As the headlines declare a new bankruptcy in another California town every few weeks, we must wonder just how close Chico is coming to the brink. But how would we know – we are held off by the forehead by the same $taff that profits from our not knowing. And we let ourselves be held off – for seven years now, City Finance Mis-Director Jennifer Hennessy has point-blank refused to perform aspects of her job, the most basic functions of her position, in fact – reporting to us, the taxpayers, on the financial state of our city. And we’ve let her get away with it, in fact, I think we’ve been hoping all along she wouldn’t bother us with the petty details of running our town.
I’ve known a lot of small business owners. I’ve seen some have great success, and others I’ve watched ride down the road to perdition – some of them wearing a “Perdition or Bust!” t-shirt, in fact. I had a friend who had long dreamed of owning her own restaurant. She’d waited tables for years, and then become an accountant, running the office for a large statewide business for many years before retiring to realize her dream. With a partner she’d only known a couple of years, she bought a long functioning restaurant-bar, with the intentions of taking up the strengths of the old business, and ferreting out the weaknesses.
Unfortunately she let herself be distracted with one aspect of the business – cleanliness. Yes, that’s important. But, instead of supervising, you would often find her climbing up into the grease trap or wading into the bathrooms with mop and bucket, declaring that nobody could get the place clean enough for her. In the meantime, her partner, who’d long dreamed of owning a bar, was happily handing out all the booze to his friends. And worse – he was cashing their bad checks out of the restaurant cash register, and then letting it go when they told him they didn’t have the money. Apparently his only dream for retirement had been to be the most popular man in town.
So, my friend’s business flopped after a year, no matter her business sense. She didn’t have very good sense in who she trusted with her money, and then she didn’t pay attention, is what happened.
Here in Chico, we find ourselves in the same situation. We’re too busy to oversee our own public finances, we say, too busy with the “real world.” Well, throw some coffee in your face and wake up – the world of city finance is about to collide with your “real” world. Your local taxes are about to go up, up, up. Starting this November with the Utility Tax increase and a school bond, and picking up speed in 2013 with a proposal to raise sales tax in Chico, as well as a proposed “booze” tax. This in addition to what’s going on at the state and federal levels, and you’re about to feel a kick in the pants.
The liberals on city council and their toadies on $taff want the phone tax increase to pay for their malfeasance. Right now they are accused of mis-spending some $11 million in RDA money, accused of misappropriating millions to pay their own salaries, benefits and pensions, and so far, they don’t have one shred of proof to the contrary. $taffer Shawn Tillman just keeps waving his hands madly and denying it, but he so far hasn’t come up with any paper trail as to where that money actually went. You know, like you’d have to pony up in a New York minute if the IRS was banging down your door.
That in addition to the roughly $43 million yearly budget – over 80 percent going to the same salaries and employee-related expenses like health benefits and pensions they are accused of using that $11 mil in RDA dough to pay. We pay not only the employer share on those costs but the employee share as well. Excuse me if I shake my head there - I don’t believe they have the nerve to call it the “employee share”. The “employee share” is, they get to walk off with all the money and we get stuck holding the tab. Similar to my friend’s partner emptying out the cash register taking his friends’ bad checks.
I would say that people who put up with this kind of ridiculous, blatant malfeasance on the part of their elected and hired officials certainly deserve whatever they get, except that those of us who have been paying attention just get swept right along too. We’re already living with pothole studded streets, bad water, leaky sewers, Superfund clean-up sites on public land, mis-managed public safety agencies, almost 4,000 acres of mismanaged park, and a $taff that tells us if we want any of these issues addressed we have to form a non-profit and come up with the money ourselves.
My good Lord! How long are we going to take this shit?
Toby Schindelbeck, for one, has had enough. He’s arranged for a discussion of Jennifer Hennessy’s reporting requirements for this Tuesday night’s council meeting, at the end of the meeting, and it would be nice to have some speakers get up and support his request. It’s a simple matter of Hennessy disclosing our state of affairs – in other words, how much money we got, how much we’re planning to spend over the next 30 days, on what, and how much we have coming in. Every month. Just like you should balance your family checkbook every month (oh yeah, bust a snicker there!)
I will not assume everybody does this in their own house, because look at what’s going on all around us folks. Another house in my neighborhood was just foreclosed a month ago, and sold for less than half what was owed on it. I know, a lot of people are in trouble of their own making. That means it’s time for some of us to hunker down and hold that line. We have to keep telling the City of Chico that the party is over.
Yes there will be a mess to clean up.