Fears Manifested... (Amended)***
I'll give them this much. This current council majority never ceases to surprise me. I have learned, though, that it's always worth the wait if you stick around until the very end of any meeting because something VERY important is going to be said by one of them. Usually, as was the case last night, it was by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer. You can watch the entire proceeding on the streaming video feed HERE.
A QUORUM, BARELY
The special study session held in council chambers began shortly after 4:30 and went nearly twice as long as anticipated. It finally was adjourned at a little after 8:00 p.m. Mayor Gary Monahan never made it to the meeting, but Eric Bever did. He's batting .500 for meetings this year so far. Wendy Leece bailed out half-way through the meeting, heading for the red-eye flight east to attend her daughter's graduation from Marine boot camp, leaving a quorum of Righeimer, Bever and non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger to flesh out the most important part of the meeting.
Approximately 30 people were in attendance, about half of which were staff. Several of the "usual suspects", concerned residents who actually take the time to study the issues and address them with the council, stepped up to offer suggestions. One particularly grumpy old fella with a prison release haircut - a guy who operates a blog in town - left after speaking to the council during public comments, apparently feeling that there would be nothing else important to be heard. The remainder of us residents stuck around for most of the meeting, but there were only a half-dozen left at the end. The rest missed the punchline. (See below)
RECORD OF ACCOUNTABILITY
The first half of the meeting was taken up by Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young's presentation of the draft Financial and Budget Policies Document. The staff report is HERE. Young made it clear that the creation of this document was to provide a "record of accountability" as the city moved forward.
SO MANY NUMBERS
The subsequent discussion wrestled with various fund balance issues and how to plan for essential capital improvements. Since this is only a study session and the council can only give direction to staff, few "hard" numbers were agreed upon. The staff will take the data provided and cobble together a final version of this document, including the specific numbers, for the council to approve at a near-future meeting.
Then they tackled the second, and most interesting, segment, the Five Year Financial Forecast and Capital Reinvestment Strategy. You can read that staff report HERE. This is when my worst fears about these guys were clearly demonstrated.
RIGHEIMER AT THE HELM
Righeimer continued to run the meeting - Monahan's absence put him in charge - and he clearly had his own ideas about what the outcome was going to be.
FRUSTRATED BY "UNKNOWNS"
Much time was spent discussing the fact that some "assumptions" must be made to work through the 5-year planning process. This was obviously very frustrating for some of them, Mensinger in particular. He wanted hard numbers when it is, literally, impossible to provide them. There are too many unknowns - revenues, for example, tend to fluctuate over a 5-year span. And, of course, we have the element of the employee contracts, each of which will come up for renewal during this period.
PULLING NUMBERS FROM THE AIR
Finally, they tried to navigate through Attachment #2, which was a spread sheet showing 22 separate line items with some projected numbers included for the next five fiscal years. This was a fascinating exercise because they just pulled numbers out of the air to fill in some of the blanks and, in the process, added tens of millions of dollars to the eventual totals on that sheet. This is very important to know, as you will soon see.
GO FOR IT ALL
As they moved through this process I could see the scenario unfolding. For example, following on with Righeimer's suggestion that, in the case of employee pension contributions, because we really don't know what kind of pension contribution will be in place following the next contract expiration, we shouldn't assume any number, Mensinger said: "I think what Mayor Pro Tem Righeimer is saying is if we're going to show it, and we don't know what's going to happen, then let's just show the maximum as opposed to what it is. 'Cause, let's assume the best. If we're going to look at the goodness of the hearts in the negotiation process, let's make sure we look at the maximum." That "goodness of the hearts" crack was clearly a stab at the employees, implying that they might not negotiate in good faith and pay the maximum permitted by CalPERS, and would then have a number "imposed" on them.
RIGHEIMER DELIVERS THE PUNCH LINE
So, after orchestrating the addition of tens of millions of dollars to the five-year plan, Righeimer wrapped up this segment with the following statement: (quoted verbatim)
"We've got a pension cost that's about 18 million a year about 3 million, or two and half million, picked up by employees. The goal that Governor Brown talks about is to get 50% of that paid for by employees. And so, if it's 18 million, that would be 9 million and we can find a lot of the dollars that we need in there. Can we get there? Is that feasible? Will it work? I have no clue if it will happen or not. But we need to figure out what that number is and by continually putting in numbers that make no sense it doesn't work, so we have to, we have contracted for, and then if we can't get contracted, what we can impose, or whatever, but some how we've got to close that gap. And in the end this number's going to come out negative. We have to find it somewhere. It's going to come out of salaries and benefits. So, we've got to figure that out. And if that means outsourcing or whatever else we have to get those costs down, we'll get those costs down."
***(Video clip added 2/1/12)
FILLING POTHOLES WITH EMPLOYEE PENSIONS
Bingo! Any employee representative viewing that performance would get the message loud and clear. They're saying that potholes, alleys and other infrastructure improvements are much more important than employees, and that they're going to load up the budget beginning next year with things THEY WANT, then pay for it using salaries and benefits reductions or staff reductions using their bogus outsourcing scheme.
And, there was no sign of any interest in a conciliatory resolution to this issue. No, this is going to be hand-to-hand combat with this group. To look conciliatory would demonstrate weakness to their pals in the OC GOP hierarchy, so they're in full frontal assault mode.
MID-YEAR BUDGET REVIEW COMING UP
The mid-year budget review, that would normally take place in January, will occur in February. That will be very interesting, since it's my understanding that we're in pretty darn good shape budget-wise this year, too. You'll recall that, although this council cried poverty from the rooftops, we actually had a nearly $4 million budget surplus at the end of the last fiscal year.
CHARTER MAY EQUAL CORRUPTION
I was left feeling very apprehensive and frustrated. Apprehensive because their performance at this meeting gave me a clear indication of what life will be like if they manage to get the current version of Righeimer's Charter passed this June. It has woefully insufficient safeguards built into it to protect the City from corruption. For example, I could see Righeimer and Mensinger salivating about the prospect of buying our "problem" motels and selling off the property - to developers, at a loss! What a surprise, huh?
KEYS TO THE BURGLAR
Passing Righeimer's Charter would be like handing the keys to the castle to a bunch of burglars. Without proper safeguards built in they won't have to worry about playing by the rules - they'll make up the rules as they go along.
FRUSTRATED BECAUSE NO OPPOSITION IS IN SIGHT
And, I was frustrated because I don't see anyone yet willing to step up to challenge Mensinger and Monahan for their seats, nor to run for Bever's open slot. That probably means OC GOP shill Colin McCarthy will win that one, which would result in an even more developer-dominated, untrustworthy council than we have right now.
FIRST THE CHARTER, THEN THE COUNCIL
So, I guess the only thing to do right now is to stop the Charter in June, then deal with the council.