Mayor Tony Beall seemed to savor the moment, delivered to no more than three members of the public in attendance at last week's City Council meeting for Rancho Santa Margarita.
"With respect to the grand jury, their intentions I think are good—I'll give them an A for their good intentions," Beall, an attorney by trade, said with some mocking authority. "But when it comes to their implementation, I really think they can do better. I give them a D."
The comment was made in response to an Orange County Grand Jury report, delivered by director of administrative services Paul Boyer, in which the grand jury graded the City for compensation cost transparency.
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The grand jury gave the city an A grade for accessibility. And, for content and clarity of the disclosure of compensation for staff executives, the City also received an A grade; however, it received a D grade for the compensation and benefits of "lower level" employees.
Yet Boyer revealed that the information on the city's website that was given a D grade was modeled after the page that was given an A, which left him exasperated much like the council members who heard his explanation.
Additionally, he said, the report was released and cities graded but without their being told what criteria was used for grading. "Until we saw the report, we had no idea what we were graded on or that there was additional information we were being graded on," Boyer said.
All three council members in attendance—Beall, Carol Gamble and Jerry Holloway—had sharp comments about the grand jury's effort. Holloway, who announced he will not seek reelection to a council seat, said he one day hoped to be on the grand jury; Gamble said she hoped he would be on it, too.
"I take offense when the grand jury comes out and assigns an arbitrary grade to our city and others based on criteria that’s never been given to our city," Beall said. "That’s poor form."
"I don't want to get a D, which implies we failed a test that we were never provided," Gamble said. "This entire machination is a giant waste of public money. They just need to tell us what it is and get everyone on the same page, and if you then don’t get on the same page you get a D or an F or a G or whatever letter they want to assign to it. … I’m completely lost. We’ll do whatever you want. We wouldn’t mind finding out what it is before you give us a grade."
Council members asked city manager Jennifer Cervantez to fashion a letter to the grand jury that would have them notify cities of the criteria prior and allow some time for compliance before releasing such grades.
The City has until Sept. 12 to respond to the grand jury, but is not legally bound to come into compliance. The City will comply, however.
Holloway asked Boyer if there was any information that would be witheld from a resident who sought compensation information from the city. There isn't, apart from that which is confidential by law, such as an entire copy of an individual's W-2 tax form.
"The city would not dislcose that information and tie it into a name," Boyer said.
"But if someone came in five years ago and asked what Holloway makes, you'd give it to them," Holloway said.
"Absolutely," Boyer answered.
The dean of students at Santa Margarita Catholic High, Holloway said he thought he would get considerable protest if students walked into class and they were given a grade for something they've not yet done.
"Give me an assignment first," he said. "It's like those (cities) that didn't do it correctly didn't do it intentionally. (The Grand Jury) might have been trying to justify their existence. It's a great idea but oddly structured. There isn't any information the public couldn't get from us."