Clash Over Budget Review Sends SB City Council Into Virtual Meltdown

By Mark Gutglueck
In going the extra mile to ensure adequate public participation at a specially-called city council meeting for Wednesday night, San Bernardino City Clerk Georgeann Hanna sent out a social media alert telling a circle of city residents that the convocation of the city’s leaders to discuss a single item involving a midyear budget review was to take place. Anticipating a dry and numbers-filled, somnolence-provoking discussion, Hanna advised those who were contemplating showing up to “bring coffee.”
As it turned out, the council members themselves provided sufficient fireworks to keep the crowd jumping.
The meeting began with customary decorum with the reciting of the pledge of allegiance, led by Councilman Henry Nickel.
Four individuals spoke at the outset of the meeting during the public comment portion. While those speaking stayed within the bounds of propriety, each gave a hint of the chaos that was hovering around the meeting chamber.
Mike Hartley said, “Here we are again at a meeting called by the mayor, for what purpose I have no idea. I can only assume the mayor and his chief of staff are the only ones privy to the information, and maybe a few council members who always vote his way. Again, I can only assume, because the meeting is called Budget Study Workshop, you plan on discussing the budget for 2018-2019. If it’s for that year I can only assume it is to criticize the city manager for the mistakes she made in her projections and on her forecasts for the city budget.”
Treasure Ortiz said, “I’m really, really shocked that there is even a meeting being held with no backup. If my recollection serves, Madame City Manager, are you not directly in charge of the budget? I find it very odd that the mayor would call a special meeting to discuss the budget that is controlled directly by you, by your staff. There is no oversight in this city. This is why there is no budgetary process. This is why it is dangerous for a mayor or a council to be able to control an agenda that doesn’t have to go through a city manager or her staff. I will not be able to sit her and watch the six of you carry on for a meeting for which you have no documentation. You have no background material to make an informed decision. Why 24 hours prior notice [of the meeting]? What is the emergency for a budget workshop?”
Harry Hatch said, “Don’t use your money unwisely. Think about what you are going to do.” Saying that members of the council were asking the right questions, Hatch then offered a prescient take on things. “What are you doing wrong?” he asked, and then answered, “You’re not cooperating.”
Luis Ojeda said “Mr. Mayor, I think it is very inconsiderate of you to do this to us because I just found out at the last minute, and I don’t appreciate this, because I want to be involved, I want to help, but if I don’t have advance notice there’s going to be a meeting, I’m not able to prepare well to ask questions or to make a comment. If we care about how much we are spending, we need to start here. I’m sure that on the next agenda we could talk about this, on not to spend money because I don’t think you guys are working for free. Frankly, what I see is we are spending money for no reason. I would appreciate for you guys to start focusing on what is important to all of us.”
Saying that he appreciated the public comments, Mayor John Valdvia then took the floor to direct the meeting toward its intended subject, at which point things went careening out of control.
“Earlier this month, our interim finance director presented on March 6, 2019 a midyear budget report…” Valdivia began.
“Mayor, through the chair,” Councilman Fred Shorett broke in.
Valdivia endeavored to continue. “Her report described what was…”
“Mayor, through the chair,” Shorett persisted. “I’m not going to relent, Mayor. I’m not going to relent.”
“Mr. Shorett,” Valdivia said.
“I believe this is an inappropriate meeting, ill-advised, and I’d like to hear from our city attorney on how we’re having this,” Shorett said. “Everyone who has been up here tonight has said exactly the right thing, and that is we are sitting here with absolutely no backup whatsoever. And I know what is going on here: It’s you and your chief of staff, and you’re going to do something to make our city manager look bad. That’s the intent of this meeting, and anybody that doesn’t believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell ya. I’d like to hear from the city attorney as to whether this is actually a legally posted and appropriately posted meeting.”
Valdivia started once more, “Earlier this month…”
“Mayor,” said Shorett. “I move for adjournment. Are we being televised?”
“Yes we are, sir,” said Valdvia.
