Thursday, August 16, 2012

Two People Who Make A Difference

(Mod: I have something a little different for you today. I wanted to share some writing from two people who I feel make a difference in our local world. The first piece is an op-ed written by Kelly Aviles. Kelly is an attorney specializing in government transparency laws and litigation. She also serves as the Vice President for Open Government Compliance for Californians Aware, the state's leading non-profit organization for the promotion and defense of the principles of open government. Most famously, she is the attorney who worked with Gil Aguirre to bring down Nick Conway. The second piece is written by someone who needs no introduction here, our former Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray. We're posting her talk to the City Council meeting Tuesday evening during the discussion regarding the Green Committee. It is a pretty remarkable document.)

Asleep at the Wheel – The Disheartening Tale of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments By Kelly Aviles

Secrecy breeds corruption. When the public’s business is conducted illegally behind closed doors, the public pays the price, whether it’s Cudahy, Bell or the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments. The tales of Cudahy and Bell have been splayed on the front pages of the local papers, but the SGVCOG’s story has been relegated to the occasional blurb. It shouldn’t be.

The SGVCOG is a joint powers authority formed in 1994 that serves the San Gabriel Valley area. The agency membership is comprised of 31 local cities, three Los Angeles County Supervisorial Districts and three local water agencies. Each agency appoints a representative to sit on the governing board.

But within the COG, violations of the Public Records Act and Ralph M. Brown Act, which govern how public agencies conduct their business, resulted in the arrest and prosecution of the executive director, Nicholas Conway on four felony charges. Conflict of interest allegations, and questions about “funny” accounting, including the use of an unlicensed accountant and multiple budgets, appear to be the norm rather than the exception.

Some of these issues, including the conflict of interest issues, date back at least six years. Which begs the question: Who was supposed to be guarding the henhouse? The easy answer, and the answer you will most likely hear, is the executive director, Mr. Conway (a.k.a. “the Fox”). The more complicated answer is we are all to blame – our elected officials who sit on the board, the public who failed to attend meetings or monitor its activities, the local newspaper that was more interested in weekly meetings about the battery recycling program than investigating the misuse of public funds.

First, will our elected officials that sit on the SGVCOG governing board please stand up? No ... seriously! STAND UP! We elected you, not Conway. You formed the SGVCOG and hired Conway and his staff, but then neglected to perform any of the supervisory duties that we expected of you. Materials should have been read, budgets reviewed, contracts scrutinized, and questions asked – but none of this happened. Our leaders have clearly failed us.

In fact, the SGVCOG continues to pay Conway’s company, Arroyo Associates, Inc., under each and every contract – including those tied to the felony charges. In June alone, Arroyo Associates, Inc. was paid some $66,000. This doesn’t include the new interim executive director’s salary, approximately $8,000 per month. Conway continues to have full and unrestricted access to staff – after all, the staff is employed by Arroyo, and the SGVCOG and Arroyo offices are one and the same.

The proposed solution to this problem? Just hire the Arroyo staff as employees of the SGVCOG. Some board members have even contacted some of the local member agencies, telling them Conway is the good guy and will be reinstated as soon as he is acquitted.

Next, to the public. It has been said that we get the government we deserve. President James Garfield once said, "The people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.” Who knew the SGVCOG was around back then? But he also said, “If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them ..."

Unfortunately, we haven’t demanded much. Over the past 18 months, members of the public have rarely attended a SGVCOG meeting. A member of the public once showed up to a meeting where there were no chairs available for the public. When a staff member got up to get him a chair, Conway stopped him, saying, “Let him stand.”

But even now after the corruption has been uncovered, where is the outrage? After Bell, citizens took to the streets, demanding change. Yet, no one is voicing their outrage about the SGVCOG.

And finally, to our local news agencies. What happened to being the fourth pillar of democracy? You would think that with the scarce resources of the local newspapers these days, someone would put them to better use. I don't want to hear about a Monrovia woman's dinosaur mystery that was solved on a reality TV show, or how a tree branch fell on a Cadillac in San Dimas (both are stories on the San Gabriel Valley Tribune website today.)

