Monday, May 13, 2013

The City Council Meeting "Everything Is Going Up" Preview Report

You will be asked
Most everything we are now hearing from City Hall involves them asking for more money. While we are being told that this has to be done in order to "Keep the Police Department" or "Save the Water Division," the complete and actual truth is often something quite different.

The City now wants to be able to offer its employees big pensions, wages and benefits that are more in line with other cities. And to do this it will take a lot more money than they already get. So the City now wants to raise the cost of almost everything. Whether or not a small town such as ours can afford to do this sort of thing, or as taxpayers we would even want to, is another matter altogether. Tuesday evening the hand will be way out, and the reasons given for this will not always be entirely true.

Tuesday's meeting will kick off with the usual closed session. This time there are 5 lawsuits against the City of Sierra Madre going down, three actual and two potential. I really don't know what the reasoning process at the Police Officers Association might be, but if they think that frivolously suing the taxpayers of this town over and over again is somehow going to make people want to switch their vote and extend the UUT next April, then they must be smoking confiscated skunk weed. I am not sure how you could be more out of touch than those leading the SMPD's employee union are these days. But then again, they can't solve crimes, and they don't like to get out of their cars to give parking tickets, so why would anyone expect them to be any better at labor negotiations? Obviously none of that is to be found in their skill sets.

Once rituals deeply rooted in the very founding of our civilization, along with the usual public comment and commendations have also been taken care of, the City Council gets to the first order of business for any of their meetings, spending the taxpayers' dough. And tonight they do a really bang up job of it with a rather tidy $966,312.55 flying out the door. Perhaps money does grow on trees, which might be a problem for us in the future. With the dissolution of the Tree Commission there won't be quite so many of them around anymore. Most of this money is for staff salaries, and someday soon I promise to try and figure out what they actually do to merit it.

A few of the more pungent spends include $957.00 to the Mountain Views News for "ordinance publications," which makes me think that it's time to request an audit of our adjudicated weekly's circulation figures again. I personally doubt that any more than 400 copies of the paper are printed every week. Third World Edison gets $26,156 despite the Mother's Day power outage. Adamson Police Products picked up a $900 check for "pepperballs." You know, just in case a riot erupts at the Farmers Market when the Mohito Mint Green Tea runs out. Colantuono & Levin get $17,175 for protecting us from our interests. Some really big bucks go to the Raymond Basin Management Board, $35,232 to be exact. Willdan pulls in $45,968, which is more proof that doing business in Sierra Madre can be quite expensive for the average citizen. Do enjoy your services.

The second Consent Calendar item, which is called Item 1b, deals with one of the money swaps we participate in once in a while. It is all tax money, of course, and therefore comes out of our pockets no matter what the source. And quite honestly, if we are not going to use it we really should give this money back. But for reasons that escape all popularly held logic, the Feds have given us $85,616 in "highway improvement funds." We, of course, have no highways, and therefore cannot spend it. Plus there are rather expensive bureaucratic considerations as well, some including Caltrans. You know how they always need to wet their beak. So what City Hall has done here is swap this money out to the County, and in exchange we get $83,904 from them that we can actually shift. Judging by this week's big money spend that should take the downtown crew about a day and a half.

Consent Calendar Item 1c involves a fee waiver for the 4th of July Parade. Specifically a fee waiver for parade participants, which is a very good idea I think. According to the staff report there has been a 15% decrease in parade entries, something attributed in part to the City's dunning of those who wish to take part.

In my opinion charging Sierra Madre residents to march in the 4th of July Parade is akin to taxing motherhood. Not that I want to give those folks any ideas, mind you.

The next Consent Calendar item, 1d, involves hiring the godawful Inter-Con, a privately run company that gives out parking tickets on a for-profit basis. Something that was actually presented by the usually tone deaf Chief Giannone as an opportunity for our constantly grasping City to pick up some extra revenue.

That incentivized parking ticket specific rent-a-cops are going to be turned loose on this community with the authority to enforce parking laws for commercial gain seems unconscionable to me. We wrote about this awful situation a while back, and you can read about the many problems Pasadena has had with these people by clicking here. Obviously when it comes to getting more money, City Hall knows no shame.

Consent Calendar item 1e has to do with the hiring of a Community Forest Master Plan consultant by the name of Carlberg Associates. And at a cost of $33,500. It is supposed to be taken as a source if joy to us that this money comes from Sacramento and not out of any City controlled funds. My problem is that I distinctly recall paying taxes to the state as well.

