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October 24, 2014

DHS Public Safety Commission - 10/9/2014

Commissioner Eastman was absent from this meeting of the Public Safety Commission.

Public Comment

Michael Picardi came to the podium and Chair Bowman reminded him of the three-minute time limit. Commissioner Lavy interrupted to say that was incorrect, that at the last meeting of the Commission the attorney had advised the three-minute limit was not a restringent on the commission.

Here is 54954.3(b): "The legislative body of a local agency may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent of subdivision (a) is carried out, including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker."

Although the term "legislative body" is used, the Brown Act applies to all commissions as well as city councils. Section 54950: "In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business."

Chair Bowman said the time limit was the chair's prerogative and Michael Picardi, the first public commenter at the meeting, said he wouldn't go over three minutes anyway.

Mr. Picardi said he moved here in February. He has taken it upon himself to write press releases and set up press conferences for events the city might want to put together. His only restriction is that they must be positive. He did this in Utah before he moved here.

Dave Nunn came up to say the Emergency Preparedness Committee would meet on October 29, 6:00 PM at Christ Lutheran Church [the new church] at 645654 Pierson Boulevard. The program will be expanded to include general education topics. The topic will be "Are You Prepared For A Flood?" Also, there will be a fire extinguisher training review.

Dean Gray spoke next. He cited city code 2.24.050b which says "If a member or alternate absents himself or herself without advance permission of the board or commission, or of his or her appointing authority, from three consecutive regular meetings or from 25 percent of the duly scheduled meetings of the board or commission within any fiscal year, his or her office shall thereupon become vacant and shall be filled as any other vacancy." [The code does not define "permission" nor specify how it should be obtained.]

Mr. Gray said there is no requirement to refer the matter to the City Council and that there is no need for the City Council to act. He added "Based on public feedback, all of the city Commissioners as well as the City Council have developed an unpopular reputation for wasting time and money."

He urged the Public Safety Commissioners to comply with applicable city laws, but he did not say how that compliance should be achieved.

If he thinks a Public Safety Commissioner has violated 2.24.050b, there is nothing the Public Safety Commission can do about it. Only the City Council can address the matter. Although Mr. Gray said that there is no requirement to refer the matter to the City Council, the city code does say "shall be filled as any other vacancy." The City Council appoints Commissioners, so it'd be difficult to do that without telling the City Council they need to do that.

I find Mr. Gray's statement "all of the city Commissioners as well as the City Council have developed an unpopular reputation" to be pretty sweeping. I'd like to see some documentation of the "feedback" on which he based his statement. I'm sure Mr. Gray realizes that his statement reflects on himself as well, since he is a Planning Commissioner. Surely, he will soon begin an effort to improve the public's perception that he wastes time and money. In any case, I fail to see how the absence of a single Commissioner is a waste of either time or money, unless it results in lack of a quorum. If that's his concern, he should be addressing his fellow Planning Commissioners, not the Public Safety Commission.

At the end of the meeting, Chair Bowman addressed the subject. He said he does his best to follow rules and regulations. (Chief Tomlinson said the Living Waters Spa got a "gold star" from the fire inspector.) Mr. Bowman said that four of the current City Council Members have served on the Public Safety Commission. "The protocol has always been if you're not going to be at a meeting, you let the Chair know and in my case I let the Vice Chair know." When he was appointed for this term he told his appointer [Council Member Matas] that he had two grandchildren on the way and he wouldn't miss their births. He also had commitments with the water district where he is a Director. And he had a 40th anniversary trip to Europe planned. He followed the established protocol. He said that if the City Council or this Commission wants to change that, he's fine with it because he will always follow the rules.

This is the third attempt by that gang to try to unseat Mr. Bowman. One attempt was a laughable proposal for term limits. Another proposal was not to allow Commissioners to simultaneously serve on elected boards. Those attempts failed. I have no idea why they fear Mr. Bowman so much, unless it's because honesty and decency are among his primary attributes. If those people want him out, all they have to do is convince Council Member Matas that honest and decent people should not serve on a Commission. If their reasoning is solid, they should have no problem convincing Mr. Matas.

