Our View: It’s time for Rocklin residents to stand up

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As Rocklin prepares to hire its next city manager, citizens need to stand up and let the council know what they want. For far too long the citizenry has blindly depended on the incumbent city council members who are responsible for some high-profile blunders. Decisions surrounding the compensation of current City Manager Carlos Urrutia underscore the need for citizens to force the council to rein in perks and questionable policies so the next manager can focus on leading Rocklin out of its financial pit. Public pressure has already forced some council members to retreat from a salary expectation of more than $200,000 for the next city manager. “We are looking to understand if there are ways to drive this salary to a level that we feel more comfortable with, i.e. lower than it is right now,” Councilman Brett Storey said at the May 22 budget hearing. The last full-time salary paid to a Rocklin city manager was more than $226,000, plus built-in perks like deferred compensation, cell phone and auto allowances. The latter was used to artificially spike Urrutia’s pension payout. The city council undermines public confidence by allowing policies like double dipping to occur. Five managers, including Urrutia and the police chief, retired and now draw pensions while at the same time work as part-time annuitants in their old job. Wally Reemelin, the president of the League of Placer County Taxpayers said the practice may be legal but that doesn’t make it right. “The people in power are incompetent because they are allowing the double pay to go on,” Reemelin said. A recent internal investigation by the city led to the public outing of an employment practice that lets members of the city’s management team use up to four hours of their day for their own purposes without reporting it to the city. Mayor Scott Yuill said the council didn’t have the authority to change employment policies. “I believe it’s not council’s role to micro-manage personnel matters in most cases,” Yuill said. It is short-sighted to say it is merely a personnel matter. Giving managers autonomy at taxpayers’ expense is irresponsible in these economic times. To date, the city has cut a quarter of its workforce, which is now creating service challenges. Councilman Peter Hill admitted at the May 22 budget hearing that the city does not even have the staff available to implement an economic strategy if it paid a consultant to develop one. That should have been their priority years ago. Urrutia, who’s been on the job for 25 years, admits the glory days are over as the city is now largely built out. The reality is Placer County admits housing values, and thus property taxes, will be flat until 2014. CB Richard Ellis reports the 2010 outlook for commercial real estate will be flat as the Sacramento region has 21.6 percent vacancy rate and construction is non-existent. Recently Urrutia admitted he had one regret, not luring the Galleria to Rocklin when the city was in the running. The city is plagued by the inability to attract business over Roseville. Wal-Mart is a good example. Yuill admitted last year that Rocklin was so close to getting Nugget marketplace but at the last minute they chose the Roseville side of the border. Rocklin needs to have all hands on deck if they’re going to keep the city viable. Rocklin historian Gary Day points to the time when Rocklin sided with developers in a historically fruitless lawsuit to stop Thunder Valley Casino instead of getting a piece of the action. “They turned down $15 million for a quid pro quo from the casino people to drop the lawsuit,” Day said. “That $15 million could have gone to Rocklin community services.” The current budget is expected to make the police department one of the smallest forces in the state, which Chief Mark Siemens said would lead to an increase in traffic accidents. “The more enforcement you have, the fewer accidents you will have,” Siemens said. “Our accident rate will go up. It is not a ‘might,’ it will go up.” The city is expected to get rid of its bomb-sniffing dog, a traffic sergeant and another full-time sworn officer. The budget has cut fire-prevention programs, firefighter overtime and is now expected to layoff two firefighter/paramedics at a time when Rocklin has allowed the fire department to operate with undesirable response times that create what the leader of the local chapter of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association referred to as “dead zones” in some areas of the city. “There are two areas with 10- to 12-minute (response times),” said Fire Chief Bill Mikesell. According to the American Heart Association, brain death occurs between four to six minutes after an abrupt loss in heart function like a heart attack. Council members are having a tough time cutting programs like the employee awards that have the city spending nearly $7,000 on gold pins for employees to display service years. That should have been the first program to go. Business owners on Rocklin Road complain the patch work, uneven surface of the that major thoroughfare is getting out of hand at a time when the city is focusing on creating roundabouts at Meyers and Grove streets. The new city manager needs to have tighter fiscal policies, a citizen-centered agenda and aggressive plans to capitalize on opportunities. Tell the city what you want and demand accountability.