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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Public Defender Melton is Off The Topete Case, Should He Be Out as Public Defender?

Public Defender Barry Melton officially removed himself yesterday from the case of accused Sheriff's Deputy killer, Marco Topete. Officially it appears we do not know the nature of the conflict of interest.

Barry Melton was immediately replaced by Hayes Gable III of Sacramento and Tom Purtell of Woodland. The defendant is in excellent hands with two lawyers experienced in capital murder cases.

However, Barry Melton's departure from this case leaves more questions than answers. Both of which are hinted at by an excellent article in the Woodland Daily Democrat on Friday morning.

In it, it chronicles the relationship between Barry Melton, Sheriff Ed Prieto and Judge Dave Rosenberg.

According to the article by Daily Democrat Staff Reporter Luke Gianni:
"Topete's wife, Angelique Topete, told the Democrat Thursday she witnessed an argument between [Deputy Public Defender Dean] Johansson and Melton last week at their office in Woodland days after Melton filed his motion.

She said Johansson was concerned over the political connections Melton shared between Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto and Rosenberg."
The article goes on to quote Mrs. Topete:
"In the process of Dean doing his investigation, he dug up a lot of stuff between Melton, Prieto and Rosenberg and that pissed Melton off."
The bottom line here is that the Daily Democrat dug up--what many of us have known for a long time--the fact that there is a strong relationship between Barry Melton, Ed Prieto, and Dave Rosenberg all of whom hang in the same Davis political circles and all of whom have contributed money to each other's campaign.

The Democrat continues:
"According to county election records obtained by the Democrat, all three men have contributed funds to each other over the last 10 years as their political careers have progressed.

Ed Prieto's political action committee "Citizens for Ed Prieto," received monetary contributions totaling around $600 from Rosenberg's political fund starting in 1998 when he ran for Sheriff up and until his last contribution in 2003.

Records also show Melton contributed a little more than $300 to Prieto's fund from 2000 to 2003.

As for Rosenberg, his "Friends of David Rosenberg" fund has received more than $150,000 in political contributions over the last decade before morphing into the "Judge David Rosenberg Committee," which was formed in 2003 during his run for a judicial seat.

From 1999 to 2003, Melton had contribute[d] more than $900 to this fund, records show.

The monetary ties between the judge, the attorney and the organization that employed the man her husband allegedly killed, has Angelique concerned over his chances at a fair trial."
The Democrat then brings in Judicial ethics expert Carol Langford, an adjunct professor at UC Hastings Law School. She told the Democrat that the political contributions did not mandate withdrawal from the case, but she also suggested a "voluntary step down to assure the public the case is being handled fairly."
"What I would say is you probably want to give that case to one of your panel people. You want to make sure that everyone is doing a good job and that there's the appearance that everything is fair and just. It's important that people think they're getting a fair shake especially in a small town."
So is this the reason that Barry Melton is recusing himself from the case? If so, there are more serious problems on the horizon. If he must remove himself from this case, does he then have to remove himself from every case involving Judge Dave Rosenberg? Does he have to then remove himself from every case involving the Sheriff's Department? Right there, that's a lot of cases? Did he also support Judge Tim Fall in his reelection bid this past June? Would he have to remove himself from any cases involving Judge Fall as well, if he did support his reelection?

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The real kicker is that the Democrat did not complete the circle here. Back in 2006, there was a rather heated battle for District Attorney between fellow deputies Jeff Reisig and Pat Lenzi. Jeff Reisig eventually won that race by a rather narrow margin. Barry Melton did not formally endorse Jeff Reisig but behind the scenes he was a powerful advocate for Reisig and frequently attacked Pat Lenzi.

There's of course more to this than just that. Barry Melton did not himself donate to Jeff Reisig's campaign, but his wife, Barbara Langer did. The Democrat probably did not know to look for contributions to Jeff Reisig from Barry Melton's wife, but the support from Melton to Reisig is well known.

If indeed the reason that Barry Melton withdrew from this case had to do with the close political relationships here, then it calls into question Barry Melton's entire position as public defender. As such a political animal to begin with, perhaps Barry Melton is not the person best suited for this position.

