The Tuesday, December 8, 2020 city council meeting opened with the invocation given by Rhonda Trevston with the Interfaith Council.
After certification of the election, winners of the November, 2020 elections were sworn in to their respective offices, Karlee Meyer (district 1), Malcolm Lilienthal (district 3) and Joe Males (district 4), along with Gladys “Sue” Savage, who took the oath of City Treasurer. All were present and Sue took the oath remotely. Many in Hemet are looking forward to future changes in the way the city operates. Change sometimes comes slowly, but we will no doubt see some responsible choices made in the future. City council has some new blood made up of non-politicians. Oaths were administered by City Clerk Clay James. Outgoing City Treasurer Judy Oltman, expressed her thanks to the various city employees for all the help they’d given her over the many years she held the position of City Treasurer. Michael Perciful was gracious in his departing speech (district 3), giving kudos to incoming council member Malcolm Lilienthal. Presentations were made by Mayor Pro Tem Linda Krupa thanking outgoing Mayor Russ Brown for his service to the city. Brown then thanked Perciful and Oltman for their service to the city.
A reorganization of city council members takes place once the ceremonial oaths are given. In the reorganization, a new mayor and mayor pro tem are voted in. Meet your new Mayor, Karlee Meyer. Joe Males will be the Mayor Pro Tem until December 14, 2021. Congratulations!
There was a lengthy closed session after which the newly sworn council members joined council members Krupa, Brown and newly appointed Mayor Meyer at the dais to wend their way through the long agenda.
While the council meeting was taking place, members of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) were demonstrating in front of City Hall. A representative of the union spoke at the meeting, reminding the council that he looked forward to working with the council on improving the wages that employees deserve. Long-time advocate Pat Gregory sent in an electronic communication questioning the finances of Measure U. Pat has been advocating on behalf of Hemet citizens ever since Measure E, later Measure U took effect. We can thank her for uncovering some financial discrepancies that might not have been discovered except for her practiced eye!
There are many ordinances passed by the City of Hemet, some years old and possibly requiring amendments, some more recent but also requiring changes. There was a request to amend the city’s requirements made by the Planning Commission, to clarify the heights, floor grading, all seemingly mundane items. Why is this important? It’s a zoning issue. Zoning is everything in a community. It tells you who gets to build something, where they get to build it and how it has to be built. The public has input, when they are aware of the potential impact on the location. Sometimes the public responds; many times, they don’t. The city provides an opportunity to express concerns at the council meeting. In this case, there were two amendments requested, neither having a significant impact on the way the city looks. This does not affect residential properties, just commercial properties. The amendment covers hotels, medical facility and unique projects. There were no public comments or written communications on this item. Councilmember Brown asked if modifying the heights & floor space would be an advantage to Hemet. He was told it would provide more space with which to work. Brown also wanted to know if this amendment would affect parking and was told there would be no impact on parking. The building would be vertical as opposed to horizontal, thereby eliminating parking restrictions. Community Development Director H.P. Kang delivered the presentation). The request for amendment was passed unanimously.
As usual, the Investment Portfolio and the Warrant Register were accepted as presented. Newly elected City Treasurer Sue Savage promises more transparency can be expected. In fairness to Ms. Oltman, she had a full slate and without the required oversight, didn’t do too badly as Treasurer. Ms. Savage will be asking for an active Oversight Committee as well a full and complete audit for the last three years.
Further down the agenda was a resolution authorizing Centrica Business Solutions, Inc. to perform an investment grade audit of all city buildings and facilities and to prepare a report for review and approval by the City Council. The facility improvement resolution was brought to the council with the intent of updating lighting and other infrastructure to ten city facilities. The goal is to save the city money on electric usage by replacing older electrical lights and updating and improving other parts of the building infrastructure. In particular, Fire Station 1 and 5, the Library & Civic Center complex would be improved. Solar additions would result in significant utility savings. This resolution was passed unanimously.
A huge part of city government encompasses finance. Money comes in from various sources and is spent in various ways. Running a city is much like running a business; you have the cost of doing business and it can be pretty expensive. Sometimes, as in our personal lives, we have to move money around from one account to another. The city is no different. There was a resolution amending the fiscal year 2019/2020 budget for what seemed to be an excessive amount of money. It really wasn’t in the grand scheme of things; the resolution passed unanimously. Money was moved from one account to another. Bear in mind; this involved the budget, not the actual expense. City finances can get a little confusing at times. The city undergoes a regular review of budget items and the transfer of funds from one account to another is sometimes necessary.
