Our New City Council

Tonight, we’ll get to see our new City Council Members sworn in. Regardless of your position throughout the campaigns, this must be exciting for most of us who follow these matters. Well, at least it is for me. Tonight we’ll see how our choices at the polls translate into real life action as the folks we voted in take their seats.

This will be an emotional evening. Mayor Paul Miller is retiring after decades of service to the community. I don’t want to see him go. Two years ago, I produced artwork and posted signs for an underdog candidate for Mayor who ran against him for no other reason than to attempt to break-up what I referred to as the “status quo” and what I perceived to be Mayor Miller’s easy, unchallenged ride back into his seat. Even the candidate who challenged him agreed that Miller was doing it right, agreeing with him on almost every point during the candidate forums. I realized when he was easily re-elected that I had more to learn about Paul Miller before I could comfortably say he wasn’t the choice for Mayor. I will miss Paul Miller.

Michelle Foster will also be stepping down, handing her seat over to newly elected Councilman Mike Judge. Foster’s campaign for re-election was clean and steady. In what has been described as an anti-incumbent atmosphere, this election cycle had to be tough for both Foster and Becerra. But Foster’s passion for the community is such that I predicted she wouldn’t get overly aggressive, attack her opponents or do anything that could be perceived as negative. And she didn’t. One could speculate that she’s stepping down as a result of that, but one can only speculate. The fact is that she is stepping down in the same positive light and with the same stellar reputation with which she joined the Council. Though she won’t be sitting at the dais, her work will almost certainly continue.

Miller and Foster will be saying their good-bye’s this evening at 5:00PM at City Council Chambers. I work out of town, but will be trying my best to get there to see them off. Hopefully some of you can do the same.

City Councilman Mike Judge and Mayor Bob Huber will be sworn in this evening. Both of these new members of the Council have indicated publicly via interviews or through community channels that they intend to put Simi Valley’s best interests first. Both have discussed reuniting the council after what could be described as a heated battle. I believe them and look forward to seeing what they bring to the table and how they serve the community. The swearing in begins tonight at 7:30PM at City Council Chambers.

E-Verify in the Star

The Ventura County Star published an article regarding E-Verify and how it’s become an issue in the race for Mayor. I’ve mentioned in the past that I use E-Verify where I am employed and that I find the service benign and not threatening to our position as an employer, nor do I find it to be a liability.

A report published in January by Westat, a research company hired to evaluate the E-Verify system for the Department of Homeland Security, found the program is unable to detect identity fraud and that about half of the small percentage of unauthorized workers processed by the system were given an inaccurate finding of being authorized to work.

Miller has said that statistic means the E-Verify program is “highly unreliable.”

Citing the same study, Huber accuses Miller of duplicity, saying the research clearly shows E-Verify correctly clears for employment 96 percent of those processed by it.

The unreliability argument should never have happened. I think it’s fair to use the statistics and research to point out the benefits as well as the drawbacks of the program, but calling it unreliable was a bad idea. I think that’s why the city’s move to look into implementing it now comes off as a complete “about-face.” The Mayor’s efforts now look more like a statement of “oops, I was wrong” instead of “let’s take a hard look at this.”

Sojka says City Council members agreed that the E-Verify system might be a good tool but they wanted to wait and be sure they made the right decision. He says Huber is just making politics.

“If it’s such a great program, why hasn’t Mr. Huber applied it to the Ventura County Community College District and why wasn’t he at the City Council meeting in January speaking out about this issue?” Sojka said.

I’ve heard this question posed to me on a couple of occasions and it seems like a fair question. If it’s a groundbreaking program with significant impact on the city, why isn’t it good enough for Bob Huber’s current domain?

But ultimately, the question that I couldn’t answer was what is the expected impact on our city by implementing it? Are we addressing a problem with hiring undocumented workers at City Hall? If the ordinance requires all Simi Valley employers to use it and we’re unable to police the policy, what are we getting and how can we measure those benefits?

Or simply, is there no intended benefit other than it’s a good idea to be as thorough as possible when hiring employees to ensure they are eligible? If that’s the case, then fine. But why all the PR?

One thing’s for sure, we are definitely getting E-Verify headlines now!

Read the whole article here.

