As a note, please pay special attention to Agenda Item #3. We have uncovered some new information regarding our current City Attorney, Teresa Highsmith, and it requires your attention.
The first of two City Council meetings this month kicks off with some behind the scenes stuff. The reason for this is it involves legal issues, usually lawsuits, and until these matters are fully resolved it's a secret. This closed session item deals with someone who is in the process of getting fired from their posh Sierra Madre job. Something that surely must be keeping them up late at night. The applicable Government Code Section here is #54957, which you can read all about by clicking here.
Once the closed session has ended, and the City employee in question is fired and soon will be facing a life on the streets with no immediate way of making a living, the doors to the Council Chambers will fly open and citizens will stream into the room, anxious to play their part in our City's democracy. It is at this time that the rituals will be performed, and the room cleansed through the sacrifice of an organically raised free range chicken. The chicken's magic bones will then be rattled until all of the evil spirits have returned to their lairs high up in the foothills.
The first order of public business is the big spend. Every meeting has a big spend, with the dollar amount for Consent Calendar Item 1a tonight being a chunkalicious $639,000.00. Not bad for a little town. $14,811.76 is for the Library, and $304,672 is for payroll. All of God's children do have to eat. Which leaves $319,375 for paying the bills. There is one jumbo check going out, $155,768 for something called the City Master Lease Program. Colantuono & Levin get nearly $25,000 for their legal advice, and $113.15 is to cover the cost of hand sanitizer for the sewer truck. While I understand the importance of this, that does seem like a lot for soap. Even the special kind.
Item 1B deals with the British Home's ambitious expansion program. City Hall is anxious for this to happen, and the City Council seems likely to concur. The size of a sign planned for this location came up the last time this was discussed, so I am assuming that was handled and we will be let in on the excitement tonight. As we discussed somewhere else, the needs of those who have gone past the time in their lives when they can care for themselves is the one profitable business model that is experiencing strong growth in our town. Between this and the ALF you have to wonder where - or if - it is ever going to end.
Item 1C is an amendment to the Wildan Contract. Wildan being the company that has taken on the responsibility of doing plan checks, building inspections, and assorted safety services for our not so full service city. This one has to do with them receiving lower compensation for their work on the gargantuan Kensington project. A one-off situation that is assured of approval tonight.
Item 1D is a bit of a caution. Granulated Activated Carbon is an essential ingredient for keeping our water clean and healthful. The term used for what it cleans out of our water is Volatile Organic Compounds. I think I work with a couple of those, though they are located back east. The cost is $84,900 per the winning bid from the Carbon Activated Corporation. Congratulations CAP!
Item 1E deals with the final tract map for the construction of 5 condos to be built on a couple of patches of dirt at the corner of East Sierra Madre Boulevard and Sierra Place. There certainly is going to be a lot of construction starting up on Sierra Madre Boulevard in the next couple of months.
Item 1F deals with the City's burning need to buy a lot of water meters from a company called Aqua Metrics. City Staff needs an additional $20,000 to achieve this lofty goal, with the total spend coming to $45,000. Personally I don't see why the Water Department doesn't just buy these meters as they need them. But perhaps the sight of a storage area filled with shiny new meters is something that will help boost the department's morale.
Agenda Item #2 is a report from The Ferguson Group, our intrepid lobbyists in Washington DC. It comes with a cover that has a large photo of the House of Representatives, also known to lobbyist types as "The Honey Pot." What they have brought home to We The Clients is some Federal funding for water infrastructure projects. That is not detailed in this report however, so I'm assuming we will hear all about it soon. There is one troubling aspect to all of this, however. In the Ferguson Report there is the following sentence: "The package is being negotiated by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI)." Sadly, Inouye passed away last December, and as far as I know had to give up his Senate seat because of this.
Agenda Item #3 is the highlight of the evening as it will deal with who is going to be our next City Attorney. Currently we are suffering beneath the iron fist of a California League of Cities front organization still known as Colantuono & Levin, author of some of Sierra Madre's worst legal disasters over the years. The other law firm still in the running, Richards, Watson & Gershon, has been the recipient of some admiration here for it's legal acumen and long experience dealing with the sorts of problems we face here in Sierra Madre.
The Tattler has been researching the matter, and we have come up with some rather troubling information regarding our current C&L attorney, Terri (AKA Teresa, AKA T-Money) Highsmith. This from a Jan 15, 2011 San Francisco Chronicle report entitled "Alameda City attorney wants new job plus old one" (click here).
What do breezy, bayside Alameda and arid, landlocked Barstow have in common? Nothing. Except their city attorney. Alameda's city attorney, Teresa Highsmith, took a job as city attorney in Barstow on Dec. 20 without quitting her six-figure-salary job in Alameda. Soon Highsmith will be collecting two paychecks.
