Citizen questions city transparency

UPDATE: Taylor's email to council sparks community response; council still silent on the matter

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

“I am completely dumbfounded by the scheduling of this important budget workshop at 9 a.m. on a workday,” former Councilman Jerry Taylor wrote Monday in an e-mail that was addressed to members of the Ridgecrest City Council, local media and scores of citizens.

Taylor is among the citizens who have been calling for public discussion of the budget crisis, outlined by Interim City Manager Dennis Speer in December and revisited by the city auditor in February. Despite what many perceive as a grave fiscal crisis, Taylor points out that the city has not taken public action on the issue since it was first raised.

He points out that the agenda of the regular meeting (see related story, this page) has only a consent calendar and one brief discussion item. He also said that he does not believe the issue can be related to staff time, since salary schedules accommodate such meetings.

“I am absolutely amazed that after waiting 82 days since your last budget agenda item before the city council that you are now planning on holding this workshop at such an inconvenient time for the average working citizen of Ridgecrest,” wrote Taylor.

“We see what transparency means to this council.”

He told the News Review that by press time he had not received a response from any of the councilmembers. However, he said that several other citizens had responded to echo his concern.

His e-mail is the latest in a growing number of concerned expressions by the public regarding the city’s apparent financial crisis and the lack of response from City Hall.

UPDATE (added 03-06-2013)----------------------------

After the News Review had gone to press with the above article, Taylor’s e-mail had sparked numerous responses from other public figures, including a former councilmember and members of the Citizens Oversight Committee for Measure L. (As of Wednesday morning no responses from councilmembers had been received.) Below is Taylor’s original message, as well as the replies from those who copied the News Review on their responses:

I am completely dumbfounded by the scheduling of this important budget workshop at 9AM on a work day. You have a council meeting this week with ONLY the consent calendar and one discuss item, unmet needs for transit. You will spend more time eating dinner and discussing litigation that the public can't know about than actual council work on Wed. Is the scheduling of a meeting on the budget during a work day of most citizens so no one can attend? I assume you are not doing this for staff reasons since department heads are salaried employees and are paid not on an hourly basis. On top of that, department heads and mid-management get a large number of administrative leave hours (80-120 hrs/yr) because of meetings outside of normal 7:30-5:30 schedule. I am absolutely amazed that after waiting 82 days since your last budget agenda item before the city council, that you are now planning on holding this workshop at such an inconvenient time for the average working citizen of Ridgecrest. We see what transparency means to this council.

— Jerry Taylor, former councilmember

May 4

I second Mr. Taylor's comments whole heartedly. It is as if the members of the City Council are going out of their way to keep the public from having any input into the budget process. That might not be the case, but it sure looks that way. We have told you repeatedly that under the current financial circumstances you need to reach out to the residents and listen to what they have to say about the spending priorities for their tax money. It is after all our money, not yours. This is a slap in our faces. I wasn't going to say anything, just shake my head and write it off as the usual nonsense we have come to expect from the elected leadership of this city, but seeing Mr. Taylor's comments made me write.

This City Council needs to hold town hall style meetings or workshops in the evening where citizens can attend and contribute their ideas. If the City Council is serious about addressing the city's budget problems it will bring the public into the discussion. Holding workshops during normal business hours does not advance that cause.

— Phil Salvatore, Measure L oversight committee

May 5

I would like to complement you on moving forward with the process of the budget. Having the likes of the two below comments [referring to Taylor's and Salvatore's comments shown above], (one disgruntled, and the other conspiracy theory), are laughable at best. As you formulate your plans from this initial meeting I believe you will take into account the public interest, and I am also sure that those who cannot control your direction will continue to voice their displeasure whether or not it is warranted. I wish you the best in your efforts.

— Steven P. Morgan, former councilmember

May 5

Messrs. Taylor and Salvatore's criticism is not inherently "disgruntled" nor "conspira[torial]." Such "with us or against us" rebuttals have been out of vogue for quite some time because they are universally recognized as substitutes for reasonable discussion and rational debate. It's rather unfortunate that this discussion needs to go there so early and with such scant evidence.

I, too, hope that the budget discussions are held at a more convenient hour for public involvement. That is neither disgruntled nor conspiratorial. That is an objectively reasonable request given these very unique times we face, vis-a-vis the concern about Ridgecrest remaining a "going concern". Mayor Clark has invited all-comers to contribute to the discussion. I trust him that he means it. We truly are in an "it takes a village" moment and budget discussions that purport to invite input from the public should be held at a time that would accommodate public attendance to provide that very input.

I wish the Council, as well as the City, the best as we move forward. I also hope that, however discussions are had, when the dust settles the public believes that any decisions were made not only with its input but with its best interests in mind. I just think that the suggestions that such important discussions being held at 9 a.m. on a workday will not further that end are valid concerns and should not be dismissed with such lazy ad hominem swipes.

— Scott Garver, Measure L oversight committee

May 6

I look forward, with great expectations, to complementing you on the very tough work that I hope you will be doing. Much of what you are now being held responsible for and are being asked to mitigate is a direct result of certain past Councils/members preferring to kick the proverbial can down road, often by digging a hole for us by unauthorized borrowing and other ill-advised leadership/management practices (to put it nicely) rather than addressing these very same hard decisions. We still hear from these individuals, a couple in particular, from the peanut gallery hoping to rewrite their history...still holding our citizens in contempt and repeating the off heard derogatory, trite, and shop worn statements regarding their intentions. These remarks, like the one below [referring to Morgan's response shown above], are a transparent and obvious attempt to continue to obscure the true picture of the legacy they have left behind. Ridgecrest is absolutely broke as result. Those that continue to serve and those that are new have an absolutely crystal clear picture before them of what CAN NOT be done any longer... it is what was done over the past 10/15 years. One more kick of the can, as has been the tradition and off the cliff we go.

I hope you will be all ears as the many citizens that really do care come before you to help you with your hard decisions...and that you will indeed make those hard decisions. You have the opportunity to be the Council that took the first hard step towards putting Ridgecrest on the path to a long delayed reasonable and solid financial footing. Ridgecrest will be thanking you for your service when you have seen to it that this occurs. I am rooting for your success!

— Jim Fallgatter

May 6

Story First Published: 2013-03-06