Being the kind of guy I am, I filled out the form letter provided by Transparent California.com and sent it off to Sierra Madre's City Manger, Elaine Aguilar. Obviously the request made by that website was perfectly legit, and by not complying with their request our City Hall was in clear violation of California's Public Records Act. Specifically CPRA 6253.9 which states “records must be provided in their original, electronic format when requested as such.”
This is what I sent to Elaine:
Please obey California's public records law - As a concerned California resident, I am writing to let you know that you should obey California's public records law, California's Govt. Code §§ 6250-6270, and fulfill the public records request you have previously received from Transparent California. Please email the records to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the reply I received back from Ms. Aguilar:
On July 11th, the City of Sierra Madre notified Transparent California that the records were available, after receiving a request for the records to be provided electronically (verses "hard copies") -- the records were provided on July 15, 2013; and Transparent California responded indicating that they had received the information. I wanted to let you know that the City of Sierra Madre had responded in compliance with the California public records law. Last week we noticed that they were indicating that the City had not responded, so we resent the information. Thank you, Elaine
Unfortunately, the devil is once again in the details. And as is the case with much of what our City Manager tells us, we have been thrown something of a curve ball. So I got in touch with Robert Fellner, who is project manager at Transparent California. I wanted to hear their side of the story.
I forwarded to Robert the note I had received from Elaine, and he kindly provided me with an email trail between Transparent California.com and City Hall extending over eight months.
Here are the two e-mails of most interest to us today. Note Elaine's pique.
I am forwarding a long chain of emails which provides evidence that the City of Sierra Madre provided the information you requested. Your own email (July 15th at 9:52 am) states that you received the information requested. However, the current Transparent California website indicates that Sierra Madre “refused to provide the information”. This statement is inaccurate and misleading to the public. Sierra Madre provided the information in a timely manner and in compliance with the law. Please refrain from publishing untrue statements about the City and I respectfully request that reference be retracted from the website.
Additionally, just to follow-up, I am aware that the data was resent to you last week; but we have not received confirmation that you received the re-sent data.
Lastly, if I should be directing my email to someone else at Transparent California, please provide the contact information. Sincerely, Elaine Aguilar City Manager
Elaine was quite obviously upset because we had posted the Transparent California.com noncompliance notification here on The Tattler. The one stating that her City Hall had refused to comply with California's Public Records Act. Something that had been revealed on the TCC site, and for all to see. It was not the result she'd hoped for.
Mr. Fellner was having none of that. He shot back the following e-mail to Elaine:
Ms. Aguilar, The requested records were provided to us a few days ago by a Ms. Cox, they will be uploaded to the site as soon as is possible.
The thread you sent me demonstrates what is, at the very least, a violation of California’s Public Records Act in spirit, if not the letter of the law, by refusing to provide a copy of the requested record in its original, electronic format. As is made explicitly clear in § 6253.9(a).
I would not be particularly proud of that exchange. Especially in light of the fact that the requested format was provided in less than 24 hours when we followed up this time around. Sincerely, Robert Fellner - Project Manager, Transparent California
Please note that it was only after we revealed this situation here on The Tattler earlier this month that the City of Sierra Madre finally complied with state transparency laws and correctly sent Transparent California the information they had requested.
Elaine had apparently refused to provide the documents in the required format for months. This is a direct violation of CPRA 6253.9, which, as I noted above, states “records must be provided in their original, electronic format when requested as such.” Obviously, the PDF conversion she sent back in July of 2013 was not in the original format. In other words, the records Elaine provided were conversions, not originals, and as such a violation of State Law.
The distinction is important because by sending employee salary and benefits in an unusable format, Transparent Caifornia.com would find it nearly impossible to post that information to their site. State law requires that this kind of information be sent in a way that can actually be used. Raising the suspicion that there might be something in that information our City Manager would prefer not be made available to the public.
In other words, the purpose was to thwart the purpose of TCC's request – to upload Sierra Madre's salary and benefits information onto a public online database.
Personally I am not surprised by this. I have sent several PRA requests to Elaine, only to receive a lot of inconsequential nonsense in return. Most of it in the form of email giving her opinions about my request. Our beloved City Hall, which likes to claim it is as transparent as they can possibly be, is about as opaque as a mud puddle when it comes to sharing information they'd prefer that you not know about.
So here is the big question:
Why did City Hall try so hard to keep this information hidden?
It seems possible to me that this was done because there's something going on in Sierra Madre that any sentient taxpayer should be outraged about. Here is how Robert Fellner put it in an e-mail to me on Tuesday.
Chris Cimino, the Deputy Policy Works Director with a base pay of $81,493 received a health insurance plan that cost $36,175 in 2012.
Jose Reynoso’s plan cost over $37,800. This is disgusting. This is what your taxes are being used for.
That is the most expensive health insurance plan I’ve ever seen. And we have covered every City, County, School, and College in the State.
I knew things were bad, but not quite that bad. As taxpayers paying the highest overall utility taxes in California, it seems quite obvious that things are extremely out of whack here. But this?
It has always been my belief that Measure UUT, which for all intents and purposes will raise our utility taxes a full 25% next year over what the voters decided in April of 2012, is about funding employee benefits and pensions. And not all of that nonsense we've been hearing from the likes of Goss and Green. Now we have some clear proof.
More from Robert Fellner:
Jennifer Kay Peterson – Admin Assistant was paid $35,000 for 2012. Her health plan alone was $33,500.
I have filtered the data to include only Full Time employees. I have omitted anyone whose “Base Pay” is below the “Average Salary minimum” as well as eliminating those with the phrase “Part-Time” in their job description and those who receive neither a health care plan or retirement contribution of any kind.
We are left with 53 full time employees. Average compensation (salary plus retirement contributions and health insurance) for these full time employees is $102,376. I got to imagine that is much higher than average taxpayer’s income in your town.
As Robert also pointed out to me, the City Manager of Beverly Hills receives $31,000 in health benefits. This was previously the highest they had ever seen for a health insurance plan. That is, before they looked into Sierra Madre.
Think about it. An administrative assistant in Sierra Madre gets more money for her health plan than the City Manager of Beverly Hills. As it is with our utility taxes, we are once again paying the highest amounts of any city in the state.
You are invited to read all about it yourself on the TransparentCalifornia.com website by clicking here.
Somehow I think we're about to become famous.