Monday, September 22, 2014

Could Sierra Madre Become The Next Cudahy?

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A few short years ago then
City Council mainstay Kurt Zimmerman proposed that a forensic audit be conducted here so the many mysteries of Sierra Madre's sorely abused finances might finally be revealed and at last straightened out.

As you may also recall, this sent John Buchanan into an ashen faced spasm of fear, possibly because he understood how things such as City Hall's misuse of CRA redevelopment funds would be quickly unearthed and then exposed to the hot lights of a rather hostile District Attorney review. Something that could have caused a number of his former City Council associates and cronies to face extensive interviews with some of this state's most intriguing legal authorities.

Fortunately for the good old boys of that era a forensic audit never took place, and perhaps the last really proper opportunity to rescue Sierra Madre from any possible consequences of its CRA excesses soon passed. Possible because, as you can see below, those fellows from the state do come around from time to time. And just because they haven't done so for quite some time is no guarantee that they never will.

In three easy steps, this is how the CRA Shell Game could very well have all broken down here. Redevelopment (or CRA) money always was the easiest to way to hide additional payroll costs, and City of Sierra Madre management has long been suspected of using the "assign payroll costs shell game" to disguise a number of intriguing things. Here's three.

Number 1. Despite the electorate saying "Do not spend more money!" by defeating the UUT increase TWICE (2012 and 2014), City Hall jacked up such things as employee health care plans, and to the tune of over $30,000 per year in some especially happy cases.

Number 2. Using CRA funds hid the fact that Sierra Madre is top heavy with bloated upper management costs. Instead of pushing payroll to the 4th of July Parade or Water Department, Sierra Madre could have streamlined directors and/or implemented outsourcing. But why would they want to do that when there was all that secretive and free CRA cash laying about?

Number 3. The CRA shell game also hid the true CalPERS pension costs because the good ol' budget splits it up instead of putting it in one big number that you could call out as being excessive.

So what could those possible consequences be? Check out what just happened in another once upon a time CRA Magic Kingdom, the one people like to call Cudahy (link):

Calif. Controller Orders City Of Cudahy To Repay $22.7M In Taxpayer Funds (CBSLA.com) — Officials in the City of Cudahy had virtually no oversight in place to prevent the misuse of taxpayer dollars when it spent nearly $23 million in redevelopment funds, according to state audits released Tuesday.

The assessment from California Controller John Chiang was outlined in several audits examining the city’s internal controls and fiscal management practices, as well as its compliance with state laws governing the use of transportation and redevelopment funds.

During the period between July 2010 and June 2012, auditors found questionable leave pay, violations of the city’s contract code, uncontrolled credit card spending and mismanaged state grant funds. Chiang also reviewed redevelopment asset transfers and ordered $22.7 million in redevelopment assets to be returned to the agency.

“They used their credit cards improperly, they misspent, they wasted good state tax dollars that had to be returned back to the state,” Chiang told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO.

The audit’s findings come just over a year after former Cudahy mayor David Silva was sentenced to one year in prison in January 2013 for his role in taking cash bribes from a businessman who wanted to open a medical marijuana dispensary. Another former Cudahy city official, Angel Perales, was sentenced to five years of probation for his part in the scheme.

The audit – which was initiated late last year at the request of the Cudahy’s new management – found that of the 79 basic standards of internal controls, only eight were used in the city. Internal controls are management practices that ensure the appropriate use of public funds as well as sufficient accounting to show the use and tracking of the city’s expenditures.

Chiang praised current Cudahy officials for their cooperation in uncovering the problems identified in the audits and for their commitment to implementing the recommendations.

“Sweeping problems under the rug is not a solution for fiscal mismanagement,” said Chiang. “Cudahy leaders deserve credit for wanting an independent review of their internal controls and for moving quickly to address the major gaps in the prior administration’s accounting and management practices.”

Update On Public Comment Hating La Habra Heights 

Back on September 12th we posted an article about the attempt by certain City Council members in La Habra Heights to erase public comment from any local television rebroadcasts. The reason being that they did not particularly enjoy some of the things that the public had been saying.

The post was called "Is It Possible To Censor And Remove Public Comment From City Council Meeting Television Rebroadcasts?" and you can link to it here.

The Whittier Daily News is reporting that the La Habra Heights City Council has now backed down on so radical and undemocratic a move, at least for the moment (link).

La Habra Heights council puts off decision on blackout of public-comment period on cable TV - A proposal to black out the City Council public-comment period on the city’s cable television broadcast will be put on hold until the beginning of 2015. The council on Monday voted 5-0 to table the blackout.

