Code Enforcement Examined
DESERT HOT SPRINGS — Just five days after the city finance committee spoke again about cutting city expenditures the City Council Team voted 3-2 to approve a $2.2 million agreement with financial consultants AndersonPenna Partners, Inc. for code enforcement services.
It was another vote that split council with Council Members Russell Betts and Adam Sanchez opposed the three-year deal.
The contract became the first significant agenda item for a newly hired interim city manager. It landed on the council agenda on Bob Adams first day on the job as he replaced Rick Daniels in the city manager spot. Adams first day was September 3, the day after the Labor Day weekend.
The contract was the work product of the outgoing Daniels who had a long history of awarding contracts with short notice for bidders to prepare their bids and get them into the city before deadline.
Applicants were limited to an eighteen day window from May 20 to June 6 to submit proposals, a point that became one of the reasons Betts and Sanchez said they could not vote for the deal. Short bid times and the limited advertising of the request for proposals have also been a source of public concern.
The AndersonPenna bid and contract was not the only change Daniels made literally days before he was set to walk out the Desert Hot Springs door. A recent resignation of the public works director found the position vacant. The position was filled by Daniels’ last ditch appointment of Rudy Acosta.
Acosta was previously the city’s redevelopment agency director until redevelopment was eliminated by the state legislature. Acosta then shifted to construction manager for a community center and swimming pool, a position that retained his RDA director salary of $162,275 per year.
Code Enforcement Assigned to Police Department
The City Council was informed by Police Chief Kate Singer that contracting with AndersonPenna would save the city $260,000, as opposed to performing the service in-house. However, the amount of savings was questioned by one councilman well-known for not having voted to spend public funds on projects that later turned out to be bogus.
Although Singer also looked into combining animal services together with code compliance she did not receive responses from anyone.
“There’s got to be somebody else out there that can do this well and do it for less,” Councilman Russell Betts said. “Even if there isn’t, we owe ourselves the benefit of giving it enough time.”
This is not the first time Betts has argued this point. He has previously proposed keeping open a 60 day window to attract the best services and best costing city contractors. Betts said that a fifteen day contact bid limitation gives the impression the city already has decided on the contract winner.
Once more council member Adam Sanchez supported Betts in the losing vote of 3-2 while the winning team of mayor Yvonne Parks was joined by her election slate of council members Scott Matas and Jan Pye.
Finance Committee Recommendation Ignored
The city’s Finance Committee recommended paying no more than $450,000 annually for code compliance instead of the $722,000 proposed, according to council member Russell Betts.
“I want to get over this notion that just because we’re saving $150,000 doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to save $200,000 or $300,000,” Betts said. “That’s part of the bid and contract process, and you can’t just sit up here and say, ‘Well geez, we’re saving money, so this is OK.’”
Backing up Betts concerns, Sanchez added the city is discussing council travel policies, but ignoring proper scrutiny for the city’s largest contract.
“We really don’t even know exactly how we’re going to end this year,” Adam Sanchez said. “We are basically borrowing $2 million out of reserves.”
City leaders spoke, only adding to the confusion. Councilwoman Jan Pye said the City Council agrees to three-year contracts to lock down a price, but the contract is renewed in the annual budget process. The city budgeted $978,000 for code enforcement for this fiscal year (2013-14) so this contract acrually represents a $156,000 savings, she said.
City financial figures supplied by Jan Pye were endorsed by Mayor Parks who then criticized Betts and Sanchez for their use of inaccurate figures, according to Parks. The mayor then said that it will not be until until the current budget is ended when the city will know how much money it has or if it will need to spend reserves.
New City Management
“I’m very anxious for our new city manager to get his hands on and around our budget then I think we’re going to have a really good idea of where we’re at,” Parks said. “I personally don’t think we’re in the dire straits that everybody is talking about, but again, I’m going to depend on Mr. Bob Adams to be able to tell me exactly where we are and what we have to do.”
City finances should not be a mystery to the city finance committee under the leadership of Mayor Parks and council member Jan Pye. Their committee has been holding regular monthly meetings with citizens since November of 2012 addressing city money matters by examining every source of revenue and putting all city expenditures under a microscope and discussion.
Although the independent report by Urban Futures, a city financial consultant, warned of a “fiscal crisis” and the Finance Committee has been recommending pay cuts at city hall since first meeting in November of 2012, instead the council majority comprised of the election slate of Parks, Matas and Pye have been unwilling to make any city hall pay cuts.
The business website of the AndersonPenna firm makes no mention of intending to provide services of code enforcement or any experience providing code enforcement services.
The city’s new code enforcement contractor announced it will be re-hiring the city’s former code enforcement officers and charging about $45,000 for a city code technician, according to business owner Lisa Penna. Technician will earn $21 an hour in salary, $4,368 a year in paid time off and $10,560 a year in benefits; giving her firm a profit margin of less than 6 percent.
For over 40 years Dean has been published in a variety of small newspapers and magazines. As publisher he founded an alternative city weekly newspaper in 2008 and published over 200 uninterrupted issues over 4 years to over 20,000 readers via 800 locations (and online) before selling the business. Now online with over 3 million readers worldwide.
Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader. He served as Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs from January 2014 to January 2015 when he resigned.
Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Palm Desert, California.