Measure JJ

This was a presentation by City Manager Magaña about Measure JJ, which is the proposed 1% increase in the sales tax that is on the upcoming ballot. Some of the points to consider:

  • Over the past decade the state has taken millions of dollars from DHS (as well as other cities). The end of redevelopment took $1.5 million away. That money could have paved streets, protected Cabot's Museum from the elements, built or improved parks, or been set aside for a very necessary future fire station or other capital improvements the city needs.
  • The economy has gone to hell [I'm paraphrasing liberally]
  • The city drew down its reserves to partially cover its needs.
  • A fiscal emergency was declared in November 2013 and then again in this fiscal year.
  • The city has reduced the share it pays towards pensions; cut employee benefits and holidays; cut City Hall staff by two-thirds; cut city staff pay by 22% to 35% [actually, I think some police officers took even bigger cuts]; eliminated all travel; and eliminated non-essential spending.
  • Mr. Magaña said that there are now only 22 people working the trailers that are City Hall. When he came to the city 5½ years ago there 65 to 70 people working there.
  • The city placed Measure F on the ballot in June 2014. It would have raised about $3 million for public safety. But Measure F failed to get the required two-thirds approval.
  • After the failure of Measure F an additional $1.6 million was cut from the 2014/15 budget [currently it is estimated that we will come sliding into June 30, 2015, with a whopping $10,000 in the General Fund - the very minimum we should have is $1.5 million].
  • Measure JJ was approved in August to be placed on the November 4 ballot.
  • The current sales tax rate paid in Desert Hot Springs. 1% comes to the city, while the other 7% goes to the state, and the Riverside County Transportation Commission.
  • Measure JJ would add another 1% to the sales tax, so it should roughly double the sales tax revenue to the city. That's about $1.4 million more.
  • This is a general tax, so it requires a vote of 50% + 1 vote for approval. It would go into the city's General Fund. Non-public safety services have been cut most drastically in order to maintain public safety. Sales tax revenue can be used to begin to restore important services such as economic development and planning.
  • If Measure JJ fails, the city will cut further. Any fat was eliminated long ago. Muscle has been cut as well. The next thing to cut is bone. Maybe City Hall doesn't really need electricity, or maybe we could close the Carl May and hold city meetings in the parking lot. [My suggestions, not the City Manager's.] You can bet the parks would go brown.
  • We have been very fortunate not to have any major flooding during this fiscal emergency, but how long can we count on that. We have no money to pay for the repairs and street clearing that a flood would require.
  • When will things get so bad that our still prosperous spas and hotels begin to lose customers?
  • Parks, building maintenance and public safety will all suffer.
  • We will be going to hell and we won't even be able buy the necessary handbasket [again, my words].
  • We will be up the proverbial creek. Paddle?! We won't even have a canoe.
  • If Measure JJ is approved, you can hold the City Council accountable for the use of funds. Revenue would begin to be received in April 2015 and there is a city election in November 2015. Excellent timing.

One argument against JJ that I've heard is that shoppers will go elsewhere to spend their money. News flash: that train left the station years ago. Shoppers have been and are leaving the city to spend their money. Even though our sales tax now is one percentage point lower than the tax in Palm Springs or Cathedral City, most DHS residents still prefer to shop in those cities rather than here at home. They ain't saving a dime. On top of paying the additional 1% tax, they are burning gasoline to do it. I consider it a reasonable conclusion that the difference between 8% and 9% is unimportant to most shoppers. It's the quality of the selection, the stores and the whole experience that draws shoppers. Potholed streets, insufficient public safety services and dead grass do not attract shoppers. Yes, there are some shoppers who will travel to the Walmart on Monterey in Palm Desert knowing that the sales tax there is 8.25%. I know of two (2). I must assume they do their shopping trips on bicycles, because the price of gasoline will wipe out the small difference in tax unless they are buying a LOT of stuff at Walmart. (Hmm, another good reason to have a Walmart in DHS.)

IOW, on the one hand if JJ is approved maybe as many as a dozen shoppers (really, I'm sure it won't be more than that) will stop patronizing our supermarkets and start driving to Walmart in Palm Desert (let's hope they at least buy their gas in DHS). On other hand, if JJ fails we can probably get some volunteers to donate the materials to update our "Welcome to DHS" signs to say something like "Welcome to our dangerous slumhood; Enjoy your shopping experience."

I was on a roll there, let's get back to the Public Safety Commission.

Commissioner Lavy asked if there is a plan for what to do if JJ does not get approved. Mr. Magaña said that the City Council will face some very difficult decisions and will have to cut more services. The city now has one building inspector, one planner, one fire inspector. There are two part-time engineers. Planning, engineering and building use to have one administrative assistant each. Now they all share one administrative assistant.

Mr. Lavy asked if there were any projections of revenue from the proposed marijuana taxes (Measures HH and II). Mr. Magaña said he couldn't make a reasonable estimate. We don't yet know how many the City Council will permit, when they will open, nor how much business they will do.

