DJ Becker/The Madera Tribune
Mayor Andy Medellin, speaks with Velvet Rhoads (back to camera) and other protesters calling for Medellin’s recall outside City Hall on Wednesday night.
Madera City Council members were met on the steps of City Hall Wednesday night by a television crew and a group of protesters holding recall signs as the council members gathered for a regularly scheduled council meeting.
A check with the county election office indicated no recall papers had been pulled.
Some 40 people filled the council chamber.
The effort to recall Mayor Andy Medellin had been threatened in several previous council meetings as far back as December, as residents called for reductions in the salaries paid to city department heads, and for an independent investigation of city finances after salaries higher than surrounding cities, or even the governor of California, who earns about $180,000, were exposed.
Printing company owner Velvet Rhoads said the group didn’t want to do a recall but she felt residents were not being listened to at previous council meetings. “We felt we were up against a wall. I had a lot of confidence in the mayor about five years ago, but that has dwindled ... to now I have no confidence in him. We will start at the top and go down (the council with recalls) if we have to.” she said as others nodded in agreement.
The salary raises in question had happened on Medellin’s watch, Rhoads said, “in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and the trust is gone. Where in private business would you be giving those 19, 25 and 43 percent pay raises? Other than the city of Madera? It’s not feasible to continue this kind of spending in one of the poorest communities,” said Rhoads. “This city manager, before he resigned or was pushed out, was making upwards of ... $337,000, with benefits. No city manager in the Central Valley should be making over $170,000. And the interim city manager, Steve Frazier, is a city cop. He is not qualified to extrapolate wages, retirement issues, etc., and he is especially not qualified to be paid the rate of $21,000 a month. We want transparency and to save this city (from fiscal collapse).” Rhoads said, and rolling back the huge executive salaries would set the right example for the $1.8 million dollar deficit the city was currently facing.
Was the city also borrowing from Measure K public safety funds for other salaries, she wondered, and she suggested that also needed to be looked into.
Those salaries make the city responsible for higher pension contributions, as well, according to city financial advisors.
Kay Rhoads, Velvet Rhoads’ mother and business partner, spoke on the subject during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting when she said, “I was here three weeks ago and requested an independent investigation looking into the city’s huge deficit. After we left (last month) you appointed yourselves as the committee to oversee an internal investigation, not an outside agency. Well, I said I would be back and we are not letting this go ... We want the investigation, and the salaries of your department heads rolled back to 2013. You have not been transparent! You are expecting the citizens of Madera, one of the poorest cities in the San Joaquin valley with a MediCal rate of 65 percent to pay for your mistakes, and your incompetence, I might add. You want to increase water rates while your department heads reap the highest salaries and benefits in the valley. Some salaries well over $300,000 (in salary and benefits) a year. These were from the Transparent California website for 2016. I don’t know what 2017 is, but I am sure it didn’t go down ...” she said as the crowded room broke into applause.
“To add insult to injury, these same department heads have not done their due diligence or we wouldn’t be in this grand and glorious mess. The (Madera) city attorney makes more than the governor of the State of California, or any judge in California. The city attorney is one of the highest paid employees and he answers to the council, and then he is the one who is advising you, Mr. Mayor, and the council? He absolutely should recuse himself, along with the interim city manager.” she said.
Rhoads went on to urge the council to make the salary roll-backs for the benefit of the city, “Be on the right side (of this). It’s time to be transparent and do the right thing and get us out of this mess we are in. Listen to us, Mr. Mayor, or face a recall and that would (just) be a beginning,” Rhoads added, to more applause from the crowd.
Resident Vicki Sloan again asked for transparency and change, and objected to items important to the management crisis being postponed on the night’s agenda until after the public tired of waiting and left.
“I was here in November and spoke to you then. It’s like beating a dead horse. Please do the right thing. Meanwhile nothing has changed from the view of this audience. Please find a solution and get the ball rolling, before we fall into the (fiscal) abyss.” Sloan said as the crowd applauded.
Toward the end of the meeting, the council seemed to acquiesce to some of the concerns that had been expressed. The last item on a 13-item consent calendar — in which all the items are approved at once unless an official asks for further discussion — Frazier asked to “pull” the last item for discussion before it was passed.
Then he revealed that Ron Manfredi, a former Madera assistant city administrator and former city administrator of Kerman, had been offered a contract to act as an advisor to city staff members as they proceeded with a salary survey and sought assistance with studying other financial affairs of the city.
Critics had suggested that Manfredi be brought aboard to help as soon as former City Administrator David Tooley unexpectedly retired in December, but the council had resisted that.
Reached by phone Thursday morning, Manfredi said he had recently had informal conversations with city officials but had not yet officially been offered the opportunity to consult for Madera and did not know specifically what would be requested of him. But Manfredi said he was open to assisting the City of Madera in any way he could.
Mayor Medellin was unavailable for comment after the council meeting but earlier told TV news crews that he was open to all reviews, even salaries, “and we are certainly open to any options that are out there, absolutely.”