Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Rather Novel Solution to the Problem of Faithless Local Government

The arrogance of those running our fine local governments can at times be quite insufferable. After all, their power does come from us, and mostly in the form of taxes. Money being what empowers government just like it empowers anything else controlling a lot of it. The big difference being that, unlike in the private sector, the production of value as manifested in the accumulation of money is rarely something we see coming from our City Halls. Government being basically a spender, one that can only replenish itself through the repetitive acquisition of money earned by others.

Which is why some have a grievance with the tax beneficiaries currently enjoying positions of political privilege. It isn't so much the lack of gratitude that offends, because anyone who has achieved an emotionally stable adulthood does not waste a lot of time waiting for that. Rather it is when those who dwell within the taxpayer funded hothouse that provides them with a decently compensated living decide that they know better than those paying the bills. And then go off to do things that many feel are not really in our interest. Which is where we could very well be in Sierra Madre right now.

A good example would be the water rate hike currently being worked in Sierra Madre. Nobody I've spoken to wants it, and the revulsion seems almost universal. Yet the confidence shown by the City that they will be able to slip this by the residents approaches the serene. So much so that they have offered no compelling argument in favor of it, nor do they show any signs of attempting to do so until after the so-called protest period is over. Rather they apparently feel that they'll get what they want, and then use the money to accomplish development goals as they see fit, not us. Their accountability to those whose money they are spending being essentially nonexistent in this matter.

An example of this pristine indifference to the popular will was displayed by our highly compensated City Attorney Tuesday evening. Discussing the water rate hike with our City Manager during a meeting break, she was overheard as saying, "They'll never get the required signatures."

There is a group of folks in Monrovia who have come up with a compelling solution to the problem of faithless local government. Using runaway city employee pensions as a starting point, they are now in the process of getting something very interesting on the ballot there. Employee pensions apparently being as out of control in Monrovia as they are in many other places in this state, including Sacramento.

Here is how an article in today's Pasadena Star News tells the tale:

Group wants to abolish property tax in Monrovia and cut off funding for city employee pensions - A group of residents is pushing for a ballot measure that would abolish the city's decades-old property tax and effectively cut off funding of pensions for city employees. Retirement benefits in Monrovia are fully paid for by the city without any contribution from the employees, according to City Manager Scott Ochoa. Some residents want that practice stopped.

The group has drafted a petition and will soon gather signatures to get a measure on the next ballot eliminating the city's property tax, which contributes $4.2 million toward the city workers' pension plan. "With the current condition of the state of California and federal economies where people are struggling to find work, pay their mortgage and simply put food on their tables, it is unreasonable for the property owners of the City of Monrovia to continue to bear this financial burden which in no way benefits them or their families," reads the petition drafted and signed by John Jogminas, Kathryn Reece-McNeill, and Cyrus Kemp.

I guess the idea being if you can't control the beast, or get it to make wise decisions that are in the interest of those who sustain it, perhaps the best thing to do is what it fears the most. Starve the critter by denying it the tax money it lives on.

Certainly a successful ballot initiative ending property taxes here in Sierra Madre would effectively cripple any of the development initiatives currently being incubated by our new City Council. Or any of a number of other bad ideas, actually. If you ever wanted to put an end to government that believes it is beyond having to answer to its taxpayers, you couldn't find a more effective way of doing it.

Another item of interest here. One of the three people behind this move in Monrovia to put an end to squandered property taxes is a blogger. Cyrus Kemp is the longtime host of Monrovia City Watch. And while this worthy blog has been quiet as of late, it is good to see someone from our brotherhood of obsessed local news junkies taking on the malefactors in such a bold and hopefully effective way.

71 comments:

  1. Water PreservationistMay 27, 2010 at 7:09 AM

    Perhaps when THEY do get enough signatures, THEY can present the the Queen Bee City Manager a Bottle of Evian to thank her for her loyalty for serving the people of Sierra Madre.

    Maybe then she could take a one way ticket to France.

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  2. Yes, "those people" are acting up again.

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  3. I hear that they are receiving protest letters everyday .... we'll see how that changes things...keep sending out the info to your friends and neighbors...make sure they send in their letters!

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  4. It is good to see that people are starting to realize they need to take things into their own hands. If you sit around waiting for city hall to do the right thing, you'll spend your entire life doing just that. Waiting.

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  5. Our Monrovia Initiative comes under the prop 218 rules and if you wanted to do an initiative to roll back water rates to the actual cost of delivery plus a fund that would go to maintain the infrastructure and allow that no funds could be transferred from the water revenue to the General Fund, you could do that with a very low signature threshold.

