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The Illusion of Transparency

John Russo, Irvien City Manager. Photo credit: OC Register

New Irvine City Manager John Russo has made a big deal about the transparency of how he runs the city.  There’s a new transparency portal on the city’s website and it mirrors an effort he oversaw in Riverside before he was fired.

However, its really more an illusion of transparency.

In late May, my wife came home and found an envelope addressed to me at our front door; no stamp and a typed address.  Inside, a two page letter detailing a series of questions about the new city manager and his Riverside team now in Irvine.  The questions demonstrated significant inside knowledge and it was unsigned.

I’m pitched a number of stories telling me “you should write about this” or “you should expose that.”  The vast majority of these anonymous tips never hold up to actual facts, research or public records.  This one resonated.

So I prepared a Public Records Request at the end of May.   There’s cut and pasted below:

I have several pieces of information I’m seeking so I will break my PRA requests down to 5 sections.  Before I do, I’ll start with a question.  I understand that City Staff was informed there will be a budget shortfall of $12 to $15 million for the next fiscal year which is attributed to lavish spending on the part of the city manager and his team.  Fees for businesses and athletic groups have increased.  My understanding is the city is seeking to reduce or cut support for Irvine schools.  If you have a statement on any of that, I’d like to hear from you.

PRA1 – John Russo

  • He has a car allowance as part of his contract; how much is this per month?
  • Does Mr. Russo use a city vehicle for transportation to places around the city and does he use a city vehicle to and from the Tustin and/or Irvine train stations to Riverside where he resides?
  • How does Mr. Russo arrive at the office every morning?  Is a city vehicle waiting for him at the train station?
  • Has Mr. Russo been a guest of any organization at any event or taking to any breakfast/lunch/dinner by any business or lobbyist which would have required a receipt and/or Statement of Economic Interest filing
  • Can you provide a copy of every Form 700 Mr. Russo has completed
  • How much is Mr. Russo reimbursed in per diem?
  • How many days has Mr. Russo been out of the office (business, vacation or otherwise)?

PRA2

  • Does Assistant City Manager Marianna Marysheva received a car allowance as part of her contract and if so, how much monthly?
  • Does Ms. Marysheva use a city vehicle to and from the Tustin and/or Irvine train stations to Riverside County where she resides?
  • If so, is this the same city vehicle Mr. Russo presumable uses (do they car pool?)
  • How does. Ms. Marysheva arrive at the office every morning? Is a city vehicle waiting for her at the train station?
  • Has Ms. Marysheva been a guest of any organization at any event or taking to any breakfast/lunch/dinner by any business or lobbyist which would have required a receipt and/or Statement of Economic Interest filing
  • Please provide a copy of all form 700s she has filed.
  • How many city-paid meals with staff has Ms. Marysheva paid for with her PCard?  Please offer information of those staffers who attended and the purpose of the meal.
  • Please identify Ms. Marysheva’s starting salary with the City of Irvine and her current compensation; if her current compensation is greater, what date was the increase awarded? 
  • How many pay increases has she been granted since starting work in Irvine?
  • What is Ms. Marysheva’s projected salary for Fiscal year 2019?
  • Has Ms. Marysheva received compensation in the form of leave hours or bonuses; if so, please provide details.

PRA3

  • If employee labor negotiations proposed on March 28 are approved by the city council, how much is the average salary increase in dollar value per pay check per employee in year 1, years 2, year 3 and year 4?  Please provide the average for all units including Management and Confidential.
  • Provide the name and title of any city employee who has received additional compensation in the form of leave hours?  How much and provide the justification.
  • How many promotions have occurred without recruitment, including management positions?  Please provide the names, titles (former/current) and compensation (former/current)
  • How many positions have been eliminated from the city manager’s office?
  • How many employees no longer work for the city manager’s office due to separation and/or transfer?

