It was a very tame Town Hall meeting.

There were about 30 folks in the audience, along with ten staff members and Councilmen Gallo and Morasco.  The meeting began with the same State of the City video as we saw at the last Town Hall meeting as well as the State of the City address in February of 2014.  The only thing that is different is that the video began with a title  that said: “Strong, Proud, On the Right Track.”  Since those were not on the original video, I have to wonder where that new introduction came from and who paid for it.  I wonder that because the Mayor said at the start of the Town Hall meeting that “This has nothing to do with the election.  I will not address any election questions.” That is great to say, but it should mean that no City funds are involved in making the video a statement about the Mayor.*

*City Staff has contacted me to say that the video shown last night was the same as last time.  The “Strong. Proud. On the Right Track” was a Powerpoint slide that proceeded it. I apologize for the error.

There was a woman at the meeting who I had not seen before and only noticed because she got a hug and kiss on the cheek from the Mayor — that led me to assume he knew this person.  When she was called on, she stood up and announced that the Latino American Political Association of San Diego (a conservative/Republican group) had endorsed the Mayor, she got to have her say — after which the Mayor thanked her but said this was not to be about the election.  Well, since he knew her, he could have cut that endorsement off before it came…………

Almost all of the questions were from supporters, softballs like a question — and I’m paraphrasing — Can you tell me more about the Neighborhood Transformation Program?  or What concerns you most in the future of the City?  This latter one lead the Mayor to say something that was not true.  Talking about the Pension LIability, he noted that under his leadership City employees now had to pay for their own pensions.  Fine so far, but then he said something to the effect that “If you have Social Security you pay your own…..”  Well that is only half true.  As the Social Security Administration site states:  Social Security is financed through a dedicated payroll tax. Employers and employees each pay 6.2 percent of wages up to the taxable maximum of $117,000 (in 2014), while the self-employed pay 12.4 percent.  Why does the Mayor feel the need to make a comparison that is untrue.  Why not just say I want to hold City employees to a more stringent retirement policy and leave it at that?

There was one good piece of news.  The Mayor announced that the City’s Standard & Poors bond rating has been raised from A+ to AA-.  That rang a bell so I looked back at my notes from last week’s Mayoral Debate.  At that time he said how proud he was of the City’s bond rating, noting that it was an A+ “and you can’t do better than that.” So did he not know you could do better than that or did he just want the rest of us to think an A+ was the best a City could do?  Once again, I wonder whether the Mayor actually knows what he is talking about — in this case that would be the financial markets — or does he just go with whatever sounds good at the moment?

It’s not about whether the budget is balanced, but how.

At last week’s Mayoral debate the Mayor touted the fact that under his leadership the City has had balanced budgets four years in a row.  Sounds like quite an accomplishment doesn’t it?  But so has every other Mayor —  Mayor Pfeiler, Mayor Hollins, Mayor Harmon and many mayors before that. That’s because every California city (except for Charter cities) must have a balanced budget — that is the law.  So what it comes down to is not whether to balance the budget but how.  In good years, that can be done using revenues alone, sometimes leaving a surplus that can be put into Reserves — what used to be called the “Rainy Day” fund.  In bad years — when an economic downturn causes revenue to dip below expenses — cities can tap into those reserves to maintain city services or can choose to make cuts.  Which approach to take is the ongoing debate which often pivots on what elected leaders believe is the role of government and what services they should, or should not, provide.

In 2006, then Councilman Abed voted YES on the city’s balanced budget that did not use reserves.  In 2007, he voted NO on the City’s balanced budget because he wanted more cuts to services/programs rather than spend reserves.  In 2008, he again voted NO on the City’s balanced budget for the same reason.  But then in 2009, he voted YES on the balanced budget even though it used reserves.  Then in 2010, he voted NO on the balanced budget because it used reserves.

In 2011, now Mayor Abed, with a majority like-minded Council, put forth a balanced budget and voted YES because it did not use reserves.  In 2012, he voted YES on the balanced budget because it did not use reserves.  In 2013, he voted YES on the balanced budget because it did not use reserves. And then this year he voted YES on the balanced budget because it did not use reserves.

