Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Council Meeting Ends With Motion to Move to a Closed Session: Public Barred from Hearing Property Issues & Potential Litigation Issues
City Council Meeting for September 11th CANCELLED…..Last week Council Meeting ended with a motion to move to a Closed Session……Again…..The Council supported City Manager Esplin’s call to BAR the PUBLIC from hearing Property and Potential Litigation Issues.
Whatever is going on behind closed doors the public appears destined not to ever know what City Government is doing on our behalf…..How are responsible citizens expected to hold our City Government accountable for their actions when we can’t even find out what they are doing or have done?
Perhaps that is the end objective…..Keep the citizens in the dark and they will continue to elect those responsible for taking care of us……based solely on the fact (Not all, but a great number of us react this way)…..That they are members of The Church and we can entrust our City/Honesty/Integrity to them…..Especially those that hold a position of trust…..And are themselves in a position to ask that very important question of others…..Are you honest in ALL of your dealings……When they themselves…..Repeatedly vote to Bar the Door and keep the Public Out by having an inordinate number of Closed Session Meetings…..And in effect avoid answering to the public? (Do their words match their Deeds?)
This begs the question…..Do City Council Members have to rubber stamp every request for a Closed Session?……Or are they at liberty to vote for Transparency? Have we as American Citizens become so complacent that we…..Without question go along with this Form of Representation?
Have we not been admonished not to do business with individuals solely on basis of Church membership…..Should we not apply sound business principles in determining the degree of trust we place in those elected to public service. Are they keeping their word on transparency when they operate in secrecy?
HOW many of you know the results of the lawsuit filed against the City by a construction company building the New Airport? Our former mayor claimed that the lawsuit was unfounded and that taxpayers would not be paying any money to the construction company based on this lawsuit. How was this lawsuit settled? Did the construction company received $100,000 or more in the form of a payment settlement? If so where did the money come from and who approved settlement? (By their fruits they shall be known).
If the public is to be denied presence during the discussion/notification of a litigation issue…..Is it not right to notify the public of the Disposition of a lawsuit so that those elected can be held accountable……Admonished or Given Credit for a job well done?
A class action lawsuit filed against the City remains in the hands of the court. Are we to be denied hearing the disposition of this lawsuit as well? Is it not time to lift the veil of secrecy by putting transparency into practice?
I believe all members of present City Council have publicly supported and committed to Transparency……Yet not one has ever opposed a motion for a closed session nor has one stood before the public and reported on the final settlement of a lawsuit. To be enlightened by the spirit of the truth would be a most welcome experience…..Would it not? Especially if it was to come from a City Council that led the public to believe it supported transparency. Sadly it appears….. Those elected to lead appear resigned to act as rubber stamp….. To continue the practice of secrecy as called upon by the City Manager to do. What do they have to hide? Is it not right that he public at least be informed of the disposition of such matters?
If this not be so……Where is the transparency promised…..Where is the Ordinance/Code Enforcement Reform? Where are the Citizen Boards and Commissions promised? Are promises made to voters not to be kept?
It is time to reign in and reform the autocratic form of City Government we are currently experiencing. Operating in Darkness and Secrecy/Closed Door Session…..Is not conducive to maintaining a free society.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Council Meeting of September 4th cast a beam of light…..illuminating those in attendance and city government. Excessive pride in individual accomplishments may be seen to be unseemly and unattractive…..but when it reveals the true character of a community…..one has to pause and say…..this is good, and I am proud to be a small part of it.
And so it was at this council meeting…..The mayor assumed his role as head cheerleader and was happily joined by those present…..and hopefully by those watching on television……Nothing to be ashamed of…..or embarrassed about, just plain and simple pride when hearing the pledge of allegiance and opening prayer…..and today when hearing the beautiful singing of a Barbershop Quartet extolling the virtues of community pride.
Proclamations were read which featured the upbeat side…..The Lions Club and its 80th Roundup which has helped to provide a quarter of a million dollars to needy organizations. When you attend the upcoming Rodeo you are sure to feel the hard reality that the Rodeo began in 1934….. by the concrete seating arrangement…..but this discomfort will be made to go away by the Patriotic Atmosphere you are sure to enjoy…..We Can All Take Pride In Living In This Great Country. American Pride can be felt and enjoyed when you attend the Lions Rodeo. God Bless America!
