Saturday, March 31, 2012

Colin Braudrick Robocalls Are Happening Today

Just got mine. Anyone who is a registered Democrat is apparently going to get one. Looks like the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee has fired up the phone banks and everybody is going to get an earful. And I don't know who this Eric Bauman guy is, but he can talk faster than anyone I have ever heard before. A combination of a used car dealer and the old Warner Brothers Merry Melodies cartoon character Blabbermouth.

Apparently this Bauman guy is the LA County Democratic Party Vice Chair. He doesn't say which vice, though. My guess it has something to do with tight shoes. The kind some might enjoy tap dancing in, like Fred and Ginger. Which reminds me, the last guy to use this tactic was Joe Mosca. I am certain that is just some sort of coincidence. You know, like the sun coming up in the same place every morning.

The call says that Colin Broadrick is an officially endorsed candidate of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, which kind of puts that whole "I'm an independent who belongs to nobody" rap he was feeding people a month or so ago somewhat in the shade. But then again, what would you expect from a political machine candidate? Particularly one from a County that is under complete one-party rule like the one we live in? A political fiefdom no less corrupt than Chicago.

What is odd here, though, is apparently Colin is not being quite forthcoming about this endorsement, nor the monetary value of this support. It certainly doesn't show up on his campaign fundraising paperwork. This kind of support, which I suppose does come with such an endorsement, has to be quite expensive for somebody. And, if you have seen the Looney Views News today, Colin has a big half page color advertisement in there that lists all of his endorsements. The Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee is not listed among them.

Must have been a typo.

The City Manager Who Laid Himself Off

The City of Keller was having some financial troubles. Located in Texas, things had been going reasonably well, at least until the recession hit. Tax revenues were down, the housing crisis took a big bite out of city property values, and things like the payments on bond and other debt had become a serious concern. It was either raise taxes or reduce expenses. The workforce had already been cut back, and some services combined with those of other cities. The things that needed to be done had been, but it still wasn't getting the city's finances back to where they needed to be. It was time to look at more reductions.

Sounds familiar, right? Certainly we face those kinds of challenges here in Sierra Madre. But despite all that the City Manager of Keller had done to make things right, it still wasn't enough. So he did the next logical thing. He laid himself off.

Here is how that story is told on the website of The Keller Citizen (click here):

Keller city manager lays himself off: Keller City Manager Dan O'Leary decided that someone from top management ranks at City Hall had to go. So the person he laid off was himself.

He told the City Council of his decision during a closed session Tuesday, then announced it Wednesday morning.

"It's a little unusual for a city of our size to have three city managers," O'Leary said, referring to his two assistant city managers, Steve Polasek and Chris Fuller. "There was a time that was needed, but at this point in time, I don't think we need three city managers." His last day on the job will be April 20.

The timing of the resignation was based on three factors, he said. O'Leary wanted to resign before the city elections in May, so people wouldn't conclude that he didn't like the election results; before the annual budget process, which begins this month, gets heavily under way; and after the auditor gave a final annual report, which occurred at Tuesday's pre-council meeting.

Council members didn't choose a replacement Tuesday. "They will take that up at the next meeting," O'Leary said.

No other staff reductions are planned, he said. "There could be others in the future, but there's certainly not a plan right now or a list with anybody's name on it."

I don't know why, but I find this to be a remarkable story. Enjoy your weekend. Consider this to be an open thread.

Which is pretty much the way it is here most days.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Was John Harabedian's "Law Enforcement Endorsement" Campaign Postcard a Federal Hatch Act Violation As Well?

On March 21st we posted an article called "John Harabedian's "Law Enforcement Endorsement" Postcard: Is It Legal?" (click here). This was an investigation into the possible illegality of a political postcard John had sent out as part of his campaign for City Council here. Depicted on this card were actual uniformed Sierra Madre Police Department officers, with the implication being that John Harabedian's candidacy was supported by the Sierra Madre Police Department. Which it could not be. That would be in flagrant violation of the applicable state campaign laws.

But what is also a possible violation of California state law here is Sierra Madre Police Officers appearing on Harabedian political campaign material in their uniforms. Which is what appears to have happened on the postcard in question. Uniforms being the clothing officer's wear when they are on active duty, whether there are patches to be found on them or not. Here is what state law says:

Government Code 3302 (a): Except as otherwise provided by law, or whenever on duty or in uniform, no public safety officer shall be prohibited from engaging, or be coerced or required to engage, in political activity.

This Tattler article created quite a ruckus in town, drawing over 3,000 hits and 157 comments to this site. It also caused quite a stir at City Hall as many residents phoned in to express their outrage. City Hall heard those concerns and quickly launched an investigation into the matter. As of today no results of that investigation have been made public.

There are some people who are not quite patient enough to await the results of the City's investigation. Such City processes tend to drag on, and oftentimes never seem to come to any kind of conclusion whatsoever. This group of folks, a couple of them lawyers, have now looked into the matter extensively and come to the conclusion that Harabedian's "Law Enforcement" postcard may have possibly been in violation of Federal law as well. Specifically a 1939 law called "The Hatch Act." Here is how Wikipedia (click here) describes that law:

The Hatch Act of 1939 is a United States federal law whose main provision is to prohibit employees (civil servants) in the executive branch of the federal government, except the President and Vice President, from engaging in partisan political activity. Named after Senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico, the law was officially known as "An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities."

Now you might be wondering what a law designed to keep policymaking federal employees from pimping themselves out as political campaign props might have to do with two uniformed Sierra Madre Police Officers appearing on John Haribedian's City Council campaign postcard. Here Wikipedia provides us with an answer:

The original Act forbids intimidation or bribery of voters and restricted political campaign activities by federal employees. It prohibits using any public funds designated for relief or public works for electoral purposes. It also forbids officials paid with federal funds from using promises of jobs, promotion, financial assistance, contracts, or any other benefit to coerce campaign contributions or political support.

The most restrictive measure was brought about by Republicans in the Senate. It dictates that persons below the policymaking level in the executive branch of the federal government must not only refrain from political practices that would be illegal for any citizen but must abstain from "any active part" in political campaigns.

An amendment on July 19, 1940 extended coverage to state and local employees whose salaries include any federal funds.

So that is all well and good, but how exactly do members of the Sierra Madre Police Department become subject to the Hatch Act? Are they in anyway compensated by Federal funds? The answer to that one is yes, the SMPD does receive Federal moneys for certain functions. One of them being traffic safety. This from the City of Sierra Madre website (click here):

The Sierra Madre Police Department's Traffic Safety Division is dedicated to the safety of its citizens whether they are driving, biking, or walking. We strive to keep the streets safe through active enforcement and high visibility. We are frequently moving forward with cutting edge technology and advanced training.

The Sierra Madre Police Department's Traffic Safety Division is awarded traffic safety grants through the California Office of Traffic Safety which allots Federal and State funds to reduce traffic accidents and collisions. Traffic safety grants enable the Department to conduct safety checkpoints for intoxicated drivers and vehicle occupants not wearing seatbelts.

In case you ever wondered exactly why the SMPD is so zealous about giving out traffic tickets, apparently the financial reasons for doing so extend all the way to Washington DC.