“Do you want me to respond to that, Mayor?” asked City Attorney Gary Saenz.
“No, I’m going to continue with my comment,” said Valdivia. “Thank you Mr. Shorett. Thank you, Mr. City Attorney. I appreciate it.”
“Earlier this year, on March 6 of 2019…” Valdiva launched into his presentation.
“This is being highjacked,” said Shorett.
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order, sir,” said Valdivia.
“I know I am,” said Shorett. “You bet I am.”
“You done?” asked Valdivia.
“Oh no, are you going to give me more time?” Shorett asked.
“Okay,” said Valdivia.
“I am not done, no,” said Shorett.
“Go ahead,” said the mayor.
“This is an outrage,” said Shorett. “And I would like to hear,” Shorett said, pointing to the city attorney, “on this meeting. Where’s the backup [material]? What is the purpose of this meeting? What you are doing is you are highjacking this council. You are not the king. Under the new charter you have no real authority other than a couple of tiebreakers, and we’ve been doing that for three months. We’ve had six meetings in three months, six regular meetings, and we’ve had five, maybe six emergency meetings. And the letter of the law might allow you to have, to call a special meeting, but the spirit of the law is for an emergency. And this is no more of an emergency than the man in the moon, and we all know it, and we all know what’s going on here.”
“Earlier this month, on March 6 of 2019,” Valdivia began once more.
“Point of inquiry, if I may,” Councilman Henry Nickel said then.
“Mr. Nickel,” the mayor said.
“I have received concern from the public,” Nickel said. “A lot of people don’t know what this is about. I received a special meeting agenda that literally had one line on it. I really don’t know what this is about. I am concerned that there may be a notice issue here. I do want to make sure that we aren’t in violation of the Brown Act at present, given the fact that there was very little notice, very little background, very little documentation provided. I would like the city attorney’s opinion on that.”
“Sure,” said Valdivia. “Mr. City Attorney, what say you?”
“I was actually contacted by members of the public asking me what the meeting was about,” said City Attorney Gary Saenz. “I had to tell them I didn’t know what the meeting was about. That made me believe that there was probably going to be some concern about the agendizing, and whether or not it was proper to inform the public. As we all know, the Brown Act requires open and public meetings. When the Brown Act was enacted in the ‘Fifties, a lot of meetings were taking place behind closed doors without the public knowing what was going on. The Brown Act requires, of course, that meetings be open and public. Public means that the public has a right to participate in meetings, in my opinion, And public openness is enhanced by the Brown Act requirement of a meaningful agenda. In other words, you want the public to have an opportunity to participate. That opportunity is enhanced when they have a meaningful agenda, that is, they are informed, they have sufficient information as to what the meeting is about, what’s going to be discussed, so they can make a decision whether or not this is something they want to participate in. They want to be heard, they have an interest, they have concerns, whatever the case may be. That is what the Brown Act does, it allows the public to participate, to be a part of a meeting. We’ve heard from constituents today, Luis Ojeda, who said, for example, he didn’t know what this meeting is. I’ve heard from other constituents, many. I’ve heard from council people, asking me what this meeting is about. I had to tell them, ‘I don’t know. Your city attorney doesn’t know.’ Most of the staff in San Bernardino City, as far as I know, don’t know what this meeting is about. That, in my opinion, is not consistent with the Brown Act. The Brown Act calls for open [meetings]. We hear talk a lot about transparency, and that’s a good thing. This council and this mayor have talked significantly about wanting to have open and transparent meetings, be open to the public, be receptive to the public’s participation and input. That’s all well and good. An agenda that simply has three words – Budget Study Workshop – in my mind, without any backup to qualify that, is not a meaningful agenda, sufficient to advise the public of what this meeting is about so they can participate..”
“Thank you, Mr. City Attorney,” said Valdivia. “I do have some questions for you.”
“Sure,” said Saenz.
“Was the meeting in compliance with the Brown Act on noticing?” Valdivia asked. “Yes or no?”
“No,” said Saenz.