    Any proposed measure submitted to the city, related to the repeal or reduction of a local tax, fee or assessment under Article XIIIC(Z)(b) of the California Constitution the measure-would qualify if the petition contains the valid signatures of at least five percent of the votes cast in the City for all candidates for Governor in the 2006 General Election. In Monrovia according to the City Clerk (The Secretary of State's office reports that Monrovians cast 7,939 votes in that election. Thus, at least 397 valid signatures are required to qualify the Retirement Tax measure.)

    Their have been some Initiatives done in other areas of California on the water rate issue and they have passed and been upheld in the California State Supreme Court.

    Very easy to take the verbiage from one of those and edit it to fit your city.

    If you need any advise contact me and I will supply with the forms and very specific rules to get you going. I would guess that you could qualify the initiative with fewer then 300 signatures, but you must follow the process very carefully to keep them from throwing the initiative out on a technically.

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  6. Cyrus - this is great information! Right now the Palace is claiming we have to supply them with 1,900 or so signed forms or they will raise our rates 40% in the course of 5 years. If we don't do that, we get hit with the hike. And since they aren't giving us much more than their usual content free blather, God only knows where they will spend it. The guess is on water infrastructure that will enable the kind of development the three newly elected members of the City Council claimed they were against when they ran for office.

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  7. Thanks, Cyrus. We sure wish the good citizens of Monrovia the best of luck!

    Anyone see the headline in today's PSN?

    Former MAYOR of Temple City, Wong, is going to jail for bribery. Took bribe from developers.

    Hmmmm...........

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  8. Deliver the letter to City Hall!What makes you think the letters will ever see the light day.We are dealing with a bunch of brigands!!!Any suggestions?

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  9. City of Sierra Madre has released FAQ and answers on the City's website. It is both illuminating and supports the work of the Tattler. Demand explanations and they will come. Good job, Tattlers. Everyone should read immediately and decide for yourselves if the questions asked are truly the questions we need answers to. Keep the protest letters going to the City Clerk!

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  10. To JD@ 7:56,

    If you send a letter of protest to city hall, make sure you call the City Clerk and alert her that it is coming. (Nancy Shollenberger, 355-3303) Otherwise, your letter could wind up in the "circular file" and Nancy would never receive it.

    There is also the option of handing the letter to her personally at the city hall hearing on July 13th. Either way, it is important to make sure she has received your letter!

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  11. Thorughly ticked offMay 27, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    I know one ex-city councilman will push for the same Initiative as Monrovia, if the underhanded water tax hike passes.
    Thank you Coluntano and Levin for pissing off the electorit, suddenly I think the sleeping non voters will wake up again.

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  12. Got an old bottle of Dom just waiting for a reason to pop the cork...1940 signatures is a good reason.

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  13. 9:03:

    Where on the city website is the FAQ located? I cannot locate the FAQ.

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  14. RESIDENTS WHO ARE PROTESTING WATER RATE HIKE!

    Turn your complaint letters/forms into the city clerk, Nancy Shollenberger.......turn them in ONLY to her, personally.

    Otherwise they may never get counted.

    Why do you think Bart Doyle's puppets wanted Karma Bell (who works for Bart's disgraced Titan group) to be our city clerk?

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  15. The city only responds when forced to do so. I suspect they think that the less attention they draw to this water mess the better the chances of making it happen. But if other people focus on it, then they share. But only grudgingly.

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  16. Find the FAQ at cityofsierramadre.com documents & forms 5/26/10 Water Rate Increase Fact Sheet

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  17. Tell everyone if they have mailed their letter of protest/opposition to call the City Clerk and find out if it was received. If it was not received remember that tampering the mail with or opening someone's mail is a Federal Offense.

    (Just open your wife's mail and watch her go ballistic haha)

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  18. Someone came to my door and explained this to me. I sent my form in this morning. I just want to say thank you to those who are working hard to save us money on water. I can't understand why the city is always sticking their hands out and asking for more more more. It seems like every time I turn around it is something new.

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  19. Mr. Kemp, this is also a way to deny the redevelopment beast it's money correct, since they benefit from new taxes?

    I hereby bestow on you the knighthood of Sir Cyrus. Defender, as our Sir Eric is, against malefactors of municipalities and beyond.

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  20. 10:14 --- all well and good, but what about those residents who do not have a computer or internet access? Many of whom would be the ones most adversely impacted by a 40% water rate hike?

