Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's Mansoor Up To Now?

WHAT THE HECK?!
OK, can someone please explain this latest move by our young jailer/mayor? The other day the Daily Pilot announced, HERE, that Allan Mansoor - candidate for the 68th Assembly seat curr
ently held by Van Tran - will bring the recently-approved agreement between the city and the firefighters union back to the council for re-consideration. Mansoor apparently appealed the decision from the earlier special council meeting just before the council meeting Tuesday. According to city officials, this appeal will now be held at the council meeting on September 1st.

WHO WILL SWITCH?
Mansoor and his "pal", Eric Bever, voted against approval at the earlier meeting. One can only assu
me that Mansoor thinks he's managed to sway one of the other council members - most likely Wendy Leece or Gary Monahan - to change their position.

ALL ACTION FROZEN
This move by Mansoor essentially freezes any
action on that segment of the budget until the appeal is heard and voted on. If, perchance, he is successful in convincing one of his peers to change a vote, that really snarls up the budget process.

INSUFFICIENT NOTICE?

Mansoor, ba
sed on reports, thinks the voting public didn't receive sufficient notice before the new contract was approved. He thinks there's not enough payoff for the city - he termed it, "only short-term savings". It's an interesting statement, since the public has not been privy to the agreements in the past. He's just posturing for potential donors to his campaign.

"NEGOTIATED"
The firefighters negotiated - key word there - the change to their Memorandum of Understanding and actually provided the city with much more savings than it had requested. According to one of their representatives, Fire Captain Jeff Janzen, HERE, the increased retirement
incentive that seems to be part of Mansoor's complaint was not something the firefighters requested - the city needed it to attain the staff reductions as part of the 10-point plan to balance the budget.

INEXPLICABLE STUBBORNNESS

Throughout t
he public elements of the labor negotiations both Mansoor and Bever have shown an inexplicable stubbornness. In Bever's case it might be explained away because he failed to show up an most of the essential meetings during this process so didn't have a clue. It would appear that Mansoor is doing this for pure political posturing purposes. He markets himself as being a hard-liner on taxes, so I guess he thinks putting the city in a headlock at one of it's most critical times in history is a way to demonstrate that "characteristic".

MANSOOR IS BEING STUPID AND CHILDISH

I just think he's being childish and stupid. I think he simply does not grasp the numbers, so feels obligated to say NO!


INTERESTING SIDEBAR
An interesting sidebar to this particular scenario is that Costa Mesa is one of the very few cities whose rules allow the loser on a vote to call it up for appeal. In most other cities only a council member on the winning side of a vote can call it back for re-consideration. Perhaps we should revisit that issue in the near future.

MARKING TIME

So, as the city staff hums the Jeopardy! theme we mark time, waiting until September 1st to see what, if anything changes.

OTHER EMPLOYEES FEEL MISTREATED NOW

Meanwhile, some other city employees feel they were not treated fairly when they negotiated their concessions. Their union representative spoke before the city council last Tuesday, whining about the poor treatment they received. Now, that seems very strange to me. They negotiated - there's that word again - the changes that were approved. Perhaps the employees should be complaining to their paid union representatives. If any of the council members decide to revisit that issue, too, it will create chaos.

SMALL PEOPLE IN BIG JOBS
This is what happens when you elect small people to big jobs... I warned you..

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

Geoff,

I have no problem with the appeal, as the MOU goes through 2013 and binds the taxpayers - NOT the council alone - to the terms of the MOU.

Fire accounts for 17.89% of appropriations, not an insignificant amount, but not an inappropriately high amount it seems. I haven't looked at any comparisons to other cities, so I do not know where we stand. Regardless, there is no question that our Fire Dept. is extremely valuable and a critical component of municipal services.

I briefly reviewed the staff report and agenda item for the MOU approval meeting, and several things troubled me about the MOU.

First is this surrounding city benchmark BS. Having our municipal employee pay dictated by other municipalities is outrageous. We have no control over their financial practices, political processes or union negotiations. Huntington Beach tax revenues have no bearing on Costa Mesa tax revenues. Our budget is ours alone, and if we are having a tough year due to falling tax revenues while Huntington Beach or Fountain Valley are having a great year, we should be able to adjust OUR municipal expenses as WE see fit.

