had enough time to do what they do. So, they are asking for a continuance.

There is not a lot on the Consent Calendar either, save for Item 6, Third Amendment to Contract with CR&R Incorporated.

The waste and recycling police are at it again with another rate increase. I am not and will never be a fan of, what I believe robber baron tustinis, one of the worst waste management companies a city ever had the displeasure of being stuck with. Their equipment, although supposedly “green”, is frequently broken down and the trash bins they use are of the worst quality (I’ve had three of them break). Nonetheless, they provide their fair share of campaign funding to the City Council and their aspirants. So, don’t expect anything besides a quick 5-0 vote to accommodate them. There are some ancillary items city staff are also recommending that might be of interest. You can read the staff report here.

The sole item under Regular Business is the establishment of a Veteran’s Advisory and Ad Hoc Committee. This is John Nielsen’s baby and, as we previously opined, a ploy for him to try and get back in good graces with the veterans in the city. Let’s not forget that there are strong indications that Nielsen intends to run for the legislature. We previously wrote about his anti-veterans collaboration with Amante.

Now, it seems, he is smart enough to know he needs the veterans on his side. Perhaps this and the recent applause for the Veterans Memorial will get him back in their good graces.

As I said, the labor negotiations discussions follow the Regular Session. Don’t expect to hear anything on their outcome for a few weeks. The increases in tax receipts, however, bode well for the rank-and-file employees if they don’t cave (against the reported advice of their negotiators) like they did last time.

Impatient Protesters Push Council’s Buttons

credit: Voice of OC

credit: Voice of OC

Apologies, I have been away from the computer for a few weeks due to heavy commitments. This week doesn’t look much better. However, I thought I would at least try to bring you up to date on an issue that doesn’t seem to want to go away – and for good reason.

While preparing my regular report on the upcoming city council meeting, I had a chance to view the video from the May 6th meeting where local  citizens and activists from other cities managed to take up some time in public comments to -once again- protest the police shooting of Robert Villa. As you recall, protesters and outside rabble rousers managed to disrupt the city council meeting several weeks ago. At that meeting, the protests became so disruptve a visibly shaken Mayor Al Murray had to recess the council meeting. To his credit, he did not react to force the protesters outside. The May 6th protest was substantially less disruptive with protesters carrying signs and speaking in turn at the podium.

Villa’s mother was the first to speak and asked simply for the name of the officers who shot her son. Two other relatives of Villa also pleaded with the city council for action. One speaker, an outside rabble rouser who admitted he goes to various cities where police shootings have occurred, spoke “in support of the family”.

Mayor Murray, ever the gentleman, responded that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office was investigating the incident and the city would “make the findings known” to the public.

But, they weren’t done yet.

Other protesters, including the mother of Paul Quintanar who was killed in 2011 in a bizzare accident after a police contact, spoke to the council about putting a policy in place that would “help” the family members. The accident was investigated by the CHP and, I am sure, by the Tustin Police. I’m not sure what Marie Sales, Quintanar’s mother was looking for but it is a bit of a stretch to even blame the police for the young man’s demise since it was his running away from the police that inadvertently caused his death to begin with. Family members say they have trouble understanding why he chose to run. I imagine the police do too.

Sadly, Quintanar’s death followed that of his grandmother, who was also killed in a tragic accident near the location at where he died. That incident did not involve police contact, although the driver of the vehicle that hit her was not charged.

In any case, it is interesting to see the protesters coming from other cities (as if they don’t have enough to do in their own) to “support” the victims families here. It’s also interesting to see how the criminal and mental health history of the individuals is minimized by the protesters. While it is a sad day when anyone has to die, all circumstances must be taken into account. I would say after the District Attorney’s actions in the Kelly Thomas case, where a jury found the officers not guilty, his office is not likely to whitewash future officer involved shooting investigations.

