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Local opinion columnists

All-expenses-paid secret knowledge hunters

By From page A7 | January 17, 2013

So apparently Fairfield Mayor Harry Price, Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez and Suisun City Councilman Mike Hudson – three members of the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District board – are down at the Esmeralda Renaissance Resort and Spa in Indian Well at a conference put on by the California Association of Sanitation Agencies.

The conference runs Wednesday through Friday at an estimated cost of $2,000 to $2,500 per person, but we won’t know until we get the receipts.

Well, I guess we should be grateful that they’re down there at this stunning resort nestled against the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains to attend this conference and obtain information that could be learned nowhere else on this planet.

I don’t want people to get the idea that elected officials go to these conferences for the amenities. First of all, it’s not suntan weather down there. They have to deal with 77 degree temperatures with zero clouds to shield them from that desert sun. With such a mild temperature, it’s improbable that they’d be frolicking in either of the two giant zero-entry pools that come complete with a man-made sandy beach.

The Spa Esmeralda outdoor garden area is closed until Jan. 31, so we know that they’re not down there luxuriating in that paradise-like setting. And even if our representatives were inclined to a little massage and manscaping in the midst of the smooth marble floors, gleaming glass and tile, plush furnishings and water trickling from a stone fountain, it would not be part of their reimbursed expenses.

It does make one wonder if they will dine at the lake-view, highly rated, award-winning Italian restaurant Sirocco. Perhaps they’ll have the sumptuous Raviolini D’Aragosta, which the website describes as “a house-made ravioli with lobster and Dungeness crab meat drizzled with an unforgettable shrimp lobster brandy sauce.” Mmm.

Of course they will have an intense schedule of seminars and classes without much time for golfing on the two golf courses or getting in any tennis on the night-time lit tennis courts. It’s not a vacation, after all.

When you think about it, dropping six grand from the sewer board’s budget to send three representatives to Southern California to bring back exclusive information on recycling water, bioenergy and renewable resources could be a bargain. It may pay off in some way that’s unfortunately never explained to us.

The only thing I worry about are the three Suisun City and four Fairfield members of the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District board who didn’t go on the trip. How are they going to benefit from this exclusive information and be able to do their jobs on the board if they didn’t go down for this essential conference?

Oh, maybe when the three who went down there come back, they can brief the board on the secret knowledge they obtained. You know, if three people can bring back this essential information, I bet two could do it.

Next month’s CASA conference takes place at the luxurious Mayflower Renaissance in Washington, D.C., which President Harry S. Truman said was Washington’s second-best address after the White House. How about only sending two representatives to bring back that exclusive sewer and water knowledge from the nation’s capital? Or would that put our whole water plant at risk? Peace.

Kelvin Wade is a writer/author and lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]

Kelvin Wade

Kelvin Wade


Discussion | 20 comments

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  • ToniJanuary 17, 2013 - 12:05 pm

    I couldn't agree with you more. This is not the time. People I have talked to also agree with your column.

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  • laffsatliersJanuary 17, 2013 - 12:37 pm

    You scored a direct hit, Tony. And they are the wonderful leaders who wanted to increase our sewer rates more than 5 percent a year for 5 years! Only fierce opposition from the public made them defer their rate hikes a year or so. They will be back at the table again looking for us poor suckers to fund their junkets.

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  • MarkJanuary 17, 2013 - 1:04 pm

    Its just money...taxpayer money. six thousand in the grand scheme of things isn't all that much, but its not just six thousand, its 6 thousand this time, 4 thousand next time, 5 thousand the time after that ...a never ending expenditure of taxpayer money.

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  • freedomgalJanuary 17, 2013 - 4:27 pm

    I'm never disappointed by the clever writing of Mr. Wade. Facts with humor..always a winning combination. Even when I don't agree with you Kelvin, your style is especially entertaining. In this case, however..I agree wholeheartedly.

