Sunday, March 6, 2016

The City of Sierra Madre's Defense Of Anonymity In Internet Communication

As you may be aware, for the longest time one of the criticisms of this blog is that folks are permitted to post comments anonymously. Some naysayers feel that this allows people to speak their minds far too freely, and were they forced to put their name to things they would be more circumspect. Or not even comment all, which is most likely their preference.

I, on the other hand, really don't care in the least where the comments are coming from. I would much rather know what people are thinking (or, in some cases, not thinking), than what their names might be. I usually forget names anyway, so not having to know them spares me a lot of potential embarrassment. I don't know how it is with you, but in my world many of the folks I deal with are referred to as pal, bro, buddy or dude. Most seem OK with it.

As you may also be aware, this blog recently filed a Public Records Act request with the City of Sierra Madre for copies of Mayor John Capoccia's constituent emails. In particular, those emails dealing with the tender issue of raising utility taxes to 10% in order to help pay for some of Sierra Madre's $9 million dollars in CalPERS debts. 

Though, and as you can imagine, nobody working for the city has actually put it in those terms. They would rather tell you the UUT increase is needed to save things like the Wistaria Festival, or Police Department. Yes, they do believe many residents are that innocent and childlike.

Mayor Capoccia has said on many occasions that one of the reasons he wants to try and save the extremely challenged SMPD is because his emails are running 20 to 1 against bringing in the Sheriffs. And that this can only be achieved by raising utility taxes to a full 10%. Or 66% more than what the voter verdicts of the previous two elections decreed.

I have personally found that 20 to 1 figure to be hard to swallow. Either for the SMPD or Measure UUT. It seems like an unreasonably large margin. I do not doubt that there is a sizable amount of folks who like the idea of this town having its own Police Department, just like there are a lot of residents who think the fiscal advantages of bringing in the Sheriffs could rescue Sierra Madre from possible insolvency.

I thought I needed to put this matter to the test, and filed a PRA asking to see those emails. In this case dealing mostly with Measure UUT. I figure I'll go fishing for the SMPD emails next time.

However, we are talking real life here, and as is often the case there are caveats. My life has been an endless series of caveats, and even when the law appears to be completely on my side I do not often get what I really want.

In this case City Hall, in the person of City Manager Elaine Aguilar, has a problem with me knowing the identity of who those emails actually came from. I also suspect Mayor Capoccia is equally unexcited about that. Probably because both believe I would put author names to some of the more outrageous ones and have fun with them. As would this blog's many anonymous commenters.

In a letter I received earlier this week, here is how the City Manager of Sierra Madre made her argument in favor of anonymity in Internet communication. In this case those emails sent to Mayor Capoccia backing his claim of public support for Measure UUT.


Here is the problem as I see it. Without knowing the names of the folks who sent those emails, how will I be able to tell if the Mayor's claims of support for raising utility taxes is accurate? After all, and knowing some of the likely suspects, it could be the same two or three people sending in their thoughts over and over again.

Which defeats the whole purpose. It means my attempt to disprove Mayor Capoccia's claims of constituent support for his taxation policies would not be successful.

I suppose that could be the point.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

82 comments:

  1. Capoccia is officially busted. After The Tattler embarrassed Goss when proved Gene didn't get all the emails he claimed, Capoccia is obviously the same.

    There is no freaking way that email senders deserve anonymity. No different than if they wrote a letter. This is city attorney Theresa making up as she goes along.

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    1. When they sent the alleged emails to Capoccia, they weren't sending them to their Priest, Doctor, Therapist or Lawyer, they were sending them to a representative of the people - an elected represented of the people. You can call him an "Agent" of the People. For this reason the "People" have a right to know the emails their "Agent" is receiving.

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    2. I guess the Mayor feels he has a duty to protect his peeps from the consequences of their own stupidity.

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    3. Quite a burden.

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  2. You got your answer, Crawford. Mayor Capoccia didn't get JACK SQUAT for emails supporting SMPD.

    You don't think they'd be parading 50 supporting emails like a trophy?