This is all unfortunate for the family of the slain Sherrif's Deputy but also the Topete family that is entitled to a fair trial. Last week, members of Topete's family wanted Dean Johanson, whom Marco Topete trusts, to stay on the case. Now it appears that Barry Melton's entire office will drop out of the case.

The good news from Topete and for Yolo County is that he is in very capable hands. He was assigned first class defense.

But as this entire saga has shown, there are serious cracks in the Yolo County Justice System's foundation. The public defender as many have known for some time, seems to be right in the middle of the problem.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, August 08, 2008

Vanguard Loses Efforts to Get Email Through Public Records Act

It has been a long process that has apparently ended this week with a visiting Judge from Colusa County denying a writ that would have required the city of Davis to release an e-mail that was requested by the Vanguard through a public records request. There are appeal options however.

The story begins in early January of 2007. Based on a tip, the Vanguard ran a story that became a bombshell that reverberated throughout city. On January 10, the story ran on a formerly fired police captain ending up on the short list for police chief.

According to the tip, a Yolo County Judge, Dave Rosenberg, had sent an email to the Davis City Council lobbying them to hire this individual as police chief.

On January 22, 2007, The Vanguard made a simple request to obtain the email through a public records request shortly after the story first ran; however, the city denied the request--twice. They argued that this was part of the deliberative process and was thus exempt from disclosure under the exemption clauses of the California Public Records Act. Furthermore, they argued that this was part of the application process and thus exempt for disclosure.

Under the California Public Records Act, the eventual recourse for obtaining records is to take the agency to court. One of the problems with the California Public Records Act is that there is no administrative appeal other than to the denying agency. There is no independent agency that can examine PRA Requests. And there are minimal penalties for failure to disclose--basically you can receive the requested documents and recover court costs... if you win in court.

In March, with the help of Attorney Don Mooney, the Vanguard formally filed a petition for writ of mandate. Because the request involved Judge Dave Rosenberg, we quickly realized that no Yolo County Judge would take the case. So we had to wait for a visiting judge to take it. It would be until June 13, 2008 before the case was finally heard. Already nearly a year and a half after the fact. This is one more example of the many problems associated with the Public Records Act. The city has now long since hired a new police chief.

The city argued:
"During the recruitment process, Judge Rosenberg (former Mayor of the City), sent an e-mail to the Council with a recommendation regarding one of the applicants, apparently under the mistaken perception that the City Council was responsible for appointing the Chief of Police."
The problem with that argument is that Judge Rosenberg is a former Mayor of Davis. Of all people, he knows the rules and knows that the Davis City Council is not the body that hires a police chief. The City Manager is.

The city goes on to argue that the application process is confidential and the applicants submitted to the process under the belief that their applications and related papers would not be made public. For some this would potentially subject them to problems in the work place.

Our counter-argument here is simple. This email was submitted not to a decision-making body but rather to the city council, outside of the normal application process. Thus this is not a simple letter of reference made to an authority that has hiring power. Judge Rosenberg knew the law and was using this as an opportunity to try to lobby for his friend to get hired.

In addition, the PRA allows disclosure of documents that might otherwise be exempt if there is a strong and compelling public interest to so.

To this point, the city argued:
"Against these strong privacy interests, there is no strong public interest in disclosure. The only possible public interest served by disclosure of the e-mail regarding the unsuccessful applicant is to assist the public in determining whether the City Manager is accurately carrying out his responsibilities in investigating and approving applicants for the police chief position. However, such checks on the process are not necessary when the top five applicants were interviewed by panels made-up of various individuals, including local residents. Disclosure of the e-mail would serve no other purpose than to embarrass the unsuccessful applicant and unnecessarily intrude upon the privacy of both the applicant and the author."
However, to our point, a point that the Judge seemed to agree on during oral arguments, there is a strong and compelling reason for the public to know in this case. You have a sitting judge making a recommendation to the Davis City Council, which is outside of the normal application process. In other words, this is tantamount to a lobbying effort by Judge Rosenberg to pressure the Davis City Council to hire his buddy to be police chief. Judge Rosenberg has to reside over court cases brought forward by this individual and the people under this individual's charge and duty.

