CPOA president Will Clark squeals for more overtime in the budget

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.


Should Scott Gruendl appoint his own replacement?

This morning I finally got around to writing a letter to council about the Scott Gruendl situation. I’m going to send a similar letter to the Enterprise Record, and the News and Review.  I hope more people will write. I’m sure Gruendl’s participation in this committee isn’t appropriate, but we have to say something about it, or it won’t change. He’ll also end up being our city manager, and I’m telling you people, THAT will be a disaster. If you think we’re already in trouble, think “Halloween II”. 

Please write those letters.

Dear Council,

At the March 21 council meeting, Toby Schindelbeck asked, during Business from the Floor, that a discussion be agendized regarding Scott Gruendl’s participation in the Policy and Procedures Committee discussion about how a vacant council seat may be filled between elections. I would like to ask that council agendize this discussion.
Mr. Gruendl has made it clear that he intends to seek the city manager position, so I wonder if it is appropriate for him to sit in on a committee that makes the rules by which he can appoint his own replacement. I think the public should weigh in on this matter, or at least know the situation. 
I’d also like to point out that these meetings are not noticed to the public, nor are they included in the list of “Minutes and Agendas” on the city’s website. This omission should also be part of the above agendized discussion. 
Thank you for your consideration, Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

Please write letters – do you really think Scott Gruendl’s actions are okay?

Scott Gruendl thinks he can intimidate people out of asking questions – we need more people to ask questions.

Please e-mail or write a letter to Chico City Council. First of all, ask them to agendize a discussion about whether it is appropriate for Scott Gruendl to sit on a board and manufacture rules for himself to fill his own council seat. How can this be appropriate – he has made it clear that he intends to vacate his council seat, how can they in good conscience allow him to make up the rules by which he will name his own successor? This matter is a reflection of  the competence and integrity of the entire council – let them know that.

Then let them know what you think of this man being our city manager.  Scott Gruendl signed the Memo of Understanding that attached city salaries to increases in revenues but NOT DECREASES, a move that raised the city pay scale by over $100,000 within 10 years. This alone should disqualify him as city manager – he is either incompetent or a knowing accomplice to embezzlement.  How are we to believe that he did not always intend to take this job as soon as the pay scale reached his acceptable level? When they signed that MOU, the city manager only made $84,000/yr – now he makes over $200,000/yr.  And now Scott Gruendl, one of the people who signed that MOU, and for all we know, helped write it, steps up to take one of those artificially inflated salaries?  Come on! Wake up!

Please e-mail city council at dpresson@ci.chico.ca.us.





Scott Gruendl threatens city council candidate for asking questions

After the unpleasant tug-o-war last year over Larry Wahl’s vacated council seat, a number of people asked for a new policy for filling such vacancies. This discussion went to the Policy and Procedures Committee.

This committee is not listed on the city website, so I have no idea when the meetings are held. Luckily local businessman and city council candidate Toby Schindelbeck has been paying attention.  He attended the meeting held Wednesday, March 14.

Mr. Schindelbeck was also paying attention when council member Scott Gruendl announced via the Enterprise Record recently that he is throwing his hat into the ring for the soon-to-be vacated City Manager position. This of course would leave Gruendl’s council seat vacant – another instance of the need for a new policy for filling such a vacancy. So, when Schindelbeck realized that Scott Gruendl was sitting on the Policy and Procedures Committee, he raised a legitimate question – is Gruendl’s participation in this committee appropriate given his announced intentions? I mean, he’s setting up the rules by which his own seat will be filled.

When Schindelbeck didn’t get an answer to his question from the committee, he took it to the city council, at the end of this past Tuesday night’s meeting – 3/20 – you can see it under “Business from the Floor” at  this link:


Mr. Schindelbeck was perfectly clear – he simply stated the situation, and asked that Gruendl  recuse himself from the committee for obvious conflict of interest. Schindelbeck reminded us that Gruendl recused himself voluntarily from council discussions regarding the filling of the city manager position, because he is a candidate for that position. So why is it okay for him to be on the committee that makes up the rules for how his vacant council seat will be filled?

Council sat silent after Schindelbeck made his request and took his seat. Then Stephanie Taber stood up to make a comment, followed by a couple of other folks. All these people received feedback from council, but council didn’t have anything to say about this obvious conflict? That’s weird.

But I’ll tell you what’s really weird – Schindelbeck contacted me the next day to tell me that Scott Gruendl had followed him to his vehicle parked out back of City Hall and accosted him on the spot.

“As I was starting up my truck, he rushes up to my window and knocks. I get out and he proceeds to accuse me of  ‘borderline slander’, that I insulted his integrity and brought up his personal life with no reason.”

Furthermore,  “He then told me that I would find out what it is like to be in politics and that I ‘better watch out.'”

I don’t know Toby Schindelbeck that well, but in our conversations he’s always come off as polite and businesslike. I watched him speak to council minutes before this confrontation and his behavior was consistent and appropriate.

