Christmas is over, time to get back to business

29 Dec

I really don’t know what to think or who to trust these days. Yes, I’ve been testy with Mark Sorensen, and some of my friends are giving me the hairy eyeball over that.  Well, I’ll give it right back at them – why aren’t more “conservatives” questioning Mark Sorensen?  Why aren’t more people demanding to know what’s going on in the contract talks?  At the very least, Sorensen could be more vocal about what he would like to achieve in the new contracts. 

I am surprised to find Enterprise Record Editor David Little saying something about city employee compensation.  I’ve had to wonder if his paper is running some sort of propaganda screen in favor of city employees. In June he ran a story entitled, “Chico officers offer concessions, city says no.”   The headline should tell you, Reporter Ashley Gebb wrote a slanted piece.  She made it look like the police department was really trying to help out! She wrote it as though CPOA president Peter Durfee had the facts, and Mark Orme was just making excuses when he said the proposal would actually cost the city an extra $500,000, not save the city $700,000 like Durfee claimed. An unbiased piece would have started something like this: “City officials and police employees are in disagreement over a proposal by the police department...” etc. Instead she writes it from the police department’s point of view. 

Since then, as far as I can find, there hasn’t been one word run in the Enterprise Record news section about the current contract discussions Downtown, even though it’s been kicked around the letters page. A couple of years ago the city told us they’d “sunshine” these talks, show us everything that came out of every meeting. When I ask Sorensen about it, he simple denies that there is any negotiation going on right now. He treats us like “the kids.” Well Daddy-O, Junior is about to drive your carcass over to Sunnybrook Farms if you don’t get off the stick and do something.  

 Below Little seems to be pointing a ridiculous salaries in cities around California, as if Brian Nakamura’s salary is not so bad! But, Little reminds us, Chico is a small town with small problems – our biggest problem here Folks, is how we will pay our employees! Look at the amount of time they put into that subject Downtown, at various committee meetings. Whenever they are talking about “funding” anything, it’s the salaries they’re talking about, paying salaries and the associated benefits and pension.

Our town just drives itself around in a little circle all day, they never do anything for us, they just perpetuate their own livelihood.  And “they” include seven councilors who take a salary and very nice health benefits to sit up there like the Mad Hatter and his staff of Dormouse and other idiots.  Oh, that’s beautiful – imagine it yourself, Gruendl in the hat, and Sorensen’s butt sticking out of a teapot! 

Meanwhile, as Dave Little says, “An alert reader pointed out this week that Chico’s wages, plus retirement and benefits, ‘are higher in comparison to bigger cities in Marin and Los Angeles counties. Even Beverly Hills.’ Chico?!”

Later he describes our city employee benefits as “Cadillac packages.” I have to agree. And we can’t just point at the cops and fire – it’s Brian Nakamura and the rest of management staff, who have the highest salaries, expect to be paid 70 percent of those salaries in retirement, but pay only 4 percent of the cost now. They are just as bad as the cops and fire, if not worse – Nakamura controls the whole thing, as head negotiator, as if that’s appropriate! 

Where are the rest of you? Sitting at home with your cozies? Hey, Christmas is over, and the New Year is breathing down your neck, holding it’s hand out for more of your money. Wake up and write to council. Tell them to stop giving away the bank. 

Chico Taxpayers will be taking up the new year with a new schedule. We’re meeting on the fourth Thursday of January, trying out a new time – 1pm.  We have a guest for this meeting, County Assessor candidate Alan Petersen. I hope he can enlighten us about the workings of the assessor’s office, and his philosophy for running it.  Incumbent Fred Holland will also be running, so I will try to get him to come in and visit another time. I don’t believe in debates, they’re too hard to run correctly and usually end up skewed by politics. I’d rather give these candidates a forum and the public an opportunity to ask non-political questions. 

Meanwhile, I hope you will all read up on the employee contracts, available here:

http://www.chico.ca.us/human_resources_and_risk_management/labor_agreements_home.asp

You’ll also find some interesting rules for employees and various employee-related procedures, but you won’t find anything about the rules for the contract talks. I look for that and get back to it.

