Archive for February, 2011
Incumbents and voter apathy ruled in Tuesday’s Primary Election, with all 4 incumbents (1 Council & 3 School Board members) being easily re-elected in the lowest voter turnout since the Mail-in Ballot system designed to increase voter turnout began in 2005. A meagerly 8,073 votes were cast (approx. 14.3% of 56,499 Registered Voters), representing an almost 3,000 vote decline from the 2009 Primary where 10,990 votes were cast. On the Council side, incumbent Gary Bric, aided by 3 mailers from the IEBU, received 4,642 votes or 57.5%, down slightly from the 61% he received when elected 4 years ago. Emily Gabel-Luddy came in 2nd with 3,845 and will face Bob Frutos in the April General Election run-off.
Frutos received 3,071 votes and has a lot of ground to make-up if he’s going to turn-the-tables, but such a turn-around is not without precedent. In Bric’s first run for Council he easily beat Todd Campbell in the Primary by 414 votes (2921 vs. 2507), only to loose in the General Election in a dramatic 1,841 vote swing (4933 vs. 3506). That said, for Frutos to win he’s going to have to find votes and give those 3,000 people who didn’t vote this Primary a reason to vote for him. I asked Todd Campbell a few years ago how he did it and he shared with me that he took time off work and basically knocked on every door in Burbank. Perennial Councilman Dave Golonski knows this campaign “secret” well and despite the advent of social media, blogs & email, good old-fashion door knocking is still the key, especially in a largely disinterested electorate.
Jackie Waltman who was a late entry in the race got a very respectable 2,131 Votes. It will be interesting to see if she sticks around to lobby the Council for the elimination of public employee bonuses, greater transparency, and opposes the now mandatory annual BWP Rate increases, or if she does what most challengers do, disappear like Kimberley Jo & others. I for one hope she remains politically active & look forward to seeing her speaking at future Council meetings.
The School Board election saw a good showing by 2-time challenger Gregory Bragg, but not enough to challenge the incumbents. Most people appear fairly happy with the direction our Schools and the election results reflect that. The School Board now faces the challenges of dealing with further cuts in education funding. It will be interesting to hear where they weigh-in on Governor Brown’s proposal to eliminate Redevelopment Agencies and if they proceed with an effort to put on the ballot at Parcel Tax increase in 2013.
So what does this all mean? You can expect more of the same from Bric & the Council majority, although Gary did go on the record as stating he was now opposed to City Employee Bonuses after getting heat over the issue during the campaign. Hopefully he’s a man of his word and given Frutos & Gabel-Luddy are also opposed to these secret bonus payments, we can at least see an end to that practice soon. Bric has shown the ability to think independently and has even voted with Councilman Gordon on occasion. It will be interesting to see what if anything he can accomplish during his 2nd Term to make Burbank a better place to live & work. Don’t expect any changes re the Council’s hostile attitude towards Burbank Police Dept. Litigation and related expenditure that has already cost Burbank Taxpayers unaccounted $ Millions. You can also count on Utility & Water Rate hikes again, but apparently the majority of folks in our upper-middle class town don’t mind. The reality is because of the excellent rainfall we’ve received the last 6 months, most people haven’t really felt the pain of the 13.5% Water Rate hike approved last year, but with warmer weather coming they soon will, especially if/when the Council approves another 8% increase in June.
The future of our Mail-in Elections is another hot topic that needs to be addressed. It’s time to review & re-think the whole process IMO. Some feel the City should pay for postage to encourage more voter participation. Would it help? It certainly can’t hurt. I have no doubt some people filled in their ballots but didn’t have a stamp handy, were going to drop it off but didn’t get around to doing so for whatever reason. That said, it really doesn’t get any easier than this, and the City provides numerous places for residents to drop off their ballots.
Perhaps we should mail out ballots 2 weeks later to give candidates a few extra weeks to introduce themselves and get their messages out to voters. This is especially important for the challengers who do not have the name recognition of incumbents. In fact to my knowledge, no incumbent Council or School Board member has ever not been re-elected since we went to the mail-in system.
