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Again, No Video. What Gives, Jeff?

VHS-tapeWell, I am sure Tuesday’s Tustin City Council meeting was decidedly drab. The highlights, I am told , were the presentations made at the beginning of the Open Session. You and I may never know. So far, there has been no video posting of the meeting on their website. This is the second meeting in a row that has not been posted. The September 3 meeting, had an update of the Strategic Plan that we have been waiting to hear about.

So, what gives? Usually, even when there is a glitch, the media team manages to put up a non-functioning link that indicates the video will eventually be posted. So far, nothing for any September meeting. We sent an email off to the city clerk. Hopefully, she can shed some light on the issue.

The city has been posting video as well as broadcasting the meeting on cable TV for some time. I am not sure how many folks avail themselves of the video but, in my opinion, it is vital to continue as a show of open access to government City Manager Jeff Parker and the City Council continue to tout.

Granted, the city has been plagued with seeming glitches that frequently prevent the video from being accessed in a timely manner. But, it has always been posted eventually.

As James Taylor sings, shed a little light on this, Jeff.

Update – Shortly after we finished this article, I received an email from the city clerk’s officer explaining the problem and apologizing for the inconvenience. In part, the email said, “In August we started experiencing problems uploading the meeting videos to the website.  Our IT staff is currently working with the Granicus support staff to correct the issue and we hope to have it resolved soon. ” We still question the timing of the breakdown. However they also offered to send a copy of the video which, in the interest of open government, I took them up on. I’ll let you know of any conspiracies I find.

Of course, in the end, this sort of shoots down former councilman Jerry Amante’s complaint against his peer Deborah Gavello when he complained of the hundreds of dollars and manhours it cost the city to produce a DVD for her of each meeting.

Go figure…

Government Insiders Threaten the Initiative Process | Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association – Mozilla Firefox

(Although Rex Rabin of the Sacramento Bee may have a different opinion on the Initiative process, we tend to agree with Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Tax Institute. We are blessed with the ability to force grass-roots democracy on our government leaders. Some of those same leaders are threatening to take away this tool of self-determination – Jeff)


August 18, 2013

By Jon Coupal

Are you and your neighbors fed up with the policies of your local officials? For over one hundred years, disgruntled Californians have had the option of responding to onerous local ordinances or other government decisions by using the initiative to affect change, but a recent appellate court decision may mean the end of the voters’ right to use the initiative process at the local level.

It is no secret that politicians and bureaucrats detest the initiative process. Government insiders find it annoying that average citizens have the option to place measures on the ballot which can spoil their best laid plans.

Of course the initiative process was not established to make the political class more comfortable. It was intended to allow voters to act as the lawmakers of last resort when representatives proved to be indolent, incompetent, corrupt, or just plain unresponsive. Many Californians are aware that that the state-level initiative and referendum were adopted in 1911, but initiative rights at the county level date back to 1893. Unfortunately, this local option may be about to end if an appellate court decision, that allows the Mission Springs Water District (MSWD) to reject placing a qualified initiative on the ballot, is upheld by the California Supreme Court.

When Mission Springs water users reacted to a 40% rate increase by collecting signatures to qualify an initiative that would roll back the increase, while allowing annual adjustments for inflation, the MSWD was required by statute to place the initiative on the next regularly scheduled election ballot. However, the District withheld the initiative from the ballot and instead sued the initiative proponents for declaratory relief. It alleged that, without the 40% increase, it would be unable to pay its bills (a claim that initiative sponsors who are all current or former elected officials, say is bogus).

On behalf of initiative sponsors, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association attorneys filed a motion, seeking to dismiss the case as a meritless “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” (SLAP) == these suits are used by government agencies to intimidate and harass citizens who actively oppose their actions.

Taxpayer attorneys argued that local agencies, when presented with a duly qualified initiative, do not have the option of withholding it from the voters and filing a years-long action for declaratory relief. Rather, they are required by statute to place the initiative on the ballot and let the voters approve or reject it while the issue is timely. If the voters reject the initiative, it is then unnecessary for either side to incur the expense of litigation. If the voters approve it, there is still ample opportunity for the agency to seek judicial review.

