Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sierra Madre City Manager Elaine Aguilar Versus Transparent California.com - Round No. Two

Let there be taxes!
Last Thursday we posted an article called "Why do Sierra Madre’s City Employees Receive Better Benefits than the City Manager of Beverly Hills?" (link). It was picked up and relayed by several much larger sites out there in the blogosphere, and that brought many new readers to The Tattler.

As we prepare to take this blog to a larger and more regional SGV perspective later this spring, it is gratifying to know that we can attract an audience from out there beyond the Michillinda Curtain. Many of Sierra Madre's problems are hardly unique, and our experiences here can resonate with other communities as well. Small city governmental dysfunction is in no way limited to us, and people need to know that. We think it could be quite a lively regional niche as well. Certainly here in tiny Sierra Madre we have been blessed with an ideal metaphor for the problems many face.

I digress. The topic we dealt with last Thursday was the issue of health benefit costs being given to City of Sierra Madre employees. What the people at Transparent California discovered was that these benefit packages, given to our city's employee unions as part of certain negotiated labor agreements, are among the most highly priced in the State of California.

This is something that has shocked many people here in Sierra Madre. Especially when you consider that we are being asked to vote ourselves a 25% utility tax increase in April, ostensibly to fund a city government that claims it has shed all of its unnecessarily expenses. We now know that this is not the case.

Elaine Aguilar did respond to Transparent California. Not in a very public sort of way, however. Rather her response was tacked on at the end of her most recent City Manager Report, which is only available on the City's somewhat obscure website.

This report is something that she puts together to edify the members of our City Council. It can also be found by we the people, however. You just need to know where to look.

Here is what she had to say:

Total Compensation Comparison: Historically, the Sierra Madre City Council has made policy decisions to keep City of Sierra Madre employee salaries at below market-rate levels, while providing a competitive benefit package. Overall this has kept Sierra Madre's employee related expenses down in two ways:

- First, for most employees, Sierra Madre's "total compensation" (salary plus benefits) remains the lowest or the second lowest, as compared to the same position in neighboring cities.

- Secondly, this approach results in reducing the City's current and future CalPERS retirement liability.

Additionally, as the case with the last two department head and the Police Captain hires, the medical benefits enabled the City to recruit experienced managers all the while keeping the City's OPEB (other post employment benefits) liabilities down since these employees will not qualify for retiree benefits.

One question that occurred to me here is if these medical benefit packages are so economically down-market and petite, how is it they can attract "experienced managers?" Experienced managers presumably being people who can recognize a crap health care package when they see one. As talent bait goes, weak health benefits are something few people would find attractive.

Elaine continues in a moment. Please note that this is where her somewhat opaque arguments unravel in an apples versus oranges kind of way.

However … even with the competitive benefit packages, the City of Sierra Madre ranks either last or second to last in total compensation as compared to the five neighboring agencies.

The data utilized in this report was downloaded from TransparentCalifornia.com for the 2012 calendar year, which only reports the total cost per employee. Based on the data downloaded from TransparentCalifornia.com, the Sierra Madre (sic) had the average lowest cost per employee in 2012.

Elaine's efforts to quell any possible concern over her employee contract negotiating expertise goes on for a little while longer. She then provides several pages of information cherry picked from the Transparent California website. She asserts that these back up her claim that everything is just fine, and you people should now just move on.

If you wish to read Elaine's entire exegesis, you can do so by clicking here, then clicking on the "City Manager's Report to City Council for February 28, 2014," and then finally scrolling down 8 pages until you get to what I cited above. Note that the report is initially marked as being only 6 pages. The stuff we're talking about today comes after that.

However, should you decide to do so you won't find any answers to the questions we raised here on The Tattler last Thursday. Such as how it is that a fairly recently hired (and certainly not an "experienced manager") Administrative Assistant was paid $35,000 in 2012, yet had a health care plan worth $33,500. An amount that even surpasses the $31,000 in health benefits paid to the City Manager of Beverly Hills, the owner of the previous TCC record for overly generous taxpayer funded health benefits.

