Public Comments, My Accountability and $35,000 Cover Letters

At last night’s Beaumont City Council meeting, I noticed a change in Mayor Berg’s attitude and demeanor, a change I welcome. He admitted he had difficulty in keeping track of all the public comment requests and apologized for the one he overlooked at the last meeting. He has implemented a new system involving the City Clerk to improve the process. He acknowledged last night, more than once, that the public comments portion of the meeting is for the public. Instead of responding to comments or instructing the staff to address a comment, as he has in the past, he instructed the city manager to look into some of the issues raised by the public.

During  public comments, Council Member David Castaldo made a charitable gesture to donate his council member's paycheck for November to a city program collecting food for those in need. He promised to donate 50 cents for every can of food donated to the program until his November pay is completely donated. I’m not sure of the details of the program but I am sure if you contact the City, they will have all the details. 

Mr. Castaldo also commented that there are two kinds of people in Beaumont, those who want to tear apart the City and those who want to make it better, he said he wanted to be one of the latter. I agree there are many who want to work to improve our city but I honestly don’t think there is anyone who is working to “tear apart the city.” There are some who are motivated by self interest, some who believe all politicians and government administrators are dishonest and self serving, and others who feel they have been mistreated by the Council or administration and have made retribution their primary goal.

I too want to make Beaumont the best it can be and I am motivated by a self interest. I want a safe place for my kids to grow up. I want our schools to prepare all of our kids to contribute to our community, I want our community to provide enough jobs for current and future residents. And, I want my home value to increase so when I am ready to sell, I can still afford to retire.

I don’t believe making personal attacks or calling people names will accomplish anything positive; this is why I don’t. I do not agree with the direction our council is leading the City. I don’t want to believe they have proven to be criminal or unethical which is why I try to show them the respect that I believe comes with their position. If I feel I have been mistreated as a citizen by an elected official, I am going to stand up for myself but I don’t turn it into a personal attack.

About a year ago I began taking notice of the complaints and concerns of the more vocal critics of the city. I reached out to these critics and at the same time began asking other people with ties to the city, if any of these claims had any merit. A person who I have a great deal of respect for, told me he was worried about the financial health of the City. Once I started writing posts about my concerns, I began to hear from more and more people; people with long histories and strong ties to our community. These are people who would never speak at a council meeting or share their concerns in public. I found I had become a lightning rod for many who had their own issues with our local government.

I’ve had many people approach me with their concerns and their ideas about what I should be investigating and where I should look. I listen to anyone who wants to talk and I meet with anyone who requests a meeting. I’ve had conversations with current and past council members and current and past water commissioners, city staff as well as people I run into at the store. I’ve sat down with officials from neighboring towns and people who have daily professional dealings with our city. And, yes, I have listened to Beaumont’s most vocal and passionate critics of the council, the city’s administration, and their consultants.

Just because I’ve listened to, and investigated, someone’s claims it doesn’t mean they are my partner or that I agree with their opinions, methods or motivations. I do my own research, form my own opinions and take on the issues I consider important. How others decide to express their opinion or what methods they choose to effect change, is not my concern nor is it my obligation to condemn anyone. I am my own person and I am only accountable for my actions.

When I see in Beaumont an Economic Development Department prioritizing population growth over the needs and desires of the current residents, I have to do something.

When I learn the city is refinancing our Mello-Roos Bonds to benefit consultants, bankers, attorneys, and engineers at my expense and the expense of other homeowners, I can’t just sit back and watch.

When an audit, that took more than a year to complete, bases the financial future of our city on a debt their own auditors doubt is collectable, and the City appears to be taking their time to collect, I am suspicious of the effectiveness and quality of their internal financial controls.

None of this means I want to tear apart the city. It doesn’t mean I’m no longer proud to live here. I’ve said this before; my family loves living in Beaumont. Right now there’s nowhere else we would move to even if we could.

Yesterday, I went to city hall to view documents that were the subject of my latest public records request. In an earlier documents request I learned each bond refunding resulted in a $35,000 expense for a Project Engineer’s Report from Urban Logics, the city’s consultant. I asked to see the reports for the last two bond refinanced. I was given two files that were each about 2 inches thick.

Each report consisted of a 3 or 4 page cover letter summarizing the purpose, and the City’s authority, for reissuing the bonds. I focused on the report for the most recent bond and found the remaining 2 to 3 hundred pages consisted entirely of old engineering reports, none of which appeared to have been performed by Urban Logic. The most recent report was from last year and reported on the new sewer service provided to Calimesa residences. The remaining pages in the $35,000 report consisted mainly of the original CFD funding project engineering reports from 2002-2003 and the Oak Valley/I-10 interchange project engineering report from 2007. I couldn’t find any deliverables from Urban Logic that, in my opinion, justified a $35,000 fee. I reviewed each page and took many pictures with my phone; it took me about 45 minutes to completely review one report. I looked at the report for the other bond refinance and found copies of many of the same reports. I found only minor modifications to the location and legal description of the CFD area in the cover letter. 

I shared my findings with John last night and when he addressed the City Council during public comments, he asked the Council if the City paid $35,000 for just a cover letter. Mayor Berg, to his credit, instructed Mr. Kapanicas to report back at the next council meeting on what the city received for their two $35,000 reports. 

I will be very interested to see what Mr. Kapanicas presents at the next Council meeting.