Glendora candidates meet with Tribune editors

Remember that story the Chicago Tribune did about their editorial meeting with the candidates for Mayor where all the candidates ganged up on Rahm Emanuel and it was a pretty testy meeting?

Well, we had our Glendora candidates editorial board meeting (which I sat in on, but I am not part of the editorial board) and it was … not like that meeting at all. In fact, everyone was really nice to each other and Doug Tessitor kind of encapsulated the tone of the meeting in his comments.

“The exciting thing about this whole discussion … this is the first time one of these meetings that I have been excited about the people running for local government,” Tessitor said of his fellow competitors.

Most of Monday’s discussion with the board centered around pension reform, local development and leadership styles, not unlike the recent candidates forum.

All the candidates agreed on the idea that employees need to pay a full share of the CALPERS pension benefit. Currently, three employee groups pay a full share of the employee portion of the pension benefit with police union negotiations upcoming.

Any differences on the subject came in how the change should be implemented as most candidates favored a tiered system while a few said a full-switch was needed.

I will have more on those topics and more in a story this weekend.

Various candidates will be meeting with our editorial board for the next month, who will in turn endorse candidates for the March 8 election. I will have something on Azusa later this week.

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New contract for Glendora’s chief cuts benefits

Went over the new contract for Glendora Police Chief Rob Castro who was approved by the council Tuesday.

Highlights include:

– No administrative leave time
– Base salary of roughly $180,000 a year
– Vacation capped at 200 hours, will accrue at the rate of 176 hours
– If he is terminated, will receive 6 months severance.
– Will pay full share of the employee portion of CALPERS.

Background: Former chief Montoya cashed out $80,000 in unused leave time when he retired in 2009. He credited the ability to use administrative leave in place of vacation in order to save it.

Full story in tomorrow’s paper.

Notes on the Glendora candidates forum

Last night was the Glendora council candidates forum where the seven contenders sparred (not really, more like, politely conveyed their views) over various city issues.

First and foremost, I must say that Ken Herman was a gracious moderator. Despite the questionable choice to choose a once candidate, incumbent Mayor to be the moderator that adds the opportunity for someone to cry foul over the forum’s fairness, it wasn’t an issue.

Herman read the questions, kept everyone within their allotted time, and commended the candidates as a group. He never singled out a candidate, interjected or gave his opinion.

Now for the highlights.

– In a forum where many of the candidates talked about leadership styles, the need to communicate better with residents and listen, incumbent councilman Doug Tessitor showed his experience.

For my two-cents, he had the money quote of the night – right or wrong. “Any decision you make has two sides. No matter what decision you make, it makes someone mad and someone happy. The person who is happy thinks you listened. The person who is mad thinks you didn’t listen.”

– Jason Nagy pulled a John Boehner, choking up during one bit.

OK, I feel genuinely bad for that joke. Nagy was clearly passionate last night and often spoke about his run being from his heart. No ill will intended.

– Cynthia Carrasco told me she is training for a bicycle marathon. So don’t be surprised if you see some bicyclists with some “Vote for Cynthia” jerseys.

– John Fields, while responding to a question about lawsuits from residents, said he felt some lawsuits were based on personal vendettas. He went onto say that some public records requests are also based on vendettas and he wondered if there was a way to filter such requests.

Short answer: No. Public records are just that. Public. Anyone person has a right to view them, vendetta or not.

– On the flip side, Fields promised to bring some flair and excitement to the council in the form of entertainment. This is actually a pretty good idea. Get people wondering what you might do if elected and maybe you get the curiosity vote. I can dig it.

– When asked the fully loaded question of what new state taxes the council candidates would support, the candidates had this shocking reply: None.

Who would have guessed? I am glad we got that question out of the way because otherwise who knows what could have happened.

– As a footnote, two candidates – Fields and Erica Landmann-Johnsey – graduated from Cal Poly Pomona representing the green and gold. Go Broncos! (If you haven’t figured it out, I am an alum)

– Landmann-Johnsey defended herself well with the forum’s most personal question regarding lawsuits against the city. Landmann-Johnsey was part of a group, Friends of Glendora, who filed a lawsuit against the city. In response, she said “”Lawsuits are sometimes necessary for people … who feel they are not being represented.”

– To the same question, Joe Santoro said “You’re really in jeopardy when someone wants to sue you.”

– Meg Whitman should have taken some lessons from Judy Nelson. Nelson, a business owner in Glendora, said she had not voted or paid attention to city politics for many years as she focused on her life. She owned it.

“I learned that is the wrong way to go,” she said.

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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