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Agenda Alert: Recipients of Lush Shooting Gallery Contributions Push Water District Lease

Agenda Alert: Recipients of Lush Shooting Gallery Contributions Push Water District Lease

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

There are several substantial items on the Orange County Water District agenda tonight which deserve full attention but, in the usual fashion of the the board, will be on the consent calendar which is designed as a rubber-stamp mechanism to avoid full public discussion.

The first is item #6 on the consent calendar, a recommendation from OCWD staff on what the format for further discussion of the proposed Poseidon Resources ocean desalination plant will be for a board meeting on Jan. 12, 2015.

This is despite that fact that at a recent joint meeting of OCWD’s producers and the OCWD board many important questions about project costs, better alternatives to be pursued first, and the legality of charging water agencies for much higher cost desalinated water that don’t want, were raised, along with a strong request for more time to study a financial analysis by a Poseidon preferred consultant that was supposed to answer those issues but did not—a request that was denied. Also, Poseidon project critics with long standing expertise or local standing are to be denied, as usual, an equal place in the discussion.

Item #15 is a recommendation by staff to approve a revised board policy manual that arbitrarily deletes the Executive Committee from the list of standing committees subject to the Brown Act, but, per a recent discussion at the committee level, allows it to exist and to operate as it always has, in likely violation of the Brown Act (California’s open meetings law), by assuming that the board’s president, Shawn Dewane, who presides over the that committee, and its other 3 to 4 members, understand the Brown Act well enough to distinguish between casual conversations amongst OCWD’s directors and its staff and holding illegal meetings, an assumption that past reporting by the Surf City Voice proves unwarranted.

But the most interesting of all, for tonight anyway, is item #18, a recommendation by the Property Management Committee to “Direct staff to enter into negotiations with Elaine Raahauge and to return to Board with information for Closed Session discussion.”

The quick take is that the Raahauge family, currently doing business as Mike Raahauge’s Shooting Enterprises, has leased almost 800 acres down to currently 135 acres of OCWD owned land in the Prado Dam Basin in Riverside County since 1971 to operate a shooting range that includes trap and skeet shooting, pheasant hunting, dog kennels, dog training, a clubhouse, and restaurant facilities, according to OCWD records. The Raahauges’ lease with OCWD is up in a year and they want to renew it, but for 20 years instead of the usual five.

The Raahauges are also facing a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) renewal for the land with the County of Riverside, which will require expensive building upgrades to meet current safety codes.

There is also a request, informal at this point, from the county that the family provide a letter from the OCWD stating that it has permission to use the District’s access road to the leased land, which sits on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps granted an easement to the District but it doesn’t mention the shooting gallery, a “minor technicality”, according to Raahauge consultant Larry Buxton, who worked for OCWD and the Raahauge business when the original deal was struck 43 years ago.

Punting especially hard for the shooting gallery at a recent OCWD Property Management Committee meeting were committee chairman Stephen Sheldon and fellow committee member Denis Bilodeau, who, along with staff, put much effort and thought into directing staff to go full speed ahead negotiating the deal to the Raahauges’ specifications, with minor modifications, despite the minor technicality.

But, with the cooperation of committee members Harry Sidhu and alternate Cathy Green, Sheldon and Bilodeau also ran right over a strong request, relayed by staff, from absent member Jan Flory to open the lease up for Requests for Proposals (RFPs).

Flory also requested a complete history, to be made public, of the business relationship between OCWD and the Raahauge family, going all the way back when.

Oddly, Sheldon quickly asked to clarify if that history was to include the original owner, Linc Raahauge’s, grandson, Patrick.

The answer from staff seemed to be no.

That issue having been clarified, Bilodeau waxed on about how wonderful the Raahauge business has been for the OCWD and how and RFP would be a “disaster” and the District should continue the business relationship.

“This is a very unique operation,” Bilodeau said. “You’re dealing with firearms and obviously we want highly qualified people there that would operate this kind of an operation. The Raahauge family has, I consider, a stellar track record in terms of the safety of their patrons and indemnifying the District. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with anybody else being there.”

