A New Council Member, A New City Manager, A Contract Public Works Director Gone, A Case of Umbrella Envy and A Missed Water Reduction Goal.

LIVINGSTON CA, 08/19/2015

This town has been so wonderful to me. Like many others, I went through an economic hardship in 2010 and had to start over. Livingston is one of those places where the American Dream is still alive and allows any person who’s willing to work for it, to achieve what they want to achieve. – Alex McCabe -  June 09, 2015 City Council Meeting

I’m gonna go ahead and comment on the Umbrellas. The Umbrellas, again, I said it at a Council Meeting, the past City Manager is the one that, right before he left, he spent the money and bought the umbrellas without telling the council. So he put them on the front on the corner. and the ones over there. So, without telling us, he bought them and we have them now. Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza 06/09/2015 Special City Council Meeting

You know, I don’t know what they are doing. They’re not doing their job. – Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza06/16/2015 City Council Meeting

Given the … action of the court to Vacate any finding of guilt, for the misdemeanor charge, changing the plea to Not Guilty, and dismissing the claim and ordering it to be expunged, we, ah, are confident that Mr. Duque is qualified for the position and will be an excellent City manager. Thank You. – – Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza – Report out of Closed Session – 08/04/2015 City Council Meeting.

It seems a few people are upset about a few Umbrellas in the Downtown Commercial District. More on that a little later. But first…

At the 06/09/2015 City Council Meeting, ALEX McCABE WAS SELECTED to serve out of the rest of David Mendoza’s term on the City Council. During the Interview that evening, candidates for the position were asked questions such as:

  • What have you accomplished?

  • Why do you want to be on the Council?

  • What are your 5 top Priorities?

  • What do you think the Council is doing wrong? 

  • How do you feel about Growth?

  • How do you feel about the Street Fair?

  • What is your position on Staffing Levels: especially Public Safety?

Since you can read a Transcription of the Interviews by CLICKING HERE, I am not going to them all on this page. For those of you who might be interested, here is  Mr. McCabe’s answer to the question about his 5 TOP GOALS/PRIORITIES:

    • 1) Water Quality. Working with the Council and what ever jurisdictions and groups to make sure we reach our Goals on Water Quality.

    • 2) Focus on continuing to educate the public. We’re going to continue to see backlash as our rate increases over time. I’d like to be there to make sure that we are properly educating the public when it comes to our water issues.

    • 3) Do what I can to improve the overall economic or business systems here in Livingston. We have a lot of outdated codes that we can (do) that would make us more appealing to Local Businesses. Right now we’re always fighting for the businesses and people can choose Turlock, they can choose Atwater, they can choose Delhi, or they can choose Livingston. I don’t want us loosing on economic dollars because we have some antiquated codes that are preventing us from moving on or streamlining our process for business. In general, we are a very business friendly place. But we do have some things that limit us that we should address in the future.

    • 4) Continuing to bring all the cultures and groups in the community together. Right now, we have the 4th of July and … the Kite Festival are great examples of where we can see all of the cultures in our community coming together as one. And I’d like to do whatever I can to spur that, or to encourage that participation from all the groups in Livingston.

    • 5) Focus on my experience when it comes to producing budgets, when it comes to making the hard decisions; when dealing with the Unions and Union Negotiations. My district is Teamsters and I have experience when it comes to Union Negotiations and budgets: and just making those hard decisions. All of you up there know there’s going to be hard decisions to make over the next few years as we see ourselves continue to come out of this Economic crisis..and you’re not going to please everyone, be everyone’s fan. And I’m OK with that. I’ve had to experience that and go through that already.

    A NEW CITY MANAGER WAS CHOSEN by the City Council at the 07/21/2015 City Council meeting. But it didn’t take long before questions were raised about his background after The Merced Sun Star reported “he (had) filed for bankruptcy and was charged with a felony about a decade ago.”

    A subsequent article in the Sun Star reported that “the city decided to ask Duque to complete a “live scan,” a digital fingerprinting process that the Livingston Police Department uses for city employees.” 

    At the 08/04/2015 City Council Meeting, Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza made the following announcement:

    Closed Session Announcements. I have, I have, ah, something from the Council to read. At the last City council meeting, we appointed Eddie Duque as City Manager with a starting date of September 30th.

