Consensus comes to VP City Council

By Tina Richards

The Villa Park City Council approved a reimbursement process for CalPERS insurance benefits available to past and present electeds, closing the book on charges that late premium payments made by the former mayor amounted to malfeasance and in-appropriate use of funds.

Dianne Fascenelli’s delinquent reimbursements to the city for insurance payments made on her  behalf  sparked  a  firestorm that divided the council and the community.  Villa Park pays Cal-PERS premiums at the beginning of each month, then invoices the current and former council members enrolled in the program.  Despite the city’s assertion that the late payments had no fiscal impact, and that Fascenelli’s $2,340 in penalties more than covered the reported $16 “loss,” the issue dominated the last four council meetings.

In sharp contrast to those contentious meetings featuring charges, countercharges and personal attacks from public speakers and sitting council members alike, the Jan. 26 hearing on the topic created barely a ripple.

Snooze, you lose

Under the new rules, invoices will be mailed to beneficiaries the first of each month.  Subscribers will have until the 30th of that month to submit payment. If payments are not received, city staff will send a letter, indicating that payment plus a $50 late fee will be due within 10 days.  After a second 10-day warning, policy-holders will be terminated.  In addition, there is no “forgiveness” for premiums owed; the city can initiate a lien on personal income/property if necessary.

Fascenelli recused herself from the discussion and vote. The remaining councilmen all indicated approval of the recommended process, and subsequently voted, 4-0, to accept it.  Rick Barnett noted that the guidelines were okay, “considering there was no problem with write-offs or losses” to begin with.

Bill Nelson, one of the councilmen who helped bring the issue to a head, reported that he, too, was okay with it. “It’s better than what we had.”  There were no public commenters on the topic.

The council agenda also included a discussion of discretionary Consensus comes to VP City Council spending.  Within the past year, the council has approved funding for proposed city improvements that, it turned out, the public did not support.  The city spent $114,000 on engineering studies for undergrounding utilities, a greenbelt development and, most recently, for street widening on three streets.  Those efforts were either abandoned, or cut back due to residents’ opposition.

Not so fast

Rick Barnett suggested that before approving expenditures for a given project, residents should be surveyed to determine their support.  He advocated compiling an email list of residents so they could be advised ahead of time what neighborhood projects are being considered.

The council parleyed the details of the proposal, but was, overall, in harmony over its in-tent.  Bill Nelson questioned at what point in the budget process residents would be surveyed; Fascenelli noted it would work only if “we don’t get the same 20 people” and suggested the survey needed to attract more responders.

City staff was asked to work out the details and bring it back to the February meeting.  “It sounds like we almost agreed on it,” Barnett said.

The council also “almost” agreed not to use city funds to extend the senior mobility program or use city staff to oversee the annual Marine Thanksgiving outreach.  Because there are alternate ride programs available for seniors and Orange County Transportation Authority funds were coming midyear, council members did not see the need to invest in taxi service  at this time.

Considered a “signature” Villa Park event, the annual Marine Thanksgiving was roundly applauded by all on the dais, but because it is a “service program” and not a city activity, it is best left to volunteers.  “Allow me to look for a volunteer organization to take it over,” Fascenelli asked, “and bring it back next month.”

Her colleagues agreed to that.Following the uncommonly brief two-hour meeting, Mayor Greg Mills was told the meeting had been relatively boring. “That’s good,” he said.  “They’re supposed to be boring.”