A new set of web pages nips at the heels of Beaumont city government, criticizing it for “cronyism” and overusing contractors to do city business.
But the Beaumont city manager says he isn’t insulted by the barbs.
“I think it’s a good learning experience,” said City Manager Alan C. Kapanicas. “Either we’ve done something wrong and we’ve got to fix it or we’ve got to explain what we did right.”
In September, Beaumont Citizens for Responsible Growth launched a series of pages on its website detailing its allegations of conflicts of interest and cronyism within the city administration. It cites a series of contracts for city business that stretch back 16 years.
BCRG is bidding to bill the conflict as “Beaumontgate;” and has sub-pages devoted to Quality of Life, Impact on Existing Businesses, Cost to Taxpayers, and Favoritism and Cronyism. See the website here.
The site claims that Urban Logic is paid commissions that provide incentives to maximize growth and that this contract allows it to profit from each approved development. Additionally, it permits the city to “award high-dollar public contracts to a small group of friends and associates instead of to the lowest bidder.”
The citizens group posted the new webpage because of inquiries from residents about the extensive outsourcing, said the BCRG’s president, Judith Bingham.
“The website came about because at the September City Council meeting we had some people finally taking interest, some of the new people in town,” said Bingham.
There are plenty of new people: Beaumont has tripled in size. According to the US Census, the city’s population was 11,384 in 2000. In a January 2010 estimate from the State, the population had grown to 34,217.
The Nov. 2 election is “the only way to break the grip of their power structure,” said Bingham, saying the city manager and a majority on the council work together on a pro-growth agenda, while BCRG does its part to encourage preservationist candidates.
Bingham, who owns a wholesale nursery in the city, tangled with city officials six years ago as they pursued eminent domain on part of her property. She fought back and countered by making public records requests of the city. Bingham felt the city and its planning consultant, Urban Logic Consultants, responded by harassing and intimidating her.
City officials deny those and other allegations put forth on the BCRG’s website. In response, the city posted its 1994 contract with Urban Logic Consultants. It was a move designed to increase transparency, as BCRG has advocated for years, said Bingham.
The city’s also has a page on its website for “Myths and Facts about Contract Employees,” refuting the serious allegations without citing the citizens group by name. See the webpage here.
The page explains that the contracting of services is common among cities. It states that Beaumont has 146 full-time city employees, 51 part-timers and 26 contract employees.
The city website, in its defense of contract employees, states: “Beaumont saves about $1 million a year by sparingly using contract employees and consultants, who come largely from the private sector. Often, these part-time, highly trained workers are only used for special projects and during peak periods like a building boom.”
Kapanicas defended the ability of city management and the council to decide on using contracts, depending on the size and duration of a project, as well as the expertise available on staff.
Ernest Egger, a planning services consultant to Beaumont for Urban Logic, also denies the allegations, and bristles at some of the accusations on BCRG website. He says they are “ludicrous” and grossly inaccurate.
“The services we provide – plan checking and construction inspection services – are set forth contractually on a time- and materials- basis, not to exceed certain percentages … percentages that are customary to the industry,” said Egger.
Egger said it’s the “dissidents that have really been around hounding the city and the City Council … This stuff makes good political fodder with an election coming up.”
Egger, as an employee of Urban Logic, was contracted by the city in 1993 to be Planning Director for the city. Beaumont was much smaller then and was struggling to develop a program to make wastewater treatment and infrastructure improvements with limited finances.
Around 2005, Kapanicas made plans to bring more planning functions back to be done by city staffers. Egger helped with the transition, including training of city staff. He stepped down in 2009 from the planning director position and remains as a planning consultant for the city.
Egger’s former position as Planning Director – and two other positions previously contracted out, Economic Development Director and Public Works Director – remain unfilled.
Those positions are listed on the city Web site as “vacant since Aug. 2009.” However, there are funds allocated for them and plans are being made to fill them, Kapanicas said.
“The city is run like a business,” said Egger. Egger and Kapanicas take pride in city management, and point to the evidence of Beaumont’s growth in population and business developments in the recession of the last couple of years.
The city’s website gives promotes its “innovative local economic Stimulus Program,” which earned the city the prestigious Helen Putnam Award from the League of California Cities.
Since the stimulus program began in February of 2009, Beaumont reported cutting fees on 1,793 permits, ranging from a patio cover for swimming pools to a brand new home. The program helps “homeowners, merchants, builders and contractors through the hard times,” according to a city press release.
“Everyone benefits when cities decide to give back to the communities that they serve,” said Beaumont Mayor Brian De Forge.
BCRG decries the city’s “rapid and unchecked growth, which has resulted from Urban Logic’s contract with the city.” And its website says that the sweetheart deal with Urban Logic has cost city taxpayers millions.
Kapanicas said, “It’s good to have populist involvement,” while adding that he thinks BCRG has a very small number of members and followers of its website.
Lance Howland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org