I forwarded Elaine's City Manager Report to Robert Fellner. Robert is the Project Manager at Transparent California that first broke the news about Sierra Madre's current penchant for paying outlandishly large health benefits to just about anyone who walks through our City Hall doors. Experienced manager or not. Here are the points he makes.

- (Elaine Aguilar) uses the terms “employee compensation” and “total cost per employee” interchangeably, which is incorrect.

- We only report cash employees received and the cost of their retirement contributions and medical insurance provided by agency.

- We do not report the total cost – which would include things like disability, workman’s comp insurance, employee assistance programs, state unemployment insurance, Medicare payments, etc.

- But way worse than that is her including all the part time and seasonal workers in her “total cost per employee” figure of 36k. It’s incredibly misleading, at best.

It is not surprising that Elaine's standard issue malarkey didn't impress an analyst skilled in the art of ferreting out the financial malfeasance of small time government agencies like our City Hall. What is concerning is that she thought it wouldn't be found out and questioned.

Welcome to Sierra Madre. Home of the highest utility taxes and most expensive employee health care benefits in the entire state of California. It is no coincidence.

Preserve Mater Dolorosa Monastery Stop the Housing Project News

(Mod: We received the latest newsletter from the Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project. There is some important information here, and we thought it should be posted here it in its entirety so that you can check it out.)

Dear Supporters: The Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project was formed for the sole purpose of preserving the beautiful open space that is currently a part of the Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center.  Our position has been that the last thing Sierra Madre needs is another unwanted housing project, which is why we are currently in discussions with Mater Dolorosa to provide an alternative for them.

As you know, City Council elections will be held on April 8th in which you will be choosing three candidates to represent our treasured city. This could be one of the most important elections in a long time as many significant issues are facing our city today. Among these issues, Sierra Madre residents will have to decide whether to preserve the charm and character that makes Sierra Madre unique or whether we want to over-develop our city and basically emulate the same trend that is occurring in Arcadia and elsewhere. A housing project at Mater Dolorosa will open the floodgates to the transformation of the city we love.

That being said, there are many issues other than the development of a housing project at Mater Dolorosa that will affect Sierra Madre residents. While we don’t feel it is appropriate to endorse any particular candidate, we do feel an obligation to let our supporters know that one of the candidates for city council, Denise Delmar, is on our Steering Committee and has given her time and energy towards the particular issue that is the reason for the creation of our coalition – and that is preserving the last large open space in Sierra Madre and preventing a housing project at Mater Dolorosa. Denise has been one of the key leaders of this effort. If you wish to support Denise or request a sign, you can do so at her website at www.ElectDelmar.com.

We intend to solicit each of the other candidates' views as well about preserving the open space at Mater Dolorosa and publicize those views on our website before the election. We also encourage you to explore with all the candidates any other issues that are important to you as you decide which candidates to vote for on April 8th.

Steering  Committee - Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

60 comments:

  1. Its right out of the union playbook to to use part-time and seasonal workers to water down the average cost of employees. Its no surprise that Elaine uses that tactic. The unions have also been very successful at having everybody consider what nearby cities pay their employees in order to find the current "going rate" of what to pay city employees. This is how salaries and benefits keep leap-frogging ahead. All it takes is one city to play fast and loose with the taxpayers money and that becomes the new standard that all other nearby cities are supposed to emulate. That is also why each city is not just facing their own union's organization but, often times, other cities' unions who want to achieve that "break-out" because any city that pays more is used as leverage in negotiating thier own contracts. I will bet you that it is written in the police union contract in Sierra Madre and perhaps other city employee contracts as well that the city council is obligated to consider what nearby cities are paying thier employees in deciding upon Sierra Madre salaries should be. The unions have this all figures out. They work together and apply their template in every city. You will also notice that when you get the annual soliciation for donations to the police association in Sierra Madre, it looks exactly like the soliciation you get from San Gabriel, South Pasadena etc. When I received it last year, it had a phone number on it. I called the number three times to find out whether the money was going to be used for political contribution or for a more altruistic end. My calls were never returned.

