(April 20, 2004) -- It's been nearly two years since LB voters were told by some that City Hall was "on the right track." Voters reelected the incumbent Mayor and incumbent Council members (with two new members). After the election, that leadership voted without serious discussion to balloon pensions, handed taxpayers the bill...and then said they'd already spent taxpayers into a deep hole. (For the record, as previously reported by LBReport.com, city management had been warning of the mounting deficit for months; the Council "received and filed" the gloomy reports.)
Even with the gloomy deficit news now public, something eerily similar is about to happen again.
Buried at the end of the April 20 City Council 50-item plus agenda is a matter of similar seriousness, a precedent-setting action for LB City Hall with potential long-term consequences.
Like the devastating pension vote, this one is also being portrayed as a taxpayer saver (a little over a million dollars a year). However from our perspective, it's a Trojan Horse that will make it harder to downsize brass and save taxpayers bigger money. We believe the Council would be wrong to rubberstamp it tonight.
The April 20 item involves money and jobs for LB City Hall management...many of whom already belong to what LB Business Journal publisher George Economides calls the "$100,000 Club" but who have nevertheless formed a union to bargain collectively for pay and benefits.
That may be legal, but it's a precedent setting action for LB city management that mocks the memories of real union leaders like John L. Lewis and Cesar Chavez who actually spoke for the working class. When dealing with city management's "union," the public is facing something different -- a ruling class -- that seeks privileges unavailable to ordinary taxpayers.
You get "Social Security." They (and other CA public employees) get a separate, more lucrative "Public Employee Retirement System."
You are lucky to get have any pension, especially if the company is in distress. They get lucrative pensions even if the city faces financial disaster. (Again, for the record management warned elected Councilmembers in writing about the mounting deficit in late 2001 and early 2002).
You pay their benefits and you get fewer services for your tax dollars. LB libraries are already enduring rolling closures; LB firefighters and fire stations are targeted next.
It is as if public service in LB is becoming an enterprise where the public serves their public servants and not vice versa.
We below post a link to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the "Long Beach Management Association" that the City Council is being asked to approve tonight (April 20). Management's union doesn't represent the City Manager (he works under contract for the City Council), a handful of others working directly with him or managers of some enterprise funds (like the Water Dept.) but it includes an armload of LB city brass..
The document was negotiated weeks ago. Members of the "Long Beach Management Association" held a meeting on March 30 in the LB Public Library auditorium so its membership could review it and hold Q&A sessions before voting to ratify it.
We believe that promptly after that ratification vote, the public -- which will pay the freight -- should have seen that MOU. Yes, it takes time to agendize items with a Council cover letter but to us that's not the point.
The public is asked to believe that somehow the item wasn't ready for prime time on April 6 before the city elections, but does deserve a decisive vote on April 20 at the end of a massive agenda.
Whatever the explanation, in our view the net effect is little different than scheduling the pension increase vote after the 2002 city elections that returned incumbents to office.
(On April 13, 2004, one Council incumbent who OK'd the pension boost was ousted, and another is on his way out in June; two others were reelected.)
No, we're not reassured that the MOU expires on Oct. 1, 2004. That means the managers' "union" will be negotiating for their next deal during the period when management will simultaneously be telling taxpayers what cuts they must swallow from their Councilmembers.
By our very rough reckoning, eliminating about ten members of the Business Journal's "$100,000 Club" (with benefits it's over $100,000) would pay for the "savings" in the proposed MOU with the "LB Management Association."
Ask yourself: with a $100+ million three year deficit, do you think you could find about a dozen $100,000 management positions at City Hall ripe for consolidation or elimination?
The Council has the option of saying "no." That wouldn't be the end of the world. It would send the matter back to the negotiating table.
But before doing that, we believe what's needed are thoughtful questions and responsive answers about how this MOU might reduce City Hall's future efforts to save taxpayers bigger money by reducing the ratio of management brass to service boot. It's our money, not theirs.
If Councilmembers believe they can do nothing now, they should buy some adhesive tape, stick it to their voting buttons as "yes" and resign.
Battered LB taxpayers should not accept a rubberstamp vote at the end of an unusually long Council meeting on something this important.
To view the MOU in pdf form, click here.