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  • Rick WoodJanuary 18, 2013 - 2:48 am

    This column is like a comedy with a laugh track; almost a guaranteed response. It’s a too-easy-to-write piece, with all the information available online, both for the expenses (a public record) and the resort. You’ve never been to the resort, have you Kelvin? That was all from the resort’s online Web page, wasn’t it? At least you resisted using the word “junket” this time. I mean, who is in favor of junkets? One hardly has to think! Allow me to present the other side, because there is one, an important one: Groups like CASA exist for two purposes, to bring elected board and staff members from local agencies together for education and action. The education is an end in itself, to make better board and staff members. But it also fuels the action, which is lobbying, mostly, and other forms of individual and group advocacy on behalf of their organizations. That means speaking for us in Sacramento, Washington, and elsewhere, and I want them to be good at it, don’t you? There is no substitute for the networking and teambuilding that can go on in face-to-face meetings like conferences. When I attend conferences, I find some of the most valuable interactions I have are over the lunches, in conversation with someone I’ve not met before, or meeting people right after a session breaks up and we ask questions or discuss what we just heard. It’s these chance encounters that provide difficult to measure added value from a well-organized conference. Organizations like CASA tend to hold their conferences at nice places for a simple reason: They want people to attend. These “resorts” are generally conference centers with a resort attached. They have to be to accommodate a group as large as a CASA conference. I don’t advocate public attendees spending money on first class air fair or $100+ bottles of wine at public expense, but I don’t begrudge them staying at the conference hotel, having some nice meals, and socializing after the day is done. All that can add to the networking, teambuilding, and chance encounters. We don’t pay them much, and it’s the least we can do for the time they commit is to not force them to go third class or stay home. They serve so you and I don’t have to become sewer system or governance experts. I feel board members who refuse to attend conferences out of some effort to appear populist are doing us a disservice, as is therefore, this column.

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  • freedomgalJanuary 18, 2013 - 9:44 am

    This response is a cop out. "Networking and team building" can take place at a McDonalds. They hold these things at attractive places because they want "people to attend" ? The mere fact that one must bribe public officials with amenities to get them to do their job..speaks volumes. It should not require a 5 star atmosphere to do your job, unless you're a resort manager.

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  • Rick WoodJanuary 18, 2013 - 12:47 pm

    You've never done this job, have you?

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  • freedomgalJanuary 18, 2013 - 2:39 pm

    Been on the sewer board. No..I confess I have never done that job. Am I to assume that it's different from other jobs..? Jobs that require college educations, jobs that have thousands of hours of overtime, jobs that have many, many hours of training and networking.? Jobs such as THOSE I HAVE held and we attended the seminars and networking because it was a requirement. There were actually conference rooms that accommodated the entire staff which were located within the workplace. I realize this may be a foreign concept for you..but 5 star resort accommodations were not necessary to secure attendees. Job threat WAS.!! Perhaps that's a viable alternative in this situation.

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  • rlw895January 18, 2013 - 3:23 pm

    Yes, it's quite different.

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  • rlw895January 18, 2013 - 3:24 pm

    And you cop out by saying networking and team-building can take place at McDonalds. Sure it can, and at Peet's and Starbuck's too. So what's your point? The CASA conference should be held at McDonalds? Where would you gather over 1,000 elected officials and upper level staff people for a state-wide conference?

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  • freedomgalJanuary 18, 2013 - 7:54 pm

    Hey..guess what. Every county has a fairgrounds..with an exposition building that will hold twice that many people. If it's good enough for the Constitutional Sheriffs..it's good enough for the sewer board. With enough notice I'd even cater a delicioso spaghetti dinner. The country is budgeting like crazy.. Guess the sewer board is not as American as they profess.

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  • rlw895January 18, 2013 - 9:47 pm

    If you really think that would work....Who are the Constitutional Sheriffs?