What Bilodeau didn’t mention, and what Sheldon had earlier side stepped by the committee, was that Patrick Raahauge, Linc’s grandson and a twice convicted felon, had been arrested at the shooting range in August 2013 “on suspicion of possessing firearms and ammunition at the family range,” according to a report in the Orange County Register. He had been working at the range, in violation of the terms of his probation, according to the Department of Justice.

Another important fact left out of the discussion is that the Raahauge family and some of its employees have given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Bilodeau ($2,000), Sheldon ($3,500) and OCWD board president Shawn Dewane, who as president presides over all committees ($4,000).

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Caring for My 94-Year-Old Father as the Surf City Voice Resumes

Caring for My 94-Year-Old Father as the Surf City Voice Resumes

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Note: My father will turn 94 on July 7.

May 16, 2013, was the last time that I published a self-written article for my investigative water-news blog, the Surf City Voice. As I prepare to reboot the Voice, I would first like to explain what happened, not just to excuse any absence, but also because many of you can relate to my story.

Five years ago my then 88-year-old father started to suffer from extreme back pain and was diagnosed with kidney failure, congestive heart failure and the slow onset of dementia. His health had always seemed as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, but now it was frighteningly obvious that he was entering the final phases of his life, something that I had always almost thought would never happen.

My father's B-29 after a crash landing shortly after take off.

My father’s B-29 after a crash landing shortly after take off.

Prior to that day, my father took daily two-mile-long walks around our beach-side neighborhood, an activity that he took pride in as a symbol of his good health and exceptional longevity. Wearing his signature outfit—a straw hat and off-white coat—he would walk in short but brisk steps without a cane. And he always brought his snacks: a slice of whole-wheat bread held in his hand and several carefully cut cubes of Hershey’s milk-chocolate bar stuffed into his coat pocket.

Easy to recognize and always eager to talk to anyone, my father made lots of friends along his exercise route, some of whom regularly stopped by our house over the years to check up on him and to drop off cookies or baked bread. Continue Reading

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Book Review: ‘Slow Democracy’ Means Real Citizen Participation and Better Results

Book Review: ‘Slow Democracy’ Means Real Citizen Participation and Better Results

By Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice

Whether you are an aging activist, annoyed elected official, or aggrieved citizen, the recently published Slow Democracy is the elixir for returning citizens to their rightful role in self governance.

Our country was founded on participatory democracy.  It has largely devolved into a faux democracy where we elect others to “represent” us.  And when they don’t, we scream, march, blog, and organize in order to be heard.  Such blunt instruments may produce short term results but they also leave permanent scars that divide our communities.

Slow Democracy challenges us to implement real democracy at the local level through a prescription of deliberation.

The deliberation as defined by Authors Susan Clark and Woden Teachout is long, careful and inclusive.  Creative forums for communication and understanding are the foundation for better decisions.

The book beautifully demonstrates the sharp contrast between our fast food democracy with its mandatory “public” hearings, reliance on “experts,” and top down mandates, versus a deliberative process that allows all parties to be heard, encourages investigation, and empowers diverse groups of citizens to move forward on difficult issues like water, education, and planning.

Authors Clark and Teachout hail from Vermont.  My first thought was, sure, I can see it in small town Vermont, but not megalopolis California.  But their examples of deliberative processes stretch from coast to coast.

In Felton, California residents fighting dramatic water rate increases wanted to buy back their privatized water system.  They mobilized to pass a bond measure and, under threat of eminent domain, were able to regain control.  Along with lower water rates and increased transparency, they built a solar installation and preserved 250 acres of watershed.  Citizen participation added tremendous value to the results.

In Gloucester, Massachusetts, residents, armed with the success of the Felton experience, were determined to buy back their town’s drinking water from the private corporation that had let its quality deteriorate until it was no longer drinkable.

A diverse group of residents mobilized and wrote a mission statement:  “to accurately inform the public, to share in the civil discourse, and to participate in the decision making process.”

They conducted community meetings, targeted residents in every way possible, and empowered the local citizenry.  The city council unanimously approved a resolution declaring “local control of their water as a democratic right.”

Their deliberative approach guaranteed the community members a place in the decision making process.

