Commentary: Slow But Measurable Progress with City Governance

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Nats-1As I told people yesterday, if there is one article this year you read in its entirety it needs to be yesterday’s Sunday Commentary which tracks not only the 2008 to 2012 history, but shows how we got in the mess that we are in.

Anyone who believes we can reduce seven to eight million dollars in one budget without pain is fooling themselves.  The next month or so is going to be just as contentious as the elections.

People have been waiting to see what Steve Pinkerton was going to do.  It’s no secret as to why the council brought him in, the question was really when he was going to start doing it.

Mr. Pinkerton has made some mistakes along the way.  His reorganizational plan may just save the city three million, as he wrote into the budget.  But at times it has been executed in a clumsy and sometimes insensitive matter.

The city continues to have a PR problem.  For instance, restructuring of city hall has been a lightning rod for criticism.  It was never articulated clearly the purpose and ends it served.  Instead, it quickly got spun into a largesse, an ego trip, and a money-wasting boondoggle.

The truth is the city manager believes by reorganizing space and utilizing space more efficiently the city can eliminate superfluous positions and save money.

That brings us to the nine layoffs in DCEA (Davis City Employees Association).  The city did not expect the PERB (Public Employment Relations Board) ruling until later in the year, but the early decision just punctuates the thinking here.  The city knew it screwed up the impasse situation.

The explanations I have gotten from the city, frankly, do not make a lot of sense and sound more like spin.  The only Memorandum of Understanding that came last round after DCEA was the police officers, and their previous MOU expired a year later than the other bargaining units.

The fact is a close call should have compelled the city to wait one more month to ensure that they have dotted their “i’s” and crossed their “t’s.”  They didn’t and now it is going to blow up in their faces, by about $800,000.

The public needs to understand the following: first, every other bargaining unit in the city took concessions in 2009 except DCEA.  That those concessions were insufficient is notwithstanding the fact that they took them.

Second, DCEA could take concessions today to save those jobs.  But you heard from Dave Owen, they are not going to do so.  He has his reasons.  The public and council are free to disagree and have done so.

Third, lacking concessions, the city has little choice but to send layoff notices.

Now, I think the city made critical errors here.  First, the timing stinks to high heaven.  You do not have an election on Tuesday where the voters renew the parks tax and then on Wednesday send out layoff notices.  That violates PR 101.

And there was no need to do it.  The city had a budget that they laid out last Tuesday.  In it was $7 to $8 million in cuts.  Few people, I think, would have batted an eye if the city laid out the budget on Tuesday, then sent layoff notices on Wednesday.

The retribution charge does not fly.  The city has to recoup the money and if DCEA is not willing to grant concessions, the city has no choice.  That part was solid.

However, no part of the cuts was more explosive and incendiary than the tree trimmer part.  This is a matter of Steve Pinkerton not getting the Davis mentality and the Davis way and, frankly, this is where he needs to lean on his councilmembers who have lived in this community for years to help him out.

The city believes that they can get the same service for less.  In the coming days and weeks, the Vanguard will push the leadership on the council to lay this out more clearly to the public.

Perhaps they are right.  Perhaps not.

Trees are a vital part of this community.  We not only have a commission – the Tree Commission, charged with making decisions on tree removals and tree modifications, but we also have a private non-profit, Tree Davis, whose function is to keep “Davis clean, green and cool by enhancing and expanding our urban forest.”

Trees are a central part of our lives and people take this stuff seriously.

With trees come hazards of falling branches and even whole trees if we do not take proper care.  The result is that people are less willing to mess with cheaper outsourcing with trees than they are in other areas.

Perhaps the city really believes they can get the same service for cheaper.  This is in my mind a PR issue.  They needed to explain and lay out the policy and the belief in advance, rather than attempting damage control after the fact.

We need to understand, however, that this is a different council and a different city management.

In 2009, we had a council and management that played games with numbers.  If you had a contract that the previous year called for a 3% increase in compensation, the council used the projected increase the next year as the baseline and anything below that baseline they considered a cut.

But it is not a cut if you reduce the rate of increase, it is only a cut if you reduce actual spending.

The current council would not even think to do that.  That is progress.

Last year, Paul Navazio presented a budget with no changes in retirement benefits and did not add the increased infrastructure costs and yet showed in the out years a surplus.

The council last year did not allow him to get away with that.  That is progress.

This year’s budget does some amazing things.  It funds infrastructure at over $3 million.  It uses real numbers for pension costs rather than the rate-smoothed numbers of PERS (Public Employees’ Retirement System), and it gets us to where we need it to be.

Where the city still needs work is on public outreach and public relations.  Steve Pinkerton has lived in this community less than a year.  He is a quick study, but he needs to rely on his council to help navigate.

The layoffs and the tree trimmer cuts were unnecessary missteps that could have been prevented with a better understanding of the landscape in Davis.

I am far from convinced that the tree trimming route was the best cut, but it is a cut that had to occur within DCEA.  Other cuts to management need to follow, and they undoubtedly will.

A reader chided us for not finding more room for hope.  Well, this is not a happy time.  We are going to see good and hardworking people get laid off or take serious pay cuts.  We should not rejoice at their expense.