I have been to meetings and other functions with Scott Gruendl for over 15 years, and I can say that what Schindelbeck related is consistent with Scott’s behavior. I’ve had several weird experiences with Gruendl.

At a morning committee meeting, there was a discussion about why the public does not like low-income housing. I didn’t agendize this discussion, I saw it on the agenda and I attended. When the question arose, I simple raised my hand and asked Scott Gruendl why he and his neighbors protested a low-income housing subdivision planned for right next to Doe Mill, by a company called Pacific West Communities.  At the time, Gruendl and his neighbors were quoted in the local papers as saying this low-income development would lower the value of their homes.  The company spokesperson,  Cynthia Guckenburg, told me in an e-mail that it was Council member Gruendl’s participation with the protesters that made her company completely back out of the deal. They instead  built Chico Courtyards  on a skinny strip right between the freeway and North Valley Plaza Mall.  You can just about see inside the windows as you buzz by on Hwy 99.

I simply asked Gruendl to explain why he and his neighbors didn’t want that low-income development. He went nuts. He told me I was harrassing him, and if I didn’t quit, he, as chairman of the committee, was going to adjourn the meeting. I looked around at the stunned faces in the packed room, and I said, “Go right ahead Scott.” He flustered for a moment, then regained his composure, well, kind of – but he wouldn’t answer the question, and the conversation stayed pretty hot.

Gruendl thinks he can bluster and intimidate people – is this the kind of behavior that is driving jobs away from our town? Keeping citizens from participating?

Is this appropriate behavior for a city manager? For anybody?

David Walsh illustrates stupidity of roundabouts

The following letter from Enloe nurse and union advocate David Walsh illustrates the problem with roundabouts:
Letter: Yield to those alread\ in the roundabout
Chico Enterprise Record
PoVWed: 03/16/2012 12:49:01 AM PDT
Jay Charlesworth’s letter Sunday is well intentioned but betrays his ignorance of how roundabouts actually work.
He’s confusing them with a four-way stop, where drivers generally take turns in the order in which they arrive at the
intersection. In a roundabout, the principle is that a driver entering the roundabout yields to those already in the
roundabout. Or, to say it another way: In countries that drive on the right, yield to cars coming from your left.
To use a concrete local example, a vehicle operator coming from Hooker Oak into the roundabout at Hooker Oak and
Manzanita yields to drivers coming from the left on Manzanita ² yes , that means yielding to as many of them as
necessary ² but has the right of way relative to drivers coming from the right on Manzanita.
Incidentally, drivers who are fairly alert should only occasionally need to stop at a roundabout ² you only stop if a car is
close enough to threaten you, but has not yet committed to exiting the roundabout. When everyone drives with skill and
awareness, it should usually be more like merging onto a freeway than stopping at a stop sign.
An online search for “how to use a roundabout” will turn up numerous sites with more details and useful instructional
² David Welch, Chico

When the city of Chico went on it’s little roundabout rampage, we were told that roundabouts would keep traffic moving, preventing all that exhaust from getting into the ozone. Now we see, that was never the real intention – during rush hour, the roundabouts are backed up just like any other intersection, with cars sitting, farting exhaust into the atmosphere. 

The real intention was to get money to pay salaries Downtown. 

Roundabouts are good for the cops, because they no longer have to write tickets for running stop signs and red lights. Roundabouts are good for the insurance companies, because it is impossible to assign blame in an accident, so nobody pays! And roundabouts are good for $taff, because they cost millions.

A stop sign has rules, if you don’t follow, you are at fault. In a roundabout, it’s the rule of the aggressive. Roundabouts are based on human nature folks, and you might have noticed, some nasty humans have moved into town over the last 6 – 8 years, same kind of people you run into in crappy towns like Vallejo and Fairfield – they’ve moved here! And you’ll be “running into them” in our lovely roundabouts.

Spring Ahead Sucks!


Grandma's Flags

Yes, today you had an hour stolen from your life – you can thank the gub’mint, like you can thank them for property taxes and public art projects.

I hate Spring Ahead, it throws everything off. Now when I’m out in the garden I have to do math to know what time it is.  

But of course, we get Fall Back – I guess I can relate to that. 

It’s almost time to get your Utility Tax Rebate

It’s been a merciful winter, and utility bills have been down. And revenues are down at the City of Chico.

According to city Finance Director? Jennifer Hennessy’s latest budget projections, Utility Tax revenues will be down 1.5 percent for the first quarter of 2012.

Utility tax is one of the city’s top three sources of revenue, along with property tax and sales tax, bringing in over $6 million a year.

UT is a poor tax – a tax on the poor – the city takes 5 percent of a person’s TOTAL bill, even if they are eligible for programs like CARE, FERA, LIRA, or Lifeline. It’s really stealing – ask yourself, just exactly what service does the city provide in getting me my electricity, water, or phone? That’s right – NOTHING. But they make the rules around here, so, like Don Fanucci, they’re going to get their cut.