The most satisfying experiences I have had in local government, as both an activist and an elected official, have been those rare deliberative processes that somehow snuck into our traditional “Roberts Rules” top down governance structures.  Where members of the public, along with city staff and elected officials, take the time to deliberate over an issue, the results can be magical.

By contrast, wounds become septic at public hearings where millions of dollars have been spent, decisions have already been made, the vote is just a formality, and where everyone speaks and no one listens.

Resilient communities happen where people listen together, investigate together, plan together and act together.

At a recent water meeting in my community, a group of residents who have been fighting a water project for the past ten years were almost bowled over when one of the board members suggested that perhaps they should conduct a workshop so that the project’s opponents would have an opportunity to explain their concerns.

It may be ten years too late or it may be a fresh start toward greater participation.

Either way, Slow Democracy provides a roadmap.  Slow Democracy:  buy it, share it, apply it.

 

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Occupy This Book: ECONOMICS UNMASKED – From power and greed to compassion and common good

Occupy This Book: ECONOMICS UNMASKED – From power and greed to compassion and common good

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

If you are looking for a passionless primer on modern economics spouting platitudes about how western style capitalism, unregulated markets and globalization are fail proof and good for all, this book is not for you.

If, instead, your guts tell you something is seriously amiss when the gulf between the rich and the poor is ever widening and the health of the planet is on a steady decline, all while politicians bicker over policy nuances that have nothing to do with solving these immense realities, then you will find this book vital and loaded with truths.

The authors are Philip B. Smith, a recently deceased physicist-turned-economist who recognized that the discipline of economics lacks the value-free pursuit of truth ideally embraced by hard sciences, like physics or chemistry, and Manfred Max-Neef, a very much alive academic economist who, when confronted with poverty in the flesh, became a dissident of mainstream economics upon realizing that everything he’d been taught left him bereft of any real understanding of poverty and its solutions.

They joined forces in this mostly easy to digest book (I have never had an economics course) to expose how the predominant economic paradigm driving the world’s economies today is based on far less-than-lofty values – greed, competition and accumulation – values so universally sanctioned that no apology is deemed necessary even though it can be shown that wealth accumulated through such a system leads to immeasurable human injustices and environmental ills.

This paradigm fosters rapid economic expansion “at any cost” to people or the planet, and it is fed by the uncontrolled consumption of fossil fuels and a belief that consumerism is the path to happiness. It also concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a small minority.

Several “myths” underlying the economic system which have successfully evaded scrutiny are brought to light. Most fundamental is the notion that perpetually increasing economic growth and production are a necessity, and even possible, on a finite planet.  A case is made that such magical thinking is the root cause of global warming and depletion of natural resources including oil and gas, fresh water and biodiversity. The authors warn of the inevitable environmental crash in our future if a more sustainable economic system is not adopted.

Other myths debunked include the views that globalization is inevitable and the only route to development (recall that the United States did not follow such a model) and that competition and integration into the world economy are necessarily good for poor nations. We are reminded, for example, that the natural resources of poorer nations are very often plundered and their local industries destroyed by rich nations under the pretext of globalization, and that jobs are lost at home when competition prompts corporations to outsource overseas.

Furthermore, democracy takes a back seat to corporate power when international institutions like the World Trade Organization dictate laws and regulations that nations need follow which effectively enable corporations to “rule the world.”

Who has gained

An over-arching theme of this book is the de-humanization of mainstream economics, where the GNP (gross national product) is revered as the ultimate indicator of a nation’s wealth, when in reality the GNP has become detached from the real measures of a nation’s success and well-being: the health and economic security of its peoples and their freedom to act in pursuit of their own best interests. The authors stress that a shift to a humanized economy will necessitate that culturally approved values of greed, competition and accumulation be replaced by solidarity, cooperation and compassion.

The key premises upon which a humanized economy would need to be based are laid out. Among them are realizations that the purpose of the economy is to serve the needs of people and not the reverse, that the economy takes place within the biosphere so permanent growth is impossible, and that reverence for life trumps all other economic interests.