On the more sobering side of Proclamations was acknowledgement of Suicides……The State of Utah leads the nation in this unwanted distinction and you may be startled to know that in the last 7 years……suicides doubled. Utah ranks 5th in Youth Suicides….. Ages 10 to 17. The City stepped forward on this issue proclaiming “Suicide Prevention Week”. (Sept. 7 thru 13th) . Imagine…..39,000 Suicides reported last year. Suicide is everyone’s business.
The City also acknowledged “Recovery Day Celebration” for those suffering from addiction by granting a fee waiver for use of Town Square for the Southwest Utah’s Recovery Day Celebration.
My friends, we as a community may not be perfect but it is heart- warming to know that that we, as a people do not give up…..We continue to exercise hope and care for those in need. Kudos to those who practice kindness as they go about their daily lives…..Helping to identify St. George as…. City with a heart.
On the Business Side of the agenda:
The Council was asked for approval of a final plat for Jiffy Lube at River Road. I thought this to be most revealing of the Character of Individuals alluded to earlier. This being the third consecutive meeting that Council Woman Ariel was declared absent….. Gave greater attention to Councilman Almquist as he had the presence of mind to recuse himself from voting…..stating he contracted to install landscaping for Jiffy Lube site. Councilman Almquist walked away from the remaining 3 Council Persons…..I thought this the honorable thing to do. What was interesting was the comment made by Councilwoman Randall who seeing Councilman Almquist walk off stage said something to the effect…..This Puts The Pressure On, Doesn’t It?.....This gave birth to the title of this article and caused me to focus on the Character of our Council.
For you see, I recall that Councilwoman Randall and Arial had voted NOT to approve the permit to build Jiffy Lube on the initial vote. So when I heard Councilwoman Randall say, “Hey its Built” and then proceeded to vote with Hughes and Bowcutt to approve the final plat…..I chose to believe that Councilwoman Randall acted on her belief that it was in the best interest of the City and not merely an act of support (Payback) to Councilman Almquist….. Who had endorsed Randall as a candidate for City Council…..I recall a representative of Jiffy Lube saying before the original building permit was issued that the company had spent $450,000 just acquiring the property. I chose to believe that Councilwoman Randall took the High Ground in displaying her true character……and voted to do what she believed was the right thing. I hope she did the right thing for the right reason.
It is fair to state that Jiffy Lube Landscaping exceeded expectations for a commercial business of this type. It is pleasing to the eye and blends well with the Virgin River.
Thank you, Ed Baca
Thursday, September 4, 2014
The week of August 25th proved to be interesting for reporting on City Council Activity as it turned out to be….. A report on the Questionable Inactivity of the Council…..Dating back to 1993 when Utah State Ordinance was presented to ALL Cities ……Most notably St. George.
I am referring to State of Utah Chapter 13.12……Intended to provide for the administration of a continuing program of backflow prevention which will systematically and effectively prevent the contamination or pollution of all drinking water systems. (Ord. 2-9-93 s 1.1,1993) Who was mayor and on City Council at time ordinance was put into effect?..... What action is our current City Council taking to protect drinking water?
13.12.010 Purpose of Chapter.
A. To protect the safe drinking water supply of the city from the possibility of contamination or pollution by requiring compliance with state and local plumbing codes, health regulations, OSHA and other applicable industry standards for water system safety within the internal distribution system(s) or private water system(s). Compliance with these minimum safety codes will be considered reasonable vigilance for prevention of contaminants or pollutants which could backflow into the public drinking water systems:
313.12.020 Definitions. “Approved backflow assembly” means accepted by the Utah Department of Health Bureau of Drinking Water/Sanitation and the city water department as meeting an applicable specification or as suitable for the proposed use.
13.12.030 Role of City Outlined.
A. The city shall be responsible for the protection of its drinking water distribution system from foreseeable conditions leading to the possible contamination or pollution of the drinking water system due to the backflow of contaminants or pollutants into the drinking water supply.
B. Drinking water systems surveys/inspections of the consumer’s water distribution system(s) shall be conducted or caused to be conducted by individuals representing the city. Survey records shall indicate compliance with the aforementioned health and safety standards. Such records will be reasonably maintained by the city.
