Tax and spend is not her style
■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
I recently sat down with former Hemet Councilwoman Shellie Milne for an in-depth interview. I told her that I had loads of questions and, true to her nature, she said, “and I have the answers.” That’s a phrase she used to put me in my place when I made a similar statement while I was on the Hemet Library Board of Trustees. She had just come on the Board as liaison from the City Council.
I asked her 13 questions, and she answered every one of them. Shellie is a straight shooter. She doesn’t duck issues – she tackles them.
Q1: Why did you run for county supervisor when you had a secure seat on the council?
“Because I realized that a lot of the issues we were dealing with on the council were regional issues,” answered Milne.
Q2: Why do you think you were cut out of things that were going on in city government?
“I think most of Hemet City Government is happy with business as usual,” said Milne. “When I came in and offered a different point of view, they didn’t want to hear it. You know, don’t rock the boat.”
No question she not only rocked boats, but she sometimes sent tremors through the city with her ability to question staff submissions, which the council often simply rubber stamps and goes on to the next issue.
“I don’t operate that way,” said Milne.
Q3: When you came on the council, it was rumored that you were in Jeff Stone’s pocket. How did you react to that?”
“That’s amazing because Jeff Stone and I had some very different points of view on a lot of things that were very public. I disagreed with him a lot. He didn’t help me get elected the way many inferred – his support of me was because I questioned the status quo, regardless of political party. Neither one of us has ‘towed a party line,’ which is healthy,” said Milne. “I tried to foster a good relationship with the county supervisor – it wouldn’t matter whether he or she was Democrat, Republican or Independent. As long as they were for smaller government, a better government or a more efficient government, they got my attention big time. As to Jeff Stone, I was quite critical of him prior to running, so why would anybody think he’d want me in there?
“Hemet is the capital town for gossip. Hemet politics is like the high school lunchroom. Who sits with whom? Who isn’t speaking to whom? I never enjoyed that kind of social aspect in local politics. That’s not what I was there for. There were others on the council that enjoyed the hob-knobbing. I was all about policy. The people who elected me didn’t hire me to be a social butterfly. They wanted me to work for them to help make for a better city and I tried to do that every day.
Q4: You were sometimes thought to take too much time making up your mind about issues. Is that worthy of comment?
“Like I said, I wanted to get rid of bad policy and move on to a better way of running the city. I’d ask myself, ‘where did this bad policy come from and how do we get rid of it?’” Milne explained. “I spent hours reading reports. Most of the council members would take a staff report and vote on it. I looked at those reports as one person’s opinion and then I would go outside that opinion and look for other answers and possibilities and other ways to do things.
“There were times when I dragged things out for weeks to make sure what was presented was best for the city and the taxpayers. No one can ever say that I strayed from core values. I was never hypocritical.”
Hemet is the capital town for gossip. Hemet politics is like the high school lunchroom. Who sits with whom? Who isn’t speaking to whom? I never enjoyed that kind of social aspect in local politics.”
– Shellie Milne
Q5: What’s your opinion of City Attorney Eric Vail, who has been accused of sometimes leading the council?
“I’ve known several city attorneys and heard their viewpoints. Eric Vail has done a very good job of presenting the options, the cost of those options, the intended and unintended consequences of those options and left it to the council to decide what course to take,” said Milne. “I never saw him try to lead the council one way or the other. I’ve seen decisions made that he would say, ‘I don’t think that’s the way I would go,’ or “that might be a liability to the city,’ but I never heard him say do or don’t do anything. He was very explanatory but left the decision to the majority of the council. As to all the to do about the Webb case, I was in closed session on that and I am not allowed by law to comment. I don’t think I would anyway.”
Q6: How do you feel about consultants being paid large fees – for instance the one for Measures E and U and recently $300,000 for a consultant to tell us where and how to maintain our parks?
“I think what the city is doing currently with consultants is a bad use of money. Consultants have a time and place, and the time and place is not now. I understood when they brought someone in on the trash deal. We didn’t know anything about such things and the consultant got us more money than we would have received otherwise. That was one of the exceptions.
“I was certainly against the consultant for the downtown specific plan,” continued Milne. “Why do we need an outsider to tell us how to design our downtown? Seems to me we have people right here in town who are well versed in such things. Has anybody ever wondered just how many downtown specific plans we’ve had? I’ve stopped counting, and where are we now with a plan?
“$300,000 for a consultant to tell us about our parks and where to situate them?” questioned Milne. “Who thought that one up? That’s a case where home town folks would be able to do that for free. Give me a break.
“As to the consultant for Measures E and U – she was a marketing manager hired to take polls,” said Milne. “A poll can be twisted any way you want it. The answers are predicated on the way you ask the question. When I ran for office I never used them. They wouldn’t change who I am or my message. The only reason anyone uses polls is to finagle and get money.”
