TEMECULA’S CHECKBOOK – TAKE A LOOK!
by Emerus Cheng and Luna Beardsley
Ever wonder how your hard earned tax dollars are being spent by your City Government?
If you are like us, you might be interested in looking through the City’s checkbook to see how well our council is spending all that tax money. Well, here it is. It’s always there, tucked neatly away in the City Council Agenda. Best of all, it is your right to see, smell and otherwise enjoy everything it has to offer.
And here are the step-by-step instructions to get you there:
Step 1. Go to City Of Temecula website (www.cityoftemecula.org) and click on “Meetings and Agendas”
Step 2. Click on “City Council Agendas”. Any past agenda will do. A new window will open.
Step 3. Usually around item 2 or 3 is “List of Demands” or “Demands”. Click on that title.
Step 4. Look to the right, under the video, and see three Adobe Reader logos. The third logo down is a PDF, called “Check Lists“, or something similar.
Click on the PDF, and you can see all of the checks written during the previous two weeks.
Before you begin, here are a few to get rolling. (Listen closely, you might hear “Gonna lose ‘er”)
• $6,000 for brand new Hewlett Packard laptops for the City Council, to go with the new Civic Center
• $5,000 for employee recognition awards, just in one month! (These purchases happen almost every month, There are plenty more of those, if you look around)
• $800 for new City Council portraits (Did they really need new ones?)
Temecula City Council Prioritiesby Emerus Cheng
Since Temecula incorporated just over 20 years ago, the City Council has met in three main locations: the Community Center on Pujol Street, the City Hall on Business Park Drive, and now in their new $74 million Civic Center in Old Town. In that same time, Murrieta opened Rancho Springs Medical Center in 1992 and is about to open Loma Linda-Murrieta Hospital. Over the past 5 years, the Temecula City Council has appeared to make headway towards protecting Temecula’s residents from harm. They had an amended contract with Southwest Health Care from January 2010 to break ground that year after signing the original contract with Southwest Health Care back in 2006. Phase 1 was to be under construction as we speak. The deadlines came and went, and the ground for the hospital lies barren.
And yet, the council had no problem spending over $70 million to give themselves a new home when the existing city hall is bought and paid for. Nothing could stop that project from going forward. Construction began less than two years ago, and is almost finished. It is a grand building. The yearly interest of $1 million can attest to that.
Most interesting of all is the lack of any official vote or public discussion to approve planning for a new Civic Center. Flash back to May 11, 2004. The Council discussed “possible uses” for various land acquisitions in Old Town made by the city. Hidden within the Action Minutes for that benign agenda item was an instruction for city staff to prepare a master plan for a new Civic Center. The staff was given $250,000 to design it. That $250,000 created a Master Plan that was not unveiled until June 27, 2006. The Master Plan was approved – with only one public comment – and the wheels started grinding towards the $74 million behemoth we have today. Of course, not many of the citizens could even have known what the Master Plan was in regards to, since that was the first time the public would have seen ‘Civic Center’ mentioned.
In the same four years since the Civic Center Master Plan was approved, we have had a signed contract with Southwest Health Care to have a hospital built in Temecula. One project was fast tracked and is now open for business. The other hasn’t progressed past initial plans, and is nowhere near ready to break ground, let alone provide needed services to residents. Where do you think the Council’s priorities have been?
City Manager vs CEO Salaries by J.F. Giggins
Lately, there has been much talk about the exorbitant salaries of local city managers. Everyone has heard of the debacle in Bell and how Rizzo siphoned over $800,000 a year from the City coffers. Did you know that Temecula City Manager Shawn Nelson makes over $400,000 per year? Did you know that he has two assistants and a deputy manager that are paid a combined total of over $500,000? This is a total for city management of almost a million dollars. Sound familiar?
When confronted and asked to justify the pay scale, City Councilors will invariably throw out the argument that the City Manager position is equivalent to that of a corporate CEO in the real world, and big bucks are needed to stay competitive in the job market.
Really? Well did you know that the average pay for a Corporate CEO, managing 200-500 people is 140,000-$270,000? We’ve all heard about the outlandish salaries at a few companies, but the truth is they represent a tiny percentage of the 4.5 million corporations in the United States. As with many stories in the media, the outrageous gets reported, and eventually becomes the rule.
Let’s consider the responsibilities of that average CEO. The corporate CEO manages thousands of people at multiple locations across the Country and the world. He oversees personnel, research and development, manufacturing, sales, marketing, distribution, finance, and operations. Unlike government, his company must actually produce a needed product, bring it to market and generate profit from a competitive price. He must produce dividends for the shareholders or take responsibility for their losses. And what happens to the corporate CEO who fails to live up to expectations? Gone, and quickly. Because in the real world, directors and shareholders are not as nonchalant and forgiving with their own money, as councilmen are with yours. And there are always people lined up to make that kind of money, especially these days.
Let’s consider what a city manager does. He is in charge of a couple of hundred, not thousands of people. He operates within the city limits and oversees required public services; road repairs, fire and police departments, parks and recreation, city planning, code enforcement. There is no competition for revenue. His operating capital is an uninterrupted stream of our hard earned tax dollars. When basic services have been funded, and there is a “budget surplus”, he and his assistants set about to find creative ways to redistribute our overpaid tax dollars. This usually takes the form of unneeded, and or unwanted construction projects and grants to “deserving” charities and non profits, many of those directed by sitting council members and commissioners. Oh, and meetings. He goes to lots of meetings with politicians and other bureaucrats, exploring creative ways to separate you from your money and to design more and more programs to spend it on.
Shawn Nelson’s salary is on par with that of the CEO of Costco, a 71 billion dollar corporation and the third largest retailer in the country. Frankly, we should expect a lot more for our money, or a lot less for him.