“Miss City Clerk,” said Valdivia. “Did you advertise in protocol of the Brown Act requirements to notice the public?”
“I published the agenda on Monday,” City Clerk Georgeann Hanna said, “which was more than 24 hours before the special meeting as required by the Brown Act…”
The remainder of what she said was indecipherable as Saenz and the mayor began to speak over her at once, with Saenz’s words obscured as well. Valdivia’s “Very good” could be made out.
“Mr. City Attorney, you’re out of order, sir,” said Valdivia. “You will wait until I call on you.”
“King John!” exclaimed Shorett.
“Miss City Clerk, please continue,” Valdivia said.
“On Friday, I heard from your chief of staff that you wanted to call this meeting, and I asked him at that time if there would be any backup, and he said no, that you would provide a PowerPoint presentation,” Hanna said.
“As to the provisions of noticing, Miss City Clerk, are they in compliance to your attestation?” Valdvia asked.
After a pregnant pause, Hanna said, “Yes. This was posted more than 24 hours prior to the meeting.”
“Very good,” said Valdivia. “I think the meeting will continue. I am not in violation of the Brown Act.”
At that point it was as if all of Hell, or at least a good portion of it, had overthrown Satan and with him among its legions bore through its encasement within the solid iron core surrounding the center of the earth, shot through the liquid iron core, blasted its way through the lower mantle, pierced the upper mantle, continued on its upward progression through the athenosphere, broke through the lithosphere and poked up out of the continental mantle and then progressed three stories up into the City of San Bernardino’s alternative administrative building at 201-B North E Street in downtown San Bernardino into the council chamber on the third floor.
“I move for adjournment,” said Shorett. “This is not a proper…”
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order, sir,” Valdivia said.
“I move for adjournment,” repeated Shorett.
“If I may, let me read this,” Valdivia said.
“I’ll second that,” said Councilman Jim Mulvihill in response to Shorett’s motion.
I will…” began the mayor.
“Call for the question,” said Shorett.
“We will continue,” Valdivia said, his intent to get to the meat of his presentation, which highlighted a multitude of financial challenges the municipality faces. Those include an approximate $2 million shortfall in projected revenue in Fiscal Year 2018-19, a $1.5 million miscalculation of utility tax receipts, and a drop off of $674,000 in water fund revenue from what was layered into the budget. Valdivia was also prepared to bring up the consideration that the city had made an effort to balance its books by reducing outlays in the police department by as much as $1.7 million through not rehiring officers to replace departing ones. Another thorny issue Valdivia had in mind is the likelihood that gas tax receipts will dip by $6.5 million in Fiscal Year 2019-20.
“Earlier this month, on March 6,” the mayor went on. “Mr. Shorett…”
“I think there’s a motion,” said Mulvihill.
“I think there’s a motion,” echoed Shorett, “and a second. Call for the question.”
“The chair does not recognize it,” the Mayor said.
“The chair does not have a choice,” said Mulvihill.
“Well, then the chair’s going to have to carry on this meeting without us…” said Shorett.
“Then goodbye, Mr. Shorett,” said Valdivia. “If you don’t want to participate in the future of this city, that’s fine.”
“I don’t want to work under you, Mr. Mayor,” said Shorett. “I’ll tell you what: I’m going to stay here…”
Valdvia, loudly banged his gavel with purpose five times.
“You’re out of order, sir,” said Valdivia, briefly leaning toward Shorett.
“I’m not out of order,” said Shorett, who then thundered, “You’re out of order.”
“Okay, then…” began Valdivia.
“You’re out of order,” said Shorett, gesticulating by pointing directly at the mayor. “You have been for nine years.”
Valdivia lifted his gavel, firmly rapping it five times on the dais top as if he wished the dais were Shorett’s head.
“You’ve been on the wrong side of every issue in this city and now you think you’re king,” Shorett said with passion.
“Earlier this month…” Valdivia started once more. “our city administrator presented her midyear report…
“The charter says the mayor does not have administrative powers,” said Mulvihill, interrupting him.
