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    Budget Brouhaha As Council Majority Defies Mayor, Leaving Colonna and Carroll Isolated on Second Major Vote In Two Weeks:

  • Mayor's Proposes Adopting City Mgr. Proposed Budget With Her 3% Proposed Reduction

  • Baker, Lowenthal & Lerch Unveil Proposal For Deeper Cuts That Restores Some Services Cut in City Mgr. Proposed Budget

  • Carroll and Colonna Attack Baker-Lowenthal-Lerch Process As "Gov't by Ambush"; Colonna Claims Lack of "Respect"; Mayor Says It's A "Gotcha"

  • Carroll Moves to Adopt Mgr/Mayor Plan

  • In Showdown Move, Lowenthal Makes Substitute Motion To Delay Budget Discussion To Next Week

  • Council Votes 7-2 (Colonna and Carroll "no") To Defer Budget To Sept. 23 @ 5 p.m. and possibly Sept. 24 @ 1 p.m. (if needed)

  • Several Public Speakers Praise Council Majority For Open Debate

    (September 18, 2002) -- In a move praised as "democracy in progress" by a local activist and denounced as "government by ambush" by a City Council incumbent, a seismic rift opened at the Sept. 17 City Council meeting as a majority of Councilmembers effectively rebelled against a budget plan offered by Mayor Beverly O'Neill.

    A seven member Council majority refused to adopt the Mayor's proposed amendments to the City Manager's budget and instead scheduled further budget discussions -- including on a proposal by Councilmembers Dan Baker, Bonnie Lowenthal and Val Lerch -- at a special Monday night Council meeting on September 23 at 5 p.m., with a follow-up on September 24 at 1 p.m. if needed.

    The Mayor had asked the Council to pass the budget proposed by (now outgoing) City Manager Henry Taboada with 3% cuts she'd previously proposed, referring items to her handpicked budget advisory committee and pursuing a three year "financial strategic plan."

    But Councilmembers Baker, Lowenthal and Lerch unveiled a written proposal outlining deeper cuts with more savings...and more services.

    Baker-Lowenthal-Lerch plan

    Councilman Baker said the plan included an additional 3% reduction (on top of the Mayor's 3% cut) without reductions in direct service levels, and a 2.5% reduction of total budgeted expenditures in police and fire departments, and a 5% reduction in general fund expenditures in the civil service department.

    Councilman Baker said one way to reach these goals would be to take advantage of opportunities created by expected short term increase in retirements; not include $267,465 in City Attorney's proposed budget; not include City Auditor's increases not in budget presented by the City Manager.

    And as for the Public Corporation for the Arts, Councilman Baker said he was "concerned about moving the Municipal Band which in our City Charter and is a city function over to a non-city entity. I would like to see that remain under city control. And our recommendation is to provide $1.2 million to the PCA for direct funding of art programs, very clear not to support administrative cost, but for direct funding of community programs..."

    And citing concern for tideland funds, to have any money earmarked for seawall repairs to be directed towards a bond payment of the Aquarium of the Pacific.

    These reductions would total $10.8 million, Councilman Baker said.

    The Baker-Lowenthal-Lerch plan also called for some type of bonding some of the city's long term infrastructure projects...and proposed budgeting a number of items that weren't included in the City Manager's budget, including additional code enforcement teams, community code enforcement, park ranger expansion, pocket park expansion, youth commission, alley sweeping.

    The total savings would be $8.8 million recommended to be held in reserve to deal with next year's impending crisis, Baker said.

    The Mayor immediately objected. "This is a very aggressive proposal. I wish we had known that we could have looked at it to spend a little more time because it is five pages and there are many specific things in here...I hate to say but it's really not fair to get it as we're starting the budget for one hour."

    Baker replied, "Well Madam Mayor, this is the process. Clearly, we are working under the Brown Act [state's open meeting law] and couldn't make recommendations. Actually, I checked with the Attorney. I wanted to share this information with additional members of our City Council and we were precluded from meeting and discussing..."

  • City Attorney Shannon entered into a colloquy:

    City Attorney Shannon: How many City Councilmen were privy to this document?
    Councilman Baker: Three.
    City Attorney Shannon: Only three?
    Councilman Baker: Have seen this document.
    City Attorney Shannon: The recommendations contained therein.
    Councilman Baker: Correct.
    City Attorney Shannon: That's not quite consistent with some polling I've made with regard to other City Councilpeople. There may be a Brown Act problem here.
    Councilman Baker: Well I'm trying to do my best to not have that happen.

    Additional Council discussion followed. Our transcript is unofficial, prepared by us. Not all speakers or all statements are indicated.

    Councilman Dennis Carroll

    ...Our budget this year is particularly difficult based on the unanticipated acts of the past year, starting with the 9-11 incident [ comment: The FY 02 budget was prepared by city management before 9-11...but it was adopted by the Council after 9-11], the stock market crash and the real effects of the energy crisis. I think we have known for some period of time we would have particularly difficult issues to address...

    Here we have a document [the Baker-Lowenthal-Lerch plan] provided, and I haven't seen it any sooner than you, provided five minutes the final budget hearing,...My comments are not about the substance of the comments [the Baker-Lowenthal-Lerch plan]...My comments are about what is perceived by me to be a complete lack of faith on the part of some of these Councilmembers to share their information and discuss not only with their colleagues but with the public, inviting us to vote up or down on ideas that have not been presented at all for suggestion, discussion, compromise, the real basis of the democratic process. I have not heard from the Councilmember who proposed this document that he couldn't have sent this memorandum around two weeks ago or a week ago or even today. I met in the Mayor's office today with Councilman Lerch...I asked at least that if there was a memorandum in existence it be circulated this afternoon so we would have some time to absorb it.

    And here we are, six o'clock at night, given one hour to indulge in the second instance in two weeks from my perspective of government by ambush, not government by discussion...

    I don't know what is driving it. I do not want to be a party to it. I am very disappointed in what I am hearing and seeing this evening. And as I say, I am not commenting on the merits of these proposals; some of them may be excellent...I am commenting on the process...

    ...I'll let the Vice Mayor speak for himself, but at least the titular leader of the City Council I would expect to have been notified of any proposals that would affect our budget...

    But I think this is really a corrosive event and now I think two events become the beginning of a pattern for our city...I am embarrassed to be a part of this process and want everyone here, including my colleagues involved in it, to know.

    Vice Mayor Frank Colonna

    ...I too am very much concerned about this process...[I]t appears that we have a group that's determined to act in a fashion that I believe is not only unfair to you as the public, wanting and seeking to have good government, but those of us on this Council who are witness to a process that totally sidesteps any recommendations from the Mayor, and any recommendations from management. And the last time I read the Charter, this was a city management form of government.

    And I don't consider that the submitters of this being experts in knowing how to manage and operate a city, and knowing how to spend the funds properly in order to make sure that we maintain an economically stable city...

    ...As the Mayor indicated with her eight years of persevering on this Council and proposing a budget to make sure that it was so that we could review it in three months after a [Mayor's] committee has been put together which, basically what this tells me, is the committee should disband...

    Our city is not upside down...We certainly don't have our backs to the wall. This is a well run city. It has the respect of many, many cities in many of the meetings that I have attended around area, the County, and back in Washington. And I see a process here that takes the wind out of me as an elected official.

    I would expect more respect...

    Mayor O'Neill

    I will admit that I am very disappointed because I did have a chance to talk with Councilmembers Lerch and Lowenthal today and there was not one word said to me, and this is certainly more than half a day's work about this.

    I try not to interfere with what the Council's going to do, but I try to know what the process is going to be so that we can have an orderly meeting and we can have a meeting that flows, but when we have something like this, that is five pages long that has some pretty heavy recommendations that need a great deal of study, to put it out as you're sitting here unfair to the Council.

    And as I say, I think so highly of this city, and I have seen a change in the way the Council is working. Instead of working together, they have three people sign up for something and it's like a "gotcha" when they bring it forward, and there's nothing wrong in bringing things forward, but there needs to be more collegiality in how we work together, because as we are trying to work with the difficult problems of this city, it is very difficult to do so when we have hidden agendas...