What I and the public desperately want are for our local papers to cover important local issues, like the secrecy and corruption at the SGVCOG, and not just function as a press release depository for the self-serving statements put out by our local government agencies. Some news agencies are doing a great job at this, some are not. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

Removing Conway as executive director is like using a Band-Aid to close a gaping wound – it just isn’t enough. If the SGVCOG is going to continue to exist, there need to be wide-spread changes. The public needs to stand up and demand that these changes are made. Our elected leaders need to listen and clean up the agency they created. And the newspapers need to report on it all, and leave the battery recycling program coverage for another day.

MaryAnn MacGillivray's Public Comment on the Green Committee

Whether or not to convert the Green Committee to a Green Commission warrants a more robust discussion that the Council will be able to have tonight. It is not a simple matter of changing the name, but rather an evaluation of the scope and purpose, expertise and qualifications of the members, and the application and authority that will be granted to such a commission.

When the Green Committee was appointed, it was anticipated that it would be an adjunct working committee to assist the GPUSC in determining how best to meet the requirements imposed by AB32 and SB375. The GPUSC, together with the hired consultant group, was able to collect and evaluate the data necessary to meet legislative mandates without the assistance of the Green Committee because efforts to combine subcommittees of the two just did not work out. The GPUSC is well into the editing process and when the draft is submitted to the Planning Commission and the City Council you will see that it is riddled with green leaves throughout (having adopted the Claremont format) because “being green” does not reside in its own box, but rather permeates our policies and way of life as reflected in the updated plan. That anticipated function of the Green Committee is no longer needed.

The Green Committee is now reacting to data and proposals submitted to them by the staff analyst which directly parallels sustainability initiatives set forth by ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives now changed to Local Governments for Sustainability). ICLEI wrote what became Chapter 28: Local Agenda 21 of Agenda 21, which is an attempt by NGO’s (non-governmental agencies) to influence local land-use laws to shift the population away from low-density residential areas into high-density urban areas, and to put limits on production and consumption of items and services of all kinds including food, transportation, public utilities, natural resources and open space utilization for recreation. Most of the items listed on the Sierra Madre Accords already fall under the purview and authority of the Planning Commission or staff.

Sierra Madre has always been environmentally conscious even before it was mandatory. With the help of SMEAC, we have been recycling for over 20 years. Water conservation is a way of life for the residents of this village. As stewards of the San Gabriel Mountain watershed, we take our responsibility seriously and have managed development and avoided overdevelopment utilizing the Hillside Management Zone to keep the watershed healthy. We have been able to work to protect the environment and make wise development decisions without the participation of the NGO’s, so why would we shackle ourselves to them and become subject to their mandates particularly if they do not benefit Sierra Madre?

The City joined ICLEI sometime in 2008, shortly after the Mayor signed the Kyoto Protocol, primarily to utilize the ICLEI software to assist in conducting a GHG (Green House Gas) inventory. Not only has the process been more difficult and complicated than anticipated, but we can now utilize the software without being a member of the organization.

It is important to remember that part of our environmental health is our ability to prosper as a city and community. That ability is increasingly more difficult when we try to comply with the ever-changing unfunded state mandates.

Staff and the City Council have a pretty full plate. The General Plan is nearly complete: the draft and EIR need to go through the approval process. Our Housing Element is not yet certified and the next one is due in October 2013 – just 13 short months from now. Numerous codes and zoning regulations have to be evaluated and approved so as to be consistent with the General Plan update after it is approved. The Kensington project and vote is on the horizon and we are still grappling with the aftermath of the dissolution of the CRA. Our water rates are not meeting the objectives as hoped with regard to infrastructure improvements and bond covenants.

And that just hits a few highlights. Commissions take time and money – we are short of both. The GPUSC would have finished in half the time if they were allowed to meet twice per month as they requested, but staff time and even facility access just did not permit it to happen.

It would be prudent and even wise to postpone the decision to convert the Green Committee to a commission until more complete analysis and discussion can be had by staff and council.

A good starting point would be:

List all of the non-government agencies (such as ICLEI), groups, and committees that Sierra Madre belongs to, what the associated costs are and what the real benefits to the City are. Then withdraw from those that are not of value, and especially withdraw from those whose mandates and charters are contrary to our plan for sustainability. This should free staff time.

Determine what the purpose and charter of a Green Commission would be. Would it be a working commission like the GPUSC or a review and approval commission more like the Planning Commission? And what would it review and approve?
What non-redundant topics and policies would benefit by such a commission?
What then would be the expertise needed by the members to perform the functions assigned?