Voting YES or NO on a balanced budget — and remember they are all balanced — is not intrinsically good or bad.  If the Mayor votes NO on a balanced budget because he thinks we should cut services/programs rather than use reserves, that is his right.  And should make that argument rather than casting aspersions on Deputy Mayor Diaz because she didn’t support his particular brand of balanced budget.  I’ll be taking a look at Deputy Mayor Diaz’s votes late in the week (tomorrow I will be reporting on the Town Hall meeting) where we will see that she too voted YES on some budgets and NO on others depending on how they were balanced.

========  TOWN HALL MEETING TONIGHT 4:30 TO 6:30 IN CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS.

And speaking of non-profit organizations.

Appros of Deputy Mayor Diaz’s comments during the Candidate Forum A social service company is a company; there is employment and economic development.  It’s part of building people up.  I thought I would send along this interesting report: causes countYou can see the video here.  You can also read the full report, which is an easy-to-read document that includes information like the fact that Nonprofits bring more than $40 billion into California from out-of-state. So maybe the Mayor and those who want to diss non-profits might want to reconsider. They are in fact employers who bring jobs and money into their communities.  And that’s on top of all the good things they do for the people they serve.

 

Mayor Abed and Deputy Mayor Diaz on poverty.

At last Wednesday’s Mayoral Candidate Forum, many questions were asked. There were a few that I feel really provide us with a chance to consider how the two major candidates approach important issues so I have transcribed their answers.  I will have a few observations at the end.  I encourage you all to reach your own conclusions.

Question: What is your view on our current mix of business and social services  And what is your vision for the future in Escondido regarding these matters?

Mayor Abed:

The problem of the past, Escondido, you remember used to be the hub of North County.  Why? Because we had a balance between businesses, social services, immigration and you name it.  We lost this balance because of political correctness.  We lost this balance big time, we had an overconcentration of social services in Escondido.  We had as much social services as North County cities combined.  We had a lot of low-income housing in Escondido at one time as much as all the North County cities combined.  And I think our goal is to create a balance because the businesses will struggle if you have a poverty incubator.  Escondido had a poverty rate in 2000 of about 12% that was the average poverty rate in North County cities, Escondido was at 12% pretty much…Fast forward ten years our poverty rate went up to 20%… Why did we jump from 12% to 20% when the average of north county cities has stayed the same?  We cannot afford to be a magnet for poverty, that’s not good for business we need a balance in everything we do in policy we need a balance.  We are compassionate, we need social services,  we need low-income housing, we need those things in our city, but other cities have to take care of themselves.  You know Mayor Desmond [San Marcos] and Mayor Nicholson in Poway we talked to them about opening homeless shelters and they say we don’t have homeless in our cities. Well guess what they’re in our city.  So we need to create this balance, be compassionate, provide these basic services.  Interfaith Community Services is doing a great job, the churches are doing a great job so we need to have a balance where every city can take their fair share and take care of the poor, the needy people, the social programs. [garbled] …we refused to open more homeless shelters unless the north county would…and they did.

Deputy Mayor Diaz:

I think we all wish that people didn’t have the struggles that they do sometimes.  But Escondido is a blue-collar, working class town and as such we don’t necessarily need to feel that our incomes need to match La Jolla or Carlsbad or San Diego.  You know we don’t measure our community by its wealth, we measure it by its people.  And I.  Full disclosure I work for a social service agency and I spend my days with homeless people and people struggling and people trying to get a job.  In fact, I’m the Director of Employment Services for my agency. That’s economic development by building people into qualified jobs and I do that knowing that I’m helping the economic development of the City.  Non-profits in general are funded several different ways.  Some government grants, some private donations and quite frankly, from foundations and some from private donors and churches.  And so the agency I work for has roughly a ten million dollar budget.  Those ten million dollars that our agency brings in.  A third of it is from government, and that third is spent mostly on veterans’ services.  So it’s not charity, it’s taking care of the people that sacrificed so much for all of us to be able to sit here.  Churches and foundations give us the rest of the money and that money funds jobs.  A social service company is a company; there is employment and economic development.  It’s part of building people up.  In Escondido one of the things we could do is help education, focus on education because that is the great equalizer.  We have the lowest number of college educated people in our community and that’s because once they have a degree or resources maybe they don’t come back.  We want them to come back and for that we need to build a community.  I believe in building people up to their greatest potential.  And I roll up my sleeves and I do it every day because it is important.  And I don’t think this city is going to necessarily improve by getting rid of them, I think we need to embrace them and help them overcome.

