Saturday, November 29, 2008

What isn't hard to them?

Both the Manteca Bulletin and the Sun Post have spouted the standard cliché: "The schools are 'facing' budge cuts and it's hard to choose what to cut."

It's not hard.

I attended one of those budget cutting brainstorming sessions and about half way though the exercises (breaking up into groups, listing priorities, etc) I realized that no one in the room knew what we were trying to accomplish. We were trying to save $10 million. But ten million out of what? Sure it's "hard" to do something when you have no idea what you're trying to do!

So I buttonholed Superintendent Messer, "What's the size of this budget that we need to save ten million from?" I mean, if the budget is $11 million, then cutting $10 million pretty hard! Messer had to think about this but eventually came up with a rough figure of $170 million. So ok, we need to save 10 million out of $170 million? Simple, I suggested, "why don't we just cut everything by 6 or 7 percent and that would do it." Messer looked at me like I had just given out the secret of the H-bomb. He stammered something about that being simplistic but had to admit "that would work."

He's damn right it would! (the actual cut needed is 5.9%. But not all costs are payroll costs so it would be a little more maybe 7 to 9 percent. But cut some waste with it and it's back to 5% or less, and so on.)

During the presentation Messer said part of the problem is "declining enrollment." Fewer students -- less money. (Schools in California are paid for each student that actually attends school each day, like a head count. Called ADA or average daily attendance.)

That lead to this Q&A session with Mr. Messer:

Q: You said declining enrollment was bad?
A: Right, we get less money.
Q: So if enrollment goes up would that be good?
A: ehhh...
Q: I mean, we were told a few years ago we have to vote for the Measure M bond tax increases because the "problem" was increasing enrollment -- that there were more and more kids going to school -- So we need more money to build more schools. So is increasing enrollment is bad?
A: eh.. yes!
Q: So enrollment going up is bad and enrollment going down is bad?
A: Well, yes...
Q: Ok, so is this a fair statement of your position? No matter what happens it's bad? Is there anything that can happen that wouldn't be bad? How about (I made a flat hand gesture) if enrollment doesn't change at all?
A: That would be "ok."
Q: Because the bureaucracy doesn't like change of any type?
A: Yes, because of the state bureaucracy...
(note I didn't say "state," I was meant at every level, including the school administration. But lets move on.)
A:... because of the planning, and kids don't come in neat packages of 20. If kids came in neat packages of 20 then maybe it wouldn't matter. But if we have 23 kids, what do we do, we have to open a new class just for 3 kids....
Q: How many classrooms are there?
A: ehhh... a lot
Q: In theory, there should be no more than 12 classes of odd numbers of kids, one for each grade and even then... (I started yammering on the math which proves that there's no way that can really be a problem...)
A: Then we'd have to do busing. You don't like buses do you?
Q: (I thought I was asking the questions!) Well, I like buses better than some of the alternatives!
(we move on to the next subject)

During this workshop, various groups such at the teachers, yard monitors, janitors, bus drivers, etc were there and each group made suggestions to present to the group. This led to my last question:

Q: Do you think there's any chance of this process working?
A: ah, well...
Q: By "process" I mean this meeting -- where each group gets to make a suggestion to cut someone other than me.
A: (laughs) That might be what happens. That's where we'll have the third level meetings.
Q: I mean, each group is making suggestions that are essentially "cut the other group." Why not have each group stand up and tell us why they shouldn't be cut?
A: That might ... sort of... happen!

With that cryptic comment hanging out there we moved on...
Note that if all that's needed is to cut everyone's pay by 7%, that's less than the last two raises everyone got. So, worst case scenario, everyone could work for 2006 wages. Horror of horrors. How will they cope?

That suggestion of course violates the tenets of the American Labor Religion. (Thou shalt not ever accept any cut in pay no matter how modest) At some point Mr. Messer did agree that he would give up his $600 / month car allowance (no kidding!) and he would readily accept a cut in pay -- he wouldn't mind, but he wasn't sure they could do that because some people are already making so little, etc. He's just looking out for the little guy I was told.

The school district isn't a "jobs program." And how does a bus driver survive on $40,000/ year?
In a 2001 article about education Scientific American used California as an example of how NOT to do "class size reduction" -- it was money down a rat hole.