On the National Fraternal Order Of Police website there is an extensive article that reviews the Hatch Act and what it means for working police officers with a taste for the political. Entitled "The Hatch Act: The Political Process and You" (click here), here they point out one of the restrictions on political activity the FOP identifies as being illegal for law enforcement officers.

It is impermissible to: Allow one's name or likeness to be used in campaign literature in the police officer's professional capacity.

And why is that? Again it is the Federal money connection. Here is how the Hatch Act is interpreted on the FOP website regarding this particular matter. Note the difference of opinion with Wikipedia on the salary matter.

The relevant analysis concerning the employee's contact with federal funds is whether the employee "as a normal and foreseeable incident to her principle job or position ... performs duties in connection with an activity financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants ... Special Counsel v. Williams 56 M.S.P.R. 277 (1993). Whether the employee's salary is paid by federal funds is not a relevant consideration.

The article then goes on to compile a very long, very inclusive list of the ways federal money can be used by local government and how that applies to the Hatch Act. It covers everything from looking at that money to talking about it. There are no loopholes.

An example of how police officers appearing on political campaign material can run afoul of either state or federal law is found in the archives of the Los Angeles Times (click here). The locale involved in this particular dust-up is the City of Bell, and again it is a matter of officers posing on candidate campaign material.

California campaign watchdog investigates Bell police union (June 17,2011): The state Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating whether the Bell police union violated state law in the March election, when voters in the scandal-battered town swept the last remaining City Council members out of office. The state panel is examining whether the Bell Police Officers Assn. distributed campaign literature showing officers in uniform, a violation of state law.

We will be certain to keep you up to date with any further revelations involving this unfortunate situation as they arise.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

City Hall's Doomsday Proposal

Tuesday evening the City Council discussed many of the ways that City Hall can save money and therefore help to close the budget gap caused by the dissolution of our Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). The total loss here being $1,605,560. Many possibilities were considered, and we should see something approaching a final accounting in the not too distant future. This was obviously a painful task for a city government far more used to expanding than contracting, but economic realities being what they are there wasn't really very much choice. It is something that has to be done.

What didn't get too much airplay Tuesday evening is what I am calling "City Hall's Doomsday Proposal." While a couple of the items there were discussed, it was pretty much ala carte with the main menu remaining untouched. Located at the end of an Agenda Report item with one of the longest titles to be seen anywhere ("Dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency Budget Ammendments (sic) to Resolve Funding Loss, Staff Reorganization, and Public Hearing Regarding Fee Increases, Consideration of Resolution 12-26 Establishing a Schedule of Fees and Charges for Fiscal Year 2012-2013"), it details exactly what could be saved should the City ever be forced to go into a maximum cost reduction mode. It is two pages where every department voluntarily put everything on the line, and what exactly could be saved should the need arise.

I am reproducing this 2 page report here. What it shows is that should things get really bad here (and we are not quite there yet), there are options that could be put into play that just might pull City Hall through even the worst of financial crisis.

Here is that report. Where applicable, the dollar figures are both the minimum and the maximum amounts that could be saved. Totals are at the end of the report.

Police Department
Contract Parking Citation Services - Revenue Increase from improved enforcement could combine with alternate day street sweeping. Would also free-up Officer time. $25,000 to $50,000
Elimination of Cadets. $10,000
Contract Policing Services -Estimated savings will be based upon level of service that is contracted. $1,000,000
Contract Dispatching Services. $50,000 to $100,000
Contract with LA County Animal Control, instead of Pasadena Humane Society. $10,000 to $13,000
Eliminate purchase of uniforms for Reserve Officers. $1,500
Charge a fee for overnight parking in City Parking Lots. $25 to $100 per month.$6,000 to $24,000
Institute Permit Fee for non-residents @ Mount Wilson Trail. $1,000 to $12,000
Downtown Parking Meters. $1,000 to $12,000

Administrative Services
Limit IT to full-time employees only. $4,000 to $8,000
Sliding scale for Management Leave - between 40 and 100 hrs, determined by annual review. $2,000 to $9,000

Fire Department
Eliminate 3rd full-time Captian (sic) Position. $125,000

Further Reduction of Library Hours - additional 6 to 12 closed hours per week. $10,000 to $26,000
Reduce expenditures - books, library materials. $1,000 to $11,000
Evaluate formation of Library district - parcel fee of $50 to $100 (4,000 parcels). $200,000 to $400,000

Public Works
Eliminate 1 F-T position/ Replace with P-T. $25,000
Eliminate field staff uniforms. $10,000
Install meters for lights at tennis courts, fields, etc. $1,000 to $5,000
Evaluate formation of street maintenance district. $200,000 to $800,000

Community Services
Allow for Amplified Sound at bandshell with permit. $2,000 to $5,000
Advertising in City Publications - Wistaria. $1,000 to $2,500
Eliminate Recognition Events - Volunteer recognition and staff. $9,500
Eliminate printing/mailing of Wistaria Vine. $9,400

Development Services
Contact out the entire department. $50,000 to $100,000

TOTALS - $754,400 to $2,767,900

So there you have it. What could be accomplished financially if it really had to be done.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The City Council Makes Vegetarian Sausage

Watching City Hall attempt to shrink itself isn't the prettiest sight you'll ever see. We're all very used to watching our local government grow, and the city doesn't naturally go in that other direction. Yet because of the loss of a lot of CRA money, it now has very little choice in the matter. And that process (as they often call it) is what consumed the efforts of the City Council for most of last evening. This one didn't end until most of the town was asleep. With the rest probably being unhappy now that they didn't join them. Me included.

Nancy Walsh led us through the Pledge of Allegiance and the inspiration. She noted that this was the last meeting before the April 10 election, and then asked us to reflect upon the importance of voting.We were all granted a moment of silence to do that.

No action was taken during the Closed Session, and therefore there was nothing to report. Outside of the topics (the litigious POA and a personnel matter), the nature of those deliberations remained a secret and were not shared with us.

A couple of things were revealed at Public Comment. Fay Angus pointed out that her Utility Tax expenses, spread out across all of the many categories taxed, come to around $50 a month. Using Josh Moran's math of "only $10 a month" should the UUT go to 12%, I guess that means Fay's utility taxes will go to $60 a month, or $720 a year should the voters wish it. Funny how quickly those Moran Math nickel and dime increases add up.

Chris Koerber had some interesting PUSD information to share. The PUSD Redistricting Task Force has somehow decided that while 5 out of the 7 so-called subdistricts will get to vote for and have representatives on the school board right away, we will somehow not get to select ours until 2015. Sierra Madre having been thrown under the bus. Chris has been in touch with people who attended the meeting in Pasadena where these deliberations took place, and noted that our representative there, Bart Doyle, raised no objections. Instead chose to remain silent as the decision was handed out. You can only wonder what the deal was. Whatever the case, we'll now be without the kind of representation other "subdistricts" in the PUSD will have for the next 3 years. Hopefully our defenseless position here won't result in further personnel cuts at Sierra Madre Elementary and Middle School.

