BY GUEST COLUMNIST MICHAEL CEREMELLO
FORMER MAYOR AND COUNCILMAN, CITY OF DIXON.
Dumbfounded does not describe it. Dismayed is a misnomer. There is no delight in delving into the disarray which is city hall. Yet we all need to be reminded of the statement emanating from the mouth of the Dodo, “at some point, you just have to trust staff”. Not to be outdone, one citizen has confirmed her delinquency in data gathering by bequeathing to Dane Besneatte and the rest of the council her blind and rather debatable trust.
The council meeting of Tuesday pretty much was true to form in writing yet another wanton, whining, yet winsome column demonstrating the incompetence and dereliction of duty of this council. The meeting was rather short as your mayor as well as the majority of the council have made it an exercise in futility to point out their flaws from the foyer or points closer to the dais.
Wasn’t it less than a month ago that I chided the council and staff for not conducting business in a business like manner concerning the notification of delinquent sewer bill accounts? The council was looking to lien properties just as they were this night with Recology, our garbage company du jour, making their presentation. My ears perked and my curiosity piqued when Scott Pardini stated how his company handles notification.
Recology doesn’t just send out a letter or two. They use email and the phone. They actually attempt to ascertain whether or not the owner is in absentia or just not getting the message. When I asked and stated that city staff needs to be more proactive, all I got was the look of disdain from elected officials as well as the bureaucrats. The high and mighty elite and arrogant have no time for the public who pays their salary.
Reiterating, city hall, elected officials, and all of city staff are supposed to be the servants and not the masters. This is not a service oriented staff. The public doesn’t need to know anything. You just need to pay your bills, including your taxes. You do what we tell you or we will fine you and in some extreme cases, attempt to take your property. Yet we all just go along with the program.
The point isn’t that this is the way it has to be done. Your mayor, Jack Batchelor, endorses this and doesn’t look for ways to make the situation better. Jack believes in the power of those who govern because you, the public, citizens, and voters, don’t hold him or anyone else accountable. Steve Bird is a follower, another cog in the machine who rarely questions anything because as previously stated he trusts the staff of which he was one most of his life and all of his career.
The other three are an interesting study in waiting for the lightbulb to turn on. Even though Darth Bogue was not present due to enjoying his anniversary elsewhere, he said and did nothing when I brought this up the first time. Thom can be excused as he gets little support when he stands up for people’s rights and attempts to serve them.
Both Jerry Castañon, you know the guy who so adamantly stated he wouldn’t stand for me insulting the people he represents in this column after I said you were stupid for voting for this guy, and Dane Besneatte sat on their brains and said little as usual. I would expect that from Jerry but not Dane.
Dane was much more circumspect early on in his tenancy at the dais, questioning whether proper notification had been given before proceeding with this rather heavy handed display. One can only surmise that Dane has fallen prey to senescence, not his own but that of being on the job too long, and has become jaded into acceptance of protocol he formerly would have opposed. Maybe Dane feels the futility of dealing with a bureaucracy aligned against his principles.
At least Dane questioned the liening of property for bills in the twenty dollar range. It should have more to do with whether or not you have contacted the owner of the property than the amount owed. This nonsense about placing it on the property tax bill to assure payment, as if that is the only way it can be done, quite unequivocally proves the point of laziness on the part of staff condoned by Dane and his peers.
I would hope you remember how the council and specific councilmen are conducting your business as we approach November. It is extremely unfortunate that the two councilmen for which I have the most respect and regard are also the two up for re-election. Perhaps they both need to sit it out for a couple of years or until we can get a recall going. The outside perspective might just wake them up.
The only other item on this council’s agenda which almost got me to the podium was the passage of water rates to enable the city takeover of the water system from Solano Irrigation District and the Dixon Solano Water Agency. This action was not to raise or lower water rates. However, the discussion was rather interesting to say the least.