Although “Economics Unmasked” reached bookstore shelves just months before the Occupy and 99 Percent movements had names or affiliates, it’s fair to say they seem drawn from the same wellspring of moral outrage over the social and environmental injustices attributable to the prevailing economic model. The fundamental difference perhaps is that the book authors’ academic backgrounds and access to real world facts about mainstream economics enabled them to lay out a forceful imperative for and roadmap to a more moral economic paradigm whereas, accurate or not, Occupy and 99 Percent have been criticized for lacking clear messages and solutions.

Activists within these movements, as well as sympathetic onlookers, would no doubt benefit from reading this book to help them better articulate both their grievances with the status quo and proposals for change. And to those who might take offense at any criticism of capitalism, know that this book is in no way a blanket indictment of capitalism, just of its recent incarnation.

“Economics Unmasked” was published in 2011 in the United Kingdom by Green Books.

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Author Will Discuss Warrantless Surveillance in Cyberspace

Author Will Discuss Warrantless Surveillance in Cyberspace

Award winning novelist Lois Tiller will discuss warrantless surveillance in cyberspace at the monthly meeting of the Green Party of Orange County this Sunday, April 3, at 2 p.m.
Tiller is a certified system engineer who advocates for electronic privacy protection and Net Neutrality. Her recently published suspense novel, “Fatal Exception,” explores the ethical ramifications of the possibly illegal partnerships between US security agencies, like the NSA and CIA, and private technology companies to mine used data and control Internet content.
Tiller’s presentation will include a simple overview of electronic snooping and she will identify important efforts underway to thwart warrantless surveillance in the USA. Her talk is intended to give a deeper understanding of the technical issues of the day, such as Facebook’s impact on democratization I the Middle, Google’s online censorship of content, as well as the ongoing battle in the US for Net Neutrality.
For more information about her novel see: http://www.fatalexceptionthriller.info . If you can share a ride of need a ride to the meeting, contact Bea Tiritilli: tiritilligreen@sbcglobal.net
The event will be held as part of the monthly meeting, which takes place at 15600 Sand Canyon Ave. in Irvine (about half-way between the 5 and 405 freeways).

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UCI: Special Collection at Langson Library Chronicles Surfing’s Role in Local Culture

By Laura Rico
UCI Communications

Some of the world’s best surfing beaches are just minutes from UC Irvine. Closer still is a special collection at UCI’s Langson Library that documents the history of surfing and surf culture in Orange County.

Archive memorabilia includes books, magazines, vintage photos, movie posters – even the first published description of surfing. It goes on display Wednesday, Feb. 23, through the end of spring quarter. Photo: Michelle S. Kim / University Communications

“It’s a small collection but one that appeals to a growing number of our patrons – UCI undergraduates” says Steve MacLeod, public services coordinator in Special Collections & Archives. He started gathering materials for the collection five years ago.

It’s part of a much larger collection on Orange County history that encompasses environmental activism, Irvine Ranch, Mission San Juan Capistrano, the city of Irvine, ranchos, the Irvine Company, 19th century actress Helena Modjeska and local politics. 

It was a good fit for MacLeod, a Palo Alto native who learned to surf in Santa Cruz as a teenager. “This was before wet suits,” he says, recalling the chilly Northern California waters.

Starting Wednesday, Feb. 23, selected surfing collection materials – books, vintage photos, movie posters, etc. – will be on display in Langson Library, near the fifth-floor entrance to the newly renovated Special Collections & Archives department.

To read the rest of this story, please click this link.

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Obit: Donald J. Tyson, Chicken Choker

By Jim Earl
Contributor

Donald J. Tyson, visionary leader of Tyson Foods and instigator of the worst chicken holocaust since Kevin Smith’s last barbeque, is now on his way to processing.

The man who made eating chicken almost as safe as living under Chernobyl’s concrete containment dome, was found dead in his home, his legs grotesquely pulled apart and looped over his freakishly large breast muscles as if someone had made a cruel wish.

Donald J. Tyson

Donal J. Tyson, chick choker

The health department discovered his body buried beneath half a foot of fecal waste which apparently was scheduled to be cleaned out every 18 months.

As a young boy working on his father’s chicken ranch, Tyson knew there was something about poultry that he liked. But it wasn’t until he enrolled at the University of Arkansas that he truly embraced his love for cock.