Also, last month the board decided to save some pennies and stop videotaping the meetings. The public doesn't need to know anything; just trust them. But at the same meeting they voted to keep paying school employees even when they aren't at their jobs if they are serving the nation in the military. I could see keeping them on the roles for when they get back, but paying them for years? Since when is it the mission of the school district to fund foreign wars? That's the fed's job!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Thanksgiving" in America

Happy Thanksgiving.

Here's a picture from my short lived cooking show a few years ago I think. Hope you have better luck with your turkey.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reversal of fortune?

This just in -- Current unofficial election results so far:

Manteca City Council:
DEBBY MOORHEAD 5977 18.73%
JACK C. SNYDER 5937 18.61%

Lathrop City Council:
STEVE DRESSER 1279 22.59%

Tread carefully newsman

The Sun-Post reports on the mysterious "Mantecans for Safe Streets committee" with its unknown members and secret contributions. They promise to reveal the members and their activity in the fullness of time.

Anyone remember this is exactly the same thing that luncheon with the developers said before the election? The one where they practically snatched the list from the hand of the reporter (he got one photograph). They more or less told him tread carefully newsman! and it is unwise to inquire...

Which reminded me of this episode from the 2004 national election, kindly provided by Comedy Central:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reality TV comes to Lathrop

I love TV reality shows. I can't help it...I've been hooked since I first saw Survivor eight years ago. Something about the interaction of human beings in stressful situations provides more drama and entertainment than almost anything else on TV. I don't watch every reality show that's on, but I usually check them all out at least once and only the best (in my opinion) get on my "must watch" list. My favorites are Survivor, Top Chef, and Project Runway.

Recently I've added the Lathrop City Council meetings to my viewing schedule. The drama and theatrics are stuff great TV is made of. Tuesday night's meeting was a classic. This first meeting after the widely publicized nasty and vindictive election campaign is a "must see" for those of you who like reality TV. In a show of solidarity, the losers in the Lathrop election stood up and castigated Mayor Kristy Sayles for everything they could possibly think of, most of which the mayor and council have no control over and the rest had no business at a government meeting and was just sour grapes.

Loser J. "Chaka" Santos made a loud and disrespectful 5-minute rant at the mayor and others on the council and city staff. He is a bully and, frankly, scares the pants off of me. Menacing in tone and demeanor, he challenged the mayor to go "one on one" with him, "just you and me." He was talking about another election where it would be just him and Sayles, but it sounded like he was calling her out for a street fight. He should be ashamed of himself for showing such disrespect to city officials at a public meeting and he's no role model for the students he brought with him. I don't care what your feelings are about the person holding the office, but show some respect to the office itself. While his cohorts might have found his antics amusing (loser Rosalinda Valencia hooted and guffawed throughout the meeting from the front row), most people found his behavior disgraceful. He reminded the mayor several times that 62% of voters didn't vote for her. Can I remind "Chaka" that 74% didn't vote for him? and even more didn't vote for Robert Oliver.

Councilman Oliver, who lost his bid for the mayor's seat, joined in the theatrics by bringing a bucket filled with water bottles and labeled "waterboy" to the meeting and displaying it on the dais next to his microphone. Oliver is still whining about the campaign flyer Sayles sent out calling him that and told a reporter at the meeting that Sayles "needs to be held accountable." Can we say "hypocrite?" No wonder he lost.

Thanks to Joe for the video clip.

Submitted for your disapproval

Citizen evidently doesn't approve. From Tuesday night's meeting of the Lathrop City Council:

If you're thinking, "what does this have to do with the city government of Lathrop?" join the club. Manteca Live is offered as a public service and our contact information is on the front page.

By the way, that is the former City Clerk of Lathrop. Which could explain why esoteric communication tools such as "e-mail" and "web sites" are mysteries. She's not the City Scientist you know.

I don't know why I didn't think to get the address 'cause that sounds like a real money maker.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

School board cuts video

The Manteca Unified School District has decided to stop broadcasting video of the school board meetings. It seems that after spending more than $13 million on the new administration building and meeting hall, they can't afford to move the video camera to the new building. They said it might cost as much as $90,000 to run the cameras.