The court denied the motion and said where a local agency contends that an initiative is invalid, it may withhold the initiative from the ballot and sue the proponents for declaratory relief, even though such cases take years to decide. This means the government may now simply withhold an initiative from the ballot for any reason, and file an action for declaratory relief against the proponents. Then, whether the government wins the case or loses, it wins — because it has succeeded in keeping the initiative off the ballot.

While Mission Springs involved an initiative to roll back a rate increase, many other initiative types will be affected by this decision. Proposed land use changes, term limits, changes to public employee benefits, government transparency, and many other initiative proposals have met opposition from elected officials. That is why the people, in their constitution, reserved the power of initiative — so that they could pass needed laws that their elected officials were unwilling to enact. But if elected officials can prevent such initiatives from ever seeing the light of day, and if the initiative backers are rewarded for their time and sacrifice by getting dragged into court for years, then the right of initiative may as well not exist, for no sane person would exercise it. For a meaningful right of initiative to continue to exist in California, it is imperative that the Mission Springs decision be reversed.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is petitioning the California Supreme Court for review. We are counting on the justices to agree that the people’s right to the initiative should not be arbitrarily denied by local officials who believe they may be inconvenienced by the passage of a properly qualified measure.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Could The Tustin City Council Learn Something From Santa Ana?

you can't teach an old dog new tricksThe Voice of OC ran an article today on a meeting held in Santa Ana over the weekend. The meeting was a first for Santa Ana officials and residents who numbered over 200. The meeting, held at the local senior center, allowed residents to discuss and give input on a variety of topics ranging from public safety to job training for young people.

The meeting was apparently a result of the new sunshine ordinance enacted last year by the Santa Ana City Council. At the time the ordinance which, among other things required adequate notice of meetings and community input during early phases of development projects, was called a “red-tape” proposal by Mayor Miguel Pulido. Opposed to any form of open-access government, Pulido said the ordinance would hinder development.

On the other hand, Councilman Vince Sarmiento said the law should have been in place years ago and could have prevented the “park poor” image Santa Ana now has.

We first wrote about the Santa Ana ordinance in September of last year, seeing the law as a big step toward making amends to a citizenry the city council had largely ignored. At the time, we wrote the biggest reason for having an ordinance of this type:

If you have to ask why an ordinance like this is needed, it was summed up when Councilmember Carlos Bustamante asked SACReD organizer Ana Urzua what she would gain by knowing who the councilman is meeting with, she replied, “So we know we cant trust you.”

At nearly the same time as the Santa Ana proposal came before their council, then councilwoman Deborah Gavello asked that a sunshine ordinance be agendized for discussion at the Tustin City Council meeting. John Nielsen, a Jerry Amante protege’, nixed the idea, saying the city was already working on a strategic plan that included an ethics component. That plan, however, did not mention anything about an anti-lobbying piece that Gavello felt key to the issue.

It was pretty obvious the idea of bringing sunshine into the city of Tustin was not going to go far, particularly considering the acrimony between Gavello and the rest of the council. Unfortunately, the city’s Strategic Plan, when it was unveiled, had obviously been worked over by the city staff, who did not appreciate the findings of Management Partners. The authors of the plan found a lot to be concerned with in the ethics department and said so publicly.

There was a lot of hoopla and backslapping by the city council when the strategic plan was finally approved. But, there has been no update since the plan was implemented and we are kind of wondering if the whole idea has been cast to the sidelines.

At the time Gavello introduced the idea publicly, that our city might be working more in shadow than in sunlight, we agreed with other community leaders that an ordinance was in order. Now, as our neighbor to the West, Santa Ana, has come to terms with their own ordinance, they are seeing the benefits to allowing the public freer access to city government.

As residents spoke, city officials wrote their opinions on large paper sheets, easily consuming dozens of them. The youth education and recreation topic alone received more than 100 ideas scribbled on yellow Post-its.

It was all part of a process that is new to Santa Ana: a strategic plan.

Santa Ana has elected to take the ideas of their residents, rather than only developers business owners as Tustin has done, to shape the future of their city. And, while their sunshine ordinance leaves a lot to be desired, it is obvious that city leaders are not doing just the minimum to comply with the law. Rather, they are taking the matter into their own hands and letting sunshine flow where the shadows of government used to lurk.