However, we can take solace that the city at long last is serious about fiscal sustainability and budgetary honesty.  For those reasons, I agree that it really is a brand new day in Davis.

—David M. Greenwald

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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16 thoughts on “Commentary: Slow But Measurable Progress with City Governance”

  1. Neutral

    [i]The retribution charge does not fly.[/i]

    So what do you call layoffs tied to a specific bargaining unit, with the publicly-expressed intent to punish, by the person with the notices in hand? A coincidence? Right.

    Don’t pay any attention to the guy building a castle inside the castle, who is significantly increasing ‘administrative costs’ (including an increase in ‘confidential secretaries’), yet feels compelled to fire skilled craft workers.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Neutral: If you have to reduce costs across all bargaining units and one bargaining unit is unwilling to grant concessions, then what?

    You’ll have to be a bit less cryptic on significantly increasing “administrative costs”?

  3. hpierce

    [quote]If you have to reduce costs across all bargaining units and one bargaining unit is unwilling to grant concessions, then what? [/quote]Well, one way to do it is what has been done in DCEA, PASEA [b]and[/b] Management…. when a person retires, or otherwise moves on, you either eliminate the position, leave it unfilled indefinitely, and if it suits your purpose, shroud it as “organizational efficiencies” and ignore impacts to workload and service delivery.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    Two points in response.

    The most obvious problem is the need to do something quickly.

    The other problem is that I think that was the wrong approach from a city-wide perspect. It created a mish-mash of vacancies without regard to service provision. The result is there was no overarching plan for the cuts. We just cut where we could rather than where we needed to.

  5. hpierce

    [quote]The other problem is that I think that was the wrong approach from a city-wide perspective./quote]I agree… but, you only asked ‘then what?’. I’m not sure your solution is optimum, either.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    Fair enough and I agree that my solution is not optimal either. But I don’t see how you clear $800,000 quickly enough through attrition and retirement alone.

  7. thrashard

    Second, DCEA could take concessions today to save those jobs.  But you heard from Dave Owen, they are not going to do so.  He has his reasons. 

    The city won’t guarantee those jobs will be saved with concessions. That sounds like a good reason not to do so.

  8. Siegel

    There’s something called collective bargaining – you agree to the concessions in exchange for the city guaranteeing those jobs are preserved. No deal, no concessions. Seems simple to me.

  9. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Perhaps the city really believes they can get the same service for cheaper. This is in my mind a PR issue. They needed to explain and lay out the policy and the belief in advance, rather than attempting damage control after the fact.[/quote]

    Sure, and as soon as the CM laid out his plan, all the “tree” people in Davis would have come out in force to complain about the cuts. At some point the CM has to do what he has to do. As you have noted, this is only the beginning, w lots more layoffs to come if there are no concessions…

    [quote]There’s something called collective bargaining – you agree to the concessions in exchange for the city guaranteeing those jobs are preserved. No deal, no concessions. Seems simple to me.[/quote]

    Well said…

  10. hpierce

    [quote]The city won’t guarantee those jobs will be saved with concessions. That sounds like a good reason not to do so. [/quote]Also “well said”, and probably a true story.

  11. Michael Harrington

    I won’t take any of this seriously until I see 3 member firecrews and a single truck going to most calls. Woodland does this and saves big money

  12. Michael Harrington

    In 2003-4 I proposed a 10% cut for senior management, as it was obvious even then that the city was going down a road to ruin.

    The next day the Davis Enterprise printed the story in huge type font above the fold front page. I think the font exceeded the story about landing Armstrong on the Moon! Or at least it seemed like it. Like the water plant I never voted for, I was ahead of the times.

  13. Michael Harrington

    I also proposed a 3 member fire crew

    Lost that one, but Sue Ken and I chopped out the fourth fire station. Anyone here still remember the myth that one was needed?

    The need for the current surface water project that Saylior and Souza almost gave us is also an urban myth

  14. David Thompson

    I just returned from an event in Berkeley this evening. As wwe were walking along Shattuck I noticed a Berkeley Fire Department Truck coming our way.

    Quickly remembering Michael Harrington’s Mantra I counted how many fire fighters were in the truck.

    Three of us Davis residents counted them.

    There were three.

    I’m with you Mike!

    David Thompson

  15. hpierce

    [quote]I also proposed a 3 member fire crew [/quote]As you remind us every 3rd to 5th ‘thread’.
    [quote]but Sue Ken and I chopped out the fourth fire station. Anyone here still remember the myth that one was needed? [/quote]Well, If Crossroads or Covell Village had been approved and built, either we would have needed a station in that general area to keep response times down to save everyone ratings on fire insurance premiums…. and, as I recall, it could have led to the elimination of the need for Fire Station on Fifth, and the “road diet” proposal could have been simplified considerably.

    [quote]The need for the current surface water project that Saylior and Souza almost gave us is also an urban myth [/quote]Is it only the S/S proposal, or ANY surface water project before 2030? With the University apparently ready to take legal action if the City were to try to develop more deep wells, state regulations re: water quality in our effluent, age of our existing wells, I have to hand it to you Mr H….. you are effectively promoting serious water conservation requirements, and preservation of property values by effectively preventing any growth that might need to rely on additional water from ANY source.

    You should run for council again in 2 years!

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