Kirk Callan Smith Unloads on Placerville Economic Development Committee and Chamber of Commerce

by Placerville Newswire / Jun 20, 2016 / comments

[About Kirk Callan Smith: Kirk recently ran for City Council Member; City of Placerville last November where he recieved less than 15% 0f the votes cast.  On September 01, 2014 the Mountain Democrat Reported: Kirk Callan Smith...received a certified letter from the City Clerk that his ballot statement, turned in on Aug. 8, was unacceptable as written...“Part of Mr. Smith’s statement about recent city councils working behind the scenes to facilitate the closing of the courthouse was false,” said City Attorney John Driscoll. “The council has no part in the courthouse closing — that is a decision of the state.”]

Kirk Callan Smith' Report: "Placerville Economic Development Committee Meeting."

Most of Friday noon’s meeting of the Placerville Economic Development Committee was spent discussing an expensive sweetheart deal for the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce to give them as much as $39,000 a year of taxpayer money to come up with a plan to market Placerville. Yes, the same body that already gets close to a half a million dollars from the county to do the same kind of thing for them with another one of those non-competitive no-bid deals local government has become famous for doing with politically connected friends.

In the name of full disclosure, I must mention that I was at the first meeting of Economic Development Committee the day it was formed about three years ago and I was more than disappointed with what I saw, more like disgusted. I have never seen anyone display more grins and smiles of approval and conversely grimaces of displeasure, even more than what Joe Bidden displayed four years ago in the Vice Presidential debate with Paul Ryan, than was displayed that day by the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, Laurel Brent-Bumb. She also talked far more often than any other committee member, even while others were talking and made it look then as if she had already decided who the officers would be.

Brent-Bumb to most in the audience made the committee look like a bunch of puppets who were having their strings pulled. Yes, the same person who talked Monday about the Chamber’s ability at image enhancement and “branding.” The uniformed might have been easily fooled Friday from the conduct displayed in believe that she chaired the committee. To make things even worse, she proposed, more like directed, that future meetings be held at noon so as to discourage members of the public attended, hardly a way of showing respect for those the council is supposed to serve. It was the kind of conduct that reminded me of John F. Kennedy’s description of the nation’s capital, “Washington is a city that combines northern charm with southern efficiency.” I guess if you have the ear of those in power who can pay your bills, you can ignore if not abuse the public. No matter what the kindest view could be, it looked like the Chamber was calling the shots and last Friday’s noon meeting was no exception.

City Manager Cleve Morris started off the meeting by reporting that he had received some email that day, prompting him to want to make clear that whenever action is taken on this proposal, three members associated with the Chamber would have to recuse themselves, and that it was not on the calendar Friday for action, only discussion. [Look at the agenda, where those things noted before?] While most of the meeting was devoted to this proposal, there was only vague talk that it would come up later.

Translation: The city is not going to have this scheme acted on this year for the same reason the city council is not going to act on the city manager’s call for the council to look at raising parking rates before the November election when the city once again has a proposal to raise the local sales tax rate for twenty years by half a cent, Measure L. The city knows that if they bring up either matter now, before the election, they are going to anger local voters, especially merchants who were angry about their tax hike measure two years ago.

There is no way of knowing whether city manager Cleve Morris’ initial disclaimers about not being on the calendar for action, and that at least three members associated with the Chamber of Commerce would have to recuse themselves with future action, was added because both issues had been brought to his attention by email from citizens that morning, or because he realized on his own that it was a giant public relations mistake to have anybody even talking about the city spending this kind of money at the same time they are asking for a sales tax increase. Not a mind-reader, but even bringing this up for discussion at a time when cash strapped city claiming to need one more sales tax increase should have been seen like quite a blunder.

I am very appreciative, as I trust we all are, that a number of folks, principally Fran and Evelyn, posted a substantial amount of information here that I am sure others, just like I, did not know. I did not know, for example, the figure about how much money the county dishes out to this politically tightknit group of cheer leaders for local government until I read it here. When a citizen asks critical questions, instead of offering praise, the response looks about as hostile as a reporter asking questions at a Donald Trump rally.

The comments I offered at Monday’s meeting about this plea for paying more tax money to the are similar to those I posted here. I suggested that if the city was looking for somebody to come up with a marketing plan, they should open it up to competitive bidding rather than hand it to the chamber, making it look like some kind of inside deal. Those of us in the real world seek competitive bidding, why shouldn’t local government do the same thing with our tax money? At the same time, the integrity of local government would be less tarnished if they avoided handing this deal to group that has not so actively lobbied for local causes favored by the politicians who feed them our cash.

