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.


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6 Comments

  1. ccn_debate says:

    Member Opinions:
    By: Truthbeknown on 3/7/09
    LoWang on 3/7/09 said "Dash – schools, workshops, retreats; They're all dependent on what YOU, the participant DECIDE to make of it. If your group chose to make horsesh*t of it, then that's exactly what you got. Jeesh! some people…"

    Excellent point, LoWang! Let me add, "life in general" to your list.

    We shall see the results of the retreat by the fruit that does or does not come out of it. Stay tuned to future council meetings.
    By: LoWang on 3/7/09
    Dash – schools, workshops, retreats; They're all dependent on what YOU, the participant DECIDE to make of it. If your group chose to make horsesh*t of it, then that's exactly what you got. Jeesh! some people…
    By: DashRiprock on 3/5/09
    LoWang, been to plenty of retreats, use to work for probably the biggest corporate employer in the county….retreats and "lets all be one with nature" were are all complete HORSESH*T….not one thing was worthwhile or ever had any lasting benefit…the only benefit of working for "the man" is you can screw off on the publics dime…..which the city of Atas does very well….
    By: LoWang on 3/5/09
    Karen acts like she's trying to make an AIG "post-bailout party" or MCI worldcom fleecing case out of the little town of Atascadero. They carpooled. Continental breakfast was provided, they "brown bagged" their own lunches, and prepared dinner in-room. The idea of a workshop retreat is to concentrate on the subject at hand without distractions. Yes, it's unfortunate that they contributed to Monterey County's tax revenue instead of keeping it 'in town,' but you critics apparently haven't been to a retreat or out of town training to realize the efficiency of such workshops.

    And "Handmade shaker furniture?" What thef is outrageous about THAT? Have you ever SAT in shaker furniture? Not plush, by any means.

    Karen did a POOR job of researching the article, and as absurd as it seems, smacks of Bush-Republican misinformation.
    By: Booty_Juice on 3/5/09
    Thank you Mr. Early Retirement Public Trough Feeder for acknowledging that actual accomplishment for Teet Sucklers is only possible if they are sent to out of town resorts at public expense, and we await your explanation of just what exactly was achieved on this particular jaunt that could not be achieved in town.
    By: Unbelievable on 3/5/09
    Lo Wang, I'm glad you're okay with what's been reported so far. But remember, that's only the room bill. There is nothing there for transportation, food, or entertainment. Those bills will come in separately and will most likely just show on Wade's or Jim's credit cards.
    It's just very ironic that the people that see each other every day have to travel out of the City to go talk about why people are spending their money outside of town. Especially when all involved claim that the City has no money to pay for anything. Just because you are financially capable of retiring on 30% of your salary doesn't mean that everyone else is. Did any of the top earners in the City take the same deal? I bet your salary came no where close to the outrageous salaries of Wade and Jim. What sacrifices did they make to alleviate the damages done by their policies?
    By: LoWang on 3/5/09
    As one of those who is considering taking early retirement, I'm not at all offended that city staff spent some cash for their strategic planning RETREAT. Have you ever been to a retreat? One where work is actually accomplished? You can't get that kind of achievement at home. Karen, I appreciate your going back and clarifying the actual costs (which don't seem to be all THAT extravagant), but a good journalist would've got her facts straight in the first place. Looking at their actual expenditures, it seems they were relatively frugal.

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  2. ccn_debate says:

    By: Truthbeknown on 3/4/09
    InTheKnow on 3/4/09 said: [edited] . . . except for TruthBeKnow, who I classify as a troll. He complains about every article, regardless, with no balance."

    Not true. I only "complain" about the stories that have no merit, or are not in keeping with the stated goals of this blog.
    By: Unbelievable on 3/4/09
    Hands up everyone who takes their families to DisneyLand to discuss the family budget and whether or not they can afford to pay the mortgage this month? I can get discount day passes if that sweetens the deal!

    Oh Insider, is that you or are you just needing to go to the bathroom?

    By: outsider on 3/4/09
    Cant Mike Brennler get to the bottom of this..?
    By: insider on 3/4/09
    to InTheKnow,

    I call em like I see em. I do have a lot of problems with government. However if the team of top management staff is meeting at a retreat for two days to come up with ways to seriously slash the citys budget I say bravo! If they were paying some outrageous rate for the accomidations I would have a problem. That does not seem to be the case. I really don't think they could do such sensitive buisness as this in the heart of Atascadero.
    By: mccdave on 3/4/09
    Companies I've worked for have done off-site meetings, but locally. There's benefit to getting out of the office and focusing, but that can be achieved in town.
    By: InTheKnow on 3/4/09
    How about they stay in their own homes. We are laying off teachers, doubling class sizes, and asking employees to cut salaries.

