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.

Jim Lloyd remembered

The West Covina City Council adjourned its meeting Tuesday night in honor of former councilman-turned-congressman Jim Lloyd, who passed away Thursday in Florida.

Lloyd served on the West Covina City Council from 1968 to 1975 and immediately afterward was elected to Congress where he served three terms from 1976 to 1981. The centrist Democrat lost to upstart Republican David Dreier, who remains in office today.

In addition, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, was getting ready to adjourn the state Assembly in Lloyd’s honor.

Lloyd was a Navy pilot in World War II and Korea and also served as public information director of Guantanamo Bay in 1962 during the cuban missile crisis. He lived in West Covina with his wife, Jackie Vaughan Lloyd, until recently. Lloyd moved to Cameron Park, near Sacramento, to be with his son, Brian, 57, after his wife passed away last year.

Lloyd, 89, died after crashing his 2003 Acura on Scenic Highway in Pensacola. He was visiting his son, Seth, who is training to be a Navy pilot. Lloyd apparently sustained a massive stroke and lost control of the car. He died 11 days later. No one else was injured in the solo-car crash.

The story is one of the most clicked on stories I’ve written. I keep getting emails and phone calls about Lloyd, whom as far as I can recall, was the only West Covina council member to be elected to Congress.

Eileen Spiegelman, the former co-owner of Marty’s Restaurant, called me today and said she wanted to send her condolences to Lloyd’s son, Brian. She said Jim was “a very frequent customer.” She called Jim “a wonderful person.”

Marty’s Restaurant, formerly located at Vincent Avenue and West Covina Parkway, was a place where city hall types, judges and lawyers from the nearby courthouse would meet for lunch and dinner, she said.

She said Lloyd was a regular customer.

People can send letters and cards to Chris Freeland, deputy city manager, West Covina City Hall, 1444 West Garvey Ave., West Covina, CA 91793. There is no iinformation on any memorial service. Brian said his father would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in the summer.

-steve scauzillo
@stevscaz/twitter.com
steve.scauzillo@sgvn.com

Months after El Monte Union bond mismanagement accusations, many are still not speaking out

It’s been about three months since I returned to the good old San Gabriel Valley Tribune and since that time I’ve been following this very intriguing and very secretive agreement that keeps anyone in the El Monte Union High School District from talking about what really happened between the district and its former bond management company APM.

I’ve attended one Board of Trustees meeting, flipped through a couple of months worth of minutes and spoken to community members and have found very little evidence that the public is pursuing the whole issue.

A little background:

- After an internal audit, district officials in August cut ties with APM, which it accused of misusing money from the district’s $148 million Bond Measure D, passed by voters in 2008.
- In October, Superintendent Nick Salerno retracted those statements, citing a new settlement agreement with APM.
- Terms of the settlement kept APM and EMUHSD from elaborating on issues between the two entities. Further, EMUHSD paid APM $150,000 in back invoices and APM’s contract was not re-instated.
- EMUHSD since hired Industry-based Del Terra, which works with several surrounding school districts.

Now as I continue to follow up on the issue, even bond oversight members, who are charged with the task of ensuring taxpayer money is properly spent, are uninformed of what exactly happened in those few months.

Mike Felix, a former district employee and member of the district’s Citizens Oversight Committee, is one of few speaking up about the issue, although he knows very little about what went on.

“I really wasn’t comfortable with this whole thing. It’s shrouded in mystery,” he said, adding that he has asked district officials what exactly the accusations were, how much money was involved and which employees were placed on leave as the district continues to investigate their possible involvement in the whole alleged scheme.

When it comes to others in the community, he said they don’t want to get involved.

“I think a lot of people are apathetic and a lot of people who work here or are associated here are afraid to rock the boat. I also think there’s that group of people who hope that it will just go away. I’m none of the above. I want to know what’s going on. Sometimes I feel like I’m the black sheep.”

Board member Carlos Salcedo said that the settlement agreement keeps him and other district officials from elaborating.

“We agreed to that. It was mutual and there’s certainly things that we can’t share,” he said about the agreement.

