This week’s installment of Leftovers

This week’s installment of Leftovers from City Hall:

Leftovers from City Hall: Tough times ahead for Valley cities

With three months left before the start of the new fiscal year, cities are putting the final touches on their proposed budgets before they go public.

It’ll likely be another tough year financially for a lot of San Gabriel Valley cities, some of which have already cut department budgets by up to 10 percent. Those cuts have resulted in the cancellation of community events and other programs.

In preparation for an expected $9 million budget deficit in 2009-10, West Covina City Manager Andrew Pasmant has had preliminary discussions with employees about cutting the fat from department budgets.

Others cities have implemented hiring freezes, gone to to the voters for tax hikes, and increased fees for services like business licenses and parking permits.

And as a last resort, some cities have even turned to their employees, their hours and their benefits as a way to save money.

In Irwindale, City Manager Robert Griego has already had conversations with some of the employee bargaining units to discuss how the budget crunch could affect future contracts.

While West Covina Council members said last week they will try to protect the jobs of city employees, they couldn’t make any promises.

Covina mayor blasts bankruptcy bill

Covina Mayor Walt Allen isn’t very happy about a bill that would make it harder for cities to declare bankruptcy.

AB 155 – proposed by local Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Norwalk – will go before the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

It’s received support from police and fire unions, like the El Monte-based Los Angeles County Fire Fighters Local 1014 union, and Monterey Park-based Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.

They believe the bill will protect their pensions.

But Allen, along with the League of California Cities, sees the bill as an attempt by the state to rein in local control.

“It is just another example of the total disconnect between the legislature and local government,” Allen said.

He pointed to a budget provision that would have allowed California to take $350 million in redevelopment funds from cities across the state.

Covina was expected to lose $500,000 as a result. Luckily, a Sacramento Superior Court judge Thursday ruled the plan unconstitutional.

No social security for CalPers members

It’s no wonder firefighters and police officers get such hearty pension plans. They can’t get social security.

Edward Fong of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, explained that firefighters and police officers up and down the state don’t contribute to the retirement system. So, they aren’t eligible to receive Social Security.

This explains why pension plans are typically more generous for firefighters and police officers compared to those of non-sworn employees, Fong said.

Another group of public employees exempt from Social Security: teachers.

Leftovers from City Hall: Tough times ahead in El Monte

Leftovers from City Hall:
Tough times ahead in El Monte

Wow. Things keep getting worse when it comes to the budget situation in El Monte.

Rebecca Kimitch reported that El Monte laid off 17 police officers, and it is still projecting a $2.5 million shortfall.

Now city officials are considering placing an initiative to increase property taxes to support fire and paramedic services. Yes, this comes right after voters approved a half-cent sales tax, which goes into effect on April 1.

So where is all the money going in El Monte? One place is retirement.

In a survey of 25 cities in the San Gabriel Valley, El Monte’s annual pension costs in 2007-08 was $12 million, which is the highest out of all cities surveyed, according to city finance records. The next highest annual pension cost was in West Covina, which spent $9 million. And because the statewide CalPERS pension fund lost a quarter of its value this fiscal year due to the stock market crash, pension costs for cities could soon skyrocket.

We hope to flesh out the impacts of these costs within the next few weeks.

In Irwindale, city council members cut travel from their budget effective March 1.

In Monrovia, a city of nearly 36,929, the council lowered travel budgets by $1,100. Now, council members have $13,166 each per year to spend on travel and other community-promotion efforts.

During the 2007-08 fiscal year, Monrovia council members spent a total of $33,649 out of this budget, nearly $19,000 of which was on travel.

In West Covina, a city of nearly 105,000, council members spent nearly $20,000 in travel to cities across the country to attend conferences during the 2007-08 fiscal year.
Here’s how it broke down per council member: Councilman Michael Touhey spent $6,694; Mayor Roger Hernandez spent $5,255; Councilwoman Sherri Lane spent $3,655; Councilman Steve Herfert spent $3,058; and Councilwoman Shelley Sanderson spent $1,618.

But even if council members went to one less conference, the overall impact on the budget is barely noticeable – although the symbolic gesture is what matters to the voters, Public Policy Institute Director Max Neiman said.

