Is This Any Way to Run A Democracy?

Tuesday night’s City Council meeting was a cross between Samuel Becket’s  “Waiting for Godot” and the Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” routine.

The Council was charged with appointing someone to replace Council member Herb Katz who died shortly after being re-elected last fall.

If the members failed to agree on  a replacement or chose not to make the appointment, they would have to    call for a special election and leave the  decision to the voters.

Bobby Shriver, the only member of the Council who remained rational and consistent through  the witless exercise, repeated a proposal he  made at a previous meeting – that a special election be held so that the people could elect their representative themselves and he or she would not be beholden to anyone but the people.

Several Council members protested, citing  the estimated $100,0 00 cost of a special election .  Shriver said $100, 000 out of a $500 million budget was not too much pay for a vote of the people.

He added that if his colleagues  refused to call a special election, he would vote e to appoint Ted Winterer, who ran fifth in the fall election.

Mayor Ken Genser then delivered a dissertation on the number  of votes other also-rans in earlier elections  had got, and  the percentages of the whole vote they got,  which, by his lights,  was more significant.

Though he didn’t admit it, his point was that Winterer was not only no more qualified than  anyone else, but less qualified than some. His theory was as dubious as his  lecture was dull. It was also pointless as at least half the people in the room knew that he was trying  to clear the way for Patricia   Hoffman  in advance of the vote.

Hoffman, like Genser and three other Council members are Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) stalwarts. Winterer is not.

Not to be outdone in the tedium  department, mayor pro tem Pam O’Connor (also a SMRR) paid tribute to herself for taking the time out of her busy schedule  to “speed-date” the 27 people who had “applied” for the Council vacancy.

Then, after the usual self-serving flimflam from the other two  Councilmen from SMRR,     Richard Bloom and Kevin McKeown,  the voting got underway.

McKeown nominated Winterer, Genser nominated Hoffman, and O’Connor nominated Gleam Davis. All three had made unsuccessful  runs for City Council, but Winterer  was the only one who had run last fall and taken positions on all the current issues,  Davis and Hoffman are the co-chairs of (SMRR).

Shriver and Councilman Bob Holbrook voted with McKeown for Winterer  on the first round.  Seven or eight rounds followed. Shriver held fast, voting for Winterer through all  eight rounds, while occasionally reiterating the need for a special election.

McKeown jumped back into the SMRR camp after a few rounds.  Then Holbook abandoned Winterer. The four SMRRs then bounced Davis and Hoffman votes around until  Genser abandoned Hoffman in favor of Davis.

In fact. she could have won without his vote, as she had the votes of the other three SMRRs and Holbrook.

When Genser abandoned Hoffman  \to vote for Davis. Holbrook tried to change his vote from Davis back to Winterer. But it was too late.

Davis immediately took the oath of office and joined her new colleagues on the dais. SMRR now has  a five-two majority, which, in effect,  renders Shriver and Holbrook redundant.

Is this any way to run a democracy?

Of course not. But this isn’t a  democracy,  this SMRRland.

Whither Spring

By Ava Tramer

Beaches
Partly cloudy
Highs: 63-70; Lows: 50-53

Inland
Mostly cloudy
Highs: 67-72; Lows: 43-48

Deserts
Mostly sunny
Highs: 75-82; Lows: 50-55

And Santa Monica…
We’re on the homestretch here – winter is almost over.  In about a month, spring will officially be here.  I know you’re probably tired of the bitterly cold weather (lows in the 50s) and harsh wintry mixes (scattered showers).  For those of you who just can’t wait any longer for spring, you’ll get a short preview of it this weekend, with highs around 70.  So hold on there, folks!  Spring is around the corner.

Dear Mayor Genser

Dear Mayor Genser and Honorable City Council members,

We urge the City Council to use the November 2008 Council election as a guide to filling the seat of former Mayor Katz. Because this election is not even three months in the past, it establishes a clear guide to the current will of the people of Santa Monica. This guide would call for the seat to be first offered to Ted Winterer and, if he chose not to serve, next to Susan Hartley, and so on.

The recent election turnout of over 87% was exceptional, rendering it a clear mandate of the people. For this reason, the Ocean Park Association Board of Directors urges the City Council to accept the will of the people and fill former Mayor Katz’s Council seat using the election results as a guide.

