Residents scold council over salaries

Residents paid rapt attention Wednesday night at the Madera City Council meeting as they listened to government advisor Ron Manfredi’s 2 1/2-hour presentation, saying it appears some in the city administration had outwitted naive city councils of the past by using complicated contracts and lavish benefit schemes to grab every dollar they could for themselves while the city repeatedly struggled with large budget deficits, cuts to services and cuts to rank and file personnel.

Residents said the main job of the city council was to watch and be responsible stewards of public money, and in that they had failed.

Khalid Chaudhry, at opening public comment: "I am here tonight to ask all you city council members to start voting your consciences. Residents are watching. When you blindly follow Mayor Medellin, you are doing his bidding, and you are just as responsible for these bad decisions and protecting his (city) cronies as he is. Madera is now well known as a municipal joke (because of these salaries) in the Central Valley. Raising all fees and costs on residents and businesses now is not the answer. Reduce the outrageous salaries! Please cut the pork. The definition of corruption from the dictionary is public officials enriching themselves at the expense of others. I know some of you (council members) fear the mayor’s retaliation and smear tactics like he has turned on many others in this community this summer. But he is only one of seven votes. His only authority as mayor is to run the meetings. And only a hypocrite would use our community, city and religious groups against his critics. Stand up to his ego and cult followers, and don’t be afraid to vote no when you know something is wrong for Madera. His legacy will be driving Madera into bankruptcy. When you don’t have enough revenue coming in you need to reduce personnel, reduce compensation, or do both. When you hire the new city manager, he or she needs to be strong enough to make changes and reverse these huge salaries. These overpaid people have now had four or five years of their fat paychecks and lavish benefits. They certainly won’t want to give them up now. But it’s time for the city council to find the courage to stop this financial abuse and end this corruption now..."

Santos Garcia said during the public hearing: “I have been here since 1971. I am looking at the figures and some of this stuff is very complicated and confusing. But it’s also conflicting also. The work that you (Ron Manfredi) did is incredible and very, very impressive and a starting point to work in. But as I understand it the Governor of California makes about $200,000 a year. And you are putting us in a position of weakness by starting us (and the new city manager salary range) at $190,000... This is very close to what we have now. There is only 66,000 people in Madera, that’s not a lot of income coming in to pay these massive amounts of money for our administration. And then you want to look at first year employees (wages and benefits)? That is typically the knee jerk reaction that administrations take when they look at a deficit. They take it out on the little guy, who has the least ability to pay or take a hit in salaries or insurance. Be careful what you are recommending, this is a very serious issue. I live on a street that has no sidewalk, not enough lighting in the evening, three doors down from a convalesce hospital. Folks come and take their elderly or sickly people out in wheel chairs on Sunday mornings... on rainy days they can’t get through the mud. Sometimes they just take them into the street and then turn around because they can’t navigate. Can’t we use some of this money (for) those types of purposes in the city? Lighting with solar panels? But if we are paying out massive amounts of (admin salaries) every month — I think that’s wrong. You are paying a (current) city manager who has no experience or education and paying him vast amounts of money. These are the things that have us very, very concerned. You (the city council) might not have known all the details of what has been happening in the past, but now you know. I don’t think that compensation (of $200,000-plus) is right for Madera. I would please ask you to put us in a position of power so we can move forward with this (city manager search).

Garcia said he is currently seeking election to city council in District 5.

Steve Montes commented during the public hearing on salaries: “This feels like a bad rerun for me, because I was around in 2014 on the city (mid level) employee bargaining team. Like a shell game and the (senior) salaries weren’t shown and the rank and file kind of got the short end of the stick. These issues come up every few years, fiscal crisis looming and as soon as we raise rates or make concessions the crisis is averted. The executives get their cut, but we still have million dollar deficits, reduced services, increased rates. The everyday citizens, they feel it. It doesn’t inspire confidence in the public, especially when these are recurring. All the while balancing the budget on the backs of the residents ... and the rank and file ... if these new (applicants for city manager) are only concerned with how much they make, they may not be the right candidates for Madera. The residents see, and are outraged with these (senior staff) salaries. We are a small town and can’t really afford to do this with the (deficit) budget. I’ve been out talking to people and they are ready for change. That’s why I’m running for city council to make sure we make the right decisions. The citizens are not in agreement with these excessive salaries,” Montes said.

Eddy Block: “When I heard these numbers, I was like, wow. And yet we are a small town and don’t make a lot of money here. But think about it ... the city manager, they will make all the decisions. And it only takes one wrong decision to ruin a town,” Block said, arguing for paying what is needed to get a good city administrator.

Jonna Torres said: “I think you will all agree after today that we need transparency. And not just what the city manager is being paid, but when the budget is being discussed. I find it concerning that the city has projected a deficit in the past five years, yet managed to magically erase it. As (current city manager Steve) Frazier was quoted saying ‘for the life of me, there really isn’t an explanation of how we do that.’ Other cities around the valley don’t seem to have the same confused way of running a city. Why would Madera be the exception? There’s a lot of mistrust ... it should be more clear. Our city manager should be paid reasonably, as far as we can afford it. If we can’t really afford it then it doesn’t make sense. It’s obvious they are not underpaid. I wanted to remind everybody why you are sitting up there (on the council). People voted you in and trusted you would do what’s in the best interest of our community. For us. And sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. Remember that in November. It’s really scary to see that there are millions of dollars in the deficit. It’s (also) embarrassing.”

Michelle Garcia said: “I agree with (the previous commentors who spoke. This town has nothing (major) in it. Why are we going to pay a (new) city manager over $200,000? Maybe that’s OK in Mr. Manfredi’s world, but in reality our city can’t afford it. As for all these things that have been added to the (senior admin employment) contracts — the longevity pay, (vacation) cash outs? Who is running your human resources department? That person should have been on top of things ... looking forward, looking at budgets. To see where we can cut back. In my opinion the HR director wasn’t doing their job because they weren’t looking out for the (residents in) the city of Madera.) Hearing these (salary and benefit) numbers it was hard for me to stay quiet in the audience. These (salary) numbers are ridiculous and all of you (council members) should be replaced!”

Teresa Castillo said: “It’s hard to stay quiet when you hear these numbers. We have crumbling infrastructure. No sidewalks and street lights on the east side. Yet you paid administrators like this? If you have to negotiate with a city manager like this, then I think that is the wrong candidate for the job. Residents should not have to bear the brunt of this deficit.”