Covina council members are still on the hunt for a permanent city manager. On Friday morning, the council held a special meeting to interview candidates for the position.

Since the termination of former city manager Paul Philips on Aug. 11, former Pasadena City Manager Cynthia Kurtz has filled the role as interim.

Kurtz’s first day was Oct. 1, and city officials said they expected the search to take up to six months, whoch comes April 1 – the same day Kurtz takes over as President and CEO of the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership.

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Leftovers Column

Tired of hearing about Chu and Cedillo yet? Well, they probably be in the news for awhile.

Here’s the latest Leftovers from City Hall column:

One week after Board of Equalization Chairwoman Judy Chu officially kicked off her Congressional campaign in El Monte, Sen. Gil Cedillo traveled out of his Los Angeles Senate district to announce his own campaign.

Where? In El Monte.

Cedillo may not have as strong a backing in the San Gabriel Valley as Chu, but coming to the heart of the district can’t hurt.

Especially when candidates are still throwing their names in the hat for this heated race. Last week, Republican Jim Hertzel, a Certified Public Accountant from West Covina, announced he, too, would be running.

According to a press release he sent out, Hertzel’s motivation is “fueled by years of feeling that politicians must be held accountable to the views of the community and provide viable solutions.”

Hertzel – who has never held an elected seat – also noted in his press release that he is married to a Philippine immigrant with two adult children.

He’ll face off with Cedillo, Chu, Republican Theresa Hernandez, Emanuel Pleitez and Baldwin Park Unified School Board Member Blanca Rubio. Former assemblyman and newly elected Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water Board Member Ed Chavez apparently hasn’t made up his mind yet.


Officials are estimating voter turnout in local elections last week averaged around 18 percent.

That’s not even close to the nearly 55 voter percent turnout during the presidential election, but it was enough to shake things up and force a few incumbents out of office.
In Rosemead, incumbents John Tran and John Nu ez were ousted. Returning to office is Maggie Clark. She’ll be joined by Steven Ly, 24, and Sandra Armenta, 36.

Tran and Nu ez each served only one term, and spent the past four years on a majority that encouraged mixed-use development, brought in a new City Hall administration and allocated money for public information, a city Web site and improving parks.

With potentially a new voting block running the show, it is unclear whether the new regime will choose to preserve some – if any – of the previous council’s programs, projects and even employees.

Also seeing a shift in the council majority is Monterey Park. There, David Lau returns to office without his colleague, two-term councilwoman Sharon Martinez. Martinez’s seat will now be filled by former councilwoman Betty Tom Chu.

With the new council line-up, it appears Tom Chu, Councilman Mitchell Ing and Mayor Frank Venti will lead, while Lau and councilman Anthony Wong will be the odd men out.

Finally, in Covina – where voters chose to keep Kevin Stapleton and John King on the dais – a shift in the council isn’t likely. But the return of former Mayor Bob Low has some people wondering how the dynamic at meetings will change.

Low was elected to serve a seat vacated by former Councilwoman Meline Juarez, who chose not to run again and left her term early because she moved out of state.

Low served on the council from 1978 to 1990, and since then has been a regular critic at council meetings.

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This week’s column

Leftovers from City Hall: Old issue back on city agenda

It’s back.

The debate over allowed uses in Baldwin Park parking lots is, again, at the forefront of the city’s agenda.

Councilman Anthony Bejarano is concerned over continued complaints about day laborers and street vendors in parking lots.

Baldwin Park has unsuccessfully tried several times to address the day laborer situation at its Puente Avenue Home Depot since the summer of 2007. But pressure from Latino advocacy groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund have squashed those efforts.

The most recent one was about a year ago. The proposed ordinance would have limited the uses of parking lots for things like parking and accessing buildings, and would have banned day laborers from soliciting work or street vendors from selling products there. But the ordinance was tabled.

“This ordinance was never just about the Home Depot and the day laborers,” Bejarano said. “It was about parking lots in general and what goes on in those parking lots.”

Bejarano talked about his experiences with street vendors at the Baldwin Park Boulevard Food For Less shopping center.

