The main reason last week’s Tustin City Council meeting took so long was because it turned into a love fest for Hizzoner, councilman Jerry Amante. While Mayor Nielsen’s acknowledgment of Bill Campbell took only a minute or two, He lavished so much praise on Amante, I thought for a minute he was married to him. Campbell spent more time talking about himself than John did, which begs the question, what will John do without Jerry’s hand up his backside making his mouth move?
John lavished praise on Hizzoner as he listed the long political history of the two while still trying to convince the public that Amante is a dedicated public servant who served the city of Tustin well. Calling him “the most dedicated public servant that I’ve seen in the city of Tustin”, Nielsen said he puts it all in. Before he got too far, he called on others to lavish praise on Amante as well. OC Supervisor Bill Campbell, our district’s lame duck county supervisor, spent some time articulating Jerry’s broad thinking when it came to regional issues. Of course, he must have been talking about Amante’s dedication to pushing the Foothill Extension that would have torn up thousands of acres of coastal environment for the sake of another toll road. Or, was he talking about his regional thinking of implementing a toll road on the I-405 to allow him and his cronies (that could afford it) to ride in style to the airport?
So, the night went, with several politicians singing the praises of Amante and sometimes, as in Assemblymember Don Wagner’s dissertation, throwing a bone to Councilmember Gavello. Wagner was the most gracious to Deborah, in fact, asking her to come down and join him at the podium for a photo op. Yes, it was getting pretty sappy in the council chambers and I even saw a tear or two from Jerry, probably crying over the fact he wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to do away with term limits while he was still in office. All in all, the evening was extended by a full 27 minutes while John, who is probably wondering who will help him speak in full sentences now that Jerry is gone, and others lavished praise on Il Duce. There was more during council comments and we heard Beckie even gave him a kiss. eeyuwhhh….
Yes, Jerry “Hizzoner” Amante has managed, in eight years (we won’t speak about his time on the Planning Commission), to do quite a bit for our little city that was outlined by his Republican fan club. We thought it might be nice to reminisce on the other things Jerry has managed to do for us as well. Now, this blog has only been around for about a year and a half. In that time, Amante and his wrecking crew have managed to do their fair share.
For example, Jerry was the focus of only the second recall attempt of a City Councilmember (that we know of) in Tustin’s history. In fact, it was his acerbic demeanor toward the citizens he serves as well as his poor treatment of other councilmembers that caused a small band of intrepid citizens to start a grass-roots movement to recall Hizzoner. The recall fizzled in its final moments when the proponents fell a few hundred signatures shy of the required number to implement a recall vote. But
Although Mayor John Nielsen extolled Hizzoner’s fiscal conservativeness, the facts speak for themselves. This year, as in the previous year, the Amante led city council dipped into city reserves in order to balance the budget. Cost this year? Four million dollars.
Could we forget how Jerry and his crew managed to sidestep the cellular tower issue at Cedar Grove Park with T-Mobile while still maintaining the integrity of the cellular service plan? Although hundreds of citizens who live in the area protested the installation of the towers in their local park, the city council did absolutely nothing to prevent T-Mobile from having its way with the city. In fact, Amante and his hit man, Al Murray, were adamantly in favor of the design review. Had it not been for the rare split with Nielsen, who voted against the installation, it would have sailed through like most Amante led items. Behind the scenes, however, was the fast work of the three amigos as T-Mobile filed a Federal lawsuit and the city folded like a house of cards by refusing to defend the lawsuit.
Not so for the lawsuits between Tustin Unified School District. Jerry was instrumental in causing the entire debacle between the city and the school district. Responding to the city’s threats to stop construction on school projects around the city, the school district was forced to sue the city and the result was lawsuits and cross-suits by both sides to the tune of over two million dollars in taxpayer money. This year, one of the lawsuits brought by the Jerry and the city, was laughed out of Riverside Superior Court where the city sought a change of venue in hopes of a friendlier climate. The judge chastised the city for bringing lame arguments that would not hold water with a first year law student to the table. We chastised the good ol’ boys for their racist attitude when they allowed racially derogatory remarks to be entered into the record.
