Monday, January 7, 2013

Tattler This Tuesday: Our City Council Preview

The Einstein that doesn't make bagels
Tomorrow night it all comes around again. Sierra Madre's City Council meetings resume, and with that the opportunity for this blog to do what we like to do best, write about them. By themselves these meetings will not alter any of the paths the world is currently on, nor will many beyond the Michillinda Curtain care a whit for the results of the deliberations that take place there. After all, most people living here don't care, either. However, this is not to say that what goes on at these meetings isn't important. For me they are a metaphor highlighting some of the larger problems that belabor our society these days, a microcosm of the malaise afflicting our once great state. It really is worth the time it takes to watch these things, and the effort to understand the issues that are being discussed.

The meeting opens with two incognito sessions with whomever is our City Attorney these days. There have been some bailouts at Colantuono & Levin lately, and it is becoming quite hard to name the players anymore. The first case involves the Hildreth lawsuit, news of which was first revealed here on The Tattler. The City is spent vast sums of money to get a hole it doesn't like filled in, mostly because it would make them feel weak and ineffectual if they did not. All of which led up to this lawsuit.

CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL
Pursuant to Calif. Government Code Section 54956.9(a) The City Council/Agency finds, based on advice from legal counsel, that discussion in open session will prejudice the position of the local agency in the litigation. Existing Litigation: Case No. CV12-10339 Case Name: Jeffrey M. Hildreth and Taryn N. Hildreth v. City of Sierra Madre et al.

This next one? Who knows. Something new is going down, and we have no educated, or even uneducated, guesses for you. Anyone who does know something is invited to leave a comment and fill us in. It could be the cops, of course. After all, it usually is.

CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL Anticipated Litigation Pursuant to Calif. Government Code Section 54956.9(b). A point has been reached where, in the opinion of the City Council on the advice of its legal counsel, based on the below- described existing facts and circumstances, there is a significant exposure to litigation against the City Council


Once those matters are aired out the doors of the Council Chambers will fly open and hordes of diligent citizens will stream into the room, eager as ever to witness, and participate in, our municipal democracy. During the initial moments of this meeting rituals steeped in the history of our civilization are performed. I've described these rituals quite a few times before, so if you don't mind I am going to skip all that today. Let's get to the money part. It is what people really care about.

1) CONSENT CALENDAR 

a) RESOLUTION NO. 13-02 APPROVING CERTAIN DEMANDS
b) RESOLUTION NO. 13-03 APPROVING CERTAIN DEMANDS
The spending of the cash is a twofold effort this time around as the City Council took Christmas off, thereby canceling an opportunity to approve demands. But money was still spent. You may be anticipating a big spend because of this doubling up, but that is not the case. Tomorrow night a mere $493,515.18 will go out the door. Relatively modest considering some past spending events. Some of the bigger spends include Edison at $33,000, and the mighty Colantuono & Levin with $18,272 coming their way. Hopefully they won't be getting too many more like it from us.

c) ELECTRICITY USAGE AND COST TRENDS
Considering the $33K check we're cutting for Edison, this Consent Calendar item couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Unfortunately the Staff Report for this one is pretty much boilerplate language about how much City Hall has reduced energy usage, and that they plan to do more of that sort of thing in the future. Some of the information here is clearly outdated. Example: "With rising utility costs, the City of Sierra Madre has taken various steps to monitor electricity usage and conserve energy. Staff has been monitoring data back to 2004 and completed an electricity audit at the end of 2010." Far be it from me to complain, but it is now 2013. Just in case anyone forgot.

2) DISCUSSION – RESOLUTION NO. 13-01 ADOPTING INTERIM MEASURES TO COMPLY WITH NPDES PERMIT NO. CAS004001 AND DECLARING THE CITY’S INTENTION TO DEVELOP AND ADOPT PERMANENT LOCAL MEASURES FOR PERMIT COMPLIANCE
"NPDES" is the acronym for "National Pollution Discharge Elimination System." Apparently there is a permit involved in all of this, and it is over 500 pages long when you include its many appendices. Perhaps the state bureaucracy responsible for this dense pack of life denying gibberish plans to stop pollution discharges by taking a few copies of these 500 page permits and stuffing them up the mouths of whatever pipes are responsible? Probably the only way this is going work. You can access this visitation from a world beyond by clicking here. I wouldn't recommend it, though. I've met people who have actually looked at this thing and it changed them. Not in the good way. And I am not certain what they mean by their usage of the term "waterboards." Is that how they get polluters to confess?

