I received two emails from Gilman over the past few days. He had been spending some time reviewing City documents and news reports on our water rate hike debacle, and found something that he didn't think looked quite right. Here are the relevant portions of those emails:
(Aug 5) I have been following the goings on with the proposed water rate increase and stumbled on something that might be worth researching ... On the Sierra Madre News.net website, a notice from the City Clerk is posted. It is an official press release dated 7/27/10 and indicates it was received about 2pm. In the release the City Clerk states, "the city council has decided there needs to be an educational program and that will follow in the next two months." The strange part is that the Council did not "meet" and reach that decision until later in the evening? Either I am missing something or it would appear that the Council held secret meetings where they reached a decision outside the view of the public.
(Aug 6) I can't find any record of the actual Council action taken at the 7/13 meeting related to the water issue ... nothing posted on the city website or TV replays. It would be important to find out exactly what the official action taken stated. If it was to simply take no action until all the protests were tabulated and then re-visit at the 7/27 meeting, well, I think you can clearly show, based on the official press release, that members of the Council were meeting and taking action in secret.
Now if you go on over to Rooster Coburn's "Sierra Madre News.net" website (last updated over a week ago) you can indeed find Nancy Shollenberger's official Press Release on the failure of the water rate protest to come up with the necessary amount of signatures. And contained within the body of that text you will also find the following statement, which was made 6 or so hours before an official decision had been rendered by the City Council.
The City Council had decided there needs to be an educational program in the next two months. Due to the overwhelming response from the residents, the City Council will not be raising the water rates at this time. Another proposal may follow.
In Nancy's defense it was pretty common knowledge in town that the City Council had decided it would need to go on a charm offensive before hitting the obviously unhappy residents in this town again with a nearly 40% water rate hike, and during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Mayor Mosca had intimated that such a thing would happen at the July 17 City Council get together. It is also my understanding that this Press Release was fully vetted by the City Manager before it went out. Which would also indicate - assuming proper procedures were actually followed - the participation of a City Attorney as well. After all, and at Mayor Mosca's insistence, this was a collaborative process involving both the City Clerk and City Staff.
Most understand how slack City Council standards have become under the stewardship of Joe Mosca. He is at times obviously overwhelmed by the rush of events during public meetings, and his ability to cope with some of the more nuanced material that comes his way is suspect at best. Mosca's strongest suit, politics, would seem to have dictated the need to get a handle on the public anger created by the ham-handed way in which this rate hike was presented. Certainly development agendas have been threatened by the way this process was mishandled.
Which in the opinion of this observer is what this "educational program" is really all about. Politics became the overwhelming priority, and legal requirements could have been forgotten in the mad rush to further what is basically a public relations effort. The Bobblehead Council needs to put the city back to sleep. After all, the water rate hike is only a first step in a long development process. There is so much more to come.
The so-called "education process," along with a delay in the water rate hike, was indeed approved by the City Council during their meeting on the evening of July 27. Elisa Weaver, Director of Community & Personnel Services, gave the world this news in a rather skewed press release dated July 29. Here is what she had to say on the matter:
At the July 27th regular City Council meeting, the Sierra Madre City Council decided to defer any increase in city water rates, even though the majority protest that would have been required to prevent a rate increase was not achieved. During the meeting, Sierra Madre City Clerk Nancy Shollenberger stated that a total of 1719 valid protests were received, compared to the required majority protest amount of 1847.
Although the Council has the legal authority to increase water rates, the Council decided to defer any increase pending education, outreach and dialogue with the community. Mayor Joe Mosca stated, "It was clear that a significant number of community members had concerns with the current proposal."
(As an aside, is it only me that finds this "pending education and outreach" talk to be more than a little bit patronizing? It is as if The Palace has declared that nearly 2,000 people signed water rate increase protest forms because they didn't know what they were doing. Isn't it just possible residents here are on to what the City is actually up to, and that is why they signed?)
We will have more on this story as it develops.