Lets be clear, this benchmark horsepoop is a collective bargaining windfall that the unions absolutely love. There is no free market, and the benchmark scheme only ensures that public employee pay is on an ever-increasing upward trajectory. The entire scam is controlled by public employee unions who prey on elected officials seeking their endorsements.

Second, if minimum staffing levels can be used as a bargaining chip in contract negotiations, they should be discarded. What is the true purpose of minimum staffing levels? Public safety or public employee employment and hours gaurantees? Why are minimum staffing levels tied to general fund revenues? Seems pretty clear to me that it is NOT about public safety at all, but about money. We should do everything we can to eliminate contracted minimum staffing levels. The amount of staffing required should be determined by fire department leaders and the city manager, and should be derived from a formula based on service needs and public safety alone.

8/20/2009 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Rob,

As always, I appreciate your view on an issue. I think you've got it wrong on this one. Regarding the benchmark cities - it's standard practice throughout industry, including public entities, to see what your competition is paying so you can attempt to remain competitive. It's much more practical to retain good, trained employees by having good pay and benefits than it is to continually replace staffers who have left for "greener" pastures - pun intended.

I've been involved in more than a few negotiation sessions - not here, and not in a public entity - so I have a pretty good feel for how they go. The unions want everything they can get. The management group typically wants to get the most bang for their buck. Somewhere during the negotiations an acceptable middle ground is reached and the deal is struck. Until you've been involved in such negotiations your perspective on this subject is limited, but you're still entitled to your opinion.

If you have weak leaders, unwilling to make the difficult choices during those negotiations, the giveaway is compounded time after time. However, that's not the issue here. The city management asked the employee organizations to participate in balancing the budget. It is unrealistic to expect them to give up something - in the case of the firefighters a 4.9% contractually obligated increase this year - without receiving something in return. The goal was to balance the budget, which this MOU facilitated.

It is my opinion that Mansoor did this to enhance his position in his run for the 68th Assembly seat. To stretch out this process only harms our city and makes it more difficult to balance the budget. We'll see how it goes on September 1st.

8/20/2009 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

Geoff,

In every single context EXCEPT the union dominated public employee context, I agree with you regarding market rate pay. In the private sector, the market is determined by economic conditions and competition. Not so in the public sector. Unions dominate the "market" and compensation is locked in with contracts/MOUs. You should know that is absolutely not the case in the private sector. Cities with extremely large tax bases should never dictate the public employee compensation for other cities - even when averaged out.

I'm not taking the employee unions to task - they are doing what they are supposed to do - get the best deal for their members. I do believe that Mansoor is correct in bringing this to the public's attention. When city services are being slashed, what business does the city have in agreeing to an MOU that contains contractually mandated increases? Just how does this staffing level deal work? We should look at all these issues.

Perhaps Righeimer is right about a legacy of poor deal-making by city councils. At what point do the residents and businesses get a say? After all, if you are right - these city councilmembers are mostly looking out for themselves, but at least Mansoor's alleged self-interest also benefits the public.

I noticed that you did not address the staffing level issue. I'd like to know the rationale. As it stands, trading better retirement for fewer firefighters looks awful - who are they protecting - firefighetrs or the city they serve? Again, the burden is not on the union, it is on the council.

8/20/2009 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Rob, without a market analysis how would you, as a city councilman, arrive at what you think is a fair wage for your public employees - pull a number out of the hat? Short of having some higher branch of government decide for us just what a certain job is worth, this is the system we have. Of course, it requires us to elect people with at least average intelligence so they can grasp 2+2=4. Sadly, that's not the case in our city, where petulance has replaced performance. Bever's phoning it in and Mansoor, well, just doesn't get it.

I disagree with you about Mansoor's self-interest benefiting the public. Explain to me how dredging up an issue already approved - with no material facts changed since it's approval - benefits the public! This just delays the implementation of other elements of the budget strategy, which, in turn, makes it more likely that the city will have to tap what's left of our available reserves to stay afloat.

