Editors Note: After deciding not to endorse any candidates, it was decided instead to ask some of the tough questions that would have be dealt with during the next four years. Some of these questions were sent in by readers and others picked by our staff. All of the candidates were given a week after having the questions emailed to them. They have been re-posted in their entirety without any editing whatsoever. Please take what these candidates say seriously while also considering the candidates who were unable or refused to respond and their possibly reasons why. Whatever, it is now up to you to decide.
Note 2 – Dr. David Gordon’s answers were received late, but have been included – it is important that all candidates have an opportunity to have their positions read.
Burbank City Council Race
Candidates David Golonski, Dr. David Gordon, David Nos and Jess Talamantes were asked the following questions:
One of the first duties for the new City Council is to hire a new City Manager. Many believe Bud Ovrum to have helped steer Burbank through the economic downturn by his diversification of businesses, helping to bring in many different types of businesses. Are you looking for someone from the inside who knows Burbank or are you looking nationally to find someone. What qualities are you looking for? Also, are you in favor of doing a search for a new Police Chief when you have one in place who would like to keep the job after bringing ion several reforms and new personal into the department?
We are conducting a national search for a qualified individual to become Burbank’s next city manager. Economic development was definitely one of Bud Ovrom’s strengths and will be an important quality that we will be looking for in the next city manager. The city manager that I would like to see for Burbank will be someone that has significant experience in running an organization similar to Burbank as well as someone that can relate well to the community. The individual will need a strong financial background and have a proven track record of building a strong organization and working well with labor organizations and diverse community groups. I have been impressed with the reforms that have been instituted by our current police chief and his command staff.
The Council is conducting a broad search for the best-qualified individual to fill the big shoes of Burbank’s next City Manager. However, due to the many rules and programs uniquely applicable to California cities, I would tend to look first to a candidate’s skills and experience understanding and effectively applying California State laws, programs and regulations. The successful candidate would likely have solid experience and background effectively dealing with labor issues and preferably have a positive history dealing with a city owned utility, city based police and fire departments, and/or familiarity with a joint power authority such as we have at the Burbank airport. I question the wisdom and necessity of doing a search for a new Police Chief when we currently have a highly skilled and experienced Chief who has demonstrated exceptional ability in righting a listing ship as well as having particular experience in handling the ongoing legal matters challenging our Police Department.
The City Manager is the most critical position within the City. Without a good City Manager the overall operation of the City flounders. This job requires an individual with tremendous drive, vision, and leadership skills. This person must be highly adaptable in order to deal effectively with bosses that may change every two years. A person who worries about job security will not do well in this position. The City Manager must feel strong enough about his/her convictions to disagree with the council if need be – and he/she must be able to motivate and direct staff in all the different departments so that the City runs smoothly. It will help to walk on water, but then maybe I am asking too much.
Someone who knows and understands Burbank would be a plus, and we owe it to the Burbank residents to get the best person possible. We won’t know that until we make a national search. Someone who has the skill levels that I mentioned above will be able to absorb and learn all the qualities that make Burbank the unique City that it is. I would expect the new City Manager to formulate an on-going vision that will help direct and catapult Burbank into a successful profitable sustainable future.
Chief La Chasse was brought in over 3 years ago as the “Interim” Chief. It seems a bit long to hold onto someone in that position without either going for the search, or offering that person the job. If in fact Chief La Chasse wants the job, it should be offered to him. We are cutting costs to balance the budget and it seems senseless to go on a search when we basically have a permanent Chief in place who just needs a title adjustment.
Did Not Respond
The City Council has approved 4 consecutive Utility Rate increases while also approving a 21% pay raise for BWP GM Ron Davis, and 7-11% pay raises for Sr. BWP Mgm’t. BWP also spend $40 million recently on a “green” “sustainable” Eco Campus. Now we’re being forced by the State to spend $Millions to buy energy we don’t need in order to meet State renewable-energy mandates. What can we do to stop these massive rate hikes and pursue sensible, cost-effective renewable/green energy policies?