3) DISCUSSION – OPTIONS FOR COMBINING CITY COMMISSIONS, COMMITTEES, BOARDS, AND CONSIDERATION OF CREATION OF A WATER AD HOC COMMITTEE
One of the ways of participating in our City's government available to residents is to serve on a commission, board, or committee. There are many of them, which is as it should be. There is a lot going on, and thankfully the community has always answered the call for volunteers. Unfortunately, this time honored way of doing things in Sierra Madre has now been deemed by City Staff to be inconvenient. Here is how they phrase it:

The amount of staff time dedicated to each commission varies, and can range from 1 to 2 hours per month, up to as much as 40 hours a month. While every attempt is made to staff commissions with exempt staff (no overtime costs), there are many occasions when direct costs are incurred from full-time and/or part-time staff's attendance at commission meetings or events ...

The Staff Report carries on in this passive aggressive way for a while longer. Here is how I see it. Which do you think is more important, a commission of resident volunteers, or the presence of some random City Staff member? Obviously it would be the commission. So how about commissions start meeting without any City Staff present? The commissions would remain intact, they'd probably get more work done, creativity would rise and the City would save a lot of money! Honestly, I have spoken with many people on commissions and to a man, or woman, they have all said City Staff presence is not always necessary. Rather than getting rid of any commissions or committees, or jamming a few of them together, just tell City Staff to butt out. Do they really always have to be there?

There is also some palaver in item #3 about creating an Water Ad Hoc Committee. In the Staff Report they list the responsibilities this WAHC would have, the first one being, "Advisory to City Council and Staff on Water Rate Review." That pretty much sums it all up. This could very well result in yet one more gathering of earnest citizens who end up being manipulated into claiming rates have to increase. A necessary "best practice" as neither the City Council or City Staff would ever care to find themselves in the position of having to utter the words "rate increase." Better to get human shields to do it for them.

4) DISCUSSION – PUBLIC SAFETY MASTER PLAN
Probably one of the worst efforts put forward by an elected official here in quite some time. As we have discussed previously (click here), this is basically Councilmember Harabedian's love offering to the Sierra Madre Police Association for their support in last April's election. An attempt to give the SMPD a relevance on paper that it lacks on the street. It will involve the hiring of a very expensive "public safety" consultant, this at a time when the Councilman has also voiced his support for raising our utility taxes to 12% to make up for City Hall financial shortfalls. 12% being by far the highest utility tax rate ever seen in the State of California.

This item is also deeply immersed in Los Angeles County Democratic Party politics. Harabedian, an individual with obvious political ambitions, certainly understands that in order to advance his career in a one-party jurisdiction you must please its major campaign donation sources. And no source of political cash has been more generous to the organization Mr. Harabedian aspires to gain favor with than public employee unions. Something Harabedian hopes to finesse with as much as $50,000 of our tax dollars. You couldn't find a better example of what is wrong with Los Angeles County politics than this stinker.

By the way, an alert from the SMPD went out to Sierra Madre Block Captains yesterday detailing two more home robberies, plus an attempted third, over the weekend. I really cannot see how spending $10's of thousands of dollars on a consultant is going to do anything about the serious and very real problems we are facing here.

5) DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF ACTION REGARDING CITY’S “PROTEST” TO THE PROPOSED CLEAN WATER, CLEAN BEACHES MEASURE
While the UUT 3 is working hard to raise utility taxes on us, it appears that the County of Los Angeles is trying to do something very similar to them. Obviously City Hall isn't happy about it. We shouldn't be either since that cost will come out of our hides. It always does. They might act like it is their money, but we know it comes from us.

What the County is telling everyone is that this is a necessary way of raising money to keep the Pacific Ocean and its beaches clean. However, once the money is in their hands their likely course of action will be to instead create a vast new bureaucracy and staff it up, thereby extending the reach of their already considerable power in our lives. The chances that somehow this will prevent impure rain water runoff from polluting the ocean and beaches is absurd. All it will really do is put additional redundant L.A. County employees in new air conditioned white pickup trucks so they will be able to go back and forth to Starbucks in comfort.