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  21. 8:47 Old Kentuck, Did you read about her little book of ritual curses she thought would thwart her enemies? Well John Leung, did a ritual wish paper on "The Intellectual Property of The San Gabriel Valley" He was in effect trying to control the thoughts and profits of thoughts or intellectual property from anyone who resides in the San Gabriel Valley. Casting spells, is part of the business I guess!!!!

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  22. 10:46, if you know someone who doesn't have a computer, print off the document and share with them. The Tattler is an on-line source of truth and information. The way "those residents who do not have a computer or internet access" get info is through a Tattler sharing or the Library. Join with the Tattlers who are going door to door.

    Stop with the lame comments and do something to share the information.

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  23. 10:57 - - I was talking about people who might not have access to the information on the City of Sierra Madre website. For a lot of people in this town putting water rate info there is the equivalent of hiding under a rock.

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  24. I am thoroughly disgusted with the process this water protest has to follow. Usually voting is in the privacy of the polling booth. During the canyon speed bump voting the city got it wrong two times. Sticking the ballots on the mail boxes of those areas where the staff "thought were drivers that used the speed bump route" and many residents were excluded from voting. Then they were questioned about how it could be proved the ballots stuck on the outside of the mail box were actually received. Second try: then selected addresses were mailed a ballot, again wrongly leaving out addresses that could or would maybe drive over the speed bump area. You had to vote yes if you WANTED the speed bumps. If you did not send in your ballot is was considered a NO vote. This was badly manipulated.

    Now the water vote: this time, you have to send in a letter to vote NO to the water rate increases. If you don't vote your address/water service is considered to have voted Yes. So the city is counting on voter passivity. No privacy of the voting booth here. Even the vote for the UUT it was in the privacy of the voting. Good grief!

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  25. who'd uh thunk itMay 27, 2010 at 11:33 AM

    People have to take the money into their own hands and away from city staffs - that is the state of things.

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  26. Great post 11:28. Do you think some
    people might be intimidated by the
    public nature of saying no to the
    water rate hike?

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  27. 11:28 am, that's how the City puts one over on the residents. Deciding WHO shoud be given a "ballot", and designating all unreturned "ballots" as "No/Con/Against". Who's to say the "ballots" were ever sent out and who actually received them?

    It's all so manipulative!

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  28. I have distributed 20 protest forms and information to those on my block.

    On to the next development and ethics scandle. Roski's Stadium and Carpenteria's 17 story off shore platform (measure J on the coming elections in Carpenteria) are the latest attempts to bypass CEQUA and "build baby build" and "drill baby drill" all with the assistance of the Chamber of Commerace, State Legislators, and like Associations. BP has shown the way to bypass regulation and fowl an entire sea and shore line. Real Estate, Developer, and Corp Interest protected by the LLC are working to the same end here in SM and all over the Los Angeles Basin. Your going to get what you didn't vote for.

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  29. The man at the last council meeting who protested the water rate hike made a great suggestion to the very, very well paid city manager: find the money from someplace else. Use some of those very, very expensive management skills.
    Sierra Madre's city staff is too big, too many people are hired by the city. What other organization in this small city has so many employees?

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  30. This scam about having the due date for the protests coincide with the public hearing must be illegal.

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  31. Thanks Tattler for reporting the city manager's remark, "They'll never get the required signatures."
    Gives me renewed energy to walk door to door.

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  32. 11:28 the whole process seems downright illegal. There needs to be some light shed on the individuals pulling these stunts from City Hall.

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  33. Why is everyone so surprised about how the NO's are counted? The City of Sierra Madre has been counting all non-responses of the movie shoots as Yes's, forever, and they lose half of the No responses. They have gone so far as put a paper in front of residents to vote NO and have a YES underneath so the signature will be on a form that says the resident wants the YES on all shoots until further notice.

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  34. No to a rate hike means a loss of $10 millionMay 27, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    Inman is claiming $10 mil in grants associated with infrastructure have been received but require 40% matching funds. That means in order to spend the $10 mil, Sierra Madre must contribute $4 mil. The General Fund cannot support $4 mil to infrastructure. Guess what? A sure way to raise most/all of the $4 mil is to go to the rate payers! They can be counted on to not respond thus ensuring a 40% water rate hike!

    Yes. It's that simple. It's not rocket science.

    In a convoluted road to serving the citizens, the City Manager and Bruce Inman are forced to walk dark paths.

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  35. 11:52, those damn film shoots.
    I've suffered through more than one, and those crews act just like teens whose parents are out of town. Once I had to wake up a guy passed out in a trailer to move the damn generator.
    The hypocrisy is brilliant: here's a quiet wooded residential street in the movie, and in real life it is chaos right behind the camera.
    The film captures exactly what it is really ruining.
    Gotta be a better way to bring in some bucks.