My friends, I am now raising this issue as part of continuing effort to get the current City Council to pay attention to the need for Code Enforcement Reform and Review of all Ordinances…… Why now?.....Because while engaged in an effort to stay young and healthy I had occasion to be on an exercise bike at Summit Heath Club when I was contacted by a fellow member (Another Senior Citizen) who asked for my take on the letter issued by the City Water Services. (I have since been in contact with other citizens who have received similar letters). The letter dated August 13, 2014….. read in part…..The Utah Division of Drinking Water Cross Connection Control Program requires Backflow Assemblies to be tested annually. Tests are to be done by a State Certified Backflow Technician.
City of St. George will not accept failed or illegible test reports. If an assembly fails the test, please have the necessary repairs made. Upon completion, request the Technician send a copy of the Report to the St. George Water Department by October 12, 2014.
This begs the question……How many of you are familiar with this very important issue pertaining to Health and Safety? HOW many of you know if your property is equipped with the Required Backflow? MORE IMPORTANTLY does the CITY know which homes are in compliance with the 1993 State Ordinance? The individuals I have spoken to reside in homes built within the last two to four years. HOW ABOUT the thousands of other homes…..Especially those ten years or older? WHAT action has the City taken since 1993 to comply with State Regulations? WHAT are the penalties if ANY for non-compliance?
State of Utah Ordinance 13.12.080 Violation-----Discontinuance of service.
If violations of this chapter exist or if there has not been any corrective action taken by the consumer within ten days of written notification of deficiencies noted within the survey, the public water purveyor Shall deny or immediately discontinue service to the premises by providing a physical break in the service line until the customer has corrected the condition(s) in conformance with the state and city statues relating to plumbing, safe drinking water supplies and the regulations adopted pursuant thereto. (Ord. 2-9-93 s 3.2, 1993) (Does City Piece Meal Approach Really Satisfy State Requirements?)
So my friends what are we to expect from the City on implementation of oversight responsibilities. Do we have reason to be concerned about Code Enforcement Reform? Perhaps we can gain a better understanding from Certificate of Occupancy requirements and the time frame for implementation of inspection sign off requirements as it relates to Water and Backflow…..What are the financial implications for new and past home buyers?.....Who gains from vague and ambiguous city policy?
Included in the City information letter was a list of 15 Certified Backflow Technician Companies…. Transparency permits public to know….. That Almquist Testing…..Jill Almquist/Gil Almquist are listed as one of the 15 companies. ( Councilman Gil Almquist may have the opportunity to declare a conflict of interest when voting on pertinent issues.
Disclaimer Included…..City of St. George does not endorse nor recommend any Backflow Technicians or Company. This list has been provided for your convenience only. Check with all companies for information regarding pricing.
City Council should know that “Pass the Buck” means passing responsibility to someone else. More is expected from the City on this very important issue. City can run but it can’t hide need for Ordinance and Code Enforcement Reform.
Thank you. Ed Baca
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
August 21 Council Meeting was unusual in that the Mayor and two Council Members were absent. Mayor Pro-tem Almquist informed us that the Mayor was off welcoming his daughter home from her mission. The importance of Family was duly noted on this special occasion for the Pike family.
Having the opportunity to speak to the Mayor earlier in the week I was impressed with the pride the Mayor had for his daughter’s missionary accomplishments while serving in the State of Louisiana. The Mayor was visibly proud of his family and it was gratifying to see that he set family as a priority. The mayor is to speak with his daughter this coming Sunday before Church members.
Council members Arial and Hughes were reported off on assignment on matters not identified. We look forward to hearing the nature and details of their service on behalf of the city.
Today, presented with the absence of half of our elected officials…..And a light Meeting Calendar…..Following on the heels of a week of non-reporting to YOU…..I would like to play catch up by refreshing your memories…..And do so by playing off of the Family Theme I started this article with. Let us agree that we have a City Family of which we are all a part of and that there are spin offs……Relatives if you will…..City Council Family, City Employee Family, All Denomination Church Family, Stake Family, Ward Family et cetera. As Families do…..They set around the dinner table and discuss mutual concerns and issues. In our City Family the discussions take place in Council Meetings, or in Public Newspapers…..Or perhaps Public Television…..You get the idea. In any event, discussion should be conducted in a civil non-threatening manner. We respect 1st Amendment Rights…..Honoring Freedom of Speech and expression of opinions.