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  3. Again, the power is in Elaine's hands. This is one of the big problems in this city: no transparancy. You get back what you support. If it's true that the mayor gets all these e-mails, as said before, they would be waving them in our faces. I can hardly wait to here the mayor's take on yesterday's meeting. What I saw was a bunch of city employees.

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    1. Small attendance figures start at 500 for City Hall.

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    2. A small attendance doesn't show a lot of enthusiasm for a tax hike. No matter how they soon it.

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    3. The city and its Pasadena Measure UUT campaign manager have created this myth that there is strong and enthusiastic support for raising utility taxes in Sierra Madre. This small turnout at their UUT pep rally tells a very different story.

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    4. I would see what they have. There may be repeats but maybe they just want to discourage you. Let them put the package together and let's take a look. It may still be only 5 to 1, rather than 20-1. Let's take a look.

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  4. 1.5 inches of rain from the beginnig of the storm last night to 6 a.m. Will let the gauge continue to see the total and report that later.

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  5. This years hours of time accrued by the city for the Mount Wilson Trail Race will already have to be adjusted for the failure to add age to the sign up form. Age is used for the catagories of runners and makes the results bogus. You can't award runners if you don't know the age of the runners for the time they ran the trail race.
    Geeze people!

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  6. The community is only getting the facts that sell what city hall wants us to buy. Thinking about our streets being patrolled by a bunch of rookies is not a comforting feeling. When we can pay $800,000 less and get 20 hours more patrol time by well trained deputy's the choice is obvious. Is it possible to read the sheriffs contract on line? These contracts are negotiable and should reflect what each community's needs are. Who is on the contracts committee?

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    1. Mr. Lambert, et al

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    2. who is mister Lambert

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  7. Please consider the source of these emails along with the boast of 20 to 1 in favor of SMPD does give a hint as to how many drinks the promoter making that boast had consumed. Red Herrings are a staple in the arena of politics, time date stamps should give some hint word combinations other than the obvious of them all being generated by one person and sent on city hall official email address.

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  8. Let me understand Elaine's position: emails sent by the public to the mayor to influence his vote at an open public hearing are confidential rather than part of the public record. How could that possibly comply with the Brown Act?

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  9. Capoccia claiming he got all those emails reminds me of McCarthy waving an allegedly blank piece of paper and claiming it had over 200 names on it.

    http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/joseph-mccarthy

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    1. Unfortunately McCarthy did a lot of damage with that blank piece of paper before people wised up to his tactics.

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    2. Gene Goss got lots of emails, too. Except it turns out he didn't.

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  10. It's too bad we don't have some sort of mechanism to gauge public support or disapproval for measures presented to the constituency. Perhaps a ballot where one would cast a vote of yay or nay to determine what becomes policy or not...

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  11. " knowing some of the likely suspects, it could be the same two or three people sending in their thoughts over and over again." Sounds just like this blog

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  12. My privacy and anonymity on the internet is more important than your political folly.And why are you using an Email address with my zipcode? Kinda disingenuous,I thought you moved to the desert east of here for whatever reason.

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    1. Actually this blog covers a few towns, though I can understand why you might think it is all about you. Isn't everything?

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    2. The next thing you know The Tattler will be trying to force the government to unlock my IPhone,for the good of the public,I'm sure.

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    3. Why, are you a terrorist?

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    4. "My privacy and anonymity on the internet is more important than your political folly." Did you send an email to the mayor on his official city email address about an issue to be considered at an open public meeting? And for some strange reason you expected it to remain private? Reasonable people understand that submitting public testimony to government officials waives any claim to privacy.

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    5. 8:07, I know you. You're the one who screams "we need transparency" whenever someone disagrees with you. Karma is a bitch, huh?

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    6. 8:07AM It's never private or anonymous on the net. The government knows all about you.

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    7. Your personal iPhone is just that. The government does not have the right to demand that Apple give the code so that the government can misuse it and go after everyone's iPhone. But e-mails to an elected official should be open if the elected official makes absurd remarks like our mayor does. Wanting the PD or not is not a matter of national safety. Get real!

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    8. One only need to look at the city warrants to know the high cost of Highsmith, et al. A retainer of 8,000.00 plus each month plus additional 2100.00 retainer so Elaine can call and ask questions. Of course, most months, there is another 12,000.00 or more for incidentals charged by Highsmith,et al. Sometimes much more than that. Of course if you ask to look at the bills, again you are told it violate privacy.

