Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Christmas Breakfast Story - An Annual Tradition Since 2008

Christmas morning can be a challenging time for a single Jewish guy who wants to go someplace for breakfast. Every year I get in my car and drive toward Pasadena.  Very few places are open, but I always seem to find one.
One year, the bakery next to Mi Piaci on Colorado was open. Another year, it was Robin's in Hastings Ranch. It seems to vary from year to year, and I can't count on any place to be open from one year to the next. 
Several years ago, as I made my way into Old Town on Christmas morning, I noticed that Ruby's Diner at the corner of Green and Fair Oaks was open. Ruby's was a '50s-style diner that had great food and waiters and waitresses dressed in 50s-style outfits. It also had an electric train that went around on an elevated track above the dining area. (Ruby’s has long since left Pasadena, but can still be found in some other Southern California locations.)  
Sometimes my swing-dancing friends, and I would go there in the evening after a dance at Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association and dance in the aisles between the tables to the 50s music they played on the speaker system. I was really happy that Ruby's was open that Christmas morning.
Upon arriving, I realized that I needed to buy an LA Times to read as I ate, but decided I'd wait until after I ordered my meal. As I entered, a young woman greeted me and asked me if I was there for breakfast. I thought this was a rather odd question. It was around 8:00 a.m., so what else would I be doing walking into a restaurant?
I noticed that the waiters and waitresses were not wearing their usual red and white Ruby's outfits. Instead they were wearing blue jeans and flannel shirts. I thought, "That's funny, but it is Christmas. Maybe they just thought they'd let them wear regular clothes." 
I was taken to a booth, and I sat down waiting for someone to bring me coffee and a menu and take my order. As I waited, I noticed that instead of the usual salt and pepper shakers on the table, there were those little paper envelopes. I also noticed that the utensils were plastic. I thought, "Well, it's Christmas. I guess they didn't want to bring in a full crew of dishwashers and table bussers."
I sat for quite a while without getting a menu or being offered a cup of coffee. I was becoming a little impatient, when suddenly two young waitresses appeared at my table. One had a pot of coffee and the other had a rectangular styrofoam plate containing scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast, which she began to place in front of me.
"What's this?" I asked.
"It's breakfast," one of them said in a tone that suggested the answer should have been obvious.
"But I didn't order this," I said.
Just then a lightbulb went on in my head.
"Is this a free breakfast for the homeless?" I asked.  
"Yes," she said.
"Oh," I said as I thought about sliding down under the table from embarrassment,
"I can't eat this. I didn't realize...  There’s no sign or anything out front…"  
"Don't worry about it," she said, "We have enough food to feed 500 people and only 50 have shown up. We're just going to have to throw it out." 
So reluctantly, I began to eat my free Christmas breakfast. I looked around sheepishly at the other diners. There were a few homeless-looking people, and a few large tables of what appeared to be special-needs patients.
I had to eat my breakfast without the company of a newspaper because, you see, I felt so guilty for being there, I didn't have the nerve to show I had disposable income by getting up and spending a quarter on the LA Times.
After I was done, I went over and offered to pay for my food or to make a donation.
The waitress said, "There's no way you can. We don't have registers working, and all the food's been donated and paid for. We're just going to have to send all the leftovers to the park where they're serving lunch, and there will be way too much food." 
I just shook my head and rolled my eyes, still very embarrassed. At least, as they say, I got a story out of it!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Philip Putnam - Verbal Chameleon

In early 2010, a citizen told the South Pasadena City Council that a columnist had identified Joe Payne as the preselected choice to become the next police chief.  Although no official search for a chief had begun, anyone paying attention to what was going on at City Hall knew that the statement was true. Yet Philip Putnam responded, “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers.”

In February 2010, Putnam wrote a letter to the Review explaining that only the City Manager has the authority to fire a police chief. His clear intent was to disabuse the public of what many knew – that it was Councilmen who were behind the move to replace Chief Watson.  In response to those concerned that the Council had become a political machine Putnam wrote, “I do not believe that there is a machine in South Pasadena (at least no effective one), although there are many who would like to be.  And many who have tried to be.  But none successfully.  And none will be.  Our community is too active and well informed for that to happen.”  Yet, when was passed over for mayor in December 2012, Putnam provided the Review with what can only be called a rant in which he referred to what had happened as a “putsch” (which is how Hitler came to power) and “Tammany Hall politics.”  There’s no “machine” when Putnam is defending his colleagues, but when Putnam doesn’t like what others are doing, “[there’s] a small group . . . who think they control City Hall.”