PRA4

  • Does economic development manager Kaitlyn Nguyen receive a car allowance, and if so, how much monthly.
  • Does Ms. Nguyen use a city vehicle to and from the Tustin and/or Irvine train stations to Riverside County where she resides?  Is this the same vehicle, presumably used by Mr. Russo and/or Ms. Marysheva? (Do they carpool).
  • How does Ms. Nguyen arrive to the office in the morning? Is a city vehicle waiting for her at the train station?
  • Has Ms. Nguyen been a guest of any organization at any event or taking to any breakfast/lunch/dinner by any business or lobbyist which would have required a receipt and/or Statement of Economic Interest filing
  • Please provide a copy of all form 700s she has filed.
  • Does Ms. Nguyen provide a report on status of her efforts to attract new businesses to Irvine?  Have her efforts been successful and can you offer any details?
  • How many times has she traveled out of state – to where, the length of the trip, the purpose of the trip and the costs. 
  • How many times did the city pay her travel expenses and please identify other organizations who paid for other travel expenses?

I recognize there is a lot to unpack here and these requests will likely take longer than 10 working days.  I would appreciate if answers, files. Documents, notes are associated with appropriate number PRA.

Thank you for your attention to this lengthy request.

****

The Response Letter – Liberal OC 5-30-19 is here.  if you don’t want to open the attachment, see below:

This letter is in reference to your May 30, 2019 requests under the California Public Records Act

(Government Code § 6250 et seq.).

The City Attorney’s Office has determined that your request seeks certain records that are exempt entirely from disclosure or require redactions, including: Personal information where the public interest served by nondisclosure clearly outweighs disclosure (City of Irvine Personal Information Privacy Act, approved by the voters November 4, 2008, Government Code § 6255; City of San Jose v. Superior Court (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 1008);

Records that fall within the public interest exemption; the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record. (Government Code § 6255; Times Mirror Co. v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal.3d 1325); and Personnel, medical, or similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy (Government Code § 6254(c)).

Please see the City’s responses below:

1. “He [John Russo] has a car allowance as part of his contract; how much is this per month?”

Response: See Attachment A, City Manager contract.

2. “Does Mr. Russo use a city vehicle for transportation to places around the city and does he use a city vehicle to and from the Tustin and/or Irvine train stations to Riverside where he resides?“

Response: A City vehicle is available for the City Manager’s Office use.

3. “How does Mr. Russo arrive at the office every morning? Is a city vehicle waiting for him at the train station? “

Response: No responsive records.

4. “Has Mr. Russo been a guest of any organization at any event or taking to any breakfast/lunch/dinner by any business or lobbyist which would have required a receipt and/or Statement of Economic Interest filing.”

Response: See Attachment B, 700 Forms.

5. “Can you provide a copy of every Form 700 Mr. Russo has completed.”

Response: See Attachment B, 700 Forms.

6. “How much is Mr. Russo reimbursed in per diem?”

Response: See Attachment C, Business Expense Policy.

7. “How many days has Mr. Russo been out of the office (business, vacation or otherwise)?”

Response: Mr. Russo was out of the office for business the following days:

November 5-6, and 27-30, 2018.

February 11-15, 19, and 27-28, 2019

March 19-21, 2019

April 10, 26 and 29, 2019

(Editor’s note: one source tells me this is a lie and is missing many dates)

There are no other responsive, non-exempt records.

8. “Does Assistant City Manager Marianna Marysheva receive a car allowance as part of her contract and if so, how much monthly?”

Response: Assistant City Manager Marysheva does not have a contract. See Attachment D, Resolution 19-46, Classification and Compensation Policy, Management & Non-Represented Employees for a description of her benefits.

9. “Does Ms. Marysheva use a city vehicle to and from the Tustin and/or Irvine train stations to Riverside County where she resides?”

Response: A City vehicle is available for the City Manager’s Office use.

10. “If so, is this the same city vehicle Mr. Russo presumable uses (do they car pool)?”

Response: No responsive records.

11. “How does. Ms. Marysheva arrive at the office every morning? Is a city vehicle waiting for her at the train station?”

Response: No responsive records.