“…to this community and this council,” Valdivia attempted to continue.
“I move to adjourn,” said Shorett.
“Can the mayor pro tem call the meeting?” asked Mulvihill.
“Yes she can,” said Shorett.
“The report went on to describe what was in the 2018-2019 budget approved for this fiscal year and whether our predictions are proving to be accurate,” the mayor said.
“There it is,” said Shorett. “There it is. He’s going after the city manager right now for a mistake. That’s the whole purpose of this meeting.”
”As our finance director reported in her presentations, some of the numbers in her forecast presented to the public on March 6, 2019 are off big time,’ the mayor intoned.
“Not really big time,” said Mulvihill. “Hardly. Hardly.”
“Mr. Mulvihill, you are out of order, sir,” Valdivia said.
“You are,” said Mulvihill. “You are.”
“Mr. Mayor, you’re out of order,” insisted Shorett, “and you have been.”
“Okay,” the mayor said.
“You and Mr. Essayli think you are running this city nowadays and it’s not going to happen,” said Shorett, his reference being to Valdivia’s chief-of-staff.
“Mr. Shorett,” the mayor said, “You are out of order, sir.”
“I am not out of order,” Shorett responded.
“You have no administrative power,” Mulvihill said.
“You have no administrative power,” Shorett repeated.
“I was troubled by what I read in this report,” Valdivia said.
“You have no administrative power,” said Shorett said. “None. Zero.”
“There is false numbers presented in the budget report as presented on March…” the mayor continued.
“Those are estimates,” Mulvihill exclaimed. “Those are estimates. You don’t know what business is.”
“Mr. Mulvihill, would you like the floor?” Valdivia asked.
“I think I’m already talking,” said Mulvihill. “What are the powers and duties of the mayor?”
“I called for tonight’s budget workshop so the council and I can better understand and comprehend the state of our finances here in our community,” the mayor stated. “That’s what you pay the council and the mayor to do.”
“You should recognize that yourself,” said Mulvihill.
Valdivia said he wanted to get “some answers on what went wrong. We need to also start discussing how we move forward from here. The mayor’s office has been combing through the numbers in the midyear budget report and we will present our findings to the full council. After this presentation we will have some questions for our finance director and our city manager. I see that Miss Conrad is not here. Ms. City manager, why is the fiance director not here?”
Rita Conrad is San Bernardino’s acting finance director.
Before City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller responded, Shorett said, “Andrea, read your email.”
“Mayor and members of the council, this afternoon I did advise each of you the city staff had been advised they were not required to attend this evening’s meeting. As the council is aware, Rita [Conrad] is working in an interim capacity with limited hours. The California Public Employees Retirement System has very strict restrictions on the number of hours retirees can work. We scheduled her time so we can complete three major tasks. We want to complete the recruitment for the new finance director, complete the budget analysis and preparation for the meeting with the city council on the upcoming fiscal year and address the financial audit. The finance department provided a thorough analysis of the midyear budget review. We did that orally at the March 6 meeting. We went through it. I do have copies of that available. We also discussed that at the March 20 meeting during the capital improvements program presentation. We have copies of that report for you. We are prepared to answer any questions you have. The departments are currently in the process of preparing the projections for the 19/20 budget. Per the charter we are required to provide to you a budget for your consideration in advance of the fiscal year, and I will be prepared to present those numbers to you in late April, early May, as we typically do. I did receive a response to my email from the mayor’s office directed to the interim finance director.”
Travis-Miller then read the email from Essayli. “’Rita, the mayor’s office expects the finance director to be in attendance at tonight’s budget workshop,’” Travis Miller said. “’We look forward to seeing you at tonight’s meeting unless the city manager has ordered you not to attend. A directive not to attend should be in writing. Andrea, if Rita is not there tonight, you can expect us to release a press release on the matter. This is not a game.’ And so I do have copies of that for you, as well.”
“Thank you, Miss Miller,” Valdivia said.
