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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Commentary: Lois Wolk To Run For Senate, Now She had Better Be Prepared to Win

Now the fun has truly begun. The Davis Enterprise reported yesterday that Lois Wolk, Assemblywoman who currently represents Davis in the 8th Assembly District will run for the state senate. She is unopposed for the Democratic primary.

Her opponent will be fellow Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian--who also figures to run unopposed for the Republican nomination.

Now it is time to get serious for Wolk. Frankly I was appalled when I saw the campaign finance figures that came out of the recent reporting period. Lois Wolk has raised all of $140,831. What has she been doing for the last year and two months? Was she really expecting to be able to run for reelection to the Assembly by way of passage of Prop 93.

Her opponent has already raised $656,675 and a good chunk of that has come directly from the Republican party--which means that they are targeting this race.

The Enterprise reports that Wolk has accepted campaign spending limits, but Aghazarian has not. That's actually misleading, what this really means is that Aghazarian has passed the limits already in the amount he can spend. The law provides for a candidate to amend that form at least twice during the course of the campaign, so as soon as the candidate passes the finance limit, they will simply file an amended statement.

But let us not kid ourselves. This is a district that produced in 2004 the most expensive Senate race in state history. And it figures to surpass the $10 million mark this time. Simply math will almost insure that since there are very few senate district that have any sort of district that are in play.

Some have suggested that this race figures to be easier than the one that Machado eked out by a 13,000 vote margin.

However, we need to examine a few things before we anoint Assemblywoman Wolk the winner. Other than a contested Democratic Primary in 2002 where she faced a young West Sacramento Mayor, Christopher Cabaldon and former Vacaville City Councilman Steve Hardy, Wolk has really never had a contested race that she had to win. Even then, she was the best known and most experienced of the candidates.

She has not had to run in a contested partisan election. She has not had to run against a candidate who is on equally footing as she is. She has not had to defeat a better financed candidate than herself. She has not been a virtual unknown in the vast part of the district.

These should not be read as criticisms, they should be read as warnings that she had better take this fight as a life or death fight, because her opponent will fight her to the death. She has plenty of time to equalize those campaign finance numbers, but she had better getting cracking on fundraising.

Make no mistake, this is a race that a Democrat can and probably should win, especially in a year like 2008. However, it should not be taken for granted. This is a political fight, the likes of which, Lois Wolk has never faced and she had better be ready for it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, February 29, 2008

Radio Show Reminder

I will be on KDVS on TODAY AT 5 PM. KDVS at 90.3 FM is broadcast from the UC Davis campus. I will be on Richard Estes and Ron Glick's "Speaking in Tongues" program from 5 pm to 6 pm. For those outside of the broadcast are, log on to their website to listen online.

The major topic of discussion this week will be the Vanguard's investigative reporting on Davis Joint Unified's Former Business Chief Tahir Ahad and his company Total School Solutions.

Listeners to the Speaking in Tongues show are invited to call to KDVS at (530) 754-KDVS. They also archive their show in case you miss it.

Friday Vanguard Stories

UC Files Unfair Labor Practice Charge Against AFSCME

The California Aggie yesterday reported that UC has filed an unfair labor practice charge against AFSCME 3299 for "violation of agreed-upon reasonable access policies."

According to the spokesperson for UC:
"Leaflet distribution is allowed, however, the union has agreed to abide by UC's access policies, and they violated that agreement."
According to the article, this is in violation of their access policy contract:
The specific clause that the union is being charged with violating is under general provision of Article 1 in the access policies contract which states "AFSCME will abide by the reasonable access rules and regulations promulgated at each campus/laboratory."
Meanwhile the union not surprisingly is questioning those charges and arguing that UC is attempting to violate their first amendment right to free speech.

Leticia Garcia-Prado, a UCD Med Center worker questioned the charge.
"AFSCME began leafleting on Jan. 15 and continued for three weeks with no problems until Feb. 5, when UCSF police told our leafleters that they would be arrested if they did not stop... On the same day, UCLA told our leafleters that they had to move to a location two buildings away from the Medical Center's front doors,"
Moreover she asserted that these actions constituted an infringement of the first amendment right to free speech.
"Our right to leaflet the public is a fundamental free speech right... [The leaflets contained] information regarding staff turnover in some medical center departments, use of temporary staff in some departments, high-stress work environments and low-morale caused by being paid wages that are less than at other area hospitals."
Does UC have a point here or are they merely trying to throw up roadblocks to the union at a time when they are stepping up their efforts to pressure UC on a campus-wide basis. The courts have been pretty consistent about ruling in favor of access for unions as a matter of freedom of speech and they have consistently held that unions have the right to gain access to their members at their place of work. A fundamental protection, without which, would make it extremely difficult for unions to organize workers.



Meanwhile, the impasse continues on UC contracts and yesterday marked a day with large rallies and protests in Sacramento in front of the UC Med Center.

According to a release from AFSCME 3299:
"The contracts for over 20,000 essential healthcare and service workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 have expired. The members of AFSCME Local 3299 are concerned with the ongoing direction of the University and how it is affecting their ability to provide the highest quality patient care and student services

AFSCME Local 3299 members believe that below-market wages, expensive benefits and the failure to implement a step system have created recruitment and retention problems, which have resulted in a less-expensive workforce, reliance on temporary workers in some departments and heavy workloads for essential patient care workers at UC’s five medical centers. Wages in many classifications are 25% to 30% below workers doing the same jobs at other leading hospitals in the state. On UC’s campuses, low wages and unaffordable benefits have led to service cuts for students and faculty and have created a workforce that struggles to make ends meet for their families."
On the UC Davis campus, roughly 30 workers and supporters rallied with picket signs and began to leaflet at the Memorial Union in an attempt to educate students and faculty on their struggle.

The fliers read:
"You can ensure quality student services and direct UC jobs and a fair contract for workers."
In the meantime it seems clear the university and UC will do whatever it can to throw up roadblocks to the efforts of workers who seek decent wages and affordable health care benefits. The fact that UC is a public agency makes their tactics all the more troubling. The insulation of UC which receives large quantities of public money is troubling. There is a lack of accountability to the taxpayers of California in terms of the policy directions they go.

In the meantime, it is our hope that UC will not continue to try to solve its budget problems on the backs of its lowest paid workers while executives and administrators receive $200,000 to $300,000 per year, sometimes higher.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Commentary: Beware of the Growth Boogie Man in the School Budget Debate

In two days, there have been two letters to the editor in the Davis Enterprise that have linked the issue of growth to the issue of the school budget deficit that is projected at $4 million for this year.

On Wednesday, February 27, 2008, Larry Moore of Davis writes:
"The situation with the school budget, the charter school and the growth of Davis are serious issues that should be carefully and continually evaluated as they have been. However, I have not seen mentioned that maybe these issues are related to each other. Not withstanding the state budget, the plight of our schools is related in part to the declining enrollment."
He concludes:
"The plight of the school budget and the no-growth mantra of Davis are related."
Yesterday, a similar letter by John Foraker with a similar vein:
"Are you frustrated that Davis schools' educational programs are soon to be gutted, at least one school closed, while band and other 'non- essential' curriculum are also sacrificed? Me too! But even more frustrating is the inability, or intellectual unwillingness, of many to connect the dots from our recent city track record.

Allow me to help with the basic math: Virtually no new family housing or major developments for five-plus years equals fewer families buying Davis homes equals fewer kids of school age equals less revenue for daily operation of our schools. It is, unfortunately, that simple.

So, next time you stand up to decry a new development, or to sign a petition supporting small-footprint infill development over the kinds of homes more families actually want to buy, remember that your well-intentioned position is not without consequence."
It was only a matter of time before these two issues became intertwined--with the growth boogie man popping its head out to suggest we had better grow or our schools are imperiled.

However before we plunge head long into new developments let us take a brief examination of the problem.

It is interesting that both gentlemen focused on declining enrollment. And indeed with a steeper decline this year of 180 students, that is a concern. But even at 180 students, that only accounts for $1 million of the $4 million deficit. Or 25% of the problem.

$1.5 million are due to the budget cuts, but more concerning is the $1.5 million that is due to fiscal mismanagement under the previous CBO of the district. We will talk more about this problem next week, but the basics are that one-time monies were used to fund ongoing programs. When those monies dried up, the district was left in a budget deficit that ate away at its voluntary (as opposed to state mandate reserves).

The result is two-fold. First it caused a budget deficit that we have to correct for. But just as bad, it eliminated reserves that we could have used this year for a softer landing.

The state fundings cuts also amount to roughly $1.5 million. Experts suspect that Democrats will greatly reduce that number, but even if that $1.5 million is cut to $.5 million, the district will have to cut $3 million this year. So even in the best case scenario, that's a problem.

Declining enrollment is indeed the problem, but even under a rosier economic projection it only amounts to 33% of the deficit. Even if we had no declining enrollment we would be facing $2 to $3 million in cuts.