“What I’d like to do is give it a couple of months and take control myself,” said Mayor Brian Bergman.

“I guess I blame myself for some of this because I haven’t engaged enough and I’ve let people make false accusations and accuse staff of all kinds of things,” he said. “I’m not ready to vote for it tonight but if it doesn’t get fixed, I’m voting for (the blackout).”

Before the vote, the council appeared to be split with Councilman Roy Francis and Councilwoman Jane Williams opposing any change.

Councilmen Michael Higgins and Kyle Miller, who made the proposal to stop of showing the public-comment period on cable television, went along with Bergman’s proposal for more time.

So what was the reason why they back down? Good old fashioned public outcry it appears. Here's more:

Resident George Edwards, who speaks at most meetings, Tuesday said he took exception to the comments about speakers like himself.

“I took offense to Mr. Bergman’s rant that was inaccurate and meant to pretty much deceive the community,” Edwards said. “I ask, why do you believe a politician?”

The black-out proposal was opposed by most speakers at Monday’s meeting.

“I can’t believe this would be under consideration,” said Kathy Steele, a member of Heights Oil Watch that opposes a proposal by Matrix Oil Co. to drill for oil, at the meeting.

“Why would you want to black out the public from hearing what their fellow citizens have to say?” Steele asked. “If you want to tick people off, ban their guns and their right to free speech.”

Mike Hughes, Heights Oil Watch president, said he’s happy the black-out proposal was put off because his members want the opportunity to talk about the oil issue.

“There’s a few disrupting people who bring up the same events over and over again and have nothing to do with oil,” Hughes said. “Every city is going to have its problem kids but you can’t ban everyone else from voicing their opinions.”

Could it be that certain LHH City Councilmembers don't want the outspoken opponents of environmentally destructive oil fracking there to get any more attention in the community than they already have? And because of that they are now trying to silence them with what is tantamount to government imposed censorship?

Considering the large sums of money involved, I'd vote yes on that one every time.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

41 comments:

  1. The goal of government is to acquire and spend as much money as possible. this is power and greed at work, the only two things government truly understands. They only give lip service to "serving the needs of the community" when they have to. Their goal is solely to serve their own needs. You are so right, Mod, woth out money, these elected officials are just folks with opinions.

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    1. hmmmm, a utility company lawyer serves on the Council and he does nothing but promote development and cover up misuse of water bond funds for his former Mayor buddy, who happens to be another lawyer and a building industry lobbyist

      Buchanan should never be listened to ever again and he did enough damage to the city

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  2. If you weren't at the last planning meeting and just watched the video, you'd know that 2/3's of Barry gold's passionate speech was missing from the tape. No one else was missing. Not adele or McDonald. Just his.

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    1. Can we get a copy of what Barry said? If it was too upsetting for city staff, then perhaps it should be posted on the blog.

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    2. This is what I said to the Planning Commission during the Public Comment portion of their last meeting. The recording of the meeting only shows me reading the very last paragraph. I did not see any other portion of the meeting that was left out. I wrote to the city manager about this so she will know that there may be a malfunction in the recording machine. Barry Gold

      9-18-14 PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING

      Good evening Commissioners,

      As you all know the support of our community to preserve the uniqueness of our very special town by preventing the mc mansionization of sierra Madre has been overwhelming.

      Soon you will send the general plan update to the city council. Our citizens are looking to the general plan update to reinforce the goals and guidelines that will save our city from the developers who's only desire is to build the largest homes they can on the smallest lots possible to make the most money they can and then leave without ever looking back at the destruction to our way of life that they caused.

      As a lay person I cannot be sure that the wording in the general plan update covers all that it should to give us the protection we need to preserve sierra Madre. So we look to you, our experts, to protect our neighborhoods by making sure that the plan contains the guidelines that will stop our community from being transformed into that which we all dread.

      We do not want to prevent anyone from building their dream homes here and enjoying the tranquility of Sierra Madre. We just want their homes to blend in, not stick out.

      I know that this committee recognizes that lot coverage, setbacks, mass, bulk, and I think most importantly, architectural fit are vital components of preserving our communities uniqueness. By making sure that the general plan update properly addresses these items you will be saving a cherished way of life for all who live here for years to come.

      Thank you for your time

      Barry Gold

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    3. More than one residents' comments were only partially recorded.

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  3. Can citizens make a request that the state auditors come on down?

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  4. I know that John Buchanan and Bart Doyle insisted on being a part of that CRA wrap up commission. Have we ever gotten any reports from them? Seems quiet.