As Don Mooney wrote in the response brief:
"Petitioner disagrees with the City's assertion that this would be only public interest served by disclosure. The City's argument ignores the source of the e-mail and the recipients of the email. The recipients of the email was not the City Manager, but the members of the City Council. More importantly, the source of the email is a Yolo County Superior Court Judge, who is now the Presiding Judge of the Yolo County Superior Court. Presumably matters involving the City of Davis Police Department will come before Judge Rosenberg in his capacity as a Superior Court. The Police Chief will be responsible for the policies and actions of the officers under his command and such policies and actions may be reviewed by the Superior Court in any number of ways and instances. The matters that come before the Court may range from criminal prosecutions in which police officers and/ or the police chief testify, to alleged police misconduct to alleged civil rights violations involving the Davis Police Department...

The City's argument may carry more weight if the "letter of reference" was not sent by a judicial officer but instead by a neighbor or former employer or an average citizen within the community. But it was not. As such, a strong public interest exists in disclosure, not to review the role of the City Manager in carrying out his duties, but to review the role a Superior Court Judge sought to have in the selection of a Chief of Police."
The Judge in oral arguments seemed to agree with this view, pressing the city very hard on this issue. However, in his ruling, he ruled on their side following an "in camera" review of the email in question.

In a four page ruling, the Judge wrote:
"The overarching principal is to protect the privacy of the individual and the principal must be applied in this case not withstanding the circumstances under which the case is now before the Court. In balancing the public interest in disclosure against the competing public interest of preventing secrecy in government the Court finds based on this document that disclosure would be an unwanted invasion into the privacy of the applicant and the Court finds no compelling public interest in disclosure and the need for protecting the privacy of individuals in this class of circumstances clearly out weighs any public interest in disclosure."
This was clearly a disappointing ruling from the perspective of the Vanguard and the fight for the public's right to know. I still believe that there is a very compelling reason for this document to be made public, because it shines a light on what I believe was an inappropriate attempt by the sitting Judge, a Judge who is now the presiding officer of the court, to insert himself into the hiring process for the Davis Chief of Police. That action in my view is highly inappropriate and the public ought to know what exactly Judge Rosenberg said in lobbying a body that had no power whatsoever to hire the police chief and in fact had no knowledge of who the finalists for the position even were.

According to the law, the Vanguard has the right to appeal the ruling within 60 days of it being filed. However, this would be a costly endeavor and that cost must be weighed against the chances for success.

To this day, this process has been a valuable one to give me further insight into the process and the weaknesses of the Public Records Act.

On Wednesday, on the Vanguard Radio show, we talked with Investigative Report Thomas Peele, who is an expert on the California Public Records Act and watchdog Barry Allen of the group, the Vanguardians, a Glendale-based public watch dog organization. One of the main topics was the California Public Records Act and how the Act is weak. Thomas Peele for instance had numerous suggestions on how to improve the public records act. To listen to the podcast online, please click here.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Mayor's New Policies: Cutting Off Debate

If there is one good thing that has come of the feud at city council the other night, it is that it has allowed even on the pages of the Davis Enterprise there to be debate at least somewhat over process.

On Tuesday night, the Davis Enterprise ran an extended story on the debate.

The question for me is whether it is appropriate to cut off an elected councilmember when they are asking questions. They have set up council rules that allow the presiding officer to do this. This is something we learned when Councilmember Don Saylor read from council rules. The appropriateness of that rule in this case needs to be in questioned.