Tyson later recalled he could never get enough cock. Though he was partial to white cock, Tyson soon grew to crave black cock as well. And the bigger the cock the better, he said.

In 1952, he married Twilla Womochil, which coincidentally is the sound a chicken makes when you crush its skull with a steel-toed boot.

Under his leadership, the company’s revenue increased from $51 million to more than $10 billion. And that’s more money than Jesus ever made with his stable of chickens.

In 2001 the company was charged with using illegal immigrants to work in its chicken processing plants. In his defense, Tyson claimed he was just using them for “nugget filler”.

Biographers note Tyson was often compared to fellow Arkansan Sam Walton, primarily because both were huge assholes.

Tyson requested bored employees stomp, kick, and slam his remains against a wall, but not before hanging him by his feet, cutting off his nose and mockingly playing baseball with his head.

Jim Earl has written for The Daily Show, numerous shows on Air America Radio, and is a recipient of the Emmy and Peabody Awards. You can read his satirical obituaries at MorningRemembrance.com, where he makes fun of dead people. You can listen to Jim’s band, The Clutter Family, on iTunes http://bit.ly/bhK9t3

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Update: Bomb investigation is over

Update: Bomb investigation is over

Approximately 30 minutes ago HB police and fire investigators unblocked the intersection at 14th and Crest streets, drawing an investigation of a “suspicious” object that could theoretically have been a bomb. The Voice awaits more details of the investigation from the HBPD.

Update at 3:16 p.m:

Lt. Russell Reinhardt of the HBPD issued the following statement to the Voice:

“The device was a grenade brought to Dwyer school by a student. The bottom had been re-sealed making it appear to be active. The OCSD Bomb Squad removed the device from the school.”

And Jeri Moreau, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent of the Huntington Beach City School District, issued the following statement to the Voice:

“Want to inform you that the issue at Dwyer School has been resolved.  The Police investigation revealed that there was no danger to any students. Students have resumed their normal day at school and parents have been provided information throughout. Also please know that Smith School was never involved nor included in the investigation.  Please don’t hesitate to call the Superintendent, Kathy Kessler at (714) 378-2011 for any additional information.”

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Surf City’s Alcoholic Downtown: Build it and they will drink (and drive)

Surf City’s Alcoholic Downtown: Build it and they will drink (and drive)

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Build it and they will come, the saying goes.  

Likewise, a little more than two decades ago, Huntington Beach started redeveloping its blighted downtown area—linked economically as well as geographically to the beach and pier on the other side of Pacific Coast Highway—into a mall-style “village” that offers shops, hotels, and so far over 30 liquor serving restaurants and bars, all part of the city’s plan to market itself as a tourist destination.

From an economic perspective the plan has worked well. Over 11 million tourists come to the city each year; and two years ago the city collected a peak of about $7 million in hotel/bed taxes, most of it from the downtown area, Councilmember Keith Bohr pointed out at a recent city council meeting.

But encouraging tourism and alcohol consumption in a small area with a high concentration of liquor serving establishments has also created an alcohol dependent downtown with all the expected symptoms. Based on population, Huntington Beach has the 3rd highest DUI rate of any California city and is ranked 7th in the state, regardless of population, in drunk driver collisions, according to a report released by the Huntington Beach Police Department last July.

In 2009, according to the report, there were 274 alcohol related collisions in the city and 95 collisions occurred in 2010 between January and May. For the same time periods, respectively, there were 1,687 and 632 DUI arrests.

Death goes with the city’s high DUI rate. Last year the city had nine traffic fatalities, five of which were related to drunk driving, Chief of Police Kenneth Small told the council at its Jan. 18 meeting. “Drunk driving is clearly the most significant public safety problem we have in Huntington Beach,” he said.

Comparisons to other Orange County cities show how disproportionate the city’s alcohol problem is and how it relates to the downtown restaurant/bar scene. Irvine, for example, which has a slightly higher population than Huntington Beach (217,000 vs. 202,000), and despite being home to a large university, made 709 DUI arrests in 2008 compared with 1,729 DUI arrests in Huntington Beach. Anaheim (pop. 353,000) made 862 DUI arrests.