I have been given the opportunity to express my evaluation on the performance of City Government and Elected Officials by the Publisher of the Senior Sampler. I receive no compensation nor am I obligated to express opinions other than my own based on my observations.
While my understanding of issues and opinions may not be universally shared by everyone within the City Family I have to date felt no forms of censorship. Sure, I get the expected peer pressure from various sources within the community, but I also get the thanks from many of my fellow citizens for discussing issues they feel need to be publicly addressed.
The issues I bring forth for discussion are done without malice towards any individual……Seeking only to enlighten and inform the public and seeking redress of grievances thought to be in the public interest.
My friends, I want you to know that it has been brought to my attention that an individual holding public office has on two occasions contacted the publisher of the Senior Sampler expressing dissatisfaction with the contents of my articles seeking to influence the printing of said articles.
It is my understanding that this individual has been invited to present written testimony on issues of concern to the publisher of the Senior Sampler for public printing. To this date the invitation has gone unanswered. I remain committed to civil and non-threatening discourse for myself and those representing the public press.
Thank you, Ed Baca
Monday, August 11, 2014
August 7th City Council Meeting REVEALED what City has been doing behind closed doors at what is called an Executive Meeting….. Now referred to as a Request For Closed Session……Prohibiting Public Presence. For those not familiar with City practice……Any time Civil Litigation or the Purchase or Sale of property is to be discussed…..The City routinely bars the public from being present by declaring a need for an Executive Session as State Law permits.
As a point of interest this prevents COMPETING BUSINESSES from being present and being privy to what is going on within the local market place. To better illustrate the point and to give a sense of how big an advantage this may be to someone….. Someone with Inside Information will have the opportunity to build a personal relationship with a prospective client and be prepared to address clients concerns…..Using Councilman Almquist as an example and discounting the time he spent as Chairman of the Planning Commission…..An advisory board appointed by the Mayor and City Council his sphere of influence is immense.
Please take note…..Councilman Almquist may make a motion to move to a closed session and he gets to vote for a Closed Session….. Knowing that he can be present and privy to information that his competitors cannot access. Councilman Almquist may also vote to approve or not approve an applicant’s request for a building permit….. Commercial Building Permits usually dictate Landscape Requirements that are usually provided by a local Landscape Business…..Councilman Almquist Owns and Operates a Landscape Business…..A reasonable and prudent person may conclude that an applicant, seeking approval would know who is empowered to approve the request for a building permit and be in a position to influence the outcome.
This may explain the recent phone call I received inquiring if I was aware that Councilman Almquist’s Landscape Business was putting in the Landscape at the recently approved Jiffy Lube adjacent to the Virgin River…..The caller believed Councilman Almquist had cast the deciding vote in a 3-2 Council Decision approving the building of the Jiffy Lube. The perception of a conflict of interest is what it is…..A perception. Only the public can decide if Perception Equals Reality in public’s mind.
In order to clarify the issue I responded to the Jiffy Lube construction site and was greeted by the Project Manager of Westbrook Construction Co. I was asked the reason for my presence and I explained that I wished to confirm if Councilman Almquist’s Landscape Business was indeed providing the Landscape Services for the Jiffy Lube Project. It was confirmed that once the building permit had been approved and issued businesses were asked to submit their bids and Councilman Almquist’s Landscape Business submitted the low bid and was awarded the job. I opined that Councilman Almquist was in the Landscape Business and perfectly within his rights to bid the job.
The Sale of City Property: The City Council approved the sale of 4.176 acres of City Property (Lots 1 & 3 of the Confluence Commercial Center – Phase 1) adjacent to the Dixie Center for $12.00 /sq.feet. City Manager, Esplin reported that the City would receive $2,182,572,00 and that Two Hotels would be built on the site. The first hotel will consist of 130 rooms and the second hotel would have 95 rooms. The money received is earmarked to complete the remodeling of the Electric Theater – Performing Arts facility owned by the City located on Tabernacle just east of Main Street.