The second part of the picture is looking at the growth policies. The only substantial development project that was nixed was Covell Village. Are these two letter writers suggesting that declining enrollment is a reason that we should have passed Covell Village?

There are a number of reasons that Covell Village was a poor project. The average cost of a home there would have been between $400,000 and $600,000. It is true that there would have been affordable housing there, but realistically speaking, the majority of the units there would probably not have contributed much to the school district's population and it would have been phased in over 10 years.

Aside from Covell Village, what housing development has been nixed? So to attribute all of the declining enrollment to the failure of Covell Village seems to be a bit extreme.

I don't disagree with the premise that we need more affordable housing for younger families. Along those lines the best way to produce that would be to provide housing for young faculty members to move into the city. A project like say, West Village.

If the city would partner with the university to provide specifically for faculty and student housing, we could increase the amount of housing for particularly young faculty members who were just hired by the university. Those young faculty members are most likely to have young children and would then bring their young children to our district.

What is clear at this point is that they are going to attempt to use the budget deficit with the school as a wedge to demand new development. We need to keep in mind two things. First, that declining enrollment only accounts for a small percentage of the budget deficit. And second, that many of the projects proposed in recent years were not going to bring in a lot of families with children. We need to be smart in the face of adversity and not panic to try to implement simple solutions that do not solve the problem.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thursday Vanguard Stories

Vanguard Radio Programming Announcement

The People's Vanguard of Davis proudly announces that on Wednesday, March 5, 2008, its radio show will debut on KDRT 101.5 FM in Davis. The weekly show will air from 6 pm to 7 pm and will feature news from the week and guests. This is an outstanding way in which to expand interest in the Vanguard and to provide the city of Davis with public affairs programming. Stay tuned to future information about next week's guest.

In the meantime, I would like to announce that I will be on KDVS on Friday. KDVS at 90.3 FM is broadcast from the UC Davis campus. I will be on Richard Estes and Ron Glick's "Speaking in Tongues" program from 5 pm to 6 pm. For those outside of the broadcast are, log on to their website to listen online.

The major topic of discussion this week will be the Vanguard's investigative reporting on Davis Joint Unified's Former Business Chief Tahir Ahad and his company Total School Solutions.

As a reminder, the second of the three part series will be posted on Monday morning (as opposed to Sunday as previously announced). In addition, there is a reasonable possibility that the series will be extend beyond three segments depending on future developments. The first of the three part series was posted on Sunday, February 24.

Listeners to the Speaking in Tongues show are invited to call to KDVS at (530) 754-KDVS. They also archive their show in case you miss it.

Councilmember Heystek's Persistence on Living Wage Leads to Future Discussion

Early in Lamar Heystek's tenure as Davis City Councilmember, he pushed for a living wage ordinance. This ordinance would have required large employers within the city of Davis to provide a living wage for their employees. The Council Majority of Councilmembers Don Saylor, Stephen Souza, and Ruth Asmundson rejected that ordinance in a somewhat contentious proceding.

Instead the council majority led by Stephen Souza and Don Saylor suggested that they were working on a project labor agreement on Target. This issue came up prior to the election on Measure K (Target) in November of 2006 and we have not heard about it since.

Meanwhile last spring, Councilmember Heystek continued to push for a living wage, this one in a less contentious venue--city contracts--a venue in which the city council has complete control, as opposed to a city wide venue where the control is more tenuous.

In late May of 2007, Councilmember Heystek asked staff:
“The council had given staff direction to analyze the issue of the living wage vis-√†-vis our contracts when we were either renegotiating or updating those contracts, can you tell us whether that is still on track and what the timeline is on that procedure?”
The response by Bill Emlen was that this was on the radar.
"Councilmember Heystek was particularly concerned with outsourced labor by the city, particularly in light of the recent events at UC Davis regarding the Sodexho workers. He asked Parks and Community Development Director Donna Silva whether there were advantages of in-house over contractual workers."
As the councilmember said at that time:
“I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite when I’m asking the chancellor how we can get some of the food workers in the dining commons to become university employees, so this is a very sensitive issue for me. I just hope that we are earnest in looking at how we fulfill our contractual obligations but then really look at whether we are paying a living wage with regard to these contracts. It is a matter of conscience to me..."
As he told the Vanguard at the time:
"We’re talking about writing letters to the university saying that your contracted workers need to be direct employees, well I think that our own contracted out workers should be direct employees. So how many council members are willing to say one thing to the university but say another thing to our city manager?"
Flash forward now to Tuesday night. Once again, on the consent calendar the council was asked to approve not one but two contracts from outside venues, neither one requiring a living wage.

Councilmember Heystek:
"I simply cannot support a contract that whereby employees get $9 per hour, I brought up the issue of the living wage at my very third meeting, here as a member of this body, there was consensus from that point on, from the point of bringing it up of our list of goals in December of 2006 to be to pursue a framework by which the city of Davis hires contract employees with a living wage. This contract does not provide for a living wage for all of its employees, notwithstanding the benefits that you specified in the contract. I will continue to advocate for a living wage ordinance that covers city contracts and in the spirit of that consensus of this council, I hope that we can come up with a contract arrangement that does provide for a truly living wage. If were to were to expect these people to live in Davis, I will not talk about the merits necessarily of a living wage ordinance—we’ve already weighed in on that as a council. I will not wait until the end of my term to see a living wage ordinance passed. I believe that we must pass contracts that allow us to have a living wage whether or not we have an ordinance today or tomorrow. I understand that staff have the need to approve contracts because we have existing contracts that are expiring in June, but that does not change my belief that a living wage ordinance is needed and that a living wage contract needs to be provided for all of our contract employees… And I hope that we can see the end of 2008 with some action in this regard. Until we have a living wage ordinance passed, I will oppose the contract."
Mayor Sue Greenwald agreed with the councilmember.
"This issue is always troubling to me, back when we were doing our labor negotiations, if you recall, I voted against enhanced benefits for the highest paid workers in town, the management… I was also concerned with some of the wages we were giving to the fire department. The reason I gave at the time was that it was unjust that it was going to come out of the lowest wage workers—one way or another… I totally agree with Lamar, and I think the problem now is that our budget and our long range forecast and everything we’ve done has factored in giving our highest paid workers these enhanced benefits… factor those in and there’s no wiggle room for the lowest paid workers."
The rest of the council was not unsupportive of the principle but took a more middle ground on this issue, preferring to have a discussion. Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson expressed concern about the budget. Councilmember Don Saylor expressed concern about methodology for determining how much a living wage contract should be and wanted it to be based on something very real and thus preferred to wait.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek however was not willing to wait. He pressed hard for this to come forth:
"I do not believe that the way we go about approving contracts like these is to put the cart before the horse. In other words, we knew from the year 2006 that this would be a point of discussion. So if it were so important to have a living wage contract before us, then we would have had that discussion, that living wage policy discussion that we’d ask for from the beginning, in it, before these contracts came up. So let’s get that straight, we should have and we did not have a discussion when it was appropriate. We’re having this discussion after we know this is an issue and we are poised to approve not one but two contracts. We’re talking about one right now… You talk about the budgetary issue Madam Mayor Pro, and I think we should be responsible but we should not be balancing our budget on the backs of our lowest paid employees."
Councilmember Heystek's persistence and forcefulness on this issue eventually paid off. Councilmember Stephen Souza found middle ground to which all of the council would eventually agreed to have this contract renegotiated with higher wages for the lowest paid employees along with a future discussion about living wage.

The vendor himself came forward and expressed support in having a living wage and said he was amenable and supportive to whatever contract the council came forward with.

While the council would eventually reach a consensus on this issue, it is clear that the leadership here came from Councilmember Heystek who simply would not take no for an answer on this one. As he expressed to me later, this is not a new issue. He has brought it up numerous times from his third meeting as a councilmember on. The council has said they will take up this issue and yet each year contract extensions have come up, they have delayed and delayed. Finally he would not allow them to delay again.

Will this bring about finally a living wage ordinance to protect those workers who work on outsourced contracts? We shall see. However, the councilmember is clearly correct that if the council is demanding that UC Davis pay its outsourced labor living wage or bring them in house, the city cannot have a moral standing to do that unless they are willing to pay outsourced labor a living wage.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wednesday Vanguard Stories

City To Look into Strengthening Public Records Retention Policies

File this one under politics makes for strange bedfellows. During the course of my investigation into Davis Joint Unified and Tahir Ahad, one thing I discovered was the key public records under the California Public Records Act and Brown Act requirements can be discarded after a given period of time.

The most important of these records are the video recordings of meetings. For example, the city of Davis retains videos of meetings for three months. One can go to the library and view videos for meetings for up to two years prior. However, beyond that two year period, videos generally are hard to come by and are not systematically stored anywhere.

That means outside of the two year period one has to rely on the minutes of meetings and newspaper articles for the historical record. Minutes of meetings are not transcripts and newspaper articles by their very nature are selective. As we discovered, you never know in the future what will be important to preserve.

