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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Carlsbad puts heavy thumb on city's lowest paid workers

For San Diego's North County Times
Carlsbad's elected officials like to say the city has been able to dodge layoffs and deep cuts in services because of their careful planning and fiscal prudence. But a closer look reveals another side of the story.

The city's proposed budget for 2011/2012 projects a $600,000 surplus, bringing the accumulated general fund balance up to $54 million, a whopping 47 percent of the $113 million budget. There's even room enough for another $1.4 million bailout of the golf course.

Previous million-dollar yearly subsidies since its opening have been in the form of loans. But now that it's clear the debt will never be repaid, and with hopes fading that the course will ever pay for itself, it will now be a part of the operating budget, just like the city's other recreational facilities.

The city boasts that no layoffs have been required during the recession. None are planned for next year. We can expect only a "minimal" reduction in city services, such as delays in streetlight replacements, road repairs and trimming trees on city property.

City officials claim "sharing the pain" has been the watchword for budget cutting.
But negotiations with the Carlsbad City Employees Association reveal the city's lowest-paid workers will bear the brunt of it. The group represents 340 employees with a pay scale from $30,000 to $80,000. The city's final one-year contract offer would result in a 7 percent cut in take-home pay, beginning July 1. That's because the city wants to shift to employees the share of pension fund contributions the city currently pays on their behalf.

Management employees, with a salary schedule ranging from $80,000 to $124,000, won't feel the pain. City Manager Lisa Hildabrand told CCEA members the city will continue to pay management personnel's 7 percent pension fund contribution and may give them a 2.5 percent pay increases, since they've gone without raises for three years. She told the group the city is also planning to consider outsourcing, furloughs, and moving employees around to effect additional cost-saving measures.

The CCEA met the city's final offer with a counter-offer, asking that the increase in pension contributions be phased in at 3.5 percent a year over two years, beginning Dec. 1. The association agreed to a one-year pay freeze and a reduction in retirement benefits for new hires from the current 3 percent at age 60, based on highest salary, to 2 percent at 60, based on a three-year average.

The City Council will vote on the contract at its June 21 meeting. Council members need to explain why the city's lowest-paid workers are being asked to bear the greatest burden in these hard times.

Friday, June 3, 2011

County leaders more interested in politics than people

For San Diego's North County Times
A study of the county's reorganized Family Resource Centers released last month by the San Diego State University Sociology Department and the Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI) found that changes in the business model to improve service have caused the opposite of what was intended.

In a written response, county officials called the report a "labor-sponsored stunt."
Without challenging the study's findings, county administrators questioned its objectivity because of the researcher's affiliation with the San Diego-based CPI, an organization county officials say is "linked" to the Service Employees International Union.

A nonprofit organization promoting policies that improve the lives of working people, the CPI has a 13-member board of directors that includes one SEI Union member, one member of the San Diego and Imperial County Labor Council, and the SDSU professor who conducted the study. It's hardly a "labor union passing itself off as a think tank," as county officials claim.
The survey of 342 county employees was conducted by unpaid graduate students. Union leaders helped provide access to workers. No union money supported the project.

The 2009 San Diego Report Card on Children and Families noted San Diego County has the lowest participation rate of needy children receiving food assistance of any large urban area in the nation. The report's key recommendation was to expand outreach and streamline and simplify the application process.

The SDSU/CPI study acknowledged the county has increased advertising for the program, resulting in a 97 percent increase in CalWorks and food stamp applications from 2001 to 2010. During that period, there's been only a 1 percent increase in staffing. Three out of four workers surveyed agreed the new business process has produced a decline in efficiency in handling applications.

Rather than addressing the report's recommendations, county officials chose to blame their employees, pointing out workers were involved in the design of the new system and participated in feedback through ongoing meetings, focus groups, and email.

If their websites are any indication, North County's supervisors are unconcerned about the work of the Family Service Centers. That's surprising, since the Health and Human Services Agency consumes the lion's share, 38 percent, of the county's budget.

Bill Horn can't find room for the agency in his list of 5th District priorities. "Pam's Priorities," for 3rd District Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, includes "animal welfare," but serving needy families doesn't make the list.

If it's fair to question labor-union self-interest in the SDSU/CPI study, it's also fair to question Bill Horn's self-interest in attacking the county's proposed general plan revision. Is he as worried about the property rights of his constituents as he is about the business interests of land developers, his most generous campaign contributors?