Mr. Lavy then asked why the failed Measure F was not revised and resubmitted to the voters. Mr. Magaña said the Council considered that, but feared it might be defeated again.

Commissioner Stephens said she thought the sales tax was a fair tax. Historically, this city has always gone to the property owners to seek more tax revenue. She voted yes for Measure F, but with a sales tax the tourists will also pay along with residents and renters. She suggested that the City Manager should speak to the ministerial organization in addition to the various civic organizations to which he has made his presentation.

City Manager Magaña pointed out that business at our spas and hotels continues to increase and, therefore, so does the TOT revenue from them. A couple of existing spas have been rehabbed and re-opened and the beautiful brand new YK Spa should be open soon, too. In addition three or four of our top sales tax producers are gas stations - because people are burning gas to shop and work elsewhere. Mr. Magaña, not yet fortunate enough to live in our city, makes a reverse commute every morning and counts the cars leaving the city on Palm Drive as he does so. He said he never counts less than 200 cars on his drive. [I hope this does not distract him from driving safely.] Only economic development will keep those people here and give this city the money it needs to provide what the citizens need and deserve.

Ms. Stephens acknowledged that she works and shops outside the city, but what we have to buy in DHS is limited. She added that despite the lack of city staff, the city is looking pretty good. [I must agree with that - the staff that remain, including public safety staff, are giving us more than we pay for, and the only way I can explain that is that they love the city as much as we all do.]

Vice Chair Meyer said he was a little disappointed when this was first proposed. During the last City Council election it was pointed out that the residents of DHS are taxed more highly than the residents of any other city in the valley while we are the city closest to the poverty level. The sales tax will be an additional tax on the residents. He said his wife shops at the Walmart in Palm Desert because it has a lower tax rate than Palm Springs. He is concerned that this might affect our tourism industry as well.

He said we paid $1.3 million for police overtime last fiscal year. Chief Maynard said that he would present some figures that differed later in the meeting.

Mr. Meyer said the Commission has asked for a report on how much we could save by bringing dispatch back into DHS, but has not gotten that.

He also said that he would have preferred to see the parcel tax increase brought back at about half the rate previously proposed and as a general tax for another vote, since it would be taxing people who are mostly non-residents and not carrying their fair share.

Chair Bowman said that as a businessperson, if all his competition charged X while he charged less than X, and all his competition also did more business than he did, he would raise his price to X. He said that not all our citizens may be as astute as Mr. Meyer's wife and they go shopping in Palm Springs or Cathedral City. He said he also wish they had brought the parcel tax back for another vote, and maybe they can still do that in the future.

Mr. Bowman asked Mr. Magaña about Animal Control and Code Enforcement. Neither were present at this meeting. He asked where the citizens should go to talk about code enforcement and code enforcement issues. Mr. Magaña said he had moved Code Enforcement from the Police Department over to the Planning Department where they are a better fit. He recommended that they come to the Public Safety Commission quarterly. Mr. Bowman said that does not help the citizen who comes in with code issues. He suggested those citizens might be directed to City Council where they could clog the public comments with their Code Enforcement issues. Mr. Magaña said that having Code Enforcement alongside the City Planner allows them to all work together and work things out. He said that they see an increased number of residents coming into Planning to talk about Code issues, while at the Police station they may have found that wall of bulletproof glass "unwelcoming." Mr. Bowman said the city couldn't have too many cheerleaders. The Public Safety Commission has heard abut the good things Code Enforcement is doing while also holding them accountable for things that could be improved.

Chief Maynard indicated he had an answer for the Animal Control question. He made the decision that Animal Control would not be at this meeting due to the cost. Animal Control is unable to respond to all the requests for service that they are getting. Chair Bowman asked him to provide more information when the Commission got to the Police report in its agenda.

Recommend To City Council That Re-striping Palm Drive Be Made A Priority

That is, if there are any funds for any re-striping, of course. Commissioner Eastman had asked that this item be placed on the agenda. He was concerned that the striping on Palm Drive was deteriorated so badly that it could not be seen at night.

Commissioner Lavy said he agreed with Commissioner Eastman about putting this on the agenda. He also wants crosswalks to be painted. Vice Chair Meyer said that if meant to stripe additional crosswalks then it becomes a matter for the city engineer who is required to do a study and analysis of the issue. Mr. Lavy said he was aware of that, but that the City Council should take up that issue.

Commissioner Stephens agreed that traffic studies have to be done, but she agreed that could be put in the motion on this item.

Mr. Meyer made the motion to recommend to the City Council that if there is a striping project that the Palm Drive corridor be made the primary target for that, and that project should be reviewed to include additional crosswalks. Approved 4-0.

