The Coast News Group
Life, Liberty and Leadership

The short end of the stick: What did we learn from Cummins vs. Encinitas?

Leaders like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were fed up with an aristocratic government that ignored them. When their calls for participatory government fell on deaf ears, they took action. As my dad would say, “they were tired of getting the short end of the stick.”
A similar struggle for participatory government is happening in Encinitas. Residents claim city staff and elected officials suppress information and limit community participation. While it would be easy to dismiss their concerns as exaggerations, the facts show that there is merit to their claims. Consider the lawsuit the city lost in failing to release a road report.
In February 2009, the city paid the Nichols Consulting Firm about $96,000 dollars to produce a road report. Nichols delivered their completed report to the city in March 2010. When residents asked to see the report they were denied access and city staff and council members began calling the completed Nichols report a “draft.”
Encinitas resident Kevin Cummins wanted to see the Nichols report so he filed a lawsuit. Rather than release the report, the council paid city attorney Glen Sabine over $23,000 to argue against the citizens. Does this make sense to you?
The city lost the lawsuit and a judge ordered the Nichols report released.
It was reported in the July 20 North County Times article, “Council will review policies following lawsuit decision,” that Deputy Mayor Stocks said future requests for drafts, studies or reports will be made on a case-by-case basis saying staff members would have to weigh the benefits versus the harmful effects of releasing the information.
What is harmful to the public is a city council that won’t release reports. What needs to be reviewed is why Mr. Stocks plans to rely on the recommendations of unelected city staff while ignoring the recommendations of citizens he is supposed to represent.
So what have we learned from Cummins vs. Encinitas?
We learned that the city will call completed reports drafts if it benefits them and not the public. In the future, completed reports should be made available to the public by linking the documents on the city’s website.
We learned also that the council majority will waste taxpayer money to keep the public from reviewing reports we pay for.
Voters don’t vote for city staff — they vote for city council. City Hall belongs to citizens — not city employees. Encinitas needs to elect leaders who demand open government, not followers who hide behind city staff. What is the point in electing candidates who would work against the public’s right to know?
Citizens in Encinitas say their calls for open government are falling on deaf ears. They are beginning to take action. It seems like they are tired of getting the short end of the stick.


RealEncinitas August 6, 2011 at 7:20 am

I agree with Patrick that we end up paying for the same tasks multiple times. It kind of shoots down the arguement that the reason we pay staff such high benefits and good pensions is because we would lose high performing people. What high performing people??

PATRICK OCONNOR August 5, 2011 at 11:52 am

On the transparency issue, Jim Bond has helped me get on board with some other city questions. The road report was not on my request list. One commonality I have found is a continuation of expensive consulting. Much of this work is overlapping of tasking that could be preformed in house by city employees . Kevin is a cost vs results guy and his work for all of us is appreciated.

Kathleen 2 August 5, 2011 at 9:14 am

Well written article, thank-you.
I plan to follow the investigation by John Chiang’s office of Montebello as some of the issues that have triggered an investigation of that city remind me of Encinitas.

Well Put August 5, 2011 at 8:04 am

Thank you Andrew Audet, for speaking for the majority of Encinitas residents. The entrenched special interests may have been able to control the message up to this point, but more and more Encinitas voters are becoming aware of what is really happening at City Hall.

It is no wonder that City employees are so protective of their jobs. Where else could any of us get the sweetheart deals that they receive with union protection and pensions at 55? They have a superior retirement package to state employees and definitely to the package that teachers get. Even this could be tolerable if the system of rewards was set up to support quality work. Instead, they are praised and rewarded for doing the bidding of Jerome Stocks and his developer backers. I have seen many examples by now where high-ranking staff members are put up in front of Council meetings and are paid to look foolish and clownish to promote a particular developer-backed agenda.

For years now, City employees have been immersed in the examples of Phil Cotton, Dan Dalager, Glenn Sabine, and Jerome Stocks. With these people as models, Gus Vina has a big job ahead of him trying to create an environment where employees are rewarded by competent, legal and ethical behavior and hard work. Among those listed above, rewards were given for instances of quid pro quo, poor advice and performance of duties, and in the case of Cotton—dipping his hand into the till. Poor guy was only pulling in over $20,000 a month when he wrote himself an extra check. I guess that such a desperate situation would cause any of us to do that since it was obvious he was driven to such measures to feed his family!

Thanks to Kevin Cummins in this victory for accountability. Thumbs down to the foolish council, except for Teresa Barth, who wasted over $70,000 on this and still have still not learned since they are proposing doing it again. Glenn Sabine should be investigated like the former City Attorney in Bell.

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