Saturday, July 18, 2009

MP3 in the Works or What?

SDCERS prepared a Power Point Presentation for last Fridays Board meeting. The presentation contained fifty-six slides detailing the "Actuarial Implications of FY 2009 Investment Results." Contained in the presentation were options or maybe better stated, "Scenarios" for the future. Starting with slide sixteen (16) you can get a picture of where the fund is and what the ramifications of these scenarios to the City as the "Plan Sponsor" and SDCERS. Slides seventeen (17) to twenty-four (24) provide options for consideration by Board Members to decide what is best for the "PLAN" and the health of SDCERS into the future. Slides twenty-five (25) to forty-four (44) is a summary and examples of the various possibilities available to SDCERS for calculating the City's required contribution or ARC to SDCERS on the employees behalf. Slides forty-five (45) to fifty-three (53) are projections for each of the scenarios provided to the Board for consideration.

So what is this discussion all about? In simple terms, it is talk of a "bailout" on a much smaller scale than what we are seeing across this nation by the Obama administration. Remember MP1 and MP2; schemes that got us into this mess in the first place? The underfunding of our retirement plan so the City and elected officials could spend the money ear marked for pension contribution, on pet projects and other things? Well, this is what they are talking about; another plan to "lessen the load" or "defer" the obligation to future years for the City.

The mayor first floated the idea of changing the "corridor." The mayor went so far as to NOT re-appoint an experienced and educated trustee to replace him with someone he felt would be more supportive of his plan. The pension system's corridor, limits the "smoothing" or averaging of the payment needed from the City to meet the obligations of the plan. The corridor ensures this smoothing does not get too far off track and ensures adequate payments from the City. Confusing I know but bear with me. Because of the economy performing so badly, the pension system's assets are worth much less than before. The smoothing allows the value to be shown at a value higher than actual value by using an average over a specific period of time from high to low. But the pension system's corridor ensures this "smoothing" doesn't get more than 20% out of line. So the smoothing effort is restrained and the appearance of the health of the fund is more closely aligned with reality (sorta).

Scott Lewis in the Voice of San Diego wrote an article; "Amazing Admission; It's Either This or Bankruptcy." Scott generally writes well reasoned and articulate pieces. This article is articulate but to me misses the true point of what the mayor is attempting to pull off. Scott reasons if SDCERS does not make adjustments and allow the city to put off $50 million of their payment; the city will end up in bankruptcy. Scott writes; "Now, we finally have a number measuring the exact distance between the city and insolvency: $50 million." The mayor would have you think that. It is not true in any way shape or form.

Scott details what the corridor and smoothing is and what is being discussed regarding the city and their ARC payment due for the next fiscal year to SDCERS. Scott lays out well the discussion at SDCERS regarding the funding, where the system is, what to expect in the coming years and what options are available. But at the end of his article Scott writes the following;

"For weeks, I couldn't figure out why the mayor would ever consider pushing such a plan. Was he nuts? Had he not seen what similar decisions had done to his predecessor? Now it's much clearer. This time, he really is staring down the barrel of insolvency and he, and the city's powers that be, are doing everything they possibly can to make it shoot somebody else in the face."

"The mayor is bound and determined to prove something: that not being able to make your payment to the pension system doesn't mean you don't have enough money. It just means the rules are wrong. You, residents, are at least technically in control of the situation. You have to decide whether you fear bankruptcy more than you fear the pain of reckoning with what is the defining attribute of the city in which you live: It simply doesn't take in the money it has promised to pay out. You can change all the rules you want. You can count it in different ways. But we now have as clear a reckoning as ever. If the city is forced to put $50 million into its pension fund, it will be insolvent."