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First thing I like to do with speeches is see if I can find the numbers/statistics quoted.  For the Mayor’s poverty numbers, that proved elusive.  (This chart povertyfrom the Economic Policy Institute, shows national poverty numbers through that time period but none of that is broken down by city.)  Poverty rates are hard to pin down and differ by source, but I couldn’t find the poverty rates he quoted — 12% in 2000 and 20% in 2010.  The only numbers I was comfortable with for Escondido- those from the US Census — report a rate of 13.4% in 1999 and a rate of 18.3% for the census period 2008-2012.  (The census stopped the long form in 2005 so information after that was collected and analyzed for a 5-year period.) The difference between the Mayor’s numbers and the ones I could verify, are fairly dramatic. While the Mayor’s would mean an increase of 66% in those living in poverty over the period from 1006 – 1012, the numbers I could find put the change in the poverty rate at 37%, not great but a much smaller difference. And his statement “Why did we jump from 12% to 20% when the average of north county cities has stayed the same?” is totally confusing.  My numbers show the 2005-2012 poverty rates from the 5 cities are:  Carlsbad 9.7%, Oceanside 11.8%, San Marcos 14.8% and Vista 15.2%.  Yes our 18.3% is higher but why would you average all those cities rather than just looking at your number compared to each of them? I think it might be because the story’s not so dramatic when you do that. As to his statements about Escondido having more social services and low-income housing than all the other North County cities combined, well that is so vague I didn’t even know where to start.

Deputy Mayor Diaz mentioned only one set of numbers, those for the agency she works for, Interfaith Community Services.  Their 2012-13 Annual Report (page 12) verified her numbers.

But I’m willing to put numbers aside and just look at the tone of the two statements — and they couldn’t be more different. Mayor Abed blames poverty on “political correctness” which is one of the odder statements I’ve ever heard.  And his use of the terms “poverty incubator” and “magnet for poverty”? As the Mayor of Escondido, I don’t think either of those turns of phrase help to address the needs of our community — but they certainly provide ammunition for those who want to show Escondido in a bad light regardless of whether they live here.

The Mayor’s last statement about homeless shelters and how he refused to open more homeless shelters was in stark contrast to the first words from Deputy Mayor Diaz.  She began by saying “I think we all wish that people didn’t have the struggles that they do sometimes.” I happen to agree with that statement as well as her closing comment: “I think we need to embrace them and help them overcome.”  In between she talked about the fact that social service agencies bring money and jobs to Escondido.  I was especially struck by her observation that if we want those who become college educated to come back to Escondido — rather than moving elsewhere — we have to build a community that welcomes them.

I came to Escondido 17 years ago because it was an easy-going community with all sorts of people.  If I had wanted to live in an Orange County sort of town I would have moved there. I chose Escondido because it seemed like folks here got along and had some compassion for each other regardless of their differences.  I hope that we can get back to that attitude and Deputy Mayor Diaz’s words about those who are struggling give me hope for the community. The two candidates could not be much further apart on this issue.  It’s up to each of us to decide which vision suits our own desires for Escondido’s future.

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I will be out for a good part of the day.  If you comment after 9:30 it will be held for moderation until very late in the afternoon.

