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

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Lawmaker's Lament

You can tell from his most recent mailer that Assemblyman Martin Garrick, R-Carlsbad, hates his job. He complains about having to work year-round in Sacramento, with little time to ask local voters what they want him to do there. Forced to accept an overblown salary while working full time on issues that "are not priorities for the hard-working people of this state," he can't take a second job in the real world.

So what's an unhappy State Assembly member to do? Survey his constituents, of course, to see if they agree he and his colleagues are overpaid, out of touch and underemployed.

Mindful of how busy we all are, Garrick boils his survey down to four simple, yes, or no questions and one "positive" or "negative" opinion. If you answer yes to the first question, lawmakers should have full-time careers and be part-time politicians, the next three are easy. Yes, you want a part-time legislature, yes, the legislature passes too many bills, and yes your representative is grossly overpaid. If you think "no" answers are acceptable, check out the answer sheet included or just Google "Congress: job ratings."

After acing the yes/no part of the test, you can find out why you should believe the legislature is having a negative effect on your quality of life. Garrick explains we could be better off emulating large states that have lower-paid, part-time politicians.

He praises Texas for enjoying "one of the fastest and most robust economies in the country." The Lone Star State also leads the nation for its low cost of labor. One in every ten workers is paid at or below the federal minimum wage. Only 2 percent of California's workforce earns $7.25 an hour or less.

While trickle-down economics doesn't seem to be working in Texas, we could give it a try in California if we only had part-time, more business friendly lawmakers.

Calling his Sacramento workplace "nothing more than a bill factory," Garrick says the 2,719 bills introduced last year were mostly unnecessary. He takes credit on his website for writing fifteen. The only one of his signed into law was a resolution declaring February 6, 2011 "Ronald Reagan Day," apparently one of his "priorities for the hardworking people of this state." With a record like that, who can blame him for feeling grumpy in his termed-out year?

Disgruntled, if not discouraged, Garrick has already formed an exploratory committee to consider a run for the state senate in 2014, when 38th District Senator Mark Wyland is termed out. Maybe he was persuaded to go back to work in the bill factory by a variation of the old Peace Corps recruitment pitch: Serving in the State Legislature ---- The Worst Job You'll Ever Love.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The pay gap widens between worker bees and their bosses

For San Diego's North County Times and Carlsbadistan.com

Last week Carlsbad’s city council approved an amended employment agreement with City Manager Lisa Hildabrand, effective January 1, 2012, listing her new salary at $230,000.
Communications Director Kristina Ray told me Hildabrand’s $13,000 pay hike, which became effective November 28, was based on her 2008 contract.

You could hear the buzzing of angry city worker bees in Carlsbad and Escondido when they learned their bosses were getting huge salary increases while their own pay remained frozen. Adding insult to injury, some of Carlsbad’s lowest paid workers are facing cuts in take-home pay because of an increase in what they’re required to pay into the state’s retirement system.

The salary of Carlsbad’s city manager is linked to the second highest paid city manager in the county, excluding the city of San Diego. Annual increases are limited to the rise in California’s Consumer Price Index. But additional “salary adjustments” are allowed if the price of city managers is driven up by pay increases in other cities.

Hildabrand received no pay raises in 2009 and 2010, while general employees got yearly increases of 3.2 percent. The city manager cannot, by contract, receive salary adjustments “if economic considerations indicate no salary increases for