Scott, the mayor is not nuts; he is a cold, calculating individual who has an agenda and is using all resources to pull it off. What is the agenda? He is intent on eliminating DROP; reducing retirement benefits; and stripping employees of all reason to work for the City of San Diego. The mayor is staring down the barrel of insolvency NOT because of the payment to SDCERS. He is in fact doing everything he can to make the shot hit somebody else in the face. The mayor chooses to stare down that barrel because he refuses to make the tough decisions. Why in hell is money being spent to look at building a new city hall? Why is money being spent to plan a new downtown library? Why is money being spent to discuss and plan an expansion to the Convention Center? Why has the mayor not yet placed on the ballot an initiative to charge for trash collection? Why has the mayor not yet implemented a plan to charge for parking at beaches, parks, zoo, and wild animal park? Why are taxpayers still paying to provide security at private events like the Rock n Roll Marathon, Street Scenes; Mardi Gras; Padre and Charge games? Why are taxpayers paying the maintenance for fields, courts, lights and security for little league, pop warner, AYSL leagues, youth basketball, tennis and other groups?

My point is the mayor and his priorities are way out of focus and not in step with 2009. The economy and collapse of the markets that resulted in the loss of revenue, has required a re-focus of the priorities of all Americans. We have all made adjustments and changed the way we do things at home. We have put off the re-model of the bathroom, kitchen, front or back yard; we have held onto that car for a few more years rather than take on another payment; we have cut back on our water use, electricity, going out to dinner; we have begun bringing our lunch instead of eating out. Yet the mayor and council continue along with a one billion dollar expansion project to the Convention Center, a similar expenditure for a City Hall and yet another half a billion dollar tab for a downtown library. I could go on with examples of the priorities of this mayor and council but I think you get my point.

That somebody Scott, who is going to get shot in the face, is the poor sap elected to office in 2012 to replace this mayor. The new mayor, stuck with the idiocy of this mayor, will be facing that bullet. The new council (We can all hope it's new) will have to figure out the mess left by this group. Taxpayers have been fed so much crap about the benefits, wages and cost of city employees; we will forever be the cause of the financial ills of this city. The press and politicians have found an easy patsy to blame and we will suffer the consequences for years to come. We could offer up further concessions and cuts and it will never be enough. We could fix the funding issues with the retirement but the mayor and council refuse to listen. They know better and besides; if it's fixed, they could no longer use us as an excuse.

The city will not become insolvent if they are made to pay the $50 million they owe SDCERS. Changing the corridor may very well be acceptable and necessary to assist short term with the lack of revenue. But it must be temporary and only if the mayor and council begin to honestly seek reductions in services; increase in fees and revenue and STOP the nonsense around the Convention Center expansion; City Hall planning and the new Downtown Library. Until then; I'm sick of giving back, when all I see from city hall is more spending on projects that we cannot afford all the while telling the taxpayer more reductions and cuts to employee wages and benefits is necessary.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Platinum Equity lives in a glass house

Yesterday I wrote about a completely idiotic, boorish article by Michael Stutz in the Union Tribune; "Remember, City Hall – we buy ink by the barrel." Stetz boldly boasts of the Tribune's willingness and ability to write anything it desires and its determination to "spill" some of that ink to put anyone who has the mitigated gall to challenge its yellow journalism in their place.

Today I came across a couple of articles where Martin Singer, attorney for Platinum Equity (Owners of the Union Tribune) sent a letter to the S.D. Reader, threatening to sue them for an article related to two law suits filed against them. Singer took a page from Stetz and used some of that ink, as he penned a letter which contained 2,587 words.

I started laughing to myself as I read the threats from Singer. I could not help but reflect back to yesterday and the comments of Stetz. Singer is threatening to sue the S.D. Reader for a story, they were about to publish, about two law suits filed against Platinum Equity in Los Angeles. Singer writes; "In the event that you proceed to recklessly and maliciously publish a Story which falsely states, either directly or by implication that my client engaged in wrongdoing as alleged in those lawsuits or otherwise, you will be exposed to substantial claims for defamation, giving rise to potentially astronomical damages." Maybe Singer should counsel the journalists (I use this term loosely) at the paper owned by Platinum Equity about the implication of "proceeding recklessly and maliciously to publish stories which falsely states either directly or by implication wrongdoing or otherwise."

