So what happened? Here is how this is explained in the oftentimes informative City Manager's Report:
You will notice that the draft Water & Sewer Rate Study is not on the October 8th Council agenda. There was not adequate time to turn the report around after Monday night's Special Council meeting. The report will be on the Council's October 22nd agenda.
Loose translation: the consultant wasn't able to cobble together an acceptable approximation of what was said on this topic by the City Council last week, so the death march towards what will probably be that maximum possible water rate increase demanded by City Staff has been bumped for a couple of weeks. It might be the City Council's vote, but it is Elaine and Bruce's love child. The midwife being the consultant.
Now that we have cleared all this up, let's get to what is actually taking place Tuesday evening.
First there is the session that is held behind closed doors because it involves legal matters. Such matters must be spoken of in secret because they usually involve carefully planned legal strategy and lawyer's guile. Things that would not be as effective should the opposition get wind of them before they've been unleashed in a court of law. Or at least that is what I have been told.
However, on the City Council Meeting Agenda a bright light has now broken through, and we finally get to see what this long rumored pending litigation is all about.
Pursuant to Calif. Government Code Section 54956.9(d)(1) – Pending Litigation 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. Case Name: In re Petition of City of Sierra Madre Challenging 2012 Los Angeles Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Permit (Order No. R4-2012-0175) Case Number: State Water Resources Control Board/Office of Chief Counsel Files A-2236(a) through (kk)
And yes, that is a most worthy cause for our city take on. The County of Los Angeles, just like every other other tier in the multi-layered misery that claims to be government in this decrepit state, is hard at work trying to suck even more money out of wee cities like Sierra Madre. A win here could help stop that.
Finally, a cause taken on by the City of Sierra Madre that we can all be proud of.
I have no idea what this next one might be about. But then again, I'm not supposed to know.
Pursuant to Calif. Government Code Section 54956.9(d)(4) - The City Council finds based on advice from legal counsel, that discussion in open session will prejudice the position of the local agency in the litigation. Initiation of Litigation: Number of potential cases – One
Perhaps they are thinking about suing someone (or something) else, or maybe it is part of the same deal as the item above. The code section is nearly the same.
Here is what that number tells us according to gov. site out of Sacramento (link):
Government Code #54956.9 (d) - For purposes of this section, litigation shall be considered pending when any of the following circumstances exist: (4) Based on existing facts and circumstances, the legislative body of the local agency has decided to initiate or is deciding whether to initiate litigation.
It is safe to assume this means they know something is wrong and the City Council is not very happy about that. Will they now sue somebody over it? Time will tell.
Once these matters are moved along the City Council will emerge from behind closed doors and face a gathering horde of residents, all eager to exercise their democratic rights in a free society. For democracy to work properly an aware and inspired populace is necessary, and Sierra Madre certainly has that. The attendance tomorrow night is expected to be well into the high single digits.
Traditional rituals will then take place, and as soon as the room is cleansed of inappropriate spiritual effluence (and by that I do not mean that small group of we the residents in attendance), the meeting will begin by shifting lots of cash. Always a most momentous event, which is why it has to happen first.
1. CONSENT CALENDAR:
a) ADOPTION OF RESOLUTION No. 13-73 OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SIERRA MADRE APPROVING CERTAIN DEMANDS - What's meant by "certain demands" is that City Hall has a lot of bills, and they need to pay them in full view of those whose money is used for this purpose, the taxpayers. This evening the total spend comes to a mere $478,813.76, or the cost of a small home in Sierra Madre a decade or so ago. A relatively modest sum for this bunch.
There are the usual curious spends in the checkbook, however. Colantuono & Levin get $27,872.60 for helping keep the taxpayers safely out of the picture, and First Transit will receive $11,034.47 for driving mostly empty buses around in circles. I am sure there is a metaphor about the modern condition in that. Raftelis Financial Consultants bag a $9,115.00 check for serving as the proactive element in the water rate increase "process," and Pelican Products gets $6 for fixing a flashlight. I just hope it wasn't to change the lightbulb.
b) CONSIDERATION OF RESOLUTION No. 13-70 ADOPTION OF THE UPDATED CLASSIFICATION PLAN AND SALARY MATRIX - One of my kids' favorite movies is The Matrix. After all, what child has never hoped they were born with special powers that will someday distinguish them from the rest of humanity? My power apparently is typing. But Tuesday's matrix is nothing like that. This one is about allocating grant funds and other moneys to pay for three part-time Community Service Officers.