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    1. all I know is that Elaine was standing along side the Councilmembers when they lied to us about a city emergency with sinkholes and our water infrastructure and she and they all knew that they were scammng us

      so, I just assume she's distorting the truth now

      when she leaves the city manager position, she'd be ideal to work for Susan Henderson

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    2. jeez, OF COURSE Elaine - you compare Sierra Madre to 5 neighboring cities and not to cities of alike size comparison. same spin that the SMPD used, comparing itself to Pasadena and Arcadia.

      following Elaine's logic, SM should actually be paying our management staff wages that are at minimum 30% of what are being paid now cause we're a city of 10,000 compared to 138,000 in Pasadena or 58,000 in Arcadia or 25,000 in South Pasdena.

      when the SMPD was comparing itself to other cities and the LAPD, no one questioned the actual duties in comparison, it was all greed driven.

      same with Elaine's faulty and shallow logic - just spin and nonsense




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    3. Whatever it takes to get the taxpayer's cash.

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  2. It seems like that group at the Coaltion to Preserve Mater Dolorosa is giving every candidate a fair chance to state a position on what will be a very big issue. This could be one of the largest housing projects that Sierra Madre has seen in a long time. Among other issues, those living on Sunnyside, and the additional ingress/egress point that will be carved out at either Crestvale or Grove/Carter will see substantially increased traffic.
    You have to figure if a City Council candidate is in favor of that project, they must be in favor of having Sierra Madre turn into Arcadia with older homes torn down in favor of McMansions. As Mater Dolorosa goes, so goes Sierra Madre. One Carter was a lost opportunity. Hopefully, Mater Dolorosa won't follow the same path.

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    1. not much we can do about that - however I do know a couple of families up there during Measure V they were pro development and said they weren't much concerned about downtown cause they didn't frequent the area very often - despite my family living only a couple blocks away

      poetic justice for a few up in that area - I'm not in favor of the development but its gonna happen

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  3. In case you've been wondering what they do down in city hall these days, this is it. We're being held captive to the pension and benefits demands of our employees.

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    1. bankruptcy will fix that and we are straddled with pensions of SMPD officers that retire at 45 and then go work as security at a local mall

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  4. They're going to close the library. No, really!

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    1. and turn the property into 20 condos unless the UUT passes and we raise taxes even more

      trust us - we're civil

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  5. Not being able to google City of Sierra Madre and have to struggle to find what you are looking for is not clarity and transparency. Just take a tour of our neighboring citities and look for "city council agenda" and you get it fast. Not here!

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    1. what you expect from a series of Councils that lied boldface to us (with the exception of one when Don, Kurt and Maryann)

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  6. This is an incredibly foolish move on the part of the Mater Dolorosa opposition. Any candidate that shows "demonstrable bias" against the project will have to recuse themselves from voting on the project.


    This is a link to the NASHA case

    A quote from the case:

    "Therefore, in order to prevail on a claim of bias violating fair hearing requirements, Nasha must establish " 'an unacceptable probability of actual bias on the part of those who have actual decisionmaking power over their claims.' " ( BreakZone Billiards v. City of Torrance (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 1205, 1236 [97 Cal. Rptr. 2d 467].) A party seeking to show bias or prejudice on the part of an administrative decisionmaker is required to prove the same "with concrete facts: ' "[b]ias and prejudice are never implied and must be established by clear averments." ' " ( Id., at p. 1237; accord Hongsathavij v. Queen of Angels etc. Medical Center (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 1123, 1142 [73 Cal. Rptr. 2d 695].)

