Opinion: Elk Grove -
We will never be another Bell!

By Elk Grove Coalition Advocating Proper Planning (EGCAPP) With the recent scandal involving the city of Bell, the outrageous salaries of t...

By Elk Grove Coalition Advocating Proper Planning (EGCAPP)

With the recent scandal involving the city of Bell, the outrageous salaries of the city manager, council members and other staff, including the chief of police; not to mention the over-inflated contracts awarded, backroom deals made, corruption and criminal behavior at the local government level at its worst, cities throughout California are now looking more closely at the misuse of public funds. And better still, citizens are taking a closer look at their own city council's asking, "If this could happen in Bell, what's going on in my city?" Citizens aren't the only ones who are finally stepping up to hold local elected officials accountable to the people they serve.

The League of California Cities, which boasts a 100% membership of every city in California , is taking a strong stand stating, “City leaders stand ready to work with our state counterparts to craft a package of legal reforms and best practices guidelines to bring greater transparency to both local and state government decisions about compensation of public officials and administrators.” Here in Elk Grove, the public deserves no less and active citizens stood ready to stand up and fight from the get go.

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Ever since the city of Elk Grove incorporated back in 2000, there was a small army of citizens who kept a watchful eye on our city government. Though sometimes maligned and called names on the local Blogs, this active group of citizens are responsible for the city of Elk Grove not going down a path of no return, following in Bell ’s footsteps.

In our early years, that band of citizens (who incidentally don’t always agree with each other) showed up at the last minute special meetings -- meetings called by the Elk Grove City Council at 3:30 p.m. knowing full well that most people are at work and can’t attend. But attend they did, taking time off work because it was that important.

One special meeting of particular impact was called to fire our first city manager, David Jenkins, who had the courage and strength to say “No" to a young council. Imagine the council's surprise when the room was filled with citizens objecting to the special last minute meeting and condemning the council's sneaky actions. Note: The council did not vote to fire Jenkins during that special meeting because of the public outrage; however, Jenkins left the city's employ on his own terms shortly thereafter. But the reality is, Jenkins's strength cost him his job. Did the city council heed the warnings that citizens are keeping a close eye on our local government? You be the judge.

Those same citizens showed at future special meetings -- special meetings are not video taped and are called with a mandated 24 hours notice only -- when our next city manager, John Danielson, got an alleged job offer, and was rewarded with a huge salary increase by the council to stay; despite – you guessed it – the objection of citizens. Who gets their salary almost doubled in less than two years of employment; especially when a contract was signed for five years?

Subsequently, a year later, another special meeting was called at 3:30 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon to give Danielson and former City Attorney Anthony Manzanetti yet more significant raises including an increase in the percentage of deferred compensation.

To add to the lunacy of a government hell bent on being a Bell, the council awarded Danielson even more vacation, more vacation so that he would be able to use that time to consultant; consulting which received the council's blessing. Never mind the consulting could possibly result in conflicts of interest. (Only current Elk Grove City Council member Jim Cooper voted a loud, strong, "No" after public comment whereby citizens who could show up and adamantly denounced the council's actions. The other four applauded Danielson, calling him a "godsend;" standing defiant against all objections to give Danielson the moon and did.)

That was last straw for many and in 2006 and 2008, the majority of the city council was replaced and with that the entire executive team changed. The platform for change included a complete "how we do business" audit; something those citizens, seeing the writing on the wall, were demanding for years. The result being “The Sinclair Report,” and low and behold the findings were much of the same many citizens have spoke up for repeatedly during public comment.

Since election 2008, local government in the city of Elk Grove turned a transparent corner and we have become the anti-Bell. But we aren’t finished yet.

Fast forward to early 2011, and arguably; the most important city contract is up for renewal: The planning department contract. Elk Grove residents who want their voice heard on this contract must speak up. Do you believe Elk Grove has been a well-planned, well-throughout city?

Elk Grove Coalition Advocating Proper Planning (EGCAPP) has requested a report entitled, “Planning the City of Elk Grove: The First Ten Years of Incorporation.”

In it, we are requesting the following:

· Identify both the short-term and long-range impacts of planning decisions since incorporation, present time and the future.

· Identify the cumulative effects of individual decisions on the physical, economic and social environment.

· Has the planning department provided the community with a sense of certainty and predictability? Past, present and into the future?

· Has the city of Elk Grove and the planning department adopted plans that provide overall direction based on the most current knowledge and city policies?

· Have all groups had equal access to the planning process to be able to influence decision makers on planning issues? Past, present and future?

· Do the citizens of Elk Grove ultimately determine our vision and has it been the planners' role is to help them define it and work toward achieving it? If so, how have they accomplished that vision? If not, why not?

· Has the community's vision been expressed and implemented as determined in the General Plan? The Zoning Code?

· Has planning focused on actions that improve the quality of life for all in the community?

· Planners have a responsibility to provide excellent customer service. Has that occurred consistently for the past ten years?

· Planners must have continual self-development to improve their skills and effectiveness. With the constant turnover in city planners, please address how continuity and effectiveness has been achieved? Has customer service suffered?

All Elk Grove residents who take an active roll in our local government are to be applauded for keeping a watchful eye because it is those citizens who keep Elk Grove on the straight and narrow. Many a city manager was quoted regarding Bell , including Ted Gaebler, city manager of Rancho Cordova, stating, “All of us are surprised, shocked and concerned about what happened in Bell .”

Thankfully, here in Elk Grove, concerned citizens are trying to ensure we maintain a transparent government. Good news is, with the majority of the council we now have in place, we have more than a fighting chance!

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