“Some guy parked his camper in the parking lot, pulled out a lawn chair and a grill and was selling hot dogs,” he said. “… It started off with CDs, then it went to corn, then it went to tamales and now they’re setting up kitchens.”

It seems South El Monte Mayor Blanca Figueroa has risen to international stardom for her nocturnal work habits.

The story of her late, late nights at City Hall – and her colleagues’ disapproval of the habit – has generated reader interest as far away as England.

Just a few weeks ago, the City Council voted 4-1 to ban council members and city staff from using City Hall facilities past 11 p.m. on most nights. Figueroa – who apparently works into the wee hours of the morning – dissented.

But the story doesn’t stop there.

Last week, fellow Councilman Hector Delgado accused Figueroa of making City Hall her home sweet home, something Figueroa has denied.

Though she does take pride in her office, which she has called her own for the past five years. Fish tanks, stashes of snacks, a microwave, booties, a flat screen TV, and dozens and dozens of plaques, photos and nick knacks line the walls.

No bed was found in the office.

“I don’t know what Hector is talking about. How can I sleep here when there isn’t a bed?”

For a complete look at her office, check out the Web site.


There’s something different about the two bronze plaques sitting inside the La Puente Community Center and Youth Learning Activities Center – actually, a few different things.

According to a set of original designs, a few former city officials’ names didn’t make the final cut.

The preliminary plans called for the inclusion of former councilwoman Renee Chavez, former Mayor Lou Perez and former City Manager Carol Cowley on the dedication plaques. Their names appeared alongside the names of current council members John Solis, Dan Holloway, Lola Storing, Nadia Mendoza and Mayor Louie Lujan.

The pair of plaques sitting inside the center now show no sign of Chavez’s, Perez’s or Cowley’s name.

According to Perez, the Chevron official overseeing the project said Lujan asked the names be removed. Perez also said after Lujan disapproved of the designs, Chevron refused to pay for the plaques.

In a recent conversation, Councilman John Solis backed up the claims.

Lujan called the allegations ridiculous, said he knew nothing about any “original” designs and questioned why Perez was even concerned about the situation since he’s not on the council anymore.

Casey declined to comment.

Industry experts say it’s standard practice from the contractor to usually absorb the cost of dedication plaques.

La Puente paid for their own – $1,467.

Leftovers Column: All in the family


Leftovers Column: Ethical standards often out of focus By Jennifer McLain and Tania Chatila, Staff Writers Article Launched: 09/07/2008 11:03:07 PM PDT

The art of adhering to ethical standards is kind of like walking a tightrope. One step to the right or left, and all of a sudden you’ve got a problem.

For politicians, the craft is especially tricky and it’s sometimes hard to tell where that very thin line is crossed.

We learned last week that La Puente City Councilman Dan Holloway’s daughter did some contract work for the city over a five-month period spanning December 2006 to May 2007.

Holloway hadn’t been elected to the council yet. He still was serving a stint on the Planning Commission at the time.

His daughter, Shannon Holloway, was a contracted photographer and took photos at several city events such as the 2006 holiday parade and the 2007 St. Patrick’s Day senior dance.

Records show the younger Holloway charged $50 an hour for the work and made a total of $775 off the city until she was told she no longer could work for La Puente.

The decision came down last spring from City Manager Carol Cowley, who – among other city officials – worried about a perceived conflict of interest.

City policies state no relatives of an officer or employee can work for the city on a full-time basis. Shannon, of course, wasn’t working full-time. She wasn’t even an employee.

“But it was the perception,” according to Cowley.

As of Sunday afternoon, Shannon Holloway still was listing herself as La Puente’s “city photographer” from “12/06-Present” on her MySpace page. It was corrected by nightfall.

The city has been using a new photographer since around last June and records show original CD’s with all of Shannon Holloway’s photos were released back to Dan Holloway in March.

City officials say Shannon made it clear the city no longer could reproduce her work, although some of it is featured in the 2008 La Puente calendar, but only because that specifically was what the work was for.

Councilman John Solis said the issue caused friction between Cowley – who is retiring at the end of this monthafter less than two years as city manager – and Holloway.

