Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Restore Accountability - Support the Fullerton Recall

Update: On June 5, 2012, Fullerton voters overwhelmingly chose to clean house.  All three council members facing recall were shown the door.  "Yes" votes outnumbered "No" votes on the recall by a margin of 2-1.  Travis Kiger, Greg Sebourn and Doug Chaffee will replace F. Dick Jones, Pat McKinley and Don Bankhead.  Congratulations, Fullerton!

Fullerton, California has grappled with an abject failure of leadership over the past decade or so.  For many of us, the tipping point came with the beating death of unarmed homeless man Kelly Thomas on July 5, 2011 (for more details regarding Kelly's murder at the hands of the Fullerton Police Department, see previous posts).

Kelly's death and the subsequent cover-up are not the only reasons that Fullerton needs a change of leadership, they're just the straws that broke the camel's proverbial back.  Below, I've outlined several reasons that F. "Dick" Jones, Pat "McPension" McKinley and Don Bankhead need to go.

The Death of Kelly Thomas

Unless you've been manning the Space Station for the past year, you're probably familiar with the details of Kelly's murder.  In brief, he was detained by the Fullerton Police Dept. on July 5, 2011 on suspicion of burglarizing parked cars.  During the encounter, Officer Manny Ramos became frustrated that Kelly had difficulty complying with his orders, at one point stating "See my fists? They're getting ready to fuck you up".  Kelly tried to run but he was quickly taken down with batons and tasers.  In the beating that followed, Kelly sustained mortal injuries.  He died after being removed from life-support 5 days later.

Councilman (and former Chief of Police) Pat McKinley later bragged about having personally hired the officers involved in the beating.  Here is on CNN defending the killers.  While council members Bruce Whitaker and Sharon Quirk-Silva were quick to condemn the actions of these rogue cops, McKinley, Jones and Bankhead did everything in their power to try to excuse the inexcusable.  Whitaker and Quirk-Silva bravely and publicly called for the release of all relevant information regarding the investigation, including the city-operated surveillance tapes.  The Three Blind Mice (copyright Friends for Fullerton's Future) dragged their feet and downplayed the egregiousness of the officers' wrongdoing.  When DA Tony Rackauckas announced that 2 of the cops involved would face criminal charges, Jones called it "a tragedy for the officers".  Bankhead, also a former Fullerton cop, has consistently refused to take any action that might be contrary to the interests of his bosses within the Fullerton Police Officer's Assn.

Despite the Fullerton Police Department's well-documented track record of misconduct (see, the 3 council members facing recall have each done their part to resist meaningful reform.  They are each so utterly dependent upon campaign funding from the cops' union that they no longer represent the interests of the citizenry.

The FPD has lost our faith and the 3 Spent Cartridges have chosen to side with their union bosses over the electorate.  Go to the polls on June 5 and let them know how you feel about that decision.

Illegal Water Tax

Article XIII D, section 6(b) of the California State Constitution prohibits local governments from charging utility rates which exceed the costs of actually delivering the utility.  Basically, the city government may not profit by selling us water.

Of course, building and maintaining a water delivery infrastructure is expensive.  There are reservoirs, pumping stations, main pipes, administrative costs, etc.  Cities may (and most do) contract with a third party to actually deliver the water, and then pass those costs along to ratepayers in the form of a "franchise fee" on their water bills.  This is legal.

The City of Fullerton does things a little differently.  Since the city actually owns all of the water delivery infrastructure, there is no "franchise fee".  To offset the costs of water deliver, the city simply imposes a 10% surcharge onto our water bills, known as the "in-lieu-of-franchise-fee" (hereinafter, the "ILFF")

The revenue generated by the ILFF is then siphoned from the city's Water Fund and reallocated to the General Fund (coincidentally, the same fund that is used to pay council members' generous pensions).  It quickly becomes apparent why the council has a vested interest in assuring that this revenue stream keeps flowing.  Pun very much intended.

The problem is twofold: 1) The 10% figure is purely arbitrary.  It's a big, round number that someone pulled out of the air because it was easy to calculate.  It does not accurately represent the actual costs of water delivery.  2) It appears on its face to be an illegal, revenue-raiser.

Since the council has become dependent on milking the ratepayers to fund their own pensions, they have no incentive to provide any accurate audit of the actual costs of water delivery.  According the city's internal review (not conducted by CPAs in accordance with any GAAP), the true costs of delivering the city's water hovers somewhere around 6.7 % of the total cost rather than the previously-assumed 10 %.  This 6.7 % includes the costs that city pays to itself to rent office space in buildings that the city owns (huh???).  Accepting the generous 6.7 % figure, the city has overcharged water users by about $27,000,000.00 since 1997.  This money has been diverted from its intended purpose (maintaining and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure) and redirected into the pockets of the city's leaders and public employees unions.

Something We Can All Agree On

Liberals and Conservatives, Progressives and Libertarians can all agree that Fullerton needs a change at the top.  Our police department has abused our most vulnerable citizens with impunity.  Spending is out of control while critical infrastructure crumbles.  The elected leaders continue to line their own pockets with generous pensions while the ratepayers are bilked on water fees.  Our representatives on the City Council have been bought and paid for by public employees' unions.  They work for their union bosses, not for us.

On June 5, vote for change.