I just love this blustery weather. So, I got on my bike the other morning in a pretty firm drizzle and headed out through the park. The trails were slippery – brownie batter – old Myrt had to be on her treads. A couple of does ran out in front of us at one point and before I could say “Deer!” they disappeared into the brush. The outstanding feature in the park these days is the Color Green – in more shades than lip gloss. And when the sun is coming out, you will see little rainbow drops in every direction – sparkle, sparkle!
I wasn’t in it for the ride, I was headed to one of those 8am meetings Downtown. That’s the time of day when you can still smell people’s deodorant and hair stuff. There’s free coffee, and nowadays, it’s not any worse than mine. And it was a Finance Committee meeting – in an economy like this, these are the meetings to pay attention to.
This past Tuesday they were talking about the Community Development Block Grants – you know, free money for salaries at places like the Blue Room and the Nature Center. The committee heard a report regarding eligibility – essentially, applicants must come up with some way in which they enrich our city, whether financially or aesthetically or whatever. I think the smallest grant is around $5,000, for groups like the Cat Coalition. The Nature Center gets the biggest grant, over $20,000 a year.
The Nature Center is also again asking not to pay the $185,000 loan that came out of RDA money, and it sounds like they’re going to have their way. Again. They have yet to pay a dime on that loan, and I believe they are lobbying to have it completely forgiven. If you ask Scott Gruendl about that he’ll play word games with you, but he’ll have to agree, they borrowed $185,000 of tax money and haven’t paid back a dime. And the Taj Majal “classroom” they built with it is not open to the public.
The committee accepted the CDBG report and went on to hear a $taff proposal to rent out the Old Municipal Building to groups like Chico Chamber of Commerce. I think it’s great to rent out extra space in that building, which used to be a classic example of blight and a financial black hole for the city. But, if I were a Downtown landlord, I’d be concerned about them undercutting the market – while many landlords Downtown are getting upwards of $1.50 a square foot, the Chico Chamber told the city they won’t pay more than $1 a square foot to rent space in an “historic” building right on Main Street across from Concrete in the Park. Is it really appropriate for the city to go into the rental business, and then undercut other landlords?
Of course, that’s how they have ruined the residential rental market in Chico, why not go for the commercial sector too?
And finally we got around to the “standing” reports on our budget. We should just give this a nickname, you know, like the British call the Irish – The Troubles.
At this point, Chico Police Officers Association president Will Clark started asking pointy questions. He asked about the recent supplemental budget appropriation. He wanted to know, “how do we go from ‘almost balanced ‘ to $900,000 in the hole?” He was referring to the difference between the preliminary budget etched out late last year and Jennifer Hennessy’s recent declaration that her earlier budget projections were, well, a tad bit short of reality.
What Clark really seemed upset about was that many of us blame pensions, salaries, and particularly overtime for the budget shortfall. He questioned Hennessy pretty insistently, asking her, “did Chico PD ask for any supplemental budget increase?”
Flustered, Hennessy told him repeatedly that she didn’t know what report he had read, what page he was on, she didn’t have those figures, suggesting that he come in to chat with her and City Mangler Dave Burkland about it some time. But where Clark left off, a uniformed fire department employee followed with “what changed all the sudden, that now Chico fire is asked to down staff a truck or close a station?”
Here Clark protested that both Chico PD and Fire come in under budget, “even though our overtime is a little high…” Hmmm. Now there’s a stretch. Sure, Mr. Clark is probably right – and he better be. The police department gets over half the budget pie, and the fire department gets a good 40 percent. I guess they darned well better come in under budget! We don’t have any more pie!
Another way they stay within their budget is “structural overtime.” That means, they get guaranteed overtime in their schedules. That’s the only way many of these greedy piggies would agree to what we’d consider a reasonable salary – if they are given guaranteed overtime to season it up a little, and as many opportunities for more as the average little glutton can stomach. Many of these “public servants” actually double their salaries with overtime. This is called “spiking” – these people retire at 70 – 90 percent of their highest year’s salary, including overtime.
Clark made it clear that he was tired of hearing criticism of Chico PD, particularly on the issue of overtime. He feels these discussions just rile up the public, he’d like to see the budget expanded without dragging the public into it. He wants every holiday weekend figured into the preliminary budget - Belly Up to the Trough Boys! - simply so there’s not a big dramatic discussion in front of the public about how overtime has dragged us over budget, AGAIN! He just wants more of it put in the budget in the first place.
He claims that any three day weekend should be “all hands on deck,” because you know, those students, they just came here to get drunk and throw stuff at the cops.
Officer Clark wants the public out of the conversation. He feels that the public just doesn’t get it. “You can explain to people until you’re blue in the face…but you can’t explain anything to them. Alot of people just don’t want to get educated.”
Funny he should mention education. I happened to pick up a copy of the Chico State Orion recently – the article “Holiday crime par for course” caught my attention. It starts out with references to Saint Patrick’s Day, but as you read along, you see it’s just another weekend in Downtown Chico. “A drunken man tried to force his way in (to a Downtown business)…The man was irate and yelling…” An employee had called police when “The drunken man charged the front door of the business and broke the door jam…” Still waiting for police, the employee reported “the drunken man returned and kicked out the front window…Damages are estimated at $1,100 – $1,200.” In reference to calling Chico PD, the employee reportedly remarked, “You might as well call Superman.”
The article mentions that of 50 arrests, only 11 were identified as college students. Remember, an arrest isn’t a conviction – we don’t know how many of these arrests will be thrown out of court at the public expense. And, let’s also remember – court time equals overtime for police officers.
I had to leave the meeting early, I was not able to ascertain if Mr. Clark went “weee weee weee” all the way home.