I hope the City chooses to protest this. Certainly we should all want to do so as well. This "Clean Water, Clean Beaches"measure would be yet another County tax. A parcel tax on the rain no less, one that will serve no real purpose besides creating a new tier of future pension recipients.

6) DISCUSSION - CONSIDERATION OF APPOINTMENT TO VACANT SEAT ON METRO SAN GABRIEL VALLEY SERVICE COUNCIL
First let us be clear, all seats on the Metro San Gabriel Service Council are empty. Whether there are bodies in them or not. There was no Agenda Report on this one, so I am kind of in the dark here. But didn't Joe Mosca have this gig once upon a time? He probably didn't show up to those meetings, either. Somehow the world survived, and the empty buses rolling through Sierra Madre ran on time.

7) DISCUSSION - AWARD OF BID TO WILLDAN FOR BUILDING INSPECTION AND PLAN CHECK SERVICES
The City that claims to be "full service" will now employ an outside company to do things such as plan checks and house inspections. We do have a paid part timer to handle this stuff, but you can imagine how that is working out. City Staff put out an RFP, and the company they have chosen as the grand prize winner is Willdan. Apparently they will receive 62% of all plan check money received from people like you, and 72% of the permit fees received, also from folks such as yourself. Strikes me as being a pretty sweet deal.

By the way, this brings up a question I never seem to get answered. If we pay taxes to City Hall, why do we have to pay extra when we want some actual work to be performed by them? Aren't we paying their salaries already? Why should we have to pay fees on top of that? Aren't we already paying these people to work with the taxes we already pay? It seems to me that we are being forced to shell out twice for services we use, and once for those we don't.

8) DISCUSSION - STRATEGIC PLAN FROM OCTOBER 24, 2012 RETREAT
This is kind of a running joke at City Council meetings. This item is always put at the end, and because things run late it then gets pushed to a future meeting. The last retreat was almost 3 months ago, and they still haven't found the time to let the dog and pony out. The City Manager takes it seriously, for what that is worth. So there must be something wrong with it.

City Council meetings are like the lottery. You have to play to win. Check it out why don't you?

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

62 comments:

  1. I agree Mr. Mod. City Council meetings are a microcosm of the malaise that afflicts state and federal gov't. The redeeming factor is that at the local level a citizen can actually be heard and can effect change. It's where we live, we should participate. Ah yes, the Metro Board. My bet is that Johnny Harabedian would like to take Joe Mosca's place. It is the perfect place for an aspiring pol to pad his resume and make those oh so important connections that lead to political advancement.

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    1. Joe showed up on picture days.

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    2. I have always wondered how many members of the Metro Board take the bus to their meetings. My guess would be none.

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    3. To that point, how green is the Green Committee and those pushing for it to be a commission.

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    4. Everything will go under the green committee. Paul will dress like Kim Il Sung and rule with an iron fist.

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    5. He looks the part.

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  2. Eliminate the Senior Commission and its liaison council member Walsh.

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    1. Hear hear! The seniors would be better served as a subcommittee of the Community Services Commission! Less staff time and fewer resources would have the same result.

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    2. The staff report makes it sound like volunteer commissions can't function without babysitters.

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    3. Keep the commission and eliminate the city staff that sits in the senior center. The volunteers do all the real work there.

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    4. Staff doesn't like it when the Commissions do not follow Staff's recommendations and think/act for the good of the citizens.

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    5. Why do the Seniors need a place of their own? Let them use the rec center like the rest of the community. Why are they so special?

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    6. Doesn't like it? More like totally and completely ignores. Remember that Commissions and Committees "act in an advisory capacity".

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    7. This would be as good a time as any to transition the city away from out of town paid help and back to the more volunteer home grown system we used to have. To say that commissions and committees must now be curtailed because the schedules of city staff are too busy is the height of cheek.

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    8. 946, where do you think the ALFers will go for fun? The location is perfect for it. Um...... wonder where that money is going to cone from...... Wonder no more, you wonderful givers and sharers. if they can't make the trek, I wonder which vans will shuttle them..... Wonder no more, you beautiful sharers! God bless us, every one!

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    9. I think the Hart Park House was willed to the seniors.

