City, county bigwigs prove they can sit down together

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Stamping the notebook while proposing that the best way to improve U.S. Postal Service delivery is to mail those employees their paychecks — in unmarked envelopes. One thing that probably won’t be dropped into the mailbox will be Valentines from the Auburn City Council to Placer County governmental offices. Despite last week’s kiss-and-make-up session, it was painfully evident at Tuesday’s Meddlers that there remains little love lost between those two entities. Rich Colwell, the county’s chief assistant CEO as well as its redevelopment director, was the guest. Well, maybe we should substitute “target” for “guest.” Just a page or two into his Highway 49 redevelopment dog-and-pony show, Colwell was upbraided by city planning commission member (and former city councilman) Bob Snyder, who obviously was still smarting from what does appear to be an orchestrated effort by the county to steal the Costco project from the city. Speaking plainly, Snyder urged Colwell to cut to the chase, insisting that the county cared very little for the city when it comes to vying for a big-box and all of the aforementioned sales taxes and jobs creations. Current Councilman Bill Kirby also weighed in, eventually doubling and re-doubling Snyder’s premise. Colwell never broke stride, coolly taking in all of the comments before moving on with his presentation. Now some may have found those blistering remarks as something akin to rudeness. Perhaps that’s so, but in this day and age of warm-and-fuzzy hugs usually followed quickly with a dagger between the shoulder blades, it is sometimes refreshing to hear candid views expressed so forcefully. Case in point was the recent sit-down between Auburn and the county. Supervisor Jim Holmes and CEO Tom Miller met with Mayor Mike Holmes and City Manager Bob Richardson. Costco obviously headed that agenda, but there are other concerns boiling just beneath the surface. Those two groups are usually on opposite sides when it comes to the airport, the animal shelter as well as LAFCO’s definition of the city’s sphere of influence. And the county’s moving the courts and other functions brick-by-brick to Roseville is still a sore point. For the record, the Holmes Bros. were effusive in recollecting how the meeting went. Jim Holmes deemed the proceedings “very amicable,” adding that “while it was necessary to meet, it was nice to have four gentlemen sit down and calmly discuss issues.” Mike Holmes insisted, “It went well. We had a 30-minute discussion where we aired our concerns and while we did not embrace each other’s views, we left feeling better and committed to working together.” Fine, but what to make of Richardson curtly murmuring “ask the mayor” when we sought his comment, or that Miller still hasn’t returned my phone call on this subject? For those of you keeping score at home, consider that each side has some potent weapons in their respective arsenals. Only problem is, as the African axiom goes: “When elephants fight, the grass suffers.”... Busy council meeting: Monday night’s scheduled city council meeting may provide an example of why Auburn is becoming known as the Endurance City. One may consider bringing a cot and snacks to what could be a marathon session. The Journal has already reported on the proposed voluntary 10 percent salary cut being taken by department heads, mid-level managers and elected officials, but that barely scratches the surface of the agenda. Also on tap are the proposed fire department reorganization (which we discussed in last week’s column), Caltrans’ relinquishment of the Downtown portion of Highway 49, proposed road work for Indian Hill Road and the final sign-off on the Lease Row Alpha (hangars) portion of the airport. There could be more, because this suddenly loquacious council may pry some matters off the consent calendar, provided their larynxes don’t give out in the interim. Then there’s my favorite. A small item, but one which speaks volumes about the city’s ability to be ahead of the curve in these tough economic times. By resolution, the council could temporarily relax the sign ordinance. Now, while this no doubt could send at least one planning commissioner into apoplexy, it’s a brilliant move. It would allow merchants to use sandwich board signs, temporary banners, balloons and whatever else to attract the customer’s attention. Frankly, while other entities are taxing the golden goose into extinction, it’s refreshing to see a city try to help out the small businesses that truly drive the whole economy. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. He can be reached at