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Council Gets Chippy Over Business Development

Carol Gamble has words for Steve Baric and Jesse Petrilla when they choose not to move forward with a recommended plan to attract and retain business. They fire back.

A Rancho Santa Margarita City Council meeting that began with hugs and kisses ended with spears and arrows.

After a gentle opening in which community leaders and members were in agreement in their praise of Jack Leonard, the last original member of the planning commission who retired after 12 years, and after several commendations acknowledging pre-schoolers, and seniors pushing 90 years of age, the final meeting of January got pointed.

The subject was whether the council would follow the recommendation of City staff to award a business development contract to Economic Development Services of California, which is owned by Suzanne Singh. She is president of the Rancho Santa Margarita Chamber of Commerce.

The City solicited two dozen companies but received only four Requests for Proposals, and Singh's provided the most hours dedicated to the acquisition and retention of businesses in the City (estimated 1,200 hours vs. 600 compared to the next-most inexpensive option) at the lowest price, not to exceed $75,816 over the course of this year.

She eventually won the vote, 3-2, with Mayor Tony Beall, mayor pro tem Carol Gamble and councilman Brad McGirr voting in favor. Voting against the City's recommendation were Steve Baric and Jesse Petrilla.

Both men prefaced their comments by speaking highly of Singh. Baric said he wasn't going to vote for EDS because the RFP lacked a plan, which Beall later disputed, and that the duties "will be slightly different than developing the Chamber." He eventually offered a compromise: Approving portions of the contract incrementally.

Petrilla admitted the EDS proposal provided "the most bang for the buck," but "looking at the economic climate in Rancho Santa Margarita at this time, as things are greatly improving, I don't feel the need for us to spend over $75,000 in taxpayers' money on this at a time when it may not be fully needed."

Petrilla sat on the board of the RSM Business Alliance and used that association to build his resume prior to being elected in 2010; he advocated the need for a stronger business presence in the process. But when he said he wanted to stand pat because the business climate was good, Gamble took him to task for his support of Kenney Hrabik, a City Council candidate who derided the city's business climate from January to November before getting beaten badly by Gamble and Beall in the election.

Gamble pointed out Hrabik's role in creating the RSM Voter's Bill of Rights, which proferred the city's business climate was poor and ranked behind cities such as New Orleans, Philadelphia and El Centro in a national survey though the survey never actually included RSM. Coincidentally, the co-author of the "Bill of Rights" was Baric's appointee to the Planning Commission, Peter Whittingham.

"You put trucks around RSM with Kenney’s name on it who perpetrated that fraud called the voter's bill of rights because you felt that the business climate in Rancho Santa Margarita was terrible," Gamble said. "Now it's time to actually do something ... and if this proposal doesn't turn out to be what you want, then roll up your sleeves and tell us what you want because we've been waiting for two years, and if you have input into the RFP that you wanted some outcome in these proposals, where were you? ... I've had it up to my eyeballs with all this stonewalling.

"We want economic development in this city, our residents deserve the restaurants, the businesses, the venues. Our citizens deserve these places to work and enjoy, and if we don’t get off our duff and stop talking about it, it’s not going to happen. ... Doing nothing is not a battle strategy in this economy." 

Beall asked Kathleen Haton if she received any comments or concerns from his council colleagues about the plans in the proposals.

"No, I didn't," said the director of development services for the City.

Baric then took on Gamble and accused her of making things personal on the council when they didn't need to be.

"You seem to get really excited when people are in opposition to what you believe in," Baric said, adding that his decisions are "not based on personalities" and that Singh had "no prior experience and we're going to give an almost $100,000 contract based on that. ... One would argue that you go with a newcomer who brings new energy and excitement, but as a steward of the taxpayers' money, that's my legitimate concern."

Gamble responded it was a legitimate concern, but Singh's experience with the Chamber was the experience Baric said was lacking.

"I think I have a vantage point and an opportunity to have observed some things that you haven’t," Gamble said, referring to her own attendance at Chamber of Commerce functions. "Suzanne Singh ... has developed and changed the Chamber in the two years since she introduced herself to the council and I’ve seen it grow … so that it’s thriving to a membership like I’ve never seen in all the years I’ve been in business here in town or on the council. I've seen this and because I don’t see you there, I know you’re not seeing what I’m seeing."

Baric: "Well, you were just running for reelection, thank you very much. I spent a lot of time at the chamber earlier. Yes, you did spend a lot of time there recently. I know that you helped form the city and you’re the only one doing anything, Carol."

Gamble: "That’s terribly personal."

