City Hall closed Fridays?

City officials are mulling a $100,000 traffic study for Welburn Avenue in Gilroy.

City Council members voiced support of closing city offices to
the public on non-furlough Fridays as a way to help city staff
catch up on their work. The offices already have been and will
continue to be shut on the first and third Fridays of the month
through June 2011 due to furloughs.
City Council members voiced support of closing city offices to the public on non-furlough Fridays as a way to help city staff catch up on their work. The offices already have been and will continue to be shut on the first and third Fridays of the month through June 2011 due to furloughs.

Mayor Al Pinheiro and Council members Cat Tucker, Dion Bracco and Craig Gartman gave a thumbs-up vote in favor of the closures during the council’s goal-setting session Saturday. Pinheiro suggested the idea during a discussion on budget policies. The council will take a formal vote on the matter during its April 5 meeting.

“Obviously, my hope on this is that it will translate into greater production hours, get more accomplished and hopefully it will balance us out,” Pinheiro said Monday.

The council had discussed the idea of closing to the public on non-furlough Fridays back in 2009, when first discussing the idea of making the first and third Fridays of each month as furlough days. However, council members decided against it at the time.

City Administrator Tom Haglund said Monday that city employees’ workloads have piled up after city staff dropped from 298 people to 227 because of layoffs early last year.

“What’s important to know is that even though we reduced staff by 71, we didn’t lose a single customer,” Haglund said. “We still have 51,000 people in Gilroy.”

The city’s community development department alone lost 17 employees, including engineering and planning staff, Haglund said. Although the city has fewer development projects on its plate these days, there is plenty of work to be done on projects such as Gilroy’s new library, a habitat conservation plan and high-speed rail, he said.

If City Hall were to remain open while closing its doors to the public on Fridays, it would help community development staff catch up and better serve the developers with which they work, Haglund said.

In addition, people would still be able to meet with city staff by appointment, Councilwoman Cat Tucker said.

Councilman Perry Woodward opposed the idea of furloughs outright, one of the reasons that he gave a thumbs-down vote regarding closing city offices to the public on alternate Fridays.

“I think it’s irresponsible to be closing City Hall and irresponsible to try to find a way to make furloughs comfortable because someday furloughs are going to come to an end,” Woodward said.

Furloughs create an incentive for workers to stockpile their vacation time, as they are already getting time off work, and it creates an incentive to provide less service, he said.

Instead of using furloughs, he advocated that city employees take a 10-percent pay cut and work on the same days they traditionally have worked.

Gilroy Police Chief Denise Turner said there could be challenges if the police station closed its doors to the public every Friday. For instance, it would inconvenience those who wanted to pay a fee to release impounded animals.

“I’m not really sure if we can close Fridays,” Turner said Monday. “We need to look at police operations to see if we can do that.”

She said she would work with Haglund to explore options.

Pinheiro said he has heard more complaints from residents about not remembering when furloughs are scheduled than about the furloughs themselves.

Workers in his insurance office have found that they often are more productive when they decide to work on a Saturday – when offices are closed – he said.

“It’s common knowledge that if you do that, production goes up,” he said.

Haglund also noted that closing offices on certain days is not unknown in other cities.

“It’s important to note that Gilroy is not paving new ground here,” he said.

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