The board decided that the expenditure was just "too much" and if they broadcast the meetings, they would have to fire a teacher. They actually said that.

They didn't think there would be any inconvenience to the public or any issue with keeping the public informed of their government's actions. They said an audio recording of the meetings will still be available if anyone wishes to simply drive down to the district office complex and provide some compatible multi-layered optical media and they would be happy to make a copy for you.

Here is a rare video from the superintendent's control room located in the penthouse of the new administration building showing the decision making process; I think obtained by hacking into a Chinese satellite transmission.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lathropians restless

The Lathrop City Council has become the 2nd best show in town. Here citizens rise to express their feelings on who's golfing with whom, go into tirades about their disappointments, interrogate the mayor on mysterious web sites, and so forth. hmm.

They should rename the "citizen's forum" to something more appropriate like "find-a-reason-why-it's-the-mayor's-fault-for-whatever's-bugging-me forum." One participant blamed the mayor for the valley's levees and for FEMA and the California Water board. I thought he was going to blame her for Global Warming® next. Another blamed the mayor for the high school's flushing problems and for the road left incomplete when a builder evaporated. I have to check the notes for the rest of the laundry list of complaints -- but I could have sworn one rose up and wanted to present spectral evidence. I couldn't decipher most of the other expressions of vague displeasure.

Frankly, it's a disgrace. And by the way, the elected leaders have titles you know. They are "councilman" or "council member" and "mayor" or "your honor" - not "kristy" or "martha" or "young lady."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Chief's assessment: Manteca Police

From the report to the Manteca City Council, 23 Oct 2008:

You can read the report for yourself here, but let's simplify things. The chief has done his first 90-day assessment and has some suggestions for how to improve the police department.

First, the chief has observed that most of the calls to the police are nonsense. Calling them "priority 3" and "priority 2," he figures they'll try to get there "in about an hour" or so. (Like having a pair of eyeglasses made at Lenscrafters. Which would be handy if a thief steals your glasses, you can have a new pair made before the police arrive.) For things the dispatcher guesses are a little more urgent, they'll try to get help out in about the time it takes to get a pizza - about 30 minutes.

Well, all this running around dealing with nonsense has been making it hard to respond to "priority 1" situations. He'd like to respond to these in 3 minutes or less - about the time it takes in the outside civilized world to call the police. The "call the police" level priority are dire situations where someone's life is at stake. The chief notes with some pride that the Manteca Police have failed to respond to these life threatening situations only about one in ten times (90.2 percent response rate). That means if you're ever in desperate need of police help, there's a 9 out of 10 chance you might survive. Those are "pretty good" odds -- if you're a gambler. Hats off!

As an aside, there's a certain conflict between the stated goals of the police and this classification system. On page one, one of the goals is listed as "pro-active suppression" of crime; crime prevention in other words. But the definition of "pizza level" calls is "situations that are likely to develop into true emergencies soon" (priority 1). Well, if the goal is to be proactive in preventing situations from developing, why delay responding to situations likely to become emergencies soon? You'd almost think creating or letting emergencies develop was one of the goals.

The chief has also decided that we can save some money because most of those nonsense calls really don't need a "police officer" to respond. So his plan is to fire two police officers (damn waste of good money) and give police clothing to three people and have them respond to the nonsense calls. These "Costumed Simulated Officers" (CSOs) will be taught to act like, talk like and appear to be police officers. Or something like that.

No one can say the chief lacks creative thinking outside the box!

The next problem is there's too much overtime being used by shift supervisors. His creative solution is to promote six "police officers II" to "police corporal." Even the corporals are officers now. Where are the enlisted men? Never mind. The interesting part is how the "police officer II" is a matrix level 38A-2 and the sergeant is matrix level 46A-2. The new "corporal," he suggests, should find his place in the matrix at 40A-2. That's one hell of an organizational chart! I pity the poor guy at level 01A-1 since he obviously has several thousand supervisory positions above him.

The last part of the report deals with the "code enforcement officer" who is tasked with responding to complaints "in a few days" (the time it takes to get your cat spayed or neutered). I guess that's really a low priority. But never mind, he's being promoted to "code enforcement supervisor." This fixes the problem of lack of supervision in the code enforcement department. He supervises a team consisting of ... himself. But there is some plan to bring in someone for him to supervise at some unspecified time in the future.