La Puente still searching for permanent staffers almost a year after laying off 13 managers

The La Puente City Council last voted to hire a contracted agency to oversee the city’s planning and public works services while they continue to search for permanent administrators to man City Hall almost a year after 13 department heads were laid off.

The council agreed to hire Civic Solutions, Inc., for $135,000 for a 12-month period while council members continue recruiting to fill the position of the Director of Development Services, a consolidated position that was created after city officials reorganized last March.

Mayor John Solis and Councilman David Argudo are on an ad hoc committee that is responsible for interviewing and hiring applicants.

Of the six permanent positions created under the reorganization, the council has hired three — the city manager, director of administrative services and the recreation services manager.

After interviewing 17 applicants for the development services position — which will oversee planning, public works, development services, building and safety and engineering — city officials have yet to find a permanent replacement.

Councilman Dan Holloway said he was concerned that the positions that were supposed to be filled last July are not being filled and that City Hall is not moving forward.

“Our intent was and hopefully still is to hire a permanent replacement and the process should go forward,” Holloway said. “My questions is how are we going to do that if we’ve had 17 applicants and we found none of them acceptable? What exactly are we going to do?”

City Manager Bret Plumlee said the council will continue to search the market, go back out and advertise the position and begin recruiting again. The contract is good for up to a year, and there is a provision allowing the council to terminate services when needed.

Solis said the contracted worker was a good alternative.

“A lot of cities are going this way to go with a contracted workers,” he said. “We’re saving with this. Nobody is going to a full-time person with benefits. Benefits and PERS are killing cities way too much.”

Civic Solutions has been serving on an interim basis since September and will continue to do so until the city hires a permanent manager.

Because a full-time employee would cost $178,200 in salary and benefits for, the move will save the city about $43,200, officials said.

The cost of providing the services will be funded from the vacant Development Services Director position.

“We’re still looking for permanent solutions,” Argudo said. “At this point in time we have a cost-savings measure. They’re doing a phenomenal time. We’re moving forward and we’re keeping our options open.”

Controversial San Dimas businessman closes downtown liquor store

San Dimas residents are reporting that local businessman and perennial city council candidate Sid Maksoudian has shut down his high-end liquor store.

Assistant City Manager Ken Duran confirmed what many people were telling me: Chalet Gourmet, 120 W Bonita Ave., is closed for business.

After calling Sid a few times, I finally got him to pick up the phone on Tuesday. With some hostility he asked why his business is any of my business.

I persisted, but my efforts were rewarded only by an obscenity-laced response that I’ll assume means “no comment.”

Then he hung up.

Sid has during the years tangled with councilmembers, other downtown business owners, the Chamber of Commerce and organizers of the San Dimas Rodeo. As far as anyone knows, Sid still lives in San Dimas, so while he might not be a presence downtown anymore, it’s probably too soon to assume this is the last of him.

Azusans allied against parking proposal

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A group of Azusa residents who oppose the city’s plans for a four-story Gold Line parking structure behind City Hall are planning a protest rally on Saturday.

The original plans for the parking structure placed it on the north side of the railroad tracks, across Azusa Avenue from Target. The city, hoping to use the Gold Line site for a retail establishment, has proposed building it on the site of Veterans Freedom Park

The Save Azusa Civic Center Park Committee (SACCPC), naturally opposes the idea.

To show just how ugly the parking structure will be, the group has put together a simulation of what they think it will look like. They photoshopped a picture of an Irwindale parking structure over the park – with remarkably realistic looking results.

For those interested in the rally, it will start at Azusa Avenue and Fifth Street on Saturday at 11 a.m. The marchers will head from there to the park for the rally at noon. Mayor Joe Rocha and Azusa Unified School Board Member Yolanda R. Pena may even be there.

La Puente Mayor’s next appearance will be …

At a special La Puente council meeting earlier this month, Mayor John Solis requested moving the regular Jan. 10 council meeting to Jan. 11.

“The reason I did that was because I don’t think we’re going to have a quorum that day,” Solis said.

He explained that Councilwoman Nadia Mendoza recently had a few deaths in the family, so she likely wouldn’t be able to attend.

Solis also mentioned that he and Councilman Vince House would be out of town at a conference in Sacramento for “one-on-one” time with legislatures and to voice their concerns about the end of redevelopment.