For her part, the Mayor told the Davis Enterprise:
"It seems like every meeting is so confrontational. Last Tuesday's meeting, what happened was, we were on the question part and (Greenwald) asked several questions and it was already about 12 minutes for that. If I give one (council member) five minutes, I try to allocate five minutes for the other... She was debating, she was badgering, she was, in a way, insulting the consultant."
Was the former Mayor doing that or was she simply asking tough questions on an issue that in her mind is crucial? Is there a more important issue than that of the proposed water project that figures to raise the rates of people's water bill possibly by more than $100 per month (although this figure is certain part of the debate, a debate refueled on Tuesday when Public Works Director Bob Weir's revised cost figures which seem considerable lower than what was forecast just a week ago).

Even if those new revised numbers prove to be true, the process issue still stands.

The Mayor suggests that Councilmember Greenwald had already spoken for 12 minutes. But by my count it was only eight minutes into questioning when the Mayor interjected and attempted to cut off Councilmember Greenwald.

In a moment we shall talk about whether Councilmember Greenwald lost her control during this confrontation as some have accused and also whether her comments and questions were inappropriate.

However, of bigger concern to me are these statements made by the Mayor in the Davis Enterprise article.
Asmundson said, as mayor, she has a meeting to run, and she tries to keep the council on task so residents have an opportunity to speak before 11 p.m. Council members, too, would like to get home at a reasonable time, she said.

"I'm trying to be more effective and efficient in our meeting so we can address our business," Asmundson said.

The mayor plans to ask her colleagues how they would like to see the meetings run.

"I'm hoping we can work a little more collegially on the council," Asmundson said. "They have to decide how they want me to run the meeting, so I'll be putting more on them. If there's a complaint about how I'm running the meeting, I want to ask them what they want me to do. I'm looking at what's best for Davis, not what's best for our council members."
I can actually sympathize with the Mayor on this issue. I think there are times when comments and questions unnecessarily go on too long. The problem here is that you cannot simply develop rules without flexibility, without an understanding of the difference between a big issue like the water issue and a smaller issue that does not have millions of dollars of impacts.

In the article it states that:
"Asmundson, too, expressed concerns about the cost of the projects. The estimated cost for the wastewater plant upgrade - which is required by the state - rose by about $50 million in the past six months."
I give the mayor credit for this concern as well as her concerns about the escalating salaries for public safety employees. Unfortunately, she needs to allow questioning, tough questions by her colleagues and by the public.

And that brings me to the other real concern with Mayor Asmundson's second turn as Mayor--her decision to limit public comment to 15 minutes. The question is does this really buy her anything?

During normal council meetings, you might get one or two commenters during that time period. It is rare that you have more than five people wanting to speak. When you do get more than five, that probably means there is a specific issue of concern. Asking the public to come back after the meeting seems inappropriate.

Several letters to the editor in the Davis Enterprise have appeared on this topic.

On July 22, 2008, the Mayor on the vital issue of housing cut off both council comments, holding each councilmember to seven minutes. And then she limited the public to only 15 minutes. On this occasion members of the public came up and spoke for a minute or two on an issue that will decide the city's future.

As a result of only allowing 15 minutes of comment following the report on the Housing Element Steering Committee, several citizens came to the regular public comment and complained about the general policy to limit public comment.

Jean Jackman:
"I am at, Mayor, your new policy of only having fifteen minutes of public comment before the meeting starts. It's not Democratic. It shuts down opposition. It shuts down good ideas, I get inspired by listening to public comment from people. It shows lack of flexibility and you are doing a great disservice to the citizens who want to participate in government and their sense of empowerment. You wonder why people don't sign up to be on commissions, well when you give them fifteen minutes public comment for all the issues, it really shows that you are not interested in what people have to say. I really urge you to get the citizens involved and not belittle us by allowing only fifteen minutes of public comment."
Others like Eileen Samitz also complained about the early hour of such a hearing.
“Also the scheduling of these issues… to have a controversial issue like the general plan update, which was affecting the entire community, to schedule it at 5:00, when people like myself have to take off from work to get here… This is not what our city is about. Davis is supposed to be a model of democracy.”
The Mayor's response to those complaints:
“Let me just talk a little about the public comment… At first this was supposed to be just a workshop. But we decided to put 15 minutes for those to speak that couldn’t make it to public comment at the regular meeting. If there are needs to have more discussion we’ll have it at the end. What I’m trying to do here is trying to juggle conflicting demands. Some council members don’t want to have too long meetings. Some council members don’t want to have that many meetings. But we are trying to make sure that we are having a healthy public engagement. And we’re going to be looking into how we can do that. The fifteen minute rule, if we have to go on, we have business to take care of. The council met at five o’clock, we have other business to do. I wanted to make sure council had an opportunity to have dinner before too long. And so that’s why the fifteen minutes.”
Councilmember Lamar Heystek asked for a future meeting to discuss some of the operating procedures. He was concerned about council communications being so late in the hour under the new policies.

