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Ad Hoc Committee Brings Out Discussion

POSTED April 20, 2011 2:30 a.m.

The naming of members to an ad hoc committee that will be exploring a possible sales tax increase generated a plethora of community speakers ranging in disagreement from the proper name of the committee to the opposition of imposing a temporary sales tax increase in the city.

Earlier this month, the council appointed Oakdale Irrigation District board member Frank Clark and former city councilwoman Mickey Peabody as co-chairs of the committee regarding a temporary sales tax increase to help manage the city budget.

On Monday, the pair returned to announce five additional members consisting of Oakdale Saddle Club President Ed Viohl, House of Beef owner Steve Medlen, Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Mary Guardiola, Century 21 M&M and Associates vice president Jan Brennan, and Sierra Foothills Community Free Methodist Church Pastor Henry Raven.

Councilman Mike Brennan will be the city council liaison to the committee.

Over the last three years, the City of Oakdale has lost $3.4 million from its general fund budget, including $765,000 in cuts from the upcoming 2011-2012 budget. Proponents believe a half-cent sales tax increase could generate over $1 million to city coffers.

Oakdale resident Roger Beymer disputed that the name of the committee could be called “ad-hoc” because it was not comprised of city council members.

The Brown Act defines an “ad hoc” as a committee that “…has a special task or assignment and the committee does not survive the completion of the task and is compromised solely of less than a quorum of the members of the body.”

Beymer, Clark, and City Attorney Tom Hallinan discussed their interpretations of the Brown Act’s definition. The dispute seemed to center on the word “solely.”

Hallinan finally clarified that the committee could only have no more than two council members so there was no quorum of voting members.

Even after clarification, Beymer still disputed naming the group an “ad hoc committee” and urged a name similar to an advisory commission.

“I don’t see what taking off ‘ad hoc’ changes,” said Hallinan.

“You might as well change the name then to the ‘Frank Clark Committee’,” claimed Beymer.

Clark approached the podium, read the Brown Act section on ad hoc committees, and asserted the committee was well within the proper definition.

“We can throw this around all day long,” said Clark. “This is silly.”

Council members Katherine Morgan and Jason Howard seemed to agree that the commission was properly named as an “ad hoc” committee.

Howard described the conversation as, “Much ado about nothing. It’s a name.”

Larry Kay encouraged the council to avoid the wording ‘ad hoc’ and call the committee an advisory commission.

The title of the committee was not the only topic that sparked responses.

Former Oakdale Mayor Farrell Jackson spoke, acknowledging that typically an ad hoc group in the past had one to two council members on its committee. He clarified, however, that he was not in favor of any sales tax increase, stating the problem with the city’s budget was “atrocious” and have been impacted by enhanced employee retirement and benefit costs that have sharply risen over the last few years.

Jackson praised the council for instituting the two-tier retirement system as a start, but said more concessions needed to be made before implementing a sales tax initiative.

“What incentives are you giving citizens of Oakdale to shop in Oakdale?” asked Jackson. “Fix expenditures before raising taxes.”

Oakdale resident Mike Hancock suggesting better management of city funds rather than a sales tax increase. Hancock cited recent well expenditures and public works projects that have cost the city thousands of dollars in excess expenses.

Other speakers followed who echoed the same message: No sales tax increase is necessary.

Clark wanted to make sure the audience understood that the committee was exploratory and not just about public safety.

“But 76 percent of the budget goes to public safety,” countered Jackson.

After the meeting Mickey Peabody said that she wants citizens to understand that the committee is not in favor one way or another of a tax increase.

“We’re an exploratory group,” said Peabody. “That means we’re going to find out if it’s feasible and would be accepted by the citizens. We’re only going to advise the council of what we find out.”

Guardiola said her role was to represent Oakdale business owners’ interests and if the business owners were not in favor of an increase, she would not be in favor.

During a closed session prior to its regular meeting on Monday, the city council discussed the job performance of City Manager Steve Hallam. Mayor Pat Paul said that the review of Hallam is part of an annual assessment of the city manager. She added the closed session meeting is only the start of the evaluation process, which could take a few weeks to complete.

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