    d. Nasha has shown an unacceptable probability of actual bias based on Lucente's authorship of the newsletter article attacking the project.
    The newsletter article by Lucente, attacking the project as a "threat to wildlife corridor," gives rise to an unacceptable probability of actual bias.
    We reiterate portions of the offending article for emphasis: "MULTIVIEW DRIVE PROJECT THREAT TO WILDLIFE CORRIDOR [P] A proposed project taking five legal lots totaling 3.8 acres for five proposed large homes with swimming pools served by a common driveway off Multiview Drive is winding its way through the Planning process. ... [P] After wildlife leaves Briar Summit heading eastward they must either head south towards Mt. Olympus or north to the slopes above Universal City. The Multiview Drive site is an absolutely crucial habitat corridor. Please contact Paul Edelman with the Conservancy at 310/ ... or Mark Hennessy who lives adjacent to the project at 323/ ... if you have any questions." (Italics added.)
    Contrary to the position taken by Lucente, the newsletter article was not merely informational. The article clearly advocated a position against the project, which it characterized as a "threat to wildlife corridor."
    Lucente's authorship of the newsletter article gave rise to an unacceptable probability of actual bias and was sufficient to preclude Lucente from serving as a " ' "reasonably impartial, noninvolved reviewer." ' " ( Gai v. City of Selma, supra, 68 Cal.App.4th at p. 219.) Lucente clearly should have recused himself from hearing this matter. His participation in the appeal to the Planning Commission requires the Commission's decision be vacated. n8 n9"

    As a leader of the anti-Mater Dolorosa forces, Denise Delmar will be forced to recuse herself. She won't be able to vote on the project and will actually have to leave the room or go sit in the audience when it is discussed by the Council.

    Note that the California Appeals Court found that a Planning Commissioner who wrote a newsletter article opposing a project was guilty of bias and should not have been allowed to participate. Any candidate that responds to this call for a statement to be published on a website and emailed out by "The Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa Monastery and Stop the Housing Project" is basically disqualifying himself from being able to oppose the project while on the Council.

    As someone who opposes the Mater Dolorosa project, I would urge all remaining candidates to say NOTHING about this specific project because if you do you won't be able to vote on it or argue against it while on the Council.

    Denise Delmar has already disqualified herself, Don't make the same mistake.

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    1. Oh good Lord, not this idiotic nonsense again. Candidates can say anything they want. How can they run for office if they are not allowed to discuss any of the issues? What should they do, just sit there, smile and not say anything? Should we comb the candidate statements in the sample ballot and note all the things they would not be able to deliberate on if elected? Candidates are not elected officials, and therefore not subject to the Brown Act. Please, stop the madness. Or at least get your hat loosened. Obviously it is cutting of the oxygen to your brain.

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    2. Noah Green says in his sample ballot statement that he is a lawyer. Therefore should the topic of the law come up at any city council meeting he is presiding at, he will need to recuse himself.

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    3. Gene Goss says he is in favor of Measure UUT. Therefore Gene will not be able to discuss utility taxes if he is elected to the City Council.

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    4. What if the topic of posting naked selfies on Facebook comes up? Or the Man-Mannequin Love Association? Will Noah have to recuse himself then?

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    5. Damning evidence.
      http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-uy3TKHhh-BQ/UwWNYjp6U_I/AAAAAAAAMMk/mY1NaGJC2R8/s1600/firing.png

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    6. I hear that the MMLA is an important force in Sierra Madre's more elite social circles.

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    7. You obviously don't know what the steering committee is attempting to achieve at Mater Dolorosa.
      They are trying to achieve a win-win situation for everyone. The ball is in the property owner's court.

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    8. 7:33 u'd thunk that when the utility company lawyers were on the Council and the commercial banking lender was on the Council, they'd have to recuse themselves cause their employer benefitted directly from their actions

      or when the mortage salesman was discussing development, he'd recuse himself cause his decisions benefited him indirectly and directly

      not in Sierra Madre - we keep electing the same old same old

      and we elected another "lawyer" who openly circumvented campaign laws and then dismissed any questions about it

      only in Sierra Madre - where nobody cares

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  7. Delmar can say anything she wants.

