Wednesday, October 23, 2013

City Council Meeting Wednesday Morning Quarterback

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Well, that was a fairly momentous meeting. Two big things were discussed and then moved along towards their inevitable conclusions. Trying to raise water rates almost 60% while also extending some of the highest utility taxes in California, and both at the same time, is quite a challenge. But the City is going for it anyway. They want it, and they want it now.

First the water rate hike. The City is going to send out Prop 218 ballots, and when (or should I say if) these are mailed back to City Hall by the ratepayers, the people who work there are going to count them with their own hands. The consultant idea was not received very well, and despite Mayor Walsh's deeply felt (though largely confused) reasons for wanting to do so, none of her four gentleman colleagues saw the point in shelling out $35,000 to hire somebody else to count mail-in water protest ballots.

Here is how we thought this would all turn out when we did our meeting predictions on Monday:

As you may recall, the City refused to mail out a Prop 218 water rate ballot in 2010, the last time they raised our water costs. Something that led to the sight of men and women as old as their late seventies going door to door with petitions, desperately trying to undo the effects of what was an act of planned and deliberate vote suppression. Only to see many of those ballots later thrown out by a Joe Mosca led City Council contemptuous of their efforts.

If you click here you'll be taken to this Agenda Report. It details how this water rate increase is to proceed towards enactment. And there you will also see that it calls for a City Hall mailing of a Prop 218 ballot, which would allow the ratepayers to vote on this water rate increase. It is quite a change from 2010 when Sierra Madre's residents were forced to fend for themselves.

Of course, this is only a staff generated meeting report, and there is a high likelihood that any Prop 218 water rate ballot mailing will be voted upon by the City Council.

I believe certain members of the City Council fear that the results of this vote will not go their way. I also have few doubts that three of them would have no misgivings whatsoever about trying to suppress the vote once again. And will if they feel they can get away with it.

I was right about the Prop 218 ballot being mailed out by the City. This is going to happen. Where I was wrong is in saying there might be some City Council opposition to that. There wasn't much. Apparently the ugly chaos surrounding the last Prop 218 process made an indelible impression on some well situated folks. And none of them want to see that happen again.

The City is going to do this one by the book. They will put Prop 218 protest ballots into the hands of the water ratepayers. If the voters send them back to City Hall it means they are opposed to the water rate hike. If they just toss them out then it means they are OK with being charged more for water.

Having the City mail these ballots out might sound like a good thing, or at least better than what happened to us last time. But there is a real problem, and here is how one commenter put it last night:

The problem is that most people will have no idea what these ballots are for, assume it is just more city BS, and toss them. Most wouldn't want the water rate increase, but they won't make the connection.

That is the problem with Prop 218, and the City knows it. Getting enough people to mail in ballots is very difficult. The City is counting on that. I have no doubt that the majority of people in this town are against paying more for water. But I also have some real misgivings that enough people will know they need to retrieve these ballots from whatever paperwork they get in the mail, fill them out and then send them in. A lot of educational work will need to be done by those opposing this water rate increase.

The second big issue last night was the UUT do-over vote. I have long said that those opposed to allowing our double digit utility taxes to sunset back to 6% would not be above hostage taking. And there were a lot of hostages taken last night. The Police Department, Library and Paramedics were all threatened with the same fate as the Lindbergh baby.

Just so you know. You either vote to approve the UUT extension at 10%, or the puppy gets it.

Here was my Monday morning prediction on how this one would turn out:

You need to look at this as a two step process. Tuesday evening the UUT-3 will react loudly to the long and woeful laundry list City Hall has put together. This list details all of the many things City Staff feels will suffer should the UUT not be renewed at its current State of California leading double digit rate.

Nancy, Josh and the MPT* will all proclaim themselves to be aghast that such things could happen, and will burn immense amounts of oxygen griping about how things could have gotten to so sorry a state. It is also at this time that the possibility of putting a do-over UUT extension measure on the ballot in April of 2014 will be brought up. It won't matter in the least that the residents here have already decided that the UUT should sunset back to 6%. Which they did, and by an overwhelming 60% vote.