Councilmember Sue Greenwald also disagreed with the new policy limiting public comment to fifteen minutes.
“I share the concerns that a number of the members of the public had. For example, when you said that initially you were going to have a workshop without any public comment, we always, when we discuss any item, have always had public comment. It’s been understood that it is not something that is at the discretion of the mayor.”
She continued:
“I personally feel that limiting public comment is a huge mistake in terms of time. There’s been very few times when public comment really is very long. And when it does, it’s usually because there is a room full of young children who want to keep a hockey rink open or something. And you’re not going to want to cut them off. I guarantee you. And it’s going to look very bad when you let them talk for a half an hour but you haven’t let other citizens talk for over fifteen minutes. It will look arbitrary and capricious.”
Back to the water issue. Councilmember Sue Greenwald following the incident told me that if she did not make an issue of the incident, no one would be talking about the issue or the process. Both of which are vitally important.

Former Councilmember Stan Forbes raised the issue itself in a letter to the Davis Enterprise yesterday:
"How it would be financed is a question about borrowing money. More significant to Davis citizens is how it is going to be repaid or, in other words, what is this going to cost me? I don't suggest I have the precise answer. But I do know that based on mortgage amortization tables, $450 million at 6 percent over 30 years has an annual payment of approximately $32.4 million, or about $500 for every man woman and child now in Davis. Every year. For the next 30 years. Plus the surface water.

Given this cost, I offer my thanks to Council member Sue Greenwald for asking hard questions. We can't avoid upgrading the treatment plant. But it would seem to me that a serious discussion of water conservation measures ought to have as much or more priority for the council as how to finance such a project. Conservation often costs much less than increasing supply."
This gets us back to the original issue of Mayor Asmundson cutting off Councilmember Greenwald's line of questioning.

Were Sue Greenwald's questions out of line? Did Mayor Asmundson inappropriately cut the Councilmember off? Did the Councilmember lose her cool? You decide. Here is a video clip of the incident. It includes the final three minutes of Councilmember Greenwald's eight minutes of questioning. It includes the Mayor cutting her off. It includes the recess. It includes Don Saylor reading from the rules. It does not include Sue Greenwald requesting to resume her questions and Mayor Asmundson ignoring those requests.

You decide for yourself. For me, process is as important if not more important than actual substance. There was a time during the last session when as Mayor, Sue Greenwald cut off Stephen Souza from asking questions. It was inappropriate. I did not agree with what Mr. Souza had to say, but I defend his right to say it. He was an elected official and deserved to ask his questions. I feel the same way about Sue Greenwald. And there are times when she crosses the line.

More and more I do not feel that she crossed this line on this issue. I think it was completely inappropriate to cut off debate. I think it is completely inappropriate to limit council questions for the sake of expediency and getting home early. Do not pack the council meetings with some many items. Lack of adequate discussion means poor decision making. I fear this simply means that the council will decide in advance what they are going to do and make the public deliberative process a formality with the decision already having been made. That is not the way to run open meetings, to have open government, and to run a democracy.

I believe that Mayor Asmundson is a decent person. I think her heart is in the right place even as I disagree with her on some policy issues, but I think she is making a big mistake and doing it here for the wrong reasons. The public needs to make her aware of how they feel on this issue if they want change to occur.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Vanguard Report: Examining Reimbursements to Davis City Council

Councilmember Don Saylor spends more city money than the rest of his colleagues combined

The City is allowed to reimburse City Councilmembers for expenses incurred while on official duty to the city. Often this takes the form of travel expenses to conferences while a council member is representing the city. AB 1234 at the state level governs much of this.

