By Mary O’KEEFE
The Glendale City Council meeting on Tuesday had not committed to the agenda a civil grand jury discussion, but that did not stop the conversation.
The topic of the often-animated discussion was the recently released County of Los Angeles Civil Grand Jury Interim Report on the city of Glendale and Propositions 218 and 26.
The report looked into how funds were transferred from Glendale Water and Power to the city’s general fund to help support public services. In 2011, the city stopped transferring money from the water revenues. They continue to transfer electric revenues.
The Grand Jury is concerned the method for calculating transfer rates from GWP to the city’s fund does not satisfy Prop. 218 or Prop. 26 requirements. The city contends its calculation is based on the City Charter that predates the propositions and they are in compliance.
During Tuesday’s meeting city officials took issue with the inaccuracy of the Grand Jury’s findings and also questioned the timing of the release of the report. City Manager Scott Ochoa explained that the Civil Grand Jury normally looks for evidence of misconduct of municipalities or in record and book keeping and reports are released in June or summer months, but do not involve themselves with local elections.
“That is why it is perplexing that the Civil Grand Jury would issue an interim report that is clearly unprecedented,” he said. “They explicitly call out the fact they are looking to have some degree of impact on Glendale’s election.”
Ochoa referred to the cover letter written by Grand Jury foreperson Frederick Piltz that stated, “We are submitting an Interim Report because the issues addressed by the Civil Grand Jury in this investigation are relevant and significant to a special election scheduled by the city of Glendale for April 2, 2013. The city of Glendale special election is proposing a revision of the City Charter that the Civil Grand Jury believes may result in subsequent actions by the city that are in conflict with Propositions 218 and 26.”
It should be noted that the Grand Jury letter and its findings refer to the city’s upcoming April 2 election as a “special election” but it is actually a general election.
“They explicitly call out the fact they are looking to have some degree of impact on Glendale’s general election,” he said. “I don’t know which is more surprising or which is worse: [that] the Civil Grand Jury would engage in political activity like this outside their charter or that they could be so wrong in their analysis.”
The concern, according to the Grand Jury’s cover letter, is Measure B that is on the April 2 ballot. From the city: Measure B is a way to streamline and modernize the Charter into more modern accounting practices. From Measure B opponents: If the measure is passed, it will change the City Charter to divert ratepayers’ dollars from the utilities’ general utility fund instead of the surplus funding.
The critics hail the Grand Jury’s findings as validation of their voiced concerns over the years … concerns they say have been met with disrespect from the city.
In an interview with CVW, Ochoa said that issues brought by Harry Zavos, a retired law professor who filed the complaint with the Grand Jury, have been taken seriously.
“As he has raised each new argument, our city attorney has gone back through the archives to see why we do what we do and the way we do it,” Ochoa said.
The Grand Jury had contacted and met with the city of Glendale officials during their investigation into the complaint. Ochoa said he and the city attorney thought the meetings went well and that their reasoning via the City Charter was made clear; however, when they received the report they were surprised to see the Grand Jury’s conclusion.
In accordance to the Grand Jury rules, the city was given the report two days before it was released, said city attorney Mike Garcia.
City officials contacted the Grand Jury in order to discuss the findings.
“We asked to meet with them, but they wouldn’t meet,” Ochoa said.
Councilmember Ara Najarian requested the Grand Jury report be committed to the agenda for an upcoming council meeting. The discussion at that time would cite what the city sees as inaccurate information by the Grand Jury. It will also give more time for critics to discuss the matter during public comment.
The topic will be brought to the council after the April 2 election, and it is certain whatever influence the Grand Jury had over election policy will be part of that discussion.