One Tehachapi City councilman's concerns about money granted by the city to the parks district prompted a lengthy and at times heated discussion at the April 16 council meeting.
Councilman Kenneth R. Hetge made a motion to revoke a unanimous council decision made a month earlier to grant $15,000 in city funds to the Tehachapi Valley Recreation & Park District for a "community recreation center feasibility study" for a potential bond measure aimed at refurbishing parks property and even building a new facility.
The council voted 2-2 on the issue of taking the money back. Mayor pro-tem Susan Wiggins and Councilman Phil Smith voted against rescinding the funds given, while Hetge and Dennis Wahlstrom voted in favor of the city taking the money back. Mayor Ed Grimes was absent. With the tie vote, the previous decision to give the $15,000 stands.
Hetge said that even though he voted in favor of the funds going to TVRPD at the March 19 meeting, he changed his mind because he believes facts were not being represented clearly, and because of “certain issues.” The issues he mentioned later dealt with the City Council not focusing on a survey or business plan which deals with residents' interest in a park bond, but rather discussing what the possible bond measure would do for the community.
“The council showed more support for the end project at a point in time when they were only being asked for $15,000 for a survey or an analysis,” Hetge said after the meeting.
He added that he was also within his rights to ask the Fair Political Practices Commission to look into whether anything unlawful was said or done.
“My whole intent is to make sure I was not breaking the law,” Hetge added.
The Fair Political Practices Commission “has primary responsibility for the impartial and effective administration of the Political Reform Act,” which regulate campaign finance, financial conflicts of interest by public officials, lobbyist registration, reporting and other issues regarding governmental ethics, according to fppc.ca.gov.
City Attorney Tom Schroeter said at the April 16 council meeting that nothing unlawful was done at the March meeting, including saying that the discussions were not off topic, and that it would be embarrassing for the issue to be brought up to the FPPC.
“There was no project that you were promoting. You were simply agreeing to give some money to them (TVRPD) for a study. There was no ballet or bond measure," Schroeter added.
Smith said, “I am very much in favor of just continuing what we voted on. We made a decision; parks and recreation have voted to go forward with it."
Laura Lynne Wyatt, chairperson of the board of directors for the park district, spoke to the City Council, asking members not to rescind their vote.
“The community wants us to do this. They want more parks, they want pools, they want more recreational opportunities. They want a community center and they are willing to help us pay for it," Wyatt said. "But part of it is putting together a comprehensive business plan before we move forward with any improvements. We need to know that we can sustain those improvements, we need to know we operate within our budget, and we need to know what the community wants us to provide."
The question of whether it was legal to transfer funds to the park district was also addressed, and Schroeter said that it was legal for the funds to be transferred.
“The city has any legal right to fund requests out of the general fund and in this case it is the park mitigation fund and when new residential developments take place, a portion goes into parks money for design, building and engineering. The parks district request was to see whether we can move forward with planning of new development,” City Manager Greg Garrett said after the meeting.
Michael Biglay, a Tehachapi resident who is running for Kern County Second District supervisor, said he filed a complaint against the city on this issue with the FPPC.
He added that he “had a guy” look over previous City Council meeting recordings and accused council members of showing bias and disdain for people approaching the council and giving their opinion.
Biglay said, “I don’t think the City of Tehachapi should fund this money. I’m not against the parks building their facility, but I think they should be built with county money that is already in the taxpayer base or the City of Tehachapi should put the money up, because it's going to be built in the City of Tehachapi.”
There's no business plan for the possible bond measure. There also has not been a formal announcement on where a new facility should go, or how much taxpayers might want to pay.
A March 19 TVRPD letter to the city included in the City Council agenda said, "Our Board of Directors has approved staff to explore the feasibility of constructing a new aquatics, recreation and conference center as well as revitalize all existing facilities. We ask the City Council to approve an investment of $15,000 to go towards the cost of that plan. I have attached the detailed workplan to outline what will be included in the initial business plan."
Many other comments from the public followed.
“I have no grandchildren, my children are all grown and gone, but that doesn’t matter to me. It's important to me for this city to look to the future and to take care of our children,” Tehachapi resident Socorro Schmidt said.
She added, “I think there was an awful lot of enthusiasm for this and now its $15,000 under question. That is a lot of money, but any time you are going to spend even more money, you have got to study it and you have got to know if you are on the right road.”
Lydia Chaney, a resident and president of the Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council, said, "I was here last meeting and I clearly understood it to just be money going toward a study to make sure that this was feasible, and I remember (TVRPD district manager) Michelle (Vance) saying if it wasn’t feasible it wasn’t going anywhere."
Tehachapi resident Mary Ann Hester had a different opinion.
“I’m getting tired of the bond issues and the parks and recreation cannot stand on its own feet and I’ve been over there,” she said. She added, “It’s going to cost a lot of money to run that place. I hope you rescind it too because I’m tired of paying the bills.”