“He put up a fight,” Solis said. “He was really upset that (Shannon) couldn’t work for the city (anymore). That’s one of the issues he had with (Cowley).”

Holloway said he really had nothing to do with issue, and it was a former parks and recreation director who knowingly hired Shannon for the work. He also said officials at the state and federal level agreed her contract work technically was not a conflict of interest.

“I was only upset to the point that I asked (Cowley) specifically who had made the complaint to her and it was not forthcoming,” Holloway said.

The entire incident brings up key questions on when and where to draw the line when serving in office – or if a line even exists.

Some argue La Puente is a small town with small-town

politics, so there’s bound to be some harmless crossover.

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2477, 2109

Leftovers Column

Leftovers Column: Someone should be watching chambers
By Tania Chatila and Jennifer McLain, Staff Writers
Article Launched: 08/03/2008 11:14:59 PM PDT

Is it about business or about pleasure? Sometimes it’s hard to tell what some of our area chambers of commerce are doing.

Last week it was all about the San Dimas Chamber of Commerce, where the board of directors rejected Sid

Maksoudian’s application for admission.

Maksoudian – who owns Chalet Gourmet, an upscale liquor store on West Bonita Avenue – said he was denied entry because he’s outspoken.

Nobody’s denying Maksoudian’s criticism of the chamber and the city, including chamber officials.

But chamber President Ted Powl also isn’t giving a straight answer as to why the board rejected Maksoudian’s application – only to say, “We just don’t understand why he would apply, given the positions he’s stated in the past.”

In Baldwin Park, chamber officials there are mulling an audit of its finances after Councilwoman Marlen Garcia raised concerns about the way the chamber was being run.

And a few months back, a disgruntled former Rosemead Chamber of Commerce

member claimed the chamber was not reaching out to the Asian community, and also questioned the group’s finances. The Chamber denied all claims and also denied all inquiries to look into its accounting books.

The interesting thing about chambers is that some are funded by city coffers, while others are not.

In Rosemead, despite being a privately owned organization, the chamber still receives about $45,000 a year in taxpayer funding.

But in Baldwin Park, the chamber receives no municipal subsidy, though the city did loan the chamber $10,000 once when it was strapped for cash. The money has been paid back. Funny thing is, in both cases the city has no oversight concerning chamber practices.

The mission of most chambers is to provide services and support to promote the business community. But with allegations of misappropriation of funds, rejection of bona fide business owners and claims of not reaching out to certain ethnic communities, are chambers of commerce really worth it?

Just this week an anonymous business owner called and said she withdrew her membership with the Baldwin Park Chamber of Commerce because she felt that chamber executives were more concerned with their own problems than with doing their jobs.

Business owners spend quite a chunk of change – sometimes upwards of $600 a year – to be part of these organizations. And as we’ve seen, cities sometimes spend even more to keep the operations running. With little to no oversight for most chambers, it is hard to tell whether cities or businesses get their money’s worth.

That’s not to say that municipalities should have complete jurisdiction over how chambers are being run. But shouldn’t someone outside the agencies, especially if they receive city subsidies, be holding them accountable?

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2477, 2109

Leftovers column…

This week’s installment:

It was a week of public statements in the San Gabriel Valley last week.
Two elected officials in two different cities — El Monte Mayor Ernie Gutierrez and
Baldwin Park school board member Sergio Corona — finally talked about controversies that have surrounded them since May.
Gutierrez and Corona had been relatively tight-lipped on their respective issues despite plenty of buzz circulating in their cities.

Accusations that Gutierrez was drunk, groped his girlfriend and shouted vulgarities at a May 3 city-sponsored event quickly made their way to a council meeting, when resident Henry August called Gutierrez’s alleged behavior an embarrassment to the city.
The claims prompted an investigation by the city, heavy criticism from angry residents, and even concern from some Gutierrez’s colleagues on the dais.
But Gutierrez didn’t say a thing — until Tuesday — when he denied acting inappropriately.

