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Pay for Environmental Group Upsets Council : Moorpark: Contracts for work on a flood control channel go unsigned. City and coalition were jointly awarded cleanup funds.

September 25, 1993|JAMES MAIELLA JR. | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Moorpark council members are blasting a proposal by the city staff to pay Environmental Coalition members thousands of dollars in state grant money that the city and coalition were jointly awarded to clean up a stretch of the Arroyo Simi flood control channel.

"I had thought we were considering a grant and we were joining with a group that kind of didn't have an ax to grind," Councilman Scott Montgomery said. "But I'm wondering now if we weren't a little hoodwinked here, because I didn't know this was going to be a money-making venture on the part of the Environmental Coalition."

Moorpark City Manager Steve Kueny on Friday declined to sign the contracts under which the city would have hired seven members of the coalition's local branch to perform some of the restoration work.

And at the request of Montgomery and Mayor Paul Lawrason, the City Council tentatively scheduled a special session for Wednesday to discuss the issue and decide whether coalition members should financially benefit from grant money they helped obtain.

Coalition members denied any impropriety.

Under the agreements, coalition member Roseann Mikos--who runs a consulting business out of her home--would have become project manager and would have agreed to perform at least 236 hours of work over the next year for $5,900, officials said. Other coalition members would have received between $512 and $1,300 for between eight and 26 days of work.

One member, slated to receive $936, was charged with designing a logo commemorating the effort that could appear on T-shirts and bandannas that the nonprofit citizens group hopes to produce.

Mikos said this week that she is actually donating more than half of her time on the project for free, and will receive roughly $25 an hour instead of her normal consulting rate of $60 per hour.

"Do you expect all community action work to be done by people who are independently wealthy?" Mikos asked. "I am giving up full-time work for a portion of the time that I'm devoting to this."

Janet Murphy, president of the coalition's Moorpark branch, was scheduled to be paid $1,100 for 26 days of work. "We're not a for-profit venture here and, believe me, this isn't for profit," Murphy said. "We're not getting rich off this. Scott's ridiculous."

Montgomery said he is "in a state of shock," because coalition members who lobbied the council to pursue the grant never said they expected to be hired to do the work.

"I feel like I was lied to," he said.

The council in June voted unanimously to accept the $64,000 grant to restore a six-mile stretch of the Arroyo Simi by removing non-native vegetation and creating a natural wetland area. The council and coalition had jointly applied for the grant earlier in the year.

But even when they voted to accept the grant, council members still had not been told exactly who would fill the slate of paid positions necessary to do the work, or that the city staff planned to hire Mikos to manage the effort.

"I had never, in all of the hearings and discussions that went on, supposed that she would be a hired person to be part of this activity," Lawrason said. "It may be that she's the ideal person for the job. That doesn't have anything to do with it."

However, Mikos, in a Jan. 25 letter to the state Department of Water Resources, said she had already agreed to serve as project manager and outlined financial terms of the arrangement.

"I believe it is so important to do this project that I am willing to refuse other work at my full billing rate in the private sector to do this at this reduced rate if the grant application is successful," Mikos wrote.

Council members say they never saw the letter and--if Mikos was seeking the paid position so early in the process--wonder why they never heard about it.

Jim Aguilera, city director of community development, said his staff did not decide until recently to hire Mikos to lead the effort, but that such agreements are not unusual.

"I've managed many different kinds of grants and it's a normal process that the person who puts the grant together or brings the grant forward is doing that with themselves in mind," Aguilera said. "Usually, it's that person who has the expertise."

Still, council members said they did not understand why the planned financial relationship between the city and coalition members was not made clear to them earlier.

Councilman John Wozniak, who is a member of the coalition but has not been active in the group for about a year, said he was surprised to find that seven of its members--most from the Moorpark branch's board of directors--were to be paid for their work on the project.

"I believe it's something that should have been brought to the city's attention from the get-go," Wozniak said. "It may not have changed the decision. I may have said, 'Well, maybe not everyone from the Environmental Coalition should get a piece of this.' "

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