Several key concerns remain unaddressed including turnover of key staff
■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Reporter
A strategic plan addressing the issues brought forth by the state audit had a deadline for completion of January 2017. A strategic planning meeting was scheduled for the beginning of February 2017 but was postponed, according to insiders, in order to appoint a replacement for Councilman K. Paul Raver following his unexpected December resignation from the Hemet City Council. In an email inquiring about the deadline for completion, City Manager Alex Meyerhoff stated that “City staff is in active consultation with the State regarding the format and content of the update.”
Named in the audit were the following key issues: “Turnover of key positions and lack of consistent leadership; lack of coordinated approach to promote community engagement; inefficient structure of city government; underfunded fire department; inconsistencies in outsourcing maintenance activities; ongoing budget deficit; rising pension costs; use of city-supported library by nonresidents; significant retiree medical costs; and unfunded liability. The results of the audit caused Hemet to be placed on a list designating Hemet as one of two “high risk” cities.
The city received a letter from State Auditor Elaine Howle in October 2015 addressing items she felt needed to be resolved as a result of their assessment. Howle stated in the letter that even if all items were addressed, that the state may still conduct an audit. One of those provisions was to address the “turnover of city staff, including the city manager and director of community investment positions.”
Meyerhoff’s hiring and contract specifics
The deadline to provide evidence of progress was Dec. 31, 2015. The current city manager, Alex Meyerhoff, was approved for hire by the City Council in a special meeting on Dec. 22, 2015. Councilwoman Shellie Milne was absent from the meeting as the rest of the council unanimously approved Meyerhoff’s hiring with a base annual salary of $200,000.
Stated in his contract is the following: “It is the intent of the City Council that the City Manager have and retain the highest base salary of any employee of CITY. The City Council will consider salary compaction among executive employees as such may arise from time to time among executive employees and take such actions as are reasonable to maintain a separation of at least ten percent (10%) between the base salary of … MEYERHOFF and the base salary of the next highest paid active employee of CITY.”
The contract also states that the city manager cannot be fired within 120 days of the appointment or election of a new council member and upon a review, the council may give Meyerhoff a performance bonus not to exceed $20,000 as well as a merit increase in base salary. Meyerhoff’s contract also states that “Within One Hundred and Eighty (180) days of the Commencement Date, MEYERHOFF will have guided the City Council through a strategic planning process and developed a strategic plan embodying City Council defined goals, priorities, activities, and programs for the City organization.”
Meyerhoff commented on the above extracted portion of his contract regarding the strategic plan in an email with the following response: “The City Council conducted a Strategic Planning Session on April 15, 2016 at Simpson Park. The strategic planning session was jointly attended by the City staff and the public. At that meeting the City Council adopted four Strategic Planning Goals: implement the 2016 Capital Improvement Program (CIP), construct the SR-79 Bypass, expand housing opportunities and promote economic development.” He ended with stating that “City staff is working diligently to accomplish the City Council’s strategic planning objectives.”
The only city Meyerhoff previously managed was Holtville, California, where he was paid a base salary of $89,960 in addition to $17,977.10 in total benefits for a total of $102,699.10 in benefits and pay for 2012, according to the Transparent California website. Holtville has a population of a little more than 6,000 people, a median household income of $24,974 and a poverty rate of 37.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The median income for the city of Hemet is $33,989 with a poverty rate of 26 percent.
The citizens just voted and passed a 1 percent sales tax, Measure U, to be deposited into the general fund, but which the council has promised to spend only on public safety. The promise from the city council is non-binding, and the money can be legally spent any way in which the council desires.
Audit issues include turnover of key positions
One of the main issues addressed in the audit was the turnover of key positions and lack of consistent leadership within the city. Hemet has yet to get a handle on this issue as Councilman K. Paul Raver and City Engineer Steven Latino resigned in December. A few weeks ago, the Deputy City Manager/City Finance Director Jessica Hurst also resigned. The city’s human resources manager will also be resigning per conversation during the March 14 city council meeting, which is why the case has been made for the hiring of an additional HR person through Measure U, to keep the applications and hiring process of public safety personnel moving. The city is beginning to prepare its FY 17/18 budget with Joy Canfield, who retired from the city of Murrieta as administrative services director, taking over the role for the interim. According to Meyerhoff, Canfield will be brought up to speed on the audit and Hurst will not be available to provide support. Meyerhoff went on to state that “The City’s response to the audit is being prepared by the City’s Executive Team.”
The lack of community engagement is still an issue for the city. They have yet to make the City Council meetings available for the public to view outside of physically attending the council meetings. The City Council has discussed this very recently for the second time since the audit results were released last August.
With three new faces on the City Council, seasoned members Mayor Linda Krupa and Councilwoman Bonnie Wright have stated that the recording of council meetings is important and that it needs to be done properly.
In addition, the city puts out the city council meeting agenda only two business days prior to the council meeting, but requires three business days to incorporate electronic files. So, if a community member wanted to incorporate a media presentation into their comment during the communications from the public, the city would require three business days to review/scan the files for any issues/viruses. With the release of the agenda only two business days prior to the meeting, it is impossible for a community member to incorporate any media into their comments.
The council did a work study regarding how the council minutes are recorded. The changes made during that work study have decreased transparency as they now just list the names of those who speak during the Communications from the Public. Prior to the work study, the names and comments of those who spoke were recorded.
Councilwoman Karlee Meyer is the only council member of the five having consistent contact with the community as she hosts monthly Coffee with Karlee meetings and can often be found helping out throughout the city.
Next week….the understaffed fire department, the budget deficit and unforeseen expenditures, retiree medical costs, and Hemet’s response to the auditor.