In the letter to the S.D. Reader, Singer accuses them of having a "pre-conceived agenda to attack, disparage and defame." Singer goes on to add, "we are confident that the Reader's pattern of publishing negative stories about my client, culminating in the upcoming Story, would establish the Reader's use of these journalistic devices, and would supply ample evidence of malice." AGAIN, maybe Singer should sit the editors, writers and bobble heads who work at the Union Tribune and explain all of this to them.

We need look no further than the latest series of articles; "Watchdog Report / Digging into San Diego's Finances" as an example of a "pre-conceived agenda to attack, disparage and defame." I am confident the Union Tribune's "pattern of publishing negative stories about City workers and their wages and benefits, culminating with the 'Watchdog Report / Digging into San Diego's Finances" series, would establish the Tribune's use of these journalistic devices, and would supply ample evidence of malice." So now the question begs to be asked; how does Singer or any attorney for Platinum Equity/Union Tribune defend a suit brought by City employees for this continued behavior?

This is simply another example of, "Do as I say, not as I do." The bully in the park pushes and taunts those he views as inferior. City employees and the S.D. Reader are bullied by the Union Tribune / Platinum Equity because they view themselves as above the law and superior to both. The continued attacks and pattern of publishing negative stories about City workers, their wages, benefits and retirement has clearly established the Union Tribune's malice against City of San Diego employees. Maybe someone should send Singer's letter to Chris Reed, William Osborne, Robert Kittle, Logan Jenkins and Karin Winner. To think there was a glimmer of optimism when Platinum Equity bought the Union Tribune that somehow the quality of the paper would improve. To the contrary; San Diego's only newspaper has gone from bad to worse.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What is VERY WRONG with the Union Tribune

If you did not know before; it was made clear today by Michael Stetz of the Union Tribune. I have always said the Union Tribune was a bush league, yellow journalism paper that was not fit to line the bottom of a cat box. Today, I can point to why I say this and I don't think there is anyone who can argue. Michael Stetz wrote; "Remember, City Hall – we buy ink by the barrel," an article defending the pathetic series of articles related to city payroll. If there was ever a doubt to the length the Union Tribune will got to publish a story; the truth be damned, it was made clear today by Stetz.

To refresh those who may have forgotten the articles; Eleanor Yang Su and Craig Gustafson, Staff Writers, and Agustin Armendariz, Staff Data Specialist, wrote a series of articles for the Union Tribune titled: "Watchdog Report / Digging into San Diego's Finances." The first segment was "City's payroll surged in '08." In the article was a link to a City web site allowing people to view City employee compensation. This caused uproar from employees and then the mayor for the lack of context of the information presented and the failure to accurately report ALL elements of the data being presented.

The second article in the series; "City workers' pay goes beyond base salary" was ANOTHER ignorant, twisting, inflammatory article that spins the facts to such an extent you would think EVERY City employee was making a mountain of money from specialty pay. AGAIN the lack of articulate, detailed and specific information leaves the reader thinking there is some sinister, back room, sneaky agreement to allow employees to fleece the taxpayer.

The third and final article in the series; "City payroll sees big gains in high-income earners" again spins data and failed in their efforts to accurately report in context the increases in compensation for city workers. The articles when viewed as a whole, failed miserably to report facts in a manner that accurately reflected the status of city employee wages, benefits and the cuts to these wages and benefits over the past four years. The impression left with readers based on the information provided by the Union Tribune was City employees had received excessive raises since the mayor took office (We all know this is NOT true).

The mayor; in my opinion defending HIMSELF; fired off a nine page letter to the City Council refuting the articles and the spin of the data provided. The mayor followed this up with a letter to the editor of the Union Tribune (which the Union Tribune FAILED to print in its entirety) decrying the failure to place in context the wages and benefits paid to employees.