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    9. Apparently we pay for a legal hired gun to protect city hall from us. What a fine use of our money.

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    10. I think 8:07 is trying to say that they wouldn't want the email addresses of the people who sent in their opinions to the mayor released. That makes sense, no one needs that information for and positive purpose. The numbers are what count here, if you can verify the numbers and not give out the names, then fine.

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  13. None of the cases cited by the City deal with communication regarding a matter to be discussed at an open public hearing. The City is simply breaking the law.

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    1. People are always upset at all the lawsuits against the city, but what are the options? Aguilar's letter, larded over with big lumps of Highsmith, is practically an invitation to sue. Which, when such things happen, are defended with public tax dollars that go right into the city attorney's pocket. Funny how things work.

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    2. I can think of one option. The City could stop breaking the law. Firing Elaine would surely help with that.

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    3. The city has to break the law because its biggest priority is funding CalPERS pensions. This cannot be done by telling the taxpayers the truth. Which means they have to hide things illegally and oftentimes lie to do it.

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  14. Worried Concerned and BrokeMarch 6, 2016 at 8:44 AM

    A question that some of us have been scratching our heads over. A February 4 letter to the Pasadena Star-News has remained unanswered:

    Today's paper had two articles -- " Sierra Madre police plan out " and your editorial " Sierra Madre should look for sheriff's service " , which I believe raises some interesting questions and hopefully your paper will address to better educate the public .

    Many local cities have their own police and fire departments . To my knowledge most have union contracts with the city . And the ones I'm familiar with have agreements with CalPers . It is no secret that CalPers has a huge unfunded pension liability . Police and Fire usually are the highest department expenses for each city . No doubt this expense triggered bankruptcy for several California cities ( and probably many more to follow ) , not only re current costs for salary , benefits and pension but the huge unfunded portion from yesterday .

    As reported in your papers and media in general many cities are considering contracting with, for example , the County Sheriff's Department to replace the individual City Police Department . The articles I have read say something like --- " Contracting with the Sheriff's can save you X $$ per year . PERIOD . No explanation as to why the Sheriff's department can operate more efficiently . So my questions include :

    Why ?
    (a) Are the current Sheriff's salaries , benefits and pensions considerably less than the union contracts with the individual cities ?

    (b) Do the Sheriff's contract with the individual cities include both the current total compensation package , including pensions , or does it include a portion of the unfunded liability from prior years ?

    (c) What is the current unfunded pension liability $ of the County Sheriff's Department ?

    (d) Where can I find a breakdown of c above ?

    (e) Who is ultimately responsible for any unfunded liabilities ---- all county tax payers ? Including taxpayers that are already assuming the liability for their own local police/fire departments? (double indemnity)

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  15. Not on point exactly but I have been thinking of the mayor saying, many times, how he only used 4 units of water . That's 2 units a month. I heard him say he wets down turns off the water, lathers up and then rinses. I get that. Saves water and all. Does he use a hair conditioner? That would take a little more time than straight shampoo. Or do he and his wife get their hair done once a week and that's when it gets washed. Using other people's water but they pay for it. There are only 2 people living in the house. So not much laundry. But is any sent to the laundry? Less water use and they pay for it. He doesn't appear to. Have many plants to water or trees. Does he use a dishwasher? Hand wash dishes? If the latter how does he heat the water that is saved, as he said, he saves it all.If he gets his car washed, that's probably at a car wash. Ah, toilet flushing. Does he only flush once a day? Once a week? If so, how does he control the odor? I have a family of 5. We tried not flushing for a day, and it was awful. So, we have rain barrels, 3 of them. We use that water for plants and washing the dog stuff off the concrete. It's not potable. We drink water, all of us so that's around 320 gallons a day, maybe less. We do lots of laundry-packed to capacity always. I capture sink water which I use to wash things down, like walls, or to clean the bathrooms, rtc. We have always been well below our water limit. So, I think the mayor should share with us all the ways he manages to save all that water and how I can do it for 5. I mean he did say we have to do better at conserving water. It's not like the city leaks had anything to do with it, right?

