As the city of Gilroy happily reports glowing and growing sales tax numbers – “Seven straight quarters of sales tax increases” – and the unions call for new hiring, I wonder if anyone gets it. Or will we turn a blind eye to reality and take the easy way out as Mayor Al Pinheiro did in the last election? Personally, he said, binding arbitration for public safety employees was a horrible burden for the city, but he declined to take on the political fight to overturn it. That could have caused a real election rumble with the firefighters and police unions spending money to save the right for an out-of-town attorney to have the final say on pay and benefits for Gilroy’s public safety employees.
Now, Gilroy’s reserves are growing and, if you know anything about Gilroy’s history, we’re growing ever closer to easing into the familiar, “Let the good times roll” mantra that sweetly sings its siren song to local politicians who would much prefer to cozy up to the unions than face reality.
During the Great Recession, Gilroy has managed some reforms. But with a few more quarters of sales tax boosts for the city, a fat reserve and a local political campaign looming, those gains could be reversed in a heartbeat.
So, who you decide to vote for in the next election really does matter. What’s good for the unions, the public safety unions in particular, is not necessarily good for the community of Gilroy.
Take these snippets from a New York Times story honing in on San Jose’s woes: … the Police Department … laid off 66 officers last summer and has shrunk by about a fifth … in cities and states around the country, the loss of those jobs has made it harder to provide services … San Jose has shed 1,592 jobs – more than a fifth of its employees – over the last four years … Pension costs now consume more than a fifth of the city’s general fund budget, officials said, and have risen to $245 million this year from $73 million a decade ago … Mayor Chuck Reed … is taking aim at pension costs, which rose after the benefits were improved over the last decade, with police officers and firefighters able to retire after 30 years with pensions worth 90 percent of their salaries. He supports a ballot measure this June that would require workers to go into far less lucrative retirement plans …”
Think it can’t happen just as dramatically here? Think again.
Gilroy’s culture at City Hall is ripe for granting overgenerous pensions, absurd amounts of overtime and benefits that far exceed those offered in the private sector.
That entitlement culture starts right at the top. Mayor Pinheiro wrote me an email Thursday to complain (surprise, surprise …) about a sentence in reporter Mark Powell’s recent story headlined “City overtime costs surge in 2011.” The sentence he questioned: “Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro and Councilman Dion Bracco were the only two Council members to take full health benefits, costing the city more than $17,000 each.”
That’s an accurate statement. Full family benefits. It’s the maximum. However, Pinheiro wrote in and asked that it be “corrected.” He wrote: “Correction: council member Dillon also takes medical benefit costing city $6591.00 and council members Tucker, Woodward and Arellano take the money instead of the benefit costing the city a total of 15,884.00.”
Let’s be clear: Bracco’s and Pinheiro’s full family medical/dental benefits cost the city $17,405 each for a total of $34,810 annually. A normal Council term is four years, that’s $139,240 (assuming no cost increases.) Pinheiro owns an insurance agency, Bracco a tow truck business that, by the looks of the shiny new trucks around town, is doing quite well. Both take full medical/dental benefits.
The city also pays about $5,294 anually each to Councilmembers Cat Tucker, a product marketer, Peter Arellano, a doctor at Kaiser Permanente, and Perry Woodward, an attorney. It’s mostly cash in lieu of benefits. Councilman Bob Dillon, who owns a process serving business, takes benefits worth $6,591. Readers should note the more than $10,000 annual difference between what Pinheiro and Bracco take compared to the rest of the Council.
The overarching point is this: It’s a lot easier for the rank-and-file not to truly buy into necessary pension and pay reform when the part-time mayor, who owns an insurance company, takes full-bore benefits.
That’s part of why we have a culture at City Hall that allows fire captains, otherwise known as supervisory personnel in the wild and wacky world of the private sector, collecting wheelbarrrows filled with overtime cash. Nine, that’s right NINE FIRE CAPTAINS, in little old Gilroy, received – ON AVERAGE mind you – $21,873 in OT pay.
As an upset reader wrote in after reading the overtime story: “… why do so many management personnel in GPD and GFD get overtime in the first place? These are people with six-figure base salaries performing management and supervisory functions. In any private company, and most other government agencies, these would be exempt employees and would be expected to put in whatever hours are necessary to get the job done (without any additional compensation.)”
The culture needs to change, and for that to happen a mayor and Council have to be elected who will not just go along to get along.
Fire captains shouldn’t get overtime. Why? Because they’re the people in charge of managing overtime for god’s sake.
City Hall exists in a de facto bizarro world where common sense has been allowed to go down the toilet.
Elected officials are not entitled to and should not receive medical and dental benefits. Pass an amendment to the City Charter forbidding it. The Council votes on approving benefits for employees – the SAME benefits they end up having the option of taking or taking cash in lieu of.
If you add up all the benefits each year for Council members, all of whom are gainfully employed, it totals $57,285. That would likely pay for the restoration of an entire recreation program, or reduce the rec fees for residents that have been hiked. Or it could pay a good portion of another parks maintenance person. Or it could simply serve as a testament to a necessary change in the entitlement culture.
Sure, I know, don’t hold your breath … but seriously why can’t we get some real leadership in this town?
Reach Editor Mark Derry at [email protected]