Part of a well balanced breakfast, don’t forget to add some weekend links!

I saw the Social Network yesterday. Good film, if not wholly accurate. Aaron Sorkin’s writing style – and the dialogue that follows – may not be for everyone, but I always enjoy it. Only a few more films to see before I got all the Oscar nominated films covered.

Anyway, you didn’t come here for my film ramblings (oh, how I wish you did), but here are some weekend links you might have missed while watching “The Rite.”

A 230-foot tower is getting planted next to some homes in Duarte. Naturally, they had a few concerns.

Glendora became another city trying to keep Gov. Jerry Brown and the state away from their redevelopment dollars.

No new taxes, is the familiar cry of many elected officials. But increased fees? That’s totally different.

A fresh batch of weekend links

I fear I am going to hog some of the links today, but my ego has actually grown very little.

You may have seen Sunday’s package in the newspaper regarding city car allowances. Two web links for you on that story. The more specific story about El Monte’s car allowances and an overall picture of the Valley.

Then there is another story out of Rio Hondo’s Police Academy. This one follows up on claims of ammunition abuse at the school while addressing some other issues at the academy.

Here is one to wet your appetite: Food trucks are gathering at SpeedZone in Industry.

Fran Delach, Azusa City Manager, called redevelopment funds “city life blood.” Gov. Jerry Brown may pull the plug.

Those concerned about autism should take a look at today’s display. A new study links freeways to autism. That story is coupled with the recent news that having children close together may increase the risk of autism. This also follows recent headlines debunking the doctor who is known for promoting a link between autism and vaccines.

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Ends vs. Means: A case study in a good decision done the wrong way (maybe) in Glendora

Here is a classic case of do the ends justify the means.

Recently, it came to my attention that three Glendora council members decided pay for their CALPERS pension benefit in a decision that made some experts skeptical as to if it violated California open meetings law.

In what the city clerk described as a “display of leadership” in a public records request, three council members recently decided to start paying for their CALPERS benefits this year.

But the voluntary action, which took effect all on the same date, calls into question if the council violated California open meeting laws by secretly meeting and making decisions as a group.

“We were asking all of the employees to pay their PERS benefits and it seemed appropriate for us to do the same thing,” Councilman Doug Tessitor said. “When we were having discussions in closed session about the Glendora municipal employees association, there were references made to ‘we ought to do the same thing’ and that was the only discussion I had with anybody about this.”

Mayor Ken Herman, councilwoman Karen Davis and Tessitor had never paid for their CALPERS pension benefit before the change, according to city documents. Councilmen Gene Murabito and Terry Kent both receive the PARS benefit versus PERS, paying the employee share while the city picks up the other half of the benefit.

Davis also denied the decision was made by the group and instead said each person came to the decision on their own accord.

But the fact each council member started to pay the full deduction of the benefit — $28.25 — on Sept. 24, 2010, according to documents, lends credence the decision was made as a group.

Tessitor said questions about open meetings law missed the point, which is the council was doing the right thing.

“It seems to me the statement should be the council is doing the appropriate thing by doing what they are asking the rank and file employees to do,” he said.

Most people would probably agree. The CALPERS system has been the focus of heavy criticism due to the cost to the state and cities, what some people believe is too good a deal for government employees, and more. The council is merely leading by example and doing something that probably should have be done sooner.

But if that is the case, why not be more transparent in the decision?

Council members in Glendora are paid $700 a month in a stipend for being on the council.
City Clerk Kathleen Sessman said she wasn’t part of any discussions with city officials regarding the council members decision and the words regarding leadership were chosen by her.

“I just know when they did it, they did it informally, which is why I didn’t have any resolutions,” regarding the change, Sessman said. “It wasn’t meant as anything other than they voluntarily did this and I thought it was a nice way of saying it.”

The California Ralph M. Brown Act stipulates that three or more council members can’t meet to make decisions on city policy without public notice.

Two experts on the subject both agreed the potential for infringement by the Glendora council members was in a relative gray area.

First Amendment Coalition attorney Peter Scheer said, assuming the worst case scenario, that because no policy was changed, the council members didn’t break the law.

