by Lou Binninger
Yuba County Counsel Michael J. Ciccozzi wrote an opinion piece in the Appeal Democrat last week to explain why Nevada County law firm Colantuono, Highsmith and Whatley, PC, did not file Yuba’s Measure K (sales tax increase) brief with the Appellate Court on time.
The brief was to explain the flaws in Superior Court Judge Stephen Berrier’s September 9, 2019 ruling that Measure K was invalid. Measure K was pitched to voters as a tax for public safety (needing 2/3s approval) while touted by the county as only needing a majority vote to pass (for a general tax measure). It received 53.04% approval.
Not only is the county continuing to illegally use the people’s money to hire Colantuono, Highsmith and Whatley, PC to defend the faulty measure but Ciccozzi’s writing is pricy as well. His predecessor, Courtney Abril, was earning 187,378.03 annually (2018) according to Transparent California. After just 18 months on the job, Abril resigned for “family reasons” as the controversy erupted over Measure K’s double-minded legalese.
Ciccozzi assures that the county will get its extension to file and says that the court’s schedules are basically suggestions with grace periods attached. He further says that the extra time granted will allow the county to continue to “polish and complete” its arguments.
Although none of us are as intelligent as the County Counsel the county has had since 2017 to hone its arguments by using lawyers and public relations firms skilled at skinning the taxpayers on the citizens’ dime.
Since Judge Berrier’s ruling 163 days have come and gone to perfect the briefing due on February 19, 2020. That’s really not enough time to produce government work according to Ciccozzi. However, for every day waiting, and now the “grace period” and then the trial Yuba County citizens lose $10,000/day from the scam Measure.
A 15-day “grace period” costs Yuba County residents $150,000 in additional sales taxes. Justice delayed is justice denied. The court gave a deadline of February 19 and the county missed the date. Every day that passes is a day that taxpayers are forced and compelled to pay a tax that the Superior Court ruled unconstitutional.
Ciccozzi writes that the “citizens of Yuba County recognized the need for Measure K and a significant majority voted in favor of the Measure.” According to Judge Berrier the number of voters agreeing with Measure K was not significant enough to create a special tax.
Some believe the attorneys were instructed by County leadership to not file the brief to avoid the contents becoming campaign fodder before election-day, March 3. Three supervisors and County Administrator Robert Bendorf’s wife Melanie are campaigning for office and all supported the Measure K sales tax increase.
Michael ‘no big deal’ Ciccozzi’s words for taxpayers and supervisors to ignore the rules haven’t always worked out. He left a wake of financial pain from his bad advice for El Dorado County (EDC) Supervisors where he previously worked. He encouraged them to ignore their responsibility to perform 5-year studies to justify charging property owners mitigation fees.
In November 2019, after he resigned from EDC, the 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled in Austin v El Dorado County that the county must refund to citizens their mitigations fees plus interest totaling about $35 million. Why? The county did not perform the state-mandated studies to prove there was still a need for the assessments.
In opposition to the EDC Auditor-Controller’s admonition years before that the county was in violation of the Mitigation Fees Act, Ciccozzi told the supervisors they need not do the studies and there would be no consequences.
EDC Auditor-Controller Joe Harn said recently about the ruling, “The decision is very discouraging because the county could’ve very easily avoided this costly litigation by simply following state law.” Then EDC Administrator Terri Daly, now with Yuba Water Agency and earning $232,428.50 (2018 Transparent California), joined Ciccozzi to oppose Harn and state law.
It is rare indeed for bureaucrats and politicians to be held responsible for their neglect of duty or the law, thereby costing the citizens hundreds of millions of dollars. They simply jump to another job and sumptuous salary.