I want to add here that, as the subject of crosswalks and jaywalkers keeps coming up year after year, that at one time Chief Pat Williams had said that while there is a theoretical, legal crosswalk at every intersection, actually painting a crosswalk will encourage more people to cross at poorly lighted intersections where there is no stop sign or traffic light to potentially give them a little more protection. In either his opinion or experience, painting such crosswalks without additional lighting or traffic control would likely serve to increase the number of pedestrian/vehicle accidents.

My personal suggestion has been to find some money from outside the city and use it to give every resident of the city a cheap, lightweight white jacket with reflective trim. Bought in bulk from China you could get something like that dirt cheap - a few bucks times 27,000. Not an impossible sum at all. The challenge would be to get the correct size for everybody. Yes, that's half a joke, but haven't we all observed that the nighttime jaywalkers area always dressed in dark clothes?

A Recommendation To City Council To Avail Itself Of No Cost Options To Deal With Abandoned Structures

Commissioner Lavy saids there have been several instances of fires caused by homeless people taking up occupancy in a vacant building. There is a way for the city to initiate the receivership process on blighted properties using attorneys who will take their fee off the "back end" of the process so the city doesn't have to post upfront money. Boarding up a structure is permitted only for 120 days. After that, it's a code violation.

Commissioner Stephens asked Mr. Lavy if he had spoken to any of the attorneys that might do this. Mr. Lavy said he had not, city staff has identified a law firm that says this is the only kind of work they do.

Mr. Lavy moved to recommend to the City Council that they follow through with this. He said the process would be that when the property is successfully placed in receivership, it would then be fixed up or demolished, then the property put on the market and sold. The attorneys then take their share out of those proceeds. The city gets its expenses [I'm sure there must be some] reimbursed. If any money is left over, it goes to the owner. Ms. Stephens asked about the hypothetical case where the owner couldn't be located. Mr. Lavy said the address used is the one on the tax records, and if that's wrong, then the owner isn't getting his tax bill. [I suggest a chat with John Soulliere on this subject - the water district has found that many addresses on the property tax records are inaccurate.]

One can see that for this process to work, the law firm must first make an estimate of the expenses and what the ultimate selling price might be for the property. I imagine that if they estimate the expenses will exceed even the highest possible selling price, then they won't take it on.

Vice Chair Meyer said he would first like an attorney from the suggested law firm to come to the Commission for further discussion. He would also like input from city attorney.

Ms. Stephens said she thought that the city would be required to go out for an RFP on this matter. She thought it better for the Commission not to interview just one law firm before an RFP process that law firm would probably participate in. She suggested following the RFP process whereby the City Manager would get to ask the questions and be advised by the City Attorney. Ms. Stephens offered an alternative motion saying the Commission supports the concept but would like some research done and then the Commission would like to receive an explanation [and analysis and opinion, I imagine] from the City Attorney.

The motion that finally got a second was one from Mr. Lavy to "encourage" the City Council to look into this. Approved 4-0.

Animal Control

Chief Maynard said the original 2-year contract with County Animal Control was for $269,550 for field services and licensing programs. It estimates $50,000 in licensing revenue, which reduces the real cost to the city to $219,550. Shelter services are contracted at an additional $194,581 for 2014/15. Total cost, then, is $414,131 or $34,511/month. That covers two officers, shelter services, licensing, administrative fees, etc. Overtime costs, after hour costs and actual licensing revenue all combine to either consume or mitigate that cost. In June the City Council directed staff to negotiate with the county so that the contract reflected one officer, not two. The budgeted amount was subsequently reduced to $262,395 - a reduction of $151,736 or 37%. Due to turnover in the Police Department at that time, the actual re-negotiation was never done. The City was billed the original amount for July, August and September. [I want to point out here that this is an example of when working with a severely reduced staff actually costs the city more money.] The City Council had also stopped the door-to-door licensing program. Chief Maynard put a halt to this and reduced the contracted services as directed by the City Council in June. This leaves the city $11,822/month for Animal Control services for the remainder of this fiscal year. The Chief said County Animal Control has bent over backward to help the city on this. City staff will negotiate with Animal Control to find a way to make this work with that small amount of money. They are willing to give us some free services. This is why there was no Animal Control Officer at this meeting. The money to pay him to show up after hours would come out of that $11,822, and we have better uses for that money.

The Chief said that on September 25 two adults were arrested, three disabled children were taken by Child Protection Services, and 25 feral cats were found locked in two bathrooms at one house. It took hours for Animal Control to deal with the cats.