Baric: "That’s right. You should know. What I’m telling you is I’m perfectly aware of what [Singh's] doing and what she’s accomplished. The thing is, I sit here every council meeting practically, and if Jesse votes on something you come after him. And quite frankly I think we should focus on the issues."

Gamble: "Would you like to have the conversation about Jesse or would you like to have a conversation about the issues?"

Baric: "The issues."

Gamble: "I'd like to talk about the issues, and Suzanne Singh and her work with the Chamber of Commerce is unparalleled."

Gamble went on to say Singh "is not only demonstrating her skills every day" in a nonpaid capacity as Chamber president, but "she's demonstrating them in front of all of us which is something most contractors we hire in the City don't do."

Baric admitted, "I was there when she took over the Chamber and it was in shambles and she turned it around," then offered his compromise of approving portions of the contract incrementally.

McGirr managed to avoid the fray. He talked about business acquisition and retention and said EDS' competition for the City's contract was offering "50 percent less work for 40 percent more money," and that the EDS contract was a bargain. "When it comes to business retention, Ms. Singh knows every business owner in this city on a first-name basis," McGirr said. "I know because she's introduced me to half of them."

The gamesmanship wasn't done.

Petrilla, who was deployed with the California Army Natinal Guard to Afghanistan from May 1, 2012 to Sept. 14, responded to Gamble's comments: "I thought the election was over and had hoped that coming back from Afghanistan—so far we have been able to address the issues and talk about the issues and not about politics. ... It's unfortunate that has been brought back up but the election has seemed to continue into January and I think it's an amazing magic trick that I was able to, quote, 'You put those trucks around town.' I think that's a magic trick that I did from 10,000 miles away and I would like to move on from that election and to only talk about the issues."

Beall then said he had "a question for you, Councilmember Petrilla."

Petrilla quickly responded: "I'm not going to sit here and be cross-examined."

Beall, in his third year as mayor, said his question was "in good faith" because "when you were elected you were one of the most vocal advocates for the need to do increased economic development. ... If this isn't the direction you think we should go, do you believe there is additional economic development activity this City Council should be engaging in to help improve our business community, or is it now your position that things are good and there's no need to do any additional economic development from the City's standpoint? I just want to understand on a going forward basis what your goals will be so that we can help achieve them."

Petrilla: "I'm not going to sit here and be cross-examined. I've stated the economic climate in the city has turned around greatly from where it was in the recession and it's truly a great thing, and is this really needed is my only point when I said that."

Petrilla, 29, has good reason to move on from the election and any political missteps he may have made; he announced last month his intention to run for state assembly.

Still, Petrilla didn't get in the last word. That belonged to Gamble during councilmember statements.

She talked about the most recent Chamber of Commerce function at Rancho Santa Margarita Honda attended by about 60 people.

"The number of people who were there was a testament to Suzanne Singh and the Chamber and its board of directors," Gamble said.

"Councilmember Baric and Petrilla, you would have really enjoyed yourselves."

