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Commenter takes issue with interim city manager during meeting

By Lauren Westmoreland

The Wednesday, April 27 meeting of the City of Portola city council opened at 6 p.m. with the pledge of allegiance. With all council members present, the meeting opened to public comment.

Public comment

Local Josh Hart, spokesperson for Feather River Action!, spoke about the Lake Davis Trail, stating that massive clear cutting was planned by the Forest Service without any known environmental assessment in areas that ‘only needed a light underburn.’

“This is another case of the Forest Service treating public input as a formality,” Hart said. “Logging reduces fuel for sure, but it also exposes the ground to more drying sun and wind, compacts soils and often makes forests drier and more flammable. The Crocker Project includes plans to cut one of the most mature forests near Portola, the Crocker Grove, in the name of aspen restoration.”

Hart went on to state that the older forests are needed to retain moisture, store carbon and resist fire. “Crocker Grove is a local jewel,” Hart said. “Feather River Action is calling for a underburn-only option as an alternative to industrial devastation in the Mapes Crocker area. We are also planning a hike and picnic to Crocker Grove on a weekend in May. The date will be announced on our website, Featherriveraction.org, or email us at featherriveraction.org.”

Resident Ashlee Sims then addressed council on multiple items, first commenting on a city ordinance stating that ‘the public was allowed five minutes in public comment,’ and she expected that to be honored.

Sims then went on to list concerns around her views of interactions with Portola Interim City Manager Jon Kennedy, asserting that she felt he was conducting himself “inappropriately and unprofessionally.”

Sims also stated that she was “not the only one to have issues with Kennedy.” Sims went on to make allegations of foul language and “unbecoming behavior.”

Kennedy responded at this time to Sims, stating that during her comments, he ‘lost count at all the lies.’

“I will be implementing a policy that whenever Ashlee Sims makes a phone call, we will ask her to only correspond via writing or allow us to record the phone calls, because she did nothing there except lie,” Kennedy stated.

With no further public comment, the meeting moved on to city communications.

 

City Council communications

Councilmember Stan Peiler reported that he was on the community clean-up committee, and that he was very excited to get started.

Councilmember Phil Oels reported attending a Firewise meeting and a Firesafe meeting, as well as a Firewise meeting in Portola. “Oels also touched on ‘good news’ in regard to a grant being written for 3,500 acres of fire hazard reduction work. He also attended a recent Transportation Commission meeting.

Councilmember Bill Powers reported attending an Airport Land Use Commission meeting in the last week, and that he had spoken in public comment. “This is in an effort that a resident out in Sierra Valley and I are heading up to increase the runway length at Nervino Airport to accommodate larger planes for fire starts,” Powers said. “We are going after FAA additional monies, above and beyond what the commission is allocated each year, and our intent is to improve both the Beckwourth and Chester airports.”

Powers also attend a LAFCo meeting and juvenile justice meeting.

Mayor Pro Tem Tom Cooley reported attending the Plumas LAFCo ad-hoc budget committee meeting, as well as the LAFCo commission meeting. Cooley also noted his attendance at the recent Plumas Firesafe Council meeting. “Calfire grants are being administered by the council,” Cooley said. “The Mohawk Grant for our area is in the active investigation stage as far as qualifying properties and property review for inclusion in the program. Work on that program would occur over the next two seasons, not this season, and it’s very promising – a large grant that would bring a lot of benefits to our area.”

Cooley also attended a Portola Firewise committee at the library, and a number of LESSG meetings to develop a budget with consultants.

Mayor Pat Morton reported attending the LAFCo meeting and a meeting of Beckwourth Fire. “They qualified for a grant and bought 50 new air apparatus with attached thermal imaging cameras, so they can find people in a smoke-filled place,” Morton explained. “The apparatus will go to various area departments, with Beckwourth getting 15, Portola receiving 12, Eastern Plumas Rural Fire receiving 15 and Long Valley getting 8,” Morton said.

Staff communications

Kennedy noted that Melissa Klundby of the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD) wanted to remind the council that there is a free month of May curbside green waste disposal program kicking off. Full information is posted on the City of Portola Facebook page.

Susan Scarlett then reported that the transition to the new software for the city is still ongoing, but the financials have been transferred, and utility billing will go live next week. “We really hope that in the end there will be a better online presence and interaction with utility billing,” she said.

Scarlett also noted that there has been a loss of staffing for the senior transit.

City manager report

Interim City Manager Jon Kennedy reported briefly that without a clerk for nearly a month, an additional clerk will likely need to be hired to help pick up the slack on the ‘inordinate amounts of records requests,’ in addition to other tasks.

Council went on to discuss the consent calendar, at which time Ashlee Sims commented to state that Kennedy was breaking the Brown Act by muting her in the Zoom meeting, and then made a records request as well for all receipts and documents related to a credit card charge. Council then approved the calendar and then moved to the next item.

Public comment on 2022/2023 budget preparation – 24.54

City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett spoke, reviewing the process of opening the budget preparation process to the public. “There will be a budget work session on May 18, if we need a second one there will be a workshop on May 25, and the proposed budget will be submitted on June 3,” Scarlett said. “Adoption will be June 22. There are options for people to look at the budget and comment, and we certainly welcome any input they would like to give.”

Planwest Partners Inc Amendment

Next up on the agenda was the current Planwest Agreement, which needs to be amended to include an update to identify the designated representative, Interim City Manager Jon Kennedy, of the City of Portola on behalf of the LESSG.

Cooley brought the item forward, with two items of change in the amendment.

“One, to update the city contact person, from Lauren Knox to Jon Kennedy, and second, under 1.2 section 15, part A is exactly the same as in the past. Section B has been added, as a strictly housekeeping item to ensure no confusion in the future on the amendment of the contract,” Cooley said. “The role of the city is strictly the administrator of the contract at this point.”

Sims commented that she felt that the modification should not be allowed. “LESSG should be operating in a transparent and open manner,” Sims said.

“This is strictly a process of administering a business-like contract, a statement of sound business contract,” Cooley said.

Hart asked if the former city manager was on the contract in that position, and Cooley responded that Kennedy’s name had merely been substituted for Knox’s to keep things accurate in the contract.

Oels made a motion to approve the amendment, which was seconded and then approved by unanimous roll call vote.

Community Clean Up – State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF)

On March 23, 2022 the council approved the concept presented for a one-time neighborhood clean-up program using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). City staff has created a program that is ready for implementation. The city will implement the program under the authority of existing ordinance(s), primarily, but not limited to: Title 8 – Health and Safety – Chapter 8.20 – Public Nuisance.

“We discussed this at the last meeting in concept and have are ready to get going almost immediately if approved tonight,” Kennedy said.

An estimated Community Clean Up budget based on an approximate five-month duration with an estimated 80 properties was provided.

Estimates include labor at $32,500, dumpster fees at $42,768, based on 20-yard dumpsters per household,

Code Enforcement Activity at $15,600, and possible mini excavator rental at $15,000.

There was an estimated contingency of $10,586 with a

total estimated budget of $116,454.

Sims commented, asking why money would be going to code enforcement and why a need for a mini excavator. “I would like to see estimates for all of the work,” Sims said.  “Also, is the entire public going to be allowed to put garbage in the dumpsters or will this only benefit a few people?”

Kennedy answered that the estimated amount for code enforcement officer was to assist with the program, with some households that might turn into a code enforcement situation.

In regard to the excavator, Kennedy stressed that it was listed as a possible expense if needed for cleaning, but that when the funds were used, there would be an expense account where Sims would be able to see exactly to the penny what was spent.

Council then approved the program to begin implementation by unanimous roll call vote. The City of Portola highly encourages property owners take advantage of this free program.

AVA Towing contract

Council discussed the need to enter into a towing contract agreement with Crescent Tow due to the loss of services with Ron’s Towing due to the death of the owner. “Everything is the same in the contract,” Kennedy noted. “There will be quite a bit of code enforcement activity for abandoned vehicle towing with the community clean up project as well.” Without any public comment, the agreement was approved by unanimous roll call vote.

Intermountain Disposal franchise agreement amendment

As previously discussed at past council meetings, the amendment on this item called for the elimination of customer-supplied cans for refuse collection, to facilitate Intermountain Disposal’s (IMD) desire to collect residential solid wastes using an automated side-loader collection vehicle. The amendment, if approved, will add Section 5.6 to the franchise agreement.

The City of Portola Infrastructure Committee met with Intermountain Disposal in January to discuss IMD’s desire to change the refuse collection vehicle, along with other issues potentially affecting both the franchise agreement and the city’s solid waste ordinance. The city and IMD have agreed to proposed verbiage for a new franchise agreement.

Richard Ross of IMD attended the meeting and replied to a question about the implementation of the waste cart change out. “We will deliver a cart to each residence at no charge for those that need to change out their can from user supplied carts,” Ross stated.

This is in response to earlier discussions to implement a side loader on all garbage trucks to limit physical contact with waste, as well as reducing harm caused by repetitive lifting to the workers in the company.

“It’s going to be a more streamlined operation-please pay attention to the notices, there are new directions on how we need you to place your cans, but it should be a more efficient way to handle this in Portola,” Ross explained.

“This will be a lot faster process. City residents will be asked to have their cans out by 7 a.m.”

Oels moved to approve the amendment, with Powers seconding. All approved unanimously by roll call vote.

The last topic of the meeting regarded the Verizon cell tower, which is being addressed in a separate article.

The City Council meeting is accessible to the public via live streaming at https://zoom.us/j/3583067836 or by phone at 1.669.900.6833; Meeting ID: 358 306 7836.

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