As such I have made it a point this year to work with all of the local jurisdictions to expand the retention of public records. Of the three, the county seems to be the most advanced in that capacity.

At the city level, I approached Rich Rifkin, who sits on the Historic Resources Management Commission and asked him if he had interest in bringing the item forward for discussion there. He brought this item up on Monday night at the joint HRMC-Council meeting. There was consensus at that time to explore the issue.

Last night at the council meeting, Lamar Heystek brought up the item as a future agenda item. He was directed by City Manager Bill Emlen to explore the issue with City Attorney Harriet Steiner and City Clerk Margaret Roberts. Councilmember Don Saylor will join in what will become a subcommittee.

The council had clear consensus that they would like to expand their retention of such records. As City Attorney Harriet Steiner pointed out, and this is my interpretation as non-lawyer as well, the Public Records Act creates a minimum standard for access and retention, but local jurisdictions are not precluded from enacting much stronger measures.

One of my strongest passions is to have as open and transparent a government as possible. Along with that is the necessity to preserve an historic record of proceedings so that we can view past discussions and if necessarily hold elective official accountable for their past actions. We cannot do that if we lose good portions of that historic record.

There is certainly an expense and a space concern. The fact that information can be digitized and stored on DVDs mitigates that concern somewhat. But that is a valid concern. The future will probably make the storage of such records more feasible.

It is refreshing to see commitment by all council members toward this issue and I expect that it will go forward in an expeditious manner in the future.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Charter City Proposal Moves Forward

In November of 2006, the voters of Davis passed an advisory vote to ask the city to look into creating choice voting. Choice voting, otherwise known as instant runoff asks voters to rank their preferences of candidates and office holders in order to determine the winner.

However, in order for a city in California to enact a choice voting system, the city must go from a general law city to a charter city. A charter gives the city more flexibility to enact any number of laws--depending on what is contained within the charter.
"There are two types of cities in California – charter and general law. Charter cities follow the laws set forth in the state’s constitution along with their own adopted “charter” document. General law cities follow the laws set forth by the state legislature. Charter cities still follow the laws of the state’s constitution, which include constitutional amendments like Proposition 13 (cap on property taxes) and Proposition 218 (the right to vote on taxes), but a charter gives a city more local authority over municipal affairs in areas not considered to be statewide matters. Of California’s 478 cities, 109 are charter cities."
By a 4-1 vote last night, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson dissenting, the Davis city council directed city staff and the city attorney to complete an analysis of a draft charter and to return to the City Council by the end of March.

At that point, the City Council could place the charter measure on the ballot before the voters in November.

This particular charter is brief and broad. There are a number of specific elements that these charters can contain. However, the subcommittee of Lamar Heystek and Stephen Souza chose to continue current law and practices with one exception--granting a future city council the authority to create a choice voting system.

This is something important to stress. The charter does not itself create choice vote. The subcommittee had that option and could have written into the charter a choice voting system. Instead they have made such a system possible but have left that decision to future councils.

While much of the discussion has rightly focused on choice voting itself, I think a full discussion of charter cities is in order. There were good questions that were raised last night by both council and the public about them.

One of the keys arose from Councilmember Don Saylor--why are only one-fourth of the cities in California Charter Cities? Have there really only been four or five new Charter Cities since 1992? We have heard of the advantages of Charter Cities, but what are some of the disadvantages?

The last one in particular did not gain a lot of answers, but one thing that was pointed out was the ability of cities with charters to circumvent prevailing wage law and collective bargaining. The council could write into its charter stronger protections for those, but that is something to be wary of. As is the general notion that there may be other weaknesses that city staff and the subcommittee have not come up with just yet.

I went into the discussion last night neutral on the issue of a charter city. I left the meeting last night leaning toward supporting it having some of my concerns assuaged. I think both Councilmember Heystek and Souza did a very good job of keeping the charter itself simple and easily understandable.

Where I am not 100 percent sold is that I would like a better accounting of possible pitfalls. Like Councilmember Saylor I would get a better understanding for why only 25 percent or so of cities have charters.

I hope these points are addressed in more detail at a future council meeting.

Finally on the issue of choice voting, I am not 100 percent on that issue as well. I appreciate that we had an advisory vote on Measure L. I think Ruth Asmundson in her dissent raised a good point that that vote was not necessarily a vote in support of creating choice voting but rather a vote in support of exploring the creation of a choice voting system. It is a subtle but important difference.

What I would like to see is a full public debate over it. The implication from this discussion was that it would probably require another ballot measure after the creation of the charter city. I completely agree with that approach as it will allow for a full vetting of the issue. One of my concerns with Measure L is that there was no organized opposition. Some might suggest that in itself indicates support for the concept, but in my view it also prevented there from being a true debate over the strengths and weaknesses of a system.

I am not opposed for choice voting by any means, but I would like to see a full debate where strengths and weaknesses are addressed, including and most specifically an accounting over whether the system has create voter confusion in other jurisdictions that have employed this form of voting.

That will be a discussion for another day. In the meantime, I was pleased with both the discussion and the outcome of this meeting and look forward to future discussions on the charter city proposal in the future.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tuesday Vanguard Top Stories

  • CONTINUING Top Story
  1. Yolo County District Attorney's Office Looks into Allegations of Wrongdoing and Corruption in DJUSD Business Office Under Tahir Ahad

    New stories for Tuesday:

  2. Commentary: On Historic Resources, Student Housing, and Core Area Planning

  3. Guest Commentary by Elaine Roberts Musser: Preparing for the Worst At Any Age

Commentary: On Historic Resources, Student Housing, and Core Area Planning

Last night during the course of the Davis City Council-Historic Resources Management Commission meeting a very interesting discussion occurred with regards to core business development and adaptive re-use.

One of the key points that was raised was whether mixed-use buildings were appropriate in core areas or whether there should be retail or businesses on the second floor buildings.

The discussion quickly turned to whether there should be student apartments on the second floor of buildings in the core area.

This got me thinking that students often do not participate in land use discussions because they assume that their time horizon is too short to care a great deal about where and how the city should develop. And yet in many ways, students are heavily impacted by these sorts of land use decisions.

One thing that continues to trouble me is the Third and B visioning project which will take a lot of mixed-use housing. Some of the housing is mixed-use, which is owner-occupied, and some are student rentals that will be converted into high rise (third and fourth story) condominiums. That means largely pushing students out of a swath of area on the east side of campus which abuts the transition zone to the core area.

At the same time some of the more vibrant parts of the core area are on the west side of the core with Burgers and Brew, Crepeville, Ciocolat, Delta of Venus, all being essentially student catering businesses and all of them being essentially in the middle of student housing. And yet, once the project goes through, that will all change.

Where should a city like Davis put its student population? And where will the future student populations go?

One area that is planned right now is of course West Village. But if that is where we are relying on growth for the student and faculty population, we need to understand that there is limited retail in walking distance of that development. And while biking and busing is always an option, we are essentially precluding students from walking to downtown by putting the development on the west side of campus, out of normal walking distance from the core.

The discussion last night also moved beyond these issues to a more general discussion about the balance between historic preservation and commercial development. While certain members of the commission made strong arguments that we need to heed the call of business and particular retail business in our planning and design, to me and several others it remains far from clear that an adaptive re-use model cannot be quite successful. Some of the more interesting businesses have developed in what were essentially homes that have been remodeled.

Chief examples of that are Burgers and Brew and Ciocolat. In many ways, adaptive reuse I think is under utilized. Bistro 33 provides a thriving example of proper reuse of an historic building to a more modern need without destruction of the historic character.

Final point, really a good one that Lamar Heystek raised and I see occurring around town, not just with regard to historic management, and that is almost planned degradation of resources as a means to force new construction.

I have really two examples of that. First was the Anderson Bank Building that Jim Kidd has really allowed to degrade in terms of appearance and upkeep. And he tried to really use that to argue that we need to allow him to lower the bank building windows.

The other example is what has happened with West Lake Shopping center. There the owner allowed the proper to degrade and then argued that it wasn't viable for grocery stores to move in and tried subsequently to get a rezone. Well part of the problem there, is that he failed to keep the property in prime condition, so no wonder he had trouble attracting new business. People working in that particular building have told me of amazing stories of neglect.

In my opinion, that type of neglect should not be rewarded by approval of zoning changes. We need to insure that business and property owners do not simply allow their building to degrade and attempt to use that as a reason to remodel or demolish.

I understand that we don't want to paralyze the core with out of character buildings, but at the same time a bit of ingenuity can give us a good business utilizing existing buildings.