Burbank currently has the lowest utility rates in our region. We have just put in place the last piece of our renewable portfolio plan that we believe will allow us to meet the renewable portfolio standard mandated by the State. We haven’t had “massive” rate increases even in the face of significant increases in costs. We need to recruit and retain talented people to run our utility and to find ways to keeps our rates low. The $40 million dollar investment was necessary to maintain our aging infrastructure. Around $20 million of this was to replace the Burbank distribution substation which was needed to maintain the reliability of our distribution grid. The remainder was for the administration building, warehouse and service facilities that were in need of seismic upgrades. These investments are long term improvements that will make our utility more efficient and reliable over the next 50 years. The modernization of the warehouse operation will result in significant cost savings over its lifetime.
It never made any sense to me to repeatedly raise utility rates and I consistently voted against them. The double-digit pay raises to BWP top management was unacceptable to me during a severe recession, high unemployment, and general fund deficit. I voted against those as well. It seems to me whatever precious City resources were spent on the so-called “Eco-Campus” were ill timed and inappropriate considering the current economy and ratepayers struggling to pay their utility bills. The millions of dollars Burbank is being forced to pay to comply with State mandated renewable energy quotas, that is, according to BWP Director Ron Davis, “energy we don’t want and we don’t need,” is simply outrageous and unjustifiable. The City must take every available legal action to challenge and protest these crippling, agenda driven, unaffordable surcharges and not just buckle under and claim, “our hands are tied!”
While I appreciate Mr. Davis’ business acumen and his approach to running the BWP, I am confused as to why a City who has been doing budget cuts ranging from 2% to 10% over the last 4 years needs to be cautious about salary increases. While I am not privy to the contracts of Senior Management staff at the BWP, from a conservative standpoint salary increases should be frozen during periods of budget cuts, and in some cases salary cuts will be appropriate.
In a meeting I had with Mr. Davis we discussed the Eco campus. Burbank does a great deal of power brokering. i.e. we sell the extra power we are not using. This helps bring a positive cash flow to the BWP. As I understand it the Eco campus was funded from power we sold to other cities such as Anaheim. During this meeting we also discussed the renewable energy mandates that we face. Burbank has been fortunate that Mr. Davis, through effective buying has been able to buy renewable power at lower rates than many other cities. As a result we can sell that power at much more competitive rates which helps defray some of the high costs that are associated with renewable energy.
I understand the State’s desire to start moving away from fossil fuels, but I question forcing cities to move to renewable power usage while the technology is still evolving.
Buying power at more expensive rates just forces the city to raise the rates to the end-user to cover the greater costs. Solar panels require a great deal of hardware to be effective and they are expensive to produce. Wind towers require maintenance and are unsightly. And don’t forget there are days when the sun is covered by clouds reducing power to the panels and the wind does not blow.
Unless we can get the State to see the downsides of forcing cities to “rush”
Into the renewable energy market we may be stuck. But, I believe we need to try to make the State understand by being aggressive with our legislators and working with the other cities in our region to put pressure on our State’s elected officials to give us some lee way.
In the meantime we need to look at what we can do operationally to cut our usage.
Give financial incentives to our residents for using less power. Work together as a community to reduce the entire City’s carbon footprint.
Renewable energy is the future, but while the technology is available it is not efficient enough to keep from affecting the pocketbooks of our residents.
Did Not Respond
The City is facing a $2.1 Million budget shortfall and considering a variety of cuts, out-sourcing & fee increases to close the gap while dealing with a $252 Million unfunded Pension liability. What can we do to balance the Budget while addressing meaningful Pension reform? Please outline your specific Budget Plan.
This year’s budget deficit is actually $1 million not $2.1 million. That’s because of the reduced spending over the last five years through a balanced approach that included employees paying more of the pension cost, finding ways to deliver services more efficiently and paying down our unfunded pension liability. I proposed a hiring freeze until pension reform was enacted, saving millions.