The Vanguard made a public records act request for the city to disclose all reimbursements to Davis City Councilmembers for 2004 until the present. The findings here are interesting, but please do not read too much into them.

Nevertheless, the findings here are more interesting than one might first think.

The council over that four and a half year period has spent a grand total of $10,406.92 combined between the five members. Clearly this is neither a large city expense nor is there much to suggest a problem.

However, one councilmember spent more than the other four combined and nearly four times more than the next closest councilmember. That was Councilmember Don Saylor.

The vast majority of those expenditures are for attending league of California City Meetings. In fact, that is the majority of everyone's expenditures.

However there are a few of Councilmember Saylor's non-travel expenditures:
  • In 2004, $378 for Reimbursement for Comcast Interviews
  • In 2005, $100 for DHS Jazz Group Fee
  • In 2005, $150 for Music for Oeste Manor
  • In 2007, roughly $150 for three expenditures for T-Shirts with the City Logo
These are mostly small amounts, although the reimbursement for Comcast Interviews is somewhat interesting.

The other interesting finding was the spending of Councilmember Lamar Heystek. Remember Councilmember Heystek was elected in 2006, and so his figures are a two-year total and yet, he is just behind Mayor Asmundson with just over $1500 in expenditures.

If you look down his list, you see a number of payments for what appears to be his internet service--either DSL or later on, Comcast. I inquired at the city and they informed me that paying for internet is one of the few perks provided to city council members, however, only Lamar Heystek had taken advantage of that offer. And it makes sense given his personal financial situation.

I asked Councilmember Heystek about it on the record.
"Thanks for asking. I'm glad you're looking into councilmembers' expenses. The Internet is the main way I connect with City staff and constituents. I also use my personal cell phone (not my City-issued Blackberry); however, the City does not cover any of my telephone costs."
The expenditures for internet run roughly at $42 per month for a total of about $900.

Again, we are talking about a total $10,406.92 so it is difficult to draw much in the way of conclusion other than perhaps one councilmember has traveled much more on public expense than the other four combined. I am not sure there is much to be concerned about (not everything we report on has to be a major scandal); however, I did find it interesting to look at.

The Vanguard has been reporting on public records this week relating to expenditures and fiscal policy, stay tuned to future installments.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

100K Club of Davis

The Vanguard introduces the 100K Club of Davis. A listing of those Davis city employees who earned in 2007 over $100,000 in salary and overtime. This list does not include benefits in it. Once again these records were obtained via a Public Records Act request from the city of Davis.

One of the striking features of the 100K Club of Davis is that the city employee who earned the most money last year was not City Manager Bill Emlen but rather Fire Captain Richard Moore on the strength of over $77,000 in overtime wages. The only other non-public safety official in the top 10 was Parks and Community Services Director Donna Silva.

In all there are 61 members of the 100K Club of Davis from 2007. 48 of those were public safety employees. Of those 38 were firefighters.

This fact becomes more startling as we breakdown the top average salaries by department.

Here we see that the Fire Department has the top average base salary at $88,555 followed by the City Manager's office. The Police Department by contrast is fourth and just higher than the average city salary. Parks and Finance are the two lowest compensated departments in the city followed by the Public Works Department.

However, this graph does not tell the full story. The real story emerges when overtime wages are factored in.

Here we see the full magnitude of the current salary system. The Police Department benefits somewhat by the overtime system however, nothing compared to the Fire Department. With overtime factored in the average employee in the Fire Department out earns the next highest the department, the City Manager's Office, by over $35,000. The Fire Department makes just under 50% more than the next highest department in the city. And, the average worker for the city does not benefit much from overtime rules. The average wage only moves from $63.1 to $67.9K when overtime is factored in.

