Wednesday, November 28, 2007

11.15.2007 RRROC Meeting: Of Ballot Mishaps, Pulling the Plug on Redevelopment, & No Money For Administrative Support

Thursday, 11.15.2007, Guerneville Veterans Hall – The RRROC meeting has been moved up to 6pm & I believe this is a vast improvement. Alas, I (& a couple of others) arrived late due to an event at the Guerneville School held on the same evening.

PLEASE NOTE: I just picked up the latest Russian River Times & discovered their reporter had to leave the meeting shortly before I arrived, & that this blog posting picks up where their account leaves off. So if you read the Russian River Times' article & then my blog, you'll get the whole meeting.

The following topics were discussed while some folks passionately participated & others attempted to disguise the fact that they were slowly nodding off into dreamland.

  1. RRROC elections & mishaps with sending out the ballots;
  2. Responding to Mike Reilly & the Board of Supervisors' Subcommittee's recommendation to stop redevelopment projects throughout the County & return money to the "General Fund;"
  3. No funds for hiring secretary to record RRROC & subcommittee meeting minutes. (But plenty of money -- which comes out of redevelopment funds allocated to the Russian River Project Area -- for paying hourly wages to amateurs who devote weeks to mismanaging voter registration & property tax databases with Excel spreadsheets for the purpose of managing the upcoming elections, instead of hiring someone with experience in databases & database programming.

RRROC Election Ballots Gone Awry

The item currently under discussion is the upcoming RRROC election on December 11th. Despite the hard work of John Uniak & others who serve on the Elections subcommittee, things have gone terribly wrong. For lack of a more apt -- & printable – word, let’s call it a “fustercluck.” Ballots were sent to businesses & residents based on a combination of voter registration & property tax records. Somehow, some folks received multiple ballots, while others received none. Meanwhile, others were incorrectly addressed & were hence returned.

Personally, I think the whole process is rather odd, to begin with. I mean, why waste money on mailing ballots instead of having people go to a polling station? And there's another thing .. According to the letter which came with my husband’s & my ballots, voter eligibility is based on the following categories: (1) Owner of “real property” in the project area (what, owning virtual property in “Second Life” doesn’t count?); (2) Owner of a business operating within the project area; (3) Any resident of the project area.

BUT (& here’s a BIG but): If one’s eligibility is based on owning property, only ONE BALLOT may be cast per property, regardless of the number of owners on record. Does this mean that, since my husband & I jointly own our home, only one of us can vote? But if we were renting an apartment together, we could both vote? So basically, I only count as half a person? I haven’t heard of anything like this since the “three-fifths compromise” back in 1787 in which African American slaves would be counted as 3/5ths of a person for distribution purposes of taxation & proportional representation. Hmph.

But ANYway … moving on … Somehow the folks at CDC messed up while sending out the ballots.

During the Public Comments part of this agenda item, several people spoke & asked questions:

  1. Zelda Michaels of Monte Rio admonished, “If you weren’t tracking the dollars & hours [for charging administration fees from redevelopment funds], then you would have had the time to do this correctly!” I was totally on her tip until she went a little too far & added, “THE FISH STINKS FROM THE HEAD!” (ummm ... What fish? A dead fish? & why does it only stink from its head? Because that's where its nose is located?).
  2. A gentleman named “Craig” took the stand & commenced to fawn obsequiously upon Kathleen Kane & Boris Sztorch of the CDC. “Thank you,” he burbled, “for doing a great job.” (Kinda reminds me of “Heckuva job, Brownie.”) He continued with a litany of excuses for the CDC’s snafu, most of which I could not hear due the muffled acoustics are bound to occur when a person attempts to speak with his nose buried way up in another person’s posterior. But I did catch a little snippet involving the tendencies of tables in Excel spreadsheets (EXCEL SPREADSHEETS!!???) to “truncate” (cut off) data.