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    10. Let us recall that famous utterance from Nancy Walsh to volunteer commissioners: "We put you in and we can take you out!"

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  3. The Hildreth lawsuit is another consequence of inept leadership. And it's expensive.

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    1. The City should be able to recover all of the legal expense paid because of frivolous lawsuits like the Hildreth's.

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    2. It should have been worked out long ago. Some guy dug a hole in his basement and it could end up costing the city a couple of million in tax payer dollars and insurance outlays. Crazy.

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    3. 9:43, if the Hildreths had no case, the mess would have been over by now.

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    4. Disagree, 950. There has to be an environmental impact study before anyone can dismiss litigation. We need to know what the trees think, and how it affects parking on Hermosa, and, you know, stuff.

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    5. No expert here, but I think the case hinges on documents that the city says the Hildreths don't have, but the Hildreth's say they had. And a letter giving them permission signed by a youngster who had that authority for a very brief time in the Developer Servicing Department.

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    6. If the Hildreths had a case, then the city made a big mistake not settling this thing a couple of years ago. I guess money is no object for them.

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  4. I have no idea what the second legal trouble is, but this phrase caught my eye:
    "significant exposure to litigation against the City Council"

    Isn't it usually "the city" that is in hot water and not the "City Council"?

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    1. Wow. Nice catch!

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    2. Were the city council specifically named in the complaint?

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    3. I don't know. Nobody is talking about this one. I was hoping someone in the know would drop a little anonymous something here about it. Stay tuned, you never can tell.

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    4. well, it's interesting, because when the juntas are named as a unit (city councils, boards of ed), as opposed to something more general (school district, city) they seem to get more freaky about it. don't know why.....

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    5. Who do we know that would be made enough to sue the City Council specifically?

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  5. Mod, made me laugh out loud-"stop pollution discharges by taking a few copies of these 500 page permits and stuffing them up the mouths of whatever pipes are responsible? Probably the only way this is going work." Agreed - so often people in government justify their positions with needlessly complicated verbal gymnastics. But there's got to be ways to improve the water and stop all the poisons we so casually mix in it.

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  6. I couldn't agree more about the irrelevance of city staff on commissions and committees.
    Let the groups of volunteers/appointees meet without staff's unnecessary presence, and then consult the staff at a later time if something does come up.
    It was a bad decision to ever make meetings dependent on staff presence.
    And if it's a legal requirement that the meeting is recorded, take turns bringing your cameras and record the damn things, and store them in the cloud.

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    1. The people of Sierra Madre are not children.

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    2. Well some are. But I get your point.
      The people who volunteer to spend their time and energy on commissions do not need to be told what to do and what to think.

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  7. Mosca was indeed the bus man. He chatted up the few bus riders for all he was worth. Then he announced himself as their savior. Kind of a practice run.

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    1. If he really wanted to be their friend he would have offered them a ride.

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  8. Harabedian's fifty thousand dollar folly is an outrage.

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    1. Right up there with Walsh's Market Demand Study.
      A fool and our money....

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    2. Raise utility taxes, hire a consultant. I am telling you, Johnny is really really smart!

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    3. I think the Council needs more lawyers.

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    4. Hey Mod,
      Did you notice the Tattler is just about at 1.25 million hits?

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    5. Traffic on this site continues to grow. It really is quite gratifying.

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  9. Sigh! In talking with those who have pushed for an Ad Hoc Water Committee, their intent was NOT a "Water Rate Review". Granted, there is a problem with the water department being able to be self-sustaining and still do the necessary repairs, etc. However, the main issue is, will we have enough water in the long run. What long-range planning will we do to insure future water supplies without using the Metro Water Dept.

    There should be a Water Master Plan just as they have a Parks and Facilities Master Plan. What about future growth? John Capoccia and Josh have studied the aspect of Arcadia use and costs of water from the Raymond Basin, that could be incorporated into a master plan for future generations. How short-sighted of the Council to look at only one aspect. And, I understand (and correct me if I'm wrong) but in order to legally raise the rates, a paid consultant has to do a study to determine if that raise is necessary. We don't need a commission for that, we need to have long range plans for our future.