    Also, if they have to stay in a hotel to think, the Carlton has average rates $165 per night on classic king room. If McKinney could have negotiated a special rate, it would have been much lower with no travel time and costs.

    Nevertheless, its sick that they left town and spent tax payer money to discuss saving money by cutting salaries of lower income employees.

    And Insider, what happen to you? You used to take a skeptical look at city government. Now you want to say everything is rosey no matter what. I listened to Congalton last night, every caller was opposed to this type of spending at this time. People on both sides of the political spectrum find this appalling.

    Well except for TruthBeKnow, who I classify as a troll. He complains about every article, regardless, with no balance.
    By: Truthbeknown on 3/4/09
    DashRiprock on 3/3/09 said: "How about the Cambria Pines Lodge?"

    I agree that is a good choice as well, but a quick check of room rates reveals rooms fetch over $300 also. I suppose you might save $20 in gas, though.

    As I said before, $132 is very reasonable and I commend McKinney for his negotiating skills.
    By: Truthbeknown on 3/4/09
    Whatever you say, Mac.

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  3. ccn_debate says:

    By: mcdonald on 3/3/09
    TruthBeKnown
    You knew the room price before anyone knew it on this site or stated it or updated the article. Who are you kidding DF? Just go back and look. What a joke. TBK is one of the 10 folks that went on the retreat and he obviously didn't get smart going to the Carmel resort!
    By: Truthbeknown on 3/3/09
    mcdonald on 3/3/09 said: "Did you all notice that TruthBeKnown knew exactly how much Wade paid for the rooms? He is one of the 10 and I think Insider is too."

    Mac, the actual room price was stated in the updated portion of the article, as well as the illegally obtained billing statement.

    And no, I am not one of the 10. I am merely a taxpayer of the city who does not have a problem with what occured, as I understand the value of retreats. I also appreciate all the hard work that our city staff and management does. Thank you Mr McKinney for your leadership!
    By: insider on 3/3/09
    By the way. I think Dash and Booty should get together. They would make a perfect couple.
    By: insider on 3/3/09
    Most of or all of the people on the list are management. I don't know for certain but it is my experience that management are salaried positions. Therefore they don't work by the hour and did not recieve hourly pay for the trip. I am not a part of the City and in fact am often at odds with them. With that said the group listed are hard working and put in more hours than most. I'm not saying I agree with everything they do but I am saying we get our hours out of them and more.
    By: DashRiprock on 3/3/09
    If you estimate what they make an hour….assuming 10 people at 2.5 hours up, and 2.5 hours back, thats $5,000 just sitting in the car, not including the garbage check in time and smoke breaks on the way, etc.
    By: DashRiprock on 3/3/09
    How about the Cambria Pines Lodge? That's rustic, secluded, out of the way…they could have their drinks while laughing at the little guy suffering and more upcoming turmoil….plus it is in THE COUNTY! How about leaving our money here?
    By: mcdonald on 3/3/09
    Did you all notice that TruthBeKnown knew exactly how much Wade paid for the rooms? He is one of the 10 and I think Insider is too.
    By: MartinW on 3/3/09
    Insider
    Which one of the 10 that attended the retreat is you?
    By: insider on 3/3/09
    The group of people listed work long extended hours for the City. They are not hourly employees. Of course they need to get out of town to come together as a group in a neutral environment without Karen, Dan or apparently David Broadwater lurking in the corner. We need to cut expenses at the City and it is a tough job. These are the people that need to make the tough decisions and they probaly do need a relaxed environment in which to conduct these meetings. I hand it to the City Manager for recognizing the necessity of cost controll and getting such a good deal for the City. What we need to do is promote other citys to do their retreats here. Maybe Weyrick can return the favor and offer his rooms to some other City for $132.
    By: MartinW on 3/3/09
    What the heck did they have to leave town for in the first place? can't they just go to work like most everyone else? A retreat? Sounds like a privileged few had a good time on my tax $$.
    Mr McKinney and management,have your meetings at city hall where you belong. I think you should all pay the money back.

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  4. ccn_debate says:

    By: Truthbeknown on 3/3/09
    InTheKnow on 3/3/09 said: "I checked out the Carmel Valley Lodge site. The cottage, the one Wade was in, runs $339 a night. The story is accurate, it says runs a night."