Pretty much nailed that one.

Prepare yourself for some very long months of metaphorical hostage taking. City Hall is going to do everything it can to keep utility taxes as high as they are today, while at the same time also raising our water rates to new heights.

That is something you can count on.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

35 comments:

  1. This is highway robbery! Unbelievable! Another HUGE increase in the midst of a current FOUR YEAR increase! We have to pay our dues on this one and make EVERYONE we know (and those we don't) aware of the ballot being mailed out. This sounds like it has the same motive behind it as that "Clean Ocean" property tax addition L.A. County is trying to push through. The form to oppose it was mailed out to resemble junk mail in the hopes that people would discard it. We need to FIGHT THIS!

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  2. I will be calling the Howard Jarvis people today. During the meeting it was said that only the city produced ballot would be counted. By my reckoning this is contrary to the Prop 218 law. It might be more convenient for the city to do it that way, but their convenience is not the point.

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  3. I repeat my question from last night. What if I think a small increase is necessary, but not the amount proposed? How do I vote then?

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    Replies
    1. What choice do you have, 6:41? That will have to be a no vote, or pay up.

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    2. It's not a multiple choice question.

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    3. The City Council will dictate the numbers. Your choice is to take it or leave it.

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  4. Start the preparation now...a quick read (half sheet) stating the facts and the reminder to look for the Protest Procedure form from the city

    that you HAVE to MAIL in BACK to the City To register your negative "vote" to being taxed more on an increased water rate!

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    Replies
    1. I'm good for 1,000 copies.

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    2. I can supply 1,000 copies. Who do I give them to? Mr. Richie perhaps?
      Mine will state if you are against the water rate increase, mail your ballot back.

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    3. THE CITY WANTS TO CONFUSE THE ISSUE ONCE AGAIN...

      SCREW THE BALLOT...

      THE CITY PROPERTY OWNERS DEMAND A VOTE BY THE PEOPLE!
      1) Only Yes and No Votes are counted....

      THE CITY WANTS TO TAKE THE POSTURE THAT THE CITY CAN PEE ON THE PROPERTY OWNERS BUT THE PROPERTY OWNERS CAN NOT PEE ON THOSE CITY OF SIERRA MADRE EMPLOYEES / SIERRA MADE CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS!

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  5. Ahh - isn't having city staffers count the prop 218 mail-in ballots an issue?

    Not to accuse anyone of improprieties, but if I were a paid city staffer, the last thing I would want to do is receive, transport, count, or touch any of the ballots from the voters. I would not want my ethics or credibililty questioned because of the outcome of the so called "vote".

    Short of using the county's Registrar of Voters, perhaps a joint ballot counting committee consisting of 3 staffers and 3 (or more) citizens can perform the vote counting and provide a "certified" report to the council that lists the total quantity of ballots mailed, amount mailed to city hall, and the amount of votes for/against the tax increase.

    The city staff has a huge stake in the outcome of the votes, so they should be the last ones to be involved in the process to mail, receive and count the votes.

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    Replies
    1. not-so-recent news from the land of oranges:

      http://www.ocregister.com/articles/school-365258-election-bigham.html

      Election-rigging probe at Troy reopened after criticism

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    2. First. All the ballots received at City Hall will be protest votes. How do I know that some won't "disappear"?
      Second. The staff members DO have a vested interest in the outcome. They could loose their jobs if the protest is successful. Ethics will be tried.

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    3. If the results show the water rate increase passing, then the fix was in.

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    4. Excellent point, 9:39. Since the only vote coming in is a "NO" vote, it will be readily apparent justhow many "NO" votes are coming in. How do we ensure that some ballots don't just disappear?

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    5. We can tell people to deliver their ballots in person at the public forum where they are to be counted.

