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Voters should defeat City Vallejo Communication Users Tax Measure U

Written By Kenneth Brooks on 10-23-2009 | in Government, Vallejo, Democracy, Critical Thinking,

City of Vallejo California placed Communication Users Tax Measure U on the November ballot to modernize the Utility Users Tax (UUT).  Currently, the UUT creates revenue for the general fund by assessing a 7.5 percent tax on gas, electricity and video services and some communication services. City officials claim Measure U will amend the UUT to treat all taxpayers equally who use communication services. Instead, it will expand the UUT’s unfairness and its violations of speech and voting rights.  

 Measure U redefines communication services for tax purposes so broadly and ambiguously that it extends the UUT to all communication services no matter the technology used. Measure U will allow the city to apply the UUT to communication services that use new technology without asking for voters’ approval. City officials claim this automatic extension of the tax is a positive gain from Measure U that insures equal treatment of all taxpayers using communication services. Contrary to this assertion, Measure U forfeits Vallejo residents’ right to vote their wishes about extending the tax to future communication services that use new technology.

The UUT is a regressive tax that places a greater burden on low-earning families to support city services than it does on higher-earning families. All residents pay an equal 7.5 percent or $7.50 tax for every $100 paid for utility services. Nevertheless, this set tax rate on utility services represents a higher percentage of earnings that low-income families lose to taxes in support of city services than higher-earning families do. There is no financial relationship between city services paid from the general fund and the UUT on privately provided utility services. Therefore, there is no justification for this type regressive tax on those utilities that shifts the cost of supporting government on the backs of low-income earners with the least ability to pay.

Another negative feature of the UUT is that it taxes speech and basic utility services that residents use to survive. It restricts residents from exercising their free speech rights using privately supplied communications services—telephone, cable, and other electronic technology services—unless they pay a tax. They cannot use communication services to call their council member, congressperson, or to receive information about legislation unless they pay a tax.    Therefore, this city tax violates residents’ First Amendment Free Speech rights with a restrictive tax similar to the outlawed poll tax violated constitutionally protected voting rights.

 Vallejo voters should defeat Measure U to show they want to end the Utility Users Tax and to install a different tax based on income. They must do this on principles of fairness and equality. In addition, they must do it on principles of democracy to end this violation of their constitutional rights of Free Speech.  

Vallejo School District uses false confidentiality to hide Rollins Agreement

Written By Kenneth Brooks on 01-31-2009 | in Government, Vallejo,

"O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!" Vallejo City Unified School District Board and Superintendent Mary Bull ignored this warning. They treated former employee Lilli Rollins is ways she claimed unfair. Eventually they paid her to settle her lawsuit. However, they added a confidentiality clause to hide the Agreement from the public. Then, they used this clause as an excuse not to answer public records requests to see the Agreement.

I do not know Rollin’s full dispute with Vallejo School District (VCUSD). However, she petitioned the court to confirm her right to remain as principal for the few weeks until the June 30, 2008 end of her term. In addition, she asked the court to bar VCUSD from announcing the position open until then. VCUSD officials could have saved Rollins’ dignity and the school district much money if they agreed. They did not and eventually they paid her the equivalent of seven months’ salary to settle. In addition, VCUSD paid its attorneys $33,753 in fees. The unconscionable part of this Agreement was how school district officials compelled Rollins to agree to confidentiality. Part eleven of the Agreement says this: “As a material inducement to Respondents to enter into this Agreement, Rollins and her counsel agree that this Agreement and its terms are and shall be kept strictly confidential to the extent permitted by law.”

The Respondent is VCUSD the party responding to Rollins petition. My translation: “Vallejo School District agrees to pay Rollins the money she deserves only if she helps VCUSD keep the Agreement terms from the public.” Notice how the wording reverses the parties’ positions so Rollins offers confidentiality as something of value she contributes to the Agreement in exchange for VCUSD payment of money damages (“As a material inducement to Respondents”). This wording opens Rollins to a VCUSD legal claim of destroying the value of her offer if she talked about the Agreement or anything that happened during her employment at VCUSD. It is unethical and repulsive for school officials to insert a confidentiality clause that flagrantly violates Public Record Act goals and provisions. They force former employees to give up their First Amendment Free Speech Rights to talk about matters of public interests. In addition, confidentiality creates a barrier to the public's right to see public records. I do not understand why school officials do this other than to evade Public Records Act requirements and to hide their poor conduct from the public.

School district officials must know they must eventually release Settlement Agreements to persistent requests to see public records. They included this type confidential requirement in a Settlement Agreement with former schoolteacher Vernetta Northcutt. Nevertheless, they had to release the Agreement to me under Public Records Act rules. They had to know those same rules applied to the Rollins Agreement. Maybe the rely on the hope that many agreements will escape public notice when a confidentiality requirement silences the person with the grievance.

Those confidentiality agreements also create an excuse school officials can use to delay releasing public records. They stall and intimidate individual journalist and writers like me with the prospect of incurring legal costs to force their compliance. I requested the Rollins Settlement Agreement December 12, 2008. I received partial documents January 22, 2009 and the full settlement agreement January 28, 2009. This was 47 days after my public record request and well past the time the Public Records Act allows for a response.


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