Pension News From San Jose
In an interesting bit of pre-Christmas pension news, a judge has ruled that San Jose - which like many cities around the state is wrestling with the skyrocketing unfunded pension liabilities - may NOT force current employees to contribute significantly more towards their pensions, but CAN cut employees' salaries to offset its increasing pension costs . Read about it in an article from the San Jose Mercury News, HERE.
AN INTERESTING OBSERVATION
One of the very interesting paragraphs in that story reads as follows:
"City leaders may find it difficult to go through with the pay cuts, however. The City Council earlier this month approved 10 percent pay raises for cops, after police officers began fleeing the department for better-paying cities. The cop exodus has coincided with a huge increase in crime, above the California and national averages, while arrests have dropped in half in recent years."
IMPACT OF TOXIC WORKPLACE
Here in Costa Mesa we are dealing with a similar exodus, not only in the Police Department, but among the ranks of the so-called "miscellaneous employees", as well. Folks are leaving due, in great part, to the toxic work environment created by the current elected leadership and the apprehension of attempts at draconian measures tried in San Jose, including possible municipal bankruptcy.
REPLACING LOST EXPERIENCE
As a result, we are losing hundreds of years of experience and institutional knowledge that cannot be easily replaced. For example, it takes more than a year from the time we begin a search for a new police officer for that person to be vetted, hired and sufficiently trained before being unleashed on the populace.
Presently the City of Costa Mesa has nearly 50 vacant positions across the board from an authorized staffing strength that is already 25% smaller than in previous years. That gap will only widen as the adversarial labor negotiations proceed into the new year. During a recent council meeting CEO Tom Hatch stated that, if expectations of the City Council are to be met, staffing levels MUST be increased - finally! This deficiency is most pronounced in the Costa Mesa Police Department, where it is likely that early in the new year they will be able to place fewer than 100 officers on the streets and public safety will suffer.
HATCH AND CONTRACT ADMINISTRATORS
You may recall that, right after this council majority took over three years ago, I joked that their idea of a perfect city staff would be Hatch and a half-dozen contract administrators to oversee all the contractors, temps and consultants that replaced city staff. At the time I was joking, but it looks like that's the road we are on.
OVERTIME, TEMPS AND CONSULTANTS
In the meantime, in order to get the work done, employees are burning out due to the significant overtime hours have been demanded, then criticized by members of the City Council for earning so much money! And, it has become necessary to try to back fill some positions using expensive temporary employees and even more expensive consultants. We recently saw a request for $200,000 in consulting support approved for the Development Services Department and will likely see something similar for Public Services - to temporarily fill the void created by a rash of retirements at the end of this year.
WHAT'S HIS PLAN?
I have no idea how Mayor Jim Righeimer plans to address the unfunded pension issue. He's adamantly stated that he's "not sending one additional penny to Sacramento", so if he's not willing to find ways to pay down the debt, what are the alternatives?
SETTING UP MUNICIPAL BANKRUPTCY?
Well, we know that he's spending cash like there's no tomorrow - the $7.1 million budget surplus from the last fiscal year is now fully-committed, for example - and we also know that his hand-picked Pension Oversight Committee recently heard a Municipal Bankruptcy presentation by one of their members. We also know, by his previous history and recent actions, that he is trying to "bust the unions" - destroy the employee associations that, for years, have been willing collaborators with city management - and has attempted to paint them as "union thugs". I wouldn't be surprised if his move to Costa Mesa a few years ago was specifically planned so he could carry out that plan in a city he and his pals in the OC GOP hierarchy saw as easy pickin's. And, is it a coincidence that one of our contracted attorney firms, Jones Day, has recently guided the City of Detroit into municipal bankruptcy?
WINNERS AND LOSERS?
The Mercury News article states that both sides won. In actuality, I suspect both sides feel like they lost. It will be interesting to see how that court ruling is perceived in other cities around the state, including Costa Mesa. Meanwhile, in our city employee morale is at an all-time low, important projects are delayed because staffing levels are too low, public safety is in jeopardy, controversial issues regarding Fairview Park and the 60th Anniversary Celebration costs linger and ferment and the current council majority continues to rack up millions in legal bills because they apparently consider litigation just another cost of doing business.
SORTING TRUTH FROM LIES
Next year we're going to be hearing a lot of rhetoric on the campaign trail. The volume and intensity of the vitriol - probably from both sides - will be increased and it will become increasingly difficult to sort the facts from the political, self-serving fiction. We're going to try to help with that problem by following the campaigns closely and reporting the issues as we see them.
Members of the current elected leadership so dislike criticism of their actions that they've recently codified measures to quash critical comments during council meetings, thereby disenfranchising many voters. They, and their mouthpieces, constantly refer to those who have a different view of issues as "haters" in an attempt to marginalize their views.
IT'S UP TO YOU
So, get some rest over the holidays and be ready to pay even closer attention to municipal issues next year. Do some research on issues that are important to you, attend relevant meetings and participate in the debate. Only you, the voters of this city, can make change. It's up to you...
AN APPROPRIATE CHRISTMAS DITTY
In the spirit of the season - it is Christmas Eve, after all - courtesy of Dr. Suess I leave you this morning with a little song dedicated to our mayor. Enjoy...