In the small upstairs office where they gather around a cramped table before repairing to the first floor council chambers, citizen Madeline Di Giorgi on Wednesday offered South Pasadena city council members a vote of confidence. A lot of people have been complaining about the city recently, she told them. “I don’t think that way. I’m proud of my city council, city staff and the city manager.”
It was the nicest thing anyone said to them all night.
During the public comment session moments later, councilmembers heard about the kickoff of the campaign for the Measure A sales tax increase (“[The money] will help benefit this amazing city we all live in.”); questions about the slowing renovation of the Rialto Theater (“I keep waiting for a butterfly to emerge and I’m beginning to think the butterfly is dead.”); information about Edison’s progress on wildfire mitigation (“There are certain areas of our city that have been identified as high wildfire risk mitigation areas.”); a complaint about the city’s dearth of electric vehicle charging facilities (“It appears to me no one has done their due diligence.”) and another about the demise of recycling centers around town (“The homeless people are getting mad.”).
But the most strident comment came when the complaints Di Giorgi foreshadowed arrived in the person of Chris Bray, founder of Crossroads South Pasadena, a pop-up group of citizens who believe there is a malaise settling in on city management that is best exemplified by an exceptionally high rate of attrition among city employees and managers. As many as 50 people have left the city in the past year, the group suggests, and there is a disproportionate number of departments being run by new or interim managers.
The city disputes Bray’s numbers, asserting that only 16 full time employees have left out of the city’s current 147 full time staff—an 11 percent annual rate that is healthy for an organization its size.
Bray called that city staffing report both “not true” and “a joke.” The city has a new chief city clerk, a new public works director, a new police chief, interim directors of finance, community services, library, planning & building, and an interim senior (and recently departed) planner who says there is a turn-over crisis. He said the Mayor’s own Instagram page indicates there are also four new fire fighters. “Saying you don’t have a personnel crisis doesn’t mean you don’t have it.”
Barely a beat went by before Mayor Khubesrian lit into Bray. She began by calling-him-out on a the use of a photo she posted online of her family at a publicized event. “My son’s image is not a commodity for you to use on your Nextdoor post. You don’t have the consent of my son or me or his father to use the image of me or my family or any likeness of us.”
BRAY: “That is absolute horses–t,” he shot back. “You put it on the internet and you don’t want it on the internet? I’m looking you in the eye and telling you, you are a fool.”
MAYOR: “This is not how we deal with people in our community. And you’ve been here for a year and hopefully you’ll learn that soon enough. Next comment please.”
See complete video with all comments here: South Pasadena City Council Meeting Website
In addition to the attrition issue, one of the concerns Crossroads raised in its Sept. 17 letter to the Council was “the openness of city leaders to questions and criticism.”
Anne Bagasao, a signatory to the Crossroads letter also spoke. She’d not planned to, intending instead to share her concerns privately with her councilmemeber, but changed her mind after the Bray-Khubesrian clash.
“Mayor, with all due respect, it doesn’t matter if someone has lived here five minutes or 50 years. Their voice is just as important. This body is elected to represent every citizen in their district, not the few. I really resent and am offended by your comment to Mr. Bray that he’s only lived here a year.”
Bagasao said she’s spoken to a number of the others in town who are “frustrated for a variety of reasons.” Citizens on opposite ends of the political spectrum are “suffering from the same frustration and that is the basis of this thing.” She went on to complain that the city gave short shrift to a substantial piece of research she’d helped prepare earlier this year on the minimum wage issue and felt the council had dismissed pleas for rent control. “Our issues are just as important.”
On the city’s staffing issues, Mayor Khubesrian has deferred to city manager Stephanie DeWolfe, who is in charge of all city personnel issues. DeWolfe did not address personnel issues during the meeting, but did announce that next Monday goats will arrive to clear 10 acres of hazardous vegetation in the southwest Monterey hills near one of the high wildfire risk areas Southern California Edison is concerned about.
Also on the agenda was a 2.5 percent pay increase Khubesrian has recommended for DeWolfe that would bring her annual salary to $204,872. DeWolfe is starting the third of a four-year contract with the city.
The start of the council meeting was delayed a little over 20 minutes because the city’s pre-regular meeting executive session went longer than expected, Khubesrian said. One of the agenda items for executive session was DeWolfe’s performance review. Khubesrian said the executive session went long and was unable to address the performance review before having to adjourn late for the public meeting. She said the DeWolfe pay-raise would therefore have to be continued to the next council meeting scheduled for Oct. 2.