“There you go, people,” Shorett said. “That’s what’s going on, you see, in the mayor’s office. It’s a battle. It’s a war.”
“At this time, I’d ask that my chief of staff present the report from the mayor’s office…” began Valdivia.
“The chief of staff is not authorized…” interjected Shorett.
“…and the findings we would like to present to the council,” continued Valdivia.
“I have a concern. I have no information in front of me,” said Nickel, and his words disappeared into an indecipherable jumble of sound as Shorett and Valdivia held forth at the same time.
“I think it’s appropriate that whatever Mr. Essayli presented, we have a report that we can adequately prepare for tonight’s meeting,” said Nickel.
“Mr. Essayli,” Valdivia said, introducing Bilar “Bill” Essayli, his chief of staff, as he made his way to the speaker’s podium.
“We do not have any information right now…” Nickel continued, his voice clashing with the mayor’s introduction.
“Councilman Nickel,” Essayli began.
“You are not the finance director and you’ve got one line…” Shorett said.
“This is all I’ve got,” said Nickel, holding up the one page agenda announcement.
“Let us speak…” said Essayli .
“No, we’re not going to let you,” said Shorett.
“Let me speak. Staff routinely prepares PowerPoints that are not previewed or given to you ahead of time,” asserted Essayli.
“You have no authority here,” shouted Shorett.
A cacophony of the back-and-forth from the council dais with Essayli followed, in which no sustained sentences were clear. Then, Nickel was heard saying, “I’ll tell you what. If this were an item brought to me by the city manager, I would rightfully condemn her for not bringing me adequate information. I have nothing. This is …
“If you’ll just let us speak, you will hear,” said Essayli.
“I have to prepare,” said Nickel, with the sound welling up around him. “That’s the whole point. I have to have notice so I can adequately prepare as a council member to participate in a discussion. This is not a dictatorship. This is a city council.”
“Mr. Essayli, you are not the city manager,” said Shorett
“You are out of order,” Valdvia told Shorett
“Mr. Mayor, you are out of order,” retorted Shorett.
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order,” the mayor said.
“We need information so we can make adequate decisions and have adequate discussion,” said Nickel.
Mr. Shorett, if you would please control your anger,” said Valdivia.
“This is the definition of blindsided,” Nickel said.
“We need information…” Nickel started.
“We’re going over the report,” said Essayli.
“…before we can have the discussion. I would move to continue this meeting…” Nickel stated.
“Okay,” said Valdivia
“so we can get the information we need,” Nickel continued.
“I move to adjourn,” said Shorett.
“Let me just speak, if I may,” said Nickel. “I think the mayor has the prerogative to call a special meeting. To be fair to the chief of staff, I think there are some legitimate concerns potentially here. What I am concerned about is I have not had an opportunity to prepare tonight. The public needs an opportunity to understand what it is we’re going to discuss tonight. I have a problem when I have constituents calling, who say ‘What are you doing. What is this about?’ And now we find out what this is about, which is good. I think if there’s some issues with what happened in the budget and we need to have a conversation about what the corrections were, let’s do that.”
“Give me thirty seconds to respond,” said Essayli.
“I will be happy to let you respond, but my motion still stands,” said Nickel. “We need to continue this for the public first and foremost. The government is the people of San Bernardino, my friend. They are the government. Not Mr. Valdivia. Not you. The people of San Bernardino is the government and the people must have an understanding of what is happening here tonight. Right now, they do not.”
“That’s what the Brown Act requires,” City Attorney Saenz said.
“The people of San Bernardino have an absolute right to know what the concerns are that are going to be discussed here tonight,” Nickel went on. “And we have an obligation as elected officials to provide information to the public – the government of San Bernardino, the people – to understand what it is we are doing here tonight. And right now, they have no clue. We just found out. And I don’t disagree. I think the mayor has brought up some valid points and I will let you [Essayli] continue to bring those points up. What I say is, ‘Let’s continue this. Let’s get the documentation. Let’s get the information you are going to present so we have time to digest it, so I have some time to engage with my constituents – the government of San Bernardino, the people of San Bernardino – so that when I am on this dais I am representing them in terms of what we are going to discuss.’”
