Budget Checkup … City Hits List of 20 Most Financially Distressed U.S. Cities

By Craig Powell

After devoting my last two columns to Sacramento’s homeless crisis, I figure we’re due for a review of the city’s financial situation since Darrell Steinberg became mayor.

Among the more than 3,300 issue files that Eye on Sacramento (the civic watchdog group that I head) maintains on municipal issues is one that is often whimsical: our city rankings file. We track every time a study or publication ranks Sacramento against other cities on everything from its appeal to millennials to the quality of our coffeehouses. (There’s considerable crossover there.) But the latest ranking, published by JPMorgan Chase, is anything but whimsical. It’s disturbing.

Since JPMorgan Chase manages about $90 billion in municipal bonds, it’s pretty concerned about whether cities will be able to pay back their bond debt. So it created what one financial analyst calls a comprehensive guide of “which municipalities haven’t the slightest hope of surviving their multi-decade debt binge and lavish public pension awards”—i.e., Chicago, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Cleveland.

view/download … Budget Checkup … City Hits List of 20 Most Financially Distressed U.S. Cities

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The San Antonio Way … Haven for Hope Focuses on Transforming Lives of the Homeless

By Craig Powell

I first learned about Haven for Hope, a unique homeless facility in San Antonio, Texas, from a close friend, Jill McDonnell. Jill is a professional photographer in Sacramento who doubles as the official photographer of the Land Park Volunteer Corps. Jill rides “shotgun” with me on our monthly park work days in William Land Park. We distribute copious amounts of cold water to hardworking park volunteers and thank them for their indispensable help.

Jill’s overriding passion, however, is capturing extraordinary images of Sacramento’s homeless people. Her photography is reminiscent of the remarkable work of Dorothea Lange, the photographer famous for chronicling the desperation on the faces of struggling migrants during the Great Depression. Jill’s photos of homeless people have been displayed in the photo gallery in the lobby at Sacramento City Hall and other local galleries. We occasionally display her work at the Corps’ Base Camp, a reminder to park volunteers of the struggles the homeless in our midst face. Her pictures of our park volunteers are often featured in this publication.

Jill is no softheaded bleeding heart. She has a steely-eyed realist’s view of the complexity of human nature, both its positive and negative elements. She’s also closely attuned to the players, policies and politics involved with homeless issues in Sacramento. Because she has an abiding human compassion and innate common sense (an all-too-rare combination, I’ve found), I sought out her perspective when I began studying the city’s stumbling responses to the homelessness problem. She had one unwavering piece of advice: Go to San Antonio.

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Sacramento Streetcar Project Hits Major Speed Bump … Properties Owners, Resident Sue To Invalidate Streetcar Tax Election

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release

Date/Time: August 24, 2017, 7:00 a.m.
Contact: Steven Bourasa, Chair
Transportation Committee,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 889-6657
E-mail: stevenbourasa@hotmail.com
Website: www.eyeonsacramento.org

Erick J. Benink, Esq.
Krause, Kalfayan, Benink & Slavens, LLP
Attorneys for Petitioners
Phone: (619) 232-0331
E-mail: eric@kkbs-law.com

 

Sacramento Streetcar Project Hits Major Speed Bump

Properties Owners, Resident Sue To Invalidate Streetcar Tax Election

 

Last week, two Central City property owners and a registered Sacramento voter filed a lawsuit against the City of Sacramento that seeks to invalidate the results of a recently held city-sponsored Mello-Roos tax election. The suit seeks to halt the levy of a special tax on Central City property owners that is designed to raise $2 million annually to cover a portion of the operating costs of a proposed Sacramento/West Sacramento streetcar project. The petitioners claim that the special tax was not approved by a two-thirds majority of the registered voters of Sacramento, as required by the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982 and the California Constitution, and should be invalidated by the court.1

City Ignores Vote of City Residents

Just two years ago, registered voters in Downtown and Midtown rejected a similar Mello-Roos streetcar tax (Measure B) by a wide margin. Instead of respecting the clear and democratically expressed will of the voters, Sacramento city officials have spent the past two years concocting a second illegitimate and illegal streetcar tax election plan (Measure S) intended to disenfranchise city voters and ignore the will of the people. In the second streetcar tax election, which concluded in June, city officials denied the vote to all registered voters and allowed only carefully selected property owners to vote, in violation of the law.

