Council puts end to budget working group
by Matthew Bramlett
After negative feedback from the public, the Claremont City Council is doing away with the budget working group.
The announcement was made during Tuesday night’s council meeting. A budget ad hoc committee comprised of Mayor Pro Tem Jennifer Stark and Councilmember Ed Reece had announced the creation of the Council Budget Working Group in December, asking residents to apply for a position.
Roughly 21 people applied for five positions in the group, which was to work in tandem with city staff on ways to reduce the budget.
But controversy arose when it was announced the group would be closed to the public, igniting concerns about transparency in the wake of Measure CR’s narrow failure. Ms. Stark said on Tuesday the group was closed in part because of confidential personnel issues that would have been discussed.
After backlash, the committee postponed the group in late December “to allow the city to determine if the objective of the ad hoc committee is being achieved by the proposed process.”
On Tuesday, Ms. Stark and Mr. Reece did away with the group in favor of public meetings dedicated to different elements of the budget.
Under the new plan, there will be five meetings open to the public, four held during city council meetings.
At the February 25 council meeting, revenue projections will be discussed, and an overview of PERS will be on the agenda for a council meeting in March or April, dependent on the availability of a PERS representative, Mr. Reece said.
On March 24, the council will hold a public meeting on expenditure projections. On Saturday, May 9, the city will hold a community workshop with department presentations with recommended budget cuts. That meeting will be broadcast live and archived on the city’s website.
Finally, on June 9, the city will present the final draft of the budget for council consideration.
“These public meetings, and specifically the workshop, are something new that has not been done before, and we believe it will provide the additional engagement,” Mr. Reece said.
The city will also launch a dedicated webpage to the budget, provide budget summary sheets and info through mailers, emails, the city letter and the weekly city manager’s report.
Residents will also be given advanced notice of proposed budget cuts to allow for public feedback, something Mr. Reece emphasized during his portion of the presentation.
“We want to make sure all the community has the opportunity to engage the council and engage the staff on what is a priority for this community in regards to ongoing services and programs,” he said.
He disclosed the city is looking to cut $2 million from the budget this year. The goal, he said, was to “get ahead of the curve and start being proactive” as they head toward the 2023-2024 budget, which is projected to have a $2.8 million deficit.
This year’s budget is projected to have an $800,000 deficit, while the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 budgets are projected to have $1.5 million and $2.2 million deficits, respectively.
Douglas Lyon noted during public comment that he would have liked to see this proposal in the agenda packet to allow more time for review. But he reacted positively to the plan and congratulated the council for launching it.
“I think we needed a very detailed and open and public discussion on where we go from here,” he said.
Former councilmember Joe Lyons—who spoke three times at Tuesday’s meeting—used one of his comment periods to take issue with one of the goals of the ad hoc committee: fostering public confidence and trust.
He claimed that previous councils have “provided us with an inheritance we should be proud of and is an obligation of people sitting in your seats to preserve,”?further emphasizing that there should never have been mistrust in the council in the first place.
“You do not in any way deserve to have to regain anybody’s trust, nor does our staff,” Mr. Lyons said.
“You should be engaged, as the staff should be engaged, with coming up now with having to provide solutions to what are inadequate funds to maintain the city in the way we inherited it,” he continued.
Ludd Trozpek accused the council of violating the Brown Act in their decision to postpone the working group. He pointed to language in the agenda packet noting the mayor met with the ad hoc committee—Ms. Stark and Mr. Reece—and claimed it was done without a public meeting, hence the violation.
“So whether it was a direct meeting with the mayor, whether it was a serial meeting through the city manager, it was a Brown Act violation,” he said.
City Attorney Alisha Patterson said the sentence in the staff report was misleading; there wasn’t a meeting between Mayor Larry Schroeder and Mr. Reece and Ms. Stark.
“The Brown Act does allow for folks like staff to reach out to councilmembers individually and have discussions without talking about what each councilmember is saying,” Ms. Patterson said.
Mr. Schroeder also denied having any meetings with the two councilmembers, and said he was “surprised” when he learned the initial group meetings were closed to the public. He added the initial announcement of the group on December 10 was a council item and not part of the actual agenda where it would be open for discussion.
“I am happy to see that we will have an open process that will include several meetings open to the public for their input, and I think it’s going to be a much better process than we’ve had in past years,” Mr. Schroeder said.
Councilmember Jed Leano offered a suggestion—before every public meeting, there should be a quick rundown on what was discussed at the previous meeting and subsequent responses from the public.
“I think what that does is take all these budget topics and makes them into one complete project, as opposed to bifurcating them into separate subject matters,” he said.
Both Mr. Reece and Councilmember Corey Calaycay lauded the residents who applied to be a part of the initial budget group and hoped they would still be involved in the process. City Manager Tara Schultz offered to keep the committee on as a “focus group” to bounce ideas and outreach off of as the months progress, something Mr. Schroeder supported.
Local businesswomen honored
The Claremont city council kicked off the first meeting of 2020 by recognizing two local residents who were given awards by State Senator Anthony Portantino.
Mr. Portantino recognized Sonja Stump and Genoveva Talbott last month for their contributions to volunteer work and law, respectively, in his 25th state senate district.
Both were part of a number of women who were recognized during Mr. Portantino’s Women in Business luncheon on December 4, 2019.
Ms. Stump has run Sonja Stump Photography in the Village for years and has been a familiar face in around town and at local events. Ms. Talbott runs the Meza Talbott law firm, which focuses on family law, estate planning and divorce mediation.
Ms. Stump and Ms. Talbott were each given certificates of appreciation by Mayor Larry Schroeder.
The next city council meeting will be on Tuesday, January 28.