In all, the city paid out just under $2 million in overtime wages in 2007. One of the open questions is whether and at what point it is more cost effective to simply hire more employees rather than paying for the current employees time and a half to work overtime. Factored into that equation is the difference between overtime pay from regular wages versus the amount the city would have to pay in additional benefits and retirement to additional employees. However, on the surface, it would appear the city might be able to hire an additional 10 to 15 employees for what they are paying overtime.

This is the second in a series of Vanguard reports on the fiscal state of affairs for the city of Davis.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, August 04, 2008

Vanguard Report: City of Davis Employee Salaries Rise Far Faster Than Tax Revenue

Through a public records request to the City of Davis, the Vanguard has obtained data that show from fiscal year 2000-01 through 2007-08 that city employee salaries rose far faster than the city's tax revenue.

Total compensation to city employees rose from just over $27 million in 2000-01 to just under $50 million in 2007-08, which is an increase of $21.7 million over an eight year period. At the same time, tax revenues only increased by $6.2 million from $18.3 million to $25.2 million.

While employee salaries increased by 50% of this time period, benefits nearly doubled, and retirement pensions increased by over five fold. Retirement pensions rose from $900,000 in 2000-01 to $5.8 million.

A large amount of these increases have come to upper management within the city rather than the rank and file employees. On Tuesday the Vanguard plans to breakdown the city's 100K Club--those city employees who earned over $100,000 in 2007, almost all of whom are upper level management employees for the city of Davis.

These numbers call into question the city's long term fiscal health. While the council majority of Mayor Ruth Asmundson, and Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Don Saylor have maintained that they have balanced the budget with the requisite reserves, critics have pointed out that this comes from an unusually large amount of unmet needs. These, unmet city needs, such as road repairs and other projects have been put on hold and will likely cost the city more in the future.

To this point, the council majority has dismissed criticism that the fiscal climate is not nearly as rosy as it appears.

During the last city council election Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Don Saylor repeatedly claimed that the city had a balanced budget with a 15% reserve each year of their tenure. At the same time, the council has tacitly acknowledged the problem with discussions of possible sales tax increases, 911 service call tax, and possibly a public safety tax in addition to the recently passed Parks Tax from 2006.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek told the Vanguard:
"It is clear that year after year, tax revenue is becoming less and less sufficient to address rapidly growing employee expenses. In order for the City to improve its financial picture, we must take steps to control the costs of our highest-paid personnel so that the disparity between tax revenue and employee expenses does not continue to escalate."
One possible implication painted by this budget picture is that the city use employee salaries and their impact on the budget as rationale to find new ways to generate revenue in order to balance the budget.

As mentioned previously, new taxes are already being weighed by the council. However, for those concerned about the specter of new growth pressures, this might be part of the impetus behind the increased employee salaries. The city will look to generate additional revenue and that means possibly additional commercial development and more likely additional housing in an attempt to get short-term gains from development deals and longer-term gains from an increased tax-base. However, as previously pointed out, that only goes so far. With additional housing, comes also the additional need for services, which figure to be ever-the-more-costly with the high price of employees and their benefits and pensions.

This sets the stage for a potential tax-hike coupled with the need for more business. But there is a note of caution here as well. The new Target store for instance, is projected to bring in a rather lucrative $600,000; however, this is a drop in the barrel compared to the huge totals for salaries and pensions that the city is facing in the future.

Even more ominous, is the fact that many of the employees' contracts are up in 2009. As we shall see on Tuesday, a large number of those contracts go to public safety employees, in particular firefighters who donated huge amounts to Stephen Souza and Don Saylor's reelection campaigns. That likely means that Stephen Souza and Don Saylor will be in no position to say, “no” to future lucrative contracts.

Stay tuned this week for upcoming reports on the City of Davis' fiscal state of affairs.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, August 03, 2008

City Clerk to Leave Davis for Job with City of Menlo Park

During Friday's traditional early morning August 1 City Council Meeting very little of substance occurred for the largely ceremonial meeting. By law, the city council must meet at least once each month. Normally they meet at least two and often more than three or even four times. However, during the month of August, the council takes its summer recess. So ceremonially they hold an early morning meeting on August 1, usually with an abbreviated calendar, although the last two years they had controversial discussions (West Nile Spraying in 2006 and a discussion on Land Deal with Steve Gidarro in 2007). This year the meeting consisted of two consent items. It was wrapped up in less than thirty minutes and the council is adjourned until mid-September.