These are of course good discussions to continue having into the future. I certainly do not see historic preservation and commerce, and preservation and economic development as zero sum game.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Guest Commentary: Preparing For The Worst At Any Age

by E.A. Roberts

____________


Obviously disaster preparedness is on everyone’s mind, since the little mini-emergency that occurred in January and last week's council discussion on what we could do better. A furious wind and rain storm blew into town, attended by a checkerboard power outage of the weirdest variety. Some folks in Davis had power, while others without huddled in the dark and cold - often directly (and infuriatingly) across the street from each other. Oh the whims of mother nature - very unpredictable. On the other hand, some resulting responses to this event were quite unsurprising.

Many politicians and citizens were flabbergasted at how unprepared our local government was in handling this crisis, while others took things in stride remarkably well. I was of the latter assortment, but only because I knew ahead of time what to expect. Not too long ago I was involved in an attempt to address the issue of disaster preparedness for residential care facilities for the elderly and skilled nursing facilities. This interesting endeavor had its extremely eye-opening moments.

The Hurricane Katrina disaster was of monumental proportions, but instructive nevertheless on how government should NOT respond in the event of a major disaster. What follows is my very simplistic analysis of what went wrong, and how it relates to our own lack of emergency readiness. Firstly, the governor of Louisiana refused to make a decision to evacuate ahead of time, after learning that a severe storm was headed in her direction. Why? For many public officials, it feels better to make no decision than the wrong decision.

Evacuation of vulnerable seniors would have meant the coordination of a complex and massive effort, and some older individuals would have died in transit. The frail elderly do not travel well. In addition, the Gulf coast had weathered many hurricanes just fine without going to the necessity of a complicated mass departure. Besides, there really was not an overarching emergency plan in place of the magnitude necessary to displace that many people at one time. It was much simpler just to wait out the storm as they had successfully done every time in the past.

Secondly, the mayor of New Orleans was heard to say in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina some very telling words. When asked why he didn’t have a better disaster plan in place, his reply was something to the effect that it had just been too difficult. Now I took that to mean he did not have the leadership skills to get everyone who needed to be involved to cooperate in developing a disaster plan on the scale required to be truly effective. Again, an abdication of responsibility - no decision rather than the wrong one.

Thirdly, when the federal government realized the governor was not going to evacuate the helpless, either before or after the storm, the president should have stepped in much earlier. He could have overridden the governor’s paralysis by declaring a state of emergency - which was not done until AFTER television cameras appeared on the scene to embarrass all levels of government. Again, the president abdicated his greater responsibility, under the guise of FEMA regulations, which indicate assistance is by state invitation only. The president had determined he was not invited, until public embarrassment dictated otherwise.

However, it should also be noted that a thirty foot wall of water crashed over the city of Biloxi, Mississippi. Huge levees gave way in New Orleans, a city built below sea level. Water poured in and rose to the level of one and two stories. A decision had to be made quickly to let loose hardened criminals from the city jail or sit by and let these prisoners drown. During the storm communications stopped working, including land lines and cell phones. Even satellite telephones were inoperable.

Transportation out of town for seniors was supposed to have been provided by school buses - that were useless and under water by the time any government official decided it was time to act. Emergency personnel and law enforcement found themselves torn between staying on the job or taking care of their own families. Mass desertions were the order of the day. Looting was rampant. Chaos was in the ascendency.

Even when the National Guard was sent in to rescue folks, many citizens, especially the elderly, refused to leave their homes and/or pets. As a result, there was very little cooperation among/by citizens themselves. Nor was there any between agencies, government entities or administrators. There was no clear chain of command, no one willing to really take charge. In fact, if I remember my facts correctly, the one person who finally did assume authority of the situation was a highly placed officer in the National Guard.

It is important to take stock of what went wrong during Hurricane Katrina that is common to most disasters and/or emergencies:
1) communications failure;
2) power outages;
3) blocked roads;
4) lack of transportation;
5) insufficient community shelters;
6) no decision made rather than the wrong one;
7) inadequate disaster plans;
8) no clear chain of command;
9) citizens not personally prepared;
10) uncooperative citizens.

However, the severity of the disaster must be factored in. Hurricane Katrina would have been devastating no matter how well prepared everyone was. The type of disaster also has to be taken into account. A heat wave requires a different sort of response than a flood, fire, terrorist attack, or disease epidemic. And that is not an exhaustive list of catastrophe categories by the way. I remember living through a severe gasoline shortage in the early 1970’s and a locust swarm in the 1960‘s (crunch, crunch). The age and health of citizens is another dynamic to consider.

Readers can draw their own conclusions as to how well Davis fared during the recent storm. From a personal perspective, my family and I sheltered in place quite comfortably. We had plenty of food, blankets, flashlights and batteries. A battery operated radio was tuned into a Sacramento station to keep abreast of the weather and power outage situation. As it so happened, our gas tank level was low, but we did manage to find a filling station open. It was determined we needed to keep a little spare fuel in an appropriate container on hand in the future.

Two of our three cell phones did not work, nor did our regular cordless telephones. It was not that cold outside, so it wasn’t difficult to keep warm, but could have been had the temperature dropped. We determined it would have been best to keep a bag or two of charcoal briquettes on hand, to fire up our two small hibachi grills for cooking outside. Then I took a trip to a large store, and headed for the fishing/hardware department.

You would not believe the wonderful survival gear that can be found there. Flashlights that are rechargeable, freeze dried foods that last seven years, fire sticks that are waterproof and can provide heat and light, solar lanterns, hand crank AM/FM radio/flashlight/siren, night lights that stay on in a power outage, reflective warmth blankets, combination compass/whistle/match holder - you name it, they had it. I must have spent at least two solid hours marveling at the variety of clever things that can keep a human being alive in an emergency.

It would be interesting to see how readers rate our city’s collective response to the storm. On a scale of one to ten, ten being the nth degree of readiness possible, how would you rate:
a) The city’s response to the recent storm? Take into account the type of emergency and its severity.
b) Your response to the recent storm? Take into account your age and health, type of emergency and severity.
c) PG&E’s response to the recent storm? Take into account the type of emergency and its severity.
d) What could the city have done better? What did it do well?
e) What could you have done better? What did you do well?
f) What could PG&E have done better? What did it do well?

Here is my assessment (click to enlarge):



My reasoning is as follows:

Communications failure - The city was remiss here, in not figuring out a way to communicate with its citizens during a power outage. Only one family turned up at the emergency shelter, because Davisites had no way of knowing a shelter was open. There has been a suggestion there be a physical place in Davis for communications to be posted, which sounds like a very good idea. The Davis Fire Chief did contact facilities housing the elderly, so I gave the city three points for that on the plus side. I had the good sense to have a battery operated radio, and could charge my cell phone via my car battery. On the other hand, I made no prior plans to call family or friends as contact points, so I only gave myself six points. PG&E really fell down on this one, failing to notify anyone about anything, so they received a big fat zero in this category.

Power outages - The city failed abysmally here, not making contingency plans in case of a massive power outage. The local radio station was down, as was the city’s website. I wonder if there would have even been a heated community shelter available, if the entire city had been without electricity? The 911 system was inoperable for a short time, but I gave the city one point for rerouting calls while getting 911 back up and running. >From a personal perspective, I was pretty prepared for a power outage, with plenty of batteries, some charcoal briquettes, hot water, gas stove, and flashlights. I only gave myself a nine because I should have laid in a better supply of charcoal for my two hibachi grills. PG&E received a nine from me for doing a fantastic job fixing downed poles and whatever else they had to do, in order to restore electricity. I deducted a point because there was someone without power several days after the storm.

Blocked roads - The city gets a nine for removing tree limbs and debris to keep the roads open. I, on the other hand, made no effort to do so, and thus am given a zero. Of course PG&E is not responsible for that particular task.

Lack of transportation - As far as I know, the city did not provide any way for an elder in crisis to get to the community shelter. But since the ambulances were probably running, I decided to give the city one point. Of course our family had a car, but I only gave myself a score of five on this one because we did not think to keep a small amount of gasoline on hand in case of an emergency.

Insufficient shelter - I only gave the city one point because even though a shelter was provided, it was done almost as an afterthought. Nor did most people even know of its existence, which effectively made it nonexistent. Our family sheltered in place quite nicely, but I deducted one point from a perfect ten because we should have done a bit more to ensure heat.

No decision rather than wrong one - At least the mayor had the good sense to urge a warming shelter be created, and has suggested some future alternatives. But let’s face it, some planning should have been done long before the storm hit. So I gave the city three points on this one. Our family was fairly well prepared, and I had no hesitancy to make whatever decisions were necessary to protect my family, so I gave myself a nine (still could have planned a bit better). PG&E received five points for deciding to fix the problem rather than worry about communicating with the public. But I deducted five points for their failure to communicate. Why couldn’t they have put something out over the radio to reassure us, if nothing else?

Inadequate disaster plan - I gave the city five points because about half was done right and half wrong. The city did a great job in removing debris, and contacted the facilities for the elderly and disabled. However, city government did not do a great job in communicating with its citizens, and only provided a warming shelter as an addendum. On the other hand, I gave myself and my family an eight, because we were fairly well prepared, although we could have done a few things better. PG&E, like the city, did half their job right and half wrong - a virtuoso performance in fixing equipment to get the power back on line, but no plan in place to notify customers what was going on and when to expect relief.

