Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Budget Chaos all Around

Trying to make sense of the City's budget is an exercise all to itself. You think there is any possibility an average taxpayer with minimal experience reading local budgets could get through the massive pages that detail the State's budget? Do you think this same person stands a chance of being able to determine where the revenue is coming from and how the legislature was able to balance the budget after presenting line by line costs?

I have spent the last several days reading the State's budget and trying to make heads or tales of what the heck they are doing up in Sacramento. I kind of understand the theory behind the way the numbers play out; but that is where it ends. I spent last night listening to the little rube talk about air and if the city could assess a fee for each person's use of the air in the city; they do after all own the rights to the air in San Diego; the city could balance the budget. The little rube talked about charging for the sun people soak up while occupying sand or grass at the beaches and parks within San Diego. So when the legislature talks about "borrowing" money from the counties in California and re-paying it "next year"; I could not help but think of the little rube and his constant schemes and double speak babble.

The state legislature has proposed keeping from the City over $57 million dollars to help close the gap to the State's budget. The mayor has been critical of Sacramento and the Governor for withholding this money and talks about joining the League of Cities in a law suit to force the State to give the money to the City and not withhold any. In a Voice of San Diego article, Scott Lewis hangs a new slogan on the mayor; "Jerry Sanders, helping San Diegans decide what to complain about since 2005" at the same time the mayor has been taken to task for his rants toward the State for their inability to balance the budget and live within its means.

Several years in a row the State pulled similar stunts withholding $1.2 billion from schools with a promise to re-pay the money in the next budget cycle. When the next year arrived the Governor said the State could not afford to re-pay the money and besides, schools had adjusted to living without the money so there was no need to re-pay the money. The only problem was school districts had borrowed money to pay their bills and balance their budgets in the short term. The mayor is already talking of borrowing $57 million to make up for this money with the belief the State will make good on their promise. Hey mayor, I have a news flash for you; it ain't gonna happen.

The consequences of these cuts are going to be felt throughout the City. It remains to be seen what the effects will be to safety. I'm not sure how much more can be cut from law enforcement. The mayor needs to stop the nonsense of building a new downtown library; expanding the convention center; and building a new city hall. The mayor can talk until he is blue in the face; spending one dime toward any of these projects is criminal and cannot be continued. The structural problems in the City of San Diego have been ignored for far too long. Blaming the employees, their wages and benefits is a cop out and disingenuous. Does the mayor balance his personal bank account and finances like he does the cities?

There is little any of us can do as this process plays out in Sacramento and here in San Diego. We can stay informed and aware and continue to focus on our families, jobs and health. Take care of one another and practice officer safety. Do not let something you have no control over take control of your life. The budget crisis has not hit bottom yet; but is getting close. When this happens, we have nowhere to go but up. We will get through this if we stick together and work to find better ways to educate the taxpaying public and provide professional service. There is a lot of great police work being done every day by officers who continue to do their jobs in a professional manner. By highlighting these efforts and being professional in all of our dealings with the public; we can garner the support necessary to swing the pendulum back in our favor and regain the wages and benefits necessary to attract and retain those candidates and officers we so dearly need. This will take the efforts of every sworn officer on the San Diego Police Department. We need to take those opportunities that present themselves to educate and inform those people we have contact with. Be safe and enjoy the day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Reason to be Concerned

I attended the "State of the District Address and Vision Speech on Transforming City Government" by the little rube this evening. Also in attendance were three city council members; Kevin Faulconer, Tony Young and Sherri Lightner as well as Darin Pudgil of the mayor's office. There were maybe 150 people TOPS, including about 20 staff of the little rube and the other council members in attendance.

The focus of the little rube was seeking "A City Government we can be proud of again." Starting with the obvious; "The City finances are a mess and the public's trust is at an all time low" the rube said it was his mission while in office to "build a government that works." To achieve this, the little rube provided his goals.

