Sutter County Taxpayers Association: Open Union Negotiations to the Public!

28 Oct

When Larry Wahl and Steve Bertagna were on council, and sorta friendly to me, I innocently asked them if I could attend the city employee contract talks. Larry immediately said he’d look into it, didn’t see any problem with it. But Steve told me, they couldn’t let the public in – that would compromise the secrecy they used to muscle out these agreements. Bertagna point blank told me: they play the cops against the fire employees, and if they had loose-lipped members of the public in there, the whole thing would blow! 

I’ll give Larry Wahl this much – he said he would try to get me in, but then-city manager Dave Burkland said NO WAY. Nobody else on council made a peep.

One day a couple of years ago – I blogged this – I was on my  way to a meeting in the city complex and I stumbled into the wrong room. I was fumbling with my winter wraps when a very startled Linda Dye (now retired having spiked her salary with a pre-retirement promotion) stood up and bluntly asked me what I was doing in there. Turns out, it was the cops and certain city officials, in there talking cop contract. I excused myself, saying I was looking for another meeting, she got a little more polite, but she told me to leave. 

On my way out I encountered city clerk Debbie Presson and her mate Dani Brinkley shoving a catering cart up the ramp toward City Hall, to the room where the cops were having their meeting. The cart was covered with buns and other snacks. Presson gave me a look like something went up her skirt – she didn’t want me to see what she was doing, she knew it was inappropriate for the city to cater a meeting like that. They dropped snacks at public meetings about 10 years ago, saying it was imprudent to be handing out sugary confections and free coffee,  given the city’s financial situation. 

All kinds of things go on behind those closed doors that are not appropriate, and they will hold  us out as long as we allow them to do so.

In Orange County, the city of Costa Mesa has passed a new ordinance requiring negotiations with city unions to be done in public. I wish I could get some back-up – I would be glad to make such an ordinance for Chico the focus of the Chico Taxpayers Association.

Here’s my shout out to the Sutter County folks – by the way, they sent a delegation to the CPUC PG&E rate increase hearings. Where were you? 


from Sutter County Taxpayers Assoc newsletter, available at their website here:


SCTA Says: Open Union Negotiations
to the Public!
A city in Orange County has passed a new ordinance
which is saving taxpayers money. The Civic Openness
In Negotiations ordinance, or COIN, was implemented
by the City of Costa Mesa to require negotiations with
city unions be done in public.
The COIN ordinance requires public disclosure of
traditionally closed labor negotiations between the city
and its public employee unions. COIN allows the public
to see and comment on formal proposals before the
council votes on them.
An article by Stephen Frank in California Political
Review states: “Had COIN been in place from 2000 to
2010, residents would have learned that the city’s three
public employee unions were pushing through major
increases in employee pensions. Pensions were
increased as much as 50%, and increases were
‘retroactively applied’ to each employee’s hire date.”
Costa Mesa now has a $228 million unfunded pension
A similar event happened in Sutter County. In 2004,
pensions were retroactively raised 35% without the
public being aware of the proposal before it ended up
on the county agenda. And, even worse, the item was
placed on the “consent calendar” which does not allow
public comment unless it is pulled from the consent
calendar which Auditor-Controller Robert Stark tried to
do, but was rebuffed. So here we are 10 years later and Sutter County’s
pension debt owed to CalPERS has gone from $11
million to a whopping $127 million. Yuba City
currently owes $55.3 million to CalPERS. These
debts certainly affect the city’s and county’s
ability to hire adequate levels of police,
firefighters and other employees.
Closed negotiations with county employee unions
this year gave the employees an additional holiday
– Cezar Chavez Day on March 31 — and the entire
week off between Christmas and New Years by
giving employees extra days off that week.
This year’s negotiations with the unions were
done by then Human Resources Director Karen
Ropp. SCTA has gone on record requesting that
future negotiations be done by an outside
negotiator. SCTA has been assured by County
Administrative Officer James Arkens that an
outside negotiator will be hired. SCTA is
encouraging Sutter County and Yuba City to pass
a COIN ordinance requiring that negotiations with
employee unions and organizations be conducted
in public in order to provide complete
transparency and give the public a chance to weigh in.

4 Responses to “Sutter County Taxpayers Association: Open Union Negotiations to the Public!”

  1. Michael Jones October 28, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    Sounds like another avenue to pursue. Let’s look into it. Remember: 80%of General Fund goes to employee compensation, and 80% of that goes to public safety. If the CPOA gets its opening offer accepted, even more will go to public safety, leaving the other city services in tatters. The SEIU union should be applauding us; their members are getting the short end of the stick. SEIU representative Chris Bolshazy told the Council he was angry at our campaign signs that point out that the average city employee in Chico is compensated at the amount of $106,000. Chris was outraged because he thought that was WAY too high. Well, Chris, your members are underpaid, but police and fire get the average up to $106,000. Or, as Chris Constatin pointed out, (I think this was it) $106,275.

    • Juanita Sumner October 28, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

      I have heard Chris Bolshazy bring up some really important points – yes, there is a lot of wage disparity at the city. For example, I watched Debbie Presson’s salary go from about $60,000/year to over $130,000/year in about five years – over 100%, right? Meanwhile, her staffers’ salaries stayed in the $35 – 50,000 range. One longtime staffer I know has seen just a little more than a $10,000 increase in her salary in that same period, from around $50,000 to just over $60,000 – that would only be about 20%, right?

      And, like Mary told us, Presson whittled her staff down to just Dani, giving herself those wage increases, and giving Dani a promotion to “Deputy Clerk” as well as a fat raise. And now Presson has the nerve to complain that she doesn’t have the staff to serve us properly.

      We need to make selective salary cuts, starting with “public safety” and management. Maybe Bolshazy is afraid they’ll end up making across the board cuts, and he’ll end up making less than $50,000/year and little or no benefits, like CARD’s lower level staffers.

      • Jane October 28, 2014 at 9:13 pm #

        Bolshazy doesn’t work for the city.

      • Juanita Sumner October 29, 2014 at 6:33 am #

        I don’t think I ever heard him say he works for the city, I’ve just heard him id himself as being an SEIU member. I assumed he is some kind of public employee. A quick Google reveals him to be an SEIU rep, if you can believe anything you read on the internet.

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