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  36. 12:05, how about the question that was raised in public comment, where are the funds that have been collected over the last fifty years? So badly mismanaged that they're gone? Did the scoundrel who shall not be named run off with them and the records?

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  37. What is going to be done with $14 million for water infrastructure? Are we building an NFL stadium here? A shopping mall? Where does the money come from? And what are the attachments and requirements that go along with it? It isn't rocket science, but where are the details? That "We'll lose $10 million if we don't" argument is kind of old school. Maybe we'd be better off if we do lose it. Maybe we won't. But we'll only know that wehen we get the whole story. Not just dribs and drabs on websites and blog posts. Plus the fact the the hearings are only going to be held after the "protest period" is over is pretty damning. If the news was good, they'd make a parade out of it.

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  38. I agree 12:15 that your questions are vitally important and should be asked! The conversation seems to have been limited to City staff and the Council and we the taxpayers have been left out. The answers are a matter of public record and should be made available to residents as well.

    I like this definition:

    "vigilantes - were members of citizens' committees set up in frontier towns and rural communities in the nineteenth century to keep order and put down illegal activity. Vigilante committees organized when citizens found law enforcement absent or inadequate."

    I support a citizens' committee NOT organized through the City/City Council that takes on issues such as this, gathers information, and issues statements. Any one wish to join?

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  39. Notice to water users for a rate hike required 45 days. A public hearing on the rate hike the same time the protests are due. This would have to be in violation of ethics and good government practices. Any unbiased judge would tell the City to start over.

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  40. Citizens taking back control of their government. Seems to be a trend...

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  41. There Is No Santa ClausMay 27, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    If that $10 million in grants is coming from Sacramento or Washington, then there are sure to be strings attached. And I'd bet dollars to donuts those strings are firmly tied to SB 375.

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  42. oh I get it, the city staff, a few choice councilmembers and attorney consider us, the public and taxpsayers as "them", we are the enemy, the pesky misquitos and we are here to serve their needs and warped agendas

    it's no wonder that if a person can't hack in the real business world, they end up in government

    and attorneys...lawyers...so many actual believe that they have a superior intellect and decision making processes than us low life peons

    couldn't be further from the truth

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  43. 11:43 and 11:51

    The process SEEMS illegal, but it isn't. (Legal doesn't always mean ethical, of course.) The city would never try to pull this stunt without first making sure it is legal. Why? Because they know that they only have one shot. (If they pull something illegal and get caught, the residents will become wise to their tactics.) A second attempt to raise the rates will fail due to a lack of public trust.

    Instead, they have probably researched in advance to make sure the process is legal. They have sent the notices to the residents and are probably hoping that no one will pay attention (or send a letter of protest back to city hall). If the increase passes on July 13, people won't realize it until they see the increase on their water bill. But by then,it will be too late to complain. Our local government thrives on the complacency of our residents.

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  44. It's not the legality, it's the slickness. They're being slick. They're doing the bare minimum necessary, and that's it. Used car dealer slick.

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  45. The street assessment they are considering (what happened to all the money for street improvement Bruce Inman got 5 years ago to improve the streets?)is also under Prop 218 and requires a weighted vote by the residents of Sierra Madre(ballot). Which means the homeowners. Prop 218 was put in to protect Prop13 and the citizens. If the citizens become informed they can put an end to the shenanigans. These at not people who are looking out for the best interest of Sierra Madre only the best interest of their own pocketbooks or a step up to a new city position. Avarice and Greed are the motivator not love of this unique city!

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  46. I am collecting signatures and calling the city clerk. I will be sure to hand them to her personally.

    Since when can anyone trust Bruce Inman or anyone in City Hall. They were way toooo happy to see the Moscateers and would love to see the big developers come into Sierra Madre. Thanks for all of this info, once again Sir Eric and Monrovia. We need all the support we can get!!

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  47. Monrovia has been way ahead of us before.
    They got bunches of money for hillside preservation before we even started trying.

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  48. So it may be legal to have a public hearing and a deadline for protest coincide, but it is disgusting.

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  49. Look 2:28 pm, the governmental structure of the City is such that the City Manager reports to the City Council. The City employees take direction through the Division Heads from the City Manager. The last City administrator to take things into her own hands destroyed records and wiped the computer hard drives clean. If you don't like the way the City is run, get off your fanny and vote! Some elections we win and some elections they win. Change is made through the ballot box.

