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VIB is proud to present our coverage of the rough and wild world of Vallejo City Council.  Who was there? What happened? AND What does it mean?  Stay tuned for our constant ongoing coverage and analysis.  We are watching!!  (expect installments a couple days after each meeting)

Vallejo City Council  

December 17+18, 2007 



By Katy Miessner 
(Aging Disco Queen--Intrepid Reporter--Financial Expert)

Don't understand something?  Send us a question. We'll post the question and an answer!     

Article Launched:12/20/07

contact:  aging.disco.queen@gmail.com  


 

 Monday, December 17 Study Session & Tuesday December 18 City Council Meeting

This report combines the Monday study session with the Tuesday council meeting because arguments brought forward from particular council members on Tuesday were quite illuminating.  And why didn’t they not ask their questions and/or raise their concerns on Monday during the study session, when the audience would have a chance to question them?  More on that below…

The Budget Study Session at the last minute scheduled for Monday at 5:00 pm had both city finance staff and residents scrambling - staff to be prepared and residents to get there. 

Although I was annoyed that this was scheduled with such short notice, the overall discussion turned out to be illuminating and the finance staff were very clear. They are doing an incredible job under what must be very stressful conditions.  The finance staff worked up to the minute the meeting started—and they also worked all weekend—and they did not even have time to make handouts. So the meeting recessed while staff did frenzied copying.  Not a good use of their or our time.  I just hope this is the last time a meeting as important as this is called in such short notice because accurate accounting requires time for composed analysis and that gets difficult when staff has to scramble to prepare for a meeting – especially one that is also highly politicized.

The study session started with an introduction by Craig Whittom – he set the stage for budget discussions with the council and labor unions. 

The presentation painted a bleak picture of where the City is headed if everything remains the same: no cuts to public safety (they won’t have it) and no new revenues: gloomy financial projections based on housing market slump, looming state deficits, and the recent prediction from Alan Greenspan that the economy has a 50% chance of going into recession. 

Our ominous financial picture shows that in 2 ½ years the City will be in debt by $22.6 million—by June 30, 2010 (Should the City play the lottery?). 

This explains the direction we are headed in:  The City’s deficits are like balances on a credit card, and the “reserves” are like savings accounts.

 

Ø                  At the end of the fiscal year, Vallejo had $4.2 million in reserve (the savings account basically)

Ø                  This year, it is projected that we will bring in $82.9 million in revenue, but spend $88.1 million – we will spend $5.2 million more than what we earn.  The City will have to use up the $4.2 million in the savings account, and put $1 million dollars on a credit card.

Ø                  Next year, the City will bring $82.8 million in revenue, but spend $93.0 million –spending $10.2 million more than what we earn.  Since there are no savings left, the entire $10.2 million overspend will all go on the credit card, giving us a new balance of $11.2 million that we owe.

Ø                  In 2009/10, the City will bring $86.1 million in revenue, but spend a whopping $97.5 million – spending $11.4 million more than what we earn.  Since there are no savings left, the entire $11.4 million overspend will all go on the credit card, giving us a new balance of $22.6 million that we owe.

And these overspends are in large part due to the Public Safety contracts – they make up 76% of the budget this year, and based on their contracted exorbitant raises—they already got 10% this year and they might get more!—by 2010 they will make up 100% of the budget, with literally NOTHING to spend on pothole repair, senior services, non-profits.

Alan Davis, the crackpot lawyer for the Fire Union: the Henke/Riley gang—the folks that are eating away at our entire General Fund budget, told the Times Herald that he doesn’t believe the deficit exists. He is still under the delusion that the city is hiding money.

Mr. Alan Davis, here’s the question to you (as David Corbett so insightfully asked at Tuesday’s Community Forum): 

If the City is hiding money, who’s hiding it?  Who exactly are you accusing of this offense? Finance Director Stout?  City Manager Joe Tanner?  Mayor Osby Davis?   

Alan Davis, would you say this in court? 

No, of course Alan Davis wouldn’t because he would be thrown out on his ear.  Every other department has given, given, given.  Alan Davis is merely attempting to divert attention from the fact that his pals Henke/Riley from the 1186 Fire Union (And Steve Gordon from the Police Union who is always willing to go along for the ride) are the only ones left with cash.  By 2010, with the exorbitant increases to these unions’ salaries, there will be only enough money in the general fund to pay for public safety salaries. 