Fire

Chief Tomlinson said that signs indicated the fire in the commercial building at 5th and Palm was probably started by homeless people encamped in the building. Another fire at Calle Azteca and Hermosa was also probably caused by squatters.

Resources from Desert Hot Springs participated in fighting the fire that happened at Haugen-Lehman Way on I-10. They were backfilled in DHS by a crew from North Shore(!) while they were so engaged.

Calls for service continue their ceaseless upward climb. September 2014 was 10% more than September 2013; YTD is a 4.33% increase.

Chief Tomlinson said that the Fire Department has been active in trying to move the Village shopping center project forward. "Our delays have been on the owner and the project developer's...his inactivity." As soon as all the paperwork was submitted by the developer, the Fire Department turned them around in a matter of hours.

Two hotels have citations pending against them. One for $200, the other $500. These are for "failure to comply." He said that to get to this level the hotels had to "just literally ignore us." The Fire Department would prefer that money to be spent on the required repair.

Police

Nicole Vandale came to the podium to comment. She said she had heard Commander Holcomb speak on behalf of the community [on the subject of recent child kidnappings, I believe] and that as a mother of a 14-year old she wanted to express her appreciation. She suggested that the City Council encourage CVAG to do more for the homeless.

Chief Maynard said the Police have had nearly 300 5150s this year. Those are transports to Desert Regional Hospital. So Police have been in touch with Desert Healthcare District. DHS Police are the only police force in the valley that's keeping statistics to try to help with the homeless problem. The District expressed the hope that they could budget a couple of workers to come work with the DHSPD in the future.

In September there were 22 shooting incidents. Four people were actually shot. Weapons have been brandished at the skate park. The Police are now locking up the skate park at night and re-opening it each morning. The Chief said that if problems start to appear during the day the skate park will be re-locked.

The Chief has been meeting with the PSUSD in hopes of getting them to pay for a second school resource officer due to the expected influx of students at the new location for the Alternative Education Center (i.e., Wenzlaff school).

On October 12 an abduction of a 10-year old boy was reported. It resulted in a sexual assault. The case is being actively worked by DHS detectives. The suspect description does not match that of the person who kidnapped a 15-year old girl in Palm Springs.

There was a report of a man in his vehicle in the parking lot at the Boys & Girls Club who was watching children and indecently exposing himself. The DHS Police contacted him as he was trying to flee. He was arrested for lewd acts and narcotics possession. He was registered sex offender on parole.

The Police Department has been putting gang suppression teams on overtime basis due to increasing gang activity. The Police have received a $10,000 grant to help pay for some of that. The teams use marked Police vehicles. They are making felony arrests and taking handguns off the streets.

It has been very difficult to recruit new personnel due to the uncertain future of the Police Department in DHS. Chief Maynard will only hire someone who is qualified. He has disqualified nine candidates in the last two months. He has been hiring retired annuitants (the 960-hour people). They can stay long enough to see how Measure JJ comes out and to see if the City Council will make a decision one way or the other, Sheriff or PD.

Some of the communication between the Police and the community has lost and Chief Maynard is looking to get that back in place. The Open House held on the 18th was part of that effort.

This fiscal year the PD was budgeted $173,175 for overtime. That's $169,944 less than in the previous fiscal year. $84,080 (of the $173,175) comes from a 2013 JAG grant plus a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety (over $74,000 from OTS). Those funds are dedicated to specific purposes (like traffic enforcement or gang suppression), leaving the Chief with $88,695 in overtime to cover everything else. $57,960 has been used year-to-date (that is, in one quarter of the fiscal year).

The budget OT is about 7.92% of PD salaries. The industry standard is to budget 10%. In the two prior fiscal years the budgeted OT was 12.5% (13/14 - and 92% of the budget OT was used) and 12.83% (12/13). In 2012/13 salaries were $3,008,600 and OT was budgeted at $395,300. They used a little over $300,000 for OT. In 2013/14 salaries were $2.7 million; budget OT was $340,000. In this fiscal year (14/15) salaries are $2.1 million and the OT budget is $173,175. The Chief said this is the most bare-boned budget he has ever worked with.

The Chief talked about the idea of taking dispatch back from Cathedral City and building our own. He said the minimum staff would be 9 people. Barebones would be 7 people, but you have to add 1.5 people to allow for sick leave, vacation, etc. There are grants to cover some of the costs of starting up.

The PD policy manual has been updated. Personnel files that have been kept for "years and years and years" have been purged. The PD is very busy and bringing dispatch back in-house would be more work for them.