"We were blindsided," said Alameda City Councilwoman Lena Tam. "We're not sure what happened. Right now we're still in a fact-finding mode." A week after Barstow approved Highsmith for the job, the Alameda City Council voted unanimously to put Highsmith on paid, indefinite administrative leave. The council did not say why. She earns $191,568 plus benefits in Alameda, where she's worked for 13 years.
In Barstow, where she will be paid by the hour, her pay is officially confidential because she's working for a private firm, Colantuono & Levin, that contracts with the city to provide legal services. But, according to Barstow's 2011 budget, the city plans to spend $160,000 on city attorney services.
Highsmith, 55, a resident of Clayton, said that nothing in her contract with Alameda prevents her from working for two cities. Her contract, she said, allows her to work 10 hours a month, on her own time, on other jobs. She intended to work part time for Barstow and full time for Alameda at least through April, and then leave Alameda and begin collecting public-employee retirement benefits, she said.
'I am not resigning' Highsmith said the Alameda City Council unfairly put her on leave and has not given her a chance to explain. "I am still the city attorney of Alameda. I am not resigning," she said. "Ideally, I'd like the city and (Mayor) Marie Gilmore to take the high road and handle this with grace and dignity."
As of Friday, Highsmith had not yet done any work for Barstow or collected any money from Colantuono & Levin, she said. Her contract with Alameda expires in June 2012. If the city terminates her before then, she plans to ask for six months' severance pay and six months' notice, totaling a year's salary, she said.
This is not the first time Highsmith has worked with Colantuono & Levin, a firm with offices in Los Angeles and Grass Valley (Nevada County) that specializes in municipal law. As city attorney in Alameda, she paid the firm $60,000 to investigate Tam over alleged leaks to a developer that planned to build housing at the former Naval Air Station.
The Alameda County district attorney declined to pursue action against Tam. Tam was re-elected in November, the second-highest vote-getter in the at-large council race. Tam then presented the city with a bill for $44,000 to cover her legal expenses. If the city reimburses her, the incident will have cost the financially strapped city $104,000.
I'm not certain that this episode is the kind of thing that will instill any much needed confidence in the abilities of Ms. Highsmith. And then there is an article from Blogging Bayport Alameda titled "Don't Leave Me High" (click here). Apparently Terri is not above suing a City that employs her if she feels there is something in it.
Folks this must be the “high road” that Teresa (Terri) Highsmith was referring to in her interview with the SF Chronicle. That’s right, as mentioned by Kate Quick last night, emails were abuzzing yesterday evening with news that Terri Highsmith, our current City Attorney and the Interim City Attorney of record for the city of Barstow has decided to follow in the footsteps of Ann Marie Gallant and file a damages claim against the City.
Very troubling. There is also the matter of Josh Moran being cited as a reference in T-Money's application to remain our City Attorney. Since that reference could only be of real importance to Josh's 4 colleague's on the City Council, it almost seemed like an invitation to a Brown Act violation. Also, should the Mayor have telegraphed his support for Terri ahead of the City Council's final deliberations on the matter? Nuh uh. It is our opinion that Josh should be asked to recuse himself here. This was hardly an appropriate time for foolish advocacy.
Agenda Item #4 is titled the "Community Budget Survey." This is where the City Staff will attempt to cozen a little cash out of the City Council so that they can employ some on-line tools to help them market UUT and water rate hikes. We covered this fairly exhaustively on Saturday in a post we called "Moving New Product: How the City Wants to Sell You Water and UUT Rate Increases" (click here). If you haven't had the opportunity to read it yet, you may wish to check it out.
Agenda Item #5 is a "Discussion Of A Potential City Utility (Water, Sewer, Storm Drain) Rate Study." As I am certain you are aware, Mayor Josh Moran has cheerfully declared his intention to raise your water rates. This would be the second time water rates will have gone up since Josh was elected to the City Council. The purpose of this agenda item is to lay down some of the foundation necessary for ripping off Sierra Madre's water ratepayers even more than they are now.
Agenda Item #6 is the last chapter in tonight's City Council meeting. It has to do with the lamentable condition of one of our chief water supply resources, the East Raymond Basin. Apparently water levels there are low and getting even lower all the time. Or so the Water Department informs us. There will also be an update from the City Council Water Sub-Committee on these matters. I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't cited as a reason for, you got it, raising water rates.
Live Blog the City Council Meeting!
Tonight we will once again open the blog up for something we have been calling Live Blogging. Blogging is pretty much live here all the time, some days more than others. But what we do for City Council meetings is encourage people to comment on what is going on throughout the evening, and as it happens. This is open to everyone and we hope you will be able to join the fun.
See you tonight!