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    1. He washes all the cars every and i mean EVERY Sunday. They tore out their lawn but there is more than 2 living there. They have a daughter who still lives at home.

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    2. What are you getting at? For the past two billing periods, we have only used 4 units. Our allocation is 12. We shower, do laundry, flush, and use our dishwasher. We water our plants with run-off sink/warm-up shower water and use city water for cooking and drinking. (our cars are dirty.) All the ways to save water have been printed or listed in many sources for months. What is it you need to know?

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    3. I need to know why you're so grumpy.

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  16. Fire the City Manager!
    Crappy the Wolf should be Recalled

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  17. Co po ca fails to be truthful.

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  18. Of course the city's illegal actions are the big story here, but why are Capoccia and Goss such stupid liars? If you're going to just make stuff up, don't claim something easily verifiable. Why not just claim to have talked to twenty people instead of gotten twenty emails?

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    1. Maybe they dreamed it.

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    2. I talk to my secret friends all the time.

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    3. I know, they tell me.

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    4. Without the names of the bloggers, how do we know it isn't just two or three people blogging over and over? I hear some bloggers are hearing voices and have imaginary friends.

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    5. What's the difference? This is a blog. City Hall is supposed to be made up of professionals who do the peoples' business instead of constantly lying to them about how their taxes are being spent.

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    6. Crawford isn't blogging with taxpayer money. Unlike Mayor Capoccia who gets some pay and a taxpayer-paid email server.

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  19. If City Hall just told the truth about things they woukdn't have all the problems that they do.

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  20. Yes and reduce employee salaries, pensions and benefits, reduce our pension obligations...
    The public employees should Not be allowed to double dip either. No Early retirement or cannot collect until 70 years of age.

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    1. and make it retroactive including those in false retirement under the age of 67,

      one year and cut off pension and go back to work like the private sector

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    2. A 70 year old police officer? A 70 year old firefighter? Good "thinking."

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    3. If you work in an industry or government that has a pension plan, do they limit it to age 70?

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    4. First you need to establish that the pension even exists.

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    5. The entitlement of city employees is mind boggling.

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    6. Entitlement? As if you wouldn't accept a good pension if you had worked 30 years for it. Instead of crying about it why don't you go out and get a job as a police officer, firefighter, librarian or public works employee? Work nights, weekends and holidays, miss family events and then, if you choose to be a police officer, you'll only live an average of 7 years past retirement anyway.

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    7. Only live 7 years past retirement? Really? Too many donuts you think?

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    8. Nope, dealing with too many imbiciles like 5:58 I bet.

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    9. Donut jokes?...I didn't know they let children on this blog. Sad and childish.

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    10. Not too many street cops working for 30 years. Twenty and out is more like it.

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    11. Have a bear claw, 6:28. They're kind of like self-medicating.

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    12. I love a good bear claw, but I don't think that's why police officers die so soon after retirement. I think it's stress, like air traffic controllers and 911 dispatchers. Maybe it's the crazy hours, who knows.

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  21. FROM BARRY GOLD
    Sierra Madre's problem number 1 is the budget deficit. The largest part of the General Fund is the $3,900,000 for the police department. If the UUT measure passes the city will spend most of the tax increase on trying to save our police department.

    I know that Mayor Capoccia has told us that his feedback from the community is overwhelmingly in favor of doing whatever it takes to keep our police instead of bringing in the Sheriff. It does not matter if we all wanted to keep our police or not, it is not possible to save it. We must face this fact, contract with the Sheriff, and start saving thousands of dollars which will make a huge difference in balancing the budget.

    The only way to prevent the city from spending the thousands of dollars to try and save the police department is to Vote No on Measure UUT. Then there will not be a choice. We will have to contract with the Sheriff, and this is a good thing for all of us.

    By the way, the Sheriff's plan we should use should be a blend of Plans A & B. The proper blend will give us services equal to or greater then what we have and at an average yearly savings over the next 6 to 8 years of about $450,000. Then the savings go up and up each year after that.

    I do not mind paying taxes for services that are efficiently delivered. But I do mind spending the money to try to save the police department when it is wasted money because it can't be done.