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    1. two of the worst guys to ever set foot on the Council

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    2. Yes, I disapprove of their very existence in Sierra Madre, right up there with Matheson and A. West

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  5. It just goes to show that no community is immune from the corruption and arrogance of our public officials. It often is done in conjunction with the City Employees who always have their hand in the taxpayer's pocket to fund their excessive salaries and bloated pensions. Every city that has an apathetic public is going to have this kind of corruption. Only an informed and vigilant citizenry can thwart the natural impulses of our flawed public officials and greedy city employees. While we have a great City Council right now, we still need to "trust but verify".

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    1. A post mortem on the Sierra Madre Community Redevelopment Successor Agency's work would be nice. After all, it was our money.

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    2. yeah but our public officials were supposed to be our neighbors who "loved" the city

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    3. The council knew very well that they were lying through their teeth on all that CRA stuff. Remember the "blight" defense? It was so obvious that even Buchanan was embarrassed by their transparent shenanigans. Phooey.

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    4. Salaries are on the agenda. Look again.

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  6. Does it occur to people that in direct proportion to the exorbitant rise in compensation for City employees there has been a corresponding decrease in services to the public. There is only so much money in the pot and its a zero sum game - the more money for city employees (often about 60 -75 percent of a city's total budget) the less money is available for infrastructure repairs, city services, senior programs, etc. People need to wake up and roll back the salaries, pensions, retirement at 50 or 55, and health benefits. Goverment employeement shouldn't mean that you win the lottery at the taxpayer's expense.

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    Replies
    1. Pensions and benefits are the #1 priority at city hall these days. And it isn't just Sierra Madre.

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    2. Why not? The money is very good and the single political party running this state enforces it. We are being robbed blind.

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  7. Salaries are going before the city council tomorrow night. If you care, show up and tell them how you feel. Big increases for them. The time is now. We need to pack the city council. Unfortunately, the agenda is loaded with a lot of garbage before you get to their salaries. Check the agenda and come a little later. Thank elaine for that, I think.

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    1. The Mayor sets the agenda. It is a good way to tell where his head is at.

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    2. There are no salary raises in the proposal tomorrow night.

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    3. Harabedian voted for the water ordinance cause he had to - he's shifting back to the way he was before

      him first, developers, city staff, police union

      and somewhere down the line are the residents

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    4. They had to adjust some salary scales because the minimum wage has gone up and will go up again next year. That gave our paramedics a raise plus some other workers.
      Also, part of the adjustment caused some problems in equity between managers and those who work under them.

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  8. I'd like to know what was in the 10 pages of minutes that Nancy Shollenberger said is missing from the minutes that were approved while she was gone on vacation. Elaine says they can't go back and approve another set of minutes. What is Elaine hiding? And why did she order those 10 pages be taken out of the minutes?

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    1. The 10 pages that are missing. Is that part of the meeting video missing as well?

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    2. Elaine won't answer why she charged the Mt Wilson Trail Race over $18,000 for 200 staff hours for pre event planning

      with all the negative press she receives, she'll have a hard time securing another job

      the city needs to fire her and audit the books and move forward

      and tell all of those lawyers and former Councilmember's who caused our problem "no thanks" we don't need you anymore and never did in the first place

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

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    4. What time period is Nancy referring to? Recently? This is terribly distressing.

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  9. Missing meeting minutes? Public comments chopped from the videotape? What in God's name is going on here?

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    1. Let me guess - "We are experiencing technical difficulties. Thank you for your patience."

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    2. We are looking into this. Our cable provider has been having some problems lately, and we need to make certain that it is the issue.

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    3. Multi-talk, are you from the city? Or are your comments about your personal cable?

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    4. Great answer! "Yes"? Usual answer from the city. Can't answer the question!

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  10. Keep voting for big corrupt Democrats, it will get worse

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    Replies
    1. Life is great
      In a one party state.

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    2. Democrat, Republican two sides of the same dung beetle.

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  11. Coruption runs the gamut; Democrats, Republicans, Corporations, Whirte. Black, Fat, Skinny......Stick to facts not generalizations. It undeminds your whole comment.

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    1. That's true, the Republicans have been running California into the ground. Oh, wait.

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    2. The current AG, Kamala Harris, is a big time Dem operative, bought and paid for by the unions. Do you really think she'll swoop down and clean up Sierra Madre? Really?

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  12. Let's focus on local corruption! There is plenty to keep us busy for months ferreting out the garbage that has and is being done by our local" Establishment".Time to call the Attorney General!

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