Sunday, August 31, 2014

(Butte County) Chico Council to consider options for Butte County Grand Jury response

Direction on waste franchising also expected Tuesday

August 31, 2014
Chico Enterprise-Record
By Ashley Gebb

CHICO >> Concerns raised by the Butte County Grand Jury about the city of Chico's finances are consistent with those of the City Council and appreciated "in light of the challenges that the organization faces," Mayor Scott Gruendl writes in the mandatory response.
The exact detail to which the City Council will agree with the 2013-14 Grand Jury's findings remains to be seen. Councilors are expected to consider approval of the response Tuesday, with options to choose from on each of the 15 findings and seven recommendations. In his letter, the mayor also pledges a commitment to organizational transparency and accurately reporting facts, and he says the city will provide additional information and clarification if necessary.
"It is our mission to accept the Grand Jury's report, reflect upon comments received and put into place improvements to ensure efficient and effective governance," Gruendl writes.
The Grand Jury report, published in late June, states that while there was no evidence of illegal wrongdoing or personal profiting from the city of Chico's financial management, the City Council has known since 2007 it was running a deficit.
A follow-up to a prior Grand Jury investigation, the report on Chico finances states the city's financial crisis was caused by inflated salaries and benefits that clearly outpaced revenues, fees charged by various enterprise funds that did not cover service costs, enterprise accounts used inappropriately to balance the general fund as revenues declined, and city administration failing to provide pertinent information to council to make the necessary adjustments.
The 16 pages of potential responses included staff responses and alternatives for councilors to consider. They could also amend any response how they see fit.
Many of the proposed responses agree with the grand jury's findings, but a few refute the findings or offer at least partial disagreement. Objections are included for the following findings:
• The City Council failed in its responsibility to oversee actions of the management team and allowed it to frame its own agenda
• During 2008-2012, upper level management failed to share complete and accurate information with council members
• With respect to finances and structural deficits, it appears the prior city manager abdicated his responsibility and allowed the finance director to take charge
Another area of potential disagreement is with the Grand Jury's recommendation that the City Council and city manager work together to develop a plan to rehire lost staff when funds are available instead of contracting out for services. The city has until Sept. 25 to submit its response.
Also Tuesday, the council is expected consider options for waste franchising, which has been tabled for the last two meetings. Richard Tagore-Erwin of R3 Consulting Group will ask for direction on the terms, conditions and service options to include in the franchise agreement negotiations.
The finance committee's recommendation is to negotiate an exclusive franchise with Waste Management and Recology based on two exclusive residential service zones based on a split of current revenue base. The two companies would also be responsible for providing street sweeping, leaf collection, collection from city buildings and illegal dumping.
Commercial services would remain in current open market competition between the two companies. The city would set the maximum rates for both commercial and residential services. The staff report states the fiscal impact of the agreements will be determined during negotiations.
The council will also consider introduction of a nondiscrimination ordinance and consider changes to council procedures per the council procedures committee. And there will be a public hearing regarding the proposed closure of a bike path at Sunrise and Ricky courts.
The meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Chico City Council Chambers, 421 Main St.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

(Butte County) Letter: Motives behind Grand Jury investigation questioned

August 30, 2014
Chico Enterprise-Record

In response to letter writer Charles Geshekter: I decided to look in to the 2014 Grand Jury report after reading editorials and letters to the editor that claimed that the report proves that liberals caused the city's financial problem.
I knew from news articles that Mark Sorensen played a significant role in setting the investigation in motion and supplied most of the information it relied on.
The jury had a choice to start its investigation with some point in time. Why did it pick 2008, the year of the "great recession"?
If you really wanted to try to determine what policies and practices of the city led to the deficits, the reasonable place to look was the period of prosperity that ended in 2007 with the city $6 million in debt.
According to documents referenced in the report, the practice of manipulating funds to hide the deficit goes back more than 20 years to at least the mid-1980s.
Reading the report, I was dismayed that the evidentiary section was full of mostly hearsay accusations that seem to come from Brian Nakamura and Sorensen. The findings section did not have a single finding on the impact of the recession or the loss of the Redevelopment Agency .
Finally, the 2013 report covered everything. There was no need for a further investigation. The 2013 report found Nakamura lying. The 2014 report treated him like the savior. It is for these reasons that I question the motives behind the report.
— Mike Bush, Chico