Big Simi Valley News

The high profile negotiations between the City of Simi Valley and Simi Valley Police Officers Association have reached a new milestone. Here’s the latest according to the city website:

The City of Simi Valley announced today that it has reached agreement with the Simi Valley Police Officers’ Association (SVPOA) to revise and extend the current labor contract for a three-year term. The term of the contract, originally set to expire on December 31, 2010, will run from August 2, 2010 through June 30, 2013. The revised contract is a reflection of the tough economy and need to cut labor costs while achieving the City Council’s goal of maintaining the maximum possible level of public law enforcement services.

This effectively extends the 3.43% salary decrease that was effective in July of 2009 for another three years. Additionally, the new terms include modifications to various medical benefits, specialty assignments and opens the door for discussions regarding PERS retirement contributions by new officers.

CITY OF BELL SCANDAL

Mayor Paul Miller expressed his sincere concern on Saturday night at Steve Sojka’s campaign fundraiser regarding the safe keeping of our city’s finances in the wake of the City of Bell Scandal. Mayor Miller indicated his desire to do whatever was needed to keep from having to pay for another city’s mistake.

According to the City website:

Bell’s Police Chief, Randy Adams, is reported to have drawn an annual salary of $457,000, many times in excess of a normal salary for a Police Chief in California and, if permitted to receive a pension based on that salary, there have been insufficient contributions made into the CalPERS system to provide for the unanticipated, inflated pension. Under CalPERS’ actuarial practices, the additional funding needed to cover those pension costs would be apportioned among the cities where Adams spent some of his career, including the cities of Simi Valley, Ventura, and Glendale.

To protect its taxpayers against the irresponsible actions of another jurisdiction, the Simi Valley City Council is taking a proactive stance in pursuing all avenues to prevent Simi Valley from bearing any costs attributable to Adams’ employment by the City of Bell.

I’m pleased by Paul Miller’s immediate and proactive response. This is an important issue to me and I intend to follow it closely as it continues to develop.

Sojka for Mayor Fundraiser

Last night, I attended the Steve Sojka for Mayor Fundraiser at the Woodranch Country Club. To be perfectly frank and honest, I was sincerely looking forward to the event. I realize that I have an unspoken obligation to cover these things from a “blogger’s perspective,” but some recent frustrations left me wanting to turn this into a night out with my wife instead of a personal mission to cover the latest happenings. A lack of responsiveness from candidates or bickering and fighting in the comments on this blog are just as frustrating to me as they are to you. I left my still camera and video camera at home and showed up with no agenda.

What a night. The “casino floor” was packed with energized Sojka supporters and game tables and the event was very enjoyable. The highlight of my night was my discussion with Mayor Paul Miller. Two years ago, I started this blog when citizen and business man Bruce Witkin tossed his hat in the ring to run for Simi Valley Mayor. I loudly questioned what I perceived to be an expectation that Mayor Miller would easily reclaim his seat with little or no challenge. I wanted to call Simi Valley voters to action to challenge our leaders and published a video showing that the Mayor’s campaign website hadn’t been updated in anticipation of the upcoming race — a move that I thought indicated a calm expectation of sure and unchallenged success. In actuality, I was very satisfied by our city’s leaders, but unsatisfied by what I thought was their unwavering expectation that they would always be re-elected.

What unfortunately never occurred to me was the simple notion of actually speaking to Paul Miller to get to know him better. Mayor Miller happens to be a kind and thoughtful man who cares deeply for the city. He may be on his way out to enjoy retirement, but he remains passionate about the issues and will to the very last hour. He spoke with sincere concern about the situation in Bell, about how former Chief of the Simi Valley Police Randy Adams’ salary will have an impact on our city, and that he intends to vigorously fight to protect our city’s finances. Also, his sense of humor both surprised and delighted me. Mayor Miller wears a serious, all business look on his face in Council meetings, so listening to him cover light-hearted issues and make jokes was really fun.

Paul Miller has been a fantastic leader in the years he has served, and will continue to be for his remaining months, I have no doubt. He has deep roots in this city, and many lasting relationships with influential figures, many of whom are playing serious roles in the current race for Simi Valley Mayor. Despite that, he remains completely loyal to Candidate Steve Sojka and states firmly that he is the man for the job. That is a fact that likely resonates with many of the people who were enjoying the Casino Night last night.

Cheers to Team Sojka for putting on a successful event!

For those interested in reading about the details of the event, Brian Dennert will have a lot more to say. He appeared last night with his camera in hand ready to chat with the attendees. You can find out more about his time at the event by clicking here to read his blog.