Should we go back to having an actual Election Day? Perhaps, but I worry voter turnout could end up being even lower, and doing so would make our Election more expensive. A related idea is to move the election date to November to co-incide with Federal & State Elections. I believe this would absolutely increase voter turnout but worry local issues & candidates would get lost in the mix, overshadowed by the massive media coverage & advertising devoted to partisan Federal/State campaigns. It’s always amazed me that so many people pay so much attention to these bigger races, yet in many ways the decisions made by our local elected officials have far greater impact on our daily lives.
Regardless of what happens, one change I’d like to see is a few real debates where members of the public can stand up and ask questions of all the candidates (1 pre-Primary/ 1 pre-General), vs. the current “controlled” LWV Candidates Forum with pre-screened questions. It would also help if our local rag (Burbank Leader) actually covered the election and the big issues more than they currently do and in a impartial manner. One couldn’t help but notice the page 2 preferential placement of Emily Gabel-Luddy’s answers in their Candidate Q&A’s and the Mailbag letter of support published the weekend before the Primary, something that was disallowed by previous Editors. The previous weekend we had the Bric + Gabel-Luddy endorsements, Bob Olsen’s City employee bonus defense and Craig Sherwood’s support for City nepotism. I sent responses to the later 2 [scroll down] but neither were published, nor were several other letters I received copies of from well-known Burbank residents opposed to the “confidential” City Hall bonus payments.
So why are so few people in Burbank engaged politically? I know we’re all busy with work, school, church/community activities etc., but this unprecedented low voter turnout is an ominous sign for the future of our City as so few people seem to care. Can folks not find 1 hour over the weekend to at least watch the LWV Candidates Forum to make an informed/educated decision vs. voting for someone just because you’ve heard of them, or received a bunch of glossy mailers, or because a friend/neighbor told you to, or because the local newspaper endorsed them? Are people that lazy, that busy, that apathetic?
Without public involvement bad things happen. Remember what happened in Bell was largely caused by residents not paying attention or voting. In a few months the 3 big BPD law suits will go to trial and things are going to come out that may shake the core of our City to it’s foundations. But knowbody cares, unless of course some developer wants to build something in their neighborhood. The lack of any real debate also doesn’t help generate interest; We have one Candidate’s Forum and a few Q&A’s in the Burbank Leader and that’s about it. I’d really love to see Frutos & Gabel-Luddy go head-to-head on the issues before the General Election but that’s probably not going to happen.
Many people who were once active in local Politics are no longer involved, having been discouraged and in some cases the victims of vicious personal attacks and retaliation for their opposition to our City Council & Staff. I’m not sure what cataclysmic event will cause those people to once again get involved; perhaps something to do with the Airport (expansion) or BPD lawsuit revelations? Who knows, but for now the only thing we have to look forward to is at least one new Council person to replace outgoing Council member Anja Reinke, whose largely forgettable 4 year term ends in April. Please PRAY for Burbank!
BURBANK 2011 PRIMARY ELECTION RESULTS
Jacqueline “Jackie” Waltman – 2,131 votes
Emily Gabel-Luddy – 3,845 votes – MOVES ON TO GENERAL ELECTION
Robert “Bob” Frutos – 3,071 votes – MOVES ON TO GENERAL ELECTION
Gary Bric – 4,642 – ELECTED
Board of Education
Ted Bunch – 4,373 – ELECTED
Roberta Grande-Reynolds – 4,491 – ELECTED
Dave L. Kemp – 5,041 – ELECTED
Gregory Bragg – 3,318
Below is my final attempt to get Council action on this issue.