Toward the end of the meeting was yet another resolution covering the former Hemet Redevelopment Agency. Finance Director Lorena Rocha made the presentation explaining that this agency was dissolved by the governor in 2012. Unfortunately, through no fault of Hemet’s, the debt that was accumulated (via bonds) had to be paid down. That’s the way government works. You give in one hand and take away in another. Rocha’s job was to inform council how payment for this fiscal year would be accomplished. This was pretty cut and dry and the council was satisfied with the explanation, passing the resolution.
There were some closing housekeeping items that had no real impact on the daily lives of those of us living in Hemet, such as repeal of prior ordinances.
Concluding the agenda items was a discussion about campaign contributions. The state decided they will give local municipalities an opportunity to adjust the amounts of political contributions they can accept. The state limit on contribution to local campaigns is $4,700. The fly in the ointment is, if Hemet wants to raise the acceptable limit, Hemet will have to enforce the ordinance. That will cost money and at this time, Hemet lacks the resources to enforce contribution law. There was some discussion about whether or not to raise the limit and attempt to take on the job of enforcing or let the state continue to handle this miserable task. If you are a candidate that has supporters that want to give you $5,000 or more, you have a little problem. You have to find another legal way to do that. We’re not talking about large donations. There are what’s called political action committees and those are the guys we want to keep our eyes on. They find all kinds of ways to contribute that appear to be within the framework of the law, but it definitely has an impact on local elections. There will be one more discussion on this before a vote is taken. The law changes on January 1, 2021. Councilmember Krupa expressed her distaste of state interference in local politics but conceded that due to a lack of resources, it may be in the best interests of the city to allow the state to make the recommendations of permissible contributions. Meyer, on the other hand, was uncomfortable with that approach because it would limit contributions that could influence a tight election. Both sides have a valid point.
There was what has now become a routine report on Coronavirus and government updates. The updates get more confusing with time and the city has a tough time keeping up with them. This is no fault of the city; it’s the state government, one more time, interfering with something that seemed to have been working until they got involved.
Rounding out this very long evening were multiple committee reports. The sheer number of committees is enough to make your head spin. Here is a list of the majority of committees: Hemet San Jacinto Watermaster Board, League of California Cities, Ramona Bowl, Riverside County Habitat Conservation Agency, Riverside County Transportation Commission, Western Riverside Council of Governments, Western Community Energy Board, Hemet Public Library, Planning Commission, Riverside County Airport Land Use Commission, Riverside County Waste Management Task Force. The committee assignments are split up between all council members. The city does have to be involved with these committees to see how other communities are affected by current issues. Everyone has been affected by COVID19. Everyone is trying to find effective ways of dealing with this pandemic without endangering their very existence.
Setting up future agenda items got a little testy when Mayor Meyer asked that an agenda item for a complete audit on Hemet’s financials be done, citing errors in the CAFR (Consolidated Annual Financial Report) report presented to council during the summer. To the embarrassment of Finance Director Lorena Rocha, there were some major corrections that had to be made before the budget could be approved. City Manager Chris Lopez seemed at odds with that request. A vote was taken to add this item to the agenda and it passed. After reviewing the CAFR report, it didn’t appear to be transparent. One had to read multiple financial statements and it got a little bit confusing. One had the feeling the city was trying to hide some of the machinations of their financial operation. The Mayor also requested that City Manager Lopez hire a grant writer as soon as possible. No one disputed that. Newly elected councilman Lilienthal asked that the city form an Ad Hoc Committee on the Vision for Hemet. Meyer seconded that motion and they will meet for a discussion and workshop in January.
Closing out this lengthy meeting was a meeting of the Hemet Housing Authority. There was a reorganization of the Authority, naming Linda Krupa as chairperson and Malcolm Lilienthal as Vice-Chairperson.
The council meeting generally runs about 2 hours; this one lasted well into 4 hours. 2021 promises to be an interesting year filled with some new ideas. There’s nothing like “new blood” to revitalize.
Ann Smith • Contributor
Find your latest news here at the Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle