Dust-up over department reorganization to save money

The city council approved a reorganization of the human services department at Tuesday’s meeting but not without heated discussion.

The council voted 4-1, with Mayor Pro Tem Corey Calaycay voting against the plan. Mr. Calaycay’s vote came after members of the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy and the Friends of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park objected to being left out of the conversation about scaling back the senior park ranger position.

The reorganization occurred due to several losses in the Human Services Department—Human Services Supervisor Ali Martinez tendered her resignation in order to spend more time with her family, two other employees transferred to full-time positions within the Community Development Department and Senior Park Ranger Mark Manlapaz was tragically killed while working at Cal Poly Pomona on June 29.

The plan is to promote Human Services Manager Melissa Vollaro to become Deputy Director of Human Services at additional annual cost of $8,500. In 2017, Ms. Vallaro earned $159,915 in total pay and benefits, according to Transparent California. The plan also adds a part-time program coordinator for special events at $54,300 a year, and a part-time human service leader/senior leader position for $43,100.

The full time park ranger position would be eliminated, saving $91,800 a year, but the part-time position would cost the city $54,300 a year.

All told, the city would be saving $226,100 per year, according to the staff report.

City Manager Tara Schultz began the discussion by “addressing misinformation” about the reorganization. She emphasized that it does not cut any existing programs or services, and was developed by the Human Services Department in conjunction with the city manager and the personnel manager.

“It is an opportunity to recognize outstanding staff and give them career growth opportunities,” Ms. Schultz said.

The full-time ranger position was reduced to part-time in part because the person who accepted the position has worked for the city for several years, but has an existing job at another city during the week, according to Human Services Director Anne Turner. His role as senior park ranger will be 25 hours a week at $25 an hour for an average of $32,500 a year.

“This gives us an opportunity to fill that senior park ranger position, and also we can fill the remaining hours from Mark’s position to give additional hours to some of the other rangers that have already—and will continue—to pick up the responsibilities,” Ms. Schultz said.

She also addressed the cost savings of the plan, saying the city needed to take opportunities to save money as they present themselves.

“It really is a good thing that we have this ability to make some of these promotions happen, to provide these opportunities for people, and to grow the department on a career basis,” Ms. Schultz said. “And that’s a really good thing for us and it still saves us a little bit of money.”

Ms. Turner said Ms. Vollaro’s promotion solidifies the role she has already been doing, and allows a current park ranger and other staffers to step into leadership positions.

“This represents a truly creative piece of work that moves my staff forward while also saving the city money,” she said.

During public comment, members of the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy (CWC) and Friends of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park said they were not informed of the staff changes, nor were they given the opportunity to provide input before the plan was presented to the council.

CWC board member Lissa Petersen feared that the reorganization could stretch existing staff too thin.

“I think what you’re seeing here is a concern because there is tremendous commitment to the master plan and a tremendous love for the park,” she said. “And when you make decisions that involve the park, it’s really important to engage those of us who have put so much of our heart, our minds and our time into the master plan and the good management of the park.”

Community and Human Services Commission Chair Lee Kane applauded the plan, emphasizing that the human services department, “took a terrible situation and in the face of looming budget crisis, attempted to keep our remaining staff by providing opportunities for their advancement and by paying them a fair wage.”

The department reorganization did not go through formal review by the Community and Human Services Commission before it was brought to council.

Robin Trozpek called for the council to pull the decision from the agenda and reconsider it at a later time. She cited safety concerns, and questioned the amount of money collected from parking fees and where it would go.

“We do have sufficient funds for the positions that we have in place from parking fees. So those are collected with the objective of supporting the Wilderness Park,” she said. “I would hesitate to redirect them elsewhere.”

Mayor Opanyi Nasiani responded that the parking fees would not be redirected. “The master plan made it very clear that parking fees would go into the management of the park,” he said.

Mr. Calaycay was sympathetic to the Friends and the CWC, and offered to “bifurcate” the plan—approve the administrative restructuring but table the park ranger decision to continue discussion. He emphasized that the CHWP master plan—which the current council approved in 2016—calls for a full-time ranger, adding it “merits a community discussion on that.”

“It strikes me that it is very bipartisan in terms of the people approaching us with concerns,” he added.

But the rest of the council, while said they were also sympathetic to the Friends and the CWC, approved the plan anyway.

Councilmember Sam Pedroza apologized to the CWC and the Friends for not alerting them to the changes earlier. “That’s something that I should have done,” he said.

Ms. Schultz and Ms. Turner were also apologetic to the Friends and the CWC.

“I would like to say publicly, that in retrospect, while personnel decisions are personnel decisions and that’s something separate, I feel that if I had the time with the way things fell together—I did not—I would have liked the opportunity to sit with the Friends and the CWC,” Ms. Turner said.

But she cautioned the council that the ranger program would be difficult to manage if they didn’t approve the reorganization that night.

“It is going to be difficult, I will not sugarcoat it for the council,” Ms. Turner said.

Mr. Pedroza and Mr. Nasiali took issue with an email written by former Assistant City Manager Bridget Healy, who condemned city management for “being shortsighted,” and calling it a “29 percent cut” in human services staff just to save money.

“This all feels so wrong,” she wrote. “That staff is so intent on and desperate to save money, at the expense of the employees providing services and the people for whom the services are provided. This is not a good message, to anybody.”

In his remarks, Mr. Pedroza said he didn’t “have anything to lose” as he responded to the letter.

“I was very pissed off seeing this email from a former staff person going around,” he said. “I thought it was the most disrespectful thing to have someone really go off, I think, with half information, and really say negative things about our budget situation.”

Mr. Nasiali agreed with Mr. Pedroza.

“There was a time where the city was facing a $5 million deficit during that regime,” he said. “And for someone from that regime to come here and say you’re doing something that’s affecting ‘whatever whatever,’ I think that’s unfortunate.”

The council voted to approve the plan, 4-1.

The council also voted 3-2 in a symbolic opposition to Proposition 6, a statewide measure to repeal the gas tax, and voted unanimously to join the “Everyone In” campaign on homelessness. More on the meeting will be in next week’s COURIER.

—Matthew Bramlett



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