“We know what this is about,” Shorett interjected. “It’s about beating Andrea [Travis-Miller] up.”
Essayli said he intended to focus in greater depth on the midyear budget review which the council had not had adequate time at the last council meeting to consider. Nickel said the problem was less with what was being done than the way it was done. “I agree,” he said. “I have some concerns. My constituents have some concerns. I think the people of San Bernardino have some concerns about our budget. We clearly have some things we need to address. My concern is the way this was brought forward tonight. It’s not the way we handle matters appropriately. We need to give notice so the public has an opportunity to participate. Personally, I know people who would be here tonight if they knew this was being discussed.”
“Councilman, with all due respect, the mayor spent one to two minutes at the last council meeting discussing his intent to call this meeting and what the meeting is about,” Essayli said. “We’re happy to provide that audio and video. He couldn’t have been clearer that the purpose of tonight’s meeting was to go over the midyear budget review in the form of a workshop.”
“Then include it,” said Nickel.
“We’re not presenting any new information,” said Essayli.
“Mr Essayli, that’s not what the Brown Act requires,” said Saenz. Further indecipherable cacophony ensued as Saenz, Nickel and Essayli all sought to talk over each other at once.
“All we’re asking is to have a conversation about the budget, said Essayli. “There is no harm in discussing that in public.”
When Saenz sought to make the point that new or old, the subject of a scheduled public discussion has to be thoroughly disclosed ahead of time, Valdivia said, “Mr. Attorney, Mr. Nickel is recognized. You will have to wait your turn.”
“Is there any harm in continuing this?” Nickel asked. “I think we need this discussion. Let me be frank: We need to have this conversation. I agree with the mayor’s chief of staff and I agree with the mayor. We need to have this conversation. What I think we have to do before we can do that is make sure that the public, the people of San Bernardino, understand what is happening here. Because they have an absolute right. Aside from the people sitting at this dais, what I care about are the people sitting out there, and they need to understand what is going on. I would respectfully suggest that we continue this. Let’s agendize it appropriately. Let’s get the information back so we can.”
“It’s agendized appropriately,” said Essayli. “We went through the city clerk. I gave her notice on Friday…
“Personally, I don’t think it is,” said Nickel.
“I don’t either,” said Shorett.
Another cacophony ensued, with Shorett, Nickel, Essayli and Saenz speaking at once. Shorett outlasted the others and was heard saying “You are not a city attorney or a finance director. You’re a 31-year-old lawyer that got…”
“You’re out of order Mr. Shorett,” said Valdvia, and then shut off Shorett’s microphone. “You’ll refrain, sir.”
“I don’t want to disparage anybody,” said Nickel
“Well, I do,” said Shorett.
“And you’ll abide by our code of conduct,” the mayor said.
Shorett continued, but because his microphone was disengaged, most of his words were inaudible.
Valdivia banged his gavel three times. “Mr Shorett, you are out of order, sir,” he said.
“You’re out of order,” Shorett could be heard saying.
“Mr. Shorett, compose yourself, please,” Valdivia said. “Stay on point, sir.”
“I’m fine,” said Shorett. “I’m on point.”
“You’re letting your emotions and your anger dictate your feelings now,” said the mayor.
“I’ve been angry all day long,” Shorett said. “I’ve been angry since December 18th [the day before Valdivia was sworn in as mayor].”
“Mr. Shorett,” Valdivia said, “stay on point here. We’re trying to conduct a meeting here. It is a budget workshop. It was agendized. It was noticed. I made my intentions public.”
“You’ve got two motions that are still on the floor,” said Shorett.
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order,” the mayor said.
“Call for the question,” said Shorett.
“Mr. Shorett, if you will silence yourself,” said Valdivia. “You will abide by the code of conduct, sir.”
“Or what?” asked Shorett
“Or I will censure you,” Valdivia said.
“You don’t have a process,” said Shorett.