    As my Klingon friends would say … GA-A-A-A-GGH! I don’t know what is more horrifying: (1) The CDC mailing out the ballots incorrectly; (2) They didn't think to apply the "text wrap" option to all the table cells so parts of the text wouldn't disappear; or (3) They were using MICROSOFT EXCEL to handle the elaborate process of mailing ballots for the upcoming RRROC election to the entire Russian River Redevelopment area! HELLO? Like, Excel is a spreadsheet program, not a database program? No WONDER the CDC gobbles up "administration fees" from our redevelopment funds like Nibbles the Elephant Seal at a surfing convention. What other botched & inefficiently performed tasks are we paying for due to inappropriate & obsolete technologies? Do the folks at CDC also bill us for the 25 hours it takes them to drive from Sonoma to here because their cars all have square wheels? Good gawd.
  3. Another man (whose name I did not catch) asked Ms. Kane to clarify the role of the RRROC Elections subcommittee & aptly concluded, “My head hurts!”
  4. Ms. Kane explained that the subcommittee plays an “advisory role.” It “makes recommendations.”
  5. Lee Torr IV of Monte Rio (yes, he ALWAYS introduces himself as “Lee Torr, the Fourth” & I keep wondering what he’s done with the other three) said that as a local real estate magnate – um, actually, he said “property owner” – “I got a LOT of ballots.” He then referred back to a previous discussion about how property owners whose tax records named them as “first name, last name, et al” (et al is not the Israeli airline company, it’s Latin for “& others” meaning that multiple people or business partners own the property) received multiple ballots.

    Mr. Torr then asked an extremely important question: “How can you validate ballots when submitted?” (i.e. to make sure that there’s only one vote per property & that owners of multiple properties don’t send in more than one ballot).
  6. Ms. Kane replied that there’s a “code on the envelope,” Mr. Torr said, “I looked. There IS none.”
  7. Someone else (alas many folks forget to provide their names or do not speak into the microphone) asked another very important question: “How much do ballots cost?” (i.e. the printing, producing, & mailing thereof).
  8. “45 cents each for postage,” Ms. Kane. Um ... & what about an itemization of the printing, paper & envelope costs? And how does one explain this expensive & extensive effort in the context of no stamp being provided on the return envelopes?
  9. And – Oh, Goody! – here comes Lloyd Guccione (who I often adore, even though I adamantly don’t want him to replace Dan Fein on RRROC), who gravely intones: “It would seem that after all these elections, we would have a clue of how much it costs to mail a ballot.” He went on to say that part of the problem with the elections is that they’re intended to represent property owners, business owners, & tenants, & that each group should have access to their own legal counsel. He also pointed out that there has been no outreach to tenants (who won’t receive ballots unless they’ve registered to vote at their current address). There’s a “problem with basic organizational structure.” The tenants’ representatives are not necessarily elected by people who are representative of tenants’ interests, since everyone votes for people in each category. Whew! That’s complicated, I hope I got it all right.
  10. Deborah Waller of Guerneville said that there seems to have been a “quality control error,” and inquired, “Is this election in jeopardy?” Which is exactly what’s on my mind, too.
  11. Mr. Uniack suggested that from now on, we should have the candidate’s forum BEFORE the ballot goes out.
  12. Larry Weinstein of Guerneville said, “I’d like to see a debate with real heart-to-heart talk.” I like that idea. Or, perhaps, some sort of exciting contest like “Dancing with the Stars” or "Monster Truck Rally."

Pulling the Plug: Mike Reilly & Board of Supervisors Want Redevelopment Funds Back In The General Fund Coffers?

On to the next agenda item: How should RRROC respond to the recommendation of Mike Reilly & the Board of Supervisors’ ad-hoc committee for ceasing redevelopment operations & putting the money back into the General Fund due to budget short-falls.

Tom Lynch wants to meet with them in order to “defend our redevelopment funds,” because they will "eventually increase our tax base," but really because he's a staunch & caring advocate of redevelopment projects in our area. He then filed a motion for the RRROC Chairman (Dan Fein) to “write a letter” to the Board of Supervisors. (Hmph. I'd rather go to a local park, scoop up some dog poop, broken beer bottles, dirty used needles, & some cigarette butts, put them into a box & send THAT to Mr. Reilly, but Mr. Lynch has much nicer manners than I do. But what the hey, nobody could possibly expect lovely manners from a River Rattina like me).

