Santa Paula: Measure T Oversight Commission Inaugural Meeting

 By Sheryl Hamlin

Santa Paula voters approved a 1% sales tax increase in November 2016 which included the provision for an oversight commission. To read the full text of the ordinance defining the commission, click here. The members were chosen in April 2017 from a field of many applicants.

The members of the Commission are: Andrew Sobel, Rosemary Chacon, Jose Melgar, Johnny Flores and Kristin Majda. After introductory remarks, Ms. Majda volunteered to chair and Jose Melgar volunteered as Vice-Chair. Rose Chacon accepted the nomination of secretary. Note the latter position is not defined in the ordinance. Mr. Kettles, a city attorney who generally handles the Planning Commission meetings, did not question this latter nomination or election.

Rick Araiza, Rose Chacon, Johnny Flores, Kristin Majda

Andrew Sobel, Jose Melgar, Greg Kettles

Also in the audience were Sandra Easley, Ed Mount, John Ilasin, Michael la Plante, Ish Cordero and more staff from the city, as well as, Vice Mayor Gherardi.

Questions about Timing and Purpose

It is important to understand that this body had no direction from council as to its interaction, thus the dialogue and questions during the meeting were an effort by the commission to establish their roles and particularly to understand the timetable of the budget cycle with respect to their reporting. Nor was Mr. Kettles the attorney who originally wrote the Commission Ordinance. Attorney Cotti wrote the commission ordinance and had attended all previous council meetings.

Attorney Kettles stated that monies from Measure T may be spent on any General Fund purposes and that the commission’s two tasks were: 1) make recommendations to city council for expenditures and 2) report how funds have been used. Clearly Mr. Kettles viewed a two-way dialogue between the council and the commission and not simply a uni-directional approval body, as had been discussed in council.

Andrew Sobel stated that during the interviews there was a “lack of clarity of purpose” and requested Mr. Kettles to elaborate, to which Kettles said the purpose was how to spend the extra $2 million including police, fire, streets, youth, and other city services.

Acting City Manager Rick Araiza explained that the workshop on Thursday, May 25th is very important in that is will show where the city stands for the current fiscal year and will show projections for the upcoming fiscal year with and without the Ventura County Fire Protection District Annex. Read other discussions about this annexation here.

Mr. Araiza also said that the May 25th meeting would be recorded and televised.

Ms. Majda asked about the budget timeline and how the committee would fit in to this timeline, to which Kettles gave an example of three unbudgeted police officers. Is this a good use of Measure T funds, he asked rhetorically.

Asked by Ms. Majda if the Measure T funds would be in the July 1, 2017 budget, Finance Director Easley said that they can/will come back with budget adjustments after July 1st. Araiza said that the budget can be readjusted for new expenditures during the year.

Ms. Majda asked about the date to submit the report and in what format? She also asked if members of Measure T commission can comment on Thursday, to which Mr. Kettles said this was a perfect time to seque to the Brown Act.

Brown Act Considerations

Mr. Kettles opened with a statement “The people’s business should be conducted in public”, which is the basic tenet of the Brown Act. He passed out an 18 page summary of the act. Click here for an on-line summary.

“Meeting” said Kettles is any gathering of a majority of members discussing any business. There are “exceptions” which include one-on-one communication to citizens and one-on-one communicatin to staff. There is a “prohibition” against “serial meetings” where ‘a’ talks to ‘b’ who talks to ‘c’ with each carrying the original conversation forward.

Kettles advised commission members not to share any information or opinions with the staff in order to prevent influencing a staff presentation. And, he said, remind your friends that commission business is covered by the Brown Act, when/if they bring up commission business.

And, yes, Kettle said, all commission members can attend Thursday, participating as public, but cannot group forming a ‘mini-commission’ meeting. He provided his email for further questions: [email protected]

Agenda Questions

Johnny Flores asked who sets the agenda, to which Mr. Kettles said the committee sets the agenda and the next date. Mr. Sobel asked if a commission meeting can be called at any time, to which Mr. Kettles said ‘yes’ with proper notice. Because the commission does not have regularly scheduled meetings, all meetings at this time are considered ‘special’. Notice for regular meetings is 72 hours per the Brown Act and 24 hours per the Brown Act.

Sharing Research Material and Public Comments

The Chair asked how would the commission share research with other members and/or comments from the public? Mr. Kettles said that material should be provided to the public in advance to go out with the agenda. This is also true for Public Comments which should be attached to the agenda.