Colin Broadrick also had education on his mind, and it was in regards to some of our successes at the Math Field Day that was held at the Middle School. Which hopefully wasn't conducted in a trailer. In keeping with the tenor of his campaign, Colin chose to keep his brief address light and happy. Apparently done in the assumption that most Sierra Madreans have a childlike regard for their City, and don't want to hear about anything overly serious.

It is always interesting to contrast the styles of competing candidates Koerber and Broadrick. Koerber being well versed on complex and important issues, while Broadrick operates as more of a cheerleader for the "happy news" side of things. He'd make a good weather man.

Anna Laws discussed just how complicated the new procedures for accessing City Council Meeting Agendas on the City Hall website have become over the last few weeks. Obtaining this report having been a "one click" operation in the past. The folks responsible for the changes came to the podium and explained the reasons for this new series of questions and commands. The major reason being that they have brought so many new documents on board now, including the same agenda packets City Councilmembers receive. Which is fine, and frankly way overdue.

However, an important part of transparency is easy accessibility for all, and I am not certain that lumping current documents into the same computer files with similar items from the 1990s is the way we want go. They really should establish a separate category on the main page with the other "Latest Events." Under the new system City Council meetings are not even listed, much less the information that had previously been attached. Oddly, news about things like alternate Friday City Hall closures are. I am certain this will be worked out in time.

Marilyn Diaz showed up at the podium wearing a stylish faux leopard skin blouse, which was quite a change from the Police Chief's uniform we'd been used to seeing from her in the past. She encouraged everyone to vote in favor of the UUT Measures. Marilyn didn't give much in the way of reasons why we should do this, and I don't think that she used her entire 3 minutes.

John Capoccia reminded all of those watching that our UUT, currently at a state leading 10%, does not decrease until the year 2015. The inference being why should we want to renew it now when it when the current incarnation still has a full 3 years to go? The answer that has been given by proponents of Measures 12-1 and 12-2 has been that it will help in long term budgeting as we look to the future. Budgeting convenience having to be one of the least compelling reasons for voting in favor of a tax measure and likely increase that I have ever heard.

The Consent Calendar involved the spending of half a million bucks on the usual things, plus the decision to render certain items in the City's inventory surplus as part of the process of selling them off. Included in this was no longer needed library furniture and two old vehicles.

The one Consent Calendar item that could have been a bone of contention (as they often say) dealt with the ALF/Kensington and its Measure V implications. The concern of many being that what Staff had trotted out for the City Council's deliberation was actually a surreptitious attempt at diminishing resident rights when it comes to voting on overly large downtown development projects. After repeated questioning from Councilmember MacGillivray the City Attorney was reluctantly dragged to some clarity on the matter, and it turns out that much of this had to do with the developer's stated wish of having this put on the November ballot no matter what the City Council and Planning Commission might or might not do later this year.

If the ALF ballot question is to be a Measure V vote or not was not the decision being made here. Rather it was to clear the way for this project to be put on the ballot even if the next City Council screws it all up and does something dumb like proclaims units to be suites. Or whatever the less than artful dodge at that time might be. This likely being dependent on who the voters elect to the City Council on April 10.

The second item on the Agenda was a public hearing regarding the building of a 5 unit condominium project at the corner of East Sierra Madre Boulevard and Sierra Place. There was no opposition to this project from either the City Council or members of audience attending this meeting. Something that I cannot recall having happened before. A true love fest. Apparently this project had been to the Planning Commission 6 or 7 times, with everything about it having been fully vetted with the proverbial fine toothed comb. The developer had even dropped one full unit from the project in order to accommodate this City's need to avoid overly large development. Approval was unanimous.

John Buchanan did object to the developer's assertion that Sierra Madre is a "bedroom community." John stating that Sierra Madre is a real community with people both sleeping and working here. This is a point of some pride with him. His sensitivity on the issue being a good indication that this is not always the case. With most of the working population in Sierra Madre indeed being commuters, and only coming here to eat and sleep. Which I guess in John's opinion makes us an unreal community.

Item #3 had most of the action. This was where the City Council and City Staff struggled to come to grips with the "dissolution" of the Community Redevelopment Agency, in the process losing all the cash that had been an important part of the mix when this moment in time was budgeted. The loss of $1.6 million dollars can do strange things to a town. That coupled with the City's tax take coming in at under $300,000 of projection has put this City in its worst financial bind in years.

The impetus behind much of the discussion was to make necessary cuts to balance the budget without having to go through the painful process of laying very many people off. The City Council, in other words, was going to try and make vegetarian sausage instead of that other kind. And with personnel costs making up the lion's share of the City's total operating budget, this task was not going to be an easy one.

Which set everything up for the usual solutions found in governments that do not wish to make overly difficult or unpleasant decisions involved in reducing the size of its operations. With the discussion revolving around deferring retirement benefits payments, overly optimistic CALPERS projections, minor outsourcing designed to offend no one, and raising fees and other city charges. Coupled with the possibility of an increase in the UUT to 12%, of course. Though nobody claimed to advocate that. To me it looked a lot like the "kicking the can down the road" strategy we have often seen from Sacramento and Washington. Done when they attempt to deal with the kinds of funding shortages we are seeing here. Though on a much smaller scale.

There was also an extended conversation about the hiring of an "Assistant City Manager," which some found to be a little on the distasteful side. The creation of an expensive new position when other jobs could potentially be lost, with the hours of those remaining being in some cases significantly curtailed, seemed out of place with the matters being discussed. As an example, there was a contingent of people who spoke about the necessity of keeping a Director for Community Services related issues, and how that should be considered a much more important priority.

It will be interesting to see how this all eventually hashes out. Of course, that will be a task for another City Council. Due to the seriousness of the challenges being faced by this City right now, hopefully it will be one run by authentic adults.

The meeting closed with the dog issue being discussed again. That is one thing about City Council meetings lately. In the end they always go to the dogs.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Today the Pasadena Star News Interviews Our City Council Candidates So the Paper Can Decide Who They'll Endorse!

It happens every two years or so. Except in 2010 when Larry Wilson showed up at the Kiwanis Debate instead, and then left before the show was over. And with the kind of talent represented by Josh and Nancy that year, I can't claim that his attention was really required. The choices were obvious. Except there was also that other guy, but he later left for another continent after his State Assembly hopes never quite took off. We all know how it is when your dreams don't work out. Sometimes you just want to go.

But it is happening in 2012, and right there at the Star News offices. Just like it has for years gone by. And all of the Sierra Madre City Council candidates are going to be there as well. It should be quite a forum for those attending this event.

I also believe that this year we the people will have a shot at participating as well. And all you'll have to do to get in on that action is post your questions here so I can submit them to the paper. Or at least those questions that I think are the very best ones.

I'll probably winnow the list down to 4 or 5 before I do. I don't want to push my luck. While I do get to publish an op-ed piece there every once in a while, it's not like they have given me an office or anything. I do have an office somewhere else of course, but it is a different kind of company. Local city politics doesn't play very much of a role there. I'm not certain that those who work with me there even know they have one.

I do need to get these questions over to them by around 4PM, so please keep that in mind. Snooze and you'll lose, as they always seem to say.

Just to get the ball rolling I thought I'd post a couple of mine here. They'll be pretty familiar to this site's regular readers, but then I can't recall ever having received any kind of meaningful answers from the intended recipients of these inquiries. Perhaps now we'll get a little action out of them.