The future looks bright!

By the way, anyone care to guess the compensation packages that go along with these promotions? I'll let you think about that for a while and put that in a future dispatch. I'll have to end this entry here on the grounds that it's too depressing.

The proposed changes will be discussed at tonight's city council meeting, 7 pm at city hall.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Doug Bandow gives economics lesson

If you've been looking for some free economics education, here's your chance. The lecture series is co-sponsored by the Cortopassi Family Foundation and the Pacific College Republicans and you are invited to attend and even ask questions if you wish. Pictured is last Tuesday's lecturer, Doug Bandow, a "Bastiat Scholar in Free Enterprise" and former Cato Institute scholar (don't ask).

Ok, you had to ask. Bandow has been criticized because among his supporters was an infamously corrupt Washington lobbyist. But all of these talking heads are paid by someone who supports their viewpoints and wants to help them spread the word. But in this case since the lobbyist was highly unliked it sparked complaints. Maybe unwise. Or not. Who knows.

I didn't know about this "controversy" at the time but it does explain a few things. First, I did get the feeling he was ready to jump out of his skin when I approached to ask a question. (Fortunately my disarming good looks let me slip past the handlers.)

I asked two questions. First, I wondered how he thought the young people received his message of the value of the free market? He hoped so but said we should ask the young people. Good point. In the next round of questions I asked about "global warming."

This is where I realized that although I loved the lecture and it was most informative, Bandow, like a lot of Californians suffers from "CPS" - Californian Political Syndrome. One of the characteristics of this disease is when a person can't answer a simple question or express a viewpoint without first trying to ascertain what you want to hear.

My question about the climate was met with questions and back and forth to try to determine my opinion of the matter. As if there's some rule that you aren't allowed to disagree with anyone so you have to figure out what that person believes and then answer the question accordingly.

As an aside, I first noticed this syndrome when talking to the guy who was doing the "restaurant" study in Manteca. And his assistant. Both of them simply refused to answer any question on any controversial topic without first asking what I thought. But once I expressed an opinion, they would enthusiastically agree.

For the record after going back and forth Bandow agreed that his position could be summed up as "maybe the earth is warming a little, but it's nothing to worry about and we should just deal with it instead of trying to destroy civilization in a vain attempt to stop any climate changes." Which he could have said right away without all the questions and answers. Maybe that's CPS or maybe I just looked like Jack Abramoff's brother in law.

The lecture was worthwhile and I even got a little book for free. You might want to mark your calendar. The next lecturer will be Jennifer Roback Morse, Founder and President of the Ruth Institute. Whatever that is. Hm. From the looks of the website I might have a few questions. She will speak on Markets and Morality at 6 pm December 2 at the Pacific Theater, McCaffrey Center at the University of the Pacific. For more info contact or 800-526-7022 ext 147.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans' Day

I forget if I shared this before.

From: The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lathrop voters reject vicious campaign

The election is over and Lathrop's Mayor Kristy Sayles won handily in a 4-way race but the sour grapes and animosity continue. According to the Manteca Bulletin, Sayles' bitter foes are calling the paper and demanding that they look into the mayor's "sins." They can't fathom how someone as "immoral" as they claim Sayles is, could have won a second term. They apparently also can't fathom how their venom and vicious attacks helped her get re-elected.

How many of us can say that we've led exemplary lives, free of mistakes and embarrassments, that would withstand the scrutiny that Sayles and her family endured for many months? She lied about her age when she was 16 or 17, she wrote a check that bounced when she was 20. She's been married 4 times. Does any of that disqualify her for public office? No. She accepted thousands of dollars in campaign donations 2 years ago from developers but didn't roll over and do what they demanded. Should she return the donations as some have suggested? Wouldn't that indicate that the developers only donated to her in expectation of favors in return? Is that what Lathrop wants?