    Who cares what it runs per night? What matters is what they actually paid, a very reasonable $132 a night.

    "In the land of secrets, it is tough to get accurate info. I've talked to city insiders, those not invited were kept in the dark or lied to."

    Upper management in any organization doesn't tell lower employees their plans. Does your boss run everything by you before he does it?

    "It is disgraceful, that after sending e-mails discussing cutting back employees or travel, McKinney leaves on a trip out of town."

    RHIP = rank has its priviliges.

    "Truthbeknown, retreats are common, but currently fiscal responsibility is a top priority. You don't ask lower paid employees to accept pay cuts and go on a retreat."

    I don't think 2.6K to come up with solutions will break the bank.

    "Also, the Carmel Valley Lodge appears to be the most expensive lodging in that area."

    Once again, look at what was actually paid.

    "You sound like a close personnel friend of the cities last man of the year. Everything he does is right. Come to think of it, you complain about every article on this site. Shoot the messenger. Something to hide?"

    Nope, never met him and I've nothing to hide.

    After listening to Velie on Congleton, my opinion stays the same. Yet another one -sided and biased story.

    By the way, Broadwater . . . you should quit smoking. I could hardly understand a word you said with all that wheezing over the phone! And isn't it illegal to receive government property/documents that don't belong to you?

    Perhaps an investigation is in order?
    By: Jordan on 3/3/09
    Insider,
    If they had gone to the Carlton Hotel they wouldn't have had to spend the night with private rooms for everyone.The Carlton has meeting rooms. Get a clue.
    By: insider on 3/3/09
    On Daves show they wonder why the City didn't stay at the Carlton. If the Carlton had rooms for $132 a night they wouldn't have the problems they have. Weyrick would have charged the City double what they paid in Carmel. Karens got this one wrong. I would also like to know what lie Broadwater told to get that bill from the hotel.
    By: Joe on 3/3/09
    Awesome.

    Carmel is a day trip or at least Monterrey aquarium is (was) for my family.

    I'm sure even with kitchens in the cabins, they didn't all cook for themselves, Where is the closest Jack in the box or Taco bell to the lodge? Oh nevermind, I'm sure it will all be explained in an expense report.
    By: karen on 3/3/09
    I will be on the Dave Congalton show tonight at 5:00 to discuss this issue. Go to 920 AM or listen live at 920KVEC.com.
    By: Cindy on 3/3/09
    I just took an IQ test in my office. This weekend I'm going to the Carmel Valley Lodge and I'm going to take another one to see if I'm any smarter.

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  5. ccn_debate says:

    By: Laura on 3/3/09
    I have to ask the following question. Why did Wade and Jim both get two bedroom cottages? I ask because I hear that they took friends and family along with them. If this is true one has to wonder how much work they actually got done and who paid for the steaks? The resort is complete with spas, heated pools, entertainment, etc come on folks, this sounds more like a party on the tax payers to me. Whats wrong with working at the beautiful new city hall that we all pay for? Whats wrong with going home to your own bed at night like the rest of the working class do?
    By: insider on 3/3/09
    If they figured a way to reduce our budget by a few million I'm all for it. Play a round of golf while your there for all I care but lets get a balanced budget.
    By: Michelle on 3/3/09
    Lets face it. They could have just as easily got a meeting space here in Atascadero and gone home at night. It isn't necessary for the big wigs to run up to Carmel for 3 days when other city workers are being asked to cut back hours, take lay offs or retire. Thats just plain common sense.
    By: Nancy on 3/3/09
    Hummm, They forgot to take the zoo director along, Al Baker.
    By: InTheKnow on 3/3/09
    I checked out the Carmel Valley Lodge site. The cottage, the one Wade was in, runs $339 a night. The story is accurate, it says runs a night. In the land of secrets, it is tough to get accurate info. I've talked to city insiders, those not invited were kept in the dark or lied to.

    It is disgraceful, that after sending e-mails discussing cutting back employees or travel, McKinney leaves on a trip out of town.

    Truthbeknown, retreats are common, but currently fiscal responsibility is a top priority. You don't ask lower paid employees to accept pay cuts and go on a retreat. Also, the Carmel Valley Lodge appears to be the most expensive lodging in that area.