Respectfully,

Mary Marlow, President
Ocean Park Association

This letter from OPA has also been endorsed
by the Boards of Directors of
Friends of Sunset Park
North of Montana Association
Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition.

School Board: BIG Spenders

By Jim Jaffe

What’s terribly wrong with this picture? The state and the nation are in the worst financial crisis EVER, and the first major item on Thursday’s Board of Education agenda is to take 5 minutes to appoint Tim Cuneo as
permanent superintendent with a salary package 34 percent greater than the previous superintendent’s!

Most people, including the press, thought this was a done deal two weeks ago out in Malibu; but in the words of Board President Mechur to me: “We put the appointment off until we have finalized the contract and have it ready for a Board agenda packet and public review.”

So why wasn’t the proposed contract posted online? Is there somethingabout the $270,400 annual package ($220,000 salary; $38,400 for housing;and $12,000 for auto and cell phone) that the Board might find difficult justifying during hard times? What are the implications of the timing of
this action when the District is currently in sensitive bargaining
negotiations with both employee unions?

It wasn’t that long ago there was a big uproar over a 5 percent raise
for teachers that sparked the need for an outside audit after the “houseof cards” built by John Deasy and CFO Winston Braham began to collapse.

The result from that FCMAT review was to confirm former Superintendent Dianne Talarico’s strong belief that if the District followed its teacher/pupil formulas due to loss of enrollment, the raise would be paid for by cutting 40 teaching positions over 3 years — saving about $3,000,000 ! And that’s exactly what happened.

Following that example, the potential criticism of the Board ‘s approval of Mr. Cuneo’s lucrative contract could be muted if they commit to evaluate every site and department managerial position in the District using Board policy, enrollment formulas, and duplicity of job descriptions as criteria for possible reduction in force.

I have a plan ( which I will share with anyone) based on that criteria
that would cut 11.4 certificated managers and 1 classified manager at a cost savings of about $1.5 million over two years. But the Board must act immediately, because they must give notice to certificated managers by March 15 if their positions may no longer be funded.

A closer look at the rest of Thursday’s agenda is even more depressing.

Under Consent Agenda item No. A. 02, the Board intends to — without
Discussion — increase their 3-year contract with the legal firm
Atkinson, Anderson, et al, from $450,000 to $600,000. The original
Contract was approved as a major action item out in the open on October 5, 2006, and assured us it would “not exceed $150,000 per year for Human Resources and not to exceed $20,000 per year for Special Education.”

This request is compounded by the fact that legal services for Special
Education is $512,500 over budget as seen on Recommendation No. A. 10.
My review of some of their product over time, leads me to believe this
Firm has given the District sketchy legal advice for years, and it’s
Time long over due to find a new firm when this contract ends in October.

Back to the agenda and Major Item A. 34, we see listed 5 minutes for
2009-09 Budget Transfers. Why do I think it’s going to take longer then
that to explain the $3.25 million reduction in the Projected Fund balances?

And then moving on to D.01, the Board’s going to spend just 30 minutes discussing possible revisions to the detailed Board policy on Inter-district permits with all its budgetary implications. In light of  the fact that just two weeks ago, I cautioned Fiscal that they had a  possible “glitch” in their Monthly Enrollment Summaries by Permit  Status, the Board and the community need to be reassured that the District enrollment data is accurate before any decisions are made.

But, we’re not done! The last discussion of the night will be about the “ongoing budget development process” after staff updates the board with current information. Not providing the public with any budget information 72 -hours before the discussion violates the spirit – if  not the law — of the Opening Meeting Act.

The Board needs to stop just talking about transparency and commit tot he following belief statement: “In order to have trust in their government, the Board of Education and their constituents have the Constitutional right under the Brown Act of receive 72-hours in advance all the accurate background information and data necessary for the decision making process to occur during an open meeting to the public.”

The Board should embrace citizen input and discourage apathy by
mandating that the practice of “shooting the messenger” must end. We may not all agree with every decision, put we all should walk away believing the process was fair.
School Board: BIG Spenders

By Jim Jaffe

What’s terribly wrong with this picture? The state and the nation are in the worst financial crisis EVER, and the first major item on Thursday’s Board of Education agenda is to take 5 minutes to appoint Tim Cuneo as
permanent superintendent with a salary package 34 percent greater than the previous superintendent’s!