Dear Burbank City Council Members,
I am writing to request your support for amendments to our Home Occupation Ordinance that would allow for up-to 2 visits a day (5-10 a week) as per my previous letters on this subject. A quick review of surrounding cities within Los Angeles & Orange County show other cities have much more flexible ordinances that do allow for on-site client visits (see Attachments). The Home Occupation Task Force which I was briefly part of was charged with seeing if there was a way to make it slightly more flexible with regards to client visits while maintaining our neighborhood protections. Unfortunately Task Force members were not able to find a way, even though I presented clear evidence from other City & County Ordinances that show this could be achieved. Staff has been against making changes from day 1 and the stacked Tasked Force made up of 1 Chamber Rep, 1 Board of Realtors Rep & 2 Retired Citizens did essentially what Staff wanted them to do. It’s important to note that no survey or notice of meetings was sent to the 1200-1400 residents with registered Home Occupations in Burbank for their input. I would encourage you to review the minutes of the 2nd meeting I participated in for some of my comments on specific changes. I’m also attaching a copy of my resignation email so as to avoid any undue controversy re alleged inadvertent Brown Act Violations (keep in mind this was an Ad Hoc committee). The City has an opportunity this evening to display both leadership and understanding of current economic conditions and advances in technology that enable more people to work at home, especially in media related professions. I ask you direct Staff to come back with an amended ordinance with a provision that allows a reasonable number of visitors with an on-site parking provision. Thank you for your consideration.
UPDATE 2/17/11: As expected, the Council voted 4-1 to adopt Staff’s recommended changes containing only 1 amendment, with virtually no discussion outside of Dr. Gordon on the major issue of Client Visits. Mayor Anja Reinke called it “crazy” but still voted for it “as is”. Gary Bric asked a question about set-backs, while Dave Golonski & Jess Talamantes said absolutely nothing, surprising since they had supported it before and pledged their support during their Election Campaigns. * Video highlights are now available on my BurbankHomeBiz YouTube channel (see below Links).
What that means (according to Staff) is you are breaking the law if you have anyone visit your home for business purposes, including clients picking up or dropping off work, although I beg to differ with their interpretation. Of course the ordinance is unenforceable; you can have as many family members & friends visit as you like and there’s no way for the Home Occupation Police to determine who’s coming & going, and unless you’re creating a disturbance you probably don’t have much to worry about out as enforcement is complaint based (although Staff could manufacture bogus complaints just to hassle you). I’ve stated before that I believe the ordinance violates our constitutional rights and is discriminatory as it allows some people (music teachers) to have client visits, and I hope to have the item re-considered before a new Council. I gave up going to Council meetings a long time ago after their failure to grasp the Film Permit Ordinance and specifically their failure to allow the use of even 1 external low-watt light (LED, CFL etc.) for photo/video purposes. Unfortunately they still just don’t get it. Another EPIC FAIL!
Kudos to the League of Woman Voters for hosting an excellent Candidates Forum that actually dealt with many of the issues Burbank residents are concerned with. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, please try & catch a replay before casting your ballot in the upcoming Primary Election. I came away most impressed by Police Commission President Robert Frutos. Robert is a 17 year Burbank resident with an outstanding record of community service. He has 24 years of law enforcement experience at LAPD, which makes him the best candidate by far to deal with the BPD “mess” and the institution of real reforms, including an independent Inspector with wide-reaching oversight powers who would report directly to the City Council. He seems to have what I consider a “fiscally-conservative” approach to dealing with many of the financial issues we face; He spoke strongly against the controversial payment of over $1 million in bonuses to Burbank public employees, as well as the 7-11% pay increases handed out to Snr. BWP Executives (21% over 3 years for GM Ron Davis) just weeks after our Utility & Water Rates we’re increased, the latter by a whopping 13%. He spoke of transparency with respect to the release of information on public employee salaries & bonuses, which hopefully also applies to a recent Civil Service Board members request for a list of all employees who are related to each other during a discussion about nepotism. In short, Robert gets it; He understands the financial hardships many are facing paying their mortgages/rent & utility bills, and is especially sensitive to the needs of our Seniors. He’s also opposed to further cuts in City Services including Police, Fire and Park services. I like his humility and the fact that he shares the same Christian values we do; I’ve seen so much grandstanding, anger & hostility at recent Council meetings, and he would be refreshing change for the better, a voice of reason, a voice of the people. Consider this an endorsement!