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    1. I recall that when a UUT Ad Hoc committee was formed a few years back their eventual conclusion was that the City of Sierra Madre faced financial ruin if the utility tax rates did not go up. Whether that conclusion was just or not is open to debate, but it was the support of these individuals that helped get the UUT measure passed by the voters that year. Last April there was no Ad Hoc committee to lend support to an extension of the UUT at 10% or even 12%, and we all know how that ended. You have to remember that no matter what the City Council may want, the agenda of City Staff is always about money. The Staff Report clearly shows that a water rate review is not only there, but listed as the highest priority.

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  10. Having a Public Safety Oversight Committee is a far cry from having a $50,000 study. Perhaps the Police Association is afraid of a Committee having Oversight on their Department? Or is it that our City Manager is afraid to let go of the power strings?

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    1. Looks to me like the general theme of this meeting is reduce the influence of residents. John Harabedian had campaigned on forming a citizen oversight committee to perform these functions, now he is opting instead for a more easily manipulated consultant. City Staff has called for fewer committees and commissions, and either merging or even eliminating some. Doesn't look good.

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    2. I wonder what is coming down.

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    3. Easy peasy. They're going to say they're responding to the community's demand for fewer commissions and comittees and therefore less staff time will be involved. In a nutshell, they're doing what we've asked...

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    4. Woe to any fool who thinks they can trust the City Manager. She has fooled the best, and has much more in mind.

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  11. It's hard to believe that achild porno case over 10 years old and ICE jumps on it along with TV and newspapers.

    But a know PERV caught with images at the border with the U.S. is allowed to go scott free.

    Someone had called the ICE tip line, and more tips followed, leading authorities to Montemayor, officials said.

    She is charged in a federal criminal complaint with one count of production of child pornography and one count of conspiracy to produce child pornography.

    So where is the justice for those hundreds children of images on his lap top computer, along with the criminal charges that should have been lodged against him and his traveling friend, who hail from Sierra Madre, California.

    Where is the justice?

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    1. Only thing I can figure is that he turned snitch. He must have worked a deal.

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    2. Robert W. Matheson could now be working for the cops.
      When justice rolls around and one day he does go to prison, the inmates will regard him as a pedophile and a snitch. Not sure which category is lower on their scale.

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  12. I would think that it was poor work on the side of the City Council and Planning Commission for allowing loop holes in the zoning, in order for the Hildrith's to slip by, and begin building a "throw back to the 1960's style club". City Mng. did little to oversee anything, too busy planning for the future UUT$, and trying to please the investors club here in this town.

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  13. Why are so many council members so happy to use expensive consultants? Are they afraid to stand behind a decision or vote they have made? Afraid of being caught up in law suits?

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  14. Nobody I know would get away with what the Hildriths did

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    1. Consider this possibility. An inexperienced Development Services Department head knows that certain people are eager to redevelop Montecito, and Jeff Hildreth comes in with a project to set up a wine tasting nightclub, or whatever it is. Inexperienced guy thinks, "Great, it's what is wanted for that area, so here ya go, I'll write you a letter that expresses the city's approval." What the inexperienced guy doesn't know is that the idea was never for the people who already lived there to be in on the redevelopment. No, no, it was for the chosen few to sell their properties along Montecito as part of a large upgrade of the whole area. Not the plain old residents.

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    2. The same inexperienced Development Services department head who issued the letter to the Sierra Madre Congregational Church accepting their plan for their building project that made their "school" project acceptable. Even Mr. Inexperience's predessor recommended that he NOT be promoted to Development Services department head because of his lack of experience. So there you have it....

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  15. Hey, did anyone else get a postcard touting a meeting to learn "The Truth About Reverse Mortgages"?
    They are swooping in at the Hasting branch of the Pasadena Library.
    Pretty good slight of hand propaganda.
    Security One Lending - the outfit that hired Pat Boone as their spokesmodel.

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  16. these closed session meetings about all that legal mumbo jumbo talk must really fry Nancy Walsh's mind - she's barely..wait she's never had one coherent thought or statement while on the Council and she's making legal decisions

    Josh must turn the meetings into some type of mental drinking game

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    1. jeez, hope it isn't one of those strip games

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  17. good ole Joe Mosca - one of the coolest con artists to pass through town

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  18. not getting much of a stream here. think i'll grab a sixer of tall boys, head down, and see if the mayor would do me a solid by letting me sit with him at the front of the class sippin' suds

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