Most people, including the press, thought this was a done deal two weeks ago out in Malibu; but in the words of Board President Mechur to me: “We put the appointment off until we have finalized the contract and have it ready for a Board agenda packet and public review.”

So why wasn’t the proposed contract posted online? Is there somethingabout the $270,400 annual package ($220,000 salary; $38,400 for housing;and $12,000 for auto and cell phone) that the Board might find difficult justifying during hard times? What are the implications of the timing of
this action when the District is currently in sensitive bargaining
negotiations with both employee unions?

It wasn’t that long ago there was a big uproar over a 5 percent raise
for teachers that sparked the need for an outside audit after the “houseof cards” built by John Deasy and CFO Winston Braham began to collapse.

The result from that FCMAT review was to confirm former Superintendent Dianne Talarico’s strong belief that if the District followed its teacher/pupil formulas due to loss of enrollment, the raise would be paid for by cutting 40 teaching positions over 3 years — saving about $3,000,000 ! And that’s exactly what happened.

Following that example, the potential criticism of the Board ‘s approval of Mr. Cuneo’s lucrative contract could be muted if they commit to evaluate every site and department managerial position in the District using Board policy, enrollment formulas, and duplicity of job descriptions as criteria for possible reduction in force.

I have a plan ( which I will share with anyone) based on that criteria
that would cut 11.4 certificated managers and 1 classified manager at a cost savings of about $1.5 million over two years. But the Board must act immediately, because they must give notice to certificated managers by March 15 if their positions may no longer be funded.

A closer look at the rest of Thursday’s agenda is even more depressing.

Under Consent Agenda item No. A. 02, the Board intends to — without
Discussion — increase their 3-year contract with the legal firm
Atkinson, Anderson, et al, from $450,000 to $600,000. The original
Contract was approved as a major action item out in the open on October 5, 2006, and assured us it would “not exceed $150,000 per year for Human Resources and not to exceed $20,000 per year for Special Education.”

This request is compounded by the fact that legal services for Special
Education is $512,500 over budget as seen on Recommendation No. A. 10.
My review of some of their product over time, leads me to believe this
Firm has given the District sketchy legal advice for years, and it’s
Time long over due to find a new firm when this contract ends in October.

Back to the agenda and Major Item A. 34, we see listed 5 minutes for
2009-09 Budget Transfers. Why do I think it’s going to take longer then
that to explain the $3.25 million reduction in the Projected Fund balances?

And then moving on to D.01, the Board’s going to spend just 30 minutes discussing possible revisions to the detailed Board policy on Inter-district permits with all its budgetary implications. In light of  the fact that just two weeks ago, I cautioned Fiscal that they had a  possible “glitch” in their Monthly Enrollment Summaries by Permit  Status, the Board and the community need to be reassured that the District enrollment data is accurate before any decisions are made.

But, we’re not done! The last discussion of the night will be about the “ongoing budget development process” after staff updates the board with current information. Not providing the public with any budget information 72 -hours before the discussion violates the spirit – if  not the law — of the Opening Meeting Act.

The Board needs to stop just talking about transparency and commit tot he following belief statement: “In order to have trust in their government, the Board of Education and their constituents have the Constitutional right under the Brown Act of receive 72-hours in advance all the accurate background information and data necessary for the decision making process to occur during an open meeting to the public.”

The Board should embrace citizen input and discourage apathy by
mandating that the practice of “shooting the messenger” must end. We may not all agree with every decision, put we all should walk away believing the process was fair.

Whither Blue Skies

By Ava Tramer

Beaches
Cool with showers
Highs: 56-69; Lows: 46-49

Inland
Mostly cloudy with showers
Highs: 56-73; Lows: 39-42

Deserts
Partly cloudy
Highs: 61-75; Lows; 43-47

And Santa Monica…
When you wake up on Monday, don’t be confused: no, you did not get transported to a different region, state, or climate during the night.  Actually, believe it or not, you’ll still in Santa Monica.  Yes, it will be pouring rain, and yes, the temperatures won’t rise out of the 50s, but even in this cold and wet costume, Santa Monica is still Santa Monica.  So embrace the change.  Look at it as something special and rare!  And splash in a puddle or two.  Because before you know it, the sun will come out and the sky will fill with warmth and puffy white clouds.