  1. Restore fiscal responsibility
    1. Reduce high labor costs
  2. Commit to a 5 year fiscal recovery plan
  3. Conduct performance audits of all City funds and Departments
  4. Implement Managed Competition
  5. Strong Mayor Authorities (Ballot Initiatives 2010)
    1. Make mayor Chief Labor Negotiator for City.
    2. Eliminate Veto power of employees of Retirement Changes.
  6. Reform City salaries and benefits (Cheers broke out)

The little rube went on to promote his vision of "Clean and Safe Neighborhoods" through a "Collaborative Governance Model." He then went on to pitch his changes and desires for "Open and Honest Goverment (sic)." He then receives a round of applause when he said he would "Reject any tax measures." His loudest applause came when he pitched his desire to seek ballot initiatives to force reforms to city salaries and benefits.

Having watched this little rube in the past and watching him work a crowd; he is a dangerous politician. His sound bites are so short and lacking of detail, it is hard to argue with him. He does not provide enough substance to challenge or refute him on a larger scale. One example of this is his Twitter post this afternoon where he posts the following; "More from my State of the District speech tonight: per capita city debt stands at $17,800 for each San Diego family." So how about someone out there do the math? There were 450,691 households in 2000 per the census in San Diego. $8,022,299,800 is the debt for the City of San Diego according to the little rube. Really?

The most concerning part of what the little rube had to say for me was his pledge and rally cry to seek ballot initiatives to "force reforms to city salaries and benefits." He received the loudest applause for this comment and then rallied the crowd with; "Are you all with me?" Rest assured he already has them written and the mayor is on board with them. This means the downtown business groups are on board and the various backers of business owners who have the money to make it happen.

We are going to have to get involved and prepare a competing initiative to preserve our benefits. This is going to take a concerted effort and money. It will require officers for the first time in the lives of those still here, to go door to door seeking support and educating the voters. It will be a long and hard battle to fight. One we can ill afford to ignore or take for granted. If we are to be successful, we need to begin NOW and work 24/7 until the votes are counted in 2010.

We can discuss this more in later posts and work toward a common goal of preserving our benefits.

Monday, July 20, 2009

SDPOA Board of Director's Need Your Support

"Enthusiasm over experience"

Where have we heard that before? My last post seems to have sparked a bit of a fire. Somehow the comments migrated to the SDPOA Board of Directors; name calling; accusation; and finger pointing. Sometimes it's good to let off a little steam and let out frustrations in venues that allow for this type of release. I addressed some of the musings within the comments section of the post, but thought I would take some time and provide a perspective from one who ended up the focus of similar name calling, finger pointing and accusations; some at the hands of current Board members before they were elected.

We live in a politically charged time where frustrations have reached their limits. The constant haranguing by the media, politicians and citizens has taken their toll on the best of us. In 2005, we faced down a city that was blaming its employees for all of the ills of a budget out of balance and a retirement system that was intentionally underfunded. We offered concessions which amounted to giving back the entire "Retirement pick-up" being paid by the city on the employee's behalf. We would be giving back 11% and over a three year period we would get back 9 ½% by way of pay increases and increases to add on pays. The city balked at our proposal and imposed a 3.2% elimination of the retirement pick-up followed by a 1.57% elimination of the same; totaling 4.77%. New hires lost DROP and there were other reductions.

The result was an angry membership and a member who is now a current board member, standing in the crowd during the membership meeting; demanding the board hire a "Professional Negotiator" and for the SDPOA to sue the City. The yelling was loud and angry; accusations of incompetence and ignorance were thrown at the board by members. The board was blamed for the failure to reach agreement. A group of members began to assemble to wage war and began to schedule protests walks and pickets in an attempt to show displeasure with what was happening. The law suits were eventually undertaken after much discussion and argument.

