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Readers comments 5-14-21

Change of mind

Dear editor:

My previous letter (April 30) was critical of the city of Claremont for not answering questions on the financial package the city gave Tara Schultz on her departure as city manager. I said the response by the city was a “tsunami of silence.”

But then I received a letter from City Attorney Alisha Patterson. She states the employment agreement of Ms. Schultz allowed a negotiation of her departure if “both parties were ready to end the employment relationship.” Ms. Patterson wrote, “Through the separation agreement, Ms. Schultz received a separation payment and other benefits (e.g. medical coverage through the end of 2021). The city also received benefits such as a transition plan and a waiver of any legal claims against the city.”

This letter by the city attorney includes examples of agreements of other employees in similar situations in California.

I am satisfied with this response. Sometimes it takes a little clarification to know that actions by elected officials were appropriate and legal.

Terry Kennedy

Claremont

 

City response to Terry Kennedy

Dear Mr. Kennedy:

Shelley Desautels told me you stopped by City Hall this morning to express concerns that the city has not responded to James Belna’s allegations that the city violated the law by entering a separation agreement with its from city manager, Tara Schultz. Mr. Belna and I have exchanged several emails on this topic, and I have shared as much information with him as I can. One of my more detailed responses is enclosed if you are interested in reviewing it.

The short answer to your (and Mr. Belna’s) questions is that Ms. Schultz’s employment agreement with the city had terms that addressed scenarios where one party unilaterally wanted to end the employment relationship and the other party did not (i.e., resignation or termination). But if both parties were ready to end the employment relationship, the agreement did not preclude them from negotiating mutually acceptable terms of the city manager’s departure, and that is what the city and Ms. Schultz did here. Through the separation agreement, Ms. Schultz received a separation payment and other benefits (e.g., medical coverage through the end of 2021). The city also received benefits, such as a transition plan and a waiver of any legal claims against the city.

The separation agreement and benefits Ms. Schultz received were more than what she would have been entitled to if she resigned and less than what she had been entitled to if the city council had terminated her. It was not “illegal” or a “gift of public funds.” Mutually negotiated separations are not unusual. For example, the city manager of Los Altos resigned in November 2020 and received a $183,821 separation payment. Santa Monica’s city manager resigned in April of 2020 and received nine months’ pay (~$200,000) as a separation agreement. Eureka’s city manager stepped down in May of 2020 and received a $129,000 separation agreement. In Miller v. City of Sacramento, the Court upheld a generous severance provision in a public employee contract and confirmed “[t]he mere possibility of a large expenditure in the nature of severance pay for a short term of service does not demonstrate contractual illegality in a public service contract. It is, rather, a policy matter of a legislative nature.” (Miller v. City of Sacramento (1977) 66 Cal.App.3d 863, 872 [emphasis added].)

If it is possible to come to a mutual agreement on the terms of a top executive official’s departure that minimizes disruption (and exposure) for the agency, it serves the public interest to do so. If you have questions, I am happy to discuss.

Alisha Patterson

Claremont City Attorney

 

Bad citizenship

Dear editor:

Last week someone dumped a large load of palm fronds, yucca stalks, and garden litter alongside our street as it leaves Mt. Baldy Road. There it sat for a few days. The only change was that it was added to. I think this is an example of the “broken window” theory. So yesterday I went down with a pickup truck and a couple of big empty trash bins and shoveled and hand-loaded the trash into the wheelie-bins and brought them up to the house where they could be picked up.

Then there was the news in a local paper Sunday that the city manager in Upland was being paid two six-figure payments to go away. This put me in mind of the inexplicable situation last fall of Claremont’s then-City Manager Tara Schultz, who resigned and nonetheless was paid eight month’s pay on her way out, along with a chance for a bonus of another six months from the city’s insurance. I’m beginning to think that the best job in the world is to be a former city manager around these parts.

I am not sure which of my two examples is the worse citizen: the one who drives by and trashes your neighborhood, or the one who helicopters in and out and, with the help of a compliant city council, fleeces the community.