Chief Maynard said our officers are "the hardest group of people I've ever worked with." He says they are unbelievable. They do so much every day, but don't complain. Despite all the work and extra work being carried by the Police, there has not been one complaint.

Chief Maynard estimates that he will be able to remain in his position until the beginning of February.

Commissioner Comments

Vice Chair Meyer said he was disappointed with how the city handled the medical marijuana ordinances. The subject was not brought before the Public Safety Commission. The Mayor told Mr. Meyer that the Commission should just add it to its agenda, but the Commissioners have been told they can't add anything to the agenda without running it by the City Manager. Mr. Meyer would have liked to ask the City Manager about this if he had stayed to the end of this meeting. He suggested that the Commission might invite the City Manager to return to meet with them.

Chair Bowman said that when he first joined this Commission, the complaint was that no one (including the City Council) cared about the Commissions. He said the Commissions can do some of the heavy lifting for the City Council if the Council wants them to.

Commissioner Stephens suggested a workshop with the Commission, the Commission's staff liaison, one Council member and the City Manager. The goal would be to talk over the issues of what the Commission is supposed to be doing, providing advice to the City Council and the issue of direct contact between the Commissioners and staff members.

Chair Bowman asked if his fellow Commissioners wanted to sit down with the full City Council. The consensus was that they all wanted to meet with the City Council.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs,Public Safety | permalink | October 24, 2014 at 02:30 PM

Comments

If that was what you read into my comments that is not what I meant. You take it wrong.

Posted by: Russell Betts at Oct 27, 2014 5:35:36 PM

I take it from the last two comments by Russell Betts that he has changed his mind and no longer cares how an absence is excused. His concern is only that absences be excused or not.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Oct 27, 2014 11:59:05 AM

Russ M,
The council has never excused an absence of a Commissioner. If I was not clear, I meant the council has excused other council member's absences in the past.

To Ron's comment about whether or not absences are excused, but how they are excused the simplest solution would be to simply strike the part of the municipal code about obtaining permission. Simply make it miss three consecutive meetings and your out. That is the way SCAG handles it.

Russ

Posted by: Russell Betts at Oct 27, 2014 8:26:22 AM

Russ Betts.....I used your last name to avoid confusion.....
Maybe I'm missing something but your response to my email appears to confirm exactly what I said in that permission is granted by the commission on which the absentee serves. While I have heard council discuss absent council members, I have never heard council discuss or excuse a commissioner's absence. Please identify ANY council meeting (prior to Jeff's recent absence) where council has discussed and /or excused a commissioner absence and I will concede your argument. Until then, make sure you come to a complete stop at stop signs.

Posted by: Russ Martin at Oct 27, 2014 1:03:54 AM

I know I'm not silent, so you must imagine there was an insult in there somewhere.

I don't believe the subject is whether or not absences are excused, but how they are excused.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Oct 26, 2014 10:18:21 PM

Ron,
You are consistent. When you are wrong you won't admit it. You either go silent or you reduce the level of conversation to insults.

- There is no conflict with the Brown Act. The action takes place at a meeting, not before. You have that correct.

- The Municipal Code regarding excessive absences is to save time, not waste it. Time is wasted when people don't take time to know the code and follow it. Procedures are worked out in advance to save confusion which saves time.

- I'm also happy you were able to go back and research to confirm my the point that excusing absences is an established Council practice and the Council is aware of the procedure so thanks for that.

Best Regards,
Russ

Posted by: Russell Betts at Oct 26, 2014 9:40:37 PM

Continuing with the rolling stop analogy. If we learned that Chief Maynard was diverting scarce police resources to double-down on rolling stop violators, I'm sure we would consider that a misuse of our meager resources. Similarly, with all the issues that press upon the city, one Council Member and one Commissioner have thought it wise to focus on this subject as the city's current sideshow. No other important matters?

I did a search of city council meetings where at least one member was absent. I didn't attempt to find every single instance, but just searched for the word "absent" in the last couple of years. I found one meeting (there could have been more) where Councilmember Matas moved to excused Councilmember Sanchez followed by a vote. It was much easier to find the meetings where that did NOT happen.

These links are to the audio recording of just that part of each meeting where there is a roll call and the absence is noted.

March 13, 2012: Councilmember Sanchez was absent, but no explanation was provided and there was no statement from the Mayor as to whether he was excused or not. This recording runs a bit long because I wanted it clear that no one later suddenly recalled that his absence needed to be dealt with. The meeting just rolled on.

September 18, 2012: Mayor Parks was absent; Mayor Pro Tem Pye explained the reason for her absence; there was no vote and no statement that it was excused.