Note that Kettle’s recommendations are not followed for either the council or the Planning Commission where many reports are not attached and public statements not included. And, in fact, council members distribute reports on the day of the meeting which the public has never seen.

A corollary to this discussion was the dissemination of staff email, a question asked by Andrew Sobel. Mr. Araiza said that staff will email questions and answers to all members by policy. Mr. Kettles said they “discourage” the use of “Reply All’ with email.

Finance Director Presentation

Sandra Easley presented a verbal recap of the budget presented on May 1st, wherein the FY 17/18 bugest was projected with a $1.7 million shortfall. To read about this, click here.

Subsequently, she said, departments were asked to cut 10% from their budgets and the consultants double checked the results. Fire cut $489,000 and Police cut $553,000, which is over one million cut between fire and police. Note that $715,855 of the budget increases come from liability, workers’ compensation insurance and retirement benefits, all of which is growing faster than city revenues, as reported previously.

Jonny Flores asked which departments submitted cuts, to which Ms. Easley said: Admin Services, Building and Safety, Community Services, Finance, Fire, Planning, Police and Public Works. Enterprise funds are not to be considered by Measure T. The Chair said that Youth Service might fall under police of community services.

Mr. Araiza said they would do the budget without Measure T funds and see the shortfalls. Sandra Easley said that FY 2016/2017 benefitted by $130,000 from Measure T already, but these monies are in a separate Measure T fund unspent. She also said that FY 2017/2018 is predicted to be $2.056 million, after a state of California “administration fee” is taken.

Mr. Araiza said that Finance will give the Measure T commission financial reports and that the $130,000 does not need to be spend by July 2017 when the new fiscal year starts.

Reporting to Council

The Chair asked if there would be four reports needed: two for FY 2016/2017 and two for FY2017/2018. Director Easley said three reports only would be needed.

Andrew Sobel asked if the council had to follow the recommendations of the Measure T Commission. Mr. Kettle said that the council does not have to follow recommendations. Rose Chacon asked if the recommendations were by percentage or by project, to which Mr. Araiza said details would be given by department. Sobel asked if recommendations from Measure T could be outside of the budget, to which Mr. Araiza said ‘yes’.

Clearly at this point, the Commission and the staff present envisioned a bi-directional relationship between the council and the commission.

Dates and Scheduling

Mr. Araiza said that information would be emailed to the commission before the Thursday May 25th budget meeting. With June 5th or June 12th as the date for the presentation of the proposed budget, this leaves a tight schedule for the Measure T Commission to meet. The Chair felt at least two more meetings would be necessary. A date of Thursday June 8th at 7:00 pm was set for the next meeting.

Agenda for Next Meeting

What followed was a lengthy discussion about what to discuss at the next meeting. The Chair suggested 1) other cities with oversight committee, 2) the priorities of monies from Measure T, 3) working toward consensus of recommendation,4)metrics for evaluation, 4) reporting on evaluations throughout the year, and 5) how frequently to meet.

Rose Chacon said it was too early to opine without all the information, particularly financial and benefits of the potential expenditures given by the departments. What does success look like, she said, if people are hired or monies spent? So, a generic topic of “Measure T Funds and Budget” was chosen which was approved by attorney Kettles.

Mr. Kettles reiterated the five point agenda to which all approved.

Adjournment and Post Meeting Discussion

The meeting was adjourned around 8:45 pm. Vice Mayor Gherardi came to the dais saying that the agenda was incomplete because it did not reflect reporting back to council. A discussion ensued between Vice Mayor Gherardi, Kettles and various members of the commission. Vice Mayor Gherardi was the only member from council present, so presumably her report to council will include a critique of the meeting.

Other than Vice Mayor Gherardi, everyone I spoke with after the meeting was very pleased by the rich dialogue and thorough manner in which the commission ferreted out its roles and responsibilities. Citizens must remember that this was the first meeting of this commission and the culture, reporting and interaction has not yet been established.

Unfortunately, the city did not see fit to record the meeting or create an audio, which deprives all citizens of the ability to witness the dialogue and the thought processes of the panel.

For more information about the author visit Sheryl Hamlin dot com.


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One Response to Santa Paula: Measure T Oversight Commission Inaugural Meeting

  1. Laura Espinosa May 25, 2017 at 12:32 am

    Excellent summary of this first meeting. Committee is eager and willing to do due diligence in order to arrive at recommendations.

    Reply

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