A Little History of Property In Question: Several years ago the City acquired approximately 93 acres of land adjacent to the Dixie Center. 16 acres were purchased at a cost of 2.5 million dollars and the remaining acres were donated to the City. The Crosby family received what is believed to be a one million charitable gift tax write-off for the donated property. The land located in the Flood Way I am told cannot be built on. The land considered to be on the Flood Plain can be built on if raised above the required level from the Flood Way. Crosby Park now sits on a portion of this land and is located just south of the Dixie Center for the enjoyment of citizens and compliments the City’s Trail System. The City is destined to benefit financially from its role as a Developer as may the business interest of those elected to serve.
Thank you, Ed Baca
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Protection of City Trees Forces Council to Face Reality on Code Enforcement Reform- Council Comes to Terms With Need to Act "Enforce It or Change the Ordinance"
July 31st Council Meeting may come to be known as the day Maturity arrived at City Hall…..Even the young inexperienced Councilman Hughes may have come to realize that Code Enforcement is part of the Balancing Act that keeps Individual Property Rights in line with serving the Greater Good of the City.
FINALLY….. The fear of the Class Action Law Suit filed against the city was put in proper perspective when the City Shade Tree Ordinance was presented before the Council…..The Law Suit reveals a glitch in human behavior…..Yes some representative of the city may misspeak or inadvertently fail to act in a way….. that pleases every resident ….. But most certainly it should not be allowed to tie the hands of the City Council…..Preventing the Council from moving forward on promised Code Enforcement Reform. The Council should be guided by sound legal principles…..But it should not permit Lawyers to take control on how the city is to be managed. No doubt individual council members should exercise self- restraint in interjecting themselves in the middle of a legal process confronting the city…..Thereby in effect mudding the waters as they attempt to act as mediators in a civil process that should only be influenced by the entire Council acting to guide city management. (I am referring to Mr. Almquist speaking directly to attorney representing plaintiffs in a legal issue confronting the city. This I believe to be sheer arrogance believing that he should serve as Judge over what the entire Council should be acting on as an elected body. I am of the opinion that Mr. Almquist may have innocently confused his calling as Stake President (Judge of Israel) with the duties and obligations of a City Councilman. Whatever his thinking may have been, the perception of undue influence or appearance of coercion being applied by a person holding TWO very important positions in our community may be deemed to be inappropriate. Most certainly he impeded an out of court settlement and Mayor Pikes plans for improved city planning was derailed).
This council meeting brought to light that City Shade Trees …..With increasing regularity are being removed from the landscape……In violation of City Ordinance…..As well as trees planted on private property….. That as a condition of permit to build required the placement of trees on the property or the leaving of said trees in place. 20 to 30 Trees have been lost the last few months to developers. The same folks the city reduced Impact fees for so they can make a greater profit…..This appears to be the thanks the city gets and can expect in the absence of meaningful Code Enforcement. It was indicated that once building is complete some property owners merely cease watering trees and simple let them die…..There being no ongoing monitoring…..Or Inspections Criteria….. City Ordinances virtually go unenforced…..Hence the need for Code Enforcement Reform and the placement of responsibility for such matters.
This open and frank public discussion provided a ray of hope that the Council is coming to its senses by publicly acknowledging that Code Enforcement Reform is needed….Not only for Shade Trees but in reviewing ALL city codes. My big concern now is that the Mayor will do as he said and ask Councilman Almquist (Who allegedly has violated City Ordinance in his Landscape Business) and Hughes (Who was elected on the premise that Code Enforcement efforts should be minimized and may have very well been a contributing factor in creating the confusion and disarray that Code Enforcement finds itself today). I would respectfully suggest to Mayor Pike that he consider employing the services of an Ombudsman to participate in the Code Enforcement process.