Where’s The Leadership?

Council view of Jeff Parker's 21st Century Hiring Process

Council view of Jeff Parker’s 21st Century Hiring Process

Suffice it to say, the water in Tustin may taste terrible but it is healthy, according to the Public Health Goals 2010-2012 report as presented at the July 2nd Tustin City Council meeting by Water Services Manager, Art Valenzuela.

It seems we aren’t the only ones who are unhappy with the five percent raise being considered for Police Chief Scott Jordan during this session. Councilmember Beckie Gomez pointed out that, last year, Jordan received a five percent raise that was supposedly for a two year period. She let the cat out of the bag (sorry it took so long to get to this) and said the chief, in spite of the raise that was supposed to keep him here, has now chosen to leave the city.


So, the city decided to give him a parting gift of another five percent raise….. for what? Gomez, as the only true fiscally responsible person sitting ont he dais, pointed out the absurdity of this. Saying that her comments were not about his work performance, she said the raise reflects a ten percent raise in less than a year. “I think it would be inappropriate to add another five percent because that would be ten percent in just over a year, and that’s not what we’ve done in respect with our other employees.”

Gomez made a motion to bifurcate the item in order to vote separately on Jordan’s raise. Surprisingly, Councilmember John Nielsen provided the second for Gomez’ motion. Now, here is where it gets interesting.

First, Gomez had to explain the motion to the Podiatrist Councilman because he has trouble understanding anything that isn’t drawn in pictures. They also had to wake up Chuck so he could vote with the block. I’m not sure if Nielsen was just being nice or if he really agreed with Beckie on this one. In any case, Nielsen and Gomez were the only votes in favor of deciding these issues separately.

In a moment of absurdity, Councilmember Chuck Puckett showed his ignorance in moving the entire item saying, “We have an excellent city manager and city police chief.” Yes, Chuck, we did until the police chief decided to leave. So, where does it make sense to give him a parting gift of 5 percent? And, where was the public discussion of the proposed raises for the deputy city manager and the departing chief? Apparently, that is not part of the open government plan in the City of Tustin. Of course, that doesn’t matter to Puckett who, again, showed he either doesn’t read the material presented or he doesn’t care when he thought they were discussing the city manager when, in fact, the proposal included the Deputy City Manager.

The other item we would like to have seen called out by Gomez was subitem 3 of item 6 that further cements Parker’s ability to abridge employment hiring rules at his discretion. However, the item was pointed out to the city employee’s union and they were not concerned either. Good luck when new hires are no longer represented by the union.

The final items on the agenda were the agreements with the unions representing the Tustin Police Officers, Police Management and the Police Support Services. The union representing the rank and file employees in the city, Tustin Municipal Employees Association, have reached impasse (although the city won’t admit it) and talks have been suspended as far as we know. Apparently, they are the only ones ticked off about the shenanigans between the corrupt city council and the executive managers over their incentive pay.

Although no one is talking the sticking point, we think, may be the city’s desire to accelerate the increased payments by employees to pay their full share of the cost of their pensions. Previously, they had agreed to a timetable for coming to full payment. But the city, impressed by non-existent data that puts the city at risk for pensions, asked for employees to pay their full share beginning this year. Of course, this is without the benefit of a raise to offset the cost, such as Chief Jordan received last year and Deputy City Manager Charles Robinson will receive just as soon as Parker can sign the papers. And, don’t forget, now that Parker has full authority, he does not need to notify the city council or anyone else about Robinson’s raise.

To their credit, the city will increase the Flexible Benefits payments in the second year. However, with the expected increase in costs for healthcare, this is probably a wash.

Regardless of the kudos the city council lavished on the staff and employees for coming to resolution, don’t expect the TMEA to roll over any time soon. My sources tell me they are prepared to sit it out as long as necessary. They are not happy about the lack of leadership shown by the conservative council who continue to lavish raises and benefits on executive and mangerial employees while ignoring the rank and file. This council meeting showed their continued disdain for employees in the city and for labor in general.