Thanks Randall Stone for one of our best meetings ever!

3 Jun

Yesterday’s meeting with Randall Stone was one of our most productive yet. Even though I don’t agree with Stone on everything, we found common ground – we would both like to see the employees pay their own share.

I had booked the library room for a long meeting, and glad I did. We spent the entire two hours talking about budgetary problems,  from superficially low developer fees to employee contracts.

Randall reported that he had agreed with lowering developer fees during the last few years, in hopes of stimulating development and new businesses moving here. But, he says he realizes, fees here are some of the lowest in the state, a lot less than other cities of the same size, and it’s time to raise them back to levels sufficient for the development services department to pay for itself. Can’t argue there.

We talked about Measure J, which Randall feels should have been passed. I tried to get him to explain why we should pay more taxes,  given the report we’d both heard last Tuesday morning at the Finance Committee meeting, but we never got past the “agree to disagree” phase.

But the questions I had for Randall involved the employee contracts and employee share. I reminded Randall that Chris Constantin had told us at the Fin Comm meeting that he’s willing to pay his own share, but “they” won’t let him.  Randall explained this very well – “they” would be Constantin’s union fellows.  He may vote to pay the full share, but the others in his union all vote to take the E(mployer)P(aid)M(ember)C(ontribution). The majority rules, and that’s the package they hand over to our labor negotiators – city manager Brian Nakamura and a contractor who comes in to help.

The negotiators deal with the union representatives behind closed doors, and then make a closed door presentation to the council. It is up to the council, all seven of them, to decide whether to accept the offer or not. If there is no offer accepted by a certain deadline, the contract already in place rolls over and the employees just have to take it or leave it.

Instead of taking the hard line that a lot of us would like to see, council recently unanimously approved a contract that gave the cops raises and kept the EPMC  intact for another year.  Instead of telling the sergeants to cut their overtime, they gave police lieutenants a raise to solve the “compaction problem.” They gave police employees $330 a month toward a kind of HSA, in addition to their paid benefits. The cops even get paid for the time it takes them to get in and out of their uniforms every day.

I have asked Mark Sorensen and now Randall, why approve this contract? They both tell me, this contract only lasts a year, at which time they feel they will be in a better position to negotiate a new contract.  Sorensen won’t say anything beyond that, but Stone insinuated that after Nakamura gets done making cuts in both those departments, both public safety groups will be more reasonable. He mentioned, “naming names” of people who will actually be laid off – this is apparently what it takes to get the fire department to do the right thing.

Now we can only wait until talks begin next fall. Wait and see!  

But in the meantime, I hope people will start to turn up the heat on both public safety management and council to come up with better agreements. Randall Stone agrees – he wants everybody to know, the city is in trouble, and the EMPC is a large part of the problem. We need to “press” our city employees, particularly the public safety employees, to pay their own share of their benefits and pensions.

Stone said a few times, he doesn’t want “vitriol,” but he expects it, asking at one point that we “please don’t let the fire department pit the people against the council.” Last Summer, faced with the same request to cut his department budget, Chief Beery closed Station 5. Then fire department employee Ken Campbell and some others actually went door-to-door in the neighborhood surrounding Station 5,  telling people council had closed the station. They told folks to call the council members at home and tell them what they thought. Boy, Bob Evans was so mad – he got some pretty hot calls! This is the kind of “vitriol” the fire department likes to stir up.

Ha ha – that didn’t end up well for the Fire Department, Ken Campbell being made to stand at the podium like a whipping boy tied to a post, while Bob Evans got him to admit he had essentially lied, knowingly, to the public, to get his way – a bigger budget for the Fire Department. You must be careful when you throw a rock at a bee hive there, Ken, you better be all knees and elbows, that’s for sure, or you will get a pantsful of mad bees. 

So this time, when Brian Nakamura asked each department to make a 10 percent cut, rather than take a chance with the fickle public (bees), Chief Beery decided to threaten closure of the airport fire station. The public might not care – out in the “middle of nowhere,” the airport station only really serves a legal requirement for a fire engine to be available some 15 minutes before and after a commercial airplane lands (or takes off?). But, that brings the Federal Aviation Administration into it, like a water buffalo in a kiddie pool. I’m going to assume that Chief Beery has already drafted, if not sent, a letter informing the FAA of his decision to close that station. 

So, that’s the game they play, both of them. I say, play your hand Chief Beery – we can give that contract to Cal Fire/Butte County Station 42, right up the road. I’m betting they wouldn’t mind making a run to and from the airport three or four time a day.  

We’ll have to keep up the pressure, they’ll be discussing the contracts again in the fall. Write to your council members, tell them to get tough.  Getting the employees to pay their own share would eliminate a lot of our burden. 

Thanks again to Randall Stone for frank conversation. I hope he’ll come back in. We’d like to get some other council members to come in, maybe some staffers. This discussion was so much better than the council meetings, where you are limited in what you can say and how long you can talk. This was a table top discussion, with members jumping in as they had something to add.  It got a little push and shove at times, but we self-regulated really well, and everybody got to add their two cents. 

We also decided to start studying the employee contracts, get the public to read them, and get some public dialog going between now and next September. Let’s do it! 

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