Q7: Do you think they are putting Measure U money to good use?
“No. No. I’ve seen a lot of that money go to other things. We’ve all seen it be appropriated to things that were never mentioned during the tax measure campaign. That was my biggest problem – the dishonesty they perpetrated. I never agreed with higher taxes – government has not proved itself to be fiscally responsible.
But to tell the citizens all monies were going to go to cops, and the entire narrative of “Keep Hemet Safe,” on a general tax measure was false – at least Temecula and Menifee had the wherewithal to tell their citizens that while public safety would be a priority, the money would also be used in departments like public works, etc.
“I still stand by going out to CalFire and not to a local fire department,” said Milne. “We’re all of a sudden beefing up this fire department when we could have had all we needed without placing an additional tax on the city residents because CalFire already had all the equipment and personnel we needed.
“Their argument was CalFire would increase their budget – well we have increased the fire department budget far more than what was presented and promised. During the contracting talks, Hemet Fire Department refused to incorporate the equipment, fire stations and personnel we knew that it would take to have the service parallel CalFire – they even fought paramedics at the onset – all because they knew that it would largely impact their budget and make them far less competitive. We would have got to where we needed to go without all this nonsense that’s going on.”
Q8: How do you feel about the money the city spent on the new fire engine?
“Oh yeah – don’t get me started on that. With CalFire we wouldn’t have had that expense. Now the city is going to lay $500 grand here, $400 grand there, $200 grand someplace else and pretty soon we’ve gone crazy spending money.
“I find it interesting that many of the people who pushed and shoved for Measure U lived outside the city,” she revealed. “Since the measure passed I know of at least two more who have moved to Murrieta, where there is no extra tax.
Q9: Do you feel that Hemet was a winner or loser with Measure U?
“The real winners are the city of Murrieta and the county people. People are shopping in Murietta and the county businesses now for their big cost items. I’m not buying my new tires in the city of Hemet,” said Milne. “When they tell me it only amounts to a few pennies, I think of the new gas tax (which may be overturned next election), ten cents for a shopping bag and on and on.
“I have a big jar where I save my pennies, nickels and dimes,” she said. “So every time somebody says it is only a few pennies, I think of that jar and how much it will have for me at Christmas to buy presents or take a weekend vacation. So let them take their tax and do what they will. I’ll be making my big purchases in other areas that don’t cost me more in sales tax.”
Q10: How do you feel about the argument between Hemet and CalTrans over the median on Florida Avenue?
“There’s been no studies and if CalTrans says it costs ‘this,’ I’d like to see what ‘that’ sounds like. I’d like to see an honest study before I come to any conclusions. I certainly wouldn’t be putting my confidence in any decision CalTrans came up with.”
I spent hours reading reports. Most of the council members would take a staff report and vote on it. I looked at those reports as one person’s opinion and then I would go outside that opinion and look for other answers and possibilities and other ways to do things.”
Q11: You have been outspoken about the dissemination of redevelopment funds. I’m not sure I understand your point since we no longer get them.
“There needs to be a full audit of all those funds from the very beginning. I’d like to know exactly where all that money went and was it beneficial to the community. I asked several times for that information but never got an answer because, I think, it would expose the whole thing,” admits Milne.
“I’ve never been a fan of redevelopment money. Many cities got and wasted it. The only place I ever saw it put to good use was in San Diego. They took that money and created the GasLamp district and other tourist attractions that now bring millions of dollars into the public coffers. That’s good use of the funds. I’d like to see the auditors tackle that one locally.”
Q12: How do you feel about the organization known as The Hemet Gatekeepers, who are offering to patrol local businesses for a monthly fee? One pet business said they asked for $300 a month for their services. Does that sound right to you?
“Those are the same folks who advocated for Measure U. They told us that if we voted for this money the streets would be thick with cops and we wouldn’t need any other protection – that we would be safe,” recalls Milne. “Were we being lied to then or are we being lied to now? My problem with the two measures was that it was a dishonest campaign from the start. The whole thing was concocted in the back rooms of Hemet.
Q13: Do you think Paul Valenzuela was a good candidate for the council and should have been elected?
“Yes. He’s smart. He’s young. A family man. Former Marine. A small government policy-minded man who asks questions. A thinking man. He didn’t just take what was handed to him without knowing what it was about. He wasn’t a rubber stamper,” explained Milne.
“He was a leader in everything he did,” continued Milne. “The establishment doesn’t want anyone near city hall that questions what goes on there. ‘Don’t question. Shut up. Sit over there and do as you’re told.’ Paul Valenzuela was not that kind of man.”
And Shellie Milne is not that kind of woman.
I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands, of interviews and I can tell you one thing for sure. Shellie Milne is a workout. A tough lady who doesn’t dodge tough questions.