The public should be aware that statements were made by City Staff, Mayor and Council members that attest to the need for Code Enforcement Reform. Larry Shane, Parks and Facilities Manager “We have software and technology to know ownership of Shade Trees and maintain Inventory Record” Dead and dying trees are on a list now. City Manager Esplin asked Council for direction on course of action to be taken concerning Code Enforcement. Esplin stated, “Enforce it or Change the Ordinance”. Mayor Pike “Somebody needs to know”. It was established that current city ordinance provides authority to fine violators…..A course of action not now being exercised across the board. City has the power to Support Ordinance, Modify or Change. City Councilwoman Randall expressed her concerns about “Doing Absolutely Nothing”. (I was left with the impression that Councilwoman Randall was asking for the Shade Tree Board to be supported in their efforts to save city trees). Councilman Bowcutt, “Our responsibility is to make sure they know”. (Meaning the Public and Businesses should be educated on city codes and non-compliance penalties). The meeting ended with City Mgr. stating, “We got direction”. We will come back to you next meeting with an Action Plan. Review major commercial plans. Identify who will enforce, how it will be done, answer questions like…Do Churches need to comply? Finally public concerns will be addressed. It’s a start in the right direction.
Thank you, Ed Baca
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Independence Day & Pioneer Day Highlighted by Expression of Gratitude Throughout City for Blessings Received
The month of July can be looked upon as the month of gratitude for our nation’s independence and for those who suffered and sacrificed that we might find joy in blessings given us by our creator.
I will take the opportunity to utilize time given by cancelled City Council Meetings to recap a few of this month occurrences that gives us reason to be grateful…..While mentioning organizations and people who by their acts of service have touched my life…..And maybe yours as well.
Reported in July 10th City Council Meeting…..The Southern Utah Pickle Ball Association presented to the City a check for I believe, $22,600 to be used for additional lighting on the 24 Pickle Ball Courts located in Little Valley. This brought the total donated to the city to over $120,000.
Terri Kane, representing Dixie Regional Medical Center (Vice President Southwest Region-Dixie Regional CEO/Administrator) made what has become an annual appearance before the City Council…..To update the public on what is taking place at the hospital…..That truly impacts all of us and the quality of life we are able to enjoy in our communities. It was interesting to learn that Terri has worked for 30 years in in the medical field starting as a Bedside Care Giver. The public was informed that at present the Hospital has two facilities…..The Old Hospital that currently has 87 beds designated to the care of women and children, providing Out Patient Care. This facility is expected to be phased out over the next five years when it will be moved to the New Hospital Campus.
Did you know that the hospital has 300 to 350 Volunteers who give of their time in service to patients receiving Intensive Care…..That the hospital is identified as a non-profit organization that, while yes it does make money it also pays taxes……The Hospital is a blessing to the community and employees 2700 of our citizens…..Including 350 physicians. Terri said, we are a Service Industry…..We touch people…..We provide the highest quality of any of the 50 States…..We have Great People and beginning September 4th the Hospital will provide 24-7 Full Trauma Treatment Services.
Following the council meeting in which Terri Kane made her presentation I had occasion to be grocery shopping at Harmon’s. Lo and behold…..who do you think I ran into…..Yes, Terri Kane. It seems she also has duties as a homemaker. Terri was not through for the day and it was late into the evening and I could see and appreciate the exhaustion she must be feeling as she met her duties as a wife. As my departed father-in-law use to say about exceptional people….. You cannot find a finer person. Terri Kane is top drawer. Thank you, Terri for your service.
I was sad to hear of the loss of World War II Veteran, Sterling Davis. I am grateful to him for the close to 50 combat missions he flew which ended in his plane being shot down leaving him injured. Sterling Davis was an inspiration to me not only for his love of God and Country but for the example he was to me as a true gentleman and disciple of Jesus Christ. Thank you, Sterling Davis for your service to mankind.
I closed out my week having attended Parker Smith’s Eagle Court of Honor. I do admire and respect this young man for his dedication to service. I think of him each time I walk along the Dixie High School campus and enjoy the landscape Parker help to establish as his Eagle Scout project. I am grateful to Young Men’s President and Scout Master, Paul Clove for the leadership he provided to this outstanding young man.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention Mormon Battalion representative, Johnny Johnson who while now slow and methodical continues in his service to young men receiving their Eagle Scout award. Johnny, my respect for your work ethic and dedication to service cannot be fully expressed.
As this month of gratitude comes to an end I look forward to the City Council addressing the “Promises Made” by then candidate for mayor, Jon Pike in which the matter of an Airport Board, Citizens Human Relations Commission, Water & Energy Board and the Reform of City Ordinances and Enforcement thereof takes place.
Thank you, Ed Baca