12. “Has Ms. Marysheva been a guest of any organization at any event or taking to any breakfast/lunch/dinner by any business or lobbyist which would have required a receipt and/or Statement of Economic Interest filing.”

Response: See Attachment E, 700 Forms and Attachment F, 802 Form.

13. “Please provide a copy of all form 700s she [Ms. Marysheva] has filed.”

Response: See Attachment E, 700 Forms.

14. “How many city-paid meals with staff has Ms. Marysheva paid for with her PCard? Please offer information of those staffers who attended and the purpose of the meal.”

Response: See Attachment G, Purchasing Card records.

15. “Please identify Ms. Marysheva’s starting salary with the City of Irvine and her current compensation; if her current compensation is greater, what date was the increase awarded?”

Response: See Attachment H, Marysheva Salary.

16. “How many pay increases has she [Ms. Marysheva] been granted since starting work in Irvine?”

Response: See response to Item 15.

17. “What is Ms. Marysheva’s projected salary for Fiscal year 2019?”

Response: See Attachment I, Resolution 19-56, Salary Grade Order.

18. “Has Ms. Marysheva received compensation in the form of leave hours or bonuses; if so, please provide details.”

Response: No responsive, non-exempt records.

19. “If employee labor negotiations proposed on March 28 [requestor clarification: May 28, 2019] are approved by the city council, how much is the average salary increase in dollar value per pay check per employee in year 1, years 2, year 3 and year 4? Please provide the average for all units including Management and Confidential.”

Response: See Attachment J, City Council Staff Report, May 28, 2019, Item 6.1.

20. ”Provide the name and title of any city employee who has received additional compensation in the form of leave hours? How much and provide the justification.”

Response: No responsive, non-exempt records.

21. “How many promotions have occurred without recruitment, including management positions? Please provide the names, titles (former/current) and compensation (former/current).” [Requestor clarification: date range of July 2018 to present.]

Response. All competitive service promotions are filled via a recruitment. The Municipal Code and Personnel Rules stipulate certain positions are exempt from the competitive service and may serve at the pleasure of the City Council or City Manager. Examples include Commissioners, Council Executive Assistants, City Manager, Assistant City Manager, City Clerk, Department Directors, part-time staff, members of the management group, etc. Given these positions are exempt from the Personnel Rules, they are not considered competitive service promotions.

22. “How many positions have been eliminated from the city manager’s office. “[Requestor clarification: date range of July 2018 to present.]

Response: See Attachment K, City Council Joint Meeting with the Orange County Great Park Board Staff Report, 06/11/19, Item 5.1, page 6.

23. “How many employees no longer work for the city manager’s office due to separation and/or transfer?”

Response: See response to Item 22.

24. “Does economic development manager Kaitlyn Nguyen receive a car allowance, and if so, how much monthly.”

Response: See Attachment D, Resolution 19-46, Classification and Compensation Policy for Management and Non-Represented employees.

25. “Does Ms. Nguyen use a city vehicle to and from the Tustin and/or Irvine train stations to Riverside County where she resides? Is this the same vehicle, presumably used by Mr. Russo and/or Ms. Marysheva? (Do they carpool)?”

Response: A City vehicle is available for the City Manager’s Office use.

26. “How does Ms. Nguyen arrive to the office in the morning? Is a city vehicle waiting for her at the train station?”

Response: No responsive records.

27. “Has Ms. Nguyen been a guest of any organization at any event or taking to any breakfast/lunch/dinner by any business or lobbyist which would have required a receipt and/or Statement of Economic Interest filing.”

Response: See Attachment L, 700 Forms and Attachment M, 802 Form.

28. “Please provide a copy of all form 700s she [Ms. Nguyen] has filed.”

Response: See Attachment L, 700 Forms.

29. “Does Ms. Nguyen provide a report on status of her efforts to attract new businesses to Irvine? Have her efforts been successful and can you offer any details?”

Response: No responsive records.

30. “How many times has she [Ms. Nguyen] traveled out of state – to where, the length of the trip, the purpose of the trip and the costs.”

