Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Letter City Hall Would Have Preferred You'd Not Heard

(Ed: The water rate increase notification process was, as most are aware, a shoddy and less than forthcoming effort by City Hall. There are many reasons why their defeat of the water rate protest would never stand up in a Court of Law should the matter ever go there. The letter below was hand delivered to City Hall at around 8:10 AM on Monday. City Hall has since e-mailed it to all City Councilmembers and whoever else is on that mailing list. Last night Teryl Willis read as much of it at public comment as 3 minutes would allow. The Tattler now makes it available in its entirety to you.)

VIA HAND DELIVERY
September 13, 2010

Elaine Aguilar
City Manager
City of Sierra Madre
City Hall
232 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.
Sierra Madre, CA 91024

Dear Ms. Aguilar:

As you know, on July 27, 2010, the Sierra Madre City Council ("Council") at its regularly scheduled meeting determined that there were an insufficient number of valid protests to defeat the Council's proposed water rate increase. Thereafter, the Council resolved to conduct a "public outreach campaign" to convince residents that a rate increase was actually necessary.

For the reason set forth below, the undersigned demand that the Council conduct another public hearing upon the proposed rate increase, not less than 45 days after mailing a legally adequate, written notice of the proposed rate increase to the record owner ("Owner") of each identified parcel.

California's Proposition 218, which amended the California Constitution, requires, among other things, that 45 days before the hearing on any proposed rate increase that the City provide written notice to the Owner of:

(1) "The amount of the fee or charge proposed;"

(2) "The basis upon which the amount of the proposed fee or charge was calculated;"

(3) "The reason for the proposed fee or charge."

The provisions of Proposition 218 including the above requirements "shall be liberally construed to effectuate its purposes of limiting local government revenue and enhancing taxpayer consent." The written notice ("Notice"), which was sent to the voters on or about May 17, 2010, does not satisfy these constitutionally mandated requirements and effectuate the purposes of Proposition 218.

First, the written notice does not provide each Owner with the proposed fee increase as required by Proposition 218. Instead, the Notice requires each Owner to estimate his/her/its increase based on such factors as the meter size and the applicability of a discount for "low income." Because the Notice lacks definitions of and explanations for such factors, however, it is impossible for each Owner to make any estimation.

Second, without such definitions and explanations, each Owner cannot comprehend "the basis upon which the amount the proposed fee or charge was calculated" as required by Proposition 218.

Third, the Notice does not provide "the reason for the proposed fee or charge" as required by Proposition 218. Instead, the Notice states vaguely and in the present tense that "the City imposes its water rates in order to fund the City's costs of operating and maintaining the water system, as well as to pay off the costs of improvements to that system." Absent in the Notice, however, is the actual "reason" or "reasons" that the current level of funding is insufficient to accomplish these purposes and suddenly must be increased.

Realizing that the Notice failed to adequately inform each Owner about the proposed rate increase, the City belatedly sent each Owner a flyer ("Flyer") entitled "Water Rate Increase Fact Sheet FAQ" on or about June 23, 2010. For the first time, the Flyer reveals that an Owner can determine the meter size diameter by finding the meter box and then looking for a stamp on the meter inside the box. If that fails, the Flyer provides the names and numbers of City employees who can "look up" the size of each Owner's meter. Also, for the first time, the Flyer explains that the term "low income" refers to both "low income" and "extremely low income" as those terms are defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The explanations and definitions in the Flyer provide information that some Owners could use to estimate the amount they would be charged under the proposed rate increase and the basis of such increase. This critical information was not provided to the Owners, however, until on or about June 23, 2010, which is less than the 45 days before the hearing required by Proposition 218 that was held on July 27, 2010.

For the first time, the Flyer also discloses the "reasons" for the City's decision to increase dramatically the water rates in Sierra Madre. The Flyer states that absent an increase:

1. Deterioration of the water system will result;
2. Sierra Madre will lack sufficient funding to avail itself of local, state and federal matching water system funds;
3. The City's Water Department might be sold;
4. The City's water fund credit and bond rating will deteriorate; and
5. Groundwater levels will continue to decline.

Many Owners no doubt appreciated the City's belated dissemination of the reasons for the proposed water rate increase. Once again, however, this critical information was not provided to the Owners until on or about June 23, 2010, which is less than 45 days before the hearing required by Proposition 218 that was held on July 27, 2010.

