CITY HALL — Mayor Ara Najarian on Tuesday fired back at Glendale Unified School District board President Greg Krikorian, calling insinuations that the city doesn’t do enough to help the school district “false” and “irresponsible.”
“This is nothing more than blatantly politicizing tough issues facing the school board,” Najarian said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
During a three-minute speech to the council last week, Krikorian called for more communication and collaboration between the two government bodies and asked Glendale Water & Power to consider a 20% discount on utility charges to the district.
In response Tuesday, Najarian called on city executives to run through its many collaborative programs with the district, while Krikorian was just a few blocks away at the district board of education meeting defending his assertions that more could be done on the city’s part to lessen the impact of upcoming state education funding cuts.
“We’re not just a small business,” Krikorian said at Tuesday’s board meeting, citing a city interdepartmental memo that referred to the district as such.
But back at City Hall, officials took issue with Krikorian’s implication that they aren’t already collaborating with the school district. Airing perceived grievances at such a public forum is counterproductive and divisive, they said.
“It has become an absolutely politicized issue, and a phony one at that,” Councilman John Drayman said.
City executives say Krikorian’s assertion that the district’s energy bill will likely be $2 million more in 2008 than it was in 2005 is inaccurate, saying their records show a $578,000 increase in rate payments over the three-year billing period.
Glendale Water & Power has also provided nearly $2 million worth of grants and in-kind contributions for capital improvements and rebates for efficiency programs since 1999, Power Management Administrator Ned Bassin said.
Those efforts save the district $270,000 annually, he added.
Taken together with the dozens of programs that work with the city’s police, fire, public works, library and parks departments, a picture of noncooperation is simply inaccurate and “demeans that whole process,” City Manager Jim Starbird said.
“We can’t let that perception get started,” he said.
On Wednesday, Krikorian said city officials were taking his statements out of context and that he too felt as if he was being blindsided.
“It’s very unfortunate that the mayor missed the point I was talking about,” he said. “I never once mentioned that they weren’t helping out. I’ve always been deeply encouraged by city staff.
“It would have been nice to get a phone call to ask, ‘Hey, what did you mean by this?’”
Contrary to how he was portrayed at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Krikorian said he recognizes that the city helps out in a number of ways, but continued city and public use of district facilities need to be addressed as an undue expense at a time when schools throughout California face $4.4 billion reduction in state funding next fiscal year.
“It’s my hope that the City Council members don’t misrepresent what we’re trying to do here,” he said.
He also issued a call for a joint meeting between the City Council and board of education to work out any perceived disconnect.
But claims of politics and misrepresentation that have already been issued could make ruffled feathers harder to stand down, some city and school district officials said.
Najarian and several others on the council Tuesday called for an itemized report next week on city expenditures for collaborative programs with the school district to counter any negative perceptions.
The uptick in rhetoric comes as the 2009 elections season appears to be getting an early start, with announcements from two council incumbents this month that they intend to run for reelection.
Najarian announced his intent two weeks ago at a private party. And Krikorian said he would decide on any potential run for office in the fall, and dismissed inquiries as irrelevant to his quest for greater collaboration with the city.
Angela Hokanson contributed to this report.
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JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at email@example.com.