Response: See Attachment N, provided previously in response to your April 8, 2019 records request.

31. “How many times did the city pay her [Ms. Nguyen] travel expenses and please identify other organizations who paid for other travel expenses?”

Response: See response to Item 30.

Just initially, Russo has a car allowance but yet still uses a city car at his disposal.  I asked the PIO’s office a simple yes or no question; does the city have a car waiting for Russo at the train station, yes or no?  My understanding is when you have a car allowance, it’s to cover the cost of local transportation so having a city car available to someone getting a car allowance is an extra and unnecessary expense.  So much for transparency.

Here is a copy of Russo’s Contract RussoContract:

Here is a copy of some of the backup the city gave me.

Resolution on EmployeeContracts

employee contracts

Marysheva Expenses

There’s a lot to unpack.  Russo has cut certain costs in the city manager’s office by eliminating certain positions and then enriching himself and others on his team.  But there’s no way to make up for the lost hours spent eliminating positions.  So there’s a lower budget but also less work output.  You can’t get addition from subtraction.  And looks like the city manager has positioned himself for an additional $20K raise by 2022.

For a city manager who prides himself on transparency, some of these questions don’t require a public record but certainly a public answer.  Offering a “no responsive records” answer is something a coward does.

Additionally, city employees are getting screwed.  No raises for a couple of years followed by a small one that won’t keep up with inflation.  Some employees are even asking for demotions in order to preserve their pensions and health insurance but avoid being targeted for firing.

Lastly, there was another nugget in Russo’s contract worth noting. Russo expressed his intent to relocate from Riverside to within our fair city (or close proximity to) within 2 years.  Mr. Russo’s contract was signed July 16, 2018, which means we are approaching his first year anniversary.  To our knowledge, Mr. Russo hasn’t moved.

Does the city council — three of which are new to the body after Russo’s deal was struck — plan on enforcing this provision of his contract, or will it continue to allow our chief executive officer to operate the City despite only surface knowledge of our municipality and with little-to-no actual skin in the game?  For instance, shouldn’t the guy who’s in charge of maintaining our roads actual have to drive them every day?  Inquiring minds want to know.

The additional upside for Mr. Russo of actually living in the area of course would be that we would be more inclined to stop worrying about his actual office hours and what we hear is his proclivity towards shortchanging us in those regards in order to beat rush hour traffic to and from his home in Riverside.

But perhaps he can still leave early on Friday afternoons.

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Scott R Hansen Scott R Hansen July 13, 2019

    Thank you for looking into this important matter.

  2. Eggs are Best Served Sunny Side Up Eggs are Best Served Sunny Side Up July 15, 2019

    The Orange Juice Blog reached an all new low by posting the rantings of an author that uses the pen name ‘Fingal O’Flahertie’.

    OJ Blog does a disservice to the memory of Oscar Wilde to allow Mr. Wilde’s middle names to be used as a pseudonym by this dirt bag.

    The writing style of the so called Fingal is earily similar to the bigotry shouted by William Dennis Fitzgerald during Anaheim City Council public comments.

    If the leadership at OJ Blog is committing the serious mistake of giving Fitzgerald a voice on their forum, then they are ignoring all of the homophobic hate speech he has spouted over the years.

  3. Henry "Paul" Lipton Henry "Paul" Lipton July 16, 2019

    Donna is running the blog as Vern rides out his Second stint at the Salvation Army rehab. She has said he will need to complete his six month stay. I wish him well personally. HOWEVER, Donna and Greg are crying foul over Henry “Paul Lucas” Lipton asking about Verns absence. The posts that squeak through are quickly erased.

    These desperado’s are so blind, they’ll team up with homophobes like Tom and Julie Tait, Howard Ahmenson, William Fitzgerald. Hypocrites.

    • Dan Chmielewski Dan Chmielewski Post author | July 17, 2019

      They let a porn link slip through Saturday morning. I spit my coffee out

Comments are closed.