Question A: If the non-advisory UUT Measure passes and Sierra Madre's utility tax rates do go to 12% by July of 2013 as it says on the ballot, that rate will be by far the highest in the entire State of California. Why is it that you believe (or don't believe) that leading the whole state in so costly a way is (or is not) necessary?

Question B: Sierra Madre's Police Officers Association is one of the most litigious public employee unions in California. It is estimated that the SMPOA has sued the City of Sierra Madre 15 times since 2009, and at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and settlement costs. Yet despite that 3 City Council candidates sought the POA's endorsement, and received it. Should candidates accept endorsements from unions currently suing the City, and can this be seen as a potential conflict of interest should any of those candidates actually be elected?

That's my pair of stumpers. Please post your posers here and we'll see if we can't get you some meaningful answers from the candidates. It's the kind information you will need to know to cast an informed vote on April 10.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Last Roundup City Council Meeting: John Buchanan Rides Off Into the Sunset

After 8 long years of standing before the people of Sierra Madre as the fellow who would bring "reasonable development" to our town, yet ending up never directly being involved in the building of anything outside of maybe Dr. Sami's project, John Buchanan will soon pack up his gavel and leave the premises. But actually we're not here to do a post mortem on Buchanan's record of developmental futility. At least not today. Instead we are going to talk about tomorrow evening's City Council meeting, and all the wonderful things they have scheduled for our entertainment. It could be the end of an era in several ways, as you shall see.

The very first item on this meeting's City Council Agenda takes place behind closed doors where we cannot see. But the fact that it is on the schedule at all tells us something interesting. Our City Manager, Elaine Aguilar, is up for her job performance evaluation. And that it is happening during the very last meeting of the current City Council is revealing. Usually this is something that wouldn't occur until a new City Council has been seated. After all, City Managers do serve at the will of the City Council.

What this could mean is that Elaine is worried about how the election is going, and she wants her evaluation to happen now. Why? Because if she waits for the next City Council to be seated, things might be very different.

There is another possible change at work here as well. That being the visit of Mark Steres to the Kiwanis Club tomorrow. Under established protocol a City Attorney from a different jurisdiction coming into another City Attorney's territory is just not done. It is pretty much tantamount to poaching, along with a display of disrespect. What the arrival of Steres in our community means (and to talk about our UUT Measures no less), is that the word is getting around that Colantuono & Levin could be on the way out of here. I suspect it might have been the failure to keep Measure V off the ballot that did it. You know that must have pissed off Buchanan and Moran. Screwing up Measure 12-1, and on April 10's election card no less, couldn't have helped, either.

Who knows, maybe Steres thinks he can add Sierra Madre to the list of cities he works for. Judging by Colantuono & Levin's take, it is obvious that we pay our City Attorneys quite well.

There is also a behind closed doors chin wag with the SMPOA scheduled. Maybe they are going to have a little heart to heart about uniformed police officers posing on John Harabedian campaign material? After all, the City is investigating that one. It could also be just another in a long series of meetings that will have little or no effect on the impasse. With the SMPOA holding out for a City Council with people that owe them a little something.

The meeting will then go before the cameras of SMTV3 and all will be allowed to witness our City government in action. $517,415.10 in U.S. currency will be consumed like so much green salad, mostly in salaries and City Warrants. Though the Library will get to nibble at it a bit as well.

The 2nd item on the Consent Calendar has to do with certain city owned items being declared surplus so that they can be sold at auction. The items in question are used library furniture and things such as dictionary stands. These having been displaced by the Children's Library remodel. In addition to all that (and it is quite a long list of stuff), there are also two vehicles leaving the Police fleet. One is a 1999 Crown Victoria cruiser with 103,655 miles on it, the other a 1991 Ford pickup truck. No mileage figure is given, though it does need a new engine.

The 3rd item on the Consent Calendar could be the most contentious of tomorrow evening's discussions. This is where the City Council is supposed to agree to put the Alfington on this November's ballot for voters approval. The two choices offered to the City Council are these:

2. The City Council shall provide further review and recommendation on the Project and;

A) if the Council determines that the Project is in compliance with Measure V, it shall order that the resulting legislative components of the Project be placed on the November 2012 ballot for voter action;

B) if the City Council determines that the Project is not in compliance with Measure V, it shall not approve the Project, but shall order an amendment to Measure V to be placed on the November 2012 ballot for voter action for the purpose of permitting an Assisted Living Facility project with more than 13 dwelling units per acre as an allowable use in the Downtown Central Core.

Since this is a Consent Calendar item, it is pretty much a resolution. So how can you have a resolution with two contradictory statements on it? Obviously the ALF isn't in compliance with Measure V, and the Planning Commission's rejection of the whole "Suites" canard pretty much ended that argument. So is this an attempt to overrule the Planning Commission, and doing it in a resolution?

It could be an interesting conversation.

Item #2 has to do with a new 5 unit condominium project to be built at the SW corner of E. Sierra Madre Boulevard and Sierra Place. This property has never been developed over the years. The reason for this being some believed that easements are in place there, something that has caused the property to remain vacant. The developer has now presented what he regards as proof that no such easements exist. That is what the City Council is going to have to decide here.

Item #3 has to do with the elimination of 2 full time positions at City Hall, with the reduction of part time hours approaching the equivalent of 5 full time jobs. Other positions that had come open recently are not being filled. These cutbacks are due to the loss of $1,605,560 in funds caused by the dissolution of the Community Redevelopment Agency. The total saving to Sierra Madre's General Fund is about $270,000. Obviously there is still some ways to go. This will be a long and painful process, and could in the end significantly alter how this City is run.

The meeting ends with the 4th item, which deals with Dog Park Fees being temporarily reduced to $0. The purpose being to get dog owners to use this park to walk their four legged friends instead of Little League and Pony League baseball fields.

And that is how this City Council ends. Not with a bang, but a bark.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

So Who Is Mark W. Steres?

Over on the Patch they have reprinted a press release regarding an upcoming talk at the Kiwanis Club on the UUT Measures. This in itself is nothing remarkable. So much of what passes for news coverage in this town seems to have its origin in press releases. Documents noted for their remarkable ability to avoid all possible points of view except the one they want you to embrace.

But that said, this one did lead to the raising of some questions here. Which I am fairly certain is an unintended consequence. Here is what the press release we're going on about has to say:

On Tuesday March 27, the Sierra Madre Kiwanis Club will host an informational forum about the Utility Users (sic) Tax. Attorney Mark Steres will be the speaker. Steres has expertise in land use and planning, the Subdivision Map Act, CEQA, affordable housing, cable and telecommunications, public contracts and franchises, the Brown Act, conflicts of interest, fiscal issues and elections. He is going to speak about UUTs and the Sierra Madre UUT measures that will appear on the April ballot. The forum will allow attendees, both for and opposed to Measures 12-1 and 12-2, to ask questions.

Mr. Steres, who I am sure is a fine attorney with a rich toolbox of legal skills and areas of expertise to draw upon, is not someone without a history here in Sierra Madre. According to one savvy person posting on this site yesterday, he was the prime legal operative in a lawsuit against the City of Sierra Madre on the behalf of some development happy landowners hoping to build up on the hillsides. Which most here would consider to be a bad thing, and on at least a couple of levels.