For the reasons set forth above, the undersigned reiterate their demand that the Council conduct another public hearing upon the proposed rate increase to the Owner of each identified parcel.

Kurt Zimmerman
John Crawford
Anita Delmer
John Herrmann

At the end of last night's meeting MaryAnn MacGillivray requested that two items be added to the agenda for the next City Council conclave. One was to authorize a comprehensive audit of Sierra Madre's water bond program. The previous municipal audits would not have accounted for such things as where the money was raised or how it was spent. This is a matter of public trust that involves $23 million dollars, and the truth must be made available to all. Not just the privileged few.

The other was to reopen the Proposition 218 process on the water rate increase. Given the reasons written above, plus the water bond issues, it seems obvious that what is in place now would never survive a vigorous outside inquiry.

Our rights have been badly abused in both of these now related cases. We're going to fix that.

64 comments:

  1. Bravo to all of you who took the time to research and then present this information. We need to keep our City honest, and you have done it once again. Hopefully we can get to the bottom of this issue once and for all. Thanks, MaryAnn for taking up the challenge and getting it on the agenda.

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  2. Its not over till its over.

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  3. Hmm, and here they seemed so sure of themselves.

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  4. Thank you all who have spent your time in uncovering this criminal act. It is so outrageous,I find it impossible to say anything more, other than, how disappointing it is to discover those in charge are no more than common thieves.

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  5. If the water rate hike "process" was driven by the need to cover up
    bond debt from rate payers, then Houston we have a problem.

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  6. As one of the gatherer of signatures, the most idotic thing for us was the cities moving target as to who it was that could sign the protest: the water rate customer or the legal owner of the property where the water service was delivered. I still believe that signatures were disqualified that should have been allowed.

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  7. Our victory was stolen, 7:30.

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  8. I reveled in MaryAnn totally stepping up in the moment to slide those two items onto the Agenda. It was slight of hand in plain sight! And in that wonderful tone of voice she uses when talking to idiots. Never knew what hit them, they didnt.

    In what shall become known as the Water Letter we have made a stand. The line in the dirt has been drawn. Prop 218 has been engaged; we're going to court if the city doesn't respond with a new properly noticed hearing on the water rate increase. Its up to the property owners to make a decision but this time with all of the cards on the table, as they say.

    The letter is a precious jewel in the art of properly constructing a document to both give notice and make known deficiencies. Read it several times, then read it again between the lines! Make no mistake the Council, the City Attorney and City Staff, right down to the shadow Council are taking notice. This isn't a bunch of tired out petition carriers and neighborhood protest walkers. The battle has been brought to the doorstep of City Hall.

    Does this mean the water rate protest will be successful? That's up to the property owners. But what is for sure is that we're out for a full disclosure of the water department, the water fund, the bonds, and how the future of the water department will be brought into the brightly focused light of scrutiny.

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  9. Last night was a good night for the people. The GPUSC timeline and milestones were accepted by Council as presented by Danny Castro; the Canyon Zone Moratorium was extended six months to allow the work of the committee to get through the Planning Commission and City Council; Commissions were populated by good people; no one got cut off with the three minute buzzer; real debate was brought to the podium over the $37K infrastructure fee; important issues were agendized without any real opposition; baby steps to some perhaps, but real progress to others.

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  10. what about the Steering Committee being able to review the applications of the four new members before they're appointed? They're due to be appointed on September 28th aren't they? Rumor is that more than 18 residents have submitted applications.

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  11. I think they know they're in deep doo doo. They'll be sweet as sugar for a while. Sharks in Little Bo Beep clothing!

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  12. I do so enjoy robo-Joe's thank you's after each and every speaker, even when they are handing him his career on a platter....he must maintain his cheerful civility no matter what.

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  13. Ah heck 8:02, the steering committee never had a chance to look at those applications. If you think anyone will be appointed who is not following the Moran/Walsh/Mosca/Buchanan party line, you be craaaaazy.
    Remember, this council does not want to govern, it wants to rule, and the new members are especially prone to have a flare up when it seems any slight to their prestigious authority is made. Another bit of Buchanan's heritage.

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  14. Josh got his friend on the Community Services Commission with the backing of Joe and Nancy pants.

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  15. Seems like this might be a real good time to ask for things.