Should I mention the iPads? But, of course. It was Jerry’s grand idea, while the city was facing a multi-million dollar shortfall, to bring the city council into the 21st century by having the city buy iPads for councilmembers. This wasn’t a line item on the budget and the cash was pulled from the same reserves used to balance the budget. And, while Hizzoner said the iPads would save thousands of dollars in taxpayer money, no one around the city could tell me if it saved a dime.
Let’s not forget how much our fiscally conservative mayor cost the city to hire a new city manager when Amante lackey Bill Huston retired then, only to fire the guy just a few months into the job. We don’t have an exact amount because we couldn’t get ahold of the original contract but, suffice to say, David Biggs -who now works as city manager for Carson, California- came out smelling like a rose with a six figure golden parachute. We got saddled with nearly another year of Huston while the headhunters were busy looking for someone stupid enough to work for Amante and his crew.
Enter Jeff Parker.
Parker, who was hired in November of last year and, through sharp negotiations skills managed to cull a sizable salary and benefits package that included being placed on the old 2%@55 retirement plan, exploded onto the scene like a dull firecracker. He was apparently hired more for his ability to acquiesce to the bully Amante rather than his management skills. He fully joined in to the Amante fan club, in fact, and supports every lawsuit Hizzoner has pushed for. Well, lawsuits are much more important than being fiscally conservative, right?
Unlike Biggs, our old City Attorney, Doug Holland, saw the writing on the wall and resigned. Rumor has it that he and Amante did not exactly see eye to eye on the school district lawsuits either. In his resignation letter, Holland simply stated he could not work for Tustin and his other client Palm Springs at the same time with the same “high level” he expected of himself. So, it made sense to dump Tustin, which is right around the corner from home and keep Palm Springs, ninety miles away. Sure. We’ll go for that. Or, we could go for our original conspiracy theory that Amante was cleaning house of all who would dare oppose him. At least he did not dump the entire law office of Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart as we thought he might. Instead, he found another lackey, David Kendig who is more than willing to shine Hizzoner’s Italian stilettos while dodging our phone calls.
If we thought Jerry might wind down toward the end of his political career (he failed miserably at his bid for the state assembly) with little fanfare, he managed to make his mark in other ways that would set his fiscally conservative approach to
terrorizing governing, in stone.
Remember Lisa Woolery? A few years ago, Jerry tagged Lisa to be the city’s public information officer and his personal publicist. It was hard to believe that Tustin would need a full-time communications officer. It wasn’t so hard to believe that Hizzoner would need all the help he could get in the publicity arena. So, Lisa spent a great deal of time espousing the transparency in government of the city and spent as much time trying to keep Amante in a good light. The only problem is, even Lisa couldn’t make chicken soup out of chickens….. well, you know what I mean. Despite her efforts, Amante’s true nature shone through and in the end, her efforts were for nought.
Jerry must have thought so too, as the city council decided they didn’t need a full-time PIO after all. Instead of letting Woolery go, though, they cut her hours to a part-time position. It didn’t take her long to get the idea and cut the cord.
Well, the year is over as is Jerry Amante’s long reign of terror on the dais. No one here will miss his (half) wit as Mayor Nielsen and Councilmember Gomez seem to think they will. And, even though we have all Republicans on the dais, we are ever hopeful that Councilman-elect, Chuck Puckett, will hold true to his word to work toward a better Tustin. In any case, he and the podiatrist councilman will have a great time figuring out who sits next to Beckie.
I got a note from Jenny Grich of the Tustin Public Schools Foundation. As you know, they put on the Annual Dinosaur Dash that has become part of the tapestry of life here in Tustin. Participation rates right up there with Tiller Days and the Chili Cookoff. This year’s event was held on November 4, 2012. Held at the Tustin Marketplace, the event draws thousands of people a year to run and, this year, ride the mean streets of Tustin Ranch for a few hours. Jenny wanted me to let everyone know how much they appreciated the participation and the sacrifice of the local residents who have to put up with the traffic and noise. I, of course, would like to think the residents don’t mind as they came out to participate.