Some of the protesters mentioned they would be back at future city council meetings. If the reason is to force the police and DA into moving faster, they are wasting their time. If a police coverup is suspected, I remind them that all officer involved shooting in this city are investigated by the district attorney’s office. Perhaps they should move their protest there, instead. In any case, your voices have been heard by the public and the city council. Murray has responded in the only way he could, given the circumstances. At the least, future protests should wait until the outcome of the investigation, which Murray said would be made public.

As I mentioned, Mayor Murray reached out to the protesters saying City Manager Jeff Parker and Chief of Police Charlie Celano were more than willing to sit down with families and protesters to discuss the incident and what was being done. When I contacted the city, I was told that not one protester has called to set up that offered meeting. One has to wonder what the true reason for the protests were if not to begin meaningful dialogue.

Playing Politics With Pensions

chicken_little-sky-is-fallingNot much has been happening lately in our town Tustin. The hallowed halls of the city were originally scheduled to be dark for the next few weeks. That is, until the city council, who cancelled a regular meeting for July and then rescheduled for tonight, July 24, 2013. The only items on the agenda are the awarding of a contract for a storm drainage project and a closed item session (which we would bet is the real pressing issue) to discuss negotiations for real property that looks to be on the MCAS. We’ll have to see if they can manage to get the video up after the meeting. They had a bit of trouble (again) for the last meeting and we are not sure if it ever did get posted.

It doesn’t take a video to determine the level of corruption and inept governing by this bunch however. One simply has to look around at the obvious cronyism and corruption that is considered “good government” by our conservative city council.

One item on the last agenda was the acceptance of the contract for the last of the city employee unions, Tustin Municipal Employees Association. As we have told you before, management of the association is actually contracted to the Orange County Employees Association, a public employee union that handles the contract affairs for about 17,000 city, county and special district employees in the county.

Among the provisions of the TMEA contract is one that should send shivers up the spines of any rank-and-file worker. As part of the deal, the TMEA has agreed to pay the full employee cost of pensions. That in itself is long overdue and we agree that it is about time all employees, including management and executives, pay their fair share of pension costs as determined by their respective pension plans (in this case, CalPers).

What is scary is that city negotiators have managed to eke out another provision that will eventually go into effect. This is a requirement by employees to pay a portion of the employer’s cost of pensions. The initial three percent does not sound like much but it opens the door pension critics have long awaited. If three percent today, then how much next year? Fortunately for the city’s employees, they will get a breather next year as their contract is for two years.

What makes this situation worse is the blatant disregard for employees the city council had when they not only gave Chief Scott Jordan a raise last year, ostensibly to keep him here, but also another five percent raise as a going away present on the eve of his departure from the city employment ranks. Then, they turned around and cried pending insolvency if the employees didn’t rolll over on their pension demands. The contract, by the way, was narrowly approved indicating that nearly half the employees were not happy with the provisions.

Nick Berardino, General Manager of OCEA, recently published a guest article in the Orange County Register:

On July 6 the Orange County Register published a story highlighting excessive pension benefits for public employees, this time focused on executives and managers in the “$100K pension club.”

Ultimately, that story, helps to explain why we continue to be bombarded with stories about this issue, even after Governor Brown has signed into law sweeping pension reforms and after public employees across the state have agreed to significant additional reforms.

What continues to be missed is a consequence of the fact that some politicians understand the public employee pension issue resonates with the public. So, in order to keep the issue in the forefront, those politicians have an interest in creating doomsday scenarios and making the cost of pensions to taxpayers as high as possible.

And I believer that is what is happening at the Orange County Employees Retirement System, or OCERS, which administers pension benefits for the County, the Fire Authority and many cities and special districts [not Tustin, who is administered by CalPers-ed.] in Orange County.

Over the past year the OCERS trustees – some of whom actively bash pensions in public and belong to aggressively anti-public employee organizations – have taken one action after another to artificially drive up the cost of pension benefits.

This isn’t about “facing reality” or “not kicking the can down the road” or “inter-generational equity.” It’s about furthering a radical political agenda. And the sickest part of the scheme?

They are funding it with your taxpayer dollars and it’s you who are paying for it. You should also know some legitimate facts that are repeatedly left out of the news stories and editorials.

