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Menlo Park Mini Scandal

Original post made by LetTheTruthBeKnown, Menlo Park: The Willows, on Feb 25, 2007

There are certainly serious concerns about the financial reporting by the City over the last year. This is really a mini scandal, and whether this council wants to investigate the issue or push it aside is a serious question.

The ousted majority of Winkler, Duboc and Jellins, used what was then a huge budget deficit projection, to push though a privatization of the taxpayer funded Burgess pool on a no bid contract to Tim Sheeper’s Menlo Masters group. The financials of this contract as so un-favorable to the city it is ridiculous. A prominent member of that group was known to comment, “we were willing to pay rent, but the City never asked for rent”. Well the Sinnott’s have their “country club” taxpayer subsidized pool now and until we have another safety scare with parents and children put into grave danger from chlorine leaks or the like, it seems destined to stay that way.

Then the same majority tried to privatize child care using this dire budget projection. Although in my purview, I don’t understand why the City is in the child care business at all, using a trumped up felonious financial projection to change the status quo was hardly ethical to say the least.

Suddenly this majority at election time announced the budget deficit is now a rather large budget surplus. Who and at what time period are we to believe on this issue? Apparently the voting citizens of Menlo Park did know who to believe, and the old majority is now gone. Those three are now represented by one council member, who was very fortunate to be elected at that.

Thus far this new council has not seemed to want to review the excesses of the past four years. Maybe it is indeed better to spend their time on looking forward rather than backward. But as many seem to be saying, the UUT was certainly passed under a umbrella of false information about the city finances. If you really feel strongly about it, the council should really get a task force moving to fully investigate the issue.

Since, City staff as well as outgoing City manager Boesch would be put under special scrutiny in such a investigation, this task force should be headed by a complete independent outsider. Perhaps a retired judge.

I would really like to know the answer to the mini scandal. Will this council have the fortitude to press the issue?

Comments (5)

Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Feb 28, 2007 at 11:10 am

I'd like to have answers to those questions too. Maybe the "scandal" can be explained by incompetence, but there's also the possibility that malfeasance was involved, and that would be far worse than scandalous.

What really got my blood boiling was Lee Duboc -- one of the council majority that pushed for privatization because of financial woes that now turn out to be bogus -- whining about how the voters had been misled about the city's financial status when they went to the polls to vote on the utility tax. The "misleading" was the fault -- get this -- NOT of the COUNCIL MAJORITY, of course, but of those naughty city staffers. Disgusting.

Posted by ElectionWatcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 28, 2007 at 3:43 pm

There's actually a perfectly plausible explanation for how we got into this mess. The old council majority wanted to cut/privatize certain programs, getting rid of city staff in the process. Our dear city manager went along by producing ultra-conservative budgets that projected huge deficits - perfect political cover.

But with the "other side" (principally Fergusson) pushing for a tax increase instead of cuts, while their target of privatizing childcare was meeting fierce opposition from parents, the majority (through Ms. Winkler who made this proposal) decided to cut what they thought was a low-risk deal with Fergusson/Cohen at one particular council meeting last year, saying: We'll put a tax measure on the ballot if you get on board in looking at privatizing childcare before the November elections.

Problem was, they never in a million years thought the UUT would pass, but they did such a good "gloom-and-doom" job that it did (barely) pass (and remember, our beloved former Mayor came out with the "newly projected" surplus announcement just before the elections, so they must have realized that they had gone overboard and the UUT might actually pass).

Now with the UUT in place (and a new council evidently willing to spend it, save for John Boyle), we're stuck with it.

The way I see it: Just one last “kick-in-the-pants” from the old majority (although at least this time they didn't intend it to be one).

Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Feb 28, 2007 at 4:21 pm

ElectionWatcher's possible scenario could well be how the whole mess unfolded, but it still doesn't let Lee Duboc off the hook. As far as I'm concerned, the entire council of that period bears responsibility for not demanding better financial data from Boesch. But for Duboc to stand up in public and bemoan the fact that the voters were misled without acknowledging her role in the farce and offering a mea culpa is outrageous. And, as I said earlier, disgusting.

Posted by AlsoDisgusted
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 1, 2007 at 8:40 am

I'm also disgusted with what has unfolded and the disingenuous position former Councilmembers have taken. They deliberately ignored a golden opportunity to make progress on a legitimate budgeting process and meaningful financial analysis. They also misled the public in several ways. During the campaign season, they claimed that they had balanced the budget but neglected to mention they had not spent anything for too-long-deferred infrastructure improvements from the General Fund (normally $2 million minimum). Then they included it in the budget forecast for this year, the basis of the budget survey and decision to seek the UUT. Yet, neither budget includes set-asides for unfunded liabilities. They also claim that the UUT is not needed when they know full well that city services have been cut to the bone. No traffic enforcement, limited library hours.
One reason for conservative budgets is that, by law, the city must present a balanced budget. I'm not surprised that these often are wrong. However, this doesn't excuse city management (staff and Council) from evaluating the city's financial picture more broadly. And it doesn't excuse them from taking advantage of citizen talent to help in that process.

Last year, Councilmember Cohen proposed a citizen Budget Advisory Committee to help the Council with the budget challenges. In their infinite "wisdom", staff and Councilmembers Jellins, Duboc, and Winkler appointed the BAC but explicitly limited its scope to assisting with the budget survey. Along the way, the BAC made numerous recommendations about the need to evaluate the city's long-term obligations and revenue potential. Despite the investment these citizens and staff made to understand better the city's finances, the Council refused to allow the BAC to continue with any work. I'm hopeful the new Council will get moving on this. What a wasted opportunity otherwise.

Posted by twice disgusted
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 4, 2007 at 10:41 am

Well some insiders got some infrastructure upgrades. Just drive down Bay Laurel drive, going west from San Mateo Drive. Note how the street was repaved a year ago between Dubocs, McClures, Matteson, Jrs., Boesch (one house in from Matteson on Cotton) when other streets in the area, and throughout town go neglected and will cost double now because they have deteriorated so much that it's too late for seal coating. Former Public Works director Steffens is interim city mgr., so ask him at the next council mtg. public comment who authorized this repaving ahead of others in greater need. Also, ask him why Don Dey, the former M.P. Traffic Engineer, who many feel was the henchman for developers, and no supporter of neighborhood traffic mitigations, is ghost writing staff Trans.Div. reports as a consultant on local neighborhood traffic issues. Don't expect the current mayor to ask the tough questions, me thinks she wants to be a county supervisor(?) when her term's up.

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