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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Politicians Setting Up Bogus Campaigns for State Treasurer

Money for Nothing (film)
Money for Nothing (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine getting a solicitation to contribute to a campaign for State Treasurer and then finding out the politician had no intentions of running for State Treasurer but wanted some way to get funds that he could use on another campaign which would result in going around campaign limits!

Well it seems this is all too common. While we have specific limitations on how much an individual can contribute to a campaign there is this gimmick going around in some political circles where politicians set up a number of campaign accounts and solicit contributions for all "campaigns" and then "donate" the funds from the campaign they are not pursuing to the real campaign they are. This allows donors to essentially give twice -- once to the phony campaign and once to the real. Consequently, this has created large political slush funds. But because these campaign reports are filed separately it is difficult for the public to track the double contributions.

This practice was highlighted in the Sacramento Bee as it detailed how Assemblyman Dan Logue set up a committee for State Treasurer and then admitted to the press, that he wasn't really running for State Treasurer but in fact raising money for other campaigns. (Most politicians never publicly admit that they didn't have a chance in hell of running for a statewide office because after all it might stop the contributions.)

We need to stop this practice because it creates political slush funds and makes a mockery out of campaign contribution limits. Most importantly it fails to provide the public with transparency about campaign finance.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

I goofed. I overspent. I am sorry.

Money - Black and White Money
Money - Black and White Money (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Two of the councilmembers and Mayor delighted in pointing out in public last Tuesday that I had come in over budget this past year by $3,543.86 out of a total council budget of $408,836.71. (Not to diminish the error but this amounts to .008 percent of my budget.)

I had been under budget for 11 months and in September (last month before the budget year ends) I was presented with an additional $1,336.88 in xeroxing charges and $747.10 and $1,246.79 in charges to use an IPAD to access the City Clerk’s Legistar system while in City Council.

I take responsibility for an overage. Just wished I had been given those charges earlier in the year so I could have cut something else.

I would like to point out some facts these councilmembers and the Mayor failed to point out about the 5th District budget since 2009:
2009 – under budget by $273.00
2010 – under budget by $3,957.00
2011 – under budget by $13,001.00.

After the wailing, gnashing of teeth and beating of their breasts about where or where would the City Manager find the money to offset this overspending, I offered to make a corresponding cut in the 2013 5th district budget of $3,544.00.

Below is my budget for 2012 -- which is the same amount as every other councilmember. The budgeting system is very convoluted with City charges and projected salary savings and other items that don't make much sense to the average person. (By the way the council and Mayor budgets are never shown by line item in the City budget document. The one I am including is probably your first look at what a council office budget looks like line by line.)

I am still trying to find out why I was charged $20 for Fleet Services; an extra 32 cents for Email and webservices; an extra .36 cents for desktop support. 

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Psst! Wanna Buy City Hall, the Main Library and the Old Courthouse for the Lowest Price in Real Estate History? Then Come to City Council on Tuesday, February 12!

I know my memory sometimes misses things, but in a search of records and the website, I cannot for the life of me find when the City Council ever had a public session and invited the public to come and discuss whether or not to sell off prime property a block from the ocean. That property would be the Civic Center, Lincoln Park, the Main Library, a parking structure and the old Superior Court.

Now you’d think I could remember such a public session where we invited the public to hear what City management had in mind for the not yet 39 year old structures. And I don’t ever recall the City Council giving direction to City Management to proceed in planning on selling this property – property that I might had has not had a public appraisal and is probably at its lowest value in 10 years due to the recession.

That’s why I strongly objected to the City Attorney Bob Shannon about the plan to put this discussion into a closed session out of public view and hearing this week. Apparently the City Attorney agreed because he pulled it out of closed session and opined it had to go into open session.  Unfortunately the item is not available for public review even though we have in place a rule that council agenda items have to be submitted 12 days in advance of the meeting so the public has time to review and to have notice if they need to come to City Council. But I do understand it will be submitted under the deadline on Friday and the public will get to have 3 days to review.