Making data easy to access means greater government transparency.

austinMaking government transparent means making the information the government has available to the people who paid for it — the residents.  Austin, Texas seems to have taken that to heart with a Data Portal made for wonks. Data.austintexas.gov allows the City to make data readily available for users. Texas municipal governments are required by the Texas Public Information Act to be transparent, and provide requested data and information to citizens. Now, some of that information is available without the need for you to fill out a Public Information Request to acquire it. Once data is posted, visitors can search for it or we can provide a direct link upon request. 

You can not only search the data on the site you can also suggest new data sets.  Most popular one right now is a Map of Declared Dangerous Dogs with first on the list “Scooby” neutered male, red Labrador Retriever mix. 

Tomorrow, back to the Chamber of Commerce Mayoral Candidate Forum

Mr. Siaw does just fine at the Mayoral candidate forum.

The Chamber of Commerce decided to allow Mr. Siaw (SEE-OW) to participate at the eleventh hour.  I had a chance to talk with him for a few minutes before the event and he seems like a nice guy.  As to his politics, he described himself on Facebook as “predominantly conservative, maybe libertarian on some.”  And he was that mix, though from his comments I he might even be an actual “compassionate conservative.”

Mr. Siaw told the audience that he believes economic growth comes not from big, high-tech employers but from small business.  And as he said many, many times, the way the City can help small business is by “getting out of the way.”  Though he acknowledged the need for health and safety regulations, he made it clear that “each individual knows how to run their business the best” and the City should let them do that.  No real specifics here.

On the issue of the right mix of business and social services, Mr. Siaw said he had used some social services but had also helped people in need through his church.  He felt there needed to be a mix of business, government and social services, but that government could step back and let private groups like his church and others take the lead.

Where does Mr. Siaw stand on the three hot-button issues?  On the City Charter, Mr. Siaw would vote against it because he feels it hasn’t been well thought out.  On the Lakes Specific Plan, he’d vote for it.  Although he understands that residents want things to stay the way they are, the land owner has rights that must be protected. And as to districts (which are the law and seem to be a settled issue for everyone but Mayor Abed) Mr. Siaw likes districts because it gives people more responsive representation and gives each Council member a reason to make their area a great place to live.

I thought Mr, Siaw gave a great response on the subject of City Reserves.  He said that if our Reserves are building up to where it’s “a badge of honor” and we aren’t spending it on community services like libraries and parks and youth centers. things that make Escondido a nice place to live then “I don’t believe that is in the best interest of Escondido.”

All in all, I would say Mr. Siaw did well for his first time out.  He certainly didn’t have the track record or depth of knowledge of the other candidates, but he had an ease on the dais. When there was a discussion of leadership (he followed Deputy Mayor Diaz and Mayor Abed) he said “Olga talks really well, I really like the way she sounds” and “Mr. Mayor has done a lot of really great stuff.”  He said of himself “I’m a guy that a lot of you employ…” I was really struck by that statement and the seeming lack of a big ego.  He went on to say “I’m just a regular guy.”

Mr. Siaw has neither the time nor money to become a threat to either of the two lead candidates.  But it appears he lives in District 4 and if he stays there, he might want to seriously consider a run for Council.  He’s obviously smart enough, now all he needs is a little time to get to know the issues while the people of District 4 get to know him.  We’ll see come 2016.

If you haven’t seen or heard the latest on Ex Police Chief Maher.

Maher has filed a lawsuit against the City for breach of contract.  Details, as there are, can be found in the UT article from J. Harry Jones:

Former Escondido police chief sues city:  Jim Maher claims he is owed $75,000 in severance

The City Council Agenda shows a special Closed Session meeting on August 27:

Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release (Government Code §54957)

Council Will Conduct A Closed Hearing of Appeal Of Personnel Board Of Review’s
Decision Regarding Discipline Of Public Employee.

It also states:  ROLL CALL: Gallo, Masson, Morasco, Abed.  

It seems reasonable to assume that Deputy Mayor Diaz would abstain from this discussion since her husband is a Lieutenant in the Escondido Police Department.  Previous posts on this can be found here and here.  Stay tuned.