No clear chain of command - The mayor had to argue with the city manager on who was in charge, so the city only gets five on this one. I am the clear boss in my household, and took charge in this crisis, so of course I gave myself a ten.

Citizens not personally prepared - The city does not seem to have made citizens aware that personal responsibility has to take place when it comes to disaster planning. This is true of even the frail elderly, who must make sure family or neighbors come to their rescue in an emergency. Everyone needs to have a prior plan. I gave the city one point for at least having set up a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program through our local fire department. Since I was fairly well prepared, I gave myself an eight, but there is still room for improvement. I am not sure if PG&E has put disaster preparedness literature as inserts with their bills. If yes, they get a ten, if not a zero.

Uncooperative citizens - The mayor should not have to argue with the city manager to be heard when making suggestions. However, some steps were taken to at least open a warming shelter, so I gave the city a five on this one, which may be a bit high. A score of one went to me for not making the effort to check on anyone else. Twenty lashes with a wet noodle to me!

Take note of the final overall scores - about three and a half for the city; over six for me, and about a five for PG&E. I felt more prepared than the city, but I didn’t take the trouble to check on others or contribute to the solution in terms of my community. The city definitely needs to make some changes - partner with UCD to house a community shelter in a place that will always have power, or purchase a generator for the senior center and use it as a warming center in an emergency; post communications on a community board in case of power outages; educate the public as to each individual’s responsibilities to have in place a personal disaster plan prior to any emergency; promote the CERT program to promote “block captain” training; encourage private facilities to coordinate better emergency plans. PG&E definitely should work on building a better communication network in case of power outages, to reassure the public.

LESSON TO BE LEARNED: Forewarned is forearmed. Always be prepared. If you are an older person residing alone or live in a facility for the elderly, make sure to develop emergency plans with nearby relatives or a friend that can get to you fast. Your government may not be available to assist in a disaster, so don’t rely heavily on their presence when developing a crisis policy.

FYI, the county is undertaking disaster planning for the elderly and disabled, for a nine county area. However it must be noted any emergency scheme is only as good as the people executing it. Any municipality can have the greatest disaster strategy in the world ready to roll out, but if leaders are not capable, or repeated drills are not done, the best laid plans can go to pieces under pressure in a heartbeat.

DEATH NOTICE: My client, the one having extreme difficulty with her homeowners association, died suddenly just after Christmas. If you would like to better understand what happened, a very tragic story, you can listen to my prerecorded radio broadcast at www.onthecommons.net. I am still pursuing her case, and will apprise you of an update at the appropriate time. What isn’t well known is the mortgage meltdown across our country is not the only reason for the current spate of foreclosures. Gargantuan increases in homeowner association fees has been another contributing factor.

FRAUD ALERT: “The Yolo County District Attorney Elder Protection Unit wants to alert you about two telephone scams. The first scam involved a call from someone claiming to be from PG&E who said …the victim’s last payment check bounced and they would cut off …power that night unless she provided a credit card number. In less than two hours $400 in fraudulent charges were made by the crooks.

The second scam was from a senior in Esparto who received a telephone call from someone saying that everyone on Medicare needed a special ID card verifying that they are a US citizen. The caller asked for a date of birth and then a bank account number. District Attorney Jeff Reisig wants to remind people to be very suspicious when someone calls asking for personal information EVEN IF THEY SOUND OFFICIAL. These people are experts at using your emotions to trick you.

Unless you initiated the contact with a business, don’t give out any confidential information - like your credit card number, social security number, PIN, birth date or even your mother’s maiden name. Remember you CAN stop phone fraud - just hang up.”

Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please make your opinion known in the comment section.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday Vanguard Stories

The top story of the day remains:
Also see:

Davis Enterprise's Story on the Vanguard

While our top story remains the Vanguard investigation into Davis Joint Unified's former CBO, Tahir Ahad, I did want to talk a bit about the Davis Enterprise story on the Vanguard. As Claire St. John mentioned to me, the Vanguard has been up for a year and a half, it's about time we acknowledged it. I thank the Davis Enterprise and Claire for covering local blogs, it must have been a bit tough to admit that there are other news sources out there.

For those who have not read the story, here is what Claire St. John wrote about the blog and myself:
David Greenwald, the administrator and founder of The People's Vanguard of Davis, has covered a panoply of local subjects since launching his blog in 2006, but his focus is on 'the dark underbelly of the People's Republic of Davis,' as his blog proclaims.

Greenwald launched the blog at a time when local politics were horning into his personal life.

At the time, his wife, Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald, was chairwoman of the city's Human Relations Commission, which was disbanded by the City Council after the city erupted in charges of racism and police misconduct.

'I felt frustrated by the whole experience to get a counter voice out,' Greenwald said. 'It was a way for me to put down what my thoughts were.'

Now, the Vanguard is Greenwald's primary occupation, and he spends eight to 10 hours every day attending meetings, researching, talking to people and posting his entries daily, between 5 and 6 a.m. Today, he said, he's breaking his biggest story yet, about corruption in the school district.

'I don't have an external deadline, but I have an internal deadline,' he said. 'I've had my share of mistakes, but I've tried to correct them.'

Escamilla Greenwald recently filed papers to run for City Council and Greenwald said he's a little apprehensive about how he will cover his wife's campaign.

'That's really the tricky one,' Greenwald said. 'When I set this up, I had no idea that Cecilia would run for City Council.'

Hiding behind 'Anonymous'

Whatever Greenwald decides, his readers are likely to make their opinions known in the site's lively comment section.

Most readers post anonymously, sometimes leaving vitriolic comments and confusion among which 'anonymous' said what.

'That's kind of the downside of the blog,' said Greenwald, who himself goes by the pseudonym Doug Paul Davis. 'I wanted it to be a place where people could come on there and state their view without fear of exposure. So that's why I've stuck with the anonymous thing even though it drives me as crazy as anyone.'

Greenwald, who takes as much criticism as praise in the comments, says he's developed a thick skin and has never considered quitting the blog.

'I know all the major people are reading this thing even if they deny it,' he said. 'Somehow, they always find the criticism.'

...

Most of Yolo County's bloggers say they aren't journalists and don't aspire to be.

'I was never interested in being a journalist,' Greenwald said. 'I'm a shy person in a lot of ways. I have trouble picking up the phone and calling a stranger or walking up and introducing myself to someone.'
There are a few points I want to address. First, is that I did in fact say "I was never interested in being a journalist." And that's true. I have no formal training, I've had to learn everything on my own so to speak. But the point I was actually making there was that, I have come to appreciate aspects of it and enjoy it. To the point where this is something I might want to do with the rest of my life if I found a way to make a living of it.

The other point, is people are always asking how can you continue to write stories like you do everyday. Claire asked me if I ever just wanted to up and quit. I've never even considered it. It's just a labor of love.

Davis and Yolo County are developing a thriving blogosphere. It was kind of fun yesterday to not only look at the article but the reaction of the bloggers to the article in the Davis Enterprise.

One of the newest additions is Kemble Pope's blog--Davis Voice.

Mr. Pope wrote on his blog yesterday:
" Thanks to Claire St. John of The Enterprise for luring you into our little corner of the Web.

A great, well rounded article was marred only by the picture of my bearded mug seated at the Delta of Venus while either expounding on some vital issue OR demonstrating the width of an unknown item."
Actually, I thought it was a pretty good picture. The Davis Voice aims at a lighter and more civil discourse. Frankly I do not agree necessarily with Mr. Pope's view that you need to be light to attract younger people, but it is good to have some variety. The more variety in my view, the better the discourse.

Wu Ming whose site has been around about as long as this one was also interviewed.

Wu Ming writes in response:
"Surf Putah makes the big (well, medium in a small pond, anyway) time! Greetings to any intrepid Enterprise readers who saw my little soapbox mentioned in the article (thanks Claire!) and bothered to type the URL in manually. Unfortunately, I am unable to actually link to said story, because the Enterprise decided to put the entire website behind a paid subscription wall."
Wu Ming goes on to criticize the Davis Enterprise's website.
"What in the world is the Enterprise thinking putting its website behind a paid subscription wall? Other than being personally irritated that I have to read the Daily Democrat for my Yolo news now, I'm rather bewildered at the decision just from a business standpoint. Why would someone who already got the Enterprise bother with reading it online, first of all? You've already got the paper right on your driveway, it's people who don't get the paper that might casually read it online for free. Secondly, online ad revenue is usually based upon the total number of page views, which would seem to me to recommend against making it harder for people to read one's website. Third, in the online world, links are everything; making it impossible for people to link to your reporting needlessly walls in the paper's influence in a fundamentally borderless medium. Makes no sense.

