SLO managers accused of intercepting council mail

February 9, 2012

SLO City Manager Katie Lichtig

By SYDNEY RAY

A San Luis Obispo property owner spoke out on Tuesday about an incident involving mail sent to the City Council members being intercepted, the originals shredded and the correspondence withheld from the city’s elected officials for several days.

At the City Council meeting, Steve Barasch, a SLO resident of 23 years, spoke of his recent attempt to hand deliver five letters marked “personal” to the boxes of City Council members.

Barasch has battled with staff for more than 11 months in an attempt to get code enforcement to deal with a hazardous situation that occurred as the result of a city order to remove a tree on Leff Street next to a rental property he owns. After the tree and its root ball were removed, debris and earth fell into a drainage way where a large open pit now exists.

As a result of the city’s inaction, Farmers Insurance sent a letter to Barasch warning of plans to cancel Barasch’s homeowners insurance if the hazard is not corrected, which in turn could threaten his loan.

“Adjacent to your property, neighboring property and sidewalk is a very dangerous open pit,” the Jan. 24 letter from Farmers Insurance says. “It is alarmingly close to the sidewalk and driveway. Vehicles and pedestrians coming and going on the property are at risk.”

After making multiple calls to city staff asking to have the issue corrected, Barasch attempted to contact council members. Barasch said he handed the letters marked “personal” to the administrative coordinator and asked if they could be placed promptly in the council member’s boxes.

But it seems the letters never quite made it all the way into the Council members’ boxes.

Instead, city staffers read the letters, shredded the originals and the envelopes, and waited until after 5 p.m. two days later before forwarding a copy of the correspondence to the council.

City Attorney J. Christine Dietrick defended the city’s action saying that it is in the public’s interest for city staff to make copies of correspondence regarding city issues because once they are dropped off at city hall they are part of the city record.

“It’s pretty squarely within the definition of a public record…. Therefore the city has an obligation particularly where a correspondence is delivered on an agenda matter to make that agenda distributed to the council and concurrently available to the public,” Dietrick said.

But Barasch and others in the audience remained concerned with the current policy.

“In summary, I think the city needs to review its policies on how to get mail from the constituents to the City Council without any interference whatsoever,” Barasch said. “To that I hope you all can have a discussion of this because I think many of you might be uncomfortable not being able to open your own mail when your constituents want to get information to you.”

SLO resident Leslie Halls worked in the offices of Assemblywoman Carol Hallett and Assemblyman Eric Seastrand for a total of 11 years and said one of her main duties was to open the mail in her bosses’ offices.

“We got about three hundred pieces (of mail) a week,” Halls said. “All the stuff would go to the boss. He would get the original letter back with the letter I was sending, and he signed everything. We never destroyed the mail.”

City manager Katie Lichtig defended the council’s actions.

“The reality is that it saves storage space, it saves trees, it saves expenses, and so this is a longstanding practice that the city has had long before I got here,” Lichtig said. “We do take very seriously our obligation to keep the council informed and transmit in a timely fashion any correspondence that is coming to the office to your attention.”

City Council member Kathy Smith suggested that if constituents want private mail to be received by someone on the council, they should send it to that person’s home address.

Nevertheless, during the past few days city staff has contacted each council member and asked how they would like their mail handled.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Council members Smith, Dan Carpenter and Andrew Carter said they prefer to open their own mail.

Councilman John Ashbaugh said he likes staff to open his mail and determine what mail he receives. Mayor Jan Marx remained silent on the issue. At the end of the discussion, the council voted 4-1 to put the issue on a future agenda for more consideration.

Last week, city staff put up a barrier on the street side of the pit to help safeguard the public until construction to correct the hazard is performed.

Meanwhile, city staff discovered the ditch is a blue water drainage way which means it drains into the ocean. As a result, before permits for construction can be issued, the Department of Fish and Game, the Water Quality Board and Flood Management need to sign off on any proposed work.


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fhill123

Does this mean Big Brother or Big Sister is watching us? Who is John Galt?


mkaney

Government brilliance. It saves time and trees!? I guess she’s not counting the additional employees that are hired to do this, and what extra time, money, and paperwork is involved with them. I’d also like to know what exactly this process is. Are they scanning or retyping the letters? Are they doing it in bulk or are they running them through one at a time?


Crusader

IS:


“…and so this is a longstanding practice that the city has had long before I got here,… — ” What Lichtig said. Pure CYA.


SHOULD BE:


“…I should have stopped this practice as soon as I became aware of it. It will be corrected by close of business today. You have my apologies Mr. Barasch. Please contact me directly if you have any further comments or concerns…” — What Lichtig should have said.


slosheepdog

Is this the same stave “the slumlord” Barasch who specializes in converting single family homes in neighborhoods into conversions to pack as many rental tenants into them as possible. The same one who showed up at the hearing on binding arbitration and read from the recruitment flyer of a management recruitment position of all the pay and benefits and blamed that on binding arbitration. Guess what stevo? The management pay and benefits package you quoted is under direct control of the crooks on City Council which have empowered these incompetent two managers (Lichtig and Dietrick) to continue their path of destruction on the city and their employees. When are you going to understand that Council will protect them and they will protect Council because like any criminal organization if Guido gets rolled up and sent to jail, he (or she in this case) is going to rat on the rest of the crooks in the gang.


slodad

I have a trailer full of sand. Do you want it?


Crusader

I’m especially troubled by the fact that the original copy is shredded…


Sounds like SLO needs an enema as well…


Crusader

I love this! Talk about hitting the mark on Lichtig:



asthecrowphlies

She’s like buying an old salty boat . You love her when you buy her until you realize your just throwing money into a hole in the ocean . Pay her the severance to save the city and SLO will be the fog horn to warn others that may approach her . Getting rid of the ” hassolation ” factor she creates will be worth it along .


As the world turns

Ca. Government Code Section 6254 states that personal information (e.g., home addresses) of certain public officials (e.g., city council) is private and not to be listed without prior approval.


Check it out.


Kevin Rice

It doesn’t actually say that.


SLOreader

Please enlighten me as to what it actually says. I am eager to see your source.


As the world turns

This is no way to run a City. Where did these people get their degrees and work experiences?


SLO City was once highly thought of regarding management. Not anymore. Very sad.


NorCoMod

The city management recruiters armed themselves with some of the highest/wage benefit packages in the state and went looking for the best and the brightest that money could buy. Everything else just fell in place.


That’s what I remember reading anyway.


As the world turns

. . . best and brightest that money could buy.”


What happened?