Anaheim and Irvine do not have highly concentrated downtown bar scenes; Fullerton, however, with a much lower population (137,000), also has a high number of downtown liquor serving establishments, according to the report, and made 1,188 DUI arrests in 2008—similar to the DUI arrest rate in Huntington Beach. Continue Reading

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The Real Bottom Line: City Council betrayed the voters

The Real Bottom Line: City Council betrayed the voters

Commentary
By John Earl

It’s as predictable as death and taxes: politicians say that everyone should obey the law, especially their interpretation of it, but when the law inconveniently conflicts with their own interests they just ignore it in violation of the public trust and their oath of office.

That’s what happened on Dec. 20 when, as reported exclusively in the Voice, the Huntington Beach City Council voted 6-0 to approve changes to the city’s municipal code that would strip the elected city treasurer of the powers and duties vested in that office by the City Charter (the city’s constitution) and hand them over to the Director of Finance, an appointed position under the direct control of the city manager and council, not the voters.

Simply put, the council majority conducted a coup d’état of the City Treasurer’s office, the charter be damned, even though voters said five times at the ballot box that they want an elected treasurer to provide checks and balances in order to better watch over their money.

That’s a good idea, judging from Councilmember Don Hansen’s opinion that it’s just fine to trust investment bankers to properly look after public funds in light of the drastic budget and staffing cuts that accompanied the coup, leaving a treasurer’s office that will be even less able to conduct its oversight duties.

The coup was depicted as an effort to save money—over $100,000 a year by making the treasurer a part-time position and consolidating staff.

Limiting the treasurer to conducting “core” charter duties would create more efficient management, City Manager Fred Wilson told the council, while preserving the independence of the treasurer’s office as required by the City Charter.

Wilson’s conclusions were based on a report by an outside consulting firm, but the changes he recommended and the council approved went beyond what the report called for and clearly conflict with the charter.

That report was not attached to the council agenda for council members and the public to read. Even worse than that act of negligence, when asked if they had even read the report or cross-checked the wording of the code changes with the City Charter, not a single voting council member responded.

Obviously, the City Council didn’t bother to do its homework or think of the possible long range consequences of its actions. When outgoing City Treasurer Shari Freidenrich gave her last address to the council that same night (she was elected Orange County Treasurer), she warned that its illegal actions would endanger the ability of the city to protect the taxpayers’ assets, but her concerns were casually brushed aside by Wilson and City Attorney Jennifer McGrath, as well as the council.

McGrath later conceded that her office is following up on the concerns raised by the Voice and that, “if an amendment is necessary to clarify any ambiguity, then it can be made at the second reading on January 17, 2011.”

Last year, after McGrath issued a legal opinion that said Section 617 of the City Charter—which had been approved by voters—allowed a mandated 15 percent budget set aside for infrastructure to include debt service payments for infrastructure designated bonds, she put her political career on the line.

Councilmember Devin Dwyer, who had hoped to create a city financial crisis that would force renegotiation of city labor contracts, lashed out at McGrath by calling her “another lawyer” using “legalese” to “twist things” in order to thwart the will of the people.

McGrath was attacked by local Republican Party bloggers and threats were made to remove her from office. If you believed the angry rhetoric, it was a war between Good and Evil and McGrath was Satan.

On Dec. 20 it was Dwyer who ignored the will of the voters, but he had plenty of help, even from an unlikely source sitting on the opposite side of his place on the right wing of the political spectrum.

Councilmember Joe Shaw was just as adept at practicing his own form of selective democracy. Despite campaign speeches denouncing the past city council for approving an arguably unlawful senior center in Central Park, Shaw, who was elected to the council for the first time last November, also had no qualms about voting for another arguably unlawful action just as soon as he took office.

Some on the council, no doubt, see our ailing economy as a long awaited opportunity to diminish the functionality of local government and transfer control of the public’s money to the private sector. And some council members are simply happy to claim that they have saved money for the people.

But the real bottom line is that the voters have been betrayed and may end up actually losing money along with their right to vote for a city treasurer who has real power and is accountable to them.

The City Council will have another opportunity at its Jan. 18 meeting (no meeting on Monday because of Martin Luther King Day) to undo its mistakes when the changes to the municipal code come before it for a required second reading and final vote.

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