Lindsay Considers Self-Sustaining Options; Answers Grand Jury Report

The Lindsay City Council and city staff are continuing to seek opportunities and ways for its agencies to re-coop monies spent providing services for its constituents. The city has been running in the red and will continue to do so into the unforeseeable future, if it cannot turn some things around.

One small measure the council is considering is to charge for arbor rentals in its Centennial Park. It is not unusual. Other local cities including Porterville and Exeter charge park and facility rentals for various locations.

“We looking for a way to try and reduce the overhead and maintenance only,” said Mike Camarena, city services director.

Until now arbor use has been on a first-come-first-serve basis. And, generally, “people do a pretty good job of cleaning up,” Camarena said. But, there is still some amount of clean-up involved.

To date, the council has had one study session on the issue with another planned for May 24.

The city is looking to charge a rental fee based on the size of each of its 11 arbors, which range from 8×10 feet to 20×40 feet. Renting would prevent parties’ having to get there early to designate their spot, and would help pay for staff clean-up of the park, although citizens are still asked to clean-up after themselves, Camarena said.

The city is also considering a fee for use of a bounce house in the park, due to wear-and-tear on the landscaping, as well as the possibility of having damage to sprinkler heads, etc.

There would be a transition period, Camarena said, and there would be some type of notification of a reserved arbor, so that a walk-in party would not use that area on a specific day and time.

“It is a very small step,” he said, “in the overall picture of the city heading toward city revenues and operating in the black.

“We’re looking at just about anything,” he said, “including code enforcement infractions.”

“One real world example is adults riding bicycles on sidewalks,” he said. “We are actively pursuing them.”

And while this is basically for safety reasons, and not to fine them, it is a way to capture revenues as well.

Individuals may first receive a warning, he said, but when caught a second time, they may be cited.

The city has looked at larger possibilities including discussing a potential ½-cent sales tax, but that idea was axed last year. Some city employees underwent furloughs last year, but that ended in December.

Grand Jury Report

Lindsay has been undergoing severe scrutiny for some time and the council has had anger-related, management issues for which it sought therapy last year.

In March of this year, the county Grand Jury filed a report on the city, titled “Nightmare in Lindsay.” The report stated:

“The Tulare County Grand Jury today released a report in response to citizens’ complaints alleging Open Meeting (Brown Act) violations as well as quid-pro-quo dealings related to the City of Lindsay and its conduct of public business. Although the Grand Jury found that the Brown Act violations were extraordinarily difficult to substantiate, it did find evidence of civil improprieties occurring within Lindsay city government which justified further investigation.

“The Grand Jury Report contained seven (7) ‘facts’ as well as five (5) ‘findings’ and two (2) ‘recommendations.’ Among the facts were: (#1) After the resignation of Lindsay’s city manager in 2010, the then current Police Chief was appointed as the city manager, thus combining the two positions; (#4) ‘A court document and witness statements alleged there was flagrant misallocation (of public resources) by a city official in directing (city) employees to perform personal services outside the city’s jurisdiction on city time;’ (#6) ‘The City reached high-cost employment severance settlements (in excess of $400,000) with a number of employees over the issue of termination; and, (#7) “The City imposed employee furloughs, claiming financial constraints.

“The Grand Jury’s ‘findings’ corresponding to the aforementioned ‘facts’ included: (1) The Grand Jury determined the combining of the office of city manager and police chief positions critically weakened the checks-and-balances with regards to personnel issues. This eliminated the division of authority to more than one person and position; (2) A number of costly employee settlements resulted from the aforementioned combination of these two positions; (4) Some City Council members were involved in discussions over union issues at private residences and outside the parameters of established procedures; and, (5) The cost of the employee settlements contributed to the city’s poor financial condition and to the necessity to impose employee furloughs.”

The Grand Jury also said it required a response from Lindsay City Council.

At its May 10 Council meeting, Interim City Manager Bill Zeigler, revealed Council’s response:

With regard to F1 – The combining of the office of city manager and police chief positions critically weakened the checks-and-balances with regards to personnel issues. This eliminated the division of authority to more than one person and position.