The next year we entered negotiations and again were facing cuts and reductions to benefits. Along comes the suspension of "Comp Time" when the SDPOA refused to allow changes sought by the City to occur. We believed if the changes were allowed to be made Comp time would no longer be a benefit to the employee; only the City. The Chief agreed if the changes were agreed to; there would be little if any hope of comp time going back to the way it was and being a benefit to the employee. For the better part of nine months comp time did not exist as there was no agreement. The membership blamed the board and called for our heads and demanded we "Do something, anything" to get comp time back. We held our ground because we knew what the ramifications would be to agreeing to the changes sought by the City. Ultimately, the Tuesday after the election where three new board members were elected and two of us were voted out of office; the City agreed to re-institute comp time with very minute changes. (Care to connect the dots?)

I had predicted at a dinner held for in-coming and out-going board members shortly after the election; the SDPOA and City would agree to a contract providing a raise to our membership. I predicted a raise of between six and nine percent. I was almost exact in my predications. The board was praised for their success and everyone was happy. The City agreed to increase the money provided for FLEX Benefits for those employees with families and reduced the money for those without dependants. Something we had been trying to accomplish for years. The overall feeling was the contract was OK.

This past year we took three steps backwards with the elimination of any increase to retiree medical benefits; another reduction in salary; another elimination of retirement pick-up; and the City reduced the FLEX Benefit money at the same time premiums were increased. To add insult to injury the City increased the age of entry into DROP to 55. To make matters worse; Fire, MEA and City Attorney's agreed to contracts and received LESS in the way of reductions and did not have the age of entry into DROP changed and had their retiree medical simply frozen for two years.

The SDPOA Board sought relief in the courts to stop the City from making changes to DROP. The jury is still out on the final outcome of this litigation. The SDPOA Board has been praised by some and castigated by others, for the outcome of this year's round of negotiations. Many believe a "Professional" negotiator would have provided a different outcome. Some believe the Board failed to deliver.

I believe the outcome for this year's negotiations were pre-determined. The mayor had an agenda and he was hell bent on fulfilling his plan. The SDPOA is the ONLY labor group who is not bound by PERB (Public Employee Relations Board) and thus cannot file an "Un-Fair" labor practice for the type of treatment and actions used by the mayor during negotiations. The mayor knew if he pulled the same crap with ANY of the other unions he would be facing an unfair with PERB and he would in all likelihood lose. The mayor anticipated the SDPOA would file suit in court to stop the changes to DROP. He was hoping this would be their avenue of action so he could get the issue before the courts.

The SDPOA Board had little impact on the outcome of negotiations, because this year there WAS NO real "Meet and Confer." The City came in and said, "This is what we want; this is what you are going to give us; and we will accept nothing less." Professional negotiator; Teamsters; nor the President of the United States could have changed this year's outcome.

The way we respond to the adversity of these negotiations is how we are judged. The comments in my last BLOG Post hint at the frustration of members. In my first stint on the SDPOA Board in the 1980's I was that young, inexperienced and ENTHUSIASTIC board member who often spoke before I thought (I know, some of you still think I'm that guy) but after years of tasting shoe leather and the dirt collected on the sole of my own shoes, I have learned from those days. We have a board comprised of new board members who are learning the nuances of politics and the art of negotiations. These same new board members make up the Executive Board. They control the vote and direction of the Association. There are four mentors who have experience dealing with negotiations and tough times. The new board needs to listen to these directors and include them in the discussions and decisions being made. They need to ask questions and seek out former board members; talk to union directors of other police associations; as well as PORAC and NAPO members and seek the advice of those who came before them.

The membership is changing; the rules are changing; the world is changing. The board needs to change to keep up. Pointing fingers and throwing insults is not only NOT productive, it leads to dissension. Ranting on a BLOG or Forum is not productive; for either the membership or the Board. Face to face, open and honest communication, is always more productive and professional. If you have a bitch; voice it to your representative on the Board and offer a suggestion for improvement or change. Offer to participate and help out with discussion, planning and implementation of whatever the Board determines is necessary to help prepare for next year in hopes of placing the SDPOA in position to be successful. The nine board members CANNOT do it alone. They need your help and your support. We are all in this together and if one of us fails, we will all fail.