To further reduce spending, we need to continue these approaches with more emphasis on ways to deliver services more efficiently, including outsourcing services that can be performed by the private sector in much more cost effective ways. By acting now, we can do this in a thoughtful way, relying on attrition. I oppose reducing services or increasing fees. One example is changing to leasing police cars as opposed to purchasing them. This doesn’t impact our ability to deliver services, but will result in substantial savings. We also need to evaluate this approach for more of our fleet.
More important than balancing the current budget, we need to identify $8 million in additional savings to pay down more pension liability (resulting in additional recurring savings), increase the funding to repave our streets and invest more in our infrastructure, like our park facilities.
Before a meaningful “Budget Plan” can be crafted, all financial information has to be placed on the table. That information has not yet been presented to the Council so outlining a specific budget plan is only speculative. However, there are a few things that ought to be looked at immediately to effectively tighten the belt. We must curtail spending and collect money owed us. We failed to recapture over $40 million in debt owed to our General Fund by the former Redevelopment Agency. Now the State is claiming that money is no longer available to Burbank. It could have easily gone to balancing our current budget, prevented any claimed need for outsourcing our employees’ jobs, fixing a good part of failing infrastructure, and even been used to pay down some of our pension liability. We failed to ever claim the $1 million surety bond due the City following the former Recycling Center’s operator defaulting on his agreement with the City. And we continue to hemorrhage substantial funds through our legal department’s approach to dealing with outstanding Police cases and legal challenges. In addition, we have retained a number of former Redevelopment Agency Employees after the State abolished all such agencies converting their positions to regular city employees. The true, long-term, cost, justification, and wisdom of this move has never been clear to me. The City needs to very carefully review all of its departments and make sure of the needs of each and what the true costs are and ought to be for providing them. Burbank’s taxpayers deserve to know and be reassured that they are getting the full value and best bang for their hard earned bucks. Prudent accounting and spending should be the minimum standard and will likely bring our budget back into balance.
I would start with encouraging early retirements, and put a hard hiring freeze on non-essential personnel. The budget has to be looked at with a serious eye. If cuts become too serious City services will be affected and this MUST be avoided. We can look at outsourcing, but savings have to be proven and services cannot be affected as a result.
I think we can look at a few things on an operations level that might save long term costs. . Certain lighting technologies need to be looked at. A savings of up to 50% could be possible by converting fluorescents to LED lights. The technology is proven and effective.
Governor Brown’s Pension Reform bill was signed into law in 2012. Effective January 2013, all new employees under the calPERS system would have to contribute 50% of their pension costs. Local government labor unions will have a five-year window to negotiate that through collective bargaining. Annual retirement payout is capped at $132,120. What we have left is the bubble to bring pension costs under control. I have heard from other candidates that we need to “find” $8,000,000 a year to help pay for this.
You don’t find money – you grow revenues by bringing businesses to the city – by encouraging businesses to grow so that jobs are created and tax revenue streams flow into the city. My plan calls for creating a strategic partnership with the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, the Burbank Association of Realtors and the Burbank Community development Department forming a group that will actively pursue new businesses to relocate to Burbank.
This balance of cuts and revenue generation will help us to keep the budget balanced and with proper oversight, we can ensure that we keep our revenue growth ahead of our expenses.
Did Not Respond
One of the clouds over the City during the past two years has been the police investigations and lawsuits. With a reported $7.1 million already spent and many more potential lawsuits still to go, do you feel there should be a change of strategy or continue in the same direction.
I believe we should continue in the same direction. I believe Burbank took the appropriate actions to deal with the problems that occurred in the Police Department and needs to see those actions through.
Absolutely! The Council has the responsibility and authority under the City’s Charter to be involved in decision making on legal matters, litigation, settlements, etc. The quality and appropriateness of the Council’s decisions will only be as good as the information upon which they are based. Not allowing Council members to directly question high priced outside attorneys supposedly hired to provide effective legal strategy seems contradictory to their retention. If critically important information is not presented to the Council by redaction or other methods, the Council’s ability to render the best decisions is compromised. The first step necessary to enable the Council to provide clear and meaningful direction in the current Police related legal matters is for it to be provided with all the information needed to understand what happened and who did what when. Absent clear, straight answers to the myriad of outstanding questions Council must either place full trust and faith in the legal “experts,” or accept reaching their decisions about continued legal spending by voting in the dark.