Dane seems to have no trouble staying awake and cogent where it comes to anything involving this subject. Dane asked what was the purpose of the water rate study proposed within the staff report. I have to presume that Dane remembers as well as I that we just had a water rate study which led to doubled water rates plus 10%. I hope you are enjoying those rates I opposed because they were unnecessary due to mismanagement and voodoo accounting.
The city attorney, Doug White, stated “the study will provide the nexus for our current rates.” That is lawyer lingo for saying even though the nexus, the actual justification showing the connection between rates you pay and the service provided, was examined in a recent prior study, the city wants to waste more of your money in having a consultant tell you the same thing a second time or, in my myopic, penurious, and suspicious viewpoint of government, this is yet another attempt to push rates even higher. But then Dane asked that $24 million question.
“How much is in reserves?” The city does the financial work for the current water agency, does it not? Any normal, half way intelligent person would believe this means they do more than simply sending out the bills and collecting the payments. Joe Leach, the city engineer, deferred the question to Joan Michaels Aguilar, the finance director and assistant city manager. Her answer?: “We won’t know until money comes over from SID”. Really?
The joint powers agency known as DSWA has been collecting these doubled rates for over a year now. When the city proposed borrowing money from another fund to finance the takeover of the system, I made a point of asking how much had been collected. Aguilar knew enough about the reserves to contradict my estimate of the amount at that time. Doesn’t the city get month to month updates or at least bimonthly along with the billing cycle? Even the generally clueless Castañon wasn’t buying this one as he quipped, “this is unacceptable”. Ya think?
So what did the other two, Batchelor and Bird, do or say? Pretty much nothing. Bird once again voted against the item in his opposition to eliminating one corrupt agency from the equation. Yes, I said corrupt and because the city condones this behavior, they are corrupt as well. Batchelor voted for it for two reasons.
Jack does not want to be the cause of turmoil in the provision of this basic service, providing drinking water, to half the town. While he has no problem with government secrecy, a.k.a. no transparency, he still is not for the city operating its own system. The second reason is also contained in the last sentence and this is the way Jack likes to do business, with an uninformed and ignorant public.
How in the world can you live in the 21st century with all of this data stored on computers and not have timely access to a specific enterprise fund? Normally I wouldn’t call for someone’s firing but this woman makes over $100,000 per year to do a job, not act as a submissive toady for the mayor or the city manager. Again, you work for us and you only work alongside them.
Considering that the budget itself for this agency was estimating increased revenues from the rate increase in the $700,000 range, my bet is that there is close to a million squirreled away in either operations or capital improvement accounts including rehabilitation. Inter-fund transfers, like moving the pea under the walnut shell, mean nothing. The money is still there unless spent by one of these corrupt agencies on typical fraudulent projects. Yet Bird and Batchelor never have a problem …
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Jack continually comments he never gets complimented in this column. Considering Jack’s predilection toward solutions without a problem such as the Jack Hole, his lack of research and blind acceptance of whatever is proposed by some superior bureaucratic body, and his actions attempting to rob this constituents of freedom at every turn, it will be a rare instance of praise.
I was driving down Regency and saw a man sweeping up something in the middle of the street in 102 degree weather. It was Jack. Good job cleaning up your self made mess. Too bad you can’t do the same at city hall …
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Next we have Ann Smith’s letter in last week’s issue of this paper. Ann chided Dane about giving her the right to vote when she is self admittedly uninformed. While my first thought is to ask Ann to do us all a favor and NOT vote for those who represent us, some other points need to be brought out.
Ann, your false premise based on listening to the council dialogue during the In-Pipe presentation is incorrect. Other than Thom Bogue who only half gets it, none of the others on this council knows more than you do about the science behind waste water, soil chemistry, or organic chemistry. It is your duty to become informed rather than pass this off to others so you won’t be bothered.
The true catch 22 of her succinct soliloquy is this: you don’t have the knowledge, you can’t judge if the council does. Voting for any individual based on feeling puts ineffective people in these positions.
My preference is scientists, entrepreneurs, and true problem solvers as representatives. Simply using bureaucratic procedures because it has always been done that way gives us the dysfunctional government we now enjoy.