Regarding the guaranteed minimum staffing - I'm not privy to all the discussions in closed sessions and other negotiation sessions, so can only speculate - as can you. I suspect it had to do with having enough staff on board to man each piece of equipment during their tour of duty. It does not good to have a truck in the garage if you have nobody to drive it. My understanding is the the reduction to 28 from 32 will tax the management staff significantly to have all the bases covered.

Some folks gripe about firemen because they see them in the markets, shopping for food, or working out at their station. I have NO PROBLEM with that! We expect those men and women to be fit enough to drag our unconscious carcass out of a burning building when required to do so - to do that they must be fit. There is significant "down" time in any firefighter's day - unless he's out on a wildfire. When the bell rings, though, they MUST be ready to go - and they are.

8/20/2009 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

Geoff,

My point regarding benchmarks is simple: these benchmarks are completely artificial, and not reflective of actual market and economic conditions. They are a product of decades of collective bargaining, weak elected officials, and a slumbering public.

Tying our fortunes to the surrounding cities makes absolutely NO economic sense, as there are virtually no similarities except geography.

Huntington's proposed budget for FY 2009/10 is $304,459,000. Of that, $33,478,547 is fire - or 10.8%.

Newport's proposed budget for FY 2009/10 is $225,879,885. Of that, $33,754,688 is for fire (including lifeguards) - or 14.9%.

Fountain Valley's 2009/10 budget is $37,362,969. Of that, fire and building (not separated in available documents) is $9,841,502 - or 26.3%.

Santa Ana's proposed FY 2009/10 budget is $554,269,965. Of that, fire is $51,511,185 - or 9.3%.

We're at 17.89% spending on fire (see pg. 16: http://www.ci.costa-mesa.ca.us/budget/FY09-10-Proposed-Budget.pdf)

These numbers are wildly divergent, and go to my point that each one of these municipalities are different places with differnt economic profiles and priorities. Tying our employee compensation to theirs is about as silly as tying our total expenditures on fire to theirs.

A Santa Ana firefighter has a different job than a Newport firefighter or a Costa Mesa firefighter. Sure, they all do essentially the same thing, but pay alone does not dictate where someone chooses to work. If we took unions out of the picture, I bet we'd have a completely different compensation model - one that might even pay higher actual salaries.

We don't know what would happen without unions in the picture, because that has never been the case in modern times. The council needs to step up and take control back. The unions are strong and are effectively advocating for THEIR constituents. It is high time the Council does the same thing.

Since Katrina Foley voted on this budget, I'm glad that Mansoor is appealing it. Any hint of impartiality on Foley's part was completely eliminated during the budget process - at least in her public statements. We effectively had one locked-in union vote, when we actually need ELECTED councilmemebers who actually represent the citizens and businesses, not the employee unions who help them get elected.

8/20/2009 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Rob, once that last vote was taken and approved by the majority of the elected leaders of our city the contracts were signed and we are locked in. There really is no recourse now. The deal is done, signed, sealed and delivered. Mansoor knows this... the only thing accomplished by this political posturing is to give him more free press for his candidacy for the Assembly. The deal cannot be undone so this only serves Mansoor's political agenda and not the voters and/or residents of this city.

8/20/2009 03:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

Geoff,

You're most likely correct on that point, which underscores the need for more public review of these types of agreements before they go up for Council vote. Although, as you have repeatedly documented, the public doesn't seem to care much about city budgeting until their programs start getting cut!

8/20/2009 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger Bruce Krochman said...

I may have missed it in all the words you both typed, but does anyone know about the allegation that the lower pension payout was in exchange for more pay a few years back? If so, did we just give the higher pay and a better pension deal?

In any case, Rob makes one point that I can not possibly agree with more:

"The amount of staffing required should be determined by fire department leaders and the city manager, and should be derived from a formula based on service needs and public safety alone."

8/21/2009 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Humberto Caspa said...

Geoff,
This has nothing to do with your posting. I went to the movie theater last night, and saw Tarantino's latest bizzare work, Inglourious Basterds. It was a little too much for me, but I have to acknowledge that I laughed quite a bit when Nazi's got their ass kicked (right now I'm feeling terrible about that). I wonder if the Mouth would be willing to go and see it. It's about Nazi Germany. Hitler is there, and all the the big guys. What do you think? I'll pay his ticket.

8/22/2009 12:03:00 PM  

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