John Webb February 11, 2013 at 06:04 PM
Martin, I agree with revr1 as to the value of this article. I hope you will continue to not only report on Council actions, but also on both sides of each issue. This was helpful.
April Josephson February 11, 2013 at 09:47 PM
Martin, thank you for putting so much effort into getting all of the quotes and details into this story. It is good that we have Patch to concisely disseminate information to those who otherwise wouldn't understand what our city government does. Anyone can listen to the city council meetings online on the city's website at cityofrsm.org However, most people don't take the time to do so. As a former member of the city's Economic Development Committee—which was put on hiatus two years ago—I have been watching this council go through a reevaluation process to determine how best to approach economic development. I was pleased to see that the city is getting back on track with a cost-effective, results-oriented, proactive solution.
Donnamarie CarenzaKline February 12, 2013 at 05:30 AM
It's a shame Ms. Gamble was not as supportive of the RSM CHAMBER/Business Alliance when it initially formed. Maybe at that time it had something to do with Pre-councilman Petrilla playing a major role in helping to "set-up" the RSM local Chamber/business Alliance if we really want to get personal...that is. It would have been nice to really have the City's support at that time, and not simply two years later AFTER the initial hard work was done when Ms. Suzanne Singh stepped in.
Dove Canyon Oldtimer February 12, 2013 at 03:34 PM
If I recall it was the Petrilla and the Donna Marie Kline cabal that led to the Business Alliance accumulating a tremendous amount of debt and leaving the directors in a tenuous liability position because she had never procured director liability insurance, even though she told them she had. It was when Ms. Kline was finally booted as president and Suzanne Singh came in and cleaned up the mess left behind that the RSM Chamber finally became effective.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook February 12, 2013 at 04:41 PM
John, We are not (by a long shot) getting both sides, actually the three sides, to the items mentioned in this article. Larry
DD February 12, 2013 at 08:53 PM
Larry: What do you mean by three sides? Still involved in city politics, eh? One would think after two losses you would end political life. I wouldn't be surprised if you were running in 2014, 2016, 2018. Wait, how old are you?
Jacqui T. February 12, 2013 at 09:44 PM
I had never attended a city council meeting before this one as I was there for the emergency preparedness awards. I was impressed with Ms. Gamble and rather unimpressed with Mr. Petrilla. Mr. Baric seems to be an angry man. The mayor asked some good questions. Mr. McGirr was very impressive and seems to me to be the most intelligent and reasonable of the lot. I dont mind if the councilmen and women don't like each other as long as good decisions are made.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook February 12, 2013 at 10:16 PM
DD, I don't have a clue who you are cowardly hiding an alias but, I have been a community activist since Boy Scouts and do not see any reason to give up at this point. 100's of people are urging me to run again. Perhaps a Third Time Is Really A Charm! I am proud to be 71 years old and still ride my bicycle 12-15 miles per day (sunny weather permitting). Plus I walked up to 100 homes a day during the campaign where some of my co-walkers gave up within an hour of walking in the 87-98 degree heat. Some senior business experience is certainly needed on the RSM Council. Back to the point. Suzanne Singh is a nice lady and may do well as a business developer. I do not want this position. Jerry Holloway and two other council members voted against her appointment the first time it came up. Mr. Holloway essentially said written performance expectations and a formal job description should first be established. My thoughts are how many hours each week will Suzanne be required to work on this $75,816.per year part time job? Originally, it was presented as about a $52,000. per year part time job but now Mayor Beall has the 3 votes.. To whom does she supply weekly work reports too? Does this $75,816. part time job include expenses or will that be in addition to the $75,816.? I sincerely wish her well but, the people in RSM deserve these answers.
Donnamarie CarenzaKline February 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Dove Canyon Oldtimer...apparently you have your facts wrong. Ms.Singh too sat on the board at that time and was the Co-Chair of those events. As for the director liability insurance that too is an inaccurate account of the actual facts. When the RSM Business Alliance/Chamber set up house it did so with absolutely no funds or support from the City. It was a few founding board members that put up THEIR personal money to get the organization filed and set up. The board purchased liability insurance in which it needed to just get things started. Those same founding board members spent NOT ONLY THEIR OWN MONEY but countless hours, time and dedication in putting something in place for the local businesses in RSM after the Regional Chambers platform changed to not include specific City Chambers. Again, all of this done with no financial support from the City. I suggest until you have walked in those shoes, sat on that founding board and volunteered your time you refrain from making careless remarks that you know nothing about.
Eric Richardson February 13, 2013 at 12:17 AM
Larry, were you at the meeting? You said that this article doesn't give both sides. What would you say is being left out of this article? It sounds pretty straight forward and accurate to me.
Gary February 13, 2013 at 12:29 AM
Mr. McCook - I think you can be the best councilman this city has ever seen.
Karl H. February 13, 2013 at 04:23 AM
Is the sky blue in your world Gary? Holy cow, talk about delusional.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook February 13, 2013 at 04:06 PM
Thank you for the kind words Gary and also thanks to the 5,392 RSM Voters that had faith in me. I can assure you of one thing and that is I will/would never feel an obligation to the corporate campaign contributors. Take a look sometime at the public Political Contributions List which is available at RSM City Hall.