Inform the public and seek input. Provide many opportunities for open dialogue with the community because it is the residents whose lives will be changed. Kermit the Frog always said “It isn’t easy being green” but he didn’t know how expensive it is. We residents of Sierra Madre, all of us, will ultimately pay the price so we should have something to say about it. Many a good solution has come from the audience and not the dais so don’t act too quickly and not without engaging the public.

I am submitting to the City Clerk a listing of all ICLEI member cities. Sierra Madre is a member but our neighbors, Arcadia, Monrovia, Pasadena and even South Pasadena are not. That should create questions if not concern.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

59 comments:

  1. YES, let the truth and facts be heard. Is it ok if I print up a few copies and pass them around the community?

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, for writing about a serious situation developing. Everyone should be informed of what is going on. I for one don't like what I see here and when my neighbor reads this they sure wont like it.

    Again, can I pass out copies of the above information?? Thank you

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  2. Democracy only works when the people participate. Once government is turned over to paid professionals and consultants it becomes something quite different. You shovel enough of your money to these people, and then don't hold them accountable for how they spend it, the predictable happens.

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  3. Great column today, John Crawford.
    I always print out each days Tattler article and give it to a neighbor who doesn't have a computer but talks to lots of people.
    I hope every loyal Tattler reader will print this out today and do the same and better yet, send an email to all your friends who are online and live locally the link to this Tattler article. Everyone needs to read this!

    Perhaps, while you take your summer break, you could ask MaryAnn, Kelly and other extremely knowledgable people we know to write a column everyday and have one of the moderators post it?

    I know it's a lot to ask of Kelly and MaryAnn, too very, very busy women, but it would be very good if they would do this.

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    1. You know what I'd like to do is give a lot of our commenters a chance to write a columns. There are some very knowledgeable people posting here, and I think it would be great if they took a shot at it.

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    2. Yes, I agree. Besides, John, you have gone way over and above the call of duty writing these columns and moderating this blog daily.
      I know you have a few moderators, who are also contributing a major service to our community.
      We have many good people, who have vast amounts of knowledge.
      Don Watts, Kurt Zimmerman, and dozens of others who post here on the Tattler. It is because of all these clever people and their good ideas that helps make the Tattler so well read and enjoyed by so many.
      Thank you to everyone who contributes by posting and/or reading the Tattler!

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  4. When the SGVCOG started to blow up in our faces I went to their web site and took a quick look at an agenda. All it took was one quick look to determine that most of the appointed attendees from the various city councils around the valley were intended to be decieved with so much smoke blown in their faces. It was designed by Conway to be obscure as he pillfered through his Arroyo Company. Kelly does rightly blame us for not watching, but you would have to really know what you were seeing to be "watching" with any insight, to come to any conclusions, and then how to launch a campaign to expose the corruption. It had to hit this level of interest before the exposure hit bit enough to lead to his, Conrad's, arrest.

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  5. Hey, moderator, I always miss the big swearing fit that your rightly remove from the blog. But I was wondering, could you put together some format, ie click here, so if a reader wanted to see the post for any particular reason (mine would be mere curriosity) we could better understand what you put up with, and get an idea of what crazies are in Sierra Madre for future reference?

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    1. I have seen some of the posts - sometimes they pop up for a second before being deleted - and they're terrible. Remember the Dirt websites during the Measure V fight? Like that. It's really better not to see them at all. Crawford takes hits for the team on that one.

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    2. Moderator, I for one thank you for the editing. Don't want to be a priss or anything, but I find it very sad when people cannot make a logical point without using foul language.

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  6. Years ago, when we had encouraged Maryann to run for City Council for her first term, we recognized the energy and leadership she would bring to being a Council person.
    At the time, we saw the leadership of the Council (3 votes) stacked with a number of people not so interested in what is best for our community, but only what the greater political establishment saw in their own financial self-interest, for which they preferred to serve.
    In the brief two years we had a three person council majority, we had the dubious opportunity to see how the Council of Governments were being run, and wondered how they could get away with it.
    It was at that point we brought forward the vote to pull out of the organization, seeing it had been run by a “kangaroo court “of self-interested people. Even, I am sorry to say, including members of our City Council. Fortunately, they are no longer on our Council.
    I was gravely disappointed to see she had not been re-elected to a 2nd term. We lost a very articulate and highly intelligent leader, who had always put the community first.
    Elections are run and won by three things money, money, and the press. When you don’t have those things, you pass on leadership to those who have money, money, and the press.
    Apparently, as one current Mayor has said, it only costs $20,000 to buy a seat on our city council.
    My hope is Mary Ann will run again in the near future. We need her unwavering leadership and reasoning, and to bring back the three member pro community majority.