The city further manipulated the Measure S election by weighting the vote based on parcel size and including the massive Downtown Railyards in the proposed tax district. The Downtown Railyards alone represented over one-third of the collective voting power in the election. By cheery picking voters and egregiously gerrymandering the district, city officials assured themselves that they would secure the two-thirds majority vote required to pass the tax.

City of Sacramento Ignored Legal Warning in April

On April 20, 2017, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sent a letter to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the Sacramento City Council warning that a “special tax approved in an election where only owners and lessees of land were allowed to vote was invalid” and unconstitutional under California law. 2 City officials ignored Howard Jarvis’ warning and mailed out streetcar tax election ballots to only landowners on May 30, 2017.3

City officials have estimated that the streetcar project will cost $5.1 million each year to operate. However, Eye on Sacramento’s nationally recognized transit expert, Professor Emeritus Gregory Thompson of Florida State University, estimates that the streetcar’s actual annual operating costs will most likely be between $6 million and $8 million. The Measure S special streetcar tax was expected to raise $2 million annually, but is now under a very major legal cloud.

Who will pay the enormous looming operating deficits of the streetcar project, which may be as much as $5 million annually? The answer is: no one knows. Are the participating cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento prepared to tap their already hard-pressed general funds to cover the uncertain operating deficits? Without an identified, adequate and committed funding source, the streetcar project is likely to be stalled indefinitely. Or, worse, the project may get built, but will have only enough funding to operate sporadically, killing any chance of it developing a level of ridership that could justify the $200 million taxpayer cost of building the project.

As Professor Thompson puts it, “The Sacramento streetcar project is little more than an amusement ride for tourists and will do virtually nothing to improve mobility or reduce automobile use.”

http://eyeonsacramento.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Verified-Petition-w-Exhibits.pdf
http://eyeonsacramento.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/HJTA-Letter.pdf
3 https://www.cityofsacramento.org/Clerk/Elections/3-Measure-Information

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Billion-Dollar Budget … City spending to increase 25 percent over five years

By Craig Powell

First, there’s the headline number: The city is poised, for the first time in its history, to spend more than $1 billion in the fiscal year that begins on June 30. Total general-fund spending (which pays for police, fire, etc.) is set to hit $450 million next year, while “enterprise” spending (primarily, the utilities department) consumes $584.2 million.

The city expects to employ 4,552 people next year, a slight increase over the current year, but an increase of 720 positions from five years ago. The city expects to employ 130 fewer people than it did in 2008.

City officials are forecasting that the budget will sink into major deficit beginning in just two years, when a general-fund operating deficit of $11 million is expected to grow to $26 million by 2022. You would expect that a city manager, facing the prospect of such red ink, would propose a city budget for next year that calls for major cuts in spending to head off the coming fiscal ditch. But you would be wrong. Fiscal discipline is a very foreign, even suspect concept at City Hall these days. In fact, city manager Howard Chan’s recently released budget forecast anticipates sharp increases in general-fund spending on city operations over each of the next several years, rising from $412.9 million this year to $515.9 million in 2023, a 25 percent increase in operations spending over five years—a spending pace that’s more than twice the inflation anticipated during that period.

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The Regionalist … Under Steinberg, Will Consolidations Be In Our Future?

By Craig Powell

In Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento has an aggressive and politically progressive mayor who is a self-acknowledged change agent. His background as president pro tem of the Senate and former city council member certainly gives him the political juice and local government knowledge to potentially be a high-performance mayor.

Exhibiting the energy and confidence of a man who has been preparing for his new role his entire life, Steinberg has moved quickly to seize the agenda of the city of Sacramento, helped along by the fact that almost the entire city council endorsed his election. Even before he was sworn in as mayor, he persuaded the council to defer selection of a permanent city manager until he could weigh in. A final decision on the proposed expansion of Sacramento Convention Center was similarly deferred at his behest. And he will almost certainly play a major role in the selection of a new police chief, even though the selection is, theoretically, interim city manager Howard Chan’s to make.

Steinberg has made no secret of his intent to serve as a regional leader. He sees many of the most difficult challenges we face as regional in scope: widespread homelessness, growing traffic congestion, economic development, a looming pension crisis, youth underemployment, land-use and environmental policies (i.e., suburban sprawl), poverty, poor educational outcomes, etc.

