CALIFORNIA CITY -- The California City city council voted 3-0, with two councilmembers absent, to approve an interim budget resolution pending the formal adoption of the 2020-2021 fiscal year operating budget.


Mayor Pro Tem Donald Parris and Councilmember William Smith were both absent from the special council meeting Tuesday night, June 30. 


City Manager Anna Linn asked the council to pass a continuing resolution, with Mayor Chuck McGuire noting “at midnight tonight the old budget stops.”


The interim resolution extends for 30 days, allowing the city to continue day-to-day operations.


“Down and dirty, this extends the current budget for 30 days,” McGuire said. “It’s day-to-day operations, no purchases, no hiring ... for 30 days we’re in a holding pattern.”


City Attorney Christian Bettenhausen spending is limited to one month under the FY 2020 budget, which ended Tuesday night. The continuing resolution allows for hiring or spending on matters that are essential and needed for city services.


Exemptions to the hiring freeze include public safety positions already approved, as well as water treatment positions, which McGuire noted was a federally-regulated area.


McGuire and Councilmembers Nick Lessenevitch and Ron Smith agreed to reschedule a budget discussion on July 23 at 5 p.m. and a potential vote at a regular meeting on July 28.


Lessenevitch cited a need for the entire city council to be present for discussions.


“Two of our councilmembers aren’t here today to hear testimony,” Lessenevitch said. “If we want to entertain policy decisions, I doesn’t seem appropriate to have a policy discussion with two members not here.”


McGuire said all that would happen was asking questions, taking information from staff and providing feedback to staff, adding the budget vote would not take place until later.


Lessenevitch countered it didn’t make sense to have important discussions on items like water line replacement or public safety without a full council present.


Lessenevitch also proposed opening the budget discussion up to limited public participation. 


The council meetings have been closed to physical public presence for months as the city complies with the California Department of Public Health guidelines to stem the spread of COVID-19. Members of the public have either submitted electronic comments during live feeds or called in on a conference line during meetings.


However, Lessenevitch noted that Kern Council of Governments is following national guidelines, with its board members opening its meetings to the public with the requirement to wear masks and maintain social distancing.


Under those guidelines, he said, the council could allow a limited attendance of 15 or 20 people. 


Councilman Ron Smith said he would like to see an open meeting. He also agreed with Lessenevitch regarding the absence of the other two councilmembers, noting there would likely be frustration among department heads about having to repeat themselves at later meetings.


McGuire stressed that the city should investigate opening meetings up, noting that Gov. Gavin Newsom sent out “nasta-gram that the state would be checking on all cities and counties” about following current public health guidelines limiting crowds and meetings. McGuire added that the possible consequence includes withholding COVID-19 aid funding for offending local governments.


Currently, state mandates have banned large social gathers since Newsom issued his stay-at-home order in March. While the state went through a recent multi-stage reopening of businesses to get the economy back on track, Newsom issued a rollback for seven counties, ordering bars to close just days after they were allowed to re-open.


The governor’s decision was made in response to an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases across the state, including Kern County. 


“Let’s check on that ... and if Sacramento is happy, let’s get people back in here,” McGuire said. He later added it was important to have the public present because “this [budget] is going to affect the city for a year.”


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