http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2012/10/12/guest-opinion-select-candidates-who-demonstrate-independence-and-critical-thinking


Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - October 12, 2012

Guest opinion: Select candidates who demonstrate independence and critical thinking

by Bart Hughes

Regarding public employee pension liabilities and personnel costs, Pleasanton, like many cities, has had a failure in governance. How else would someone describe a situation where a City Council voted in irresponsible employee contracts in the early 2000s, looked the other way and/or downplayed the severity of the problem as it emerged (well before the recession), and only now is taking late and inadequate steps to fix the problem? E.g., both the City Council and management admit that recent contract negotiation actions ensure that the problem will grow. After nearly a decade of awareness of the issue, how can this be?

This failure in governance is having a significant negative impact on Pleasanton's finances. Personnel costs have grown from the mid-60% range to 77%, and our unfunded liability exploded from zero to approximately $137 million. Most citizens understandably glaze over when they hear numbers like these as it is difficult to put them into perspective. However, most appreciate the increasingly not-so-subtle erosion of city services.

Pleasanton now has fewer, more expensive police on the street. Fewer roads are being re-paved. Capital projects have decreased substantially. And reserve accounts are being decreased.

It is interesting to note that the recently approved Bernal Community Park project is only partially funded and must rely on additional user fees, etc., to complete the project. Elevated personnel and pension costs are the primary culprit for this lack of funds.

City employees deserve to be fairly compensated for the value they provide for our city. But due to lack of effective oversight, this is not what has happened. Unions did their job of maximizing the benefits to their members, winning generous benefits like 50% retroactive pension increases and above-market annual raises even through the early years of the recession. As a result, current and retired employees are extracting from the city millions of dollars more each year than their fair share.

The City Council has only recently and belatedly awoken to the realization that it must address the problem (after much pushing from the public) and admirably agreed to an improvement framework that includes the goal of reducing Pleasanton's unfunded liability by 10% over five years. Unfortunately, since then Pleasanton's unfunded liability has moved in the opposite direction in a significant way. More disappointing, many council members are already making excuses why they won't be able to meet their commitment while at the same time not pushing for all available legal concessions.

Something within the current governance dynamic must change. Otherwise, future Pleasanton residents and employees will pay an even higher price for a problem they didn't create. We need elected officials who truly are independent and can effectively sit across the bargaining table on behalf of Pleasanton citizens. Unions have identified their favorite candidates that they feel will be most sympathetic to their desires. Be aware of this. Look for and support the candidates you feel will apply the strongest independent critical thinking to this and other issues. The future of Pleasanton depends on it.

--Bart Hughes has been a resident of Pleasanton for 14 years. During his 20-plus year career, he has held senior management positions with several leading technology companies where he focused on operational improvement. He has held several board positions with local nonprofit organizations. In addition to his engineering degree, he holds a graduate degree in business.

Comments

Posted by registered user, Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Oct 12, 2012 at 9:21 am

"It is interesting to note that the recently approved Bernal Community Park project is only partially funded and must rely on additional user fees, etc., to complete the project. "

A little more information... the Bernal Community Park plan was approved many years ago by Pleasanton voters. The primary culprit is that it was *never* funded, instead left to future Councils to find money for it.


Posted by GX, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2012 at 10:10 am

Stacey - I don't get your comment. Aren't master plans initially created and then funded along the way? Are you suggesting that since the park master plan wasn't 100% funded on day one of approval that that is the reason for lack of funds?

How would you frame the fact that personnel costs as a percent of total budget exploded since about 2003? Isn't that fact material to the point that current capital projects can't be properly funded?


Posted by Dean, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Stacey- you have no case here. The general fund's personnel costs are a whopping 78% leaving little money for all else, including capital projects like parks, roads, more tennis courts at the tennis park (the current ones are run by a 3rd party to save city funding), Paying off the golf course debt and more.

At what % of the GF do you think the unions need to modify their contracts, consider additional outsourcing or staff reductions? Or would you prefer we put our head between our knees and pray?