The silver lining here is that these CSOs will be used (in part) to enforce parking laws in town. This in place of that posse of mercenary rent-a-ticketeers the City was thinking of hiring. Something that has led me to believe that Chief Giannone actually listens to what people in this town have to say. A pleasant surprise to say the least.
c) CONSIDER APPROVAL OF RESOLUTION No. 13-72 APPROPRIATING ADDITIONAL PART-TIME POLICE OFFICER HOURS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2013- 2014 AND COMMIT THE ONE- TIME CONTRACT PAYMENT FROM ATHENS SERVICES FOR THE APPROPRIATION - This one kicks off with the following scary paragraph:
Since the inception of realignment (AB 109) in October of 2011 approximately 19,000 prisoners have been released from state prison back to Los Angeles County. Although the City of Sierra Madre does not currently have anyone living in the City that were (sic) released under AB 109, the City has not has not been exempt from the increase in crime by the criminals that are traversing through the City. Residential burglaries are on the rise and staff does not see it slowing down anytime soon.
Apparently the solution to our local crime fear factor is to head on over to the LAPD's famous Police Academy (we've all seen the movies) and hire up some new part-time cops. They will be paid $44.09 an hour (with bennies), which isn't bad money for the working man. And to make this less painful for the fiscal hawks amongst us, City Staff has located a loose and already existing $100,000 in its financial hoardings to make this possible. At least for one year.
But what happens after that $100K is gone? Do we then fire these guys?
This is how government grows in this town. Find a scary problem, locate some temporary money to fix it, then once that is spent just keep the new hires hanging around. I would hope this doesn't happen, and that $100,000 will be used to help pay down this City's $20 million in debt instead.
Besides, if the already in place SMPD can't do something about this crime wave, what is the point of keeping them? We deserve better than that. 53% of our General Fund should buy us something more.
d) APPROVAL OF PURCHASES/SERVICES FOR IN EXCESS OF $25,000 FOR FISCAL YEAR 2013-2014 - City Staff can't spend more than $25,000 on something without getting the City Council's approval first. And I have to tell you, listening to Elaine Aguilar try and con them into giving her additional mountains of cash for something or other is always a treat.
What this one deals with is contracts and the big sums of money being paid to fund them. It really is one hell of a list, and you can check it all out by clicking here. For those of you who would rather not (I was once like that), here is a sampling:
Axontech - $200,000 (Computers/web site, etc.)
Bank of New York Western Trust Company - $1,300,000 (Water/CRA bonds)
Colantuono & Levin - $275,000 (Random legal gymnastics)
DCE Planning - $220,000 (Contract for General Plan, which has been extended into 2013)
First Transit - $1,500,000 (Empty buses going nowhere)
Liebert Cassidy Whitmore - $175,000 (Shystering)
Southern California Edison - $700,000 (Intermittent electric service, brightly burning transformers)
Willdan - $240,000 (Plan checks, general snooping, etc.)
The list goes on and on. We are talking about millions of dollars here. Quite an item for a Consent Calendar.
e) CANCELLATION OF SECOND REGULAR CITY COUNCIL MEETING FOR THE MONTH OF DECEMBER (12/24/2013)
"Twas the night before Christmas and here in our town,
the Council would be meeting with no one around.
But rather than do this with nobody there,
they'll take that night off to show they all care.
Though some may question the reason for this call,
when the place is always empty, spring summer and fall."
f) RESOLUTION No. 13-71 ACCEPTANCE OF SAFER GRANT INSURANCE BENEFITS FOR VOLUNTEER EMERGENCY RESPONDERS - The Department of Homeland Security bequeathed $2.2 million dollars to the California State Firefighters' Employee Welfare Benefit Corporation, or CSFEWBC in acronymic. A portion of this will be used to help pay insurance benefit costs for our mostly volunteer fire department. It's a good thing.
We are now safely past the Consent Calendar portion of the City Council Meeting Agenda for October 8, 2013. We now move to the main events of tomorrow evening's slug fest.
2. DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF PUBLIC FACILITIES FEE RATE ADJUSTMENT - For once in my life I think that raising fees might be the right thing to do. Not that I believe the reasons for all of those other rate and fee increases foisted upon us this year were correct. City officials struggling to keep obsolete and expensive old school style city government alive in this town get little slack from me. But I do feel that those paying this particular fee should be forced to shell out for more than they do already. Done in the fervent hope that this will cause predatory developers to decide and take their business elsewhere.