Obviously not. Her detractors say that she didn't win a "majority" so the vote was really "against" Sayles, not for her. In America, votes "against" a candidate don't count, only votes "for" and more Lathrop citizens voted for Sayles than her closest competition. Robert Oliver and John Rock, both of whom were running against Sayles, denounced the website that tried to take her down, but only in the last week or so before the election. Why didn't they denounce it earlier? Both had been enthusiastic posters on the site in the beginning, joining in and encouraging others to "burn the witch" for her sins. Did they think people wouldn't remember? I find it particularly distasteful (and hypocritical) that Oliver is crying that Sayles ran a "negative" campaign and called him "waterboy." Boo hoo.

The second highest vote-getter in the race for mayor was J. "Chaka" Santos. Though Santos didn't participate in the smear website, he was very vocal in his criticism of the mayor on issues but came across to the public as being a very angry person. People might respond well to anger if there's been some grave injustice and the angry candidate is rallying to right it, but I don't think people thought Sayles had done such a bad job in the past. Santos' anger and theatrics at city council meetings didn't sit well with most voters.

In the end, it was Kristy Sayles who prevailed. Maybe it wasn't a landslide, but she certainly beat her closest rivals by a resounding margin. The citizens of Lathrop rejected the brutal and anonymous campaign against her. They also rejected the quieter campaign against Martha Salcedo, city council member who was called Sayles' stooge and accomplice. Salcedo won re-election hands down. In contrast, incumbent Steve Dresser was beaten by newcomer Chris Mateo but only by a few votes so we'll have to wait for the final results on that one.

I can't help but think that the vicious campaign against Sayles has made her a stronger person and probably a better mayor. She kept calm and held her head high when so-called friends and colleagues shunned her because of embarrassing gossip posted on an anonymous website.

My mother (bless her soul) used to tell me that whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger and that adversity builds character and my mother was always right.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Manteca Bulletin's pit bull still attacking on election day

Shame on the Manteca Bulletin for running another hit piece on Lathrop's Mayor Kristy Sayles on election day. Continuing her recent string of attacks on the mayor, assassin Rose Albano-Risso does a story on how happy the city's union (SEIU) workers are now that city manager Yvonne Quiring has been terminated. She even quotes chief ignorant villager Laura Thimler, girlfriend of the mayor's uncle and former mayor Steve McKee, giving her opinion of the firing as if that is somehow newsworthy or relevant. Thimler has made many vicious and defamatory attacks on Sayles on stemming from a very personal feud.

The rest of the city council who were interviewed apparently have no control over what decisions are or were made in the past, blaming everything on Sayles. You'd think Lathrop was run by a dictator instead of a 5-person council. Not a one of them takes any blame for the the firing of the last two city managers in as many years, for the half million dollar sexual harrassment lawsuit settlement to former city clerk Nancy Rustigian or for the firing of Matt Browne. According to them, Sayles did it all herself. Amazing!

Who the heck is running things in Lathrop? Sounds like the developers and unions if you ask me. No matter how the election turns out today, Lathrop has a lot of healing to do if that is even possible.

One might also wonder who is running the Manteca Bulletin these days...Dennis Wyatt seems to have abdicated his position to Abano-Risso who has been letting her friendships with influential people color her judgment.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Negative campaign?

Am I reading this nonsense right? Is Rose Albano-Risso trying to tell us that Mayor Sayles is responsible for the terrible "negative campaign" in Lathrop? Are my eyes deceiving me? Did she actually write that? And the paper printed it?

Doesn't Risso realize that just the fact that was created by someone other than "Kristy Sayles" indicates that it's not the Mayor doing the "sleazy" campaign? Ms. Risso here's a clue for you: If a website uses someone's name as the URL, and it's really made by someone else that alone is dishonest. Did you ever explain this to the readers?

Is the sleazy campaign the mayor's fault? For a trivial comment? Is it reasonable to draw some moral equivalence between the things said to Sayles and what she said? That's a joke and a double standard.

Maybe you're confused. Take out a paper and write down the things that the people campaigning for Oliver have called the Mayor, then write down the things Mayor Sayles has said.