A lawsuit that Mr. Steres and his clients won, leading to the later purchase of that property at considerable expense by goodhearted Sierra Madreans wishing to preserve that piece of our precious heritage.

You can be certain Mr. Steres profited by his previous experiences here, and at our expense. Hopefully that is not why he is back.

On January 13 of 1990 the Los Angeles Times published an article (click here) about some of the momentous events surrounding the purchase of that 100 or so acres of hillside property, done with the intention of developing it. A series of City Hall missteps had left our portion of these hillside areas vulnerable to such depredation, and the City Council hastily attempted to pass legislation that would hinder these developers from doing such an awful thing. In walked Mr. Steres with his papers and his letters.

The catalyst was land-use attorney Mark Steres, who represents hillside property owners Annette and Lawson Martin. When preservationists discovered in 1988 that the Martins had purchased 100 acres in the foothills of Monrovia, Arcadia and Sierra Madre, they realized the foothills could be developed.

At their urging, the council passed a hillside building moratorium. Multiple extensions were approved while the city tussled with an ordinance to govern hillside development.

At the end of December, Sierra Madre officials thought that moratorium extensions were still in effect. Steres' research showed otherwise. "They thought the moratorium was expiring in March of 1990," Steres said. "But according to my analysis, it expired September, 1989.

In a dramatic move at 4:50 p.m. on Dec. 29 -- the last day of business for the city in 1989 -- Steres delivered to City Hall a request to subdivide 11.3 acres of the Martins' land into 10 lots. He sent a cover letter that said the request had to be honored because the city had no moratorium in effect.

One thing led to another and, as fate would have it, Mr. Steres and his clients went on to sue the City of Sierra Madre. They also won. You can read all about that unfortunate turn of events on the Justia US site by clicking here.

So the question must be asked. Why exactly is Mark W. Steres returning to the scene of the crime (as it were) to chat up the Kiwanians about UUT Measure 12-1 and 12-2? Is it the prospect of a tasty and nutritious $10 lunch that is causing him to make the journey all the way up here from downtown Los Angeles? Are they comping him? Of course, it is possible there are other issues he might have in mind.

If someone is going to this gathering I would hope they'd want to ask some questions about Mark W. Steres' past involvement here, and how that might possibly relate to these two UUT Measures. I will be at work that day and won't be able to attend.

But I have to level with you, I don't think he is coming here for the meat loaf. As delicious as it might be.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Another Bad Endorsement for Goss

Professor Eugene Goss, candidate for a 4 year seat on the Sierra Madre City Council, has quietly retreated a bit from two earlier statements made during his run for office. The first one was in regards to his support for a 12% UUT. Despite his earlier remarks supporting Measures 12-1 and 12-2, he is now stating that he doesn't want to raise our UUT to 12%. Which is kind of like saying you like baseball but don't approve of the use of bats. The point being the UUT Measures on the April 10 ballot are all about raising the UUT to 12%. You just can't have it both ways.

Professor Goss is now attempting a similar distancing in regards to his endorsement by the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association. The SMPOA, which is the oftentimes obstreperous public employee union that has sued the City of Sierra Madre repeatedly, with some of the lawsuits still going down, has cost us $100s of thousands of dollars in legal fees, settlement costs and increased payments to the insurer. All of which comes right out of our pockets.

During the VFW debate the Professor proudly noted that he, along with the two candidates on his slate, had received the endorsement of the SMPOA. Apparently his pride in this has now dampened somewhat. His campaign postcard, which arrived at my home yesterday includes, and in the very tiniest type imaginable, the following:

I have been endorsed by the POA because they know I am a strong supporter of law enforcement and favor retaining a local police force. I have not and will not, however, accept financial contributions from the POA.

Which strikes me as being a fairly fine distinction. Apparently Professor Goss believes this union is worthy enough to be endorsed by, but not good enough to accept money from. I'm not sure this really makes all that much difference.

Here is something else the fastidious Professor Goss might soon attempt to wash from his hands. He, along with his stablemates John Harabedian and Colin Braudrick, have now been endorsed by the Mountain Views News.

As someone who gets their news on the internet you might not be familiar with our self-styled "community newspaper." It maintains a minimal press run (some estimate it to be as low as 300), and can only be found on a few rusty old racks located downtown next to liquor stores and realty offices. But it is this City's adjudicated paper, and therefore receives money for running legal advertising and other such public notices. In other words, it is yet another questionable entity that lives off of our tax money.

The publisher and controlling personality there is a woman named Harriet "Susan" Henderson. Susan, as she prefers to be known, has been running the paper for a few years. It is a fairly humble pursuit. But what is not known by very many people here is that not only was Susan a person of significant importance in California at one time, she was also at the center of one of the biggest political scandals to hit this state's Democratic Party ever. Which is saying a lot.

Not that the Republicans are much better, mind you. Susan also belonged to that party as well, and almost at the same time. But I digress.

There are two newspaper articles in particular that I would like to recommend to you. The first one comes from the San Francisco Examiner (click here), the other the San Francisco Chronicle (click here). Each tells a story that is both shocking and, at least to me, very amusing. They should also make you wonder what in the world this person is doing here in our little town. It must have been quite a fall.

Demo leader resigns under fire - Questions over state party official's resume, credit card expenditures (May 25, 1995): H. Susan Henderson, onetime Republican turned executive director of the California Democratic Party, has resigned her $78,000-per-year post amid controversy over alleged resume-pumping and questionable expenditures on a party credit card.

State party chair Bill Press announced Henderson's departure Wednesday, the same day The Examiner reported that she had registered to vote as a Republican barely two years before taking the $78,000-per-year Democratic party post.

The Examiner also reported that the University of California had no record of awarding Henderson a law degree and an MBA, as she had claimed on her resume, and that a Sunnyvale business executive said Henderson had failed to repay a $2,000 loan.

The article goes on to detail the alleged fibbing over academic credentials.

Henderson states that she holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Ohio State University, but a spokeswoman said Ohio State had never granted a degree to Harriet Susan Henderson or Harriett Poole, Henderson's maiden name.

Henderson's resume also says that she holds an "M.B.A./J.D" from the University of California, without specifying a campus. Spokesmen at UC-Berkeley, UCLA and UC-Davis, the three UC campuses that have both law and business schools, said no such degrees had been issued to H. Susan Henderson or Harriet Poole.

If you go to Susan's Facebook page you will note that she still claims academic credentials the California Democratic Party established she didn't have before they ran her off.

The revelations regarding the misuse of the Democratic Party's credit card are equally juicy.

Party credit-card records show that in a three-month period in 1995 she ran up $12,000 in charges, including $74 at a Victoria's Secret lingerie shop in Washington D.C., $220 at a golf course in Palm Springs, $137 at a Los Angeles beauty-supply outlet and $26 at a laundry.

The San Francisco Chronicle article is equally damning.

State Democratic Party's Top Paid Staffer Quits Amid Charges - Questions asked on use of funds, resume statements (May 25, 1995): The executive director of the California Democratic Party has resigned in the wake of charges that she misused party funds and embellished her resume with academic degrees that she never received.