No Coverage of State of City Address

One event that I look forward to regularly is the State of the City Address sponsored by the Simi Valley Chamber, presented by Mayor Paul Miller. In better economic times, I recall being very moved and excited about the months to come. While the economic climate has shifted and the city recently adjusted for a $3 million budget reduction, I’m just as eager to hear what’s going on. Considering my recent “interactive” nature, I’d like very much to bring my camera and microphone to share the event with the people who subscribe to my content. But it’s not going to happen. Here’s the scoop:

The Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce will once again host the Mayor’s State of the City Address. The Annual State of the City Address will be presented to the Chamber membership on Friday, February 20 at 11:30 a.m. at the Grand Vista Hotel. The Mayor’s address will provide an overview of City Departments and City Projects. “We appreciate and look forward to the opportunity to present the State of the City and to share in detail how our City is doing. We are all facing challenging times and this event will allow the City Council to provide information and to gain input from our businesses and residents to ensure that we are doing our best job to meet the challenges on behalf of the community,” said Mayor Paul Miller.

There are lots of people who are interested in what goes on here and want to witness it for themselves.  These events cater to elite members of the community, business owners and members of the Chamber of Commerce, so the average Simi Valley citizen cannot attend this middle-of-the-day event.  I think it’s important to see and hear these things for yourself, to be present for tone of voice and hear quotes in context.  But most people most directly impacted by the state of city affairs, the citizens, will be hard at work at their day jobs.

Sponsorship opportunities are available at the following levels: Table Sponsors – $600 for a table of eight or $350 for a table of four. Sponsors will receive preferred seating, table placard, acknowledgement in the Chamber’s Mid Month Mailer and the event program. Tickets are $40 for members and $55 for non-members.

As a business owner and member of the Chamber of Commerce, I’ll invest the $40 to learn more about where things stand with the City of Simi Valley.  However, I’ve tried to bring my camera and microphone to Chamber sponsored events, and it’s a no-go, so unfortunately, most of the rest of us will have to read about it in the newspaper.  If you plan on being there as well, please let me know and perhaps we can meet up afterward to discuss.

Incumbents Take It

With numbers leaving little doubt, the incumbents in the major Simi Valley elections score a victory, but not without first proving that some candidates made a very worthy first shot and what will no doubt become a political future for some.

Simi Valley Mayor

Paul Miller is our mayor again, with 78.66% of the vote.  Bruce Witkin comes second with 13.29%, with Ed Lang bringing in just over 7%.

Simi Valley City Council

Barbra Williamson and Steve Sojka get to keep their jobs as City Councilmembers, earning 29.02% and 35.77% of the votes respectively.  Mike Judge pulled in impressive numbers with 17.21%.  Something tells me we’ll be seeing more of him…

Simi Valley School Board

Debbie Sandland earned 22.92%, Janice DiFatta took 18.21% and Rob Collins took 23.95% of the vote for Simi Valley Board of Education, making the incuments the victors in this election as well.  Ray Cruz came close with over 15%, rounding out the totals with over 10% to Eric Smith and just over 8% to Brad Jashinsky.  I firmly believed both would make good candidates, but I don’t think enough people got a chance to see or hear more of them.

Congratulations to all!

Mayor Miller borrows from Senator McCain

Simi Valley Mayor Paul Miller “borrowed” Senator McCain’s frequently used statement in an article at the Acorn on Friday.  A quote from the article…

With unsure economic times ahead for the city, Miller said, his experience is a necessary asset. He said Simi Valley doesn’t have time for a mayor to get “on-the-job training.”

That’s a somewhat unusual move considering McCain is trailing in the polls, though perhaps it’s a safe one considering the predominantly Republican Simi Valley community.  I’m actually quite delighted to see comments like this in the paper.  It’s really the first time in recent history that I’ve seen anyone show they’re even slightly threatened.  It’s like real, grown-up politics.

I’d love for the Mayor to spell out what potential economic challenges we might face and how his experience will help us through such situations, or how a lack of experience would be detrimental in such situations.  Further, I’d be curious to know when it’s okay or safe for someone who’s never been the Mayor to be elected to the position.  Was he just lucky?  Was the timing right?

These questions and more will remain unanswered in the pay-for-entry moderated “candidates forum” at the Lost Hills Golf Club this Wednesday.  Bummer.