And Steinberg is a major adherent of New Regionalism, which consistently calls for a regional approach to solving tough municipal problems. After all, Steinberg is the author of the groundbreaking (some would say local-economy-sapping) Senate Bill 375, which mandates that regional planners take affirmative steps to reduce the climate-changing impacts of local decisions on housing, transportation and land use. He’s tried to facilitate sales-tax-sharing agreements between cities and counties to reduce local government competition for major retail developments (like auto malls), which gush the sales-tax revenues that are so coveted by local governments.

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Police Shootings … Reactive Window Dressing or Effective Reforms?

By Craig Powell

In July, Sacramento police killed a mentally ill, knife-wielding man on the streets of North Sacramento in a hail of gunfire, striking him 14 times, in an episode recorded by police dash cams and other video. Calls to police dispatchers had reported that a mentally ill man (he had soiled himself and was seen typing on an imaginary keyboard) armed with both a gun and a knife was observed loose on the streets, which, of course, triggered the highest degree of police vigilance. The shooting was preceded by an unsuccessful effort by police officers to run the man down with their squad car.

The Sacramento police department’s response to the shooting was ham-handed, at best. It refused media requests to obtain multiple dash cam and other video of the episode, despite growing public pressure to release it. But once The Bee released a video of the incident weeks later that had been recorded by a private party, the SPD ended its stonewalling and released all of its videos of the episode within a matter of hours. What ensued was a growing chorus of calls, particularly, but not exclusively, from groups and individuals in the black community, for the city to adopt major reforms in how it handles police misconduct complaints.

City’s Rapid Response to the Problem

On Sept. 20, Mayor Kevin Johnson appointed a council committee to research ways the city could upgrade police accountability and transparency. Three days later, the committee, headed by Councilmember Larry Carr, visited Berkeley to discuss its police review commission. (Berkeley, home of my alma mater, wouldn’t have been my first choice as a place to look for sound local government policy.)

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Eye on Sacramento Issues Report Challenging Sacramento Convention Center Expansion

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release

Date/Time: October 17, 2016, 10:30 a.m.
Contact: Dennis Neufeld, Director of Research
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 539-1054
E-mail: dennis@eyeonsacramento.org
Website: www.eyeonsacramento.org

 

Eye on Sacramento Issues Report Refuting Economic Premise

For Expanding the Sacramento Convention Center

 

At a press conference held this morning at the Sacramento Convention Center, Eye on Sacramento officials released a comprehensive report revealing the long track record of growing financial losses at the Convention Center, as well as challenging the proposition that a nearly $200 million taxpayer-funded 70,000 sq. ft. expansion of the Center will provide any net economic benefits to Sacramento.  Among the report’s findings:

The Convention Center will lose $19 million this year.  Center losses have been growing at a pace of $1 million annually for several years.  The Center has lost an astonishing $268 million in taxpayer funds over the past 17 years.

From its construction in 1974 to its major expansion in 1997, the Center has failed to generate revenues anywhere close to official projections, leading the city council to double the city hotel tax to cover its mounting losses in the early years and to extend $10.4 million in emergency bailout loans to the Center following its 1997 expansion, loans which remain largely unpaid today.

Because of the heavy drain of Center losses, Sacramento devotes 87% of its annual hotel taxes to covering Center red ink.  The nine cities that Sacramento competes with for convention business uses an average of only 45% of their hotel tax revenues to fund its convention centers, with 55% of such taxes going into their general funds.

If Sacramento reduces its allocation of hotel taxes to the Center to match the 45% average allocation of its nine competing cities – which it can do over time by simply avoiding the proposed Center expansion – EOS projects that the city would see an additional $8 million of hotel taxes flow into the city’s general fund each year to fund police, parks, road maintenance and other vital services.

The municipal habit of expanding convention centers in pursuit of greater center attendance has been a grotesque failure in city after city in the U.S., leading to a veritable “arm’s race” of center expansions and resulting in a massive glut of space, while actual demand for  convention space has been declining.

The theory of “Build It and They Will Come” may work in Hollywood movies, but the evidence clearly shows that it does not work with convention center expansions.  The following cities have each expanded their convention centers in recent years only to experience an actual decline in attendance following expansion: Chicago, Las Vegas, Seattle, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, Orlando, Washington, D.C., and Boston, as well as many smaller cities.

The common culprit in the growing number of failed convention center expansions throughout the country (including Sacramento’s 1997 expansion) has been the grossly inaccurate projections of future center revenues generated by professional convention center consultants hired by cities.