Donnamarie CarenzaKline February 13, 2013 at 07:57 PM
the facts in this matter are far different than the inaccurate account you are repeating. The Alliance/Chamber did accumulate start-up debt; as there was no funding available from the City or the RSM Affilated Chamber reserves when the Regional Chamber proceeded to dismiss the platform of each local City Chamber alliance affiliation. The RSM Affiliated Chamber alone had over $10,000 in reserves held by the South OC Reg Chambers but were not allowed to have any of those funds that were earned through RSM events. Therefore the new founding board members incurred personal costs to get the local Chamber up & running.To accuse anyone of any wrong doings is wreckless behavior not to mention slander on your part. The new local Business Alliance/Chamber was set up properly within the State of Ca with the required insurance policies in place.
Donnamarie CarenzaKline February 13, 2013 at 07:58 PM
(2 of 2) Suzanne Singh was NOT one of the founding board members, nor did she put up her own money to get the organization started. However she was a welcome addition to the group a year or so later who Co-chaired many of the local RSM events; the good and the bad! Events by the way that had again no funding or support from the City and Ms Gamble was a big reason for the lack of support to the local newly founded Chamber because of her personal dislike for Councilman Petrilla beating out incumbants. That in itself speaks volumes to me about her character and lack of really caring about what was/is best for the City of RSM. In all the years past the City always was very supportive financially of the Affiliated local RSM Chamber through the South OC Regional Chamber, but when the RSM Chamber had to stand alone (and not by their choice-as the Regional Chamber changed their platform) there was absolutely no help for this local start-up Chamber at that time. So...Dove Canyon Oldtimer if you want to leave incorrect remarks because they are of your limited knowledge & opinion it is a free world, but your REMARKS do not change the FACTS that you know NOTHING about. Your ignorance & gross neglect of the actual truth represents your character of the alias that you are hiding behind
Donnamarie CarenzaKline February 13, 2013 at 09:45 PM
Ms. Gamble references Suzannes Singh's qualifications based on being a part of a Chamber organization for a little over two years. This she uses as her measure of "experience" to quantify and qualify her one and only candidate when tax payer money is being used??? She is not doing what her RSM residents elected her to do...whereas Steve Baric is acting as a steward of OUR money. It seems there should be some proper protocol for the "hiring" process, such as a City job posting, interview process with actual qualified candidates for the City Manager and City Council to review and agree on; not simply an appointment by a council member with a personal agenda when using tax payer dollars for an unqualified appointee. This is just merely another example of how our City is not properly representing their constituants and how a few of the Council members prefer to make things personal instead of what is best.
Donnamarie CarenzaKline February 13, 2013 at 09:48 PM
Additionally if Carol Gamble's benchmark of performance is/was based on 60 or so people attending an event that was FREE at HONDA, then we are in real trouble if that is what is considered a GOOD example! The event that the old RSM Chamber held annually at COX which was not free would have a mere 200+ in attendance...so if Ms. Gamble's threshold of quantifing performance is set that low for a candidate to help grow the Economic Development in this City by spending almost $100,000 on a position of our tax payer money RSM taxpayers are in trouble and she is not doing the job effectively that she was elected to do.
Dove Canyon Oldtimer February 13, 2013 at 10:32 PM
Sounds like Ms. Kline has an ax to grind. Not surprised. She knows the truth but will never admit it. Her incompetence put the Business Alliance in deep debt and subject to personal liability against the directors from their creditors. She knows this to be true. When the board finally realized what had happened, they booted her. And that is a FACT.
RSM Family February 13, 2013 at 10:52 PM
Yeah, sure sounds like it....and Ms. Kline decided that the city didn't have "a proper process" and made "simply an appointment by a council member" Huh?...I guess she skipped the part about "The City solicited two dozen companies but received only four Requests for Proposals..." and "Singh's provided the most hours...at the lowest price..." Double Huh?
Steve Barlow February 13, 2013 at 10:56 PM
DonnaMarie, you said that there should be "proper protocol for the "hiring" process, such as a City job posting, interview process with actual qualified candidates for the City Manager and City Council to review and agree on." According to this article, it sounds like that's just what the city council did: "The City solicited two dozen companies but received only four Requests for Proposals, and Singh's provided the most hours dedicated to the acquisition and retention of businesses in the City (estimated 1,200 hours vs. 600 compared to the next-most inexpensive option) at the lowest price." It sounds like standard protocol for taking bids and going with the company that can provide the best value for the money. What other route would Steve Baric and Jesse Petrilla wanted? Did they have a better solution? Were they not aware that the city was soliciting bids for this position and that the city staff had made the recommendation to go with Singh's company? What am I missing?
Donnamarie CarenzaKline February 13, 2013 at 11:16 PM
Ax to grind - NO, truth to be told ABSOLUTELY! Someone who hides behind an alias, no respect for anything they have to say. Starting up any business including a chamber incurs debt, any professional educated business person knows this. I along with the other founding board members dedicated years of service to the community by volunteering our time, energy and personal money to set up the RSM local Chamber chapter, you on the other hand simply do nothing. Put YOUR time and effort into volunteering before speaking untruths about something you know nothing about and continue to hide behind your alias. I at the very least can say I volunteered my time for our community. What have you done?