    Subsequent to us appointing Mr. Duque, it was brought up to our attention that he had a misdemeanor conviction in 2002 and he had filed for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in 2004. This information was not in the background check done by the recruitment firm we hired to help us with the City manager recruitment.

    This was all reported in the Merced Sun Star articles. Unfortunately, often times reporters decide not to include all the facts.

    What the news articles did not include was that Mr. Duque went back to court in 2007 to address the misdemeanor conviction. In 2007, the Los Angeles County Superior Court ordered that the finding of the guilt in the 2000 action be set aside and vacated and the plea of Not Guilty be entered.

    The court dismissed the complaint. The court further granted the Petition for Expungement.

    We are doing our Due Diligence and have ordered a Live Scan Background Check to be done by the Police Department. We are currently waiting for results.

    Given the 2000 {should be 2007? TGS} action of the court to Vacate any finding of guilt, for the misdemeanor charge, changing the plea to Not Guilty, and dismissing the claim and ordering it to be expunged, we, ah, are confident that Mr. Duque is qualified for the position and will be an excellent City manager. Thank You."

    LIVINGSTON MISSED WATER REDUCTION GOALS for the Month of June. As Reported in The Merced Sun Star Livingston fell well below its target of 32  percent, the board’s numbers showed. The city has conserved 3 percent…Gurpal Samra, Livingston’s mayor pro tem, said the numbers are skewed, because Foster Farms is the city’s biggest water user. He said the poultry producer uses at least of 65 percent of the city’s total.

    The Goal was 32%. The actual “savings” was 3%.

    Because Foster Farms uses at least 65% of the water produced by Livingston’s wells.

    I’ve asked the Council, more than once, “How are we supposed to meet State Water Reduction Goals when Foster Farms uses most of the water?” and “What will happen if we don’t meet those goals?” The answer I have gotten include vague references to how Industry will have to do it’s part and that Foster Farms is aware of the problem and working on the problem.

    At the 08/19/2015 City Council Meeting, we were told there had been a meeting with the Water Board and that Livingston has applied for a wavier.

    And that the City is continuing to work with Foster Farms. But, no real details on what that means.

    UmbrellasTHE CASE OF “UMBRELLA ENVY?” Before we jump into the Topic At Hand, I want to first point out the little “technical detail” that this discussion took place at a Special City Council Meeting and that “Discussion about City Owned Umbrellas” was not on the Meeting Agenda for that evening. Most of the time, If you want to talk about something that is not listed on the Special Meeting Agenda, you are told to hold your comment until a Regular Meeting.

    HOWEVER……. those of us who have been following the Council over the years, have seen that particular “rule” bent, depending upon who was doing the “commenting”.  

    Umbrellas IIDuring “Citizens Comments”at the June 09, 2015 Special Council Meeting , Planning Commissioner, (and Candidate-for-the-Vacant-Spot-on the Council), Warren Urnberg said he had a question about The Umbrellas.

    After some discussion by the Mayor Pro Tem and the City Attorney and Mayor Espinoza about how they were NOT going to talk about The Umbrella Situation (it being a Special City Council Meeting) Mayor Espinoza decided he was going to talk about it anyway.

    And off the discussion went: about stolen umbrellas and stenciled umbrellas, and stapled umbrellas; which umbrellas were in a “good” place, and which umbrellas were in a “bad place”, (and whose fault that was); and who actually paid for the umbrellas.

    IF YOU CLICK HERE, you can read a Transcrition of the whole thing for yourself.

    My Take…from reading what was said, and between the lines thereof, is this:

    • Before the City Manager left, Wells Fargo donated enough money to buy some Umbrellas and tables, so the Community could have some shaded places to sit in the Down Town

    • According to the Mayor, the money was spent without notifying anyone on the Council.

    • Some of the Umbrellas were put in the City Owned Temporary Park Area where the Court Theater used to be

    Some of the Umbrellas were put on the City Owned lot across the street from Klairs

    • Which is only a few paces from the City Hall Chambers

    • And is also on the same lot a Taco Truck is located (which is renting space from the City)

    • Because the umbrellas are on the same lot as the Taco Truck, some merchants believe the City spent City money buying umbrellas for the Taco Truck and complained to the Mayor about it, because they want umbrellas too

    • Which is the Former City Manager’s fault – Blame him.