In July 2011, the District Attorney found in effect that the November 2009 closed-session meeting (and any other meetings) at which the Council discussed Chief Watson’s performance was a violation of the Brown Act.  Putnam responded with a letter to the Review twisting the D.A.’s words beyond any reasonable meaning. Denying that any violations had occurred, Putnam said, “I should also point out that everything complained about occurred while Dr. Schneider was mayor.”  This was a colossal distortion because (1) the initial meeting that initiated the violations occurred under Mayor Sifuentes, and (2) Putnam was casting blame on the one Councilman, Schneider, who openly opposed the removal of Watson, doing all he could to expose the facts.  Putnam: willing to point the finger at the City Manager or Mayor Schneider, but unwilling to tell the truth.  As Mayor Schneider wrote in response, “Mr. Putnam and I know what happened in the closed sessions.” 

In January 2013, Chief Joe Payne resigned at the apparent request of the City Manager Gonzalez. Putnam told the Star News, “’. . . I am concerned . . . about why the police chief was supposedly let go when there seems to be no reason for it . . .’ He said he plans to ask the city attorney what power the council has to find out more about the personnel issues involved. ‘When you hear nothing it has got to bother you. . . .’” This was the same Putnam who so vehemently insisted when Watson was under fire that the removal of a police chief is entirely up to the City Manager and that the Council should not interfere.  The same Putnam who turned a deaf ear when citizens were clamoring for information about why Watson was being removed. The Star News went on to say that Putnam compared the removal of Payne to Watson's resignation in December 2009. How disingenuous. The removal of Watson was an underhanded political deal -- the removal of Payne was not.  By comparing the two, Putnam was both casting doubt on Gonzalez’ action by equating it to one of the most ugly episodes in our political history and minimizing that very episode. 
Putnam’s own published words show him taking one position when it suits him, and the opposite position when it doesn’t.  Rather than tell the truth, Putnam is quick to blame others.  He did it again at the candidates’ forum on October 3, 2013 when he incorrectly blamed Watson’s removal on the former City Manager – going so far as to expose highly personal matters about him. Philip Putnam is not the pillar of honesty and virtue some hold him up to be.  He’s quite the opposite.  The evidence is there in black and white.   

Monday, October 7, 2013

Councilmen Still Need to Come Clean about Dan Watson

At the South Pasadena CIty Council candidates forum on October 3, 2013, the candidates were asked whether the nonrenewal of former Police Chief Dan Watson’s contract was handled properly.  (I did not ask the question and was surprised it was asked.)  Philip Putnam responded that the nonrenewal of Watson’s contract was entirely the work of former City Manager John Davidson and went on to state that Davidson was “disengaged” because he was having “personal issues,” which Putnam then described. Putnam’s statement revealing personal matters about Davidson was insensitive and seems unethical.  In addition it is incorrect and reveals a willingness to blame others to avoid personal responsibility.

From the beginning, Putnam has been the Council’s biggest defender in the Watson matter. Early on, he lectured the City Council audience about how the hiring and firing of a police chief is entirely up to the City Manager.  He wrote a long letter to the Review saying the saying the same thing.  Unfortunately, Putnam was describing how city government is supposed to work.  He was not describing how it was actually working, and he’s smart enough to know it. 

Watson’s departure was not the work of Davidson. The day after Putnam and Cacciotti were reelected in November 2009, the Council met in closed session.  At the meeting, Mayor Sifuentes presented a list of complaints against Watson and suggested that his contract not be renewed.  The only councilmember who openly opposed what Sifuentes wanted to do was Dr. Schneider.   The day after the meeting, Davidson met with Watson.  He told Watson that the Council wanted to make a change, that they had someone else in mind, and wanted to do a “soft recruitment,” (which means to simply hire someone without an open interview process.) Watson quickly realized that the replacement the Council had in mind was Joe Payne.  Shortly before all this occurred, Davidson had praised Watson for being his best department head.  It was clear to Watson that Davidson did not want him to leave, but during the ensuing weeks Davidson could not find three members of the Council willing to prevent what Sifuentes wanted to do.  Davidson had to do what Sifuentes, supported by at least three and probably four councilmembers, wanted him to do or he would have been fired.  Like a good soldier, Davidson, who had only been with the city for six months, did the Council’s bidding by not offering Watson an acceptable contract and by eventually hiring Joe Payne, whose questionable qualifications were born out by his short-lived term as Chief.  None of this is what Davidson wanted.

Why does Putnam keep blaming the City Manager instead of telling us the truth of his own involvement?  If Putnam and Cacciotti had joined Schneider in opposing Watson’s departure, it would not have happened.   At the forum, Cacciotti said that this was “the most difficult decision” in his twelve years on the Council and seemed to regret his actions.  He also said he could not discuss the matter because it was a closed-session personnel matter.  That’s not correct.  The DA’s Public Integrity Division found that any closed session where Watson’s performance was discussed violated the Brown Act and is not subject to the confidentiality rules.   I have emails from the DA clearly stating that.  The question now is not why Watson’s contract was not renewed, but why Cacciotti and Putnam did not join Schneider in putting a stop to Sifuentes’ shenanigans.  The answer to that question is not a personnel matter.   So come on, Mr. Putnam, let’s stop falsely blaming Davidson and tell us what really went on.