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  • StRJanuary 18, 2013 - 10:25 pm

    This is a good little book on the subject - Constitutional Sheriffs....another book every local library should have.....The County Sheriff: America's Last Hope (Paperback) by Sheriff Richard Mack

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  • From Amazon ReviewsJanuary 18, 2013 - 10:31 pm

    This easy to read pamphlet reminds us that the Sheriff is the supreme law enforcement authority in every county or parish of these United States. In it Richard Mack shows irrefutable evidence from case law, common law, the Constitution, and common sense that the People's protector is the ONE they actually elect. The Sheriff promises to serve, to protect, and to defend them from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. Sheriffs are the only people who can call the militias (in the truest sense of the word) which is a group of citizen volunteers like the posses, into service for a particular outcome. As such, the Sheriff is the only locally elected official who has the jurisdiction, the authority, and especially the duty to protect the citizens from threatening federal entities or federal agents. The Sheriffs has local sovereignty to uphold the Constitution......... In the case Mack/Prince versus the United States, Justice Scalia told the Federal Government, "The Federal Government may neither issue Federal directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States' Officers or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a Federal regulatory program." So, the question is, does nationalized health care qualify as a Federal regulatory program? The answer is that the States and the local authorities and jurisdictions do NOT have to participate in Obama's nationalized health care program. Such commands are FUNDAMENTALLY incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty................... As for the fiasco in the San Joachin Valley where the Environmental Protection Agency turned off the irrigation canals in order to study the little minnow fish, the Sheriffs of those 25 Counties affected by these regulations would do well to read this short little book. This shutting off of the water has led to 80,000 jobs lost, the loss of half of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables coming from California, and the destruction of countless legal immigrant family farms. Sheriffs and citizens should educate themselves as to what authority and rights they do have by law.................

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  • StRJanuary 18, 2013 - 10:35 pm

    Also check out....wwwoathkeepersorg

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  • Rick WoodJanuary 18, 2013 - 9:53 pm

    I can't find any rating service that gives the Esmeralda Renassance 5 out of 5 stars, Kelvin's elaborate description notwithstanding. They describe themselves as a family-oriented resort. The place doesn't rate as first class, just business class. And that's what they want to be, priced accordingly. They cater to families and large business meetings; perfectly appropriate for CASA.

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  • Cy NicalJanuary 19, 2013 - 1:22 am

    One thing not pointed out here is that CASA chooses the location, not the electeds. Perhaps we should be focusing on why CASA holds the conferences at such locations instead of berating those who are trying to educate themselves on the public's behalf.

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  • freedomgalJanuary 19, 2013 - 4:31 pm

    Brilliant..and a fair statement. But someone on the board has to accept CASA as the authority on seminar location.

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  • Rick WoodJanuary 20, 2013 - 11:43 am

    Typically there is only one organization like CASA in the state. Its members are agencies, not individuals, though there may be a membership class for individuals. The comparable association for cities is the League of California Cities, for water agencies, the California Association of Water Agencies (ACWA), and for school districts, the California School Boards Association (CSBA). They all do about the same thing: Education and advocacy. Anyone serving on one of those governing boards should either (preferably) attend those conferences and programs or send someone. The reason the associations pick the sites they do is based on the size of the conference and the amenities. Only so many places in the state can handle a conference of several thousand attendees. There needs to be hotel accommodations in the area and the conference center has to have lots of rooms for breakout sessions as well as a large room for general sessions. There also has to be a large room for general sessions and usually meals, mostly lunches, as well. If the conference provides meals, and these do, most of them are lunches with a general program. That requires a kitchen that can produce and serve a large number of meals and one time. Then you have all the audio-visual capabilities in the meeting rooms and other needed resources. There really are only a few places in the state that can do it. The associations usually like to mix up their venues to provide convenience and interest to the attendees, so CASA probably won’t be going back to Indian Wells for a while. Other popular venues are Sacramento, Monterey, Disneyland, San Diego, and Palm Springs. The big convention centers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Anaheim and Sacramento can be made to work, but are generally too large for the CASA-size conference. As I said before, these venues are chosen not because they are luxurious, but because they are nice enough to attract attendees. Luxury is not what the associations are looking for; they are more sensitive to the issues raised here about spending public money than people may realize. Of course, the associations can’t control how attendees behave on their own. There have been scandalous expenses at conferences by some public officials. As a result, the state passed a law requiring every public agency adopt a code of ethics and provide ethics training to board members. The agency also has to adopt travel and conference policies that naturally become public information. The DR should obtain and publish those policies rather than imply that our public officials are off without any reasonable controls or discipline regarding expenses. That’s more of a private sector thing these days. Have you seen what some of these CEOs do with company money?

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