Were I in their shoes, I'd have done the complete opposite: drop the subscription wall, put as much content online as possible, and then make the comment sections absurdly easy to use. As a community, Davis has enough self-obsessed churn to generate hits that could keep the paper in clover permanently. Imagine the potential traffic just from city council-related letter to the editor flamewars! Ah well..."
I completely agree with Wu Ming--the Davis Enterprise's webpage has everyone shaking their head. It is just not the right way to do it. I think they could take good advise from the local bloggers on how to develop a better webpage that will better serve their own interests and that of their clientèle. I forget who told me, but they remarked that they could read the New York Times, the best paper in the country, online for free, but not the Davis Enterprise.

Matt Rexroad has had a blog well before this one.
" I can see that from my e-mails Claire's story was in the newspaper today on blogs. Usually I have better news than this on mine.

...

For those of you that are new to Rexroad.com -- welcome.

I was thinking that if David can be the "dark underbelly" we could be the "bright backside" -- but that did not sound right."
Matt Rexroad had a tough day the last few, his young son of 18 months has been seriously ill in a San Jose hospital with a serious viral respiratory infection. Fortunately, Matt reported to my wife last night that his son was doing better and hoping to be able to go home today. Still everyone keep this little guy in your thoughts and prayers. Oh, and send Adam Rexroad your best as well.

While we are at it, we need a good catch phrase for Matt Rexroad's blog.

The Woodland Journal was a bit less magnanimous at the free plug.
Today at davisenterprise.com, you'll find an article written by journalist Claire St. John called "Bloggers comment on local news, but don't call 'em journalists." You can click the title of the this story to access it. You'll possibly have to register with their site to read it, but when you get to the subscription part, just click that you are a subscriber. That will get you through for free.

The article is a pretty good overview of the local blog scene, and it even mentions The Woodland Journal. The young journalist sent me some interview questions that I answered. It took me about an hour, which I was happy to donate. She ended up using only one sentence from my responses... which is perfectly fine (since I completely understand the need for editing), but a simple THANK YOU would have been nice.
Hey Dino, might you have noticed that you are from Woodland and this was a Davis paper? Consider yourself lucky that they covered you at all. Anyway, go to their blog if you want to read their full lengthy response.

Overall it was a decent article to introduce those Davisites unfamiliar with the blogosphere. The one bad thing is that their webpage puts all stories now behind a subscription. That makes it more difficult for new readers to see these great blogs.

The Vanguard chose to break its biggest story to date yesterday. There was tremendous response from throughout the community. I do not think I have ever gotten so much email on a Sunday before. And remember this is just the first of at least three parts. More to come. The second segment will run next Monday, March 3, 2008.

One final lighter note, the Vanguard has now been up and running for 19 months (in a few days) and it continues to grow and expand. I have enjoyed every moment of it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, February 24, 2008

VANGUARD INVESTIGATION Uncovers Evidence of Wrongdoing and Corruption in DJUSD Business Office Under Tahir Ahad

Yolo County District Attorney's Office Looks into Allegations

Background:

On November 18, 2007 two former Davis Joint Unified School Board Members Joan Sallee and Marty West published on op-ed in the Davis Enterprise to purportedly respond “to the many accusations the 2006 and 2007 school board majority has made about financial mismanagement of the Davis Joint Unified School District.” For reasons not completely clear, they decided to air a large amount of “dirty laundry” in public.

The Joan Sallee/Marty West article purportedly responds to an earlier article from October 7, 2007 authored by then-current board members Jim Provenza and Tim Taylor. The Jim Provenza/ Tim Taylor article focused on the hiring of Bruce Colby as their Deputy Superintendent for Business Services, more transparency, realistic and understandable budgets, and prioritizing critical needs and requirements. It is not clear from reading that article of the perceived need by Ms. Sallee and Ms. West to respond.

They waited until the parcel tax was safely passed by the voters and then proceeded to open a can of worms. The Vanguard responded with an article on November 20, 2007. A quick perusal of the facts revealed that the op-ed by Marty West and Joan Sallee was fraught with misrepresentations and inaccuracies. During the course of the Vanguard’s evaluation it became clear that this was more of an effort to vindicate the reputations of former Superintendent David Murphy and former Chief Business Officer (CBO) Tahir Ahad. Adding fuel to the fire was the revelation that Marty West had become an employee of Tahir Ahad at his education consultancy business, known as, Total School Solutions, as a senior consultant in employment law. This and other new revelations spawned a follow-up article on November 21, 2007, “Op-Ed Opens a Can of Worms.”.

While many in the community have knowledge about what happened under Tahir Ahad regarding his business, Total School Solutions, and the fact he hired many DJUSD employees to work for him, some even while they also worked for him at DJUSD, the fact remains that there was never any sort of comprehensive reporting about just what occurred and whether any laws were broken.

These revelations that were uncovered on November 20 and November 21, 2007 led to a large number of members of the public to come forward with further information. The Vanguard was approached by numerous community members, employees of DJUSD, and spoke with dozens of individuals in the course of what has become a three month investigation. The Vanguard also sought out to speak with several key players including Board President Sheila Allen, Board Vice President Gina Daleiden, former school board members Keltie Jones and Jim Provenza, and former Superintendent David Murphy. Superintendent Murphy spoke with the Vanguard at length off the record. Board members Sheila Allen and Gina Daleiden spoke to the Vanguard on the record.

The findings that we shall report in a three-part series are staggering and troubling. In short, even members on the board and in the school district during these times were not fully aware of what went on and depths of the operations.

The first part of this series will look at the conflict of interest inherent in any situation where a public official is using his public position to further his private business interests. The second part will look at the ramifications of that arrangement for the district. Finally, the third part will examine efforts by the district. Successful efforts I will add, to make changes and ensure that the district is on much more sound footing in terms of its fiscal policy, even as it struggles with declining enrollment and state budget cuts.

Part I—Conflict of Interest

On June 17, 1999 the Davis Joint Unified School Board voted 4-1 to hire Tahir Ahad as the Deputy Superintendent for Business Services. Joan Sallee and Marty West were joined by John Munn and Ruth Asmundson in supporting the hiring of Mr. Ahad. Tahir Ahad was leaving a similar position with the Vallejo School District.

Those four members spoke of Tahir Ahad in glowing terms. The Davis Enterprise quotes Ruth Asmundson as saying “We raided Vallejo to get him. Vallejo is a bigger district… we need to provide compensation that is attractive.” Joan Sallee and Marty West both spoke in glowing terms of the hire of Tahir Ahad.

However, there was one member of the school board that voted against the hiring of Tahir Ahad and that was Don Saylor. What Don Saylor noted in his dissent were the seeds for what would happen under Tahir Ahad over the next seven years as CBO of Davis Joint Unified. None of what happened was an accident. Instead, it was all laid out in Tahir’s initial contract.

It was a highly unusual contract that contained several factors that would enable and permit Tahir Ahad to set up his own side business.

First, the standard contract called for 224 work days; however, Tahir Ahad was only required to work for 205 work days and he did so receiving substantially more money per day than his predecessor Tim Larin.

Board member Don Saylor pointed this out during the proceedings.

As reported by the Enterprise:
“I can’t support lessening the work year for a senior position… At the same time, the compensation package is being raised.”
The Enterprise continued:
“When Ahad’s package of $104,210 a year is calculated over 205 workdays instead of 224, his compensation will go from $440 per day to $508 per day.”
Or as Saylor pointed out the reduction in work days along with the size of the contract resulted in “an increase of 15 percent over the rate that was advertised.”

This would be the highest base daily rate in the district of any employee. This was arranged by Superintendent David Murphy. Concurrently, Murphy’s salary quickly increased greatly over the next few years.

This lessened workload would enable Tahir Ahad to spend more time building up his privately owned company. As one former employee told me, he would have all Mondays off from district work and part of Tuesdays as well, suggesting that the amount of time he actually worked for the district may have been considerably less than the reported 205.

Specifically written into Mr. Ahad’s contract was a provision that enabled him to seek outside professional activities. “This Agreement shall not be construed to preclude the Deputy Superintendent-Business Services from undertaking outside professional activities for compensation, including consulting, speaking, and writing…”

Again, this was not accidental and it marks a clear departure from the contract of his successor, Tim Larin. Mr. Larin’s contract required prior approval by the Superintendent and it expressly stated that other activities could not “conflict” with the performance of his duties under this agreement.

This was noted at the time by Board Member Saylor who said that he was troubled that Ahad was “intending to supply some of his time as a consultant” for other districts.

Mr. Ahad’s contract also allowed for him to have full authority to organize, reorganize, and arrange “any of the Business Office’s administrative, management, and supervisory staff.” This will become important as we discuss some of the management methods that Tahir Ahad exhibited as he often organized and hired those loyal to him while pushing away those who were more skeptical of his activities.