And contrary to what Alan Davis may think, there are very smart folks in our City who are paying attention and understand the dire fiscal situation we are in.  A big thanks to all of them who made it out in very short notice to an early meeting in the middle of the holiday season to express their concerns.  And big thanks to those who were there on Tuesday as well, since that turned out to be the more crucial meeting to attend.  Below are their comments, from Monday and Tuesday, with answers from staff. 

 

OUT OF THE GATE, HANNIGAN GOES AFTER A “FIRE UNION CRITIC”

Council member Erin Hannigan—who garnered vast support from the Firefighter Union and from Fire Union VP and Fire Captain Jon Riley—made many promises on the campaign trail that she understood the City budget.  She was trained all weekend on the city budget but on Tuesday night she started off by saying she was confused and didn’t understand it.  Is Hannigan getting lessons from Sunga?

If she did not understand the budget, why did she not ask questions on Monday night during the Study Session? Or over the weekend?  Is it because she did not want the audience to be aware of her motives? Seems Hannigan (Riley-igan?) was trained very well – bring out the knives long after public comment is closed. 

Hannigan said she was uncomfortable because some proposed reductions weren’t specifically identified: Hello???? Again, what was she doing all weekend? Wasting the Finance Staff’s time apparently.

It was quite apparent that Hannigan was after one of the two “Fire Union Critics” within the Fire Department: Budget Analyst Patty Keener.  (Keener, if folks recall, was sued by her “colleague”, Asst Fire Chief Kurt Henke and President of the Fire Union, for defamation of character).

The City moved Keener over to the Finance Department in order to have her do some non-Fire Department work so that the City could charge her time to other funds and save some General Fund money.  It was quite apparent from Hannigan’s comments that she was going after Keener – wanting to have her laid off.  Hannigan was also interested in getting non-IAFF vacant positions added back that had been removed to create saving.  Show us the money Council member Hannigan.

So Hannigan was uncomfortable approving this budget: She seems to be shirking her fiduciary responsibility. Fiduciary responsibility is the highest standard of care, or prudence and caution, required of a Council member.  In her role as a fiduciary, Council member Hannigan (and all others) is expected to be extremely loyal to her constituents (hello: not just those who voted for her or those who donated to her campaign) to whom she owes the responsibility.  Council member Hannigan (and all others) must not put her personal interests before her responsibility, and must not profit from her position as a fiduciary. (Definition courtesy of Wikipedia)

Ø      This includes the promise of campaign donations, past, present and future.  

Luckily for all, Tanner said that not approving the budget was not catastrophic because the cuts were already implemented internally.

 

FIRE FIGHTERS COULD GET A RAISE EVEN BIGGER THAN 10%!

Council member Wilson – at least understanding his role – suggested offering policy decisions that could address the deficit problem. But then he just didn’t offer any policy items….

Instead, Wilson nitpicked, like Hannigan, Bartee & Sunga.  He asked why the recent Firefighters Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increase hadn’t been paid to the Fire Department employees (uh, because we have no money, man—and smoke two joints in the morning).

Wilson was slightly more discreet than his IAFF 1186 counterparts Bartee and Hannigan.  Stout told Wilson that they were waiting for information from two other cities (the firefighter contract requires we compare our FF salaries with 14 other cities) before adding the recent contractually obligated increase, since it would be so much work to add yet another increase because they all go way back to July (WHAT? More firefighter raises as we go bankrupt?  Can someone say “Franz Kafka?”—and who’s the cockroach?)

Apparently we are waiting for two other cities to determine if the Firefighters get yet another raise THIS YEAR above the 10% they already are guaranteed to receive!

Wilson then asked about how the Fire Department overtime was budgeted.  Finance Director Stout made it very clear that this year’s Fire Department overtime was budgeted adequately based on prior years’ actual expense.  In past years, overtime was underestimated by ex-Fire Chief Parker and the Fire Department went way over budget – by more than a million dollars (in part due to Fire Union officials’ abuse of “Union Business Leave”).  The Finance Staff wanted to make sure that this year Firefighter overtime would not result in huge overspends. Wilson said he was “just trying to get a handle on what we’re doing here.”

 

WHO’S AT THE DAIS?  BARTEE OR HENKE? WE CAN’T TELL

Council member “Bartenke” (Bartee channeling Kurt Henke, President of the Fire Union and Asst Fire Chief for the City of Vallejo) was much more contrite with staff this night—maybe he’s read my prior columns?  I give him this at least.  I still would not want Finance Director Rob Stout’s job…insults from Council members (and Fire Union lawyers) with insinuations of hiding information when he and his staff are struggling to present budgets in the most dire situation in the history of California cites just doesn’t cut it, especially considering Rob Stout’s stellar resume!

 

After hemming and hawing (maybe a little nervous about what he was about to regurgitate from Henke?) and making some lame, unclear and unsubstantiated observations to support his idea, Bartenke offered an alternate proposal:

 

Ø      Eliminate Fire Chief for six months

Ø      Have the Police Chief assume both roles for six months

Ø      Eliminate the Deputy Fire Chief for six months

Ø      Eliminate the $100K for the union arbitration and apply it to prior cuts to community based organizations (CBO’s)

Ø      Limit overtime, except for police & fire (ha-ha).

 

Bartenke’s proposed cuts to Fire and Police Administration would conveniently get rid of Interim Fire Chief Russ Sherman, a “Fire Union Critic” (named as such by the incendiary (get the pun?) Times-Herald).  Bartenke suggested completely gutting the Fire Department Administration, placing Police Chief Nicholini with the responsibility of overseeing both Police and Fire. 

Oh, but only for sixth months.  Enough time to leave the Fire Chief position vacant while Henke/Riley/Alan Davis ensure that Sherman is gone and then they hand-pick a new lackey Chief, just like they hand-picked the inept Parker, the very Chief who allowed them to drink and carouse on City time. Yeah, right.

And then Bartenke suggested growing the Fire Department by proposing that the non-union Fire Department jobs (now vacant and slated for elimination) be absorbed by the Union.  Here’s my suggestion: only if the Fire Department can issue building permits, because with the costs of this ill-considered proposal, there would be no money left for a Planning Department. 

And wait a minute – first Bartenke wants to cut the Fire Department administrative staff to “save money” because “we are asked to vote on a million dollar deficit” and then he goes on to suggest adding back these other four positions?  Just how much would adding THESE cost the City?  Bartenke’s motives—carrying the Fire Union’s water—was quite apparent. And how much exactly are we supposed to save?

As speaker Alan Wildermuth keenly pointed out, Bartenke’s proposal was not simply an amendment but a completely new resolution, because Bartenke’s amendment was so different than what staff had proposed.  Wildermuth argued that this was not allowable, because the public would not be given the opportunity to understand the impacts and make comments about them—and the staff didn’t even have a chance to analyze it to see if it was even plausible! 

Bartenke throws out some crazy back-of-the-envelope scheme that he and Henke probably worked out over the weekend, and he expects it to even be taken seriously?  The audience was obviously agitated and was not going to have it.  Several cards were submitted that were NOT heard because the public comment section was closed, so we all spoke right afterwards in Community Forum, including Wildermuth.

 

SUNGA UNDERSTANDS THE BUDGET – HOORAY!

Sound the town bells!  Sunga was able to understand the budget!  But he had questions about—guess what?—Fire Department personnel.  He wants to know why Fire Dept Code Enforcement was eliminated and what impact it would have on the General Fund, since Code Enforcement generates revenue. Sunga was told this job was not eliminated but moved into the Planning Department’s Code Enforcement Department to fill another vacancy.  Good question from Sunga—I am happy to know that he understands the connection between staff costs and revenue certain positions generate.

Sunga also asked about the Emergency Preparedness part-time Administrative Assistant. This job was eliminated two years ago; I guess Sunga just noticed.

Sunga then went on to say he was “uncomfortable” approving a budget that wasn’t balanced, and said he wanted to see Bartenke’s amendment approve because “we could have a balanced budget to pass.” I was simply stunned by this comment!  Sunga doesn’t want to approve an unbalanced budget but he takes Bartenke’s amendment at face value???? Sunga’s attempt at due diligence is CLEARLY falling short or he and Bartenke had some discussions prior to the meeting…

 

JOANNE SCHIVLEY DOESN’T FLINCH!

