Stopping $130,000 in Wasteful Words, Giving Taxpayers Needed Police
(Dec. 15, 2003) -- LBReport.com urges -- in the strongest possible terms -- the defeat of an item quietly placed on the "consent calendar" for the Dec. 16 City Council agenda, the section reserved for rubberstamp items without discussion.
City Auditor Gary Burroughs is asking Councilmembers to approve spending up to $130,000 -- a king's annual salary to most working people -- to retain an outside firm headed by a former employee in his office to update a Police Dept. "Strategic Plan."
We used to think this kind of thing was just annoying. For reasons set forth below, we now believe it is malignant. We urge the Council to tell Burroughs "no" and receive and file his proposal.
The 1994 Police Dept. Strategic Plan was concocted by Burroughs' office with then-city management, producing multiple volumes of flapdoodle and one page of substance: a preliminary staffing strategy for police increases that (big surprise) were not provided for taxpayers as indicated since 1995.
The preliminary staffing strategy specified 1,023.4 officers by FY 00 -- four years ago. The level remains undelivered today.
Despite increased city population, Council-approved increased downtown density, Council-invited commercial development and Council-encouraged tourist traffic, the Council currently budgets only 968.25 officers...and that includes a fair number of officers to handle homeland security tasks at the Port and Airport (paid for by the Port, Airport and feds). That means LB's budgeted neighborhood police level is even lower than the total budget indicates...and that's despite a federal grant for 40 additional police officers, awarded to City Hall in 2002 and presumably being tapped now.
There is no record of Auditor Burroughs ever publicly objecting to the city's failure to provide taxpayers with police levels specified in the preliminary staffing strategy of the Police Strategic Plan that his own office co-produced.
It wasn't long after the Council adopted the 1994 Police Strategic Plan that City Hall began disavowing the preliminary staffing strategy by advancing budgets that flouted it. City Hall then claimed the Strategic Plan was basically a management tool and its preliminary staffing strategy was never intended to be one of the Plan's specified goals. Those officer numbers were less than nothing, a mere piffle.
What a self-damning defense.
See for yourself the preliminary staffing strategy's level for FY 00 (four years ago): 1023.4 officers -- yes spelled out to that level of precision -- exactly it appeared in the LB Police Dept. Strategic Plan, Main Volume, Appendix p. A-91, click: 1994 "Strategic Plan" Preliminary Staffing Strategy.
In early 2002, long after the "Strategic Plan" had shown its worthlessness in delivering police levels, LBPD produced a report on its staffing levels, followed by a March 2002 City Auditor's report that presented a remarkably complete picture of LB police staffing. It wasn't a pretty picture.
That triggered a tumultuous March 2002 action (described below) in which the Council voted to send the Auditor's police staffing report to the Council's Public Safety Committee, then headed by Councilman Jerry Shultz. In July 2002, after Councilman Shultz's retirement from the Council, Mayor Beverly O'Neill appointed 4th district Councilman Dennis Carroll to chair the Public Safety committee.
To date, chairman Carroll has yet to hold a meeting of his committee devoted to the City Auditor's 2002 police staffing report.
At the March 2002 Council meeting, then-Mayoral candidate Ray Grabinski -- just weeks from the election -- claimed he wanted the full Council to address the Auditor's police staffing report. Third district Councilman (now Vice Mayor) Frank Colonna made a substitute motion to send the report to the Public Safety Committee...and Councilman Carroll agreed with Colonna. Councilman Carroll stated in part:
Councilman Carroll: I have heard from the people that are supposed to know, and that's the Chief and the City Manager and the City Auditor that the big picture is going to require some in depth analysis and recommendations, and I think Councilman Colonna's suggestion is a good one for that purpose and for those reasons...
Roughly four months later, Councilman Carroll took over as Public Safety Committee chair...but has yet to deliver that "in depth analysis and recommendations" he said was in order before he chaired the Committee.
Under Carroll's chairmanship, the Public Safety Committee has held joint meetings with other committees on other topics. In fact, on Dec. 16, 2003 (in a separately agendized item), Councilman Carroll proposes that it hold a another joint meeting, this time with the Housing & Neighborhoods Committee (with a parallel referral to the City Manager) for a "graffiti summit."
(We can't wait to hear if Councilman Carroll favors removal of the graffiti-style "art" now permitted on City of LB public buildings in MacArthur Park...and if not, why taxpayers shouldn't see the same "artwork" festooning 4th district city property. Too bad Carroll's Los Altos field office is on private property.)
So what about that City Auditor's police staffing report now growing cobwebs in Carroll's committee? Under the Municipal Code, the Mayor can call committee meetings if a chair refuses to do it. Apart from the Muni Code, the Council could publicly direct the committee chair to hold an overdue hearing. Or the Council could simply deal with the issue itself.
When given the chance to deal with the issue itself, the Council recently ducked. In September 2003 (as previously reported by LBReport.com) Councilmembers relegated the Police Department's annual budget presentation to the next to last afternoon item (yes, after the Water Dept. and the like)...and just hours before the Council's scheduled vote to adopt City Hall's (now-current) FY 04 budget.
In a gutsy, straightforward presentation, LBPD Police Chief Anthony Batts told the Council in pertinent part:
"By our command staff estimates, we're down 90 officers in patrol calls for service, 10 detectives, and we need another thirty officers for new walking and bike beats in our most crime prone neighborhoods and in our growing downtown residential and entertainment center. That's a total of 130 officers, to date, this moment, right now," Chief Batts said.