One final point that arose at the time was the existence of a pending sexual harassment suit from Vallejo where Tahir Ahad was working as their CBO. Two employees alleged wrongful termination by Ahad and one alleged that he had sexual relations with her and then offered her preferential treatment to keep quiet. This woman was in her mid 20s at the time.

Eventually Tahir Ahad would prevail by a 9-3 decision in a jury trial. However, it is somewhat surprising that some of the members of the board were not more concerned about this case at the time. Moreover, as we shall see, the case and verdict were not entirely insubstantial for the district, despite the ultimate verdict in favor of Mr. Ahad.

Tahir Ahad was hired by Davis Joint Unified School District to begin in July of 1999. According to his “Statement of Economic Interests” filed in early 2000, on October 3, 1999 (just over three months after being hired by DJUSD) he would form what was then known as Total Business Solutions (TSS), at his residence in Fairfield, CA. Mr. Ahad’s business was eventually renamed Total School Solutions.

For most of the next three years, few knew about this business arrangement; however, he did disclose its existence in his Form 700 Disclosures in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Word finally began to trickle through to the community and some on the board that this company was not only in existence, but that Tahir Ahad was working at a business on the side, and he was hiring district employees who were also working at both the district and for Total School Solutions (TSS).

As current Board Member Gina Daleiden told me in response to a more general question about conflicts of interest, one of the cores of conflict of interest policy is that “you should not use your public position for private gain.” While Ms. Daleien was not specifically speaking about Tahir Ahad, this is precisely what happened during his tenure as CBO of Davis Joint Unified. What we see during the course of Tahir Ahad’s tenure as CBO at Davis Joint Unified is that in effect he used the district to start up his business. In so doing, he began to blur the lines between his own private business and the school district which operates on public money.

It was school board election time in 2003. Keltie Jones had been appointed to fill a vacancy left by John Poulos’ exit. Now she was running for re-election. Running in the Davis Enterprise on September 28, 2003 was a disclosure that she had accepted money from Tahir Ahad, and the wife of Tahir Ahad as well as Total Business Solutions. There was a brief outcry over the prospect of a conflict in receiving money from a school administrator. Keltie Jones returned the donation from Tahir Ahad, but kept the other two donations. It was at this point, that Total Business Solutions had become identified publicly in Davis for the first time and people inside the educational community began to connect it to Tahir Ahad.

Total School Solutions grew slowly over time. By July of 2005, there were six directors listed on the Total School Solutions website. All of them were DJUSD employees. The Vice President was Susan Lendway who worked as a secretary to the associate superintendent for DJUSD. Director of Business Development, Aaron Shonk had risen from a secretary to the superintendent to the new Director of Business Development. Henry Petrino was a facilities director for the district and was Director of Operations for TSS. Vern Weber was actually not a direct DJUSD employee; instead he was a longtime consultant who did enrollment projects. And the general counsel of TSS was Maggie Harmon who worked as a budget officer for DJUSD.

By December of 2005, TSS added Nancy Walker who had been a business director at DJUSD and two long time consultants to the DJUSD Lonnie Poindexter and Ajay Mohindra. In April of 2006, Steve Horowitz had been added to the staff of TSS. And right now, there are well over 20 employees at TSS, over half previously worked at DJUSD in some capacity or another. Most recent additions include Solveig Monson, Tina Burkhart, Marty West, and Laurel Clumpner who still works for DJUSD as Principal for the Adult School.

Tahir Ahad would eventually hire four of his former employees from Vallejo Joint Unified to work at Davis Joint Unified. All four of them eventually ended up working for Total Schools Solutions: Tina Burkhardt, Rey Reyes, Nancy Walker and Susan Lendway.

Of those employees who worked for both DJUSD and TSS at the same time, this report specifically examines three of them: Susan Lendway, Aaron Shonk, and Henry Petrino.

Susan Lendway was Tahir Ahad’s secretary at the Vallejo School District. According to her bio on the TSS webpage, she has been Vice President of the company almost from the start in 1999. Ms. Lendway was hired to the position of Division Assistant, a clerical position in 2001.

Susan Lendway was hired as the confidential secretary for the educational services associate superintendent. Mr. Ahad hired Ms. Lendway over a number of longtime employees who had also applied for the job. More startling is the fact that the position was advertised as having a salary range of $2,497 to $3,187 per month. Ms. Lendway was hired at a rate that was almost $700 higher than the top end of that pay schedule at $3,874 per month.

More serious still are implications that come out of Tahir Ahad’s sexual harassment trial. Recall that Davis Joint Unified hired Mr. Ahad knowing that he faced litigation from two of his employees at the Vallejo School District. In November of 2002, Jurors voted by 9-3 in favor of Mr. Ahad. Key to that verdict was testimony by other Valley School District employees that Mr. Ahad was elsewhere on the dates that he was purported to have had some of the encounters. One of those who testified on his behalf was Susan Lendway. Lendway according to court documents delivered some of the key testimony that eventually got Mr. Ahad acquitted. Just before the trial Susan Lendway had been given a district job paying about $8000 per year more than the job was advertised for.

Regardless of these implications, the hiring of Susan Lendway demonstrates the pitfalls of a conflict of interest. Total Business Solutions does not report making a tremendous amount of money in those first three or four years—in the range of $10,000 to $100,000 according to Mr. Ahad’s 700 Disclosures. It would be difficult to hire and maintain a staff with the amount of expertise and skill as the one that Tahir Ahad was able to hire in the formative years of his business.

By hiring TSS employees to DJUSD as he did with Susan Lendway, he was able to provide them with a stable salary and more importantly use the district to provide them with health and retirement benefits. In essence, Tahir Ahad was in fact using DJUSD personnel with their district salaries and benefits as a foundation and start up for his company, a company that would eventually earn him a substantial income.

Aaron Shonk is another of the early members of TSS. When Tahir Ahad was hired, Aaron Shonk was working for the district as an executive secretary to the superintendent. He was hired in January of 1996, but in November of 2000 he became Resource Enhancement Manager. Then in November of 2003 he was named Interim Director of Maintenance and Operations and finally for his last year, Director of Maintenance and Operations. At the same time, he was working for TSS as their Director of Business Development.

This arrangement illustrates yet another pitfall of a conflict of interest. When employees are being hired to work for an individual at two different places, lines get blurred. First, as explained earlier Tahir Ahad had in his contract a unique signature authority to be able to hire and move employees as he saw fit. That gave him the power to promote those employees that were favored. Some of that promotion may not be based on work done for the school district, but rather work done for Tahir Ahad himself at TSS. That creates an inherent conflict of interest where you can no longer assume that employees are being rewarded for the job done on behalf of the school district. Moreover, the employees are no longer loyal to the school district itself, but rather to their boss, Tahir Ahad.

The case of Henry Petrino leads us to another problem. Mr. Petrino was another of the early employees at TSS. As Director of Facilities Planning, it was Henry Petrino who filed for the state’s matching grants on the Montgomery Schools Project. We will talk more about this issue in the next installment, but for now, we need to note that Henry Petrino submitted two defective applications for state matching funds. He was the one who missed the 180-day deadline not once, but twice. The first application was dismissed out of hand because it did not include required information; the second was dismissed due to missing the 180-day deadline—by five months. That missed deadline cost the district roughly $4.5 million in matching funds and set off a whole chain of events. It took an extraordinary effort and staff time last summer to recoup that lost money.

Was Mr. Petrino working on a project for Total Schools Solutions when he was supposed to be working on grant applications? We don’t know, but that lack of knowledge is part of the problem.

The other part of the problem was that during the course of Tahir Ahad’s tenure, many of his TSS employees would leave the district to work full-time for TSS. However, some of them were actually brought back as paid consultants for DJUSD.

One example is a contract signed by Henry Petrino on October 14, 2004. He had retired from the school district on October 1, 2004, and was brought back less than two weeks later as a consultant making $58.71 per hour. He was designated as a facilities consultant. The initiating administrator on that contract was Tahir Ahad who signed off on the contract. This in itself appears to be a clear conflict of interest but the looming question is unanswered—did any of this money go to TSS or was this merely a personal contract as it appears on paper. I do not know the answer to that either way, but it is just one of a number of looming questions that occur when lines such as these get blurred.

Vern Weber was never an actual employee of Davis Joint Unified; however, he was a hired consultant who did projected enrollments. He in fact did the original projections for enrollments for the Best Uses of Schools Task Force that would eventually recommend closing Valley Oak. But due to problems with those projections, he was replaced by Davis Demographics whose projections according to the Davis Enterprise were considerably less gloomy in terms of future enrollment.

Vern Weber demonstrates another pitfall with this arrangement. Tahir Ahad is given wide berth in terms of who he can hire. So Tahir Ahad employs Vern Weber as a TSS consultant at the same time Mr. Weber is consulting for Davis Joint Unified.