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  8. I believe the two cases that are cited by 7:22 involve people who were currently on the governing body when they expressed their opinion and that governing body is later called upon to make a decision about that same issue. Certainly if Denise Delmar gets elected to the City Council, she will have to be careful about giving opinions on matters that may come up for a vote on the council. But you mean to tell me that of anyone expresses an opinion about current events prior to getting on the council now has to recluse themselves from ever voting on that issue. That seems absurd on its face. 7:22 must be the campaign manager for some candidate who doesn't want to go on record as stating an opinon that may be unpopular. The whole purpose of an election is for the residents to see where the candidates stand on the issues in order to decide who they want to vote for. I don't recall seeing where Denise Delmar every said she's opposed to the project for the simple reason that there is currently no project on the table to oppose. The Coalition's website's mission statement says they are seeking a "win-win" solution. That seems pretty fair-minded to me.
    If the other candidates don't want to comment on Mater Dolorosa specifically, let them give a general opinion about development in Sierra Madre. Or, according to 7:22, would they then have to recluse themselves from any issue relating to development in Sierra Madre? According to every candidates' website, they would now all have to recluse themselves because they all seem to want to preserve Sierra Madre. Goss even goes so far as to specifically mention Mater Dolorosa on his website but he takes a very commonsense position on that issue.

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  9. More proof that Green and Goss's handlers have no ideas and nothing to run on except scare tactics and outright lies.

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    1. Yes. They've been reduced to trolling blogs.

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    2. I spoke to the FPPC and they told me that candidates can say anything they wish about the issues before being elected. I will have something up on this site about it in the next day or two. Apparently this is some sort of desperate Noah Green effort. Below is a post that is pretty typical of what I have been getting:

      "Nothing like watching the townies realize they have, once again, screwed up. From the "STOP the Monastery Housing Project & Preserve the Mater Dolorosa Monastery" website:

      "As you read this, a proposal is moving forward to sell a significant portion of the Mater Dolorosa Monastery to a developer to build a housing project. This project must be stopped before it’s too late. "

      Pretty clear what they are trying to achieve. They are trying to stop a housing project which is why their name is "STOP the Monastery Housing Project."

      Their leader Delmar is therefore DISQUALIFIED from voting on a Mater Dolorosa housing project proposal because she has a preexisting bias to any Mater Dolorosa housing project. It ain't rocket science. Noah on the other hand is not disqualified. VOTE FOR NOAH!"

      Candidates, of course, can talk about any issue they like in a campaign. There is no law that denies them their freedom of speech. Remember, this same matter came up in 2012 when the Kensington development was being discussed. Candidates talked about it anyway, and absolutely nothing happened after they were elected. This is an old and discredited development ploy.

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    3. I think that trolling the Tattler is very much a priority and an assigned task. I just wish they'd give it to someone more clever.

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    4. Dear Moderator, is this you at 11:00 am? There is something about the post that doesn't ring true... I'm thinking the trolls are becoming more "dirty tricks" oriented - or am I just becoming too paranoid?

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  10. Gene will be on the council. Question is, who will be sitting next to him? don't discount anyone. This is a crazy town. Nancy was elected.

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    1. Hopefully Gene's neighbor will remain clothed at all time.

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  11. You are missing the point. Of course candidates can talk about any issue or specific project they want to talk about. We have a 1st Amendment.

    The point is they can't vote on it later because they have demonstrated they are not impartial and the property owner is legally entitled to a fair hearing in front of a reasonably impartial decision maker.

    You aren't reasonably impartial if you lead a group called "Stop the Monastery Housing Project".

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    1. I think you have a City Council confused with a jury. Besides, a candidate for office is not an elected official. Have you ever heard a candidate hold back on an important issue because they are somehow legally bound to shut up about it? This is a nonsense ploy and yopu know it. But look, if you think that trolling a blog is how to run Noah's campaign, then go for it. Better than having you out on the street doing something useful. You know, like replacing all of those water damaged signs.