First, county employees represented by the Orange County Employees Association pay 100 percent of their pension costs and they pay the entire cost to the county of the 2004 improvement to a 2.7 percent at 55 year old formula.

Second, county employees do not receive Social Security benefits. Third, the average pension for OCEA member retirees is $33,000 per year. That’s a long way from the “$100,000Club” referenced in the Register’s story.

Nick, a good friend of ours, goes on to point out the fact that it is employees, not the politicians, who have been at the forefront of pension reform. Some of those reforms at the county level have included being the first employee organization to require 100 percent contributions for pensions as well as developing (despite what the politicians may say) the first hybrid plan that includes a lesser defined benefit combined with a 401(k) style component to allow for lower cost and better management of employee benefits.

What politicians are now doing, to fortify their “sky is falling” fiction, is to artificially manipulate pension numbers to make it appear as if their is a crisis when their isn’t. For example, OCERS just recently lowered the Assumption Rate, the expected rate of return on investment for the fund, by a quarter percent from 7.5 to 7.25. This, even though the market is recoverning nicely and the fund has been posting record returns for the past several years with no indication it will falter. This not only raises the employee’s pension costs by another 6.5 percent in the next two years, it also costs the taxpayer in the form of employer paid costs mandated by law. So, who is the real loser?

Tustin, as a member of CalPers, has also benefited from record gains made in their pension system. In a recent press release, CalPers stated a return on investment for the past year of 12.5 percent on an Assumption Rate of 7.5 percent. Tustin City Council and their corrupt city manager, Jeff Parker, knew this as they were negotiating the new contract. Lamenting their supposed fiscal woes at the negotiation table, the employees apparently bought it hook, line and sinker.

Like many public employees, city of Tustin workers have mostly gone without raises over the past few years due, mostly, to the economy. I say most of them, because the Tustin City Council and City Manager Jeff Parker have managed to reward executives and senior managers, all unrepresented, with lucrative raises by manipulating the system to their benefit. In the so-called open government of Tustin, managers have been given new titles and old positions eliminated, supposedly with the eye toward saving the city money. In reality, we suspect many of these so-called new titles are simply ways to reward long term senior employees while hiding the truth from a gullible rank-and-file. The only question at this point is whether the Tustin City Council is complicit or being sold a bill of goods by a conniving city management team.

Striking a Blow for a Free Press – Supreme Court Rejects Public Records Policy

California-Supreme-CourtIn a blow for freedom, the California Supreme Court ruled that Orange County’s exemption from public records law is illegal.

The case stems from a request to Orange County by the Sierra Club for access to their computerized satellite mapping system. The system, which cost millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, was originally offered to the Sierra Club for a third of a million dollars. The Club refused, saying that the database is a public record and, therefore the county should follow the California Public Records law in making it available at cost.

Lower courts aligned with the county and ruled against the Sierra Club who then took the issue to the California Supreme Court. In ruling for the Sierra Club, the court said Orange County must provide access to the system at the actual cost of duplication.

We hold that although GIS mapping software falls within the ambit of this statutory exclusion, a GIS-formatted database likethe OC Landbase does not. Accordingly, such databases are public records that, unless otherwise exempt, must be produced upon request at the actual cost of duplication.

While this ruling specifically addresses a single public record it should, by inference, affect access to all public records in the state. That is good news for the media in general.

In a public records case last year, the city of Anaheim resisted a request for archived emails from city records. When pressed by the Voice of OC, the city then attempted to extract a $19,000 fee for reconstructing the records which had been deleted. Voice of OC and Californians Aware threatened a lawsuit in that case. The emails were allegedly destroyed in response to the Voice of OC’s request.

The City of Tustin has been particularly generous in granting access to public records. In one case where the number of records requested by Our Town Tustin resulted in several binders of information, we were given access in the City Clerk’s foyer rather than insist on charging for duplication. So, while this ruling may not do much for us directly, it will certainly insure the doors remain open for future access.