As for the rest of the field; Emily Gabel-Luddy has 10 years of Planning Board experience and while she spoke of cutting $1.3 million from employee bonuses and giving that to families in need which I’d support, I don’t see how we can do that and be fiscally responsible when we have an $8 million deficit that needs to be addressed first. Jackie Waltman seemed much stronger in her opposition to the bonuses, BWP rate/pay increases + audits, giving Police Commission & City Boards more power, so while we’re normally reluctant to support someone we’ve never heard of before, she might be the 3rd vote needed to ensure reform.
Finally, I have to say I was very disappointed in incumbent Gary Bric’s responses; The fact that he’s endorsed by every major organized Labor Union including the vulnerable BPOA is a huge turn-off, as it appears to me he’s more beholden unto them than being my/our voice/representative. He was the only candidate who did not oppose the bonus payments and actually defended BWP GM Ron Davis’ 21% pay increase over the next 3 years. I also didn’t care for his comments about getting rid of the LAPD folks who’ve been brought in to help clean up the BPD “mess” and end the nepotism so that they could promote from within. The fact that he’d rather push another 5% across-the-board cut within all departments to address the Budget deficit (that’s 15% in cuts the last 3 years), instead of cutting the 1-1.3 million in bonuses paid to public employees (15% saving) is bewildering, as what he’s essentially advocating is a cut in City Services & Programs over the elimination of bonuses. No wonder our roads are in such bad condition! (esp. Delaware) I like Gary as a person, he’s a neighbor of mine & we supported him last time he ran but it’s time for change and in my mind Gary represents a continuation of the “status-quo” and the “good-old-boy” network within the BPD which lead to all the BPD lawsuits we’re dealing with & millions of dollars in taxpayers money being poured out with little oversight to defend them, not to mention a liability that could seriously jeopardize our City’s future. I do agree with Gary on one thing; the reconsideration of the sidewalks on Screenland Dr. adj. to Luther Middle School…the children’s safety must come first!
On the School Board side I like Greg Bragg, a Manager at Bexel Video who wants to utilize technology in the classroom more and explore corporate partnerships to supplement Education funding shortfalls. While I like most parents with children within the BUSD am fairly happy with the School Board (outside of the Jolly hiring), having a fresh face with new ideas can often prevent staleness that sets in when you have the exact same people sitting on a Board year after year. That said, if the BUSB plans on putting a Property Parcel Tax increase on the ballot in 2013 they better be able to provide a full accounting of where the last Bond measure’s money was spent and full details of where future money will go…hopefully in the classroom where it belongs!
Dear Burbank City Council Members & Staff,
I want to echo Robert Phipps thoughts on the Bonus issue; I strongly oppose the continuation of this practice and ask that it be discontinued immediately. If that means tearing up and renegotiating MOU’s, so be it. Other Cities are instituting furloughs and laying off City workers. Given the choice I’m sure our Labor Unions would prefer to avoid such drastic actions to balance the budget, and are hopefully willing to renegotiate their contracts just as auto workers did in Detroit for the good of the community, understanding the current economic times, current & anticipated budget deficits, and the public’s overwhelming disapproval. Moreover, I believe it’s time to stop suppressing the truth regarding this and other issues and to start telling the truth. I expect total transparency regarding the amount of bonuses paid to each individual employee, and find it disturbing that the City continues to defend these secret payments and not fully comply with numerous Freedom of Information requests, which have now lead to the Burbank Leader’s parent company (L.A. Times) filing a lawsuit against us (like we don’t already have enough lawsuits). Please do not waste more taxpayers money resisting full disclosure. As the Supreme Court has already ruled on this issue the end result is a given, and outside of delaying the inevitable for political purposes, there is nothing to be gained with the City’s continued stubborn refusal to comply. Please provide the L.A. Times / Burbank Leader and the Public with the requested information asap!