David Little: Salary numbers don’t lie

By DAVID LITTLE-Editor

POSTED:   12/26/2013 10:31:11 AM PST

For an alleged wordsmith, I’ve sure become a numbers geek lately.

Spreadsheets with data fascinate me (well, usually) and the release of new salary information on state Controller John Chiang’s website was a revelation to me this week. I spent four hours browsing it Friday to see what cities, counties and colleges are paying their employees.

It convinced me I went into the wrong business.

We have our own database of public employee salaries at www.chicoer.com/salaries, but it lists only salaries of local governments and schools.

Chiang’s website (publicpay.ca.gov) is fun to play around in because you can compare the local entities to others in the state. I found there’s no rhyme or reason to salary levels.

You’d expect that the highest-paid city manager in the state would be from Los Angeles, San Diego or San Jose. Wrong. Not one of them is even in the top 10.

The top-paid city official in the state is the city manager of Buena Park, who earned $545,394 last year. Really? The home of Knott’s Berry Farm is that tough to manage?

City managers from Carlsbad, Menifee and Temecula are also in the top 10. Without Chiang’s website, I’d never know the fascinating fact that the city manager in Menifee earned $440,415 in 2012. Without Google maps, I’d never know where Menifee is.

The second-highest-paid city official in the state isn’t a city manager. It’s a police sergeant in South Gate who earned $486,044. Must be a dangerous place. No. 3 is the city attorney in Pleasant Hill ($465,209). A lot of litigious people there, I guess. And No. 4 is a fire battalion chief in Milpitas ($461,212). A lot of fires in Milpitas.

Chiang’s website not only lists these people (without naming names, for some reason) but it allows other ways to parse the data. You can see how wages rise and fall. (Hint: They don’t fall.) You can see the positions with the highest compensation. (Hint: You want to be a doctor at the Kern County Medical Center.) And you can see the average employee wage for each local government.

An alert reader pointed out this week that Chico’s wages, plus retirement and benefits, “are higher in comparison to bigger cities in Marin and Los Angeles counties. Even Beverly Hills. Chico?!”

Well, yes. Dive deep and there are plenty of appalling numbers. But there are also reasons to be thankful. For example, be thankful you don’t live and pay taxes in Vernon, where there are 121 residents and 287 city government employees. Those city employees make an average of $98,332, highest in the state. (Vernon, by the way, is right next to Bell. That figures.)

The second-highest wages in the state are in Hayward. Then Sand City. Vallejo is fifth, right after Los Angeles.

Chico, which has some well-documented financial problems, is 44th in average wages at $67,645 out of 478 cities. That’s better (for taxpayers) than Vernon or Sand City, but higher than larger or more expensive cities such as Napa, Newport Beach, Oceanside, San Diego, Sausalito and Santa Barbara.

Even more alarming for Chico is if you filter the results based on the average retiree and health care cost the taxpayer funds. Chico is 14th in the state out of 478 cities, paying $31,940 per employee. That’s almost double the state average. Add it to the average wages, and it’s an average of more than $100,000 a year per employee.

That’s something for City Council members to keep in mind as the city negotiates labor contracts and tries to cut expenses to end this brutal cycle of cutting. There wouldn’t be as many job cuts if the city wasn’t handing out Cadillac benefits packages.

4 Responses to “Christmas is over, time to get back to business”

  1. Mary December 29, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

    The citizens won’t see any sunshine on the negotiations until the City has come to a tentative agreement with the unions, and then the Council agenda item will consist of the proposed MOU(s) or PBR(s). Watch the meeting agendas carefully; this could slip by pretty quickly and quietly if the City isn’t able to crow about some massive concessions. Thanks for what you do.

    • Juanita Sumner December 30, 2013 at 6:32 am #

      Thanks Mary – as usual, you give me a straight answer when other people (I’m trying to quit picking on Sorensen) won’t. I misunderstood – I thought they promised to sunshine all proposals, period. But we won’t hear anything until they’ve pretty much made up their minds – as usual. Good advice, I’ll try to shake off the post Christmas bucolic and get back in gear.

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