This year, Jenny tells me, they had 7,233 people particpating in the event. Some rode, some ran and some walked. There were even more people who attended the even expo at the Marketplace. “We do not know how much money we made yet, since that will take some time, but with the number of sponsors we had and the number of smiling faces at the event, we know that it was just a complete success.”
The Foundation also apologized for the shortage of t-shirts, saying they had 1.000 more runners than last year. If you did not get one, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org with your bib number and size. They will make sure you get one.
The best part is, the money goes back to Tustin schools and affects many of the programs of our kids.
By the way, if you qualified for an award at the event, you can pick it up at the TPSF office. Great going and we look forward to seeing everyone next year.
Yes, it is that time of year again. The XXII Annual Dinosaur Dash is right around the corner and they are calling you. Whether you are a veteran of this event or have never joined the Tustin Public Schools Foundation for their run, this will be a good year to be there. They have a little bit of everything for everyone including 5 and 10K runs as well as a 50K bike ride, if running is not for you. And, if all that exercise seems a bit too much, come out for the fun 2K walk that my family and I plan to do. That is, we plan to walk after I get some grub and coffee from the vendors who come out to support this fine event. The best part about the whole thing is you know your money will go directly to supporting programs in Tustin Unified Schools. “It is a family friendly event for people of all ages and has become a tradition for the Tustin community,” said Jenny Grich of TPSF.
Online registration at the school foundation website here, is available until October 31st. After that, you can register at Dick’s Sporting Goods at the Market Place or you can register on race day. Cost runs from $28.00 for the 2K fun walk to $55.00 for the 50K bike race. Bicycle entrants will get special items in their race packets. See the site for details.
Can’t run on race day? Sponsor a teen to run for you. “Runnerships” are available for $15.00 and will let some young kid do all the work for you while you take all the credit. That’s a plus in my book. You can do that online here.
This event draws several thousand participants each year and has become a mainstay favorite hometown event of Tustinites. Not from Tustin? Jenny assures me she will take your money anyway and offer you a great time for an excellent cause in return. Exercise, grub and a chance to win a shiny prize…. it doesn’t get any better than that.
We have already written a couple of articles, which you can read here and here, on local Measure S that will appear on the November ballot. This Measure was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Tustin Unified School District and is championed by school board president, Jonathan Ablelove and school board member Lynne Davis. The proceeds from the bond issue would be used to implement technology in Tustin schools, something I admit is sorely needed.
In meeting earlier this year with their technology guru, Alex Rojas, I was impressed with the amount of work that had gone on behind the scenes to get this measure in front of the voters. He also explained that all of the money would go toward actually putting technology into the classrooms, from infrastructure to front end systems. While Measure G paid for some infrastructure, the restrictions in the construction bond limited the amount of technology that could reach the classroom. Measure S would change that.
My complaint, of course, has not changed: In times like these, it is unfair to take more money out of pockets of the voters, many of who are struggling to make ends meet. Rojas told me the $135 million dollar bond would be repaid over thirty years and would amount to another nine dollars or so being put on a property tax bill. But, that is the rub. As I said before, we are still paying for Measures G and L and we will continue to pay that for some time. Now, Measure S, being repaid over a whopping thirty years would increase that debt. That is debt our children will be responsible for repaying. And, as I said before, raise you hand if you think this is the school district’s last bond measure.
There also has been no effort by the school board to pay for the technology through budgeting over multiple years or through other means. The initial reaction to the question of technology was to go immediately to a bond issue rather than find alternate sources to pay for this. Admittedly, that would be difficult given the present fiscal circumstances of the country, but that should be an indicator that the TUSD should also live within their means rather than living off the voter credit card.
For our money, we will vote no on this issue. Send the school board back to the financial drawing board to do what they need to do and stop saddling property owners and their children with debt.