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  50. I don't think Bruce Inman cares who sits in the big black chairs. He runs his department and his crews in a way that for the most part is under the radar. He searchs for grant funds, he attempts to stay within budget, and he collects his salary. He has outlasted several cycles of councilmembers, mayors, mayors pro tem, city managers, and city attorneys. If someone out there has credible information that Bruce is on the take, that information should be given to the proper authorities.

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  51. 2:53, change is also made one signature of protest at a time.

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  52. Since this involves money, I see people getting more involved than they would
    with an election.

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  53. Collecting signatures? That is not the process. Each water user needs to sign a letter of protest to the rate increases. Sent to the City Clerk. Due date: July 13. That is what I get from the instructions.

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  54. Just talked to my hairdresser. She was unaware of the water rip off. Going to email her the protest letter for her to sign and return to Nancy personally. She will also pass the letter out.

    Keep spreading the good word.

    By the way she said, aren't our taxes supose to pay for infrastructure?

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  55. Have I got a "deal" for youMay 27, 2010 at 3:24 PM

    When the people have stopped paying attention, or caring about what your city council is doing, what you get is a government made up of leaders who don't care what you say.
    Elections have become shallow advertising campaigns.Spin, falsehoods, become truths, since in reality no one has payed attention anyway.
    We are being governed by the equivalent of shady used car salesmen.(no intention in calling all salesmen shady).

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  56. 3:01 The "take" is being managed leagally, maybe. Water sits in the ground, in wells, in tanks, pipes, and is distributed by pressure which can be manipulated. It is bought and sold to and from other water districts. Are our new big storage tanks half empty or half full? The old addage to watch the accountant who never leaves the office applies to the individual who "keeps the water". Do you know where your water is?

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  57. 3:21, you can collect people's letters of protest, with their signatures, and take them to the city clerk.

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  58. To keep a vigil is not civil, but the ACLU says a Citizens watch group is fineMay 27, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    12:27 I'll be a Virgil's Auntie,

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  59. 1) It's 2010, and rebellion is in the air.

    2) There is more than one way to skin a rat.

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  60. San Francisco Committee of Vigilance
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_Committee_of_Vigilance
    I got the idea for my Monrovia City Watch logo from this historic group.

    Cyrus Kemp

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  61. Cyrus, you are a patriot!

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  62. Sierra Madre residentMay 27, 2010 at 5:24 PM

    Cyrus, thanks for sharing your knowledge.
    We need your help and are grateful for it.

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  63. I have talked to three business owners.
    All are writing letters and are passing the word.

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  64. It was the city attorney not the city manager who said they will never get the NO votes.

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  65. I noticed there was no coverage of the Monrovia property tax question in the Monrovia Weekly. Apparently the Realtors didn't give them permission to cover it.

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  66. Anonymous,

    At first the Weekly said they would not publish the Notice of Intent to Circulate the Petition along with the Title and Summery from the city attorney which must be published in the adjudicated newspaper for you area if there is one before you can circulate the petition for signatures. They finally agreed to do that after some other people spoke to them.

    Monrovia has tried to sabotage this from the start. While all other cities we contacted along with the county will help you through the process as far as rules go and verifying that the form and format of the petition meets the requirements of the city elections official who is generally the city clerk. Not in Monrovia, they choose to try to interfere with our state constitutional rights.

    They are waiting until we submit the petitions before they make any rulings hoping that we miss some little rule that will allow them to through the initiative out on some little technicality. We have made numerous written requests for them to approve the form of the petition and been turned down. We are currently waiting for a response to our last and finial attempt with the city attorney having given up on the city clerk doing her job.

    It’s a dirty little city with a dirty little city manager, a dirty city attorney and a city clerk who is more worried about her paid job then fulfilling the duties of her elected position. Put them together with a city council who doesn’t care about constitutional rights and the sign should read -

    WELCOME TO MONROVIA, CHECK YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AT THE BORDER, BEFORE ENTERING.

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  67. Don't we pay more for out water that any other city in the SGV already?

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  68. If you haven't realized it by now, The Weakly, The Star News, and The Sierra Madre No Views News, are basically in the hands of the political class and real estate industry, they are the primary advertisers, and will "toe the line" ....They are bought and paid for.....

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  69. Small town real estate hustlers and their hired liars. Pretty ugly picture.

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  70. In Sierra Madre the crooks don't come out at night. Rather they
    hang around town all day while everyone else is at work.

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  71. Two biggest businesses in Sierra Madre, city hall and realtors

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