Total School Solutions was at the same time competing for qualifying bids in other school districts around the state. One example was the Acton Agua Dulce School District in August of 2005. Vern Weber’s resume is listed in their bid. The fact that he worked for Davis Joint Unified from 1998 until the present (at that point) was cited among a list of qualifying previous consulting jobs. At the same time you see in October 12, 2005, David Murphy, Tahir Ahad and Vern Weber attending the first Best Uses of Schools Task Force Meeting as district staff.

This provides another example of Tahir Ahad using the positions that he has hired his employees in the district as a means to improve the marketability of his own company. We also see around the same time, his promotion of his company over the district at a California Schools Boards Association Meeting.

On December 1, 2005, Tahir Ahad sat on a panel discussing Fiscal and Facilities Planning. “Hear a discussion of the impacts on fiscal planning and the type of facilities planning that must occur to meet the demands and effects of changing enrollment.” He is then listed as Tahir Ahad. His title is not CBO of Davis Joint Unified, but rather “President, Total School Solutions.” One can ask whether this trip was taken at taxpayer expense, but even if it was not, here he was at a CSBA meeting promoting not the school district, but his own company.

Meanwhile in an April 11, 2006 press release, the CSBA announced a new partnership with TSS.
“The California School Boards Association last month signed an agreement with Total School Solutions of Fairfield, CA to offer Proposition 39 performance audits to school districts.”
The release goes on to quote Tahir Ahad:
“Unlike our competitors, our firm is comprised of active and retired school facilities and financial management professionals who understand school management and the pressures and challenges faced by a district’s governance team.”
Once again, the marketing of Davis Joint Unified’s employees was used by Mr. Ahad to help produce a potentially very lucrative partnership with the California School Boards Association.
In November of 2005, Sheila Allen, Gina Daleiden, and Tim Taylor were elected to the school board. Soon after their election, Tahir Ahad realized that he no longer had his three votes to remain as CBO. Jim Provenza and B.J. Klein had often been on the short end of 3-2 votes in an effort to make changes to district practices. Marty West, Joan Sallee, and Keltie Jones were a reliable voting bloc in support of both Tahir Ahad and David Murphy. They had been joined by BJ Klein to extend Murphy’s contract as their terms expired prior to the new school board trustees being sworn in December 2005.

Realizing that he no longer had the majority of the school board support, Tahir Ahad announced he would leave at the end of his contract which expired in June of 2006. He had promised to continue working for the district up until that point, but apparently he had not kept that promise. In fact page 81 of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistant Team (FCMAT) report makes note of this.
“The Chief Business Official position became vacant in February 2006. An interim CBO was hired but was told not to work on facilities accounting and funding, because the former CBO [Tahir Ahad] would do that. That apparently did not occur, and thus the area of facilities needs immediate attention.”
One of the first tasks that the new board turned to was creating a new and stronger conflict of interest policy.

According to Board Member Gina Daleiden California Education Code already prohibits some of the practices that the Vanguard has found to have occurred under Tahir Ahad.
“My understanding of the government code is that employees should not employ other district employees in outside businesses.”
California Government Code Section 1126 (a) reads:
“The officer or employee shall not perform any work, service, or counsel for compensation outside of his or her local agency employment where any part of his or her efforts will be subject to approval by any other officer, employee, board, or commission of his or her employing body.”
Unfortunately weaknesses in the district’s previous conflict of interest policy prevented the district from taking action. “Our understanding from our attorney is that the district could not enforce that government code without our own district conflict policy. So we enacted the policy and then we were able to enforce government code.”

The existing conflict of interest policy prior to 2006 merely required “designated employees shall file statements of economic interests with the Davis Joint Unified School District.” These statements were the FPPC Form 700. As weak as that was only the board members and superintendent were assigned level 1 disclosure. Those associate superintendents, director of fiscal services and high school principal were only required level 2 disclosures while consultants were not required disclosure at all.

Board President Sheila Allen told the Vanguard, “There was nothing illegal about our conflict of interest policy. But it wasn’t as strong as it could be.”

So the three new board members along with Jim Provenza moved to strengthen it. Ms. Allen said, “In particular, we were interested in the question about outside work for our current employees and what our legal abilities were to know about and to restrict them to our ability.”

It was this point that drew division with fellow board member Keltie Jones. In the Davis Enterprise article from October 15, 2006, Jones was quoted as saying that this policy “put the superintendent in the untenable situation of not having clear direction as to whether the board does not want people brought forward who work for Total School Solutions.” Keltie Jones argued that this policy was really aimed at TSS. “If this means ‘Don’t hire anyone who works for Tahir’s company,’ I want that out there.”

Keltie Jones was the lone no vote on the consultant conflict of interest policy when the policy came up for a vote. She argued that it put consultants potentially at a disadvantage to have to disclose their clients publicly.

Gina Daleiden on the other hand was forceful on this issue during a board meeting in May of 2006 when she addressed the issue of employee conflict of interest policy, she told the public that the legal requirement was the minimum not the limit of conflict policy.
“I am interested in establishing a policy for this Board that defines and clearly restricts conflicts of interests and commitment and builds the public trust. Conflict of interest is an emerging area of the law. What is defined as “legal” now is the minimum, it is the floor, and I want us to reach higher, closer to the ceiling. I want the public to be comfortable with our practices and those of our employees. I do not want the public to question relationships, motives, connections, and decisions. I DO want the public to be able to trust the people who serve their schools. We will need this as we address difficult situations facing our district. I want us to be more transparent and go beyond the minimum, much as we tell the children in our classrooms.”
She would tell the Vanguard in an interview last month, “I think the rule that we should all follow as public servants whether we are elected as public servants or whether you serve in a public position, is that you should not use your public position for private gain.”

The new conflict of interest policy drafted by Jim Provenza and Tim Taylor specifically addresses the issue of outside employment. First, it acknowledges that “executive-level positions involve time and energy beyond a normal position of employment.” Furthermore it states that “outside paid activities are incompatible with District employment if they require time periods that interfere with the proper, efficient discharge of the executive-level employee’s duties, if they entail compensation from an outside source for activities that are part of the executive-level employee’s regular duties, or if they involve using for private gain the District’s name, prestige, time, facilities, equipment or supplies.”

It is clear from this language that the activities that occurred under Tahir Ahad will not be allowable under the new policies of conflict of interest. It is clear that the new board has significantly strengthened the language of the conflict of interest code to prevent a recurrence of the problem and to enable the district to take clear and decisive action should a situation occur in the future.

However, it is not without irony that the previous conflict of interest policy may have still have performed a significant function. Earlier in this article the Form 700 was mentioned as filed by Tahir Ahad. During the course of investigating this, the Vanguard made numerous public records requests. One of the documents that were requested was all of Tahir Ahad’s annually filed “Statement of Economic Interest” forms, the Form 700.

What was discovered was surprising. The first three forms were filled out with schedule A-2 checked, denoting “attached investments” and disclosing Total Business Solutions as a business entity or trust. The forms were filled out that way in 2000, 2001, and 2002.

However in 2003, 2004, and 2005 there was no such disclosure. Those years he checked “no reportable interests on any schedule.” However a quick Google search will show plenty of expanding business activity during that time. I have documents from each of those years showing Tahir Ahad as President of Total School Solutions. And yet he filled out no disclosure. In his final year of 2006, once again, he disclosed the existence of his business.

Upon discovering this, the Vanguard forwarded the documents to the new DJUSD Superintendent James Hammond and the district’s counsel Eve Fitchner. Since that point, the Vanguard was informed that those documents were forwarded to the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office and that there is an investigation underway. The Fair Political Practices Commission is also investigating the matter and will issue a report to the District Attorney’s office. It would be ironic if even the weak policy was strong enough to put Tahir Ahad in legal jeopardy.

This story was interesting in that each time it appeared that the investigation would end, more information came out, and further leads developed. There are a few areas that still need to be examined.

First, is that former employees complained about the treatment of classified employees at the time. Complaints ranged from employment practices, disciplinary practices, preferential treatment of those loyal to Tahir Ahad and the forcing of those not loyal to Tahir Ahad, to limited positions until they invariably left the district for other employment. Some of these complaints are quite serious but not confirmed.

Second, the Vanguard was told that the standard practice was that Tahir Ahad and the TSS employees would work until 5 pm. At which point they would shift gears and begin working on TSS business from district offices using district equipment. The Vanguard has made additional records requests to verify this, however, at this time; the district is still sorting through those records.

Board President Sheila Allen spoke with the Vanguard. While she was willing to come forth with information she did want to emphasize that it was a new day and that practices have changed.
“I’m totally fine with people knowing what happened that’s fine with me, but I want the headline and I want the last part of it to be here’s how it’s changed. It’s a new day. We have a new superintendent; we have an all-new budget office.”
It is clear that the most recent board made critical changes to their conflict of interest policy to avoid a repeat of what happened in the past. In addition they have hired new personnel.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

This is the first in a three-part series. Next Sunday, we will have the second installment where we examine problems with the facilities funding that emerged as a result of the practices under Tahir Ahad and David Murphy.