H. Susan Henderson, the top paid staff member in the state Democratic Party, left the post Tuesday despite an independent audit that "has determined (the party's) books and records are in order," according to a statement released by state party chair Bill Press yesterday.

However, numerous questions about Henderson remain unanswered, and state party officials did little to quell the controversy, refusing to discuss the allegations that led to her departure. The case has turned into a major embarrassment to California Democratic Party leaders, who reportedly have been receiving inquiries from the White House on why the matter has taken so long to resolve.

(The thought that the name Susan Henderson may have passed through the lips of then President Bill Clinton is an interesting one. I doubt that the references included along with that utterance would have been complimentary.)

Charges about Henderson's use of party funds for personal expenses first surfaced in an anonymous memo sent last month to Democratic leaders around the state. Two weeks ago, The Chronicle reported that Henderson used her party-issued credit card for $3,000 worth of expenses at Disneyland, the Liz Claireborne boutique in Napa and at several leading retail stores, including a Victoria's Secret outlet in Washington.

Late last week, state party secretary Jim Clarke said officials were scrutinizing Henderson's background and were unable to verify a number of academic degrees listed on her resume, including a bachelor's degree from Ohio State University and an MBA and law degree from the University of California. State bar officials say she is not a California lawyer.

Like I said, an interesting story. One that also puts into doubt the value of any endorsement given by either Susan or her paper in regards to our Sierra Madre City Council election. Perhaps if Professor Goss had known about any of this beforehand he wouldn't have been so quick to include the news on his postcard.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The SMPOA and Sierra Madre's Deceptive Utility Tax Measure

Back in 2008 Sierra Madre was faced with particularly difficult negotiations with its local outpost of the Police Officers' Association. The Sierra Madre Police Department, traditionally amongst the lowest paid PDs in the San Gabriel Valley, had become restive as of late, and demanded that they be brought to within at least a few city blocks of their brethren from the neighboring cities. And backed by the 120 city strong Police Officers' Association, a Southern California public employee union not noted for turning the other cheek, the SMPD had become quite militant in its negotiating approach.

The result was that the Sierra Madre City Council crumbled, giving the Police Department a substantial raise and a series of evolving unfunded benefit increases. The spin presented to the community during what was an election season in town was that this is an historic agreement between the City and its most troublesome union. Complete with press releases grandly proclaiming it to be "peace in our time." The Mayor at the time, Enid Joffe, was later held responsible by the voters and summarily fired at the polls.

But it was not peace. Rather this was a complete capitulation by the sitting City Council, and one that brought precious little labor serenity. The SMPOA went on to file a long series of onerous lawsuits against the City of Sierra Madre, which went on to cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses and settlements. There are some lawsuits that are still active today, and still costing the City money it now no longer has.

These lawsuits were seen as being a rather galling act of ingratitude by many residents. The SMPOA's raise had been funded by a near 100% increase in the Utility Users' Tax, something had been approved by Sierra Madre's voters at the polls. The taxpayers had dug deep, had shown themselves to be generous, and the SMPOA turned around and sued them and their City repeatedly for their trouble. Obviously they are no friend to the taxpayers.

There was a catch to the Utility Users' Tax increase, however. Thanks to the foresight of the minority faction on the 2008 City Council, a Sunset Clause was included. And in order to keep the UUT rate at the 10% necessary to meet it's obligations to the SMPOA, it would have to be put before the voters once again. And this April 10th is when that happens.

City Hall, having grown quite dependent upon the General Fund revenue a 10% UUT affords it, found itself in a quandary. How precisely would they be able to keep this cash flow intact in a town that might not fall for the same thing twice? Despite a beefed up police force, crime was still a big factor, and several highly notorious high profile crimes remained unsolved. Including one involving a convicted child pornographer who, due to the City's inaction, continues to freely walk the streets today. Plus there was the matter of all those SMPOA lawsuits that followed the last time the UUT was on the ballot.

Their solution was to write a ballot initiative that would not mention the Police Department at all. Here is how Measure 12-1 has been worded:

12-1 Utility User's Tax Advisory Measure: Shall an Ordinance be adopted amending the City's existing Utility Users' Tax to continue the existing 10% tax, subject to a potential increase of 12% on July 1, 2013, in order to maintain general City services such as public safety, including paramedic programs ...

A couple of points. Should Sierra Madre's UUT be increased to 12%, it would be the highest rate in the State of California. Also, the UUT in Sierra Madre is a General Fund tax, and there is nothing that requires any of the money raised to be spent on Paramedics. Sierra Madre has only one ambulance, and it in no way commands anywheres near the 53% of the General Fund the Police Department receives.

Why no mention of the Police Department in the Measure? After all, they are the ones who would get most of any utility tax hike. Perhaps the current City Council didn't think they would make as fine a poster boy, and focused their deceptive language on our one ambulance Paramedic services instead. Who do one heck of a job with their one vehicle, by the way.

And what of the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association? What is their strategy in 2012? They now have three candidates on the ballot, Colin Braudrick, Eugene Goss and John Harabedian. And this lawsuit happy public employee union is going door to door to support both them and that 12% UUT rate. As is always the case with the SMPOA, there is no peace in our time. At least not until there isn't any tax money left to be had, or politicians to buy. They obviously want complete access and the control that comes with it.

Here is what this election is really about. Do we want a City Council with a majority that owes its election to a police union that continues to sue this City repeatedly? A City Council that is completely capable of taking our utility taxes to 12%, the highest in the state? Because, beholden as they will be, these new City Council members will do just that. And for the benefit of the union that got them there.

Sierra Madre is at a turning point. Do we remain the small independent City we are today? Or do we become just another Los Angeles County jurisdiction governed by an unholy alliance of public employee unions and the compliant politicians they control?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

City Is Investigating Harabedian "Law Enforcement" Postcard

Our sometimes pals over at the Sierra Madre Patch have an article up about our article (click here), which is good to see. And now we get to return the favor. The free exchange of information being alive and well in Sierra Madre.

Apparently the revelations we posted yesterday regarding the suspected inappropriate political use by City Council candidate John Harabedian of a photo showing Sierra Madre Police Department officers in what appears to be PD uniforms has raised a significant level of concern in this community. And because of this concern the story is now beginning to show up on competing media outlets as well. In other words, this one is starting to get legs.

And judging by what Patch is reporting, the City of Sierra Madre is also taking this matter quite seriously.

... Sierra Madre's Public Information Officer Elisa Weaver said that the City is reviewing the photo. "We are aware of the situation and we're looking into it," said Weaver, adding that she has seen the image.

The word is that City Hall received quite a few calls on this matter yesterday, with many residents phoning in to express their dismay at seeing this City's police force being used in Harabedian's campaign materials as political props. The suspicion being it's an obvious ploy to convince people that this particular candidate is favored by the SMPD over some of the other candidates. Resident concern is certainly understandable given the strong political divide in this community. It would be highly inappropriate for the Sierra Madre Police Department to be taking sides here. After all, the SMPD is not a private militia.

