Public gives council an earful

Comments given for almost an hour at Lincoln meeting
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Public comment dominated Tuesday’s City Council meeting as residents gave the city an earful about their displeasure with the city’s recent activities. More than 120 audience members were there. Usually, about 75 community members attend council meetings. Ten residents spoke during the almost hour-long public comment. Bob Birdseye told the council he “felt it necessary to take a much bolder approach” to address issues, recognizing that some members of the city “may become distressed or angry as to what I am saying.” “In June 2010, the City Council and city management claimed that a utility users’ tax was necessary in order to maintain our police and fire services and yet placed on the November ballot a vary flawed Measure K to the voters,” Birdseye said. He then went on to say that the community learned that the city’s budget deficit was inflated by $3 million, as reported in the Dec. 16 News Messenger. “I do not believe that the City Council or the city manager’s office would have reported this information to the community,” Birdseye said. “You all know that the community has been actively involved in these budgetary issues and have asked for information from the city and, at times, are not receiving the information requested.” Birdseye also said residents are concerned about the “excessive” salaries and benefits of city management. He expressed concern about the city “attempting to stifle community members and the press.” “Therefore this evening, I am formally requesting that Mr. Estep and Ms. Anna and members of the City Council, with the exception of council members Hydrick and Nader, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you are a good fit for the city of Lincoln based on these recent revelations,” Birdseye said. “If any of you decide that you are not a good fit, perhaps you need to reconsider your positions with the city of Lincoln. The citizens of this community do not want to have any mismanagement in our town and desire accountability and transparency.” Council members Tom Cosgrove and Spencer Short, along with City Manager Jim Estep have said during the past few months that The News Messenger is not treating the city fairly. Terrie Robinson addressed Cosgrove’s recent visit to News Messenger Editor Carol Feineman’s office “in what could be perceived by a jury of his peers to be an attempt to intimidate her in her First Amendment rights and to intimidate The Lincoln News Messenger in its freedom of speech” and also mentioned another council member and member of city management’s visit to the editor’s supervisor “to be an attempt to similarly intimidate Ms. Feineman.” “I take seriously any effort to censor, stifle or intimidate a journalist,” Robinson said. Robinson said these actions could set the city up for a lawsuit, which would “defend the First Amendment” and accomplish “finally getting an accurate picture of the city’s finances, which could not be avoided under the subpoena power of a federal judge.” Resident Tom Augustine presented a proposal with six items the city could implement to save the General Fund $1.25 million. Those items included freezing the position of human resources director and assistant director of recreation and also creating a public safety director to oversee the police and fire departments in lieu of having a police chief and fire chief. Augustine also questioned Short and Estep. “I do have one simple question that I hope to be answered, that is of Councilman Short and Estep, did both of you or either of you approach Gold Country Media to stifle the reporting of the Lincoln News Messenger?” Augustine asked. Short responded to Augustine’s question, breaking the silence of an otherwise silent City Council during public comment. “No, I can say we didn’t ask for stifling. We asked for fair treatment in the media, which we did not get,” Short said. Cindy Prentice, a Lincoln resident and State of California auditor, questioned Estep’s and Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Jatczak’s “lack of understanding the basics of government finance” when it comes to misallocation of $3 million in unrealized investment losses into the General Fund. “In my opinion, we have a city manager making over $200,000 a year and an assistant city manager making over $100,000 that should understand these accounting standards and it is their job to ensure government accounting standards are met and that proper adjustments are made, when mistakes are found,” Prentice said. “As a result of this improper accounting, many good police officers, fire fighters, high level supervisors and others that were employed by the city have fled the budget ax coming their way. In addition, many good employees have taken early retirement thinking they were doing their part to help the city budget. Was this really necessary?”