Ludd. A. Trozpek

Claremont

 

Brown Act

Dear editor:

Open Letter to Claremont’s City Council:

I would like to bring up the topic of the Brown Act and California regulations as they relate to open transparency in government. The city of Claremont has built a reputation for consistently doing better at promoting these values than many of our surrounding government agencies. Having attended many regional meetings, I can personally attest to this, and I commend the city of Claremont for continuing to set the bar high.

That said, I want to discuss the Brown Act in relation to the Claremont council’s last meeting of April 27th. During the appeal process for The Commons development proposal, I watched at least two paid consultants speak in favor of this multi-million dollar project without revealing that they have accepted money to promote this project. 

This seems wrong to me. 

California Code of Regulations, Title 2, Section 18310.1 - Public Participation at Meetings. (current through Register 2021, April 9, 2021), states in its section B, Rules of Organization and Order, item (8), that “A lobbyist appearing on behalf of one or more clients, rather than as an individual member of the public, shall identify himself/herself and any client who is paying the lobbyist to appear on behalf of the client, at the beginning of the speaker's public comment.”

I am not a lawyer so I do not know if what happened two Tuesdays ago was a clear violation or not—our city attorney could provide guidance on this. But I do know that it is not in the spirit of the Brown Act, and as is often touted by the experts, the Brown Act should serve as the floor for ethical practices, not the ceiling. 

It seems to me that if a developer is allotted 10 minutes to state the reasons for their appeal—their strategy to extend this influence with hired spokespeople speaking during public comments should be scrutinized. The public deserves to know when they are listening to a paid advertiser.

In the next few years, the city of Claremont will be scheduled to review, approve or disapprove various multiple, multi-million dollar development proposals all over this city. This is a positive—the region needs affordable housing. We have some 100 acres to consider in a city that is largely built out. However, with this comes increased responsibility to seek full disclosure, complete transparency, and ethical government practices. 

Pamela Casey Nagler

Claremont

 

Staying clean

Dear editor:

I am writing with regard to an incident report from the April 29 police blotter. An unhoused man stole a bottle of body wash and a stick of deodorant from the Super King Market. The police were called. He was arrested, booked and released with a citation to appear in court. 

I hope that I am not alone in feeling that there is more than one thing wrong with this arrest. A homeless man steals $8.74 worth of personal hygiene items, presumably because he wants to stay clean and maintain his health and personal dignity. Yes, he shoplifted. But why did a police officer respond instead of a social worker? He needed to be connected to social services, not to be arrested. The arrest and court process is far more expensive to the public than the value of the goods the man stole. Also in question is how it is that a fellow citizen is in such dire straits that he can’t afford soap. It points to a larger failure of communal ethics.

I would like to request that Chief Vander Veen report to the police commission on what happened in this case, why the social worker that is now part of our police team was not called in, and how these types misdemeanors could be handled more compassionately and productively in the future. 

Martina Ebert

Claremont

 

India’s COVID catastrophe

Dear editor:

Recently, we are seeing a scary outbreak in India, with the staggering number of over 400,000 cases per day, the world’s biggest one-day jump in new infections. Doctors and the news media in India point out that the skyrocketing cases in India are caused by a “double mutant” coronavirus variant—both more contagious and more resistant to vaccines. The rising cases also result from people relaxing public behavior and large social rallies after the first wave. This is a bloody lesson: We’ve always had less of a handle on COVID than we like to think until it explodes again.

In the U.S., even though vaccines appear to be starting to curb new COVID-19 infections, we still need to remain vigilant at all times. Coronavirus variants are still causing outbreaks in the U.S. and throughout the world. Aggressive variants from Brazil and India have both been detected in the U.S. India's COVID crisis could reach us too. It is still a hard war we need to fight. Wearing masks substantially reduces the risk of infection and transmission. Even though the CDC eased facemask guidelines for fully vaccinated people outdoors, I strongly recommend people still wear masks outdoors and remain vigilant.