  1. John deSalvio asked if there’s “anyway to hold them to it?” (i.e. do we have legal grounds for objecting to the withdrawal of redevelopment funds?). Ms. Kane replied that they basically have the right to do this, “though it hasn’t been done.” (The Board of Supervisors has never pulled the plug on redevelopment funds for this or other project areas).
  2. Mr. Weinstein inquired, “Is the County bankrupt?”
  3. Mr. Lynch replied, “No, but it’s bad.
  4. Mr. Weinstein expostulated, “How – with all these wineries, tourist development, etcetera – how can this be?” Yeah, I wonder about that too.
  5. Mr. Guccione stated, “Mr. O’Reilly needs to come here & sit at this table … You NEED to invite Mr. O’Reilly here.” He's definitely right about that.
  6. Someone (alas, I can’t remember who) explained that there’s a problem with various agencies in the County demanding funding … “it’s melting down.”
  7. Mr. Torr advised that “the letter ought to be more sweet than sour.” I initially disagree because I’m so mad about this, but eventually feel obligated to admit that Mr. Torr is totally right about this. After all, you get more flies with honey than with vinegar & as someone wisely told me, “You don’t cross Mike Reilly.” Part of me wants to say, "Why? He's only there for another year, he's a lame duck." Yet, I hold back because another part of me enjoys the luxury of untainted tap water.

No Money for Administrative Support

NEXT … Mr. Uniack says that RRROC & the subcommittees “NEED a secretary … someone to take the minutes [of meetings].” He explains that it’s hard to discuss things & take notes at the same time & that the meeting minutes hence lack sufficient detail. He also points out that redevelopment is supposed to be about “local jobs for local people. Why not hire someone local?”

  1. Ms. Kane explains that the CDC office is “staffed at capacity” & there are no funds for additional staff. Also, they can’t just hire a local person on a contract basis because hiring procedures, unions, & other factors are involved.
  2. Mr. Uniack restates that RRROC needs administrative support for subcommittees.
  3. Ms Kane replies, “My job is to guard the budget. What can we do to work together without sparring?" (Ummm ... perhaps you could occasionally choose to guard the budget in a way that favors us? I really wish we COULD bid CDC's administrative functions out to a company that can actually work efficiently & make appropriate use of modern technology. An awful lot of problems could be avoided this way).
  4. Ms. Michaels kept croaking, “Six years ... shut it down.” This rather disappointed me. Can't a smart, funny & powerful woman like you figure out something more CONSTRUCTIVE to say?
  5. On the other hand, this WAS a rather depressing meeting, during which River Rattina made a multitude of flaky, overwrought & inappropriate comments which included: (1) demanding that the folks on RRROC hunt Mike Reilly down while carrying torches & pitch forks (flashlights & butterfly nets would be far more environmentally friendly & humane); & also ranting on about the huge amount she pays in property taxes & even saying how much it is so that all of the folks who've had their properties in their families since the 1800's & are grandfathered in by Proposition 13 would know how much recent homebuyers are paying ... and ... um ... that was probably TMI (too much information).

Hmph … like if we just shut down RRROC & the Russian River Redevelopment area projects, the County will give us all the money back? Fat chance. As a property owner who – like other recent homebuyers – pays exorbitant property taxes for a modest home, I really want to see these projects go through. We ALL deserve our fair share of local improvements & services ... but folks who are struggling to pay out the nose are less likely to put up with the lack of improvements & services.

Sigh. On this note, the meeting came to an end. The atmosphere felt rather deflated & even a bit sad. This is too bad, because I believe that the redevelopment process has come a long way since it began. Redeveloping low-income & ecologically delicate areas such as ours is a long & complicated process -- especially when such a large degree of public representation, oversight, & input are encouraged & required. Although it takes longer for us to see results & we run into glitches along the way, I do strongly believe that we're basically on the right track.

Do we want to go back to the days before RRROC, when the County was trying to ram projects through willy-nilly without so much as a by-your-leave? Folks around here were up in arms, which is why RRROC was created in the first place.

On the bright side, a well-informed individual whispered to me that Mike Reilly, et al's mutterings about shutting down County redevelopment projects aren't really directed towards us & the Russian River Redevelopment Area. They're intended for the Sonoma Valley Redevelopment Area, which has exhausted its funds & has requested more. I hope she's right!

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