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  16. Thanks you Kurt, John, Anita, and John. The letter was brilliant. City Staff, the Attorney, and G 4 are finally under the gun. They must have been informed by the attorney to keep quiet and let Maryann talk.

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  17. Nothing like a little Brown Act violation to help keep the lid on.

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  18. This water mess would have never happened while Kurt,Don, and Maryann were on the Council. The water hike was saved until after the election when Joe knew that the new unqualified council members (aka Bobbleheads) would follow the Piper.

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  19. All over Los Angeles, the people are standing up to their crooked political "leaders".

    Attorney General Jerry Brown (candidate for Gov.) will be in Bell, Ca. to hold a press conference, the Bell criminals will be charged. The fact that Brown is a candidate for Gov. in this CURRENT ENVIRONMENT of ANTI-GOVERNMENT/POLITICIANS.....the Bell criminals WILL BE GOING DOWN to the fullest extent of the law by ATTORNEY GENERAL OF CALIF./BROWN/CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR. Jerry has the "baggage" of being a life long politicians and now he gets a real break.......take down the Bell gang. Think he is going to do it? LOL

    Most of the radio talk show hosts in Los Angeles are carrying our pitchforks and torches for us, criminality is being exposed, on what now seems an hourly basis.

    Thank you Crawford and Zimmerman for standing up, yet again, for the people of Sierra Madre.
    Thank you MacGillivray for hanging in there and carrying the torch for us all.

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  20. I sure hope the people of Sierra Madre start paying attention to what's going on in this city.
    We have all been asleep. We must wake up and make sure this never happens again.

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  21. So the city council, city attorney specialist in Prop 218, and the city manager all screwed up on some very fundamental Prop 218 rules?
    We needed to be able to figure out our costs, the basis for the calculations, and the reasons for the increase? Also, the reasons that what we'd been paying (and I pay a mighty big bill) weren't enough?

    Well big oops on the council, and how did this get by the city attorney???

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  22. Did Sandy Levin charge the City for her time to prepare the Prop 218 notice ,the following Fact Sheet, and all her time spent on the process? If so, then the City is entitled to a full refund. Also, if there is a law suit because the City refuses to renotice the process properly, then Levin should be responsible to all costs encured including court cost and plantiff costs because she and she alone gave incorrect information to the Council. Remember because as she had said,"she helped write the law" and she is the expert.

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  23. Thank you Kurt for the Letter,
    Thank you Don for you Letter that was posted on Monday,
    Thank you Maryann for continuing to fight for what is right,
    Thank you John for carrying the torch,

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  24. Everyone who worked getting signatures for the water rate protest deserves an apology. Everyone who signed the water rate protest deserves an apology.

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  25. In regards to the current General Plan Committee....they sure don't need any additional people appointed by the Gang of 4.

    God God, people, you have ANITA DELMER (whose name is on the above letter) and TERYL WILLIS. These brilliant and 100% honest citizens are on your General Plan Committee! I trust their good judgement, superior intellegence and total dedication to serve the people of this town.
    THEY WILL DO THE RIGHT THING FOR ALL OF SIERRA MADRE, both present and future.

    Anyone who the gang of 4 selects to be on the GPC, will either be a "bobblehead type" or even worse, a Bart Doyle, Glenn Lambdin, Rob Stockley type).

    Stand up for the General Plan Committee of 5 honest citizens, Sierra Madre. They are fighting for YOU.

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  26. 8:59, it would be great if things worked that way, if individuals in city government were made responsible for their errors - as in Bart Doyle and Rob Stockly having to pay back those bonds that they led the charge for - but unfortunately, all city councils & employees have a whole lot of protection. Much more protection that the citizens they hurt.

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  27. 9:15, Denise Delmar and Anita Delmar are both brilliant - it is the Denise of the two who is doing such a great job on the GPUSC, and Anita who is always on target and an important participant in all matters municipal.

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  28. RE 9:15 Anita is not on the GPSC although Anita would be welcome with open arms. It is Denise Delmer who is the one that stands up to the City Council. Both ladies are real gems.

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  29. Please post the response from City Attorney Levin when it arrives....should prove to be very interesting.

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  30. Thanks for the correction.

    Anita Delmer is equally qualified to be in any position in the city.

    Denise Delmar is as well.

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  31. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  32. Um, just a little over the top there, 10:10.