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    6. this hen house needs an independent outside firm to send out, receive and count the prop 218 ballots.

      Think about how the votes are tallied for the Academy Awards, or the Grammys - there is always a short disclosure naming the Firm that counted and audited the ballots for the winners.

      If I'm a voter, I don't want anyone from the city staffer ranks to touch any ballot - I wouldn't trust the outcome of the vote-counting.

      And if I'm a city staff worker, I would rather quit my job than be directly involved with a vote on taxation that would benefit the continuance of my employment - but this is my personal ethics and where my moral compass points.

      Maybe the City Attorney's firm can either do the counting or recommend a firm to hire to do the counting (just kidding).

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    7. Totally agree with you 11:01

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    8. Have the ballots sent to an accounting firm outside Sierra Madre.
      The firm could deliver the ballots the night of the count.

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  6. Caution, mail in ballots are non traceable and can fall by the wayside by accident, or fall into the shredder and or waste bins. To trust he post office and or city hall is asking for a beating for trusting a group that wants another outcome result.

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  7. Don't trust City Hall.

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  8. OK let's say the City wins this one on a lack of "No" votes. What's the next step, non-payment of taxes?

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  9. Just stop and reflect on what is being said here.
    The City employees from top to bottom are untrustworthy ,would pervert the count,lie,cheat and destroy ballots. When confidence has fallen that low(and with ample justification) -we need something more drastic that a water ballot.The less money/decisions they are involved in ,the better for Sierra Madre.

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  10. The ballots should be counted by our ELECTED City Clerk and her appointees only. To call in a firm to do it would cost money and would be a waste since Nancy Shollenberger is utterly honest, capable and reliable. If you don't trust her, then you can't trust anyone. And I think It is sheer folly to believe that the city employees would sabotage the process by losing ballots.

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    Replies
    1. I agree that any process Shollenberger is in charge of will be efficient and trustworthy.

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  11. Not all those who voted against the UUT increase last time wanted it to sunset. And I talked with many, many voters. I voted No and actively campaigned against the ballot measure because I did not want to see the tax go up to 12% (as Harabedian campaigned for) and did not want to see the sunset clause extended until June 2018. I think a UUT is here to stay and would vote for an extension of the 10% without a sunset clause for a period of some years (say 5) at which time the voters could vote again to extend it ---or not.

    You are not going to get the citizens to give up their local police or paramedics. As much as I love our public library, I would be in favor of privatizing it if our charter would allow such a thing. But that would not save enough to eliminate a tax of some kind. I don't believe that the city employees are overworked and underpaid but I do feel that the staff is cut pretty much as far as it can go with a few exceptions -the Part Time Senior Specialist (I bet you didn't even know we had one), the part time event coordinator, and maybe another library staffer.

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    Replies
    1. Have a look at the cities Facebook page. Quite a few job openings. What's up with that ?!

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  12. Why can't the ballots be yes/no ballots?

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    Replies
    1. Ask Howard Jarvis.

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    2. Because that was not what is written into the law. It says you have the right to protest. No mention of a ballot. It says you can protest by writing a letter, that's it.

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    3. Then why is the city saying we have to use their ballot?

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  13. Fool me once, shame on them but fool me twice then shame on me!

    Much Caution should be taken, by mail in ballots they become non traceable and can fall by the wayside by accident, or fall into the shredder and or waste bins by accident.

    To trust he post office and or city hall is like asking for a beating for trusting a group that wants another outcome result.

    Hand delivering them is one method to use a 24hr video camera spied on triple lock ballot box.

    You all have been taken for a ride and are lucky to have something left to show for it, don't let it happen again. Take proper precautions this time.

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  14. Time to make some tough decisions for this city.

    I do not feel that the city manager or any of the staff should be connected with the counting of any ballots, prop 218 or any other. Would'nt that be a direct conflict?

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  15. Lock the city hall staff and city manager and city council member's in the cellar while the voting takes place, under lock and guard.

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