Opinion Piece By Donna Westfall – April 22, 2016 – At the April 18, 2016 Crescent City, City Council meeting, City Clerk, Kymmie Scott verified that enough valid signatures were received to put the 20% sewer rate increase on the November ballot, or to rescind their Ordinance or possibly evaluate other options.
If City staff come back with their recommendations to allow the referendum to go forward, that will probably be presented at the May 16th meeting or the first meeting in June of the City Council.
Reality is that staff probably won’t do that. Why? Because the city council members all voted to approve the 20% rate hike. Why now would they back down from that position and allow it to go to the November ballot? As candidate 5th District, Linda Sutter, put it, “You say you’re listening to the people, but not one of you voted ‘No,” to the sewer rate increase.” During the same 3 minute public comment she was begging them to allow the referendum to go to the ballot.
The last time this happened, in 2010, the City sued me to keep the repeal of sewer rate increase off the ballot and won. Why now would they act any differently even in light of the following:
Accusation were made a few years ago that former Public Works Director, Jim Barnts tampered with evidence when he allegedly changed testing results submitted to the State to show the sewer plant was within normal ranges when it wasn’t. No one on the City Council or City staff has taken an interest in following up on this accusation.
Accusations were made that the $19.6 loan commitment changed to $42.5 million a few short months later was definitely smelling like something rotten in Denmark. Claims that material prices doubled (but labor hadn’t), never sat well with me. It made more sense that staff discovered that for every dollar increase in sewer rates, the City could borrow another $1 million was the real logic behind the increase in the loan amount. No one on the City Council or City staff has taken an interest in following up on this accusation.
Accusations were made by myself and others about the structural deficit on the State Revolving Loan repayment program in 2007 at the workshops the city held to “shove down our throats that the doubling of our sewer rates was needed,” when in reality they were told that the repayment schedule was unrealistic and insane. There was no way that this small community could afford to repay that huge loan in 20 years, then extended to 30 years, then even with the elimination of all interest. The ratepayer base is too small. The rates are too high. This community is too poor. The un-elected Water Board should also be held accountable and held culpable for giving that size loan to this small community. Willdan’s numbers and report of 2008 supporting the rate structure made no sense. No one on the City Council or City staff has taken an interest in following up on these accusations either.
Accusations were made about asbestos being buried between the Marine Mammal Institute and the wastewater treatment plant. While safe when buried, once uncovered and exposed too the air, it becomes cancer causing. No one on the City Council has taken an interest in following on up this accusation either. In addition, accusations were made that only 10% of the asbestos was disposed of legally, while the money was divided up between those involved instead of spent on proper disposal. No one on the City Council or City staff has taken an interest in following up on this accusation either.
Accusations have been made that the 11.8% expansion component is fictitious. The expansion component is what determines the developers share of repayment on the loan, as ratepayers are only responsible for operations and maintenance. When former City Manager, Gene Palazzo and Public Utilitites Manager, Eric Weir, were asked for documentation to support that expansion figure, Wes Nunn and I were handed one sheet of paper with no date and no name of who had prepared it and the numbers were all off. No one on the City Council or City staff has taken an interest in following up on this accusation either.
Accusations have been made that up to $15 million have been spent, squandered or pocketed illegally on the upgrade/expansion of the wastewater treatment plant project. If this is true, the solution is to indict those responsible and freeze their assets until a thorough and proper investigation is conducted. If found guilty, their assets should be forfeited and made to pay down the loan. They should be made to pay restitution.
Here’s the problem with getting that to work. There is no one is this town currently that is willing to stick their neck out and start pointing fingers at the ones stopping the proper investigation: starting with Council member, Kathryn Murray. She and former Mayor, Charles Slert, instead led the charge on censuring me for asking so many obvious questions that pointed to fraud and corruption. They were joined by former Council member, Dennis Burns and former Council member, Kelly Schellong in voting 4-1 to uphold that censure. There’s presiding Judge, William Follet, who by all indications, stopped the thorough investigation by the Grand Jury involving multiple complaints involving the wasterwater treatment project. There’s former acting City Manager, Mike Young, and Eli Naffah that received complaints and would do nothing. There’s former Police Investigator, Keith Doyle, that sat on complaints and did nothing. There’s a slew of supervisors that sit complacent and do nothing. There’s County health employees that will do nothing. There’s former DA, Mike Riese that would do nothing because he was afraid his budget would be decimated by the Board of Supervisors; and current DA, Dale Trigg, that will do nothing. Then there’s the lawyers because without attorney’s like Bob Black, a lot of this couldn’t be kept under wraps.
Getting back to the Grand Jury, if the Grand jury is not allowed to do their job, what chance is there that any justice will be done for the people of this town?
If you want the corruption to continue, keep voting to put these same people in office.
If you want to start cleaning up this town, I can think of five choices:
- Hold your elected officials accountable and demand that they do something, or
- Stop voting to put these same people in office that are responsible for keeping this town so poor, uneducated and under the thumb of those currently holding the power, or
- Start complaining to every agency, State and Federal, that has a hand in this, and/or
- Insist that indictments are handed out and those responsible face the possibility of prison time, and/or
- Exercise your power of recall of bad elected officials and yank them out of office. Get rid of them!
Finally, don’t for a moment think that the accusations expressed here are the only accusations that have surfaced. It’s only the tip of the iceberg.