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Petition Calls for Santa Monica City Manager's Firing
 

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By Jorge Casuso

April 15, 2020 -- A petition to fire City Manager Rick Cole for "abusing power while the City is in a state of emergency" has gathered nearly 2,0000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

The petition -- posted on change.org -- began circulating early Tuesday morning before the City Council unanimously voted to begin shedding hundreds of jobs and planning the permanent closure of programs and services.

The vote came one day after Cole warned the government-mandated shutdown will cost the City an estimated $226 million in lost revenues by July 2021 ("City Faces $226 Million Budget Gap Due to Coronavirus Shutdown," April 13, 2020).

"Wake up, residents! Do you think one month of lost revenues would bankrupt a city with net assets valued at $1.6 BILLION? Of course not!" the petition states.

"Santa Monica is experiencing financial problems because of YEARS of superfluous spending, poor judgment, and a weak City Manager and Assistant City Manager incapable of making tough decisions."

According to the petition -- which also calls for firing Cole's top assistant, Katie Lichtig, -- the Council asked staff to explore three possible scenarios that proposed low, moderate and severe cuts to be discussed in closed session.

"Rick and Katie took it upon themselves to go straight for the severe cuts that would have MAJOR impacts on our residents," reads the petition circulated by Sir Santa Monica Steve.

"City department directors had fewer than 3 days over the Passover, Good Friday, and Easter holidays to prepare their list of services, programs, and city staff that would need to be cut.

"ONLY 3 DAYS to decide to decimate programs, services, facilities, and amenities that are so valuable to our community," the petition says.

The petition acknowledges the City has "seen major losses in revenues due to the COVID-19 crisis."

But it notes Santa Monica has $70 million in financial reserves "expressly for the purposes of sustaining operations during emergencies, disasters, and times of economic uncertainty."

"So why the big rush?"the petition reads. "Why not provide time to conduct a thorough community outreach process?"

In a staff report to the Council, Cole said the City expects to use all of its Economic Uncertainty Reserves and some of its "rainy day fund" to fill a $72 million budget gap in the general fund through June 30.

It also will suspend capital improvement projects, contracts, one-time expenditures and furlough temporary staff.

That would shed approximately $100 million, leaving the City with a $120 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, Cole told the Council Tuesday.

"The rumors and anxiety that have been floated are not without foundation," Cole said before Tuesday's vote.

"We are going to burn through $100 million," he said, "and still have a $120 million hole in next year's budget.

"Even important priorities will have to be postponed," he said. "We will have to make choices that are unprecedented in their negative impacts."

While acknowledging the impacts of the coronavirus shutdowns, the petition blames much of the City's financial gap on its spending policies under Cole's tenure.

"In Rick Cole's 5-year tenure, the City's budget has added $70 million in annual spending and nearly 50 full-time equivalent new positions -- many of them have been for his pet-projects with various 'Chief' position titles," the petition reads.

"The fact that Rick Cole is blaming the Coronavirus for the City's financial state of affairs is disgusting and unforgivable," the petition says.

City officials did not return calls for comment.


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