Ironically, Corona, arrested May 22, made his first public appearance Tuesday at a school board meeting. During his encounter with police officers, Corona was stunned twice with a Taser after he allegedly vandalized a Baldwin Park home.
A police report included alleged statements from Corona indicating he had taken drugs the night he was arrested, provoking a debate in Baldwin Park on whether the longtime board member should resign.
Even the City Council pulled support from under the 34-year-old, agreeing he should step down.
Aside from a brief statement to to a community newspaper denying allegations of drug or alcohol use that night, Corona was absent from two board meetings following the arrest. He didn’t return more than a dozen calls from this paper seeking comment.
On Wednesday, when Corona told the paper he took “full responsibility” for his arrest, Corona also said he hoped the paper understood why he wasn’t talking
He said he was going through “personal issues,” and was trying to get better.

While it is understandable why people sometimes don’t comment on controversial issues, it makes you wonder how the public perceives an official that doesn’t come to his or her own defense until months later, if at all.
Communications experts have said that when public officials decline to comment on controversial matters, they often give the perception that they are hiding something, are unaware or don’t care.

“It can sound like you’re afraid to answer the question for fear it will incriminate you,” according to Ian Taylor and George Olds, who authored the book “Never Say ‘No Comment.'”
“The public perception is that you’ve done something wrong, otherwise why would you be hiding or withholding information.
“Saying ‘No comment’ is like saying ‘We’re guilty.'”

We’ve seen many San Gabriel Valley politicians keep mum on contentious issues. La Verne Councilman Steven Johnson has declined comment several times on a pending conflict of interest charge.

If officials would just be open from the start, the public might be more understanding of their explanations and less inclined to write them off.
In fact, residents in El Monte and Baldwin Park had hoped that Gutierrez and Corona would speak up sooner, and respond to their concerns.
In the end, saying something is better than saying nothing at all.

Leftovers column: Open your records

Here’s this week’s column written by Tania Chatila and I.

Official reports need to be made public
Article Launched: 06/08/2008 10:54:07 PM PDT

Where there’s controversy, there’s usually a report. Problem is, journalists – and the public – usually have to jump through a lot of hoops to get it.

Just this week, staff members in El Monte prepared a report investigating allegations Mayor Ernie Gutierrez allegedly groped his girlfriend and shouted vulgarities while drunk at a city-sponsored event.

It is still undecided whether the report will be discussed in public.

On Thursday, El Monte City Manager Jim Mussenden said he received the report on Tuesday but hadn’t had time to review it. He couldn’t even say how many pages it was.

It was a similar story in Baldwin Park a few weeks back when Baldwin Park Unified School Board member Sergio Corona was arrested in an alleged shirtless, sweaty tirade.

Despite a public records request made the day after the May 22 arrest, city and police officials made it clear getting the report would be tricky because the investigation was “ongoing.” City Attorney Joseph Pannone had the final say on the report’s release, which was eventually faxed to our office on May 27 – heavily redacted.

According to Pannone, “police reports are actually not subject to disclosure.”

Per government code, the only details that must be released are the basics, Pannone said – name of arrestee, bail information, description of suspect and reason for arrest.

Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, an open-meeting watchdog group,

“Anything beyond that is the discretion of the department,” he said.

And it seems it was Baldwin Park Police Department’s discretion to redact – at times – nearly whole pages of the report’s narrative.

But some have questioned why the report was released in the first place. Several law enforcement officials – who wished to speak on anonymity in fear of their jobs – said police reports should never be released before a case goes to court because it’s a liability. They were surprised at the speed with which the report was released.

The release of another report, this one from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, was criticized for not being made public quicker.

Family and friends of Monica Thomas-Harris, who authorities say was killed Jan. 5 by her estranged husband in a murder-suicide, have accused District Attorney Steve Cooley of purposely waiting two weeks to release the report on Thomas-Harris’ death.

In that case, Thomas-Harris’ father claims Cooley intentionally sat on the 66-page report – which slams prosecutors’ handling of the case – until after getting re-elected Tuesday.

In Rosemead, it was a months-long battle to access an investigative report looking into accusations that Councilman John Nu ez sexually harassed a finance employee. The council was not given the report, and the city made it clear it had no intention of ever releasing the report publicly. Eventually, the Tribune got access to the document, which revealed employees said Nunez made them feel uncomfortable.