Following Boston’s failed convention center expansion in 2004, the then executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, James Rooney, was quoted as saying:

When I talk to people from other cities about making a public investment in a convention center, I’m equally blunt about the feasibility studies these consultants use to justify [such] investments…some of these guys ought to be taken out and shot.”

EOS has also determined that, in the lead up to the Sacramento city council’s key May 3rd policy decision to proceed with an expansion of the convention center, city staff presented the council with a staff report that relied heavily on the city’s primary convention center consultant, the firm of Conventions, Sports & Leisure International (CS&L).  City staff cherry-picked data and findings from the CS&L study, but staff failed miserably to provide council members with crucial findings in the CS&L study that clearly state that an expansion of the Convention Center is not needed nor justified given market conditions.

In short, the city council was misled by its staff into believing that its principal convention center consultant was solidly in favor of the proposed expansion when, in fact, it was opposed to it.

The city staff’s proposal to expand the Sacramento Convention Center is on the city council’s meeting agenda for tomorrow evening.

The EOS Report is viewable and downloadable via this link.

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EOS Report on Spending of Measure A Taxes & Summary of Findings

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: September 6, 2016, 10:00 a.m.
Contact: Craig Powell, President,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

EOS Issues Report that Critiques Spending of Measure A Taxes and

Reviews Implications for the Measure B Tax Proposal

At a press conference held today at Sacramento Regional Transit’s light rail station on Richards Blvd., Eye on Sacramento released a comprehensive report on how local governments have been spending the $669.5 million of Measure A county-wide transportation sales taxes collected from taxpayers since 2009. The report also reviews the implications that its findings may have for Measure B, a November ballot proposal that would double the current Measure A tax, increasing it from a one-half percent tax to a full 1 percent.

Links to both the EOS report (EOS Report on Spending of Measure A Taxes: Implications for the Measure B Tax Proposal) and a summary of its findings appear below.

Eye on Sacramento believes that Sacramento voters deserve to know how well their Measure A taxes have been spent before deciding whether a doubling of the current tax is warranted. Have local authorities been prudent and responsible? Or have they been wasteful and been pursuing the wrong priorities.

Measure A provides significant funds to Sacramento Regional Transit, as well as money to local governments for road maintenance and construction, traffic control and safety, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Measure B requires a 2/3rds majority vote for approval.

Key findings from EOS’s report include:

(1) Local governments, acting through the Sacramento Transportation Authority, are engaged in an alarmingly rapid escalation of credit-fueled spending on capital projects, with outstanding Measure A bond debt increasing from $180 million in 2009 to an expected $450 million next year 2017 – a 243% increase. The $350 million in estimated interest costs on STA’s borrowings are diverting funds that would otherwise fund road maintenance, transit operations and new road and transit construction.

(2) STA is irresponsibly issuing expensive interest-only bonds, secured by future Measure A taxes, which are unnecessary driving up interest costs and will waste an estimated $52 million over the next 23 years.  Such waste could rise to over $100 million in future years, depending on the pace of future STA borrowing.

(3) Regional Transit has engaged in a pattern of waste, misuse of funds and misplaced priorities in spending Measure A funds, including two premature expansions of light rail routes, often at the behest of special interests, which have dramatically driven up RT’s operating and financing costs while providing only very modest ridership gains.

(4) Federal, state and local funding sources for RT are not “drying up,” as some RT officials claim.

(5) RT’s waste of Measure A funds is extensive, ranging from a failure to control labor costs that are still rising faster than inflation, failure to deal responsibly with its unfunded pension liabilities, an overtime policy that pays overtime to drivers while on vacation (while also paying overtime to the drivers who fill in for drivers on vacation) and cost-spiking work rules that prohibit the use of part-time drivers.

(6) Spending funds on extending light rail to the airport would be wasteful unless and until population densities in the area justify such an extension.  Measure B, even with federal matching grants, would, at best, fund light rail only half-way to the airport.

(7) Providing RT with additional taxpayer subsidies without insisting that it first adopt extensive operational and governance reforms would be a waste of money.

(8) STA’s scheme for providing “taxpayer oversight” over Measure B spending is a sham.  Similar oversight provisions under Measure A have been largely ignored.

The principal author of the EOS report, Professor Gregory L. Thompson, chairs EOS’s Transportation Committee and is recently retired from the faculty of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning Faculty at Florida State University. Report co-author, Debra Desrosiers, is EOS’s Vice-President – Government Oversight.