I’d also like to know how almost $2 Million allocated for these bonus payments in last year’s Budget apparently slipped through unnoticed? I expect you as my elected representatives to exercise “due diligence” in making sure that every dollar of taxpayers money is maximized. It blows my mind to think that in the face of an $8+ million deficit last year, no one apparently picked up on this. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in your leadership. Were you mis-lead by Staff? What else has been hidden from you and us? Try and put yourself in my position; What am I and the public suppose to think? This coupled with your handling of the BPD “mess” and your unconscionable decision to raise Water Rates by 13% and then weeks later hand out a 21% pay raise to BWP GM Ron Davis (payable over 3 years), & 7-11% raises to other Snr. BWP Mgmt, have caused me to loose all confidence in your leadership and ability to make sound decisions in the best interests of Burbank residents. I believe some @ City Hall are completely out of touch with the financial realities & hardships many in this community are facing; you may claim otherwise but your actions in these matters tell another story. It pains me to say this as I have supported all of you on the Council at one time and would much prefer to “sing your praises”, but as the Good Book says; There is a time for encouragement, a time for correction and a time for rebuking. Consider this your public rebuke and call for repentance!
A few closing questions and statements:
Were any bonuses paid to Burbank Police Dept. and other City Employees who gave depositions or declarations/affidavits in any of the existing BPD litigation? If so, to whom and how much?
Will you direct Staff to provide a full list of the names of all City Employees who are related to each other, as per Civil Service Board Member Schlossman’s request, to deal with the nepotism issues that are in my opinion one of the root causes of our many problems?
Will you authorize the release of the Merrick Bobb Report into the BPD “mess” or a redacted (PBOR-friendly) version of it to the Public prior to the General Election? If not, why not?
How much has the City spent in total as of 1/31/11 on Burbank Police Dept. Litigation, including all costs for 3rd party Attorneys, P.I.’s and any other parties in relation to these matters?
How much did my recent Deposition in the matter of Omar Rodriquez et al vs. Burbank Police Dept. et al, cost Burbank taxpayers, including all costs for Subpoenas (Google/YouTube, me), Private Investigators (Gary Prince @ Prince Investigations), Attorneys (Thomas G Mackey @ Jackson Lewis, Veronica Von Grabow @ Mitchell Silberg & Knupp), Videographer (Chuch Goswitz @ Legal Video Services) and Court Reporter (Lana L. Loper @ Affinity)?
For those of you who aren’t aware, last Tuesday I gave a Deposition in the above matters pursuant to the attached Subpoena and Request for Documents. The Deposition was a result of videos I re-posted on YouTube.com featuring BPOA Pres. Mike Parrinello, who appears to give false testimony on numerous occasions based on secretly recorded audio excerpts played following his answers. I make no apologies for exercising my 1st Amendment Rights in posting the videos; I believe I have a moral responsibility/duty to share important information with the public and will continue to exercise these rights. I was asked how I got the video, if I’d had any communication with any of the parties listed in the subpoena, if I knew who edited or posted the original video, if I know who has 27 secret audio tapes, if I know who a blogger named “Going Nuts” is, and other questions totally unrelated to the case subject matter. At the end of the day it was a fruitless exercise, an abuse of process and waste of everyone’s time and thousands of (taxpayer) dollars.
Below are links to the videos in question FYI. Given that these matters are set for Trial shortly, I would encourage you to direct the City Attorney to focus his time and energy on trying to expedite settlement of these cases before more embarrassing details come out in Court that end up costing taxpayers $ Millions more, not to mention irreparable harm to our City & Police Dept. Haven’t we already wasted enough money? Haven’t enough people been hurt, reputations & careers ruined, and our City divided? The buck stops with you and while you may not have created this “mess” it’s your responsibility to fix it!
