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November 8, 2005 > Editorial: Closed Session

Editorial: Closed Session

Most of us have not been privy to the discussions that take place when governmental entities meet in closed sessions. There is nothing illegal about the practice as long conversations follow specific rules of behavior. Of course, we the public, must take it on faith that the rules are being followed since meetings are "sub rosa." It is, however, instructive to note the context of these meetings since particular information must be released to the public and if any substantive agreements are reached, there is usually a public report from the closed session.

On November 8th, the Fremont City Council/Redevelopment Agency will convene a special meeting at 5:15 p.m. There is no need for the public to hurry over to the council chambers since,

A portion of the public notice reads: "It is anticipated the Council/Agency will immediately adjourn the meeting to a closed session to confer with and receive advice from its attorney regarding upcoming employee negotiations, for instructing the City Manager and the City Attorney in their role as the City's negotiators regarding salaries, salary schedules or compensations paid in the form of fringe benefits..."

The notice continues to explain under "Conference with Labor Negotiator," that the council will review its position for these negotiations and instruct "Fred Diaz, City Manager; Nancy Carlson, Human Resources Director and Harvey Levine, City Attorney, as the City's negotiators..."

Note that the negotiators of city employee compensation contracts are city employees. While in theory, these negotiators are free from self-interest since they are considered management and not members of the unions, increased pay for the rank and file inevitably leads to increased pay for those at the top of the totem pole. High salaries of top Fremont officials, topping $200,000, were questioned in the waning days of the Perkins administration. If you remember, the council magnanimously and simultaneously approved a raise, a retroactive raise, a future raise and a shift of funds (nontaxable to taxable) resulting in a hefty boost of pension benefit for Ms. Perkins just prior to her hot-footed exit from the city (anybody heard from Jan lately?).

One of the popular arguments for all these increases was that the top administrator of the city couldn't take less compensation than her underlings and percentage increases were employed to boost income even further. At the time, I spoke about the fallacy of percentage increases as it favors those with higher base salaries. The city is stuck with the ongoing pension bill and new employees including top administrators are certainly not going to take a "cut" in pay, so the beat goes on. Is it time to review how salaries are negotiated?

On the same agenda (November 8, 2005), item 7.1 considers how to handle $4,100,000 in funds that have been received by the city in a dispute with the State Board of Equalization. Since the final outcome of the funds was in doubt, they have been held in abeyance, but are now available. Staff recommends putting these funds in the "Budget Uncertainty Reserve" since economic instability remains a significant issue for the city. Other options include spending the funds for operations in Fiscal Year 2005/06 thereby reducing the need to draw from the existing reserve or spending the money on deferred maintenance. It appears that each leads to the same thing except that if the money is squirreled away in the reserve, our leaders can point to the low level of the General Fund as a indicator of the need for a tax. This is disingenuous and simply shifts money into a less visible pocket. The money is needed now to fix our roads since we have been told repeatedly that continued deferral of road and other maintenance is many times more costly in future repairs than current fixes.

A request for ideas from the citizens is making the rounds and, in my opinion, is simply a method to ask for a tax. If this is the case, why not come out into the open and say so? Tell us what each area of need will cost and ask for approval. If the greatest need is in the public safety area, call for a special tax and ask citizens to dig into their pockets so they may give specifically to fire and police. What is wrong with sunset provisions that ensure the public some control of legislators that only know how to spend? If there is a continuing need, prove it to the community, show how funds have been spent wisely and ask again. Measure V failed for a reason. The council and administration should learn from past mistakes.

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