July 20, 2012: Councilmember Sanchez was absent; City Manager Daniels provided an explanation; Councilmember Betts made a motion to excuse; Mayor Parks thanked him and then stated (without waiting for a second or taking a vote) the absence was excused.

June 19, 2012: Councilmember Sanchez was absent; Mayor Parks explained why he was absent and then said "So he is excused."

April 30, 2012: Councilmember Matas was absent; Mayor Parks provided an explanation; no further discussion or vote on the matter.

At none of those meetings did anyone raise a protest or question about the excusal of absences. It's quite clear that the practice of the Public Safety Commission has been the same as what has been considered acceptable for the City Council.

But as we go forward into the bright light of the future where these matters will be voted on in open session (and newcomers to the city will ask "Why do they waste so much time on things that don't matter?" and those of us who have been here a while will smile, shrug and say "Wait a year and you'll see how this city works") I want to know the practical method by which "advance permission" will consistently be obtained without violating the Brown Act. It's not so hard if you're talking about a planned vacation. I recall the July 2014 Planning Commission meeting where Chair Gerardi said he would be on vacation and miss the August meeting. There was no vote to excuse him, of course, but there was at least advance notice.

But if someone becomes aware that he will be absent and there are no scheduled meetings of the relevant Commission or the City Council before the absence will occur, then there is no way to get advance permission. Excuses granted at the meeting are not advance permission. They are excuses approved after the fact.

I imagine the intent of that piece of code is to get the person who will be absent to notify in advance either the Chair or the staff person for that Commission, because if getting a quorum looks difficult or unlikely, someone has to either encourage the Commissioners or Councilmembers to show up to make a quorum or cancel the meeting entirely. The actual approval of an excuse can happen at the meeting itself, IMO. But to accomplish this, the city code needs to be revised. The key words being "advance notification" not "advance permission."

Posted by: Ron's Log at Oct 26, 2014 4:27:11 PM

Russ, Yes, the city council has and does vote to excuse absences. Yvonne always handled that very well as Mayor. I can remember a few instances in which she called for the vote to excuse an absence.

As to Public Safety Commission, it is not how they handled it over the six years you were there, it is did they handle it correctly. Perhaps a strained example, but if I make rolling stops at stop signs for the past 40 years, does that mean when an officer pulls me over for it I can say well that is how I've always come to a stop at a stop sign?

If you look at other Boards, Commissions and Councils, you will see examples where even if permission is granted you can't miss three meetings in a row and keep your seat. Our code provides for permission to be provided. At SCAG, it is three meetings and you are out. I've seen it happen three times in the four years I have served there.

The good news is that from here on out it will be handled correctly - or should be. City staff is in tune. I'd suggest that Commission chairs take time to read up on the rules since they also have responsibility to run the meetings properly.

Posted by: Russell Betts at Oct 26, 2014 1:35:34 PM

I forgot to mention that an emergency does not require advanced notice.

Posted by: Russ Martin at Oct 26, 2014 10:41:39 AM

In the 6 years I sat on the Public Safety Commission (two as chair) and attending various other commission meetings, an excused absence only required advanced notification (usually by email) to the chair or sometimes by making a notification during a preceding meeting. The city council has never, to my knowledge, voted whether or not to excuse an absence and I have attended most of the council meetings during the last 7 years or so.

Posted by: Russ Martin at Oct 26, 2014 10:39:08 AM

Posting to articles posted on the Desert Vortex News website are not restricted.

Posted by: Dean M Gray at Oct 25, 2014 10:29:24 PM

The point about "time and money" is inferred by what Dean's statement.

Posted by: Mike Picardi at Oct 25, 2014 8:05:43 PM

why can NO one post on the Desert Vortex? How can people be responding to that blog if you are unable to post, Why so confrontational? Why the exposure of those with whom you do not agree, and why use this forum when you have your own?

Posted by: Mike Picardi at Oct 25, 2014 8:02:19 PM

The word "sweeping" applies only to the sentence "all of the city Commissioners as well as the City Council have developed an unpopular reputation" which has nothing to with absences. One could, if one wanted to spend time on a meaningless search, find at least one negative comment on one forum or another about everybody in city government. That hardly establishes that "all of the city Commissioners as well as the City Council have developed an unpopular reputation."

It was Mr. Gray who accused himself of having the reputation of wasting time and money, not me.

I don't take notes of public comments, other than to write down the name of the commenter. As I've made immensely clear before, I write this blog, I have opinions. Occasionally someone makes the observation that I write and have opinions as though everybody else didn't already know it.

