I attended a very revealing city council meeting last night. Officially it was a “Special Budget Workshop Meeting & Special City Council Meeting”.

First of all, it was a very productive meeting, largely due to the painstaking preparation of Councilman Conaway. He obviously had spent a substantial amount of time analyzing the latest version of the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2009-2010, comparing it with the base documents. He had prepared thirty-something questions for the interim Finance Director to answer. Each was addressed efficiently, in short order. These corrections and explanations caused significant, positive revisions of the budget.
Conaway’s habitual preparedness should be contrasted with other council members who came to the meeting only marginally prepared.

For example, Councilmember Washburn, as usual, had to flip madly through her budget folder, struggling to find the page to which she was referring. One of the few simi-comical moments came when Councilmember Washburn interrupted Conaway’s orderly inquiries to whip-out a sheet showing what council members in other Ventura County cities are paid. Her timing was embarrassingly bad. It was neither the time nor the place for suggesting a pay raise for herself, and other council members.

What was equally embarrassing, or humorous, was Washburn’s expression of fake surprise, as if to say, “Gee, look what I found”. Her bench buddy, Councilman Brooks, displayed delighted interest in the “discovery.” Washburn’s research shows that all Ventura County cities budget significant salaries for their council members. The City of Ojai, for example, budgets $197,000 per year for its council members. The City of Fillmore pays $150 per month, or $1,800 per year, to its council members. With one exception, I guess you get what you pay for.

City Legal Counsel, Ted Schneider, dampened Washburn’s excitement when he informed her that the council could not increase its salaries until the next election.

What I find really funny is the fact that Washburn, Brooks, and Mayor Walker have been researching this idea for months. Now the Katzenjammers see an opportunity to be rewarded for their incompetence.

Remember, these were the people who sought to cut the wages of city staff, middle and upper management. Brooks was to wield his notorious budget-wage-cutting sword, and stated, on April 14 of this year, and several times before and after the election, that “when the budget comes under review, he will discuss salary reductions, because [he] believes Fillmore cannot afford to match other cities’ salaries.” He had “not come to bring peace, but a sword.” This was the same time that Washburn described management and staff concerns for job security as “unnecessary hysteria.”

It’s got to be nerve-wracking to have to wait for more than a year (the next election) to go from $150 per month to, possibly, $3,000! This adds a whole new dimension to reasons to get on the council, or stay on. How odd that after decades of paying little or nothing for good council service, that this cabal of alleged budget-cutters would bring up this issue of council compensation. I would think that Jamey, with that sword, and Gayle, and Patti, with their concerns over management and staff salaries, would fend off the temptation to increase their public booty.