    Lawn signs are available to anyone who would like one. If you send me an email with your name, address, and phone number I will bring you one.

    Barry Gold
    Write-In Candidate for Sierra Madre City Council

    Email: barrygold4citycouncil@gmail.com

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  22. Thank you Barry

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  23. I should have said "No On UUT" lawn signs are available.
    Barry

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  24. You gotta love co po co, co po co must love to pay more taxes, if you don't love what co po co stands for, this is you chance to VOTE NO, NO MORE UUT TAXES! This will be the THIRD TIME which the UUT TAXES will BE DEFEATED!

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  25. Co po co ... Where's your common sence? Thank you gor helping me to decide to VOTE NO ON ALL UUT TAXES!!

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  26. The city is at it again with a new committee. This time it will be a committee formed to come up with a way to get more money for benefits, library, police, and salaries. This is the beginning of the parcel tax for the 2018 ballot. The city is forming a committee composed of council members, staff, and the public. The public is included only to try to say the public is part of this plan and supports it. I suggest an anti parcel tax group be formed, cause the parcel tax is raising its ugly head.

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  27. I do not want any Moore taxs...

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  28. Since the only name I noticed, other than "Anonymous" in these comments is that of Barry Gold (and he's running for office), I don't see why you and all your sycophants should expect to receive the names of the citizens who wrote to Mayor Capoccia. I realize that we are all tired of paying taxes and are frustrated with the career politicians in Sacramento and Washington. Otherwise, there is no accounting for Mr. Trump's popularity. But remember that you get what you pay for and concerns that we will lose our library completely or have to make do with even further reductions in hours, that the Sheriff's Department won't really cover our policing needs, or that we will lose our own EMT services and have to depend on the County or other arrangements to provide the medical assistance that most of us have come to depend upon are real concerns. Another thing to consider is that the fees charged by the Sheriff's Department for their services may be raised to whatever they decide to charge after the term of the original contract and we will either have to pay it or do without. What will that do to property values?

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    1. Except for that pesky Brown Act and the other "Sunshine Laws" that prohibit secret communication with public officials. Shame on Sierra Madre.

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    2. 3:08 seems to think that doing the same things over and over again will somehow make things better. Isn't that the definition of insanity? Perhaps this gent can tell us how getting this city into $9 million dollars in CalPERS debt is going to fix the pipes or keep the library open. The wealth of this community has been flushed down a toilet.

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    3. Property value? Hardee Har Har.

      LaCanada is getting killed by poor property values, right? Must've the Sheriff contract, right?

      BS alert, 3:37. Please try harder, remember in Sierra Madre you're dealing with mostly college educated.

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    4. 3:08PM It's hard to face reality. We are a small town with no income and we have spent like there is no tomorrow. Take a look at the warrants every month. See how much we pay for lawyers, payroll at the expense of not taking care of the infrastructure or the library. I wish it were only the 9,000,000 CalPERS debt. We have bonds that we only pay the interest on. We've bought equipment, while maybe needed, we still haven't paid off in 6 years. We're facing a 25,000,000 mandatory fee for environmental gutters. The UUT has been passed before. It was never enough. So it will be put up a year from now. Do some research and stop drinking the Koo-Aid.

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    5. Bess of HardwickMarch 8, 2016 at 8:14 PM

      3:08- kool aid much?

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  29. There's a fair legal argument to be made that an email to the mayor is not sent in confidence. Here's an excerpt from a 2003 unpublished California Court of Appeal decision (in a case construing the same provisions of the Government Code cited by Elaine):

    "[W]e reject the notion that a party, having sent an e-mail to or received an e-mail from a government official, may nevertheless claim to have retained a reasonable expectation of privacy as to the e-mail address from which the communication emanated. After an e-mail is sent, the sender has no control over its distribution. The sender usually cannot determine whether anyone has received the message, the number or identity of persons that have accessed the message, the locale in which the message was received, or whether the recipient has forwarded the message to others. (Citations omitted.) The message necessarily includes the sender's e-mail address. Considering these characteristics of e-mail, there is minimal privacy interest in an e-mail address to be balanced against the interest of disclosure."

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