    City Attorney Shannon

    I will make no further public comment at this time, however I do reserve the right to perform the investigations that I am required by the Charter to undertake.

    Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal

    I found it very difficult to share with you this morning, I guess I kinda didn't want to let the cat out of the bag. I felt that there would be information that would be passed around and then again there would be a violation of the Brown Act so I personally thought it would be very appropriate to bring these items up for deliberation this evening...I was feeling really hopeful that my colleagues would consider these numbers, because it enables us to cut almost $11 million from the 2003 [city manager] recommended budget, and that's an additional 3% reduction from the City Manager's budget. We're in hard times. We know it's going to get worse next year, and if it was my house and my savings, that's exactly what I would be doing...

    Councilwoman Tonia Reyes-Uranga

    ...I know that there were imperfect processes in previous years, but it is not wrong to debate issues in public. We shouldn't shy away from talking about and making hard decisions and debating them in front of the people who elected us to be here. At least they can see where we stand and why we do what we do and how we vote...

    Councilman Rob Webb

    ...I have a question by the way to our City Attorney. Could this have been distributed from three Councilmembers to all of us during the budget process so as at least we could discuss it without violating the Brown Act?

    City Attorney Shannon: It not only could have, it should have.

    Councilman Val Lerch

    Frankly, some of the cuts in here don't go far enough...Madam Mayor, this morning I told you I was going to join in with Lowenthal and Baker on suggestions.

    Mayor O'Neill: I don't remember you saying that.

    Councilman Lerch: I said and I thought this was going to be distributed in the afternoon time...but these cuts are good cuts. These cuts are something we need to do as a city, and frankly, they don't go far enough if you ask me.

    Councilwoman Kell suggested having another Council budget discussion at an afternoon session on Sept. 24. (The Sept. 24 evening Council meeting will be in the 6th Council district).

    Councilman Webb said he had a "laundry list of rather conservative proposals I have failed to bring to this Council due to a lack of five votes and I think the timing is really right to bring those items forward now. [audience laughter]

    Councilman Carroll said he didn't want to "reward the tactics" used in the hearing and moved to adopt the Mayor's budget as proposed. He added that "if we don't [have the votes to do that], as far as I'm concerned we've run this budget off a cliff. It will turn into a food fight...So I would ask that the Mayor's budget be adopted this evening."

    In a showdown move, Councilwoman Lowenthal made a substitute motion to hold over the budget items until Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. "[This was later changed to Monday Sept. 23 at 5 p.m, with an additional meeting on Tuesday Sept. 24 at 1 p.m. if necessary.]

    In public testimony. 8th district resident Reggie Bannister said, "This meeting has been great tonight. I think I've seen democracy in progress here. I don't necessarily think that a meeting has to go smooth. As a matter of fact, I'm a little suspicious if it goes too smoothly. I think that this dialogue is good. I think that you really need to shelve and not adopt this budget as it stands..."

    5th district resident John Donaldson said, "This has been worthwhile. This has been very worthwhile. For once, we're seeing an open process and you're dysfunctional at it because you have no experience with it."

    "Who? I don't?" the Mayor inquired. "You, the Council and the Mayor," Mr. Donaldson replied. "For eight years, we've had a controlled Council, and I mean some of the things that have been said. You were "ambushed" Frank? Think of how we felt with Queensway Bay, JetBlue..."

    "Sir, stick to the point," the Mayor directed. "This is the point," Donaldson shot back. "The point is the process. It's a good process, Mayor O'Neill. Learn to live with it. Learn to exploit it. Mr. Webb, you have to have five votes to talk about something? That's the tragic mistake that this Council has made for eight years. I'd like to hear what you have to say when you're a minority opinion. Your voice is worth hearing. That's what you're elected for. Not simply to speak when you're in the majority. You do not have to have a consensus to say what is on your mind.

    Thank you, Val. Thank you, Tonia. And thank you tonight, Dan. You bring a new dynamic to this Council that is well worth having."

    The substitute motion to continue the meeting to Monday night Sept. 23 at 5 p.m. and possibly Sept. 24 at 1 p.m. (if necessary) carried 7-2 (Colonna and Carroll dissenting).

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