Editorial – Attn: City Council – She’s Not Always Wrong Just Because She’s MaryAnn

This editorial is the opinion of Bill Coburn, publisher of Sierra Madre News Net and 15 year Sierra Madre resident. It is not intended to reflect the views of any other person or entity with whom I am associated.

Last Tuesday night at City Council, four members of the Council again rebuffed Council Member MaryAnn MacGillivray, and in doing so, they cost the City money, and overlooked what I consider to be a very good idea. 

At issue was an increase in the water rate that was being proposed that would have raised the water rate 7.5% for each of the first two years, followed by smaller increases for the next two years.  The increase as proposed (over the four years) exceeded slightly the amount that would have been raised in the first four years by the increase that was suspended by the Council in July when more than 1,700 letters of protest were received from Sierra Madre rate payers as part of a Prop. 218 response to the proposed rate increase.  Because the amount of the increase exceeded the previously proposed increase, it would have triggered the need to notify rate payers that they again had the right to protest the increase through Prop. 218.  The Council was proposing that this new rate increase be modified slightly to reduce the amount so that it was below the cap at which Prop. 218 would be triggered, allowing the increase to move forward without further input from the ratepayers.

Council Member MacGillivray had proposed that the City ease into the 7.5% water rate increase that was being proposed, suggesting that beginning Jan. 1, a 3.5% increase be instituted, with the amount raising to the 7.5% level in July when the new budget begins.  She further proposed that the level not be tweaked at all, allowing it to exceed the Prop 218 imposed cap, and that the Council should give rate payers the option of protesting the increase, as she felt that the reduced level (from 15.5% to 7.5% the first year) of the increase would be sufficient to ensure that protestors did not generate enough protests to stop it from being approved.  Council Member MacGillivray noted that from what she has observed, people were willing to pay more, but were upset about the process by which the Council and the City administration had attempted to raise the rates the first time.

So here we have a proposal that would have generated a 3.5% increase six months earlier, and that would not have been tweaked to fit within the cap needed to fall within the limits imposed by the first Prop. 218 process.  That means more money for the City.  The Council shot down MacGillivray’s proposal.

Further, the Council had an opportunity to quiet some of the critics (and there are many) that claim the Council/City staff had misled the ratepayers by “hiding” the water bond debt that most of the rate increase is intended to cover.  Now I have to kind of disagree with that, because these bonds have been around since 1998 and 2003, and they are addressed in the annual budget.  They also were not passed by previous councils without the public being informed.  Nothing was hidden.  But that’s a subject for another editorial.  The issue of this editorial is that Council Member MacGillivray proposed an increase that would have raised more money for the City’s beleaguered water department, and increased the level of trust that ratepayers of the City have in their current City Council, and that was never given any serious consideration by the other members of the Council. 

Now I recognize that there is a possibility that the protesters might have been able to generate enough letters of protest that the increase as proposed by MacGillivray might have failed.  However, since a large number of the protesters have tremendous faith in MacGillivray and consider her to be a Council member they can trust when they lack that trust with other members, the fact that it was her proposing it and trying to get it passed would have eliminated many of those protests.  Additionally, since the 1700 letters of protest were gathered, the City has embarked on an education outreach program to inform people why it is so critical to the City that the rates be increased.  Does the Council lack faith in the outreach program’s impact?  Between that program, the countless hours of discussion at City Council meetings about the current state of the system and the increases, and Council member MacGillivray’s backing, I have no doubt in my mind that the proposed increase would have passed without sufficient protests being received to put it on hold.

I think the problem is that this Council has a tendency to oppose ideas brought forth by Council Member MacGilllivray. 

In my April 18th post-election editorial, I wrote the following: “On election night, I heard one of the folks who will be sitting on the Council for the next four years telling someone that the Council’s job now is to bring Mayor MacGillivray back into the fold.  In essence, this person said that rather than ostracize or criticize her, the Council needs to be inclusive, because if they can get her working WITH them, the council can only get even more accomplished.  Of course, the other side of the coin on that is that if Ms. MacGillivray chooses not to work collaboratively with the other members of the Council when they have attempted to work with her, it will reflect poorly on her.”

I think what we have here is a combination of both.  I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that Council MacGillivray had never discussed her proposal with the other Council members prior to that evening.  Had she suggested this idea to the other members of the Council with enough time for them to consider it for a few days, and discuss it with their supporters, they might have seen the benefits of raising the additional money, as well as had time to consider the fact that there was less likelihood of a Prop. 218 rejection with MacGillivray joining them in backing the proposal.  I don’t think this is the first time that Council member MacGillivray has come to Council meetings and surprised her fellow Council members with a proposal, rather than trying to work with them to get a consensus for a united front at the meeting.  Her suggestion regarding the General Plan Update Committee a couple months back being a case in point. Here’s what I wrote at the time: “Council Member Maryann MacGillivray, in my opinion, came on a little too strong at the beginning by asking her colleagues to repeal what had been approved as a compromise at a previous meeting, the authority to appoint technical advisory committees to assist the General Plan Steering Committee. I think she asked for too much, too soon. But she ultimately offered up an obvious solution, one that would have been an excellent compromise. Her second motion, which died for lack of a second, was to accept the Steering Committee’s work plan, ask for a time line, accept the Outreach Program, and leave the Technical Committee appointments on the table. In doing so, the Council could have allowed the Steering Committee to begin its outreach program and show the council just how inclusive it would be, and if the Council felt it was being inclusive enough, they could repeal them at a later date. If they didn’t feel it was being inclusive enough, they could just appoint the Technical Committees.”

And I think that’s partly a political tactic on MacGillivray’s part.  If she brings up ideas that are shot down by the others, she’s seen by her supporters as a hero fighting for the people against overwhelming opposition.  Her attempt to repeal the General Plan compromise was doomed to fail, but her fall back position, had she discussed it in advance with her colleagues, might very well have been accepted. By the time she brought it up though, they had their hackles up from her first proposal, and didn’t give her second idea the time and consideration it needed.  I think she might accomplish more for the people if she stopped the tactics and tried more to work behind the scenes instead of bringing these ideas forward without giving her colleagues some time to consider them.  That being said, there are enough differences in ideology that there will be issues that we just won’t see agreement on between all five members of the Council.  But don’t stop trying before you even start.

But I think we also see a lack of willingness on the part of the other Council members to bring MacGillivray “back into the fold”.  They are not being inclusive, as the Council member I heard back in April said was needed.  I suggest that maybe not only should they be trying harder to get her to work with them, they should put a little more effort into trying to work with her.