Councilman Dan Holloway wasn’t so convinced – was there something specifically on the agenda that Solis didn’t want approved by a majority vote?

“I want to make sure that we’re being told (Mendoza) won’t be here,” he said. “I will support this if I have assurance that there’s not going to be a quorum. I don’t want to move a meeting just because two council members will be out of town and three of them will be here.”

No fuss, no muss. It was easily approved by the three present members.

And then on Monday, Jan. 9., County Sheriff’s officials released a sketch of a man suspected of raping a La Puente girl. The TV crews were all over it – and so was John Solis.

Residents captured glimpses of Solis being interviewed by several local television stations that night. (Too bad I can’t find any online videos to post. Except this one.)

Anyway, I go about my business and attend a very late night public hearing in West Covina the next day – the day Solis was supposed to be at a conference, right?

Nope. He was at the same West Covina meeting I was at. His friend, Mayor Mike Touhey, is on the council.

“I thought you were going to a conference?,” I asked Solis.

Looking a little flustered, he said he was sick and dragged himself out of bed to do interviews that morning. I guess he was fully recovered by the time the West Covina meeting came to an end at about midnight.

Solis assured me House went to the conference.

Still, at the Jan. 3 meeting, both Solis and House got defensive about the number of conferences they attend and the expenses they incur.

Council members have come under heavy scrutiny for the trips they take by members of the Coalition of Concerned Residents, a watchdog citizens group that recently formed.

“I keep hearing and hearing over and over again that we’re blowing the city’s money going to these conventions,” House said. “We don’t go up there to party and have a good time. I don’t get paid one penny more for those days I’m out of town. I only get my expenses and that I have a legal right to have.”

“Don’t just assume we’re out having a party every time we’re out of town,” he added. “I’m doing my duty. Please don’t berate me for doing it.”

Solis agreed.

“We do go and we’re going to continue to go to it because it benefits the city,” Solis said.

Maybe that stance changes when TV cameras are around.

A forgotten milestone

In Jay Chen’s 2011 Year-in-review, he mentioned various milestones from 2011 for the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District. These included a failed recall attempt against him, a HLPUSD board ;member, and his free college application seminars.

But what he did not mention may be more important:
The changing of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. School will start three weeks earlier and end three weeks earlier. The change was controversial and may be trend- setting.
Here’s a section from our story which ran in December:

The Hacienda La Puente Unified School District board voted 4-1 Thursday night to start the next school year on Aug. 7, three weeks earlier than usual. It is the first local school district to adopt an early start calendar for the entire PreK-12 population.

School will let out May 21, 2013, instead of in late June. A similar calendar was adopted for the 2013-14 school year.

Some may call that decision of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest school district one that affects the most people — parents and children.It affect thousands of families in La Puente and Hacienda Heights. It could also lead to other districts doing the same thing.

Quite a milestone.

La Puente’s election gets underway

The nomination period for La Puente’s April 10 general election has opened, with three seats up for re-election.

Seats for Council members Nadia Mendoza, John Solis and Dan Holloway are open for four-year terms.

Incumbents Holloway and Solis pulled nomination papers. Mendoza has yet to pull papers, elections official Carol Cowley said.

Residents who also pulled papers include Planning Commissioner Charles Klinakis, former Puente Pride Award Committee chairwoman Violeta Lewis and Raul Alvarado.
The nomination period ends at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 13.

If nomination papers for an incumbent are not filed by Jan. 13, voters have until 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 18 to nominate candidates other than the incumbents, Cowley said.

La Puente to discuss hiring new city attorney

The La Puente City Council will hold a special meeting to discuss city attorney services at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 15900 E. Main St.

The council will recess to closed session to discuss city attorney services and then discuss appointing a law firm and/or individual to provide city attorney services.

Jaime Casso has been city attorney on an interim basis for more than a year.

Council members John Solis and Vince House appointed themselves to an ad hoc committee to discuss retaining a new city attorney.

Word on the street is Alvarez-Glasman and Colvin Law Firm – which also represents West Covina, Montebello and Pico Rivera – is a finalist.