The big announcement came from City Manager Bill Emlen who informed the council and the public that City Clerk Margaret Roberts was leaving the City of Davis to become City Clerk at the City of Menlo Park.

I am often critical of city staff. In fact, I would be hard pressed to think of anyone else I would write this for. However Margaret Roberts was an exception to the rule. In a city where getting information often feels like a battle and half the time I feel games are being played both with myself and with the public, Margaret Roberts was the consummate professional. She always did her job, she was always courteous, respectful, honest, and yes, professional. I am very sad to see her leave.

She was the access point to information about the city. All public records request, of which I have made dozens in the last two years, go through her. Only once did I ever have a problem receiving public records, and that was not the fault of Ms. Roberts.

Fortunately, not only was Margaret Roberts an excellent city clerk, she has an excellent support staff. The city is left in the very capable hands of Deputy City Clerk, Zoe Mirabile. However, I think I speak for many, Margaret Roberts will be sorely missed.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Parcel Tax Campaign Announces Two Prominent Davisites Have Been Named As Co-Chairs

The Vanguard received a press release from the YES on Measure W, "Yes for Our Students" campaign. It announced that Janet Berry and Judy Davis will serve as co-chairs of the Measure W campaign.

According to the release:
"Berry and Davis will be involved in the overall strategic direction of the campaign and its community outreach efforts. Janet Berry is a familiar and dedicated parent of children in Davis schools and Judy Davis is the just-retired principal of North Davis Elementary School."
Janet Berry is acting as a private citizen on this campaign. She heads up the Davis Schools Foundation which raised $1.7 million this year to rescue the Davis schools from huge budget cuts that would have forced many teachers to lose their jobs.

Judy Davis was a very well-regarded long-time principal at North Davis Elementary School and one of the most respected principals in the district. She just retired this year after returning for one additional.

Said Judy Davis:
“It has been my great honor to be associated with Davis schools for many years. It is the involvement of parents, volunteers and the extraordinary commitment of our entire community that has made Davis public schools what they are today. However, it is really important for people to understand that state funding for schools is dropping and that there is a genuine gap between the cost of educating our students and funds from the state. It is up to us to bridge the gap. At stake is the range of diverse educational programs that are offered today. Preserving quality will be determined by a vote yes or no on Measure W. It is really that simple.”
Said Janet Berry:
“The immediate future for education funding in this state is at best unclear. Additional cuts are likely but no one knows with certainty at this time. What we do know from our collective experience this past spring is that people in Davis care about children. They are committed to public education. And they are willing to support important programs and teachers in all our schools. What we learned during this period is that there is a structural budget problem in the District and we heard over and over that people expected a structural solution, like a parcel tax. That’s what Measure W is about and why I’m personally involved in the campaign. Voting yes for Measure W will provide the long-term protection for the classroom programs we saved this spring.”
School Board Member Gina Daleiden was very excited about the selection of Ms. Berry and Ms. Davis:
“Janet and Judy have both demonstrated extraordinary leadership in their commitment to Davis schools and protecting educational opportunities in our community. We are really fortunate to have them involved in our community effort.”
Measure W will be on the ballot this November. It will place an additional $120 per parcel per year tax on Davis Residents to fund core programs like the Elementary Science, Elementary Music, librarians, a few high school teachers, and the athletic program at the high school. Without these funds, DJUSD will be announcing once again potentially deep cuts to programs and teachers.

According to both polls from the District and the Vanguard this will be a very tough election to get over the two-thirds threshold required to raise taxes. Janet Berry and Judy Davis are excellent choices to help lead up what needs to be a very strong grassroots effort.

On Wednesday, the Vanguard Radio interviewed Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. We discussed the parcel tax, education, and the implications if this measure does not pass. Please click here to listen to the podcast.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting