Living large on Atascadero taxpayers’ dime
March 2, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
After proclaiming a looming fiscal crisis and predicting municipal worker layoffs, Atascadero City Manager Wade McKinney and city taxpayers treated a group of upper level employees to a three-day excursion at an upscale Carmel Valley resort.
But before heading north, McKinney offered city employees a voluntary resignation program: they could receive 30 percent of their pay for vacating their positions; take partial retirement or voluntary furloughs; or accept a reduction in work hours.
“Voluntary programs such as this may go a long way to helping us address our budget challenges,” McKinney wrote in a February 24, e-mail to city employees.
Also helping to address those budget challenges was a journey to the Carmel Valley Lodge for McKinney, department heads, and a few other select employees for three days of strategic planning last week. Lower level employees said they were informed that due to the budget crisis the attendees would be staying in rustic cabins and cooking their own food.
However, it appears McKinney forgot to mention the cottages with kitchens run $339 a night, $375 per night when hotel taxes are included, and come with handmade Shaker furniture, Swedish saunas, hot whirl pool spas, original art work, and garden patios or spacious decks.
McKinney did not return a request for comment.
Ironically, Applied Economic Development, a consulting firm hired by the city to provide a strategic economic plan, reported at last weeks city council meeting that approximately $22 million in Atascadero citizen procurement power was being spent elsewhere. Consultants then recommended options for keeping Atascadero purchasing dollars at home.
Though city council members utilized city facilities for their strategic planning sessions, McKinney’s crew has spent the past few years traveling to resorts for their strategic economic powwows.
“This is a very poor example of fiscal responsibility,” former Mayor Mike Brennler said. “I don’t begrudge them going on a retreat. But during these difficult times should they be taking the entire executive team to a resort? It seems it would have been prudent to spend the money in our local economy.”
McKinney appears to share Brennler’s views, at least in theory, according to a February 25, e-mail from McKinney to city staff.
“I encourage all departments to keep costs down as much as possible, while still maintaining necessary training and travel,” the e-mail says under the title, “Travel and Training.”
UPDATE: Information from Carmel Valley Lodge room billing statement
Room charges alone, for the three day two night excursion, will cost the city $2,638, including a Monterey County tourism assessment of $259. These costs do not include travel, food, and entertainment expenses.
Two Atascadero employees, City Manager Wade McKinney and Assistant City Manager Jim Lewis, opted to stay in the resorts two bedroom fireplace cottages, the lodge’s most expensive rooms.
Nevertheless, the resort provided the employees a group rate with each paying the same per-night, discounted fee of $132 including tax.
Along with McKinney and Lewis, Administrative Services Director Rachelle Rickard, Fire Chief Kurt Stone, Assistant to the City Manager/City Clerk Marcia Torgerson, city attorney Brian Peirik, Police Chief Jim Mulhall, Community Services Director Brady Cherry, Public Works Director Russ Thompson, and Community Development Director Warren Frace traveled north to discuss strategic economic planning.