Posted by registered user, Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Oct 12, 2012 at 4:08 pm

GX,

My only point was to provide a little more information so that it wouldn't appear as if the Bernal Community Park were just *recently* approved. It wasn't. It was split into phases to be built when funding became available. Phase 1 is already built. It's only Phase 2 that was recently approved.

Can't Mr. Hughes find some other, better example? It seems like that was just thrown in there as padding. Of course the increase in personnel costs would crowd out other General Fund expenditures, but remember that Pleasanton uses CIP funds for capital projects (while other communities hopped on the redevelopment bandwagon). To frame the fact better, it would be nice to see the historic trends of the CIP funds, their inflows from the General Fund, and the percentage of capital projects over the years that couldn't be properly funded to find some relationship between rising personnel costs and capital projects. The Firehouse was also "partially funded". What happened there?

P.S. Master plans are not usually put to a vote of the people either.


Posted by Reality sets in, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Yes, day of reckoning is here. Pleasanton can no longer DO something, because it would be good for community, or even needed....gotta do those nasty numbers projected into future from this day forward. Unions will suck more and more forever, unless major changes are made. Retire early, live longer is not a model for fiscal responsibility.
From now on, we must require dollars share and percent of annual budget for any future expenditures. When we provide 40 years of retirement payout in future COL retirement payout. it's time for transparency and public notice. People simply cannot be left alone because they are trusted people. We'll decide what we can afford.
(I'm confused, why would PW endorse a PUBLIC UNION ACTIVIST ! ? !


Posted by Concerned, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2012 at 10:05 pm

It is time voters analyze voting patterns of councilmen and stop paying attention to PW"s biased opinions. The only thing worth reading in PW are these blogs.:) Their editorials are useless.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Have you noticed the vicious attacks BY our public union members have not been like their usual patterns...softer, if at all. I would guess that they don't want to remind us, just how disgusting they are....they want THEIR 2 candidates elected. . . . .But,
I remember !!! They honestly believe they are 'entitled' to excesses...sky's the limit!


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Thank you to the author for an excellent article.. Good info


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Thank you to the author for an excellent article.. Good info


Posted by Re: Voting Patterns, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Concerned,

...not very difficult when it comes to the Mayors race. The UNIONS are supporting a Current Public Employee UNION member that was a former union rep. Cheryl Cook-Kailo said she wasn't looking to get into politics but "was recruited" to run for the Pleasanton city council.

Who recruited her? And why did those doing the recruiting think Cheryl would make such a great politician. Is it possible they believed her union status which included her management/negotiator role within the union made her the perfect candidate? I think So.

During Cheryl's interview with the Contra Costa Times it became very clear that she doesn't understand how employee contracts might be an issue, and she doesn't understand the impact of pensions and retiree health care on the general fund. She doesn't understand the pension at all. Cheryl thought Pleasanton was the first city to adopt a two-tier pension formula. Maybe that explains why she voted to approve the new contracts that only increase employee costs? Who knows.

I think Cheryl is a nice woman but she clearly doesn't understand the fiscal issues facing Pleasanton. Electing a Public Employee Union members as Mayor just adds an additional layer of UNION influence into the mix. The Unions are a BIG part of the problem because the union members negotiate contracts with city management that have a me-too clause, and then the council, many of which have been endorsed and financed by public employee unions - approve the contract.

The level of collusion happening right here in Pleasanton is alarming (unions, Management, Mayor & Council). Unfortunately, that is just how things work in this broken state. The Unions are sitting at all four sides of the table and the citizens of Pleasanton aren't even allowed to view the contract until after it's approved by: the employees, the me-too management group, the MAYOR and the council members that the unions control.

WHY IS IT THAT THE CITY, CITY MANAGER, UNIONS, UNION EMPLOYEES, MAYOR & COUNCIL, do NOT want the TAXPAYERS to understand the REAL COSTS of these CONTRACTS THEY are APPROVING (and we are talking about contracts that cost a combined 70 million a year).

Neither Hosterman or Cook-Kaillo have a clue about how to address the fiscal issue facing Pleasanton, Alameda County , or CA.