“We’ll start one,” said Valdivia.
“We need one,” responded Shorett. “And you don’t make it. The council makes it.”
When Valdivia recognized councilwoman Bessine Richard, she said that what was going on was “not something I appreciate. This is not what I signed up for. This is a business meeting. At this point I don’t think we would even be able to have meaningful conversation. Everybody is alarmed. Everybody is agitated. Everybody’s upset, and… I did get a few questions about the agenda because it was very brief. I did myself expect to get some backup along with the agenda when I saw two pages. So, I want to agree with some of my colleagues, that we can continue this this because I don’t think we will have any healthy dialogue tonight, based on how people are feeling. I want all of our council members to have a say-so in this meeting. It’s about the city. It’s about us representing all parts of the city, and at this point, I don’t think all parts of the city will be represented tonight.”
Mayor Valdivia took issue with the various assertions that the information that was contained within the PowerPoint presentation that Essayli was to present was not available. “We do have backup material,” he said. “We have a PowerPoint presentation.”
“I’m going to present it if you give me the opportunity,” said Essayli. “The public is watching on TV and they’ll be able to see.”
“The public can’t participate from the television, sir,” said Saenz.
“Okay, so the information is available to the public,” said Valdivia. “There is a provision to provide that, Miss City Clerk,. All of the information can be provided…”
“Is it online?” Shorett interpolated.
“Mr. Shorett, if you would please,” the mayor said.
“It’s not available to the public if it’s not online,” said Shorett.
“There is a provision and a caveat within the Brown Act that if there’s copies available at a meeting, the copies can be provided with the proviso they’re provided through the city clerk’s office,” Valdivia said. “We have the information here. We’ll make it a public document. There’s no secrets here. This is a big distraction on what we need to talk about. The issues of our budget are – There’s a lot of concerns here, and we’ll get to the bottom of it.”
Before getting to Nickel’s motion to make provision of the documentation to all parties and bring the item back for discussion at a later date, Councilman Theodore Sanchez weighed in.
“Councilman Shorett made pretty clear his stance,” said Sanchez, “that since December, since inauguration day, that he doesn’t like what is going on. He doesn’t like what is going on because he doesn’t like who’s in the [mayoral] seat. I would say, ‘Put aside that anger. Put aside that partisanship and please, let’s conduct the city’s business.’ This is a review of the budget that we reviewed initially two council meetings ago. All this information has been public since then. We’ve had members of the public point exactly to what we are going to be discussing right now.”
“No they didn’t,” Shorett said. “They all said this is crazy.”
“They have all…” Sanchez started.
“There’s no backup,” said Shorett. “I’m not going to sit here and listen to this.”
“Then you need to be quiet, Mr. Shorett,” Valdivia said. “You are out of order.”
When Shorett started to respond that what Sanchez was saying was not accurate, Valdivia spoke over him, intoning, “You are out of order. You are out of order, Mr. Shorett. You are out of order. The chair does not recognize you.”
“That is why we asked the finance director to attend,” said Sanchez, as Shorett registered protests that were inaudible over the mayor’s repeated insistence that he was out of order.
“We asked for it?” Shorett responded incredulously to Sanchez.
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order,” Valdivia said, banging his gavel. “Mr. Sanchez, continue.”
“You don’t believe a review of the finances…” Sanchez started.
“We didn’t ask…” said Shorett.
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order, sir,” Valdivia said. “You will conduct yourself in decorum, sir.”
“Fred, I’m going to go ahead and say it,” Sanchez said. “I’m embarrassed.”
“Fine,” said Shorett. “I’ve been here ten years and I don’t have a problem. I’m tired of this. I see what is going on.”
“Mr. Shorett, you’re out of order, sir.” the mayor said.
“This is embarrassing,” Sanchez said. “I’d like to ask the city manager a question. I know that the finance director is here on a limited basis. I know the California Public Employees Retirement System limits her hours. When she started here, how many hours were allocated to her working in this position?”