Donnamarie CarenzaKline February 13, 2013 at 11:37 PM
Based on the article there was "a process"; therefore I stand corrected. However from what I was told (so heresay) the dually noted process was not as transparent as the article leads us to believe. As indicated previously I have no ax to grind, however I am a big believer in speaking the truth verses spreading lies and manipulating things.
Eric Richardson February 14, 2013 at 01:08 AM
Larry, you brought up a lot of good questions, and yes, the people of RSM do indeed deserve these answers, as you pointed out. However, if you had bothered to do a little homework before posting your indignation, you would have found that the answers to all these questions are readily available to anyone who goes to the City of RSM website. Simply go to the date of the meeting, click on agenda, then get the PDF for that item (item 7.1 in case this is too tricky for you). You'll find 48 pages of answers for your reading pleasure. I would have thought a candidate for city council would know that.
April Josephson February 14, 2013 at 02:12 AM
Donnamarie, as I mentioned earlier, I have watched this process unfold for close to two years. I have attended multiple public study sessions dedicated to this issue and the budget, as well as at least two city council meetings where this has been on the agenda. All of this is not only public information, but provided for substantial public input. IMO, as an interested local business owner/observer, it has been a completely transparent process that took more than enough time to address. Could you elaborate on who told you otherwise, or what they said wasn't transparent? I also am a believer in speaking the truth, as you know, so I am very curious to understand what someone else may have thought about this that was not transparent. Thanks, April
Gina February 14, 2013 at 06:04 AM
I appreciate this article and thank Jessie and Steve for looking after the taxpayers money. Geez Carol, if someone doesn't agree with you the claws come out. You are still bringing up the election. Are you going to strike down anyone who didn't support you? It sure sounds like it. And how is Jessie responsible for another candidate putting up truck signs around RSM? That makes no sense at all.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook February 14, 2013 at 07:04 AM
Eric, There is no indignation. That is just your personal perception. Of course I know about the postings on the RSM website but, there are maybe 200 people out 50,000+ residents who would possibly read these postings. My intention is to bring issues out on The Patch for readers (and elsewhere) to learn more about what is really happening on the council and our city. Too many things are unknown by the general populace of RSM and questions like these should be published. If these questions are not asked, the taxpayers in RSM will never know how their dollars are being spent. So far there has not been a lot of success with money spent on consulting fees, etc. Again, as a citizen of RSM, I wish Suzanne Singh a great success. We need to monitor her efforts, and since she is not an employee, be given timely progress reports.
Chad February 14, 2013 at 04:36 PM
Larry, I hope you don't explode with anger on me for expressing my opinion. The city is a great place to live. The city has money in the bank and it's safe. The majority of residents don't want change. Tony, Carol, and Brad won because of that. Brad will win again in 2014. Sorry, but was VERY unimpressed with you in both debates. Now that Brad is an incumbent, he will get the GOP's endorsement (and be in their mailer) and get the OC Register's endorsement. He'll also send mailers to the frequent voters. You're cooked (no pun intended). I guess you'll ignore all this and still run. It's the political Hamburger Hill, so charge forward. It's your choice. Just stating the obvious.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook February 14, 2013 at 05:09 PM
Richard, I will preface with the statement that i am not personal friends with either Steve Baric or Jesse Petrilla, They have been an enigma to the "Old Guard" in RSM since Day One because they have suggested some different ideas on/to the council for our city. Sure, Jesse is young and came in with no experience and perhaps he has made some ill advised statements. He must be given credit for for his continuing maturation while serving on the council. This maturation process has come with the serving experience. What do you mean? Steve Baric is already State Chairman of The California Republican State Central Committee. This position could/could have propelled great rewards for RSM if it was not for the local antagonistic myoptic small town thinking about keeping their perception of "Old Guard Power". What Power? We are a small town with virtually no recognition from either the OC or State Republican organizations. Steve Baric is an intelligent and dignified gentleman. Some of the RSM council members have developed a delusion of grandeur. What a joke! They should instead be humble servants to the taxpayers rather than trying to invent and make themselves look important.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook February 14, 2013 at 06:12 PM
Look who sends the RSM endorsements to the OC Republican Party for endorsements on their publication! Jennifer Beall and associates. What a joke! Surprise Surprise! Brad McGirr may be OK? Time will tell this and we will watch his every vote to monitor if it continues to be 3 to 2 for "Beall's Control" of every vote! He was a Beall appointee to the Planning Commision. Does this mean he is in Beall's Pocket? Time will tell.
t barney February 14, 2013 at 10:39 PM
I listened to the tape, and it seems to me that Baric was the one who brought up the election - not Carol. He accused her of attending the chamber of commerce events just because she was running for reelection, but then we find out that she goes to a lot of them even now after she's been elected. i got the impression that Steve Baric and Jesse Petrila don't go to them. Still trying to figure out why Baric and Petrilla keep wanting making choices that aren't in the best interest of RSM residents.

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