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    1. Thanks for posting, Don Watts. You are a great man.
      MaryAnn is a most exceptional woman, we hope both you,MaryAnn and Kurt Zimmerman will continue to speak out.We are very thankful to you. We need your voices of reason and good common sense and impeccable honesty in these difficult economic times.

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    2. Mr. Watts is right on the mark with the SGVCOG. Many of the cities involved have KNOWN about the problems for years, but have chosen to do nothing.

      The overriding contention seems to be that there is an important need for a regional agency and no one wants to run the risk of having a "seat at the table". The good ole "the end justifies the means" theory.

      Time for each and every member agency to stand up and protect our interests. As we speak, Conway continues to be paid handsomely and to be in charge of the physical offices of the SGVCOG, this nonsense needs to end.

      It will be interesting to see which cities, if any, have the integrity and character to say enough is enough!

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    3. I despair of its getting better.
      The whole thing needs to be stopped and then start building up again.
      Would an IQ test as a condition of participation help?

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    4. Just as soon as IQ tests can measure integrity....

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  7. Writing submitted by Concerned CitizenAugust 16, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    "EXTRA" "EXTRA" read all about it. Sierra Madre City Council waste time and money on the Green Committee, a committee that did little to nothing for the General Plan committee. With the city being sued by the PD and changes going on with the safety in Sierra Madre, the council doesn't even have a Safety commission but they want a Green commission. Who is the city really protecting and serving here.

    Read all about it in the next issue.

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  8. Well said Mr. Watts; pro-community.

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  9. Writing submitted by Concerned CitizenAugust 16, 2012 at 8:27 AM

    EXTRA EXTRA, citizens and business owners won't write a column for fear of reprisal from Mayor saying to boycott them. Read all about it in the next issue.

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  10. Both the remarks about the SGVCOG and The Green Committee show an integrity and insight that reflects the best of American citizens. Thanks to Aviles and MacGillivray for standing up.

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  11. You idiots who voted for Harabedian: Post a statement from the wunderkind to counter what Ms MacGillivray said at the council meeting. It's not going to happen, is it. Harabedian, Mosca, Buchanan, just empty talking heads.

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    1. Harabedian is cutting his political teeth. He wobbles, he waffles, he lands on both sides of the issues - and then when forced to, he casts a vote. But I don't think you can predict what that vote will be. Harabedian sometimes seems to hear reason.

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    2. Harabedian roulette.

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    3. It is a tough job JH has. He doesn't really know very much, yet he is trying to make people believe he really knows more than the others on the Council. He thinks that is expected of him given his education and reputation. It is not an easy job.

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    4. Don't forget the evil head and the empty head that now sit on the city council, in the form of the "mayor" and "mayor pro-tem".

      What were people thinking when they voted for these idiots?

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    5. Harabedian may be a lot of things, but an empty talking head is not one of them. Now mind you, I am not saying that he is a better choice than Mary Ann.

      Harabedian has some smarts and there may be some hope for him yet.

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    6. Yes indeed, mr. Harabedian is practicing his "best politician" behavior. Go to hour 4:31 of Tuesday,s council meeting and see how many clichés you can count.

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    7. I counted 8 in the span of about 2 minutes.
      Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

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    8. Harabedian has both seemed like a fool, and seemed like somebody who thinks. There is no easy description for him. It's going to be a case by case reveal.

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  12. To be fair, people like Walsh, Moran, and Harabedian also make a difference, only it is a negative difference.

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    1. Yes it is negative all right, and extemely dangerous to this town!

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    2. I am so embarrassed that the mayor of my town is famous for debauchery.

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    3. 4:42 - how do you pronounce d-e-b-a-u-c-h-e-r-y?

