Monday, June 15, 2009

City Hall's Hothouse Economics

There are things that survive in nature, and there are things that can only cut it in a man-made environment. One of the lasting metaphors for describing the latter sorts of critters is a hothouse. Think of roses, particularly those that are rather special and never seem to grow in your backyard. Those are hothouse flowers, and cannot very easily survive in the real world. There are many things like that. You probably know a few.

And then there are hothouse economics. Organizations that do not produce revenue, and only receive it, are often accused of being a product of just that very thing. Particularly when they are perceived as being a bit more grasping than they ought to be. And, as their critics never tire of pointing out, if they had to compete in the marketplace, they couldn't possibly survive. Hothouse economics can only exist in those operations fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of things such as tax revenue. Which means that more often than not they have at least something to do with government.

And oftentimes organizations living off the good will and cash of the working public lose sight of exactly who it is that they owe for their existence. And within the hothouse environment of their little world some come to believe it is they who are responsible not only for their own existence, but the well-being of those who provide the cash that keeps them going as well. It is an entitled viewpoint, and one that requires a correction from the voters from time to time.

And we have recently seen some rather radioactive examples of this viewpoint in action:

The $300,000 Consultant: Apparently staff at City Hall is so busy these days working with things like committees and their assigned duties that focusing on creating a new General Plan might have to take a back seat. So in order to make up for this the taxpayers of Sierra Madre are being asked to cough up $300K in order to lighten the work load there a bit through the hiring of a very expensive consultant. Of course, since a new General Plan is probably the most important thing any municipal government will ever do, perhaps priorities can be rearranged and a little more time made available? In the process saving us a ton of cash?

City Supplied Funding for Resident Purchases of Solar Energy Systems: The financial panic gripping the State of California has apparently not quite permeated the hothouse atmosphere for some City Hall types, both elected and salaried. This example proclaims that the City should go into the Savings & Loan business, somehow scraping together millions of dollars in order to offer low interest loans to householders here so they can buy solar panels. And according to the Hothouse all an interested homeowner would have to do to get one of these loans from the Bank of Sierra Madre is allow the City to put a lien on their house. Of course, and as one wag observed, with the way the economy is going perhaps opening a City Hall Pawn Shop would serve the needs of the community better.

The Utility Users Tax Hike: There is a lot of concern in town about the circumstances under which this hike came into being, with many here wanting the topic put back on the ballot. The Hothouse put this tax hike on the ballot despite not having done audits for years. And when the audits were later completed, it was discovered that the Measure U ballot figures were wildly inaccurate. As the Pasadena Star News recently put it, "... the fact is that Sierra Madre voters were misled about the City's true financial condition during the 2008 Measure U campaign. They didn't have the correct facts in order to make the right decision." But the Hothouse is resisting a voter reappraisal of the UUT hike because they might need that additional money someday. For what, so that they can hire $300,000 consultants? Get into the Home Improvement Loan business? Better the money not be made available so that such foolish mistakes will not be made.

And then there is this:

                                                 City Of Sierra Madre, California
                                                          Invites applications for
                                                              Deputy Director Of
                                                Community & Personnel Services 
                                                         $59,392 - $74,231 annually
                     (currently in negotiations for a COLA increase effective July 1, 2009) 
The Community and Personnel Services Department is a valued resource to the community. It is the department's goal to turn tax dollars and participant fees into fun and family orientated programs and services as well as administers and manages programs for the personnel of the City.
Fully paid medical, dental, and vision insurance for the employee and eligible dependents.
- Death 7 disability, life insurance policies, short term disability and PERS level II survivor benefit.
- PERS retirement - City participates in the CalPERS retirement system at 2.5% @ 55. City pays full employee share and counts toward final retirement compensation. No participation in social security.
- EPMC: 8% paid by the City is reported as employee's income for calculating retirement benefit.
- Deferred Compensation programs are available with ICMA. City contributes $1,300 annually.
- Annual paid leave of 88 vacation hours (for first four years), 14 paid holidays, 80 administrative leave hours and 96 hours (2 working weeks) of sick leave.
- Alternative work schedule 9/80.
- Flexible spending accounts for medical and child-care expenses.
- Tuition reimbursement and computer loan programs available.

According to here is what similar jobs are paying in the Sierra Madre area (sans benefits):
- Administrative Assistant: $41,157
- Office Manager: $48,899
- Clerical Supervisor: $43,722
- Accounts Payable Clerk: $33,438
- Medical Assistant: $32,255
- Preschool Teacher $31,870
- Certified Nurse Assistant: $25,269

Apparently life is good in the Hothouse. However, by not hiring at the going rate for an employee of this kind, the City is spending far more than it should. And if they're contemplating hiring an Assistant Minister of Fun for $70,000 or so a year, what about the rest of the hires? Were they also brought in at around $25,000 a year more than what the market dictates? 

Yet more proof that City Hall needs to be kept on a short fiscal leash. Or, to paraphrase the movie Field of Dreams: "If you raise it, they will spend."


