Mole Speaks: “I’ve been a mole hidden in Sierra Madre city government for many years. On the rare occasions I’ve spoken out, I’ve done so anonymously as a public service.
“As many activists have emphasized, to understand the City Council’s behavior you must follow the money — look at the city’s revenue sources. They explain what the council supports and what it doesn’t.
“Property and utility taxes are the city’s two main revenue sources. Therefore, the council favors whatever maintains or, better yet, increases those revenues. Commercial and residential development boosts revenue from both sources, so there are few instances where the council doesn't favor either type of development.
“No council member wants to get on the wrong side of city employees, whether they’re directly employed or retained by contractors. Crossed employees ostracize any council member who treads on them, rendering the member ineffective and virtually assuring defeat at the polls.
“Council members and candidates give the appearance of supporting the best interests of the residents, but in practice they support the city’s revenue sources. Revenue is largely consumed by employee salaries, benefits and pensions. Compared with the private sector, the city is overly generous with its employee compensation.
“Of course, city employees pursue their self-interest, not the residents’ interests. That’s especially maddening when city employees use the residents’ tax money against them. The employees have the residents and council enablers over a barrel.
“Council members can’t master the many complex issues, so they depend on the employees for information, analysis and guidance. That tilts the playing field toward the employees’ agenda. Whether or not employees who abuse that advantage last long in their jobs depends on the council members’ and the city manager’s inclinations.
“No City Council wants to preside over bankruptcy or even a decline in revenue and surplus, so the solvency ball keeps rolling. The council has to walk a fine line between keeping city employees happy and not arousing too much resident anger.”