    The City Council Approach to Employee Motivation

    AFTER FOUR RECRUITMENT TRIES, and four failures to find a “suitable” person for the Permanent Position of Public Works Director for the City of Livingston, the City Contracted  with Mountain View Environmental Services. Terms of the Contract were for 6 months to 1 year: 4 days a week.

    However, the ink was barely dry on the contract before it was canceled on July 17, 2015. 

    The “New Guy” had only been on the job a few days, and barely finished his first Report in Open Session before the Mayor and Pro-Temp launched into a series of complaints about broken sprinklers and “employee negligence”, at the June 16, 2015 City Council Meeting.

    IF YOU SIFT THROUGH EVERYTHING THAT WAS SAID that night, and throw out all the repetition, the “Complaints” By the Mayor and Pro-Temp could be succinctly distilled into the following:

    • A) All the Parks (and City Hall) look bad because sprinklers don’t work.

    • B) Sprinklers aren’t fixed because employees don’t notice.

    • C) A & B happens every Summer

    • D) It’s all because of Employee Neglect.

    The Response by the Contracted Public Works Director (Who has only been on the job 16 days, more or less) is:

    • A) You’re right. I noticed that too and we’re already getting sprinklers fixed.

    • B) I’ve discussed it with my people, made a few changes, and will continue to work on that over the next week or so.

    • C) It won’t this time

    • D) I already have some plans. We’ll work the plans and I will monitor the results.

    However, Mr. Johnson’s contract was canceled on the 17th of July: only a few “work days” later.

    MY TAKE ON THIS

    Communications Experts will tell you that only a small % of any message is actually contained in the words themselves: most of the “real” message is in the body language and the tone of voice used by the Speaker.

    If you go to the City Website and actually listen to what was being said, and how it was said, you will likely come up with the same conclusion I did: That was not just a simple list of grievances about brown grass: it was a very public “fanny whipping” of Public Works employees. The kind that contains the very real threat of someone (or more than one someone) getting fired.

    The amount of time between the “Council Rant about Brown Grass” and the Cancelation of the contract, doesn’t seem to give enough time to ensure that, not only are all the sprinklers getting fixed: but the grass is getting greener, and Public Works Employees are getting everything else “done” that is on their “to do list”.

    I can’t help but wonder if there is something else at play here. After all, the last Public Works Director in Livingston “disappeared”: after months of telling Council about how repairs and upgrades to the City’s Water Delivery System would not come cheap.

    This one lasted only a few days. Recruitment #5, has been put “on hold”: at least until the New City Manager takes over in Late September.

    In addition, at the 08/19/2015 City Council Meeting, it was confirmed that a “minor adjustment” in Part Time Employees had taken place.

    You can probably guess what that means.

    FOR MORE ON ISSUES AFFECTING LIVINGSTON

    State fell far short of water-saving target; Merced’s use fell 15 percent – By Fenit Nirappil – 05/05/2015 – The Associated Press – Californians conserved little water in March and local officials were not aggressive in cracking down on waste, state regulators reported Tuesday as they considered tough measures to force savings amid a continuing drought.—The State Water Resources Control Board received the update as it considers sweeping mandatory emergency regulations to protect water supplies in the parched state.—Brown has argued that the voluntary targets in place since early 2014 have been insufficient and that Californians need a jolt to take conservation seriously.

    Livingston councilman resigns – 05/06/2015 – By Thaddeus Miller – The Merced Sun Star – The Livingston City Council accepted the resignation of one of its members Tuesday and set into motion an effort to appoint his replacement before July.—Councilman David Mendoza officially submitted his resignation by email on April 30, interim City Manager Odi Ortiz said during the council meeting this week.—The council directed city staffers to advertise for a replacement during the next 30 days with the intention of doing interviews and picking a replacement by June 29. The replacement would serve out the rest of Mendoza’s term, which ends next year.