Here it is in grammatically correct Danny-speak:
The fees ensure that any new development will fund the expansion or improvement of existing facilities. Further, the Public Facilities Fees represents a method of establishing the appropriate maximum rates to ensure that any new growth and intensification of land use pays their fair share of the cost of improvements related to growth, and in so doing, also ensures that if new development or growth does occur, the costs of that new development is now subsidized by existing development.
Yes. Raise those Public Facilities Fees, and then raise them again. Take the rest of the night to do it. Be extremely thorough.
3. DISCUSSION – OPENGOV ONLINE BUDGET AND FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY AND DATA VISUALIZATION SOFTWARE - At first I thought this might be a good idea. Certainly we here at The Tattler are all about transparency. After all, that is what gets us all of the fine information we like to write about here on this blog. What this would do is take the City's budget documents and put them on-line so that everyone can see them. Which is fine.
What might concern me if I was making the decisions here is that the company involved, Delphi Transparency of Simi Valley (link), is a privately owned third party operation of unknown origin out to make a few bucks. Who owns them, and what is their deal?
My question is should we be giving Delphi access to our deepest and darkest secrets? What else will they be doing with their "financial transparency and data visualization software?" The sum they are asking is nominal, so why are they so cheap? I really don't know the answers here. Do you? Shouldn't City Hall be doing this already? It could be an interesting conversation.
4. DISCUSSION – UPDATE FROM APRIL 2013, REGARDING PRIORITIZATION OF DELAYED PROJECTS - We will now begin to see a lot of items like both this and Item #6 below. In addition to pushing hard to raise water rates here, City Staff has to also be concerned about how the renewal of our Utility User Taxes, currently at some of the highest levels in the entire State of California, is going to go when the voters review topic once again in April of 2014.
As you must be aware, the last time the utility tax extension was on the ballot residents overwhelmingly voted to cut UUT rates all the way back down to 6%. My question here is if these delayed projects are so important, and justify sky high utility tax rates, why is nobody saying anything about them? Maybe the delays should become sort of, you know, permanent.
5. DISCUSSION – CONSIDERATION OF ALLOCATION OF GENERAL FUND RESERVES FOR CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS AND/OR NPDES/STORM WATER COMPLIANCE - Apparently the City has $870,761 in "unassigned General Fund reserves," and City Staff is now looking for a way to spend it. There is a list of possible options for the City Council to consider. None of which are suggestions that the money should be used to pay down Sierra Madre's huge debt load.
6. DISCUSSION – EMPLOYEE RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION PLAN: CONSIDERATION OF RESOLUTION No. 13-68 A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL AMENDING THE MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THE CITY OF SIERRA MADRE AND THE SIERRA MADRE CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION AND RESOLUTION No. 13-69: A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL AMENDING THE CITY OF SIERRA MADRE PERSONNEL RULES AND REGULATIONS - This is the other UUT rate renewal related item on this agenda, and it is a rehashing of an old City Hall argument that I have grown extremely tired of hearing.
This is my take. If a full time job with three day weekends and government health and retirement benefits that far surpass what most people in the private sector will ever receive isn't good enough for you, then yes, please go away. I hardly see why I should need to pay exorbitant 10% (or even 12%) utility taxes so that I can help babysit you for the rest of your life.
Here is another thought. If the jobs currently existing at City Hall were put on Craig's List, the line of applicants on interview day would extend from the firehouse all the way down to Michillinda Avenue and beyond into Pasadena. There are a lot of people desperately looking for jobs in this area right now. Maybe we should give them a crack at some of the jobs we're funding downtown. I'm sure there are several thousand displaced workers out there who would be happy to have them.
7. DISCUSSION – MUNICIPAL VOLUNTEER PROGRAM (M.V.P.) - The rumor is that this one could get ugly. When there is dirty work to be done, more often than not it happens late at night. Will Mayor Walsh finally make good on her threat to "take out" some of the hard working and goodhearted volunteers who do so much for this city? All because they happen to think differently than what she is being told is appropriate by her handlers? Will the long knives be out? Stay up for this one.
8. CONSTRUCTION OF GRAYWATER SYSTEMS IN SIERRA MADRE - This is one of the most important items on the agenda for tomorrow evening's meeting. That it was pushed all the way to last by the Mayor speaks volumes about her regards for the residents who cared enough to insist upon this discussion. Extraordinarily petty behavior from someone who once claimed she was elected to serve all of the people of Sierra Madre.
It has become apparent that the only persons Mayor Walsh cares to serve are two retired Mayors and herself.