Council member Schivley would have nothing to do with Bartenke’s plan, or with Sunga’s claim that he could not pass an out-of-balanced budget.

She asked Bartee to restate his proposal- which he did—clearly not comfortable doing it with ums and awes, since the audience had already quite audibly expressed their deep displeasure with it.

 

Again!!! (Telletubbies):

 

·    Keep all the cuts proposed in place

Adding additional cuts:

·    Remove the Fire Chief

·    Remove the Deputy Fire Chief

·    Have the Police Chief assume both roles for six months

·    Take the $100K set aside for additional arbitration apply it to CBO’s

·    “Limit” overtime

 

As Schivley so eloquently articulated, Bartenke’s proposal was a complete wipe out of the Fire Department’s administrative function and it smacked of political retribution (huge applause from the audience!). 

And Schivley called it like it is: Six months of no Fire Chief and then the new one hand-picked by IAFF. Bartee was verbally smacked as he deserved to be – and by association, Sunga, Hannigan & Wilson as well.  Bartenke at least has to be given credit for appearing to be transparently kowtowing to Fire Union’s wishes.

Council member Schivley also did not support cutting funding for the Fire Contract Arbitration lawsuit: The City is spending ½ million to save $5 million and it’s a good investment.  And many agree: binding arbitration is (has?) killing this city.

And if revenue projections weren’t bleak enough, on Monday, Schivley, who knows the City’s finances like the back of her hand, noted that the projected 4% growth in revenues in Fiscal year 2009/10 is too optimistic given recent news about the State budget deficit, housing slump and economy. Budgets are a moving target, and Schivley’s observation completely illustrates why the City needs to be very conservative with revenue projections. There are simply too many factors that are completely beyond the City’s control.

 

 

DAVIS—THE UNKNOWN FACTOR—IMPRESSES THE AUDIENCE

Mayor Davis—speaking to the most significant agenda item since he was sworn in only a week prior—rejected Bartenke’s amendment and even most of the staff’s recommended cuts.  He preferred to look at all suggestions for cuts on February 12, and reminded the Council that it is easy to view balancing the budget piece-by-piece.  It is a huge problem that must be approached in a global manner and he can’t support ideas that nip away and that are piece-meal.  Davis indicated that he supports CBOs but can’t shut his eyes to the problems of the City to help these CBOs.  Hopefully this means that Davis supports the continued court challenge by the City against binding arbitration.  As a lawyer, he must be aware of how it completely ties the City’s hands and gives all negotiating power to the Public Safety Unions.

Davis indicated that he was not prepared to approve Staff’s resolution or Bartenke’s alternate.  He wanted to only add back, as required by the Fire Union contract, the increased staffing levels and approve minor adjustments to non-General Fund funds.

Davis’ comments were greeted by enthusiastic applause from the audience and a confirmation from Schivley that she would support his compromise.

Bartee then withdrew his amendment (more applause from the audience).

Davis asked for any comments—meaning from the council—which garnered laughter from the audience since several cards were submitted in response to Bartenke’s amendment.

 

Other comments by the audience (during Community Forum)

David Corbett:  Compared budget amendment presented by Bartenke and some other council members to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Corbett stated that he was seldom as angry as he was this evening: Mr. Bartee’s resolution was shameless.  Reminded the audience that Henke stated last week with Davis; swearing in that he was “back on top” and that it is shameful that Henke thinks he’s back on top of us or anyone on this council.  The idea of getting rid of the interim fire chief when its clear you only want to get rid of Russ Sherman is unconscionable and Bartee owes Sherman an apology.

Marc Garman: (VIB’s illustrious Editor) found Mr. Bartenke’s amendment to be an abominable idea (just in time for Xmas: the abominable snowman!) Instead of targeting individual and specifically non-IAFF positions as a means of saving revenue, the City needs to address the contract and salary issues that are systemic and have a real lasting and significant impact. Eliminating the Fire Dept mgmt is a terrible idea.  Pursue revenue for Community Based Organizations by retrieving funds outlined in the indiscretions committed as outlined in the Union Business leave Report as previously suggested by Council Member Schivley.  Garman thanked Schivley and Mayor Davis for their reasonableness in light of this situation.

ADQ asked that the Fire Union take some of their hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations and instead fund the CBOs.

