Five Questions

Last week, I dissected the city administration’s Annual Summary of Labor Negotiations, which will be discussed today as Item 3.5 on the City Council agenda.  In my blog, I noted that the administration report did not contain a comparison of “total compensation” for City of San Jose employees and those in other local governments, as stated in our Guiding Principles for Labor Negotiations...

“Focus on the cost of total compensation while considering the City's fiscal condition, revenue growth, and changes in the Consumer Price Index.” (p. 20 of the supporting document for Item 3.5)

As an example of what I mean by “total compensation,” here’s an excerpt from the contract of the California Highway Patrol:

“The state shall pay sworn members of the California Highway Patrol... the estimated average total compensation for each corresponding rank for the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, San Diego Police Department, Oakland Police Department, and San Francisco Police Department. Total compensation shall include base salary, educational incentive pay, physical performance pay, longevity pay, and retirement contributions made by the employer on behalf of the employee."

Well, it looks like someone at City Hall has been reading this blog.  Over the weekend, a supplemental memo was added to the city administration report to provide additional budget information concerning:

  1. Retirement benefits for city employees
  2. City and employee contributions
  3. How the compensation provided to City employees compares to compensation of other public agencies

City Manager Debra Figone then released a memo of her own that said the city would have to cut 763 jobs to cover a projected $90 million deficit for FY 2010-11 without added revenue or give backs from city employees.  This got announcement was dire enough to earn some coverage in the Mercury News.

With a number of opinions floating around San Jose’s budget and no clear method for understanding budgeting practices at City Hall, we risk losing sight of our guiding principles.  To help us stay focused, here are five questions that should be asked of city administration at today’s Council meeting:

1. Why doesn’t San Jose focus on “total compensation” comparisons to other local governments as stated in the Guiding Principles for Labor Negotiations?

2. There are over 7,500 officer vacancies statewide, so how will having a comparatively lower “total compensation” package for new hires help SJPD attract or retain police or other in-demand city positions when there is a shortage of trained, qualified, and experienced applicants?

3. Some local governments (Oakland, Palo Alto) require no employee contributions to benefit and retirement plans. Others (San Francisco, Santa Clara County) have employee contribution rates lower than San Jose’s. How will our higher employee contribution rates factored into “total compensation” comparisons?

4. As I’ve mentioned a number of times, City department budgets are not presented in a clear, comprehensive section within the City budget.  There are no comparisons to local and large California cities, national performance measurements, or information on pubic-private service partnerships, any of which would help the Council and public better understand budget decisions.  Does the city administration intend to provide detailed budget information — as do other California cities — in the upcoming budget process?

5. Many police officers and neighborhood leaders believe we are dangerously short of cops on the street, based on vehicle theft twice the national average, high home burglary rates, and thousands of crimes going uninvestigated. If public safety is San Jose’s #1 budget priority according to the Mayor, the City Council, the city administration, and the general public, why are we continuing to spend millions of dollars on non-essential city services and non-government groups that provide little or questionable public benefit?

I’ll check back in tomorrow to let you know if any of these questions were answered. In the meantime, you can watch the council meeting — and any other council or committee meeting — live or archived on the City website.

Comments

Good Questions

Ed,

You get right to the point with your questions. Let's see how the councilmembers measure up with theirs.

Many of them don't understand what your pointing to here. It would be good for them to focus on these issues.

Perhaps you could send directly to them.