The chamber backed Measure I, the city’s sales tax measure two years ago [that was defeated by voters] and surely will be lobbying for the Measure L tax hike this November. Do they think that because this year’s tax measure calls for a specific tax -- to fix roads and water lines -- that supporting Measure L will not lighten their burden of now paying for those things, serve to help the city to get extra money to pay the chamber If it passes, would city not have to syphon off as much money for infrastructure repairs, leaving more money to spend on things like this Chamber of Commerce boondoggle? Good question, but don’t ask at one of these meetings or you risk having your head figuratively cut off.

Clearly angry, Brent-Bumb interrupted me, true to form, to say that my statement about them getting a $400,000 subsidy to do similar work for the county was wrong. I thought maybe my figure was off, but no, she objected not to that figure but to the word “subsidy.”

I then asked, “How much does the Chamber pay the county for your use of that historic Main Street building?” “A dollar a year,” she answered but quickly offered a vigorous defense, saying that the county building manager said that the building is not ADA complaint, as if nobody else could use it but them. Oh, and I looked up the word “subsidy” and saw it defined as paying for goods or services. You know, like getting a $1 a year building and $400,000 a year to do marking work for the county.

Ok, maybe this is the best bargain the county could get, but from the appearances it does not pass the smell test. Whether it is hiring a contractor to do something like build a new home or even when looking to build a deck to a home we have, don’t we usually look for the best price and seek competative bidding? And if you were looking for a group to advise you about public relations, would you really look to the Chamber of Commerce? Their record does not look particularly shinning these days.

They were absolutely clueless with the damage done to their “brand” [a term Brent-Bumb used often Friday] with such things as their executive director being the only person to speak for putting the much hated Dollar General store right smack in the center of Main Street in historic Georgetown. Remember that philosopher, P.T. Barnum, who said you can fool some of the people some of the time, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time? Well developers and the chamber used plenty of deception two years ago but this time the public learned much and got big numbers at the voting polls on Measures E and G, despite all of those signs from the Chamber of Commerce and spending for the NO effort against supporters at a rate of about 165 to 1.

Their “brand” is so badly damaged by now, signs and flyers with the name Chamber of Commerce actually helped get more votes for E and G. They seem too drunk on their delusions about their skills and importance to see that. The Chamber still has no idea how unpopular they are in this county, how criticism and anger about them is quickly growing. Maybe what they do is standard practice for chambers across the country, maybe they offer local government a good deal, but it sure in the hell does not look like it and when it comes to public relations, appearance means much.

Instead, the “brand” our Chamber has earned is that of a bunch of greedy power-hungry people who cannot be trusted, who are out to serve a few big moneyed special interests while stabbing a great many small businesses in the back. Like a bunch of trained dogs who bark on command, Chamber representatives can be counted on to appear before the Board of Supervisors and the City Council to speak in favor of what local politicians want, even if these things are opposed by most in the small business community and the public at large. They are not going to bite the hand that feeds, local politicians and a few of the wealthiest special interests in the county.

Ok, are you starting to understand some of the reasons I will be opposing Measure L to again increase the city sales tax? Oh, and why I also think local government needs to have an arms-length association with the chamber and follow sound business like practice with them like have competitive bedding for any work they do?

The city wastes money and I am tired of letting a bunch of tax and spend politicians keep sticking us for more money when they should do more to control their excessive spending ways. Giving the Chamber of Commerce $39,000 in a no bid sweetheart deal is just one more example of their wasteful spending and of their use of our government to help out politically connected friends.

Apart from Brent-Bums disgraceful one person lobbying efforts before the Board of Supervisors for a big outside corporations plan to put the much hated Dollar General store in historic Georgetown, we have all seen that shtick repeated often for similar unpopular causes the public does not want. That has frequently been the case in Placerville such as when the City Council tried to shove down our throats the roundabout at Cedar Ravine, saying that contrary to the view of a “small minority” it was a legal action until a court proved otherwise. The Chamber backed the city’s plans for a roundabout for eight years and even supported Measure K, to put the roundabout issue before voters, and both the city and the Chamber lost badly, once again doing little to enhance respect in this community.

We are not stupid, we don’t need to be told that a Chamber is coming forward to speak at the request of politicians, they frequently repeat the same phony arguments almost line for line. The vice president of the Chamber, my friend Mike Kobus, appeared before the City Council last year on March 25th to speak in favor of closing our historic courthouse and building a new one at the west end of town, something a previously secret economic impact report financed by the county said would cause massive economic deviation for downtown businesses.