“I don’t know exactly how many hours,” began Travis-Miller.
“I know it’s in the hundreds,” Sanchez cut her off.
“I didn’t finish,” Travis-Miller said. “The California Public Employees Retirement System precludes people from working more than 960 hours, but that’s for all service. I don’t know how much she may have worked for another community. I’d have to check that. With that said, the reason she’s not here is we need to complete three major projects. I don’t want her to run out of hours and have to bring in another interim to serve in that capacity until we can get the finance director position filled.”
Travis-Miller said she had misgivings about the fashion in which the call to that evening’s workshop on the budget had been issued, and “did not want to blindside staff. I was not aware of what the true purpose was. I’m prepared to address what we’ve already presented. I’m certainly prepared to speak on the process for the 19/20 period, but I was not going to put the staff in the position of blindsiding them. The staff reports to me. I am the city manager. I am responsible for the budget and the finance department. I don’t blindside my staff. I think blindsiding people does not encourage people to perform to the best of their abilities. It certainly doesn’t build a culture of trust that we’re working to build in the organization.”
“So, she doesn’t have enough time to be here, but you don’t know how much time she has left to work in this capacity for our city,” said Sanchez.
“I’m not going to have her blindsided, and we have mapped out her hours so she can complete those tasks,” Travis-Miller responded. “But there’s certainly some things that just have to be completed.”
“So how many hours does she have available?” Sanchez pressed.
“I don’t remember,” Travis-Miller said. “Bottom line, I’m not going to put my staff in the position of being blindsided. I’m perfectly capable of answering these questions.”
“So, it’s not clear enough here when it says we’re going to do a budget study workshop that we’ll be discussing the city’s finances?” Sanchez asked.
“I am prepared to discuss anything,” Travis-Miller said. “We’ve been through these numbers now a couple of times, at the March 6 meeting, the March 20 meeting. I’m prepared to answer any questions you have about the midyear financial report, and I’m perfectly capable of answering any questions about the budget going forward. So, I’m not going to have my staff blindsided. I’m not going to do it. I’m their employer. We don’t treat each other that way.”
Essayli said, “We had one meeting with the city manager and the finance director. We brought up many of the issues we were going to go over tonight. Nobody’s being blindsided. These are important questions about the city’s finances. This is a city fresh out of bankruptcy and we have to ensure this city is not going to go back into bankruptcy. So, when the mayor’s office has tough questions for the city manager, we expect answers. To be frank with you, we didn’t get answers at that meeting. The finance director was instructed to not communicate with us. She has prevented the finance director from answering our questions.”
“This is an outrage,” Shorett said. “This is an absolute outrage.”
“We have asked for backup information repeatedly,” said Essayli. “They have not been provided to us. So we called this meeting in order to get answers publicly, but tonight the city manager has instructed the finance director not to be here to prevent you guys from being able to get the answers that you need.”
“You’re just trying to direct her to be here, and that is not your authority, sir,” Shorett said, “and you’re not the city attorney and you’re not the finance director and you’re not the city manager.”
“You’re out of order,” Validivia said. “The chair will recognize Mr. Sanchez for his comments remaining. You’re acting really silly, Fred, but it’s all on display. Mr. Sanchez.”
“Fred, so the type of emotion you’re displaying here – Is there something else wrong?” Sanchez asked.
“Yeah, there sure is,” Shorett said.
“What is it?” Sanchez asked.
“This guy is mayor,” Shorett said, motioning first toward Valdivia and then pointing at Sanchez, “and you as a council member are just following his lead.”
“So it has nothing to do with the council members trying to conduct the business of trying to review the city finances?” Sanchez asked.
“That is just the phoniest line,” Shorett said. “This is not conducting business. This is a public flogging of the city manager.”
“The people deserve better than this, what they’ve seen tonight,” said Councilman Mulvihill.
The council at last agreed to reschedule the budget study workshop for the April 3 council meeting, for which the background materials relating to it, including Essayli’s PowerPoint presentation, are to be provided to the council and the public three days in advance.

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