Berk Says She Offers Change From Upland’s Old Guard

(September 9) Susan Berk said she is running for the Upland City Council because “Upland needs strategic and experienced leadership focused on getting our financial house in order.   The water and sewer privatization issue spurred me to action; I realized we are going down the wrong track and we can no longer maintain the status quo.   Returning the same council members or electing the former city manager to the city council is not a good path forward.   These people are the ones who put us where we are now.   They say they have unfinished business.   Their business is not unfinished; it’s an approach that has moved us in the wrong direction and it must be stopped.”
Berk told the Sentinel “Protecting management of our water and sewer asset  is the most significant issue facing us today, and I am disappointed that a vote on it has been pushed out until after the election.    Outsourcing management of our water and sewer assets is a bad idea and it is an end run around securing rate increase approvals.   This concept will do nothing to reduce our costs; in fact, predictions are it will more than double our water and sewer bills.   It’s a ploy to get more money to cover past management mistakes.   We need look no further than Claremont or Rialto to understand the negative long-term effect on the city.   I am against outsourcing management of our water and sewer assets.   It’s a shortsighted, bad idea with severe ramifications for the people of Upland.”
At the same time, Berk said, “I am firmly against any tax increases and any new taxes.   If there’s anything we don’t need, it is more taxes.  I will use the management skills I’ve honed in industry to identify cost reduction opportunities and assets with which we can generate cash, and to build our fund reserves.  We have to learn to live within our means.”
While Berk said the city should maintain ownership of its water division, she said the city did possess property and operations it could conceivably dispense with.
“Upland has land and other assets that are not being used to our advantage,” she said. “We need a complete list of all city assets including our land holdings, and we need to either find ways to put these to work for us or sell them.  This information has been hard to obtain; it won’t be when I am on the city council.”
Berk called for reducing the city’s reliance on consultants.
“Our senior city executives are extremely well paid to manage and to do their own analysis,” she intoned. “That’s their job – it’s not to hire consultants every time a tough budgetary decision comes along.   We recently threw $27K away by having a team of consultants ask Upland citizens if they were in favor of higher taxes.    There are many troubling things about this, including the city’s initial decision to not release the survey results.   The city initially claimed attorney-client privilege as the reason for not releasing this information, which is outrageous.   It required the involvement of the First Amendment Coalition to make the report public.”
The city has been plagued by less than diligent government oversight, she maintained.
“I view the city council’s job to be the same as a board of directors in a publicly-held corporation,” she said. “The council is there to provide strategic oversight, to guide the city manager, and to always have the best interests of the citizens of Upland, who are the shareholders of the city, as their number one priority.   That hasn’t happened in recent years.   I see the failure of our city council to prevent or even detect the unethical and unprofessional behavior that has occurred in Upland city government as the most pressing reason for significant change.   I owe nothing to the special interests.   I will work for the citizens of Upland, and I will answer to them.”
In identifying her game plan for governance if elected, Berk said “Upland needs to get its financial house in order, and that will be my first priority.”
Berk said the city should leave well enough alone and not even consider  water and sewer privatization. “We’re not having problems in these areas,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to ‘fix’ something that isn’t broken.    I will oppose this backdoor tax increase.   We aren’t going to get out of our current situation by digging deeper into our residents’ wallets.”
Berk said the city can avoid the need for sales or business tax increases by “getting our spending under control.   That starts with defining budgets for every department and holding those department managers accountable.   If they feel they don’t have enough, it will be up to them to find solutions, and the default answer cannot always be ‘I need more money.’   My industry experience is that when people realize there is no more money, they find solutions.   That’s what I believe has been missing in Upland.  We have a lot of good people a level or two below top management and I know they are interested in finding solutions to our budget problems if we engage them in the process.”
Berk said Upland, as other cities, must come to terms with having made unrealistic and financially onerous commitments to provide its employees with overly generous pensions.
“We have a huge issue with our pension obligation,” Berk said. “It’s growing and Upland can’t solve this problem on its own; it’s a state-wide problem.   We certainly need to honor the pension obligations we have already made.  Upland has a two-tier pension system for new employees, but that’s a solution that will only start to work 20 years or more down the road.   We are where we are now because of terrible prior management decisions.  In order to address this problem now, we need to take a very hard and very public look at our future negotiations in the upcoming contract renewals.   One of our former city managers and his finance director worked a deal where their compensation was based on what the public safety unions negotiated, so that if the  public safety folks got more, these executives got more.   That’s a blatant conflict of interest and it should have never happened.   That’s the kind of unethical behavior I won’t allow, and which I’ll make sure the public knows about.”
Berk said “We need to critically review all city assets and all planned expenditures.   We need to determine what we can afford, and which of our assets we either need to sell, thereby raising cash, or put them to good use.   Some might argue that privatizing our water and sewer management will do this, but it won’t.   It will just increase the price of these services to our citizens, even though the cost of providing these services hasn’t gone up.”
If entrusted with a position on the council, Berk said, “I’ll take a very hard look at the proposed use of any consultants.   My first question to any manager who wants to hire a consultant will always be:  ‘Why can’t you do this?’”
Berk said she has the moxie to take on the job of directing the city through the rough times ahead.
“I didn’t get to where I am today as a senior executive by being timid,” she said. “I will work with the other council members and the mayor to develop solutions that benefit Upland residents and to ensure that the city manager follows our direction.”
A program manager with Raytheon for the last 17 years who previously worked at  Lockheed for four years, TRW for 10 years, and Honeywell for four years, Berk said she is qualified to serve on the council, because “I’ve run large defense and commercial programs with budgets of up to $200 million with diverse stakeholders – those to whom I report, those who report to me, subcontractors, and customers.    Our primary stakeholders here are the residents of Upland and I’ll never forget that.  I have a strong management and operations background.    I’ve written five books on management and financial analysis.   I’m tireless and I’m relentless in doing the right thing.   And, I love Upland. I’ve lived here for 30 years.   I want the next stories in The Daily Bulletin and The San Bernardino County Sentinel to be about something good going on in Upland City Hall.
I’m the only city council candidate with the financial management experience to dig us out of the hole our prior poor leadership put us in.   I want the residents of Upland to know that I will answer to them and not the special interests.   I won’t allow the city to keep secrets from the people who live here.   Most importantly, you won’t be making a mistake when you vote for me.”
Berk graduated from Arroyo High School in El Monte and obtained a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Cal Poly, Pomona. She returned to Cal Poly to obtain a Master of Business Administration degree after she had been employed for a few years. She is a member of the  Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association and Leadership California, a group of senior woman business leaders who address California business issues.
She has been married for 31 years and has two adult children.

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