On this surface of it this is actually a nice idea. Protecting Sierra Madre's low density feel by preserving its rich inventory of shade trees seems very necessary to me. However, without the highly dedicated volunteers of the Tree Advisory Commission around to take care of business I don't see how the findings of Carlberg Associates will be enforced.

The last Consent Calendar item is labeled 1f. The nugget of wonder here is a MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) with the City of Arcadia for managing our shared watershed. It of course involves the hiring of a consultant, with our portion of the pain coming to $53,367.37. Why is this necessary? Sacramento and Washington say so. The acronyms in this Staff Report include NPDES, LARWQCB, EWMP, WMP, RH/SGRWQG and, naturally, CIMP. Which is also a word that describes people who use overuse acronyms.

We now enter that world beyond the Consent Calendar with Agenda Item #2, which is verbosely called: PUBLIC HEARING - CONSIDERATION OF URGENCY ORDINANCE NO. 1338-U AND ORDINANCE NO. 1338 AMENDING SECTION 13.24.200 TO CHANGE THE BASE YEAR FOR CALCULATION OF CUSTOMER WATER CONSERVATION AND RESOLUTION NO. 13-12, A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL ADOPTING MANDATORY WATER CONSERVATION MEASURES TO BE IMPLEMENTED BY SIERRA MADRE RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES. Like most everything coming out of City Hall these days this comes with a "revenue enhancing element." The big secret here is that the City has managed to run our water supplies literally into the ground, mostly because a lot of our water revenues are being used to pay a yearly $1 million in bond maintenance costs. Things like drilling new water wells and related infrastructure maintenance keep getting put off because of the huge bond debt albatross hanging around the neck of the Water Division. They just don't have any dough. So in addition to the City's attempts to raise our water rates for the second time in a few years, they are also about to impose fines for using too much water. The opportunities for abuse here are immense. Keep your eye on this one. The City is desperate for the money it would raise.

Agenda Item #3 involves more fees. It is titled PUBLIC HEARING - FISCAL YEAR 2013-2014 BIENNIAL BUDGET CONSIDERATION: RESOLUTION NO. 13-33 FOR THE APPROVAL OF THE FEE SCHEDULE 2013-2014 AND RESOLUTION NO. 13-32 FOR THE APPROVAL OF THE GANN APPROPRIATION LIMITS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2013-2014. These include dunning retail tobacco sales, Conditional Use Permits and Variances for those of us daft enough to put money into things like improving our homes, plus Special Event Permit Fees. All three fee items listed in this proposal will go up substantially if the City Council votes to approve this boondoggle. Subpoena costs, Alarm Permits (very necessary in poorly policed Sierra Rob Me) and late penalties for things such as Paramedic fees, Library fines and utility bills are also included in this discussion as well.

So what is the justification here? The City claims that the labor costs required to process these "services" are greater than the money currently being brought in through fees, and therefore the City loses revenue on each transaction. All of which just might make sense on a planet other than ours. My contention is that since we are all paying taxes to the city, and in many different and interesting ways, aren't we already paying for these labor costs? And by being forced to pay the ever escalating fees charged by this City aren't we paying twice for the very same thing?

As I said earlier, the actual reason for these fee increases (along with all of the other increases and tax extensions) is that the City badly needs more money to float the enhanced pensions, benefits and salaries it wants to offer its employees. They are attempting to create a City of San Bernardino-style system of employee compensation, and they require a ton of money to do it. This item is nothing more than that, just one more money grab.

Agenda Item #4 is yet another discussion. This one is called "FY 2013-2015 Capital Improvements Purchase and Products." Occasionally City Staff has to do one of these so that the City Council is aware of some of the big ticket items in the pipeline. This one includes a new Police car, "Smart Classroom Technology" (as opposed to "dumb classroom technology" I guess) for the Fire Department, plus various street pavement and other costs. There is also a plea for more money. There almost always is.

The 5th Agenda Item of the evening is called "Financial Assistance to the Water Fund." Because of the massive bond debt the Water Division is carrying, which includes service and interest payments of nearly $1 million dollars a year, money is going to have to be taken from the General Fund to, pardon the pun, keep them afloat. There is a vast pile of malarkey in the Staff Report blaming various lesser factors, but at the heart of this is $26,000,000 (interest factored) in water bond debt. Plain and simple. Why the City refuses to acknowledge it is one of the great Sierra Madre mysteries of our day. I can't see how the people of this town can be expected to go along with substantial water rate increases, the second in a brief period of time at that, if City Hall is not willing to tell them the truth.

I promise you that if the City doesn't start leveling with us about the water bond debt crisis and its effects soon, I will be more than glad to join with my fellow residents in a spirited Prop 218 resistance to this rate increase. Trust me, we now know how to do it, and we will win.

Agenda Item 6 goes by the extremely long name of  "DISCUSSION – FISCAL YEAR 2013-2014 ASSESSMENT DISTRICTS – ENGINEER’S REPORT AND RESOLUTION OF INTENTION NO. 13-26, A RESOLUTION OF INTENTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL INITIATING PROCEEDINGS FOR THE LEVY AND COLLECTION OF ASSESSMENTS IN CONNECTION WITH DISTRICT NO. 3 CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT LANDSCAPE MAINTENANCE, DISTRICT NO. 5 CENTRAL BUSINESS PARKING DISTRICT, COMMUNITY FACILITIES DISTRICT NO. 1, E. MIRAMONTE SEWER ASSESSMENT DISTRICT, AND E. BONITA SEWER ASSESSMENT DISTRICT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2013-2014, RELINQUISHING DISTRICT NO. 1, SANTA ANITA ARNO LIGHTING DISTRICT, DISTRICT NO. 2 FANE-WINDWOOD LANDSCAPING DISTRICT, AND DISTRICT NO. 4 JAMESON COURT LIGHTING DISTRICT, ORDERING THE PREPARATION OF THE ENGINEER’S REPORT, AND SETTING JUNE 11, 2013 AS THE DATE FOR A PUBLIC HEARING ON THE MATTER." It is, of course, another plea by City Hall for more money. Certain assessment districts are not covering the expenses of lighting and grass cutting, therefore the City needs to ask them for more money. Anyone detecting a pattern here yet?

Item #7 is simply called "New Commission." What this is about is the cynical destruction of the venerable Tree Commission, one of the hardest working and most effective in town, and transferring its credentials to the poorly defined and to date ineffectual so-called Green Committee. I've written about this before and you can read all about it by clicking here. The link includes a statement from MaryAnn MacGillivray that is eloquent, completely accurate and probably gave Mayor Walsh a case of the hives.

Agenda Item 8 is called "Discussion of Email Retention Policy." It is something that needs to be addressed in my opinion. As an example, when I submitted my PRA on the Matheson Child Pornography matter to the City, I got almost nothing back. Most of what I did receive was a cock and bull story from the City Manager about phone calls that might or might not have taken place. No records were supplied, and no corroborating letters obtained.

One other thing that I did receive were e-mails from Councilmember Koerber to and from various constituents, including myself. Not one single e-mail on this matter was included from Councilmembers Walsh, Moran or Buchanan, all of whom were on the City Council at the time. Can it be that they were so removed from or incurious about this matter that no emails from any of them were sent or received? I highly doubt that. Emails involving elected persons and paid staff are official records. City Hall says it stands for transparency. Here is a chance to prove it.

Agenda Item 9 is called DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF RESOLUTION NO. 13-31 IN SUPPORT OF SENATE BILL 135 (PADILLA), LEGISLATION THAT WOULD CREATE A STATEWIDE EARTHQUAKE EARLY WARNING SYSTEM. This is the work of a State Senator named Alex Padilla. He is from Pacoima. What it involves is spending $80 million dollars on technology that would, if it works, give people a 30 second warning that an earthquake is on the way. This assumes that even if it does work (it has done so just once) you would somehow get the message in time and then know what to do. Besides running around in circles and screaming, of course. I am all for investing money in Caltech however, so I guess we should support this.

Last up is Agenda Item 10, and you can call it "DISCUSSION – CITY COUNCIL CONSIDERATION NOS. 13-22, 13-23, AND 13-24 PERTAINING TO APPOINTMENTS TO THE LOS ANGELES SANITATION DISTRICT, SAN GABRIEL VALLEY COUNCIL OF GOVERNMENTS,  AND CALIFORNIA JOINT POWERS INSURANCE AUTHORITY, RESPECTIVELY." The one that I personally care about is who is going to watch over the eminently corrupt SGVCOG, aka "The COG." I doubt that Mayor Pro Tem* Harabedian is going to want to share this bounty with anybody who didn't eagerly support his unfortunate office theft ploy of 3 weeks ago. But I could be wrong.

That is it. I will be there for this one. Come and keep me company if you like. Live blogging is always best when you are there in person.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

56 comments:

  1. Regarding Agenda Item 8: From the MercuryNews.com:

    "SAN JOSE -- A Santa Clara County judge has ruled that San Jose must provide city officials' private text messages, emails or other electronic communications about city affairs in response to an activist's request, a potentially far-reaching decision that could settle a growing dispute over what open-government advocates say has become a glaring loophole in the state's public records law."

    The mod should resubmit his PRA request and remind the city manager that the council's personal email accounts are included in the scope of the PRA request.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_22827580/judge-orders-san-jose-disclose-officialsmessages-private-devices

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    1. I wonder if our City Attorney is aware of this? Is Colantuono & Levin hard at work devising a strategy to undermine this as well?

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    2. I did request all e-mails on this. Not just City Council, but PD and City Staff as well. I'll bring this up. Thanks!

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    3. I think the catch is "about city affairs"

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    4. Maybe that is the problem. The City didn't know that someone from this town arrested and convicted for transporting child pornography across international borders had anything to do with them.

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    5. Who goes through all the emails and decides whether there is any relevant content?

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    6. The PRA recipient. The City is obligated by law to send everything. The person who requested the material then must go through it and decide what is relevant.

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    7. So the fox is in charge of evaluating the hens?

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    8. The public has a right to know, if that is what you mean. Of course, the public does have to get up off it's duff in order to find these things out.

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    9. I thought the fox was the city hall person looking through emails to decide which ones should be open to the public.

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    10. Apparently in this case that was every email on the Matheson topic except Chris Koerber's.

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    11. Regarding private emails to and from the 5 elected and the City Staff: communications related to their doing "the people's business," regardless of their using their City-furnished email account or using their very own private email accounts, is subject to the PRA and the ruling by the Santa Clara Judge. The elected officials and City Staff cannot hide behind private email accounts to keep the information away from the public.

      The requestor should ask the City to appoint someone to review, evaluate and assess the Council's and City Staff's private email accounts for keywords such as "canada", "canadian", "RCMP", "matheson", "federal", "grand jury", "customs" amoung a few. The City's appointed reviewer would read the emails and forward any applicable ones to the City Manager and City Attorney for further review prior to fulfillment of the PRA request.

      Of course the requestor is going to have to trust that reviewer examined all the emails and the City Manager and City Attorney honorably and faithfully filtered the relevant from the non-relevant private emails that would be provided to the requestor in response to the PRA request.

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    12. I don't trust the city staff to really hand over everything.

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    13. I suspect Elaine goes to our City Attorney (the Belle of Barstow)who tells her the bare minimum she can get away with sending.

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  2. glad to hear you will be at the council meeting in person. It's a good thing to do. If folks want a change of pace, they can join me at the PUSD board meeting that occurs the same time as the council meeting. We plan to encourage them to have a fair and open process in the selection of the person to fill the two year vacancy.

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  3. Of course Mayor Pro Tem* Harabedian won't share. He gets paid for every meeting COG meeting he attends.

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    1. Johnny is a process guy. And raising questions that might upset Barbara Messina is definitely not part of the process.

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    2. Won't it be Harabedian and Walsh on all things state related?

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    3. I am not certain a Mayor would make an appropriate alternate.

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  4. Less than a year ago this City Council passed the emergency Ordinance which stated the base year several years ago.
    The residents were told to conserve water and we did. Now the City wants to make the base year the year that everyone was conserving like crazy and require use to cut back even farther. You can bet that the water rate consultant will base their rates on the conservation income and therefore increase rates to make up for conservation.

    The Prop 218 process must go to a vote of the people.
    The City Council must send out ballots with the 218 information.
    WE MUST VOTE.

    VOTE NO on the UUT AGAIN.

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    Replies
    1. They did not send out Prop 218 ballots last time, right? Did they then follow the law?

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    2. The shenanigans were fast and furious last time.
      The biggest problem was an incomplete and inaccurate list of water account payers.
      I imagine the city has actually cleaned that up, and corrected the errors....or maybe not.
      The chaotic state it was in served city hall well last time.

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    3. We can deal with that easily now. Just mail Prop 218 ballots to every household and business in Sierra Madre. Properly worded and labeled everyone would send them in. People are fed up with being asked for more and more money all the time.

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    4. 11:33, the signatures have to come from the people who actually are listed on the account - not renters, not somebody living in Grandmother's house while she's in a condo somewhere else; some of the account holders do not live in town.