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  13. What do our neighbors,Arcadia,Monrovia,Pasadena and So.Pas know that we don't!Is there any way we can find out the basis for their choice not to join this gaggle of shifty characters!Our collective failure time and time again to select a majority of responsible ethical individual for our City government is nothing less than a catastrophe for our City as well as our Pocket Books!

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    1. They were voting for the civility candidates! And certainly there are no two more civil people than Josh and Nancy.

      Unfortunately intelligence sounds like dissonance to those incapable of understanding the issues.

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    2. Has anyone heard anyone besides Moran and Walsh be uncivil at a Council meeting yet?

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    3. Arguing over important issues at City Council meetings is not uncivil. It is sometimes how business gets done. For Mosca, Moran et al to pretend that City Council meetings would always be social teas was dishonest.

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    4. Intellectual dishonesty is the law in Moranistan.

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    5. In Moranistan everything is inverted. Nastiness is civility, stupidity is intellectual, tedious events are stimulating, and blocks of condo sprawl is green.

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    6. That explain why the Emperor read Plato's Republic at a City Council meeting.

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    7. I think you are confusing it with Plato's Catalog. It is where Emperor's buy their new clothes.

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    8. That's right, the full name is Plato's Banana Republic.

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    9. aka Moranistan.

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    10. If we could just focus on the money, and save it. Every person who has ever lived on a budget knows what I mean. You look at the money you have, the money you spend, and it is so clear and easy how you can improve! Sierra Madre should not be paying dues for any external involvements right now. None. That is called saving money.

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  14. I keep waiting for him to take his shoe off and bang it on the dais.

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    1. I keep waiting for the audience to take off their shoes and hurl them at him. Much bigger insult, then he would have to do the famous George Bush duck and cover. Nah, he would probably hold Nancy Walsh in front of him.

      off topic but do you folks see the story in the SGV trib about the TV llc losing the appeal to reopen the regional EB5 investor program? It has a copy of the decision with facts underneath the story.

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  15. Can you believe that this Green committee/commission will appear at 3 council meetings beginning in October? Why do we spend so much time on something which has been shown to be useless?

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    1. It is supposed to let everyone know how valuable they are. The fact that they have to do 3 meetings shows even they and their supporters have some doubts.

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    2. The stuff of situation comedies. "The Council." Brought to you by Dawn for Dishes.

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    3. Not dish soap - more appropriately, the National Realtor Association, because Realtors Build Communities.

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    4. No I can't believe it, 3:20 pm. It is very, very strange.
      This "green committee" is useless. To waste so much city time is not wise.

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    5. Such is life in Moranistan. Regime change in 2014, anyone?

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    6. I'd say regime change now, but I hate doing that petition thing. But look at it this way. If you walked up to a door and showed the resident that picture of Matheson and Josh partying, don't you think you'd get a signature?

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    7. Do you mean those thirty minute meetings the green committee has, if they can get everyone to attend or be on time? This is a sham - sounds like they're trying to move in on what the Planning Commission does. We're a tiny town. Lots of the big towns don't even have green commissions. I think the green committee should be disbanded in its entirety.

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  16. Look up City of Calistoga "Green Committee" to get a sense of what else is out there and the links to other environmental issues. If we could just let the committee go on as is and explore the issues and share them across the lines in town (Tree, Planning, Senior, community, GPUSC and City Council) something worthwhile and with less animosity could result.

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    1. Ah, the outreach and inreach. It sure didn't seem like that committee could do anything that vigorous.

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    2. The Green Committee doesn't seem like it is big in the cooperation department.

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    3. They answer to a higher calling. They are here to lead because they have the great wisdom needed to do so. We are their children. Listen as they speak. They will save us all.

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    4. I only know one of them, a woman who lives on Woodland in the Canyon. She is a very bad person. This is well known.

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    5. Except for whoever 6:11 is talking about, I think the committee members are probably all well meaning people who care about the environment. However - the town cannot afford another commission, even with the Walshian dangling of potential future grants. From the Feds, which some of our more challenged council members do not realize is also our tax money.
      What would be great would be if the group wants to keep going, they should do so as volunteers. Get some kind of concrete product and gift their work to the city.

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    6. Yes, if they were all honest, they would do this.
      But, are they? They may not be as honest as you would like to belive, 6:26. And then there is that woman......how can such a person be on this committee? That is what I would like to know.

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