In the Patch article Harabedian contests the notion that Corporal Esther Doyle and Police Officer Ed Delcoure appeared in his campaign material wearing their uniforms. Something which would be in clear violation California of state laws on the matter.

"Neither of the police officers were on duty or in uniform," said Harabedian. "They're both complying with the law; neither of them violated the law in either way."

Today we've posted a picture of a Sierra Madre Police Officer in his officially issued uniform at the top of this article. What I am asking you to do is to go to yesterday's post and compare the uniform of that officer with the one being worn by Corporal Esther Doyle in the Harrabedian for City Council 2012 postcard photo. To me there appear to be some striking similarities. The SMPD police patch and whatever chevrons that may have been there are apparently airbrushed out, plus in one the sleeves are short, but beyond that the two uniforms look alike to me.

Harabedian, in an unfortunate lapse into "too much information syndrome" (I credit it to stress), comes close to inadvertently confirming this.

Harabedian said that Delcoure and Doyle are simply wearing dark shirts and pants. "They're not wearing badges, patches or stripes," said Harabedian.

Somehow I feel that this "simply wearing dark shirts and pants" quote is going to come back to haunt John. As you can see in the photo we posted yesterday, Officer Delcoure is obviously wearing a badge of some sort. And both officers are equipped with what appear to be some of the police accoutrements that are standard issue for an SMPD officer. Such as a holster. Which I suspect didn't just come with the pants, or is being worn as a fashion statement.

Whether the removal of arm patches will be enough to skirt some pretty serious state laws on this matter remains to be seen. We eagerly await the results of the City's investigation.

And then there is the matter of intent to deceive. Clearly the impression that Harabedian wishes to convey with his "law enforcement really likes me" postcard is that he is standing in Goldberg Park with two Sierra Madre Police Department officers discussing some very important public safety issues. And that this needs to be taken by the voters to mean he is the one that has been selected as being the most worthy by the Police of this town.

An impression that Harabedian attempts to reinforce with a laudatory message supplied on his campaign postcard, strategically placed right next to the photo of himself and the two SMPD officers.

Harabedian worked as a local government policy analyst specializing in public safety policy. This experience, along with his legal background have garnered Harabedian the support of our local law enforcement.

This has also become something of an issue in town. Is Harabedian really being supported by the Sierra Madre Police Department? In an attempt to clear up some of the misconceptions about SMPD political endorsements, interim Sierra Madre Police Chief Larry Giannone has now spoken out on this matter.

The SMPOA is the union representation and that is different from the Police Department. The Government Code prohibits the City or Departments from "encouraging a 'yes' or 'no' vote on any measure or a vote for or against any candidate."

Employee Associations, such as the POA, are allowed to endorse and financially contribute to a political cause or candidate. There are guidelines on how and when officers can participate on political issues.

This information from Chief Giannone should pretty much clear up any misunderstandings on the topic of SMPD endorsements. Though he obviously wishes everyone to believe otherwise, and has spent considerable money to create that impression, John Harabedian has not in any way, shape or form been endorsed by the Sierra Madre Police Department. Nor by the Water Department, Development Services, or Pet Control for that matter.

What John Harabedian has been endorsed by is the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association, which is a union. A particularly litigious one that has sued the City of Sierra Madre repeatedly over the last few years, costing us $100s of thousands of dollars in legal fees, settlements, and increased payments to the insurer. These lawsuits continue even today.

The SMPOA is hardly a friend to the Sierra Madre taxpayer. For the life of me I cannot understand why Harabedian would consider this to be of some political advantage to him. It seems obvious that the SMPOA's big concerns in this campaign are the two UUT Measures, and the very real possibility of our utility taxes going up to a California highest 12%. They want that extra tax money for raises and improved benefits, and their endorsement of John Harabedian was given because they believe he will deliver for them. Which is why they are actively campaigning for both John and the UUT Measures.

Believe it or not, in the end it really is about the money. Isn't it always?

At the end of the Patch article there is a comment from a Tricia A. She pretty much nails it, and I thought I would repost her remarks here.

These are not dark suits as Harabedian claims. These are obviously police uniforms with the Sierra Madre PD patch photoshopped out. You can clearly see the female officer's name tag and the male officer's badge. Trying to convince us otherwise is Harabedian calling us stupid. I expect better from someone looking to represent me on the City Council. John also needs to address his statement claiming to have the support from the local police force as stated in his mailer. Has the Sierra Madre Police Department endorsed him? The SMPD is different than the SM Police Officer's Union which has endorsed him.

Despite John Harabedian's claims to the contrary, this has now become a "real issue." One that is resonating far more widely than the "who's your leader?" meme he has been spending so much money to push.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

John Harabedian's "Law Enforcement Endorsement" Postcard: Is It Legal?

You might have received a postcard or two in the mail from John Harabedian over the last week or so. He is, as most everyone here knows, running for one of the two 4 year seats on the Sierra Madre City Council. And, flush with cash from his very successful out of town campaign fundraising drive, has been able to get a few of them out. There is a lot a candidate can do when you have plenty of money to spend.

The postcard we are interested in today is a larger two-sided affair containing a couple of very simple messages. Apparently John does not believe that the average Sierra Madre voter is capable of much in the way of complex thought. The front of this card shows John's smiling face, with the legend "A Sensible Leader For Sierra Madre's Future" emblazoned beside it.

However, for our purposes today we are interested in what we can find on the back of this card. There are two parts to it. The upper half discusses the education he received here, and his family's role in it. But the lower half of the card is where all the controversy is to be found. Here is what's to be read there:

Harabedian worked as a local government policy analyst specializing in public safety policy. This experience, along with his legal background, have garnered Harabedian the support of our local law enforcement.

It is important to understand that John Harabedian has received the endorsement of the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association, which is the local offshoot of the 120 cities strong Police Officers Association. A union that is famous for both its tough take no prisoners negotiating style and its reliance on lawsuits to get its way. Sierra Madre has felt the sting of the POA often as it has sued us repeatedly. Some of those lawsuits continue even today. And at the cost of many $10s of thousands of dollars to we the beleaguered taxpayers.

Pictured with Harabedian on his postcard (we've cropped this shot from the card and included it above), are Sierra Madre Police Officer Ed Delcoure, the current President of the SMPOA, and Corporal Esther Doyle, Vice President of the SMPOA. Note that they are both wearing uniforms.

You might wonder why Harabedian would simply say he is supported by "local law enforcement." After all, he is pictured with two apparently uniformed officers of the Sierra Madre Police Department. But there is a reason for this. California law prohibits actual Police Departments from getting involved in campaigns on an official level, or endorsing political candidates. California Government Code, in this case Section 3302 (a), also expressly prohibits Police Officers from appearing on things such as campaign postcards dressed in their uniforms.

If you click here you will be taken to an article entitled "Police Officer Employee Rights in California." There is a section that deals with "political activity." Here is what it says about today's topic:

A police officer has the right to pursue public office and participate in politics. However, a police officer must be off duty when engaging in political activities in the state of California. In addition, a police officer must be out of uniform before participating in political meetings or functions. A police officer may not wear her uniform while campaigning for public office or while supporting a political candidate.