Gotta love that Sheriff of Nottingham bravado, don’t cha? What next – Ann Schwab beats up Gramma for a 5% cut of her Social Security check? Andy Holcombe shakes down a paraplegic for a wheel chair tax? Scott Gruendl threatens to take your kids away if you don’t pay a sneaker tax?

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you – right now the city of Chico has got an item scooting toward the (June? November?) ballot to raise the UT on your cell phone, and institute a new UT on your land line. They used to have a UT on your cell phone – it ran almost $5 a month for my family. Technology changed, apparently, and the wording in the tax law has become outdated, and the city stands to lose about $900,000 a year, according to City Mangler Dave Burkland, if we the suckers don’t pass a ballot initiative to tax ourselves on our phones.

My family has done everything we can to cut expenses, like so many others, we have less coming in, at the same time prices are going up. The city of Chico has no sympathy for the problems we face everyday – making decisions over whether or not to buy groceries? Has Ann Schwab had to decide whether or not she can afford a jar of peanut butter at $7.99?

Screw sacrifice – I been pouring over my grounds for a couple of years now Babee, you don’t even want to know what happens when Juanita runs out of cheap arabic coffee. Okay, I’ll tell you – ever hear that story about four guys on horseback?

I’m sorry, I get so overdramatic when I look at the city budget. What a mess, you really should read it. It’s like diving into your kid’s room instead of sitting out on the patio with a beer and saying, “get that mess cleaned up!” Yes, there’s a sandwich in there, a moldy sandwich, stuck to a plate, with a couple of shirts laying on it, and you need to get it out yourself. They will hide it because they know you’ll throw a big hissy fit and say, “Is this THAT SANDWICH! I told you to throw this away last time!”

Well, this time, you better throw it out yourself. As for the budget, here’s a few items that might catch the attention of the health inspector:

One moldy budget sandwich is a $434,000 expenditure for “Rehabilitation of Taxiway H and holding apron, and airport layout plan update for Chico Municipal Airport.”

Meaning, they slapped some asphalt on a runway and made a plan to do some more work and charged the taxpayers over $400,000, $21,000 of which was charged to the RDA. That means we pay back at least $60,000.

Here’s another stinker: $83,000 (another $20,000 of it from the RDA) for the “Evaluation and assessment of multiple airport facilities that will be vacated by Aero Union Corporation. The evaluation will identify the repairs and upgrades that are necessary to rehabilitate the properties to be suitable for leasing.”

$83,000 for $taffers to “evaluate and assess” repairs for an old abandoned building. Do you see the irony here? Aero Union left Chico because they got sick of the runaround from the city. The city of Sacramento threw out the welcome mat and cut the bullshit, and there Aero Union went. And here’s the city of Chico piling on more bullshit. Only we’re the ones picking up the dime.

And here’s an item that really sums up the scam the city is pulling on us – RDA is supposed to be used to prevent and clean-up blight and help stimulate neighborhoods economically. So, here we have $30,000 for a project to prevent “blight” at Stansbury House. You know, that neat old Victorian where they have events like ice cream socials a couple of times a year. Did you have any idea how that old crapper was pulling down the rest of that neighborhood? Yes, here it is:

$80,000 for a  “Building assessment to develop a budget and improvement strategy for publicly owned historical building.  Payment of funds will assist in the elimination of blight. The ultimate improvement of a publicly owned building will reduce deterioration and dilapidation in the project area.”

To “develop a budget.” Hmmmm.

So, this is why they need to tax us on our PG&E, water and phone bills, to pay for $taff to do crap like this. We might as well pay them to sit at their desk and play tiddly winks.  If you aren’t outraged, you need to put your hand in boiling water for 30 seconds.

If you are outraged, do what I do every year: save your utility billing paperwork and go to the city finance office in May to take your UT rebate. You very likely qualify – a family of four can make over $35,000 – I’m not sure on that figure, it might be as high as $45,000. You don’t have to be destitute to take back YOUR money. The forms should be available at the city website by the end of March, but I have had to e-mail the finance office the last couple of years to remind them. You should keep an eye on that. I’ll be sure to let everybody know.

When I’ve gone in over the past few years, I’ve asked the person at the desk, and they’ve told me – nobody goes in for this rebate, and I’m guessing at least a third of the households in the city qualify. We could certainly make a blip on their foggy radar if we all started going in to demand our rebate.

The least amount I’ve gotten back was about $35. I received an all-time high of about $103 one year, when we were living in a big old house with an ancient heat and air system. Sometimes I apply the money toward bills, sometimes I do something special with it. But it’s always worth that feeling of standing on my hind legs for a few minutes.

Hey, Shuberts is within blocks of the city building, do yourself a flavor!