I am not sure who on the City Council or if it is the Mayor that is pushing City Management to start the process to sell off the City assets. But you have to ask yourself why? It does not make sense economically. The City cannot afford police services and just removed a fire engine from Gary DeLong’s district in Belmont Shore. We can’t maintain our parks right now. Our libraries don’t have enough funds to update materials. Real estate values are the lowest in 10 years.

So say we sell all this valuable property at dirt cheap rates, then what? What are we going to do to replace the buildings and pay to move everyone out and then back in? Where are we going to get the money to purchase or to lease new properties? Right now the buildings are paid for so why would we incur these costs?

Don’t even mention a public-partnership because everyone of those are nothing more than sweet deals for private developers that leave the taxpayer holding the bag for paying the costs. Take for instance the new courthouse in Long Beach. It is magnificent. However, the independent California Legislative Analyst's Office has found that the public-private partnership now building the state's $490 million Gov. George Deukmejian Courthouse in downtown Long Beach is costing $160 million more than it should because cost estimates were flawed. This money is being taken out the court system statewide.

No one seems to care about the taxpayer in these flight of fancy ideas to sell off public assets or to build new Taj Mahals.

It does not matter that the Mayor hates the design of Civic Center because the external appearance can be altered significantly for less than a new building. If it has design defects it is only 39 years old and the designer and construction company are both still around to be held accountable.

Keep in mind when a former Director of Public Works, who by the way was named the top Public Works professional in the U.S., wrote a memo showing how the Main Library and City Hall could be fixed and did not need to be replaced, she was promptly removed. She then left to head public works in Santa Barbara.
This is your city hall, your main library, your Lincoln Park and your courthouse. You should decide what happens to all of them. This Council and this Mayor won’t be in office when their plans get implemented. You will still be here paying taxes on whatever folly they put in motion.

Come on down to City Hall on Tuesday, February 12 at 5pm and let us know what you think about this plan.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Selling City Hall and the Main Library Should Be Decided in Public -- Not Behind Closed Doors

I objected to the City Council going into closed session regarding the potential sale of City Hall, the Main Library and the old courthouse, on the basis that the Brown Act is very specific about the conditions under which discussion about real property can take place in closed session.
Section 54956.8. Closed session; Real estate negotiations reads in pertinent part:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, a legislative body of a local agency may hold a closed session with its negotiator prior to the purchase, sale, exchange, or lease of real property by or for the local agency to grant authority to its negotiator regarding the price and terms of payment for the purchase, sale, exchange, or lease.
However, prior to the closed session, the legislative body of the local agency shall hold an open and public session in which it identifies the real property or real properties which the negotiations may concern and the person or persons with whom its negotiator may negotiate.”

The City has not identified the persons or persons with whom its negotiator may negotiate and therefore I believe this should not go into closed session and would ask that this be laid over for a public session at which the Council can publicly discuss what it is exactly being proposed for the City property. 

 A recent Attorney General Opinion narrows what can be discussed in closed session concerning real estate to price and terms:  “If local agencies need a ‘rule of reason’ allowing them the flexibility secretly to discuss all aspects of any project involving some transfer of an interest in real property, they must seek such authority in new legislation.  Otherwise their ‘rule of reason’ is precisely what is withheld in the Brown Act’s preamble as ‘the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.’”

 The taxpayers deserve to know what their elected officials have in mind for their public assets. Additionally, in this economic time when property values are at an all time low, it seems unwise to be placing property on the market. It also seems unwise at a time the City cannot properly fund police and just recently removed a fire engine from Belmont Shore, that it would embark on buying itself a new City Hall. Taxpayers have the right to know in open, public sessions what is being proposed by City management and to fully engage in any discussion that would impact the decision. To date, taxpayers have not been given this opportunity.

The item was pulled from the agenda and will be placed in open session next week.

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