Both officials were slammed by Mayor Ray, and Councilmen Edwards and Pulido.
By Brian Hews
Last week’s Cerritos City Council meeting became very contentious when, during budget talks, Mayor pro tem Naresh Solanki and Councilwoman Carol Chen inexplicably moved to close the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station at City Hall.
Solanki and Chen, in defiance of the other council members and city manager, later voted no to approve the budget.
The city is facing a $6.6 million deficit for 2016-17 budget and it was agreed to in a prior council meeting, on a vote of 5-0, to approve the budget and then direct staff to analyze areas where they could cut expenses.
The Sheriff’s station was never on the radar until Chen and Solanki, in violation of Roberts Rules of Order that govern council meetings, as well as ignoring public input, attempted to place the Sheriff’s station to a vote instead of “agendizing” the item for a later meeting.
That’s when the fireworks started.
Chen started the fray by immediately asking about the Sheriff’s contract, “When do we need to give notice, when is the end of the current contract?”
It was evident that Ray, Edwards and Pulido had no idea about the move and were visibly angry.
City Manager Art Gallucci indicated the city needs to give a 60-day notice, but did not include the helicopter, which is on an annual contract.
Gallucci advised Chen to “take some time in looking at Sheriff’s station.” Chen countered, “we need to balance the budget with these cost cuts in mind.”
Solanki, who was endorsed by Chen and former Mayor Bruce Barrows, then took his turn.
Solanki said, “I cannot approve a budget that is ‘upside down,’ the Sheriff’s station only covers $4.5 million, I would have a hard time approving a budget like this. How do we cut 6.6 million?”
Gallucci said to Solanki, “I don’t want to be argumentative but at the last meeting, the motion was made to study the budget and bring back proposed cuts in 2 months, that vote was 5-0 and we have it on tape, and that is the path we have been on until this evening.”
An angry Solanki then said, “the community safety expense is a big number, if we convert the station that is a large amount of money.”
Mayor Ray then rebuked Chen and Solanki saying, “this was not an agenda item, we voted to approve the budget with the understanding that the staff would come back later with cuts to get to $6.6 million, and part of that process is to educate the residents, I have a philosophical problem not getting input from residents, through that process we would discuss the cuts. I would have a problem since this was not agendized.”
Pulido followed Ray and was even angrier pointing out that both Chen and Solanki’s council campaigns stressed public safety and support of the Sheriff’s station.
“I support the budget as is, and it would be non-starter for me if we cut the Sheriff’s station, public safety was my top priority in my campaign as it was a top priority in your campaigns.”
Ray and Edwards were seen nodding in agreement.
Pulido then slammed Chen and Solanki, “why are you trying to pass the cuts without placing them on the agenda, the public should have opportunity for input.”
“I have problems with last minute conversations, why are you questioning our council staff, you need to let them work.”
A visibly angry Councilman Edwards then chimed in saying, “we cannot cut things we have never talked about, this is a mistake and we never discussed these cuts, transparency is important to residents, their number one priority is safety. Let’s pass the budget as then look at the cuts.”
Undaunted Chen said, “we need to balance the budget, we can’t buy the services if you cannot afford it. I would be willing to postpone the approval of the budget until cuts are made.”
Solanki could be seen nodding his head in agreement.
Mayor Ray supported passing the budget and then implementing budget cuts over the next six months.
The budget passed on a 3-2 vote, with Chen and Solanki voting no.
Long-time Cerritos resident Jim McMahon told HMG-CN, “Solanki and Chen wanted to cancel the Cerritos Sheriff’s contract immediately and move the facility to the City of Lakewood in order to save $7 million. He did not want to have any public discussion, he did not want this on the agenda, nor did he want staff to do any reports on the cost of having a service at our substation versus at the Lakewood Sheriff’s station. Very disturbing.”
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