Council Votes to Spend $200,000 of Taxpayers’ Money to Sue Taxpayers to Prevent Taxpayers from Voting on Sewer Rates Initiative

City-of-DixonIgnores EPA Support of New, Efficient, Environmentally, Effective and More Affordable Technology

It was quite apparent to all in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting of the city council that mayor Jack Batchelor wanted little to no comment from the public on any item as his first announcement was a time limit on speakers. Although the mayor didn’t bother to poll the audience on any specific item on the agenda, he claimed this blanket ban was authority given to him by the council procedural guidelines. When Batchelor called for public comment on items not on the agenda, there were none.

Shortly into the meeting, Councilman Ted Hickman asked that items related to the ser rate roll back initiative be moved up on the agenda for the convenience of those in the audience who wished to speak on the matters. Three separate agenda items on the subject were: the acceptance of the consultant’s report on the impacts of the initiative if it were to pass; the placing of the initiative on a future ballot; and the city attorney’s recommendation that the council let him sue the citizens who had the audacity to attempt to stop another deeply flawed plan to spend $30 million on outdated technology which achieves relatively little.

The consultant Brown and Caldwell were not present to defend their report. It was attacked as being a $20,000 waste of taxpayer money with no real research provided – rather it was a predetermined conclusion designed to advance the activated sludge project despite its flaws. The brilliant conclusion of the report was the initiative:1) would stop the activated sludge project; 2) an election would cause delays in construction timing, and 3) the State could possibly fine the city Dixon for non-compliance.

City attorney Doug White threw out a number of $11 million as the potential fine Dixon faced the last time it was in this position. In 2006 the citizens of Dixon chose to believe the Dixon Chapter of the Solano County Taxpayers Association rather than city staff and council proposal to triple sewer rates that year. The plan at the time was to take liquid effluent by pipe 7 miles south of town and allow it to percolate into a supposedly saltier existing groundwater aquifer.

That plan was patterned after a proposal by the city of Williams and agreed to by the State Water Board. After to Dixon’s rejection of this solution, the city of Williams also decided to do something different. The State Water Board, under the direction of Pamela Creedon as its executive officer/director, retaliated against Dixon’s citizens by fining the city $220,000 and refusing to let the fine be applied to any future project. The city chose not to fight the fine and instead paid it under the direction of the Mary Ann Courville led council of the time.

The Dixon Chapter members who pushed back against the first faulty plan never stated they wanted to do “nothing.”

This time is no different. It was stated many times that the Dixon Chapter backed the illegal 2008 rate increase in order to fund repair work to the head works and associated rehabilitation needs at the existing plant.

The same claim is being made by the taxpayers’ group this time by saying they want alternative technologies such as bacterial pre-treatment and ferrate chemical removal of constituents considered. The city through its staff including the city engineer has fought this at every step including insisting UC Davis be involved as a neutral party to assess the technology’s actual impact.

The second agenda item entailed a decision whether to accept the initiative as repealing the rate increase, placing the initiative on either a special election or regular election ballot, or doing nothing. The decision was made to place the initiative on the next regular ballot which won’t be until November of 2016. The suggestion was made to hold a special election for both the city treasurer (an item later on the agenda) and the initiative. That would have given the citizens the power to say “NO” – a possibility the council fears. The idea to hold such and election was summarily rejected or ignored.

The final agenda item vigorously voted against by Hickman was the decision to use the rate money collected for improving the system – up to $200,000 of it – to take the citizens to court over the constitutionality of the initiative. City Attorney White has stated many times that he views the initiative process invalid in light of Health and Safety codes and a mandate from the State to comply with their cease and desist order. White could not or would not produce the specific code to back up his claim.

The initiative process is a guaranteed right given citizens in the California Constitution. There are no caveats which prevent citizens from attempting to roll back rates which they find inappropriate for any reason. The council – on a four to one vote – approved litigating against the Taxpayers’ group to keep the initiative off the ballot.

Two other items on the agenda also brought out more animosity, one being the argument over whether Dixon is business friendly or not and the other regarding the appointment or election of a city treasurer.

While Ted Hickman argued for creating a committee composed of himself, Scott Pederson, two members of the DDBA and two members of the Chamber of Commerce, Jerry Castañon denied there was even a need for this. Both he and Batchelor have maintained that the perceived reputation of Dixon being unfriendly to business is in the minds of few negative people.

After Scott Pederson made certain statements, Hickman suggested he would take back his offer of inclusion on the committee. The final result was to give direction to bring the item back in February with a more solid idea of how a committee will be set up so businesses won’t have to fear retaliation from city staff or city government.

The final action of the council was to appoint Dane Besneatte as the city treasurer. Government code states the council has to decide whether to appoint or to hold a special election. This action was never taken by the council and the city attorney stated it was his recommendation to simply publicize the appointment and take applications. White did, however, qualify a late application submitted by former councilman Michael Ceremello who agreed with Hickman and his suggestion to put the position out to a vote.

After Hickman again commented it should go to a vote, Pederson stated: “it would be a waste of $85,000 to let the people vote.” Hickman immediately challenged, saying Pederson had campaigned on his stance for allowing people to vote on just these types of decisions. Pederson accused Hickman of attempting to put words in his mouth but was heckled by several in the audience who agreed with Hickman that this is exactly what Pederson had said.

At this point, Pederson had turned around in his chair, looked highly agitated almost to the point of wanting to go to blows with Hickman, before Hickman called on the mayor to rein in his protégé.

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