A change of strategy may just be what we need to do. From what I have been told there are more wrongful termination suits heading in our direction which means more legal fees. Some information that was just read openly at City Council meeting by a concerned resident shows the L.A. Sheriff Department’s independent reviews of the officers in question warranted no further investigation. Yet we terminated these officers, and we are being sued.
Apparently our City Attorney did not have these other documents – I have to ask Why Not?
None of the Council seemed to have this information either. Again why not? We are talking millions of dollars. This MUST be addressed. I must state that I am speaking as an outsider and am missing much of the other detail that the current Council has. But the evidence from this side requires that pointed questions be asked and answers must be given to the satisfaction of the community.
Did Not Respond
Please talk about your vision for Burbank during the coming four years. Where can you make a difference? Are you willing to work with other council members for change? What development do you see coming to Burbank or would you rather preserve the residential areas?
I see Burbank becoming stronger financially over the next four years, protecting its services and programs and dealing with the increasing pension costs in a responsible manner. This will set Burbank aside from many other cities in California that have waited for this problem to become a crisis and had to sacrifice the level of service they provide to stay afloat. I believe I can make a significant difference because I understand the nature of the problem facing Burbank and am the only candidate that has put forth a plan to deal with it. I am more than willing to work with the other members of the council to implement change. Actually, that is the only way anything can be accomplished by the City Council. I see some opportunities for development in both the South San Fernando and North San Fernando area, neither of which would negatively impact our residential areas.
The next four years promise to bring a new air of openness, honesty, and accountability with the voters’ outright election of Bob Frutos in the recent primary. I hope to make a very positive difference on the Council by closely collaborating with and mentoring Bob whenever the need may arise. I believe Bob’s arrival on the Council this May, along with any other deck reshuffling that may occur in the runoff general election, will give the people of Burbank a taste of what true Council dialog and honest deliberation can mean to the City’s health and prosperity. As we emerge from a devastating economic recession, it is reasonable to expect investment and new developments will return. New development can be very beneficial to Burbank and its citizens when it is well planned and done right. Burbank’s IKEA has definite plans to relocate and expand its operation. The Airport is moving ahead with its Regional Transit Center and plans for enhanced rail access. Development plans are taking shape where the former Platt Project had previously been proposed for a high-end residential-retail project. However, I will continue to fight to protect our residential neighborhoods’ quality of life as new projects come forward and are considered. I will continue to insist that all new developments comply with State environmental laws as well as be compatible with their surrounding land uses. I have demonstrated my ability to work with numerous unique and different Council members over the past seven years I have served on the Council. Whether I agree or disagree with the views of those on the Council is immaterial. What is important is that the best interests of the people rely upon Council members working together to provide effective government.
My vision for Burbank is to ensure financial stability through thoughtful cuts and revenue growth. My vision is that Burbank understands what it really means to be “Green” and we establish programs that set us on this path. One example is using LED lights in the office buildings as opposed to fluorescents (a savings of 40% on lighting costs can be realized).
Being a City Council person requires collaboration with the other members. I certainly don’t profess to have all the answers or all the ideas. We are all individuals and we have strong opinions. Our job is to work together for the betterment of the ENTIRE community. Burbank is Us.
Your question makes it sound like development is a bad word – like we need to draw a line in the sand and pick neighborhoods or development. The operative word is balance. People who live here want the integrity of their neighborhoods to stay in tact. I will work to protect that. At the same time we need to see what can be developed that complements our neighborhoods and serves both parties involved. A bike path down Verdugo does not do that, but one down Burbank Blvd might. A cell tower in a neighborhood church does not do that, but one atop a bill board at Victory and Magnolia might. The job of a City Council person isn’t about choosing sides it’s about leadership and making all aspects of our Community a priority.
Did Not Respond