La Puente to discuss more travel guidelines tonight

The La Puente City Council will hold its regular meeting at 7 tonight to discuss several items, including one that requires council members to gain approval by the council before traveling for a conference.

The item is being brought forward by Councilman David Argudo, who by far spent the most and traveled the most of any council member in 2011.

According to city documents, Argudo went on nine trips and spent about $11,686. Many of those expenses include hotel-room goodies ($10 chocolate-covered almonds), room service ($63 breakfast) and very expensive dinners – a $109 (plus a $21 tip) dinner at Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse and a $156 (plus $25 tip) at the Signature Room at the 95th – while on a trip to Chicago.

Mayor John Solis, on the other hand, went on seven trips at a cost of $7,768, which included a $75 valet parking charge he billed to the city for a trip to Indian Wells.

He insisted to me during a call he made to me soon after a travel story I wrote came out that it was a necessary charge because the hotel requires it. Calling it a one-sided story – because I included that pesky charge – he asked me to look the expense report over again. I discovered that I failed to mention that on top of those $75, he also gave out about $35 in tips to the valet driver. Then I went to the hotel’s website and saw that the regular parking fee is $12 a day. Nice try.

Councilman Vince House went on six trips totaling $6,438. While on a trip to Oxnard in October, House rejected an $83.50 mileage refund he was due because he stated that he was already receiving auto allowances, according to documents.

Councilman Dan Holloway went on two trips, one of which he spent $2,584 and the other he did not charge the city for.

Councilwoman Nadia Mendoza has not traveled since she was elected to office in 2007.

Records show that the City Council collectively spent $28,475 in 2011.

Each council member, though, can spend about $8,400 for the fiscal year, which runs from July 2011 to July 2012.

Spending at least $3,066 since July, Solis recently went to the United States Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. I’m not sure on the cost of that trip yet.

But according to the warrant register on the agenda tonight, it sounds like Argudo, who has spent $7,347 since July, recently went on a trip to San Francisco. For someone who said last month that he was under his travel budget, I hope that trip was less than the remaining $1,053 he has.

We’ll see how tonight’s meeting goes.

Coalition of Concerned Citizens forms in La Puente

La Puente City Hall has seen its fair share of ups and downs – a lot more downs most recently.

Over the past year, City Hall has lost 13 department heads due to a reorganization and has gained a new city manager, who is still getting the hang of things after years of instability at the top. It is currently addressing several risk management issues brought forward in August by its insurance agency, the Joint Powers Insurance Authority, because of many lawsuits and claims filed against the city. It has until Dec. 31, 2012 to turn things around.

And now, a group of residents and business owners say those issues – and several new city retrofitting policies that they say threaten the livelihood of downtown business owners – have forced them to form the Coalition of Concerned Citizens to keep the City Council and staff members accountable.

“There’s a whole lot of issues of wasting government money on trips and hassling citizens,” founder Frank Sanchez said. “We want to make a statement. We’re tired that our concerns aren’t being heard and we want a transparent government. We’re looking to get answers.”

A group of about 60 residents, business owners and former and current city staff members attended the Coalition’s debut meeting last month and its members have vowed to attend as many city meetings as possible to make their presence known.

Many say they are frustrated by “petty politics” within the City Council and the micromanaging atmosphere perpetuated by some council members – pointing to some ad hoc committees that recently formed, including an organizational committee and a city attorney request for qualifications committee.

City Manager Bret Plumlee, with the help of Councilman David Argudo and Mayor John Solis, hired Ward T. Komers last month to be the city’s Director of Administrative Services and Roxanne Lerma as the new Recreation Manager.

Komers previously worked as the administrative services manager for Riverside County’s building and safety and code enforcement departments. Lerma previously worked for the city of Walnut and Yorba Linda, and was a Parks and Recreation Commissioner for Placentia while she was still in high school.

Despite the progress, La Puente still has a ways to go, coalition members said.

“Our coalition mission is simple,” coalition spokesman Craig French told the council on Nov. 22. “The betterment of La Puente through community involvement and responsible and transparent governance.”

The group will be speaking during oral comment at the City Council meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at City Hall, 15900 E. Main St.

The coalition will hold its own general town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Big Blue Building, 123 S. First St.

La Puente: Kenline update, Holliman’s last meeting

Former City Manager Josi Kenline is still negotiating the terms of her departure.

A settlement agreement was listed on tonight’s council agenda, but I’m now hearing the item will be pulled. Her contract called for $160,000 in severance.

I’ve got an article pending on Kenline’s management of City Hall in the past year. It’s been holding for a couple weeks, but should see print later this week. Stay tuned.

Also tonight, this should also be interim City Manager Al Holliman’s last meeting. He’s going back to his full-time teaching position at Southwest Baptist University in Missouri. The council has already interviewed two candidates to replace him — still on an interim basis — and will hire one tonight.

Planning Commission appointments are also on the agenda, along with the Puente Pride and Education commissions.

Kenline leaving La Puente

Embattled La Puente City Manager Josi Kenline is leaving her post following a performance review Tuesday night.