It seems apparent that by appearing on a John Harabedian for City Council 2012 campaign postcard, Officer Delcoure and Corporal Doyle are indeed engaging in political activity. Done in support of a political candidate that they, as the SMPOA's executive leadership, have endorsed. And, unfortunately for them, they also appear to be wearing their police uniforms.

California Government Code Sections 3300-3313 can be accessed by clicking here. The relevant portion of this Government Code is Section 3302 (a).

3302. (a) Except as otherwise provided by law, or whenever on duty or in uniform, no public safety officer shall be prohibited from engaging, or be coerced or required to engage, in political activity.

Seems pretty clear to me. Police Officers cannot participate in political activity when dressed in their uniforms. Which these two Sierra Madre Police Officers certainly do look like they're doing on John Harabedian's campaign postcard.

One irony here is that John Harabedian, during the recent debates, proudly cited his attorney training as a reason to elect him. As a "consumer of much legal product" (a phrase he used to describe Sierra Madre), John informed the attending residents that his fine legal skills would come in quite handy when conducting City business. If elected, he would be the only lawyer on the City Council.

So if Harabedian's legal skill-set is so good, why didn't he inform Officer Ed Delcoure or Corporal Esther Doyle that they could quite possibly be breaking California state law if they appeared in uniform on his campaign material?

Didn't John know? Or if he did, didn't he care?

Kind of reminds me of an old adage. It is always dangerous for the commoner to try and get too close to royalty.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Low Standards, High Excuses

"The truth in Sierra Madre is always a treasure hunt." - posted on yesterday's thread

Nothing seems to fire up a certain segment of Sierra Madre's populace more than the defense of bad work and low standards. Maybe it is out of sympathy for fellow ne'er do wells, or perhaps it's because that side of the political divide has so very many of them. But these folks do come around to visit when one of their own is called out.

You might recall that yesterday we discussed the Measure 12-1 question that appears on our April 10 ballot, and how an unfortunate transposing of words changed its entire meaning. With the now printed and even voted upon outcome suggesting that a "yes" vote on this Measure could lead to a 22% Utility Users' Tax rather than the 12% one supposedly intended. A significant error anywhere, to be sure. But on a ballot question that would lead to higher taxes should it pass? Not what we're looking for.

This inspired one City Hall loyalist to step up and display his advanced communicative and legal skills in defending the low standards of the highly placed offending party. Here is what was said:

The word "of" (rather than the word "to") does indeed appear in the one interrogative sentence SUMMARY of Measure 12-1; however, if Measure 12-1 passes, the summary will not be the ordinance.

If it passes, the actual ordinance will read: "The taxes imposed by this Chapter shall continue at the rate of ten (10) percent, and increase to the rate of twelve (12) percent..." (See Measure 12-1, Ordinance No. 1326, Amending Section 3.36.180 of the Sierra Madre Municipal Code, Sample Ballot for the General Municipal Election at page 13.)

So I guess what Harvard is sharing with us here is that it doesn't really matter what you see on the ballot when you go to vote. When it comes to something like a Measure 12-1 the City could put knock-knock jokes on there and it wouldn't change the outcome of the vote just so long as the actual Ordinance behind it is intact and correct.

That most people are dependent upon ballot questions when voting on something like Measure 12-1, and might not be aware that researching legal documents to find out what is really going on is apparently a required part of the election process here in Sierra Madre, appears to be besides the point.

So, feeling that I was indeed in the presence of someone whose wisdom might be greater than my own, I took his suggestion and went to page 13 of the City of Sierra Madre Sample Ballot for the April 10, 2012 General Municipal Election. And how does the title of this very important exposition read?

Measure 12-1 Utility Users' Tax Advisory Measure - Ordinance No. 1326

Which is, of course, completely wrong. Measure 12-2 is the "advisory measure," Measure 12-1 the actual Ordinance. So in addition to screwing up the Measure 12-1 question on the ballot, City Hall and our highly compensated City Attorney also screwed up the page that describes it.

I'm telling you, the more you look the worse it gets. And who knows if other errors will be found as well.

More City Attorney Shenanigans

As you, a Tattler reader, are probably aware, our City spends a whole lot of cash for legal assistance from the law firm Colantuono and Levin. They are a very expensive bunch, and for our pain we get lawyers who are consistently on the side of big outside interests, and rarely our own. As citizens of Sierra Madre we've become a bit like the condemned man who was forced to pay for his own rope. Figuratively speaking.

And if you factor in the money we also spend with Liebert and Cassidy, the legal firm that assists us in things like fighting all of those POA lawsuits, we're talking somewhere around the half a million dollar range in total yearly legal expenditures. Which where I come from is considered to be serious money.

(Perhaps you received a John Harabedian postcard recently boasting of his POA endorsement for City Council? But I digress.)

Which is why I feel it is important to reprint the following e-mail here. This came to me through the kindness of invisible hands, and firmly affixes the blame on who it is that screwed up both the sample ballot, along with the actual ballot, for Measure 12-1.

What you might want to note here in particular is that City Attorney Teresa Highsmith asks that the ballot language be changed to what we identified yesterday as the 22% question.

From: Teresa L. Highsmith
Sent: Thursday, February 02, 2012 10:47 AM
To: Dan Pabich
Cc: 'Elaine Aguilar'
Subject: RE: Ballot Proof for UUT

Hi Everyone,

Please ignore what the form of resolutions say which are attached to this email. Instead, please make the following changes to the Ballot Proof:

1) In the Measure 12-1 box, correct the date: it needs to read "... potential increase of 12% on July 1, 2013..." (The date on the proof, which says July 1, 2014, is wrong).

2) Remove the "12-1 Advisory Measure Only" box entirely. Measure 12-1 is NOT advisory.

3) Replace the 12-2 box with the "12-2 Advisory Measure Only box and text.

The end result is that there are Two Measures. The first Measure is 12-1, which should read as follows: "Shall an Ordinance be adopted amending the City's existing Utility Users' Tax to continue the existing 10% tax, subject to a potential increase of 12% on July 1, 2013, in order to maintain general City services such as public safety services, including paramedic programs, and to reflect technological advances in communications, continue existing exemptions to low and very low income households, establish new sunset dates and continue a citizen's oversight committee?

The second Measure is 12-2, which is Advisory Only, and should read as follows: "If Measure 12-1, to continue the existing Utility users' Tax of 10%, subject to a potential increase of 12% in July 1, 2013 and establishing new sunset dates, is approved by the voters, should the additional revenue generated by that tax be used to fund public safety services, including paramedic programs?

Please make these changes and send another ballot proof. Thanks!

Now I have to ask you something. Despite the City's assurances that it is the Ordinance itself that counts, and not the way the question is worded on the ballot, do you still feel comfortable voting on ballot language that suggests you could be asked to pay a 22% UUT rate? What if it turns out that the way a ballot question is worded does have some legal bearing? Can you really be completely certain that it doesn't?

It may not be that way, of course. But that is what the ballot says, right? And as you can see from her email above, the City Attorney of the City of Sierra Madre states twice that this description of Measure 12-1 is the correct version.

I'd say you should err on the side of caution with this one.

Bonus Coverage

Pasadena Star News: "Wording in Sierra Madre tax measure called into question" (click here). Our City Attorney says you'll need to figure this one out for yourself.