  1. Bureaucrats are so predicable!Building careers by building larger monuments to inflate their resumes.The City Council is our check against these "Pie In the Sky"counter intuitive proposals.So City Council GET INSPIRED DO YOUR JOB and stop this City from becoming INSOLVENT!!

  2. You can also be a part time Filming Coordinator and make up to $42.00 per hour! One would think that position would fall under the Deputy Director listed above who will be is making over $60K plus benefits. When does it stop?

  3. The City Council needs a line item veto for the budget.

  4. I don't really understand how this sort
    of thing can happen. Our UUT rate goes
    up to 8% soon, with more hikes just down
    the road. And now we're hearing about
    $300,000 consultants and millions in low interest loans for solar panels? Is there
    a connection? A disconnection? Talk about rubbing it in the taxpayers'faces. So
    much for fiscal toughness.

  5. Why don't one of you people volunteer for the job? It is endless hours requiring you to be pretty much on call 7 days a week.

  6. 9:13 - City Hall is staffed by volunteers? Can you explain? And a Deputy Director Of Coimmunity & Personnel Services is on call 7 days a week? Is that in case a party breaks out?

  7. I never get this knee jerk "why don't you volunteer" reaction you see sometimes. Some of us actually work full time jobs and pay A LOT OF TAXES. Not that hanging around Sierra Madre all day isn;t a good thing, but somebody has to pay the bills.

    I always assumed that by paying as much as I do I wouldn't have to do the work as well. Is that not the case?

  8. The only reason why Sierra Madre would be expected to pay $300,000 for a General Plan consultant is if they were doing a radical overhaul of the existing General Plan. My guess is somebody is hoping to include some serious new development in the new plan.

    Otherwise all you'd have to do is adjust the current General Plan, which is a far cheaper project.

  9. It's difficult for me to understand how a consultant could be worth that much, $300,000 would pay a years pay for 3 or 4 of us working taxpayers.

  10. The new GP committee will need white out, common sense and the balls to say no.

  11. This is more than's outrageous.
    First poster, Sister Sarah, nailed it.
    If our city council is going to allow this....Sierra Madre is done....stick a fork in it.

  12. $300,000?? Isn't that more than those clowns spent on the DSP??? Holy Mother of God!

  13. Put The General Planning Committee in Place NOWJune 15, 2009 at 12:34 PM

    It is just evidence how important it is for the general planning committee to be seated and take ACTION NOW!!!!!

    CC please DO SOMETHING!!

  14. Let's get Sierra Madre out of SCAG
    Let's get John Buchanan and Joe Mosca to recuse themselves on any energy issue, as they both have a huge conflict of interest.
    Let's freeze hiring at City Hall until the economy improves.
    Let's get the GP committee in place, asp.
    There's no way our city council will approve any $300,000 consultant to stop the General Plan Committee from being seated and approving a new General Plan.

  15. Sir Eric, this stuff gives me a headache. Don't get me started on spending. The consultant thing is shameful. I have to question whether our City Manager is on the ball. Or, is someone else proposing this stuff?

  16. Yes Doc, it is pretty awful. After weeks of a steady drumbeat of how the UUT hike is the only thing that stands between Sierra Madre and financial oblivion suddenly all this stuff oozes out from under a rock. Apparently the UUT hike would be used to fund a new DSP in the guise of creating a state mandated new General Plan.

  17. Sir Eric,
    you have it right.
    The UUT hike was exactly for that purpose.
    Only thing all the dirts are forgetting....
    California will soon be another Michigan, sooner than we think.
    Doctor Stacatto has the right idea, we need to go SCAGLESS.
    Let's have a hiring FREEZE while were at it.
    I may not have to just wish for that one, it will probably be a necessity.

  18. Great article Sir Eric!

    I'm aghast at the $alary offered! Before you know it we will have a Deputy Director of Community and Personnel Czar. I think we need a freeze on hiring more personnel.

  19. Freeze city hiring now!

  20. Hiring freeze: absolutely. Maybe some 'downsizing' too. Have you spent much time in city hall? Outside of the reception area, there's a whole lot of not-work, or I'll-work-if-somebody-is-watching, going on.

    GP committee in place with bottles of white out: yes, great solution, get on it council! The only "consultant" we should pay for is the one conducting the independent outside audit. I am sick of this malaise in town that ignores criminal behavior. E.g., our local paper was stolen, and people still read it!

    Common sense guiding the citizens of Sierra Madre: necessary! Get rid of the Shenanigan years hangovers, and think again.

  21. Sierra Madre business ownerJune 15, 2009 at 3:45 PM

    In my household when money is tight, we stop spending on anything that is not essential.
    I guess in the Hothouse, brains are mushed up to the point that essential and non-essential merge into one big blob.

  22. City Hall is just out of touch with Sierra Madre, that's all. But the sad part is they make no attempt to understand what people are now going through. They just see their budget balances and think that they're entitled to that and more. In Sierra Madre our taxes go up while everything else goes down. I read today where unemployment in California is now at 11%! No wonder anybody who can is leaving the state. But here they they just want to tax you more so they can spend it on silly and wasteful things and don't give a minyte thoughts to the consequences. They live in a world unto themselves.