    Livingston looks to reduce water use, step up enforcement – 05/08/2015 – By Thaddeus Miller – The Merced Sun Star – The water restrictions in Livingston will tighten on Monday after a vote by the City Council this week to enact an “urgency” ordinance.—The council unanimously approved the new restrictions and the implementation date with two separate votes of 4-0. Councilman David Mendoza resigned on April 30, so the council has an open seat.—Unlike a typical ordinance, which takes two readings and a 30-day period to become law, an urgency ordinance becomes law immediately.—Under the new rules, residents will now be able to water only two days a week rather than three. The city had no time-of-day restrictions on sprinkling of outdoor plants and grass, but the new ordinance prohibits outdoor watering between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.—The water board on Tuesday began considering new regulations to enhance savings. Modesto, Merced, Oakdale, Ripon and Atwater face the biggest reduction of 36 percent. Riverbank, Turlock and Livingston face 32 percent reductions and Ceres is looking at a 28 percent cut.

    Ex-police officer from Merced County charged with assault – 05/29/2015 – Thaddeus Miller – The Merced Sun Star – A former Livingston police sergeant has been accused of felony assault by a public officer for an incident in 2012, when he allegedly shoved a handcuffed man’s face into the ground, the Merced Sun-Star has learned…

    Foster Farms launches organic, antiobiotic-free chicken lines – 06/01/2015 – By John Holland – The Modesto Bee – Foster Farms on Monday announced its first lines of organic and antibiotic-free chicken.–The company said it is now the West’s largest producer of organic chicken, made without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides on feed, and the antibiotic-free version, which avoids the use of drugs that might become resistant to diseases affecting humans.

    Livingston council appoints new member – 06/10/2015 -  Thaddeus Miller – The Merced Sun Star – The Livingston City Council appointed a new member to the board Tuesday, filling the position left empty in late April by a councilman who resigned. – With a 3-0 vote, the council appointed Alex McCabe, 33, to fill the seat vacated by former Councilman David Mendoza, who resigned after he moved out of the city.

    New Livingston city manager acknowledges domestic violence conviction, bankruptcy – 07/21/2015 – Thaddeus Miller – The Merced Sun Star – The Livingston City Council unanimously hired its next city manager Tuesday. A Sun-Star review of public records shows he filed for bankruptcy and was charged with a felony about a decade ago. – It remains unclear exactly what the council members knew about Eddie Duque’s past or what process was used to vet the 20 applications they reviewed for the position.

    Livingston expects first budget surplus in four years – 07/22/2015 – Thaddeus Miller – The Merced Sun Star – The Livingston City Council on Tuesday adopted its 2015-16 budget, which reflects its first surplus in four years. – With general fund revenues of $5.18 million and expenditures of $4.86 million, the city projects a surplus of about $320,000. The council approved the budget with a 4-0 vote as Councilman Jim Soria was absent.

    A look at Livingston’s city manager recruitment – 07/23/2015 – Thaddeus Miller – The Merced Sun Star – A background check on the new Livingston city manager did not report a criminal charge or bankruptcy filing from a decade ago, city officials said Thursday, opening up questions about the vetting process for a highly paid public employee. – The recruitment process conducted during the past several months was completed by Los Gatos-based William Avery & Associates Inc. The city agreed to pay the firm $16,400, and to cover expenses up to $6,000, according to a copy of the contract.

    Merced County cities miss targets as state water use falls in June – 07/30/2015 – Thaddeus Miller – The Merced Sun Star – Livingston fell well below its target of 32 percent, the board’s numbers showed. The city has conserved 3 percent…Gurpal Samra, Livingston’s mayor pro tem, said the numbers are skewed, because Foster Farms is the city’s biggest water user. He said the poultry producer uses at least of 65 percent of the city’s total.

    Honor Flight to get $10,000 donation from Livingston 4th of July group -  08/04/2015 – The Merced Sun Star – The Livingston 4th of July Committee planned to donate $10,000 to the Central Valley Honor Flight during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, a month after having one of its most successful events. – Julio Valadez, committee chairman, said this year’s 4th of July three-day event gathered almost 60,000 people, about 20,000 more than usual. This year’s success, he said, was due in big part to the venue change.

    Merced County officer charged with assault on paid leave – 08/13/2015 – Thaddeus Miller – The Merced Sun Star – A Livingston police officer, who has been accused of felony assault by a public officer for an incident in 2012, is on paid administrative leave, the Merced Sun-Star has learned.