To View/Download EOS’s Report on Spending of Measure A Taxes: Implications for the Measure B Tax Proposal, click here
To View/Download the Summary of Findings, click here

###

 

Review of Proposed City Sunshine Ordinance; Agenda Item 3, 12 Jul 2016

July 12, 2016

Via E-Mail

Members of the Law & Legislation Committee,
Sacramento City Council
New City Hall
915 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Review of Proposed City Sunshine Ordinance; Agenda Item 3 Today

Dear Messrs. Schenirer, Harris, Guerra and Jennings:

After a delay of over eight months, staff has brought back to you the draft sunshine ordinance that you last considered on November 9, 2016. It has not improved with age. In fact, it is identical to the draft submitted to you last year. At that time, we offered a detailed critique of the proposal before the Law & Leg meeting was abruptly adjourned. We do so again.

By way of background, the draft ordinance is derived from a “Framework of Recommendation on Open Government” that was approved by the City Council in September of last year.

Overall Comment
The substantive provisions of the proposed sunshine ordinance comprise just a few pages of text that are in numerous respects vague, overwhelmingly repetitious of existing law and city practice, ineffectual, minimalist, include unenforceable promises of future reviews and improvements, backed up by an enforcement clause that assures zero real consequences for violations. The staff proposal is not a serious effort to enact real transparency reform in Sacramento. The proposed ordinance is largely a restatement of existing practices designed to offer the public the window dressing of reform without the substance of it. Such a minimalist approach fails to address the aspirations of the public for serious open government and transparency reform of city government.

Codification of Existing Law or Practice
Fully eight of the 26 provisions of the draft sunshine ordinance are, in whole or in part, duplicative of existing state law, city code or existing city practice. The codification of existing practice would have some minimal value if the ordinance served to impose actual consequences for their violation. But the proposed fails to lay out any consequence for their violation and even includes declarations that violations will not constitute either misdemeanors or an infractions.

No Consequences, No Reform
An ordinance is a law. Adopting laws which explicitly state that there will be no legal consequences if they are violated – as is the case with these ordinances – renders such laws a dead letter and would only serve to undermine respect for the law. The fact that the draft ordinance expressly disavows any penalty for its violation is clear evidence that the intent of the ordinance is to mislead the public into the false belief that meaningful transparency reform is being enacted. If proponents were serious about reform, the ordinances would provide that willful violations be punishable as misdemeanors or, at least, infractions.

Ad Hoc Committees
A serious commitment to opening up city government would include a mandate that all meetings of council ad hoc committees be conducted in full accordance with the Ralph M. Brown Act (“Brown Act”), which would require advance public postings of agendas, public access to meetings, the public’s opportunity to be heard and publication of meeting minutes, excepting only for matters that can properly be considered in executive session under provisions of the Brown Act (such as actual or threatened litigation and personnel matters).

Requiring ad hoc chairs to just give an oral report on the substance of their closed-door meetings at the next council meeting is ineffectual. There is no way to determine if such reports are accurate or honest. The requirement is so vague that an oral report that merely states that “we had a robust discussion of X” would suffice to comply with the mandate. The council needs to give up its proclivity to use secretive ad hoc proceedings and bring all of their committees, standing and ad hoc, fully into the light by subjecting them to the Brown Act.

Policy on Public Records Management Policy and Retention Schedule
City policy on the availability to the public of city records is a major policy matter that should be set by the city’s highest policy-making body, the City Council. Instead, the proposed sunshine ordinance (in section 4.04.080) delegates the power to establish the city’s “records management policy, which …include[s] the city’s records retention schedule” to the city clerk. That must change. The city clerk performs ministerial duties and is not authorized by the city charter to set city policy.

The proposed sunshine ordinance does nothing to assure that specific city records will be available to the public. It fails to set retention schedules for critical records, including city e-mails that have become the primary communication method for city government. Due to the falling costs of electronic storage, city e-mails can be kept almost indefinitely for minimal costs. The city no longer faces old concerns over bulging file cabinets and pricey office space needed to store an ever expanding volume of physical documents. City e-mails should be stored for a minimum of 10 years, not the two years provided under the city’s obsolete policy. With modern search tools and ultra-low-cost storage devices, the volume of retained city e-mails has little impact on the city’s ability to identify e-mails sought by the public or the city’s cost burden of complying with such requests.