His testimony was followed by the president of the Long Beach Police Officers Association, Steve James, who told Councilmembers, "Plain and simple, you have a Chief that finally came down here and finally told you the truth."
Chief Batts told the Council several areas pose public safety challenges now:
Private development is moving ahead at full speed and will impact demand for public services. Town Center, CityPlace and the Carnival Cruise Terminal will soon be joined by the Pike project...The downtown, including Pine Ave., is evolving into both a residential neighborhood and an entertainment center which is attracting large numbers of residents and out of town visitors, and placing additional deployment demands on law enforcement.
Homeland security requirements are real and expanding. In addition to our Harbor and Airport security units, every officer now assumes Homeland Security responsibilities.
Chief Batts displayed a chart that indicated:
|FY 2003 Budgeted||950.25 FTE [full time equivalent]|
|FY 2004 Budgeted||968.25|
Chief Batts acknowledged that the Council faced budget challenges and competing needs, and as a member of the "city team" he understood the Council's need to strike a balance on allocating resources.
"[W]e are fully aware we as a city are not in the position to expand the Department at the needed rate," Chief Batts said, later adding, "We have staffing shortages, and when the resources are available, we need more police officers."
When asked by 8th district Councilman Rob Webb about police officer levels in City Hall's 1994 Police "Strategic Plan," Chief Batts referred to the preliminary staffing strategy as a "wish list" but noted that it specified 1,023 sworn officers by FY 2000 (i.e. four years ago).
"That wish list number comes very close to where we need to be today," Chief Batts said.
The Council went on to adopt the budget without taking any action to follow-up on Chief Batts' staffing comments.
Chief Batts was diplomatic in letting the Council off the hook on LB's police deficit by citing City Hall's budget deficit. We will be more blunt.
The Council created LB's current police deficit by not following the Strategic Plan's preliminary staffing strategy, and it created LB's current budget deficit by spending more than it was taking in.
The Council's worst spending binge occurred under a number of current incumbents in Sept. 2001 -- after Sept. 11 -- when it budgeted more than the previous year and refused to reexamine its spending (as other cities did) in the wake of the terrorist attacks. The Council then dug an even deeper hole for taxpayers by voting to balloon public employee pensions in a devastating vote conveniently left until after the June 02 Mayoral runoff.
And no, the Council has not ended its spending addiction. In Sept. 2003 Councilmembers ignored an important limit publicly set in City Hall's three-year financial strategy, announced only months earlier by City Manager Jerry Miller. Mr. Miller's plan was -- the past tense is proper here -- a solid work devised in hopes of digging City Hall out of the multi-million dollar deficit. It called for the Council to spend no more than $2.6 million in one time resources in FY 04 to cover ongoing expenses.
That limit was reinforced earlier this year when respected independent civic fiscal consultant Len Wood publicly warned the Council to stick to the plan. Mr. Wood said that a Council failure to limit use of one time resources for ongoing expenses could, in a worst case scenario, lead to civic bankruptcy. He publicly warned the Council not to do so even for things that sounded important.
When publicly prompted by Fifth District Councilwoman Jackie Kell, City Auditor Burroughs was forced to admit that he too had privately told the Council much the same thing.
As far as we are concerned, the perfectly sensible three year financial strategy exists in substance no more. To the extent it does, it persists only as a political prop in name only.
Despite its $2.6 million limit in one time resource spending, Mayor O'Neill forwarded (without dissent) a FY 04 budget from city management that contained $17.5 million in spending from depleting one time sources. Shortly before the budget vote, the City Manager advised increasing that to $19.5 million to cover what he called unforeseen one-time costs from Sacramento. The Council voted to do this without objection.
City Auditor Burroughs, who publicly supported city management's three-year financial plan as originally presented, did not publicly object to the Council's action.
It has become painfully obvious that City Hall's publicly announced plans, even on the most serious subjects, mean relatively little to some incumbent elected officeholders in this city.
Taxpayers should not put up with a Council -- that created mountains of red ink -- spending up to $130,000 more for a product that City Hall has previously abused to pretend it's addressing public safety while shortchanging the public on police.
We don't know any incumbent Councilmember who has told voters that in spite of what the Chief of Police said publicly, LB doesn't need more police, just a six figure report to see if others "feel" safe and happy with current service.
We have a pretty fair idea how residents feel about their safety within walking distance of LB City Hall...on 7th St. just east of Alamitos Ave., where a U.S. Marine who survived combat in Iraq was shot to death at his family's home alongside a family friend.
We urge Councilmembers to make a substitute motion to receive and file Mr. Burroughs' improvident request.
And while they're at it, Councilmembers should publicly direct Councilman Carroll as chair of the Council's Public Safety Committee to deliver that "in depth analysis and recommendations" he said in March 2002 the Committee should produce...before he accepted the title of chair in July 2002.
The public deserves to hear Committee chair and Councilman Carroll's in depth analysis and recommendations within thirty days...before he stands for reelection.
Postscript: At the Dec. 16 Council meeting, Mayor Beverly O'Neill announced that the Auditor's request to update the Police Dept. "Strategic Plan" had been withdrawn from the agenda.
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