The fact that I write and possess opinions does not invalidate what I say nor is it an indication that what I write is false.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Oct 25, 2014 11:42:42 AM

You predicted correctly you would hear back from me that the code is perfectly clear. It is to me after asking the city attorney to provide his take, which was my second move when this was brought to my attention. The first was to read the code.

I get the intention of your animus but I've never seen an instance where snide is beneficial to a thoughtful discussion. No matter, the objective on this one has been met. Going forward city staff and commissioners are aware of the municipal code on this subject and hopefully it will be correctly and consistently applied regarding excessive absences.

Thanks again for this space.

Russ

Posted by: Russell Betts at Oct 25, 2014 11:29:36 AM

I have no gang nor have been a member of a gang. Neither do I know any members of any gang. My comments are not sweeping but clearly refer to the three sequential absences by one planning commissioner. That was obvious. None of this was pulled from my ass. I don't swing that way. According to the city attorney the "permission" referred to in the code applies to the appointing authority - the city council. Three absences constitute "an automatic vacancy" in the words of the city attorney. I did not make this up. It was no mere suggestion that compliance should be mandatory. It was a diplomatic suggestion that the violator save the city time and money by acknowledging the vacancy and doing the right thing instead of costing more time and money for the city attorney in a big fight for what is mandated by the municipal code. The feedback referred to includes a healthy number of comments on various forums and publications including Ron's Log, MyDesert.com and Desert Vortex News. If Ron Gilbert was paying attention he would know that. This post by Ron Gilbert is the first to accuse me of wasting time and money. Maybe Ron Gilbert should back that up with some facts instead of throwing a cheap shot of calumniating innuendo. The fact is that Ron Gilbert attends planning commission meetings, records and takes notes but fails to report comments of Dean Gray while making a conscious choice not to report public safety commission dialog and decision making because over the years Mr. Gilbert clearly prefers the censorship of his BS instead of reporting facts and truth.

Posted by: Dean M Gray at Oct 25, 2014 11:26:25 AM

Russell Betts' imagined means of giving permission is not inconsistent with the code as far as it goes. But neither are any of the other methods I've seen, which include the Chair saying the absence is excused or the entire body simply nodding in consensus with no formal vote. None of those methods, however, are consistent with the requirement that the permission be granted in advance. It's been extremely rare that I've heard a Commissioner or Council Member state that they would be absent at the next meeting. And even in those rare cases, I have not seen the body vote to excuse it. Sometimes I have seen a body vote to approve an absence at the meeting where the absence has occurred, but that's not "advance."

What does it mean when NO absence from any body has been approved in strict accordance with the code as written in 2.24.050b? It indicates to me that here is another piece of badly written code approved by the City Council and never enforced because it is so badly written. And, as we have seen many times before, City Council members don't like it when their badly written code doesn't magically produce the result they would like. Of course, the City Council can go back and revise the code to make it more clear and workable, but in my experience the City Council does not do that. Instead, the City Council generally leaves the bad code in place and then complains about the result.

Now we will hear back from Mr. Betts saying the code is perfectly clear, because Mr. Betts' opinion is always perfectly clear - to himself.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Oct 25, 2014 9:08:51 AM

Russ,

For 10 years I've served the people of DHS on the Public Safety Commission… I've even served with you. Like you, I've always followed the protocol of informing the chair (or vice chair) of any pending absence. This protocol is the defacto interpretation of the city code and commissions have never been told differently by the city attorney during the commissioner orientation meetings or else I would have followed that process.

The city council (as a whole) and attorney are welcome to provide clarification and/or more verbiage in the code to give commissioners a step by step "how to be properly excused" and we commissioners will adhere to the clarification.

Believing in the process,

Jeff

Posted by: Jeff Bowman at Oct 25, 2014 7:31:52 AM

Ron,
The code is clear on the matter of excessive absences, where permission comes from and when it should be obtained.

In the case of a commissioner, the permission comes from either the commission where the commissioner serves or from the appointing authority which is the city council (not the council member that nominated the commissioner as has been suggested).

For either of those body's to act, the process of excusing an absence must be by a vote. No body can act without a vote - that's pretty basic stuff.

The code specifies it must be in advance.

Your suggestion that someone is out to get Jeff Bowman discounts the possibility that the motivation is nothing more than to adhere to the municipal code. Even if political motives exist, your suggestion serves only to dodge the question. The question is does the city follow the municipal code or does it ignore it?

As always, thanks for this space.

Russ

Posted by: Russell Betts at Oct 25, 2014 6:04:59 AM

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