Earlier this month, when Tustin Mayor Jerry Amante announced that “not a single signature” had been turned in for his recall, he incorrectly assumed not a single one had been gathered. The fact was the RecallAmante committee came close to but lacked the minimum number of signatures to trigger the recall; rather than turn the petition list into Amante’s new “Enemies’ List,” the Recall Committee did away with the petitions altogether. But the interesting part of Amante’s little speech, after falsesy accusing “a member of this city council and members of TUSD” of being behind the recall effort” (a complete lie), Amante claimed the politically motivated recall effort had cost taxpayers $10,000.
OurTownTustin blogger Jeff Gallagher did a doubletake and filed this excellent report about the costs associated by the city for the recall effort.
From his post:
“…it was Jerry’s boast that the Recall Amante group cost the taxpayers of Tustin $10,000 that really caught my ear. I realize that the City Clerk was about as uncooperative as one can be with honest citizens attempting to lawfully submit a recall petition. In fact, she managed to kick the proposed petition back four times before finally allowing it to go through on the fifth submission. So, if Jerry’s claim is true, that works out to about two thousand dollars per submission just to review it for formatting accuracy.
You may be thinking that the document in question was multi-paged or, possibly, written in several European languages concurrently, maybe with accompanying illuminated illustrations. I assure you it was not. In fact, if you have ever been approached by “those people” outside the local supermarket asking you to sign a petition to save the night crested gnatcatcher or outlaw the fluoridation of city drinking water, you have seen an example of the one page recall petition submitted to our City Clerk. It is not difficult to create but, it is required to be in proper format, which the State of California dictates. So why did it take five submissions when the average, according to the Orange County Registrar of Voters, is two? Could it be that Sheree Loveland, Nathan Menard and Chuck Horvath are too illiterate to understand simple formatting instructions? Hardly. I’ve had many conversations with all three. They are quite articulate and well spoken (Nathan and I even share the same barber). Could it have been the City Clerk was having four bad days and took it out on the Recall group? We’re getting warmer. Or, could it have been that the single, largest city event of the year, the Annual Chili Cookoff, was just around the corner and the Recall group had a booth, ready to obtain signatures from some really pissed off people? Bingo! I would say that was a good bet. What better way to sabotage the Recall effort than to somehow prevent them from being able to present their petitions to more than thirty thousand people, the majority of them Tustin residents, in one day at one location?
Now, you may think this is farfetched. So, I would like to remind you that, thanks to an effort by Boss Tweed Amante to consolidate his powerbase at Tammany Hall Tustin, a measure was placed on the ballot last election year to change the City Clerk’s office from an independent, elected official to an appointed official who would be beholden to… you guessed it, Jerry and his Kids. So, now that the City Clerk has lost her autonomy, if she still wants that job, she has to play ball.
It should also be surprising to Mayor Amante because the cost for review was nowhere near $10,000. In fact, it was not even half that amount.
In replying to our request, the city’s attorney stated,
In response to paragraphs (1) and (2) above, the total number of ‘employees, contractors or other persons’ involved in the scope of the work you describe is two, including Patty Estrella and City Attorney, Douglas Holland.
I was also told that the city did not specifically allocate time spent by city employees on the review of the petitions. So, I took that to mean that the time spent by Miss Estrella to review the petition submissions was within the normal course and scope of her everyday work, which she would have been paid for anyway. So total cost for petition review by city staffers? Zero.
The city attorney was another matter. In the city attorney’s response, I received a timetable of hours broken down by days and individual law firm employee, specifying hours and costs. Yes, the letter said only Douglas Holland worked on the petitions. But, the accompanying documents indicate that up to five attorneys actually worked on them. Although my original request was specifically for costs involved in reviewing/rejecting/accepting the petitions, I received cost information that should not have been included because it was for work obviously performed beyond the date the final petition was submitted and finally approved in June. Nonetheless, understanding how lawyers like to pad their bill, I considered the total amount of time they say they spent. Oops. But, then, I discovered a miscalculation in hours billed vs. charges. Well, they are lawyers, not accountants.
So, including the overcharge of one-tenth of an hour, the Attorney’s office charged the City… drum roll, please… $4,209.80 for 21.6 hours of work. Of that, according to my precise calculations, only 15 hours were actually spent on review of the documents prior to their final approval. That averages out to 3 hours or $582.00 per submission. Total cost to approve the petition? $2,910. That is less than one-third of the cost Jerry claims the city spent on the recall effort. Even if we included the 6.6 hours of work, which the attorney refused to specify on grounds of attorney-client privilege, it still comes out to less than half what Hizzoner claimed. I know Jerry is a lawyer, but that is really padding the bill.
So, in the end, it appears Jerry has been less than honest with the citizens of Tustin over the entire recall.”
The part that gets me is a three hour review of each petition. This is not a huge tome of a document. We’re talking a couple of pages.
Here’s the reader participation portion of this post. Take any two page document and study it for three hours. Break out a ruler and measure the fonts, the margins and the header and footer of the document. Now count all the of words — twice. How much time did that take?
There’s an old jokoe about a lawyer who dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter says he needs to go to hell for a week and then he can come to heaven. So after a week in hell, the lawyer goes to the Devil and says “my week is up, time to go back to heaven.” The devil kicks the lawyer in the butt back into hell saying it’s a week of his time, not billable hours.” I think someone at city hall ought to own up to the amount of time spent by city lawyers on this effort. Additionally, in a phone call with Jeff, he said it even looked like hours were bill to the city on this job in late September, well after the petitions had been released to the Recall Committee. Hours billed in late September .. for what?!
On another note, we’re pleased to report that the city council was seen actually using their iPads at the last city council meeting.