“If they had a discussion if the council should vote and require all of them to do this … and basically rescind whatever policy it is that now exempts them, that certainly would have been a Brown Act violation,” Scheer said. “But if they are doing it in a way that doesn’t change any policy and does not need any official action, it is at least arguable that this falls outside the Brown Act.”

Even if it isn’t a violation, Scheer said elected officials should always try to make decisions public whenever possible.

“The prudent thing to do would be to give full notice to people that they were thinking about it,” Scheer said. “And if they are going to get together and talk about it, do so publicly. Let the press know and listen in on that discussion, so at least it would be done in the spirit of the Brown Act.”

Terry Francke, an attorney for public information advocacy group Californians Aware, said residents should be worried about elected officials making decisions behind closed doors.

“I think citizens have a right to be skeptical and suspect that a collective discussion occurred, which constituted a serial meeting in violation of the Brown Act,” Francke said in an e-mail. “Proof is a different matter.”

Scheer added the public shouldn’t be too hard on the council members since the decision was in the public’s best interest.

“I think anyone would say they should be commended for doing this,” he said. “It is kind of incredible they were getting a free ride. But they were and they shouldn’t be overly criticized or second guessed for having done the right thing.”

I think Scheer kind of nails it here. Was the action the right one? Yes. Should they have been more public about it? Probably.

And the part about the free ride makes me think about why this maybe wasn’t more public. How many people knew that a council that gets paid a $700 stipend gets the CALPERS benefit? Probably not many. Either way, people know now. If that is good or bad for the council, you tell me.

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Who doesn’t believe in comebacks?

I must apologize for the lack of posting on the blog over the last month. As those avid newspaper readers may well know by now, I have been covering the Manling Williams murder trial and subsequent penalty phase (who am I kidding, no one reads bylines).

But as the Thanksgiving holiday has passed and the jury remains in deliberations, we can get this motor running. We can pick ourselves up off the mat and get in the ring.

And what better to reignite this bonfire of city politics and general news blathering than a review of this weekends most important news items. (OK, no more metaphors)

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has completed its investigation into West Covina Police Chief Frank Wills. Wills asked for the review after it was revealed that officers from the West Covina Police Department investigated allegations of vandalism and rape against the ex-husband of Wills’ then-girlfriend.

In El Monte, 108 of the city’s 278 employees received wages topping $100,000 last fiscal year when you account for overtime, benefits and other perks.

The San Dimas Brasada residential project is becoming a reality despite years of push back. The environmental impact report is scheduled to be reviewed in December.

That is all for now. Let’s take this slow. Don’t want to rush it right when we are just getting started again. As for now, I will be waiting on a decision in the Williams’ case. And I want to post something on that later today and talk about the death penalty. Controversy is just what we need to get reacquainted.

Mole hill or (cash) mountain? How serious is the news of Monterey Park executives cashing out $100,000s in leave time?


Is vacation time accrued the same as money earned?

That may be the question of the hour after we learned that Monterey Park’s former City Manager and Police Chief each pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in saved leave time when each left their positions.

Most recently, it was former City Manager and current Glendora top executive Chris Jeffers who took nearly half a million in saved leave time before leaving Monterey Park in 2007.

Some have argued (via the comments section) that this is a mole hill being made into a mountain (a Scrooge McDuck mountain of coin, am I right?!).

There is merit to the argument that if a person doesn’t take their vacation time, they should be allowed to cash it in. They didn’t use it, instead worked and are entitled to the value of that benefit.

But those arguing that in this circumstance may be missing a vital point: Are city executives being given an exceeding large amount of leave time? And is that benefit a backhanded way of giving them additional pay when they are given more leave time then they will ever use?

Racking up a day of vacation each week of employment, as Jeffers was doing in his final year at Monterey Park, and having executives able to earn three months of time off a year seems excessive. Should city department directors, working on the public’s dime, be allowed to take three months off in a year? If the answer is no (as I assume most citizens would agree) then why give them the opportunity?

Finally, Jeffers’ current employer didn’t do themselves any favors in the story about their city manager’s former job.

Two council members didn’t know what Jeffers’ pay was when asked. Mayor Ken Herman seemed to be defending Jeffers’ actions in Monterey Park.

Councilman Terry Kent, in an e-mail to this newspaper, was upset at the way he was portrayed in the paper. Kent was at a wedding out of state and felt that should have been included in the story when describing why he couldn’t recite Jeffers’ salary.

The real question for the council is this: With this knowledge, what will they do?

The council, in the past, has stood by their city manager and often follow his suggestions. But will this force them to examine their city executive contracts for leave time? Or will they follow what Herman seemed to imply in the story that these benefits packages are comparable to other cities and Glendora must offer them to remain competitive in hiring top talent?

Does “because everybody else is doing it” make it right? Or does that mean there is a widespread problem? Answering that is best left to voters.

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A weekend to remember (and look, you can with this recap! How nice.)

Here is a quick look at the cost of Azusa’s environmental impact report for the recently approved Azusa Rock Quarry project.

A recent survey shows SGV school districts pay superintendents an average of $185,000 annually.

Advocates against police checkpoints say a new video shows an illegal checkpoint run by the Baldwin Park Police Department. A local expert agrees.

And look, someone won $150,000 from a winning lottery ticket sold in Covina. Who’s happy for him/her? That’s right, nobody because we are all bitter we didn’t win that cash (and it was SO close!)

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Emptying the notes on Glendora’s salary schedule and recent department manager raises

The news came this week that Glendora officials are looking to suspend a recently approved merit increase schedule for managers in an effort to broker a deal for a similar schedule with the Glendora municipal employees association.

Within that story, it was also shown that despite previous representations, Glendora gave raises to three managers PRIOR to the salary schedule being approved, but those raises were reflected within the schedule.

Just to elaborate on this issue are a few facts.

Here is Chris Jeffers, in an e-mail, explaining City Clerk Kathleen Sessman’s salary increases over the last two years, as well as her concessions:

On 10/06/08 received a 2% merit to $8,377. This covered her performance from 2007-08 time period.

On 12/29/08 received a city-wide COLA adjustment of 3% that GMEA; GMA and Directors granted by the City Council to $8,628.

On 7/01/09 Required to pick up 3% of pension for the year.

On 7/01/10 Required to pick up 4.8% of pension and 1.9% sick leave cash out eliminated.

On 7/12/10 received a merit increase of 5% covering the period of time between Oct 2008 and now to $9,064.

So the incumbent’s base salary increase by 10% since 10/08, her total compensation has been permanently reduced by <6.7%> with the action this past July. So the net adjustment is 3.3% increase in compensation in two years.

I will add one thing. That final 5 percent was done in two parts, 2.5 percent the bumped her up to her new step 1 on the approved salary schedule, and then another 2.5 percent, as reflected on the salary schedule, to step 2.

To clear out a few more notes, the big thing about the merit increases was the ability to switch to a more private sector structure of requiring better than satisfactory reviews to get a raise. But within all the department managers’ contracts – prior to the new schedule – was a condition they must receive exemplary performance reviews to get merit increases. What this schedule then does is allow for managers to have a more transparent structure and one that rewards people for longevity.

Given that the city appears to have operated under much of those conditions already, it would seem they wanted this to serve as a model more so than the actual impact it may have on manager salaries and merit increases for them.

Whether or not they will be able to broker a deal is something that remains to be seen.

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Inequality of wealth series takes a look at labor unions

In the continuing series by regarding the inequality of wealth (which is a must read, IMHO) today’s story deals with labor unions affect.

I thought this was a pertinent story because whenever we write stories about public salaries, the state budget, and other money related stories, labor unions is a recurring theme from reader comments.

(Yes, we reporters read your comments. A shocking admission, I’m sure.)

In addition, I have raised questions regarding public (which is often unionized) and private (declining unions) pay in this blog (here and here

So, I thought I would tack on this story as an addendum to the conversation, as well as an interesting read.

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Anthony Adams’ letter to the Supreme Court regarding Glendora redevelopment area, law

The letter that Adams wrote to the Supreme Court, which was the basis for today’s story taking a further look at the legal challenges surrounding Glendora’s attempt to get redevelopment dollars for an area along Arrow Highway, hasn’t been posted with the story online (yet?) but I wanted to make it available here for review.

It isn’t a long read, so if you got two minutes to check it out and then reread the story, I would recommend it.

Adams Letter.pdf

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