Along comes Stetz and his "we buy ink by the barrel" piece that is clearly a threat to anyone who dare point out the failure on the part of the Union Tribune to provide factual information to its readers. Stetz starts off making two points; ONE, the link to City employee compensation was public information and the Union Tribune had "every right" to publish the link. TWO; the City provided the link and Stetz made excuses to the Union Tribunes refusal to "pony up" $1,900 the City required to provide the raw data in a more useful form. Stetz reasons the City should have paid (taxpayer money) for the auditor to re-do a data base for the Union Tribune. Hey Michael; the Union Tribune may have had "every right" to publish the link; but just because you had that right, did not "make it right." You lost complete credibility placing blame on the City for refusing to do the work for your purported "Staff Data Specialist" and culling the numbers from the data. You further lost credibility for your shameful and inadequate justification for publishing the link without providing the context of the data and Karin Winner's pathetic attempt a justifying its use hiding behind the "public's right to know" mantra.

Stetz then strikes home what many have thought and believed for years; Truth does not matter; it's selling newspapers that matters. Stetz writes; "I do have a dog in this fight, of course. I work for the newspaper. I love the newspaper. I believe in it. And I'm seeing something of a trend with it, one that I think public officials in the region should be aware of: We still have ink. And while we have hardly been wary of spilling it before – we've done lots of tough pieces on local governments and elected leaders over the years – I believe we are more prepared than ever to use it." Stetz continues; "My reaction: Try us. C'mon." So the hell with context, full disclosure, factual presentation of data and information; we will write what we want, how we want and if you challenge or refute anything we print, we will use the barrel's of ink we have to destroy you even if it is a lie. We got it Michael.

Stetz then takes the next step and makes these statements; "I am all about going to the mattress. We may have a leaner staff, but, believe me, it's meaner. We're not a bunch of happy scribes, given the state of the industry. After what we have been through – buyouts, layoffs, furloughs – I think the overall consensus is that we don't want to play." I heard someone out there sniffling; was that from crying about the turmoil and grief of a once proud group of professional journalists who no longer exist within the bounds of the Union Tribune because of these buyouts, layoffs and furloughs? The Union Tribune staff does not want to play Michael? If you are all that unhappy; go do something else. It is clear your anger and hell bent desire to ruin any respect those taxpaying, resident, city employees earned, is clouding any ability you have to provide accurate, articulate and objective news to the reading public.

Stetz begins to feel his oats and begins to pound his chest as he nears the end of his diatribe; "With the city payroll series, we didn't play. It took months of work and exposed not just that the city hasn't clamped down on payroll as much as advertised, but that some city employees get extra pay for rather unusual reasons." You are kidding aren't you Michael? That was a tongue in cheek comment, right? It is obvious Stetz did as much homework and fact checking for this "article" as the three "watchdog investigative reporters" did when working for "months" on the inaccurate series that spawned the ire of City employees, retirees, the mayor and others. The series lacked context for data; truthful background analysis; and a true comparison of wages and benefits from prior years. If accurate presentation of factual data and information to educate and inform the public was the goal; The Union Tribune and its reporters FAILED MISERABLY.

Stetz then makes the boldest of his statements; "But, more and more, even I want to muscle up. (And here's good news: The newspaper, as yet, does not test for steroids.)" I get the use of metaphor and he is not really espousing the use of steroids; but let's take a look at what he is saying. Stetz is making clear the Union Tribunes position and bent on writing what it chooses and how it chooses. Stetz is making clear the Union Tribunes willingness to use ALL the ink in its many barrels, to fight for their right to be a yellow newspaper. Stetz is making clear for anyone who was on the fence and not yet sure where the Union Tribune is headed since it was sold; the trash heap or recycle bin.