Cap Deposition Subpoena PDF Download
Plaintiffs Motion to Quash PDF Download
Robert Phipps Bonuses Letter PDF Download
Phil Berlin Bonuses Letter PDF Download
Councilman Gordon Email Reply PDF Download
Burbank Leader vs. City of Burbank Lawsuit PDF Download
CA Supreme Court Case Law PDF Download
Burbank Employee Gross Salaries – 2010 PDF Download
Burbank Employee Gross Earnings – 2009 PDF Download
In response to Craig Sherwood’s Column: Don’t vilify families that work together
I don’t believe anyone is “vilifying” families that work together. What some have asked for is a list of all City Employees who are related in order to determine if we have nepotism problems where relatives & friends receive favor (jobs, promotions, pay raises, bonuses etc.) regardless of merit, and if there are any related conflicts of interest. But just like with the bonus issue, City Manager Flad & Management Services Director Wilkie are refusing to be open/honest about it, citing the same bogus privacy claims.
Let’s take one of the more recent controversial hiring’s, that of Mayor Anja Renke’s daughter Ericka 2 years ago as an example. Was the job she was given advertised? If so, where? How many applicants responded? How many where interviewed? Does anyone (Civil Service Board) review all hiring’s/promotions to make sure the best person is hired/promoted? Where are the checks & balances? Does someone who is not related to the City “Family” have a fair shot at a job? These are valid questions that need to be addressed. Also, what discipline (if any) do City Employees receive for illegal conduct outside of the workplace? What is our policy re sexual harassment and internal relationships within City Departments?
I have no problem with a daughter or son of a Council person or some other employee’s relative working for the City. As pointed out, this happens a lot with Police & Fire folks. I just want to know that we’re hiring the best people based on their experience, talent & skills not because their related to or know someone @ City Hall. And BTW, Government is not suppose to be a private “Family Business”.
Regarding the Bell comparisons; Do you realize we’re audited by the same Accounting Firm that gave the City of Bell a clean bill of health? Not exactly something that inspires public confidence in the integrity of our finances. At the very least we need to re audit last years finances.
All bonuses need to be disclosed period…no more excuses! And as they’re apparently discretionary and not based solely on an employee’s performance review, some kind of explanation/justification must be documented, not just for the public but for other employees who also got “exceptional” performance reviews but did not get a bonus.
Finally, re the City Attorney not complying with the Burbank Leader’s FOI request; The City Council has the authority to direct him to release the information but have not as yet. Hopefully that changes soon.
So BWP board member Bob Olson doesn’t think merit bonuses constitutes a giveaway of taxpayers dollars when taxpayers are paying for them? ($1.3 Million in 2010). And detailed disclosure is not in Burbank’s best interest as an employer? Really? Taxpayers aren’t entitled to know how their money is being spent? WOW! What Planet is he living on? Aren’t most other Cities providing detailed disclosure re Employee Salaries in light of the Bell scandal? God forbid we engage in any form of open/transparent local Government. No surprise coming from someone who supported last years 13.5% Water Rate hike, then just a few weeks later championed BWP GM Ron Davis’ 21% pay rise (payable over the next 3 years), plus 7-11% pay rises for other Snr. BWP Exec’s at a time when so many people are having trouble just keeping the power on. [For the record, Davis grossed $255k in 2009 & $263k in 2010]
This is the same old tired argument we heard when the City hired and overpaid Mike Flad as City Manager. And how’s that working out? How many lawsuits are we dealing with and how many $ Millions have we already spent all under his watch? City workers need to be grateful they have a job period, that they haven’t had to endure furloughs, pay cuts or layoffs. Most people in the real world I know are working harder for less money, and that’s those lucky enough to be working. If having a secure job serving the community with incredible health & retirement benefits isn’t enough to attract or keep our exceptional public service employees in these tough economic times, then perhaps those folks should pursue careers in the private sector. Read Col 3:23.