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February 28, 2006 > Editorial: Telecommuting

Editorial: Telecommuting

This is getting close to "beam me up, Scotty" when two of the five Fremont councilmembers will be telecommuting to work on Tuesday evening. With a barebones agenda, the question is, "Why this is necessary?" The answer lies in the closed session slated for that evening. During this session, the purpose stated is that of:

"reviewing its position for upcoming employee negotiations and for instructing Fred Diaz, City Manager, Nancy Carlson, Human Resources Director and Harvey Levine, City Attorney, as the City's negotiators regarding salaries, salary schedules, compensation paid in the form of fringe benefits or its represented and unrepresented employees and for any other matters within the statutorily provided scope of representation."

Eight employee organizations are up for review and at least this time around, they will all need to look each other in the eye to justify increases. Since these negotiations occur simultaneously, the game of pointing at another group who received an increase under previous agreements and different circumstances disappears. What remains however, is the question of how increases are determined. Is there self-interest among those negotiating for the city? Of course there is. The statement names our negotiators and their positions. These are people who ride at the top of the scale and therefore anything negotiated by them is directly applicable to their own compensation.

You don't have to travel too far back in time to remember the Jan Perkins phenomenon when she negotiated during terrible fiscal times, creating a situation where she was awarded five increases (retroactive, current and future) to feather her retirement nest. Her argument was that as head of the city's organizational chart, she couldn't receive less than someone beneath her. With that done and annual compensation in excess of $200,000, she merrily skipped town and can now skim Fremont's cash for the rest of her life.

According to the last fiscal review, the city of Fremont is still in a monetary knot and cannot afford to put out additional funds. In order to balance the budget, we are told that Fremont is dipping into its reserves. Jan was fond of saying that Fremont only wanted "the best and the brightest." She figured the city would have to pay for them whether the money was there or not. When the cupboard was bare, many of "the best and the brightest" fled or were cut.

Hopefully, we will not follow that road again; at least not so soon after the red ink has flowed so freely. Hopefully, these "best and brightest" are savvy enough to understand that the Fremont goose is not laying too many golden eggs these days. New negotiations offer an opportunity for sanity between employees, especially those with exorbitant salaries, and their employers. Since closed door sessions and negotiations are veiled from public view, we, the public, can only hope that the council remembers and instructs our negotiators to remember who their employers are.

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