Response: The majority of Council agrees with Finding 1; that the combining of the office of city manager and police chief positions critically weakened the checks-and-balances with regards to personnel issues. A minority of the Council disagrees wholly with Finding 1 for the following reasons:

Evidence is lacking to support this finding. The combining of these specific positions is commonly done and has occurred recently within other nearby municipalities, including the Cities of Farmersville, Exeter and Lemoore without negative impact.

The City of Lindsay has also done this in the distant past without negative impact; therefore, the City Council had no empirical evidence to indicate that combining these two positions should weaken the checks-and-balances relating to personnel issues. Further, combining these two high-salaried positions was done to lessen the financial impact on the City while preserving necessary leadership during a period of financial hardship.

The combining of these two positions was not a decision made lightly.

With regard to F2 – A number of costly employee settlements resulted from the aforementioned combination of these two positions.

Response: The majority of Council disagrees wholly with Finding 2 for the following reasons:

Evidence is lacking to support this finding. Only two people are known to have left the City unexpectedly during this period. The total cost of employee settlements was $276,449 (rounded to the nearest dollar) and not “in excess of $400,000” as indicated in Grand Jury Final Report, FACTS: #6.

The former city manager received severance pay of $151,326 plus $35,123 in unpaid vacation, wages, FICA/Medicare and ten months’ medical, per his separation agreement. This type of arrangement is not unusual when a city manager is asked to leave or is terminated without proof of wrongdoing. Lindsay Municipal Code, Section 02.08.260 allows for this process. The combining of the aforementioned positions had no bearing on whether or not severance pay would have been provided to the former city manager upon his departure.

An at-will police lieutenant was terminated and filed a wrongful termination lawsuit. A financial settlement of $90,000 was reached with the lieutenant to limit the fiscal impact on the City. A department head may terminate an at-will employee at his/her discretion, therefore, the decision to terminate and the resulting lawsuit would likely not have been impacted by the separation of these positions.

A minority of the Council agrees with Finding 2, that a number of costly employee settlements resulted from the aforementioned combination of these two positions.

With regard to F3 – The lack of meaningful evidence made allegations of Brown Act violations difficult to substantiate.

Response: The City Council unanimously feels that evidence is lacking to either support or refute this finding.

With regard to F4 – Some City Council members were involved in discussions over union issues at private residences and outside the parameters of established procedures.

Response: The majority of Council disagrees wholly with Finding 4 for the following reasons:

Mayor Padilla indicated that she was not involved with discussions related to union issues and knows of no evidence to support finding 4.

Mayor Pro-tem Sanchez indicated that she was not involved in discussions related to union issues and supports the Council majority in wholly disagreeing with the finding.

Councilmember Mecum indicated that he only listened to a complaint and did not consider his actions to be outside established City Charter procedures.

A minority of the Council agrees with Finding 4, that some City Council members were involved in discussions over union issues at private residences and outside the parameters of established procedures.

With regard to F5 – The cost of the employee settlements contributed to the City’s poor financial condition and the necessity to impose employee furloughs.

Response: The City Council unanimously agrees with Finding 5, that the cost of the employee settlements contributed to the City’s poor financial condition and the necessity to impose employee furloughs.

Recommendations:

With regard to R1 – Lindsay City Council members should thoroughly familiarize themselves with open meeting laws (Brown Act) and generally acceptable procedures for conducting municipal business.

Response: Although the Grand Jury stated in Finding #3 that they had insufficient evidence to support a Brown Act violation, the recommendation will be implemented with refresher training to be conducted in the future. Training on Brown Act law and generally acceptable procedures for conducting municipal business has been conducted with refreshers planned during public forums to benefit both the Council and the public. These refreshers will occur quarterly, over the course of a year during a designated portion of upcoming Council meetings. The tentative schedule for these refreshers is as follows:

  • Date: August 9, 2016
  • Date: November 8, 2016
  • Date: February 28, 2017
  • Date: May 9, 2017

With regard to R2. The Lindsay City Council should be more deliberative when considering the combining of key managerial positions.

Response: The recommendation has been implemented and will continue to be implemented.

The City Council considers its process in combining key managerial positions to have been appropriately deliberative and will ensure it continues to be deliberative whenever a scenario arises in which the City Council is in the position of combining key administrative positions.

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