  23. 3:57, that explains a lot.
    The great majority of city workers don't live here.

  24. The GP WILL be named in JULY. You can count on it. John and Joe won't like it, but tough luck. Our mayor will name the five. That is why good ol' Joe and his followers wanted him to be the mayor. It had nothing to do with fairness. Too much is at stake for the DICs

  25. The quicker we this gets done the better. Whatever it takes to protect Sierra madre
    from these people.

  26. MM, honeymoon's over.

  27. 5:26 knows something is happening, but obviously doesn't know what it is ..

  28. MaryAnn. Same BS as in the latest Looney Views News. They seem to think they can create a rift between Kurt and "MM." Just another stupid dirt trick.
    Susan is obviously hearing voices again.

  29. Susan is just flat out wrong about so many things...but she has a nice smile, and the Kiwanis seem to think that is enough.

  30. When was the honeymoon? Was there a time of peace and well-being in our city politics? Darn it, I missed it.

  31. Yeah, but I hear De Alcorn quit the Kiwanis. Anyone up on that one?

  32. MaryAnn, Kurt and Don are all COMMITTED to preserving our downtown and hillsides from over-development. So is Sir Eric Maundry, and most of the posters on this board.
    Joe and John and the Downtown Investor's Club are for development....OVER development. They are committed to the BIA and the CAR.
    Simple as that.....think what you want ain't gonna go your way.

  33. Anyone who thinks Henderson is a decent person, just ask her cleaning lady, she refuses to pay the $700 she owes her. I guess that's cool with you dirts?
    Ask Katina Dunn what Henderson did to her?
    Oh wait, you can read that in the court reports, where Katina was awarded the court case.
    Ask her about her fraud she pulled on the California Democratic Party in No. Calif.
    Oh wait, you can read about that in the San Francisco Chronicle. Sir Eric gives the web address in an earlier column about it.
    Her so called "paper" defamed MaryAnn MacGillivray and Nancy Shollenberger, as she was supporting dirt candidates, BIA's Karma Bell and Enid Joffe.

  34. Downtown ResidentJune 15, 2009 at 7:36 PM

    Doesn't anyone have any common sense and morals anymore? We cannot spend $$$$ on a consultant we do not NEED. YOu know it will be a friend of John and Joe's. Dr. Stacatto, Eric Mundry you need to be heard more.

    Speaking of money poorly spent in OUR LOVELY TOWN, Why is Susan Henderson still able to publish a paper here after all that has been revealed about her criminal behavior even before she arrived in Sierra Madre? Susan and her paper need to burn up. Anyone who contributes to that paper is working againist all that has been built up since the Passage of Measure V, and is supporting Susan and her lies and criminal behavior. The advertisers need to contribute their money to Ana Rameriz and Katina Dunn. They need to be held accountable to the monies they are paying out to a person who has cheated many people and lied about many people. She will continue to hurt Sierra Madre until we do something about her evil behavior.

  35. Alcorn. Quit Kiwanis. Didn't like the way things were going on down there. Apparently Der Susanfuhrer is other opinions intolerant.

    Rumor has it that in the next few weeks they'll be conducting the Kiwanis Kool Aid Test.

  36. Who cares about the Kiwanis?
    Some guy up in the canyon calls them the "Iquana's".
    After sitting though one of their meetings where Henderson gave a "seminar", insulted the people of Sierra Madre, by comparing us to 1959 Mississippi, I have to say, comparing them to Iquanas is an insult to the reptiles.

  37. Sir Eric,
    looks like the subject about the new General Plan Committee has hit a nerve with the dirts......betcha more than a few are reading the Tattler today, readin' it like a menu!
    Read it and weep, dirts! LOL

  38. Learned mylesson from Susan AlreadyJune 15, 2009 at 9:09 PM

    HEY, 8:38 MANY people care about the Kiwanis. De whats his name did and he contributed big time to Susan the Slime. And he should have known better!! People who give big Bucks to Susan THE NARCISSISTIC/THIEF, AND ARE LOOKING FOR FAME AND HAVE AN AGENDA, should remember they are contributing to a criminal!!!

    The fuhrer has other fuhrer ettes working for her so beeeee careful.(women like her always get fools to follow). People think that everyone can just get along and be nicey nicey, but Susan will break the law and never care who she hurts. Even you. To get what she wants, she knows how to do damage control. She is out to getcha. She has walked over her best friend without any guilt and has no conscience. Ask her what she was doing during the Civil Rights March. Betcha she did not stick her neck out for anyone but herself. As self centered as possible. She proved that!!
    Betcha she will try to ruin KZ, DW in this election.The Kiwanis are behind her ATW.

  39. 9:09 pm.
    Thanks for the warning.
    This woman has used intimidation and the race card for decades. She in fact is the racist!
    You can bet there have been dozens if not hundreds of people in her life like Katina Dunn, people she had stolen from and betrayed.
    People in Sierra Madre have got to stand up to her bully tactics.
    I would not speak to this woman for any reason.
    Anything that comes out of her mouth is about 90% sure to be a lie.


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