Many people speculated that Kenline may be terminated by the council and Kenline has been a target of Mayor David Argudo, who has often debated Kenline on various issues.

Instead, Kenline turned in her resignation Wednesday morning and Assistant City Manager Al Holliman will take over in the interim.

I wondered what would come of Kenline yesterday after it came out that her job was in jeopardy. It seems Kenline was constantly being reviewed by the council since her hire and was perpetually on the chopping block.

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Will Josi Kenline be fired?

La Puente City Manager Josi Kenline is on the hot seat again.

There will be a performance review of Kenline’s performance during a closed session meeting of the City Council tonight. Insiders are suggesting that Kenline’s future with the city is in doubt.

LA PUENTE — The City Council will conduct a performance review of City Manager Josi Kenline in a closed session meeting today, and several City Hall insiders believe members of the council will try to fire her.

Kenline, who started a year ago after spending several months with the city as a volunteer, is in the center of a divided council and has feuded throughout the year with Mayor David Argudo.

Argudo led a council decision last week requiring Kenline to obtain approval before hiring and firing department heads.

Kenline has had problems since she started with the city. In her first five months on the job, she had three performance reviews scheduled by the council. In the past, she has asked for reviews to be done in public, but tonight’s review will be behind closed doors.

Her reason to ask for the public meetings is that she has accused Argudo of retaliating against her for personal reasons.

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District decides to leave the money on the table, but will move forward with ‘Confucius Classroom’

Question: If you are an advocate against, say, a program supported by a foreign regime that provides both a) money and b) materials – which thing are you most angry about?

Hacienda-La Puente Unified School District officials are betting on the money.

After a long process that has included heated debate, claims of communist propaganda and tampering, and even a visit from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, officials with the school district have decided to not accept money from the Chinese government to fund its Chinese language and culture program, although it will still operate under the name “Confucius Classroom.”

The district will go without the $30,000 a year it would have received. But it will still use textbooks and other materials provided by Hanban, pending approval from a district committee.

So let me get this straight, after a lot of people spoke out against this program, the district is getting rid of the money, but is keeping all the materials – a.k.a. all the elements lots of people were very peeved and paranoid about – and that is supposed to smooth things over?

Excuse me for not believing this isn’t exactly the end of this debate.

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La Puente council pay mirrors other San Gabriel Valley cities

In a story over the weekend and in a continued effort to give a broad look at what cities are paying their employees, we took a snapshot of pay for City Council members.

In that story, La Puente was identified as a city that did not respond in time to have its figures presented. Since then, the city has responded.

Council members receive a monthly stipend of $536. They can also get a maximum of $150 per month for attending Community Development Commission meetings ($75 per meeting, two meets per month).

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Appropriately, decision on marijuana dispensaries involves procrastination

For all the huffing and puffing going on in La Puente regarding marijuana dispensaries, it is taking the city some time to decide if they are going to outlaw the businesses.

Debate sparked late last year when 10 stores opened before a cap was placed on marijuana dispensaries in the city.

Now four months since city officials said they wanted to ban the businesses, they have decided to wait until July before further discussion after business owners threatened litigation.

Now city officials are trying to decide if they are willing to take a hit from lawsuits if they decide to oust the dispensaries, or if they are going to pass and allow them in the city.

LA PUENTE – Nearly four months after saying they wanted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries here, the City Council decided late Tuesday to postpone a vote to push the shops out and consider its legal implications.

The council will meet behind closed doors to discuss potential lawsuits from dispensary owners on July 13 and publicly deliberate again on the ban on July 27.

“We need to know what it’ll cost us before we go down this road,” said Councilman John Solis, who proposed the delay.

Although the threat of lawsuits loomed for weeks, the council decided at the last minute to seek more time. Several owners of the city’s 10 dispensaries have threatened that any action to push them out of the city would face a stiff legal opposition.

The council’s move was approved 3-2.

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La Puente approves trash rate increase

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to raise residential trash rates by 5 percent and commercial rates by 10 percent.
Trash hauler Valley Vista Services proposed raising monthly residential rates by $1.13 to $23.32, according to a city report. Commercial monthly rates would increase by $18.93 to $208.27.
The new rates are effective April 1, according to city documents. The city began its exclusive contract with Valley Vista in Jan. 2009.
The city’s staff recommended the council approve the increase, after the trash hauler asked for the rate adjustment. The residential rate is little less than average for area cities.
Glendora, for instance, charges $25.61 monthly for residential customers.
In neighboring Hacienda Heights, Valley Vista charges $17.50 a month for residential customers, but that rate is expected to increase in the coming years.

Lujan’s resignation letter

It’s a little late but here’s former Mayor Louie Lujan’s resignation letter. Lujan resigned hours before he appeared in court Thursday to plead guilty to one count of perjury. The letter is time-stamped 5:25 p.m. Wednesday.

City of La Puente:

For personal and professional, I hereby resign from the City Council effective today at 5:30 p.m. Thank you for the support and the opportunities that you have provided me during the last several years. I have enjoyed my time working with each and every one of you; you will all be missed.

Louie Lujan