Similarly, the proposed sunshine ordinance utterly fails to address the growing problem of city officials using private e-mail accounts and servers to shroud and prevent public disclosure of e-mails involving city business, undermining the spirit California Public Records Act. We are mindful that California law is currently unsettled on the status of such e-mails, but there is no legal or policy reason why the city council cannot or should not adopt a provision in the sunshine ordinance that requires that all city business e-mails be received and transmitted using only city-issued e-mail accounts and mandate that all e-mails passing through such city-issued accounts be deemed city records.

Extensive Failure to Include Provisions Called for in the Framework
The proposed sunshine ordinance fails to include eight of the 12 provisions called for in the “Framework of Recommendations of Open Government” that was approved by the City Council in September of last year. It is inexplicable and, frankly, inconceivable how city staff, after Council approval of the Framework, could fail to include two-thirds of its terms. (We have included a copy of the September Framework in Attachment #1, with notations of the eight provisions that aren’t included in the proposed sunshine ordinance.)

Our comments also include two attachments and a hot link:

Attachment #1 – Draft Sunshine Ordinance, with sections labeled by us as either “New” or “Existing.” A provision marked “Existing” would merely codify existing law or city practice, as opposed to establishing a new rule. We also identify those provisions we consider “Vague” or “Ineffectual.”

Attachment #2 – EOS’s Table of 68 Proposed Sunshine Ordinance Reforms. The Table lists the transparency reform proposals that EOS and the Open Government Subgroup of the Sacramento Integrity Project crafted in response to a broad community conversation initiated and co-sponsored by EOS that included 10 well-attended public forums held in every council district in the city. Those EOS-proposed reforms which do not appear in the draft ordinance are identified as “Not Adopted.” Fully 59 of our 69 proposed reforms have been omitted.

Attachment #3 – Milpitis’ Sunshine Ordinance – Milpitas, a modest-sized South Bay city, is one of ten Bay Area cities that have adopted thoughtful, comprehensive and effective sunshine ordinances that are serving to significantly open up local governments to their citizenry. We include it so you can see first-hand the stark differences between what real transparency reform looks like as adopted by numerous California cities and the weak tea reforms that staff is proposing.

Conclusion
The proposed sunshine ordinance reflects a clear lack of commitment to the values of open and transparent government. The ordinances may hoodwink the public into believing that real reforms have been adopted – for a while.

We urge you to reject the proposed drafts and implement real reform. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call me at (916) 718-3030 or EOS Policy Director Erik Smitt at (916) 215-2275. Erik also serves as chair of our Open Government Subgroup.

Very truly yours,

Craig

Craig Powell, President
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
Street Address: 1620 35th Street, Suite K
Sacramento, CA 95822
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 22204
Sacramento, CA 95822
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org
Website: www.eyeonsacramento.org

Scandal at the City … Utilities department needs an overhaul

By Craig Powell

Last month came the blockbuster news that in 2013, two employees of the city’s Department of Utilities were caught engaging in sexual activities in the backseat of a city vehicle in a city park on city time. Both were married, but not to each other. City managers gave the couple what was effectively a slap on the wrist: temporary cut in pay, loss of some vacation time and a “no fraternization” order.

But when a whistleblower complaint was filed almost two years later with the city auditor’s office, the full story started tumbling out. The two employees lied during the investigation of the original complaint, claiming that that had done no more than “kiss twice.” It turns out that they were actually spending up to three hours of their workdays in a city trailer having sex. City emails and interviews confirmed that they also bought, sold and used cocaine and alcohol while in the trailer. They admitted that it was “possible” that at least one of the employees drove city vehicles while under the influence of alcohol and cocaine. They also sometimes put in for overtime on days when they partied for hours in the trailer.

They were dumb enough to exchange sexually explicit emails and pornographic pictures and videos with one another using city email accounts. One of them even had a practice of sending pornographic emails to other DOU employees, including high-level DOU employees, none of whom apparently objected.

Out of respect for their families’ privacy, I’ve chosen not to disclose their names. But since both held senior positions with major responsibilities before they resigned, it’s entirely fair to ask: Did their extended “extracurricular activities,” which apparently went undetected by oblivious senior DOU management for at least two years, compromise public health and safety? One of the them was a project manager in charge of managing city contracts with the contractors that have been installing water meters and tearing up our streets to move backyard water service to the streets in front of people’s homes, the source of much consternation, waste and dangerous construction practices in recent years.

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