It’s easy to speculate city officials didn’t want to release the report in order to protect Nu ez. But it seems they could have also been trying to protect city employees that were interviewed in the investigation. The investigator was concerned the Tribune was going to release the names of the employees interviewed. We didn’t.

Regardless of the motive, shouldn’t these official reports be released in all instances? Go ahead, redact names, addresses and any other personal information. But at least put it out there – the public deserves it.

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2477, 2109

Leftovers column

Today, the Leftovers from City Hall column appeared in the paper. The only problem: you can’t tell it’s a column. In the future, it will have Tania Chatila and my pictures, which should make it clear that the column is NOT a regular news story.

Hopefully, the kinks will be worked out in time for next week’s column. In the meantime, here is this week’s.

Politicos gone wild was theme of the week
By Jennifer McLain and Tania Chatila, Staff Writers

It’s been a week of lies, sex and sweaty thieves for our San Gabriel Valley elected officials.

From El Monte Mayor Ernie Gutierrez’s alleged public drunkenness and vulgar outbursts to Baldwin Park Unified School Board Member Sergio Coronas’s arrest on suspicion of vandalism and driving under the influence, it’s been one embarrassment after another for our local leaders.

Let’s start with the lies.

Three Valleys Water District

Small-time water official Xavier Alvarez has had big problems since he was caught in a web of lies, including falsely claiming that he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Alvarez has since been censured from the Three Valleys Municipal Water District, pleaded guilty in a federal court for lying about having received the medal and has been asked to resign from the board.

Now, he could be in even more hot water.

The District Attorney’s office said Friday it will begin investigating Alvarez for misappropriation of public funds, said Dave Demerjian, head of the public integrity division.

Alvarez was censured in October by the board of directors for illegally funneling benefits – paid for by the district – to a woman he claimed was his wife.

But according to director Brian Bowcock, that’s not all Alvarez lied about.

Bowcock presented a four-page list of lies on Wednesday that Alvarez reportedly told during two separate water-related tours.

Some of these lies included that he played for the Boston Red Sox, that his wife is a Latina starlet and is hounded by the paparazzi, that he was shot 16 times, that he earned the Medal of Honor and two purple hearts, and that he once rode motorcycles – and still wears the chaps at public events to prove it, Bowcock said.

El Monte

El Monte residents are calling for the censure of Mayor Ernie Gutierrez, who allegedly had groped his girlfriend and showed up to a city event drunk.

The actions of Gutierrez surfaced two weeks ago at a City Council meeting when

El Monte resident Henry August called Gutierrez an “embarrassment” for the mayor’s actions – including vulgar outbursts – at a recent Sister City event.

Councilwoman Emily Ishigaki said at a council meeting last week that she did some research on rules and regulations regarding censure, “Which is what I think people want us to do,” she said.

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Patricia Wallach took on the issue of discussing Gutierrez’s alleged actions that occurred during the Cinco de Mayo fundraiser and dance.

“I wanted to put this on the agenda so that the community would not think that we are sweeping things under the rug,” Wallach said.

But, after staff does look into it, a report will be issued – in closed session.

And Gutierrez is married.

Baldwin Park

El Monte is not the only city trying to keep things as quiet as possible.

Baldwin Park Unified School Board member Sergio Corona was arrested by police Thursday morning on suspicion of driving under the influence and felony vandalism.

It was reported that Corona was “shirtless and sweaty,” and got Tased when he refused to comply with police while breaking windows at a home.

There are also suggestions there are more details in a police report, but Baldwin Park Police officials are refusing to release the public information.

Newly-appointed police Chief Lili Hadsell said the department doesn’t normally release reports when investigations are open.

Strange, since we’ve been given those documents in the past when reporting on more serious crimes, like murder investigations.

“I understand about the murders but that’s a little bit of a different situation only because we don’t normally have suspects in custody,” she said.

Regardless, a public records request has been sent.

It’s too early to tell how the parents will react to news of Corona’s arrest, but I’m sure Corona will get an earful at the next school board meeting on Tuesday.

And politicians wonder why they get bad raps.

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Ext. 2109