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  33. All outrage aside, this really is enjoyable. They thought we'd never
    figure it out. But we did. Now they have pudding all over their faces.

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  34. The now infamous line, "They'll never get enough signatures." Stopped 'em in their tracks we did.

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  35. They'll never be able to hire enough lawyers and consultants
    to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

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  36. walking the neighborhoodSeptember 15, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    Now that the messy, messy part of the signature evaluations is done, the figuring out who owned what meters where, is there a new and much more accurate list to base the mailings, and the potential protests on? A new accurate and vetted list will no doubt be generously presented to the public.
    Also, can we demand that the council provide a protest form with the next mailing, as they should have done the first time in keeping with the policy of civility?

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  37. Sorry to be so slow on the uptake (maybe I should run for council), but do we own our water department, or does a bank?

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  38. Sierra Madreans for Sane Financial PracticesSeptember 15, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    It looks like the shenanigan years councils set us up for big failures.
    Maybe we ought to close city hall, disband the council and start again, figuring out what we really need bit by bit.
    And stop all this damn financial extravagance.

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  39. Bad City Hall, Tsk Tsk Shamey ShameSeptember 15, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    Guttsy, true, succinct, and touche' proud to be a tattler today. That ought to wipe some artificial smiles off their faces. Antacids will be flying off the shelves. Ms Levin's advice was flawed as to the meeting of the qualifications of prop 218, apparently. It is a gotcha letter, sweet, you letter signers are my heroes and heroesses!!

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  40. See, 10:37, no one evaluated the signatures they only verified that a signature corresponded to a name existed on a list. I could have signed your name for all of the evaluating that went on. And, the meters apparently have nothing to do with it. It is "property owners" - not rate payers, renters, or business owners. Property Owners. We'll be much better prepared next time around. A list of property owners, according to the City Manager, does not come from the Water Department, but from the County Recorder.

    Let's be very sure as opposed to being very enthusiastic! We'll have 45 days and we'll do it right.

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  41. We will all get an "A" on the retake test the City must give us. This time we know where the answers are.

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  42. They brought it all on themselves.

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  43. I hate to throw a monkey wrench into all the glee, and flail me if you want, but it must be said: The City needs to raise the water rates. If they come up with a bare-bones, modest proposal, and present it right, we should take it.
    None of this three tiered meter rates, none of the "it will help people conserve water" stuff, but a straight out we need it to keep giving you water and to pay our bonds. And thanks, Crawford, Zimmerman et al for getting them to sit up and take notice, now they won't dare push through the 40% proposal that I think they were heading towards...after their dumb p.r. campaign.

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  44. Lessons learned the hard waySeptember 15, 2010 at 11:23 AM

    Property Owners not renters or businesses, widows and widowers, not children of property owners, not registered voters, not condo associations or apartment managers...

    County Recorder not water department...

    City Clerk not City Manager and staff...

    Post Cards not folksy Xeroxes...

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  45. To 11:15's point, this is the choice of the rate payers.

    It needs to be put on the ballot.

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  46. It is true the city needs to raise the water rates; the issue is why do they need to rais the water rates. And, how much does the raise in rates need to be and what is it being raised for? To pay off a $23 million dollar bond indebtedness? $8 million to take advantage of $10 million in matching funds? $5 million to pay for infrastructure? How much is for some long running shell game? By 2030 when the bonds come due who among us will remember the shenanigan years?

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  47. My two cents:
    The shenanigan dream of remaking SM is coming closer.
    The water rates have to go up. Raise the water rates enough to bail out our city and you hurt people with modest or fixed incomes.
    The city has to raise the low income numbers.
    I make too much to cry poverty, but I don't make enough to fund the pro-development folks.
    Years ago people talked about the schemes to drive out the poorer people from SM. I'm worth more to these people if I sell my house and vamoose.

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  48. The idea that self-styled liberals such as Mosca and Buchanan
    are conducting a gentrification based class war against Sierra
    Madre's poor on behalf of the large corporations they work for
    is interesting. Doesn't this make them - um - reactionaries?

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  49. 12:10

    Yes, it does. They are nothing but "spoke-holes" for
    big energy companies. Bart's just a big "spoke-hole" for the BIA.

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  50. Last night the uh Mayor said that the idea of a general plan update taking five years was a very bad idea.

    Whose idea was "5 years"?

    His.

