The San Leandro City Council voted 6-1 Monday night giving the go ahead to spend $61,000 on mailers and consulting fees in anticipation of a tax measure on the 2010 ballot. Councilman Bill Stephens registered the only dissent.
City Manager Stephen Hollister told the council the three mailers, one of which will be sent in early December, will cost $41,000 for printing and postage, while consulting fees will run up to $20,000. On Nov. 2, Hollister told the council, $34,000 would be paid to the Oakland consulting firm Lew Edwards Group, but told the council Monday night the fees were now only $20,000. When asked afterwards for the reason for the decrease, Hollister said he had over-calculated how many months the firm would be needed. He also said “budgets are complicated” and pushed the need to educate the public.
“This is an extremely serious financial situation,” said Hollister. “I feel that it is very important citizens and particular voters know as much as they can about our financial situation and are informed and give informed feedback to the council.”
When Hollister made reference to a ballot measure in describing the mailers, Stephens interrupted him and asked, “Why are discussing a ballot measure?” As Catherine Lew, the president of the Lew Edwards Group, attempted to quell Stephens’ discontent he shifted in his seat, furrowed his brow and took off his glasses. Lew said the mailers would both provide facts about the city’s financial situation and reference a possible ballot measure.
In a brief moment of pique, though, Stephens moved for the council to prematurely approve the yet-to-be conceived ballot measure. City Attorney Jayne Williams called it “inappropriate” and advised the council, instead, to direct the city staff to draft legislation for approval in the future. Moments later, Stephens admitted his motion was only half-hearted, but pointed.
“Obviously, I’m being a stinker tonight,” said Stephens. “I have no intent on moving forward on this, but I want to confront everybody on the reality of it. I just don’t want to send a message to the community that we are prepping them for a ballot measure and that to me is what we are doing.”
Lew told Stephens. “No one, however, will want anything shoved down their throat. There is nothing disingenuous about this program. It is not a foregone conclusion there will be a ballot measure.”
With laughter from some council member, Stephens shot back saying, “I’m still not convinced. I’m willing to wager that there will a ballot measure. Anybody else like to wager?” There were no takers.
Aside from Stephens, the council voiced approval with the notion of increasing tax revenue with an eye towards a more tumultuous budget situation next year. In addition, there was solid consensus for the need to make the city’s case to residents through the mailing. Councilman Michael Gregory said it is an expense to the city worth taking. “I’m stunned by how we can keep a government running with less taxes and higher costs,” he said.
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