Under the "Oliver campaign" you can list the following:
  • Criminal!
  • Liar!
  • falsified documents
  • bigamist!
  • child abuser!
  • husband beater!
  • Irresponsible!
  • called "whore" or "slut" (translated from Spanish)
  • Adulterous!
  • she's divorced!
  • Improper illegal business practices!
  • no business license!
  • Destroys people's lives, dictator, reign of terror!
All of which is either false or malicious/vindictive/reckless interpretation. And I mean all. Someone I'm sure will point to the "criminal conviction." Sure thing, a $370 fine 'cause her bank closed her account before somene got paid. Admitted mistake and paid same fine as rolling through a right turn at a red light. If that's the definition of "criminal" then you're a criminal and I'm a criminal. Anyone who ever got a traffic ticket has a "criminal conviction" so if that's you, you're "a criminal."

Under the Sayles campaign you can list:
  • Said someone was a "waterboy for the developers" (who are funding the smear website and despicable campaign of lies)
  • Called developers "greedy" and said they want to use the City of Lathrop like their personal ATM machine
Oh my stars how terrible! I don't know how anyone could stoop so low as to say someone is a "waterboy." I sure hope Mr. Oliver, I'm sorry Reverend Oliver, no I'm sorry Professor Oliver will somehow survive the onslaught of negativity! And now calling developers greedy constitutes a negative campaign too? Are they running for office?

How well has that or any of these articles served to inform the voting public about the issues? Zero!

Mr. Wyatt, editor of the Manteca Bulletin, you have a newspaper to straighten out.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Voting guide: Manteca

Manteca City Council

There are two seats open. I'm going to be voting for:

1. Debby Moorhead: An "outsider" with a fresh perspective. She seems to recognize that "business unfriendly" is really the same as "poverty friendly."

2. Benjamin Cantu:* For lack of any other really good choice. Cantu is the ultimate bureaucrat having spent 30 years in the employ of city government. I had to look past comments at the forum disparaging Wal-Mart (the world's most successful company). To be fair those comments were not entirely clear.

On the positive side, he had the courage to publish his viewpoints in a full page ad in the newspaper. That's refreshing to me. It's not so much if I agree or disagree with him, he's one of the few who has the courage to actually say what he thinks. At least there's the possibility for discussion when someone speaks their mind.

* As an alternative to Cantu, you may want to consider Samuel Anderson. Vote at your own risk because his warranty may have expired. He voiced a desire to roll taxes back to 2006 levels (repeal measure m extra sales tax) -- and that alone is a good enough reason for consideration.

This was difficult because both incumbents, Councilman Snyder and Debrum are good men, but terrible politicians. They are both qualified -- but damnit, they are stuck in the "way things have to be" instead of seeing what could be.

Snyder enjoys the wisdom of years. Yet he still insists that we "have to compete" with other cities and what he means is "we have to take more money from our citizens to give to big corporations than other cities do." That's not competing, that's a form of (dare I say) mild fascism and a prescription for poverty. Which has worked to produce poverty exactly as predicted.

On other issues he is courageous. He once asked why all the policemen in town are dressed like thugs and gangsters with their shaved heads and menacing appearance. I admire that kind of courage and it's unfortunate I can't vote for him.

Similarly, Debrum is personable and competent. Yet he still insists that it's government's job to take money from people by force and give it to big corporations. He also pointed to the "measure m" tax increase as "good" even though the money has simply gone to a pay raise (37%) for city personnel with zero increase in "safety" for all practical purposes. He points to boondoggles as "good" -- The "Big League Dreams" park that everyone in Manteca was forced to purchase with their hard earned money ($1000 per person!) whether they liked the idea or not. He justified the $millions taken from ordinary citizens and given to "Bass Pro Shop" and "Costco" as "helping you." We need someone more careful with the public's money.

Are you wondering why I would praise "business friendly" above and yet condemn the gifts to big corporations? That's not a conflict. Business friendly means business has the freedom to open their shop or factory or store with the minimum of costs or hassles from the city government. That is entirely different than giving gifts to business. That's not business friendly because it's profoundly unfriendly to the one not getting the gifts.

And this has been the problem with the current council. They will give gifts to certain favored businesses and other "little guys" get nothing but hassles from the city. The little guy can't open a car wash (no permit for you!), the little car dealer must donate 10% of his land to the city tree program or else he will be denied a permit but the big car dealer gets money from the city. Simply putting a sign on your building is an ordeal. Unless you are favored; in that case you get an exception from the sign ordinance. And so on.

We can do better. We can live as free people. Go out and vote like it means something.