    The uh mayor is into the straw man verbiage.

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  51. I'm sure that is the kind of stuff Joe was taught when he attended the SCAG Leadership Academy. Meaningless topics designed to distract attention away from matters you'd rather people not consider. Like the truth.

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  52. Thank you John for your tireless efforts to keep this City Council honest. I have to wonder, regarding the Prop 218 requirements that MUST have been reviewed by some high-priced attorney, didn't said person clearly commit judicial malpractice? If so, what recourse do the tax paying citizens of Sierra Madre have? At this point I'd rather knock on doors petitioning for a recall measure instead of the pitchforks and torches at City Hall tactic that sounds so much more appealing. What constructive means does the citizenry have at its disposal? Tattlers, any ideas? This time I'm actually angry enough to do something about this nonsense.

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  53. I wonder how members of the SMVFD, the civic clubs, the SMPD, the Rotary, the Kiwanis, and other like organizations feel now that its been proven that not only were they lied to about candidates running in the 2010 City Council election, but that Mosca and Buchanan were preparing to deceive the residents of Sierra Madre by precipitating a water rate increase crisis based on lies of omission. Moran and Walsh, if they were made aware, must have questioned why they were being asked to participate in a cover up.

    Nasty stuff this tangled web weaving when they practive to deceive.

    Do you think anyone of them regret the horrendous lies told about MaryAnn MacGillivray in their efforts to get a little closer to the annointed ones?

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  54. Somebody or somebodies structured a smear campaign to win that last election, playing politics about as dirty as can be.
    He/she/they must have figured the ends justified the means, and must have been zealots.
    But when people throw all integrity and honesty out of the process, they might win an election, but they lost what matters.
    There are hard consequences that come from lying about a person as honest and committed to the common good as MacGillivrey is.

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  55. Coburn would have you believe this is much ado about nothing. He's linking to budget pages clearly showing bond indebtedness and insinuating Watts was too dense to understand what was prepared for him.

    Gotta think Henderson will jump on the bandwagon denouncing Zimmerman and Crawford for causing the City to spend hard earned taxpayer dollars to defend a spurious lawsuit over a non-existent issue (which with her legal background and degree from Berkeley she is eminently qualified to deconstruct).

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  56. Monterey - best thing to do is stay tuned. Lot of things up in the air right now. Personally I'm in favor of a ballot initiative that would prevent the spending of large sums of our money without a vote first. But recalls? Who knows? Everything is on the table now.

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  57. Monterey Laner,

    At least 3 of our friends, all top class attorneys did review Prop. 218 requirements. One of them was obviously our former Mayor, Kurt Zimmerman. His name is on the letter along with John Crawford and Herrmann & Delmer. I'm sure Crawford got many more reviews from Sierra Madre attorneys, Rick DLM? Would you check in on this one?

    I refer back to poster from Arcadia, Gilman, 9:36 am this morning who requests some answers/comments from Sierra Madre City Attorney, Sandra Levin.
    I would sure like to read them, as well.
    Mod? Can we get a statement from Levin?

    I share Monterey's outrage and total disgust.

    Like the Mod suggests, let's stay tuned. We will be taking action.

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  58. My wife and I would like to humbly thank Zimmerman, Crawford, Delmer, and Herrmann. The Letter was a thing of beauty. You give us hope.

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  59. What was the advice that our City Attorney gave to the City establishment.Was it the sin of 0mission or Commission.We,the Citizens(sheep about to be fleeced)have the right for full disclosure.A license to practice Law is not a license to steal.

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  60. 4:20,
    neither is being elected to the city council.

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  61. Susan's paper must not continue. It is the biggest part of the lie.

    Kurt always tried to stop it. But her histronics overpowered the people.

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  62. You know Josh and Nancy were unaware of what Teryl was saying at the podium. Another part of the problem. An inept CC following orders.

    Has anyone written Jerry Brown?

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  63. Write Jerry Brown....he needs to go after these crooks, just like he did the Bell criminals.
    He is in a tough election, needs the "brownie points".

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  64. Old Kentucky & Mod,

    Thanks for the replies, it's nice to be heard when you're THAT upset.
    So how do we hold these clowns, (the kindest pejorative that I could muster for the gang of four and the city attorney) accountable?
    John, I will stay permanently tuned to the Tattler, I'm looking forward to what's next.

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