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    5. 11:48 is right. Remember that city staff will be combing through signatures to weed out ones that are invalid, or that they can argue are invalid.

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    6. Ballots must be demanded or money collected to mail out the ballots to the correct person.
      In some cases the correct person is a property management company that is responsible for many meters.
      Last time I chased several property managers down and they were more than happy to sign.

      Another problem is the account is in the name of a deceased person because the spouse never changed the name on the account.

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    7. If city hall now has an accurate list of account holders and their addresses, do you think they'll share it? Or will that require another PRA?

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    8. They don't share anything. All they want is our money.

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  5. IF THE CITY OF SIERRA MADRE CAN ILLEGALLY STEAL WATER...
    WHY CAN'T THE RESIDENTS?

    The city has failed to pay for the water which it uses for the past 5+ years!

    Therefore the city is in violation of the bond financing!

    anyone up for discussion?

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    1. I'll bite. What water bills does the city not pay that they should?

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  6. Thirty second warning would be very good. And everyone can practice, so the running around in circles is completed in a few seconds, and life saving decisions are made after that.

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    1. Hopefully the technology will improve and in time and the warning period will become longer. That to me would be the reason to support this.

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    2. An extra 15 seconds for prayer would be nice.

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    3. No joking, 30 seconds is a lot better than none.

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  7. There are a lot of topics on the agenda this time. Many of them doing with more money. Is Elaine trying to bum rush all of her rate increase requests?

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  8. I have been very happy to see the closeness with which councilman Koerber follows each and every item. I will listen for his take on this almost million dollar night.

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    1. We need more people like him on the Council.

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  9. The city crews were up early this morning completing the ditch for the pipe hook-up to the MWD water pipe on Grandview. Once they get the pipe in, all they need is to break a hole in the pavement to hook up to the MWD -- or did the MWD make it easy and put the hook-up where they don't need to do any more street work? Anyway, now that the city has decided that this is an emergency, will water from the MWD be close at hand?

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  10. Hot Pink failure to pay water bill at 14+ lots at 1 Carter are now faded pink to white. Who are the water rate payers here lot by lot and is the water going to be turned off for lack of payment? Dry, dead plants to make dangerous fire situstion.

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    1. Surely all those plants the developers put in after the razing of the land will be crispy indeed after these 2 days.....

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    2. I would not describe those plant as being drought tolerant. Maybe some of the lot owners up there will want to smoke some of them after the next Planning Commission meeting.

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    3. I think the plants that went onto Dirt Crater were chosen to repel wildlife.
      Don't want any of those pesky birds and animals to clutter up the MacMansions.

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    4. At One Carter $800,000 doesn't get you much. Probably the most overpriced real estate in America.

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  11. True enough that grant money comes from some form of taxes or sometimes from fines paid by developers or polluters. The Tree commission has written a grant proposal to CalFire for tree replacement for the 2011 wind storm losses and it has to be proceeded by a professionally written (licensed arborist) urban forestry plan. The plan has to be monitored by a body such as the Tree Commission so they will still have to be the major focus of this new commission don't you think?

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    1. I would not assume that, would you? After all, City Staff is asking for a name for this new commission before the City Council has even figured out what it is going to do. Not a good sign if you ask me.

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    2. I thought that Sup. Antonovich was giving the city some funds to replace the trees that fell during the wind storm. what's the status on that?

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    3. That was before Ants found out he couldn't get around term limits and run for reelection.

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  12. I have a question. Is the PD carrying their pepper balls yet?

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  13. My question is when will the city offer the services the majority of residents can afford? Water and safety ought to do it.

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    1. City Hall has built up a massive fee collection bureaucracy. We have to pay more fees to cover the labor costs the city incurs by collecting fees.

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  14. re: attending the council meeting in person. It has been fun to watch Nancy's facial expressions and body language these past three years that one can't see at home. I wonder how she is going to control herself being in the Mayor's seat, since there is no eye rolling or throwing yourself back in your seat as Mayor.

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    1. Just watch her do it

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    2. Maybe they'll put a large vase of flowers in front of her to shield the more sensitive observers.

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

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    1. Sometimes one of these will sneak through.

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  16. FAY ANGUS!!!!!!!! Awesome!!!!!!!
    Nancy tried to "take her out" but she wasn't about to shut Fay up!
    BRAVO Mrs. Angus!!!!!!!

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