    You sound like a close personnel friend of the cities last man of the year. Everything he does is right. Come to think of it, you complain about every article on this site. Shoot the messenger. Something to hide?
    By: SensitiveGuy on 3/3/09
    I tell ya i'm really surprised that something like this could be going on under the tuteledge of the Flim Flam Man.As Washinton does so does the rest of the Country…………….
    By: Truthbeknown on 3/2/09
    DashRiprock on 3/2/09 incorrectly surmised: "A "few measley thousand"? You sir, are part of the problem. "

    No Dash, this biased story is the problem. First, before checking their facts, the reporter incorrectly states "McKinney forgot to mention the cottages with kitchens run $339 a night, $375 per night when hotel taxes are included," when in fact the city only paid $132 plus tax. That is a very reasonable rate. I doubt the city could have done much better had they stayed in the county.

    Now, go online and do a search for reviews of the Carmel Valley Lodge. It is far from the luxurious place the reporter would have you believe it is. This article is nothing more than more of the same McKinney bashing.
    By: DashRiprock on 3/2/09
    A "few measley thousand"? You sir, are part of the problem.
    By: Truthbeknown on 3/2/09
    So what is the problem here? Retreats for management staff are common in the private and public sector. They are always done offsite. Going offsite facilitates bonding and brainstorming, usually to focus on a specific area or goal, in this case the difficult economic challenges ahead. The records are public, so there is nothing to hide. A few measley thousand dollars to come up with solutions is a small price to pay.

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  6. ccn_debate says:

    By: DashRiprock on 3/2/09
    WHAT A BUNCH OF PRICKS!! In this economy when people are hurting they live large like this?….if shit doesn't hit the fan here there is something seriously wrong…UNBELEIVABLE
    By: mccdave on 3/2/09
    That's strange. For some reason the Carmel Valley Lodge redacted the $5.99 charges for the in-room movies, "Joy in Mudville" and "Cannery Row 3: Deep Sea Fishing."

    (But I think even the Atascadero city manager wouldn't post a 2.5MB Word file when a couple of 100K GIFs would work.)
    By: mccdave on 3/2/09
    Actually Atascadero recently reincorporated as a bank holding company and received TARP funds, so city management is supposed to be taking far more lavish retreats than this and Wade McKinney is required to refurnish his office using items from the John Thane Collection (and sell the old stuff on eBay's Good Enough For Government Collection).
    By: Booty_Juice on 3/2/09
    These Atrashcabama Ruling Class members did nothing more than any of the other drooling, meth riddled, booze soaked, stabbing, wife beating, uncle daddy citizens would have done, i.e., seize any available opportunity to get out of that rancid, decaying, stinking bog on someone else’s dime.

    You know it’s true.

    By: BIG_SMILES on 3/2/09
    Luna had a chance to get McKinney out. He didn't take it and we all can only ask why? Why? We are now stuck with this manipulative, controlling, sociopath, freak. Thanks George.
    By: mcdonald on 3/2/09
    Well it's just so hard to run this city with these employees. Anyone could become upset at any time and start talking. Lets be good to the staff at all costs. Just listen to McKinney at times, look at his past dealings with staff and you know what I'm talking about.
    By: mrehand on 3/2/09
    No surprise here kudos to the strong work and real journalistic integrity of the uncovered slo gang. Because of their tireless efforts to keep elected officials and their appointed minions accountable the citizens are beginning to see the light! Now if we could only shine more light on SLO…
    By: JorgeEstrada on 3/2/09
    This is why we are in a FISCAL CRISIS. As for locally, this issue is like a complaint about someone playing with matches in hell.
    My retro-spective.
    By: Afriendindeed on 3/2/09
    This is an absolute outrage. the City Council needs to reprimand McKinney. I agree with Newsome — the Carleton is standing empty. Why not have your "retreat" there? Amazing. Sad. Pathetic.
    By: outsider on 3/2/09
    It is amazing what people do and the decisions they make…maybe a day to one of our local beaches..
    By: Cindy on 3/2/09
    WOW.. That cost us tax payers over $1K per person before adding travel expenses, food and some probable entertainment. Such a "cushy" job. So how many people attended? Wade I hope you know that spending money like this during these economic hardships is just pure self serving BS. It's easy to spend "other peoples money" isn't it? I'm pleased to see that our CC has more respect for us citizens and to think they work for free without all the "perks". Shame on you.
    By: curlyp on 3/2/09
    We need to throw these fools out of office. How can they justify the retreat in the current times. They could have stayed locally, saving some money and spending at one of our own businesses
    By: Newsome on 3/2/09
    There has got to be a sad joke in here somewhere about holding the retreat at the Carleton.

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