Lucy Deng

Claremont McKenna College '23

 

Seizing the moment

Dear editor:

As a city and community, I think we are stuck in the now, not wanting to acknowledge that change is inevitable, and that our unique heritage requires ongoing attention if it is to be preserved, sustained, and paid forward.

We are not alone in the isolation created by the very necessary public health measures used to control the COVID-19 pandemic, and more significantly, to the helplessness of distrust which is the legacy of the “government is the problem” movement.

I have written about the “reset” that our community and the world will need to undergo in establishing the “new normal,” and the opportunity to play a role through our efforts to use what is left and newly available, to build a future of promise and possibilities for all our residents.

That however cannot happen unless this council takes definitive action on two outstanding matters of significance: 1) creating a housing element that will leap frog the inertia of past elements that were ineffective at creating affordable housing for low and very low income households; and 2) implementing a plan to perform a thorough, citywide assessment to identify possible systemic and institutional racism that prevents us from fully embracing diversity, achieving full inclusion, and creating a socioeconomically equitable community.

And finally, to overcome the powerlessness inflicted by the seemingly unending wave of mandates from the state, I would advise two approaches: 1) recognize that every mandate is associated with a deferred and long unattended to need, and a can your predecessors, including myself, kicked down the road; and 2) create locally controlled project funding sources such as a city-operated housing trust fund, and joining with our neighboring communities to create the Public Bank of Pomona Valley.

By seizing the moment for the opportunities it offers, we can proactively transform our collective frustration and the inertia of mistrust into innovative solutions that reflect Claremont’s unique heritage.

Joe Lyons

Claremont

 

AB 1177 recreating BankCal

Dear editor:

Despite the existence of a broad array of banks and credit unions, we have a serious problem in California—one in four households in the Golden State are either unbanked or underbanked. This means approximately eight million Californians either don’t have a bank account or they may have an account but are unable to maintain sufficient funds in the account to avoid a broad range of fees for virtually any service they need, and may not qualify for even a debit card that does not carry fees for its use. For the unbanked or underbanked, many cannot even cash their hard-earned paychecks without paying a substantial fee.

Our system of banks and credit unions, for many years, has failed—and failed badly—to deal with this major problem of addressing the needs of our fellow Californians. That’s why we need AB 1177, a bill being considered by the state legislature, to establish a public program called BankCal that partners with existing banks and credit unions to specifically address the needs of this underserved population.

Critics of AB 1177, also known as BankCal, argue that program duplicates what is already being offered by credit unions, but the staggering number of Californians who are paying up to 10% of their paychecks in banking fees and interest simply to access their own money, says otherwise.

In our modern world having access to adequate banking services is a social and public necessity, not a luxury or a mere convenience. A people’s government, with leaders who are responsive to the needs of their constituents—must guarantee that everyone, especially the very poor and underserved or those so often discriminated against, have access to basic and necessary services.

It’s time we stop blaming the unbanked and underbanked, and implying that the reason why they pay high costs for banking services is due to either their own ignorance or of their failure of initiative to avail themselves of those services. The main problem is neither a lack of information nor a lack of initiative, but rather a lack of money and the predatory practices of the financial industry. Too many Californians simply cannot afford to pay the service fees that the credit unions and the banks charge. After all, the banks expect to make a significant profit, and even the credit unions need to generate income from their fees to help support their other activities—whereas a public program can provide the needed services as a free public service.

I am reminded of our postal system. There are some who view the postal system not as a necessary social service to which every American should have affordable and convenient access, but rather as something that should be privatized, if not even make a profit. These are typically the same people who opposed “free” public K-12 education. They fail to recognize how our entire society benefits or could benefit from our people having these public services. We are seeing the same attitudes now with regard to our health care system as we try to fight the pandemic and witness the totally inappropriate and unfair burden being borne by the poor, women, and people of color as they get sick, die, and suffer disproportionately to their numbers in the population. Providing adequate banking services is a social responsibility of any decent, humane and economically efficient society—and AB 1177 is a partial recognition of that fact.

Andrew Winnick

California State University, Los Angeles Professor Emeritus of Economics and Statistics

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