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    2. Denise does not "lead the group". She became involved because she is an experienced negotiator and was willing assist the group in working with the owners of Mater Dolorosa to ask that they not sell to a developer until all alternatives have been exhausted.

      There was a case in San Diego where a candidate was against a certain development. When he was elected, he was sued for not recusing himself. He won the case because he was only one vote on the council, he had no financial gain one way or another, and appeared to give a fair hearing of those who came before the council. I'm no lawyer, but I think Denise is in the clear.

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    3. Is 11:06 saying that a candidate for elected office can never take a position on something or have had an opinion in the past before they perhaps even knew they were going to be running for office. Every candidate takes some kind of position on issues. Look at the Presidential elections or Congressional elections. What are you talking about? Or is it just city council elections where you're prevented from knowing anything about a candidate's views. You obviously have a horse in this race. Are you attempting to neutralize all of Denise Delmar's hardwork on coming up with a solution to the Mater Dolorosa situation for political purposes. All I can say is that when the candidate forums come up, if you follow this person's advice, no candidate is allowed to take a position on anything. Sounds like voters will then have a real difficult time deciding who to vote for since you are not allowed to know anything about a candidates views - ludicrous.

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    4. City Councils are required by law to be "impartial?" Oh, that is rich.

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    5. Let's go back to the last council election when the Kensington/Measure V issue was on the ballot. All of the candidates, except for Mary Ann were able to state their opinions regarding the issue. As an elected official, Mary Ann always noted that her position on it would be the position of the people as a result of the vote. Why? Because she was already on the council while all the other candidates were still private citizens and therefore could voice their opinions.

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    6. After they were elected John Harabedian and Chris Koerber discussed the Kensington a lot. Despite all of their Measure V talk before being elected. This Noah Troll is involved in dirty tricks here.

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  12. poor Noah. His "campain" is evidently going so badly that he had to have someone post two of his yard signs on the Northwest corner of Michillinda and Greenhill. that's right, in PASADENA. I guess no one in Sierra Madre wants to be associated with him!

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    1. I saw his signs also. Perhaps since he is so new in town, he doesn't know where the city limits are.
      LOL

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    2. MapQuest or Goolge Maps may help the poor lost soul.

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    3. Noah is new. He probably doesn't know where Sierra Madre ends and Pasadena begins.

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    4. Yes. Mapquest and some clothes.

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    5. vote for Noah - he's good for Pasadena

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    6. A free beer with every vote.

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    7. I know someone in Glendale who might let Noah put a sign up.

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    8. Vote Buc Naked signs would be popular in Vegas.

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  13. As for putting signs in Arcadia and Pasadena, it has been done before by the uninformed, and it is laughable. As my husband would say: a lot a people suffer from lack of insight!

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  14. Orange Grove on the south and Michillinda on the west, National Forest on the north, east is kinda funny.

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    1. True. But who's laughing?

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  15. Uh oh, received Noah Green's post card today which is extremely hard to read and is full in inaccurate statements. He wants to consider a gray water system in Sierra Madre? I saw him at the City Council Meeting where they discussed at length a gray water system. And now he says it is his idea? Shades of Joe Mosca who took credit for everything that happened in the City when he was running for reelection.

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    1. Does he say he invented the internet?

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    2. Noah invented post-its

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    3. It's really funny!
      Did you know he's in favor of "More Water"?
      What a guy.

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    4. Hey, he and his wife moved here "several years ago."
      Huh?

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    5. omg, the names of the Green's dogs are on the card. OK, this is just pure Mosca.

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    6. The font is very tiny. Guess he's not concerned about the senior vote.

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    7. He seems to have a strong need to talk about himself. Took lots of little letters.

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    8. "More water"? Is that in contrast to the candidates who want less water, or no water?

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  16. Because he's discussed the gray water system, he is now reclused from voting on it....right 11:06?

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    1. Good point. I hope Noah doesn't talk about air because then he won't be allowed to breath.

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