Look up the March 25, 2014, city council meeting tape, see for yourself, it’s shocking to hear a long series of false statements the Chamber of Commerce VP spun for the council choir that night. Kobus confidently proclaimed that the state was trying to move our courthouse to Rancho Cordova and also claimed that if we did not support the move to the Briggs property down by the jail, why our courts will lose $90 million dollars and we will “drop to the bottom of their list of priority” court projects. But a number of judicial council officials have said that both claims are absolutely false. They never heard the idea about moving the courthouse to Rancho Cordova and that they would not do it. Moreover, our county is on top of their list of priorities for construction projects and we are not going to lose that money, we will get it no matter where the courthouse is built or when.

I pointed those errors out to Mike Kobus after his presentation. He has yet to offer corrections. I trust he will soon correct his errors or the Chamber will have one more reason added to a long list about why the public has learned that they cannot believe anything they say. Again, why would anybody hire this group for marketing and public relations work when they have severely damaged their own image, while being clueless to see what the rest of us have seen for years?

Although the Chamber of Commerce supported the city’s tax scheme two years ago, there were a number of those in business and from the community at large who said that they would support a sales tax increase IF it was for a shorter period of time and went specifically for road and water line repairs, rather than go into the general fund as they then wanted. We were not just ignored; we were treated in outrageously rude ways with the mayor at that time arguing with members of the public, cutting off the microphone for citizen speakers and dismissively sending them off. If was offensive, even if I saw the same conduct shown towards children.

Ok, are you starting to get an idea about why I strongly oppose the city’s latest sales tax scheme, Measure L, especially while they continue to show no restraint on their reckless spending ways?

Look at the clip of the Mayor waving his right hand at Evelyn Veerkamp in a condescendingly rude fashion and repeatedly saying, “Bye. Bye. Bye,” after he cut off her microphone, and at that before her promised three minutes was up. Maybe Evelyn might want to share with you the link to that and other shamefully abusive episodes like that.

Imagine, the city, after losing badly at the polls two years ago ---[the city says it lost only by about 20 votes but it was a much bigger loss when you consider that the $14,000 public opinion poll the city paid for with taxpayer monies found that it was supposed to pass by about two thirds so the final vote, that only needed a plurality to win looks pretty damn bad]—the city that is famous for not listing to voters now wants to do exactly what some of us called for two years ago, have it go for a specific purpose, and not go into the general fund, especially with the city’s record of reckless spending. They just don’t listen; they are rude and abusive. 
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One of the many persons the Mayor two years ago was abusive towards was me. Although we are promised three minutes for public comment, not interruptions and arguments from the Mayor, he cut off my microphone when I was talking about the same tax measure.

So I came back to the next meeting [anybody want to look for the meeting tape] and told the Mayor that I can understand how we can all be under pressure and maybe even lose a bit of temper now and then, have a need to blow off steam. And to let him know that I did not take it personally, I said I had a present for him, as I pulled it out of a shopping bag, “A brand new tea kettle inscribed, ‘To Karl Hagan, may you long use it to let off steam.”
Everybody in the room burst out in laughter, except the Mayor and all other from the city. At least one writer of letters said that me doing that was a sign of disrespect. How ignorant! They need to respect the voters and humor was a much kinder, gentler response when suing the city for things like violating the Brown Act might have been more appropriate.

I offered those comments at the first public meeting this year on the infrastructure-tax hike plans, candidly stating that the rude treatment I and others got from the city prompted me to change my position at that time to then oppose the last tax measure and the city engineer loudly responded, “Bad form!.”

How arrogant, how wrong; elected representatives abused us and that was more than just bad form. But thank you again for solidifying one of many reasons to oppose the new tax measure. If we are going to pay the council to abuse us I suspect if most wanted that they would probably hire a dominatrix. Nobody in city government had the integrity or simple decency to distance themselves that abuse. They should be ashamed of themselves for the way the public, those who expressed views different from their strongly held views, was treated.

People who two years ago merely expressed views that the city has now adopted, limit the tax to a specific purpose and not put it in to the general fund. They did not listen. And as last Friday’s noon meeting of the Economic Advisory Committee shows, they have learned absolutely nothing about the need to restrain their reckless spending ways.

Vote NO on Measure L. Send the city a message. They need to learn to do what the rest of us have to do, live within our means.