If you have yet to cancel your subscription; what are you waiting for? (Cancel subscription here) The latest attempt at justifying the pathetic performance of the journalist's for San Diego's only newspaper should be sufficient justification to end any relationship one may have with this company. Coupons can be had on the internet; ads from business and retail outlets can be found on the company web pages or at the entrance to most stores; Yahoo, MSN, AOL, Voice of San Diego, and many other mediums are available to provide the needed fix for news junkies. If you miss the garbage written in the Union Tribune; tune in to any of the five local television stations and watch the news; they all read the paper to you; the only thing you may miss is "Dear Abby."

I have said for years we need to challenge inaccurate, false and misleading information being presented to the public from politicians, journalists and others. I have encouraged people to immediately address this information and provide the truth, context and COMPLETE details of whatever it is being opined upon, that is being inaccurately spun. I would encourage continued writing of letters to the editor and correct that information you know to be incorrect. I would encourage you to read the blogs on and address the incorrect and misleading information being put forth as fact by the likes of Chris Reed, Richard Rider, Michael Stetz, Ricky Young et al. We may not have barrels of ink or paper by the truck load; but we have facts, honesty and the truth. In my opinion; worth much more than the Union Tribune's ink and paper filled with lies and yellow journalism.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Take Care of Number ONE!!!

The first weekend after the 4th of July saw division's city wide struggle to meet staffing. I can relate to part of the problem; officers calling in sick. I have been struggling with a stomach virus for the past 4 days and spent Friday and Saturday lying in bed or on the couch (Still feeling puny and on the couch). If there is anything good to come from this, it's the loss of about 8 pounds (OK, I know, that's like throwing a deck chair off the titanic) and some much needed rest. I think this may be a trend as officers work longer hours; have fewer days off and move in and out of the air conditioned car to the sweltering heat of summer.

We all need to be aware of our bodies and what it's telling us. We need to take care of "Number ONE." If ever there was a time to take care of ourselves, this is it. If you are feeling sick and run down; do not come to work and infect the rest of your squad. Take the time off necessary to fight the bug and get back on your feet. Take your vitamins and supplements; eat properly and stay hydrated. Cut back on your workouts if you are feeling run down and starting to show signs of illness. The adage of working through it has been shown to be a fallacy; it will simply run you down more and hinder your ability to fight off some of the more low level bugs.

To those of you who work a lot of volunteer overtime or second jobs; remember you need time to refresh and rejuvenate your bodies. Late nights and too much alcohol is not on the list of to do's from the doctor. Take time to relax, rest, charge those batteries. The lack of staffing is not a reason to let yourself go and not take care of you. If you do not take care of "Number ONE" you will not be any good to those who count on you most. Keeping your mind and body fit is paramount to your safety and the safety of your partners.

I heard over the weekend 20+ officers called in sick on Saturday. It appears this created a concern that there was some sort of a coordinated "Sick-out." I am confident this is not the case and those who called in sick were in fact legitimately ill and not capable of working. That being said; I would offer these suggestions for supervisors, managers and officers;

  • We need to pay attention to each other and support one another.
  • If a squad member appears to be fatigued and showing signs of illness or fatigue, demand they go home and rest.
  • Supervisors need to monitor the overtime of officers for stress and fatigue.
  • Managers need to encourage officers to take vacation time at least once a year to relax and recharge.
  • Officers need to make it a point to take time off, over and above the three days off each week. Being away from the stresses of the job for several days in a row will allow the mind and body to recharge and release those stressors that create illness.
  • Supervisors and Managers need to have a plan to accommodate those times when officers are run down, stressed or ill. Acknowledge the officers importance but honor their need to take necessary time away from the job to prevent or overcome illness.

We owe it to one another to look out for each other. As supervisors and managers we owe it to our officers and the department to take care of them and ensure they are fit both mentally and physically. We owe it to officers to reduce the outside stressors and provide support and encouragement for the job they do; whatever it takes. This may mean going a person down on a busy night and sending an officer home who is over tired, run down or feeling the effects of the stresses of life and the job.

Be safe and take care of "Number ONE."