Liat Meitzenheimer made the most compelling and non-political argument against eliminating the Fire Chief:  Forcing the Police Chief to oversee a troubled Fire Department is irresponsible while crime continues to rise: in 2 years crime has escalated 3 fold. The City needs a fulltime Police Chief to oversee the Police Department.  There were three shootings in Millersville this past Monday; how will the City explain cutting police and diverting the Police Chief to the Fire Dept.?  Who will tell the mother who has lost her son on that street about cutting even more police services?  Meitzenheimer described Bartee’s amendment as totally irresponsible.

Sam Kurshan, during the Budget public comment period, reminded Bartee and Sunga that they should go to the Unions to discuss making concessions since they have such a good rapport with them.  And that everyone in this city was waiting to see what happened tonight—if those Council members who were supported by the IAFF are towing the Union line. During Community Forum, Kushan threatened Council member Bartee with mounting a recall effort; stating that he (Kurshan) is currently between jobs and has the time.

Alan Wildermuth was the last to comment: and again, he keenly asked the City Manager if it is appropriate to amend a resolution so drastically that it becomes a completely different resolution which demands it to be put off to another agenda for public comment.  Bartee’s amendment was entirely different – wasn’t a slight amendment- became an entirely different resolution that required public comment.

Robert Roe talked about believing in the Lord: said we can put cops all over the place but still have crime and we need to get down, pray, be led by the Lord and by moral principles. Spoke of his business in Am Cyn and having a reserve fund, and fiscal responsibilities.  Didn’t understand if after tonight we were $1 million in debt or $9 million in debt as was stated in a prior meeting.

What Robert is not remembering is that in a prior Budget meeting, the Finance Staff did present a budget with a $9 million dollar deficit—cuts presented this evening brought it down to $5.3 million.  Budgets are a moving target!

Other public comments included three young ladies from Lyndon LaRouche’s campaign asking that the Council sign a resolution relieving all sub-prime mortgages and that they were supporting a “physical based” economy – an economy based on physical goods in the community—rather than a monetary based economy.

Council Reports:

Schivley requested that the community forum be agendized for 30 minutes prior to the meeting. Apparently there is a cost associated with it (staff time likely)

Bartee commented on Meitzenheimer’s request of increasing “Deemed Approved” Ordinance Fees: these are fees assessed to businesses who sell alcohol as well as smoke-shops.  These businesses have a big impact on Vallejo—just check out the local liquor stores and smoke-shops—but they are only required to pay a one-time $300 fee.  The City of Oakland charges them $1,000 a year.  The idea is to charge these businesses more and to allocate the revenue to the beat health program.  Meitzenheimer indicated she would prefer Bartenke not sponsor her idea—she’d rather some other council member not tied to IAFF 1186 do this.

Sunga asked about when his request for information regarding the Enterprise and Foreign Trade Zone (on Mare Island) and a business (unintelligible) committee was to be brought to council.  I have said this before: I am hoping that this proposal is NOT warehouse space on valuable Mare Island property that does not generate sales and/or property tax because of tax write-offs. We are watching…

 

Yes there were a few other items:

Public Hearings items 7 A-B: Subdivisions on Mare Island becoming part of the Mare Island CFD—this required an election and Lennar being the sole property owner voted 100% for it—wish we had these sort of results in our mayoral (and council!) elections… Wilson had to recuse himself—some Arc Inc business on Mare Island.

Unanimously approved

 

Wilson also had to recuse himself on another public hearing: Item 7C, development of a 24-unit condo development with the borders of Illinois, El Dorado and Arkansas.  Seems his business is deep into Vallejo.  Fred Sessler, developer of some heinous apartments in my neighborhood, is the broker. When his name is mentioned, I get suspicious as he seems to be the epitome of bad-planning.

Unanimously approved

 

There was also a Redevelopment Item: To enter into an agreement with Triad, Belleci & Associates and the City of Vallejo to design the sidewalk and street improvement.  There was some discussion about funding but seems like the City is covered (grants to pay for the cost) and there were no questions from Council or the Public

Unanimously approved 

Schivley wished everyone at the meeting and at home a happy holiday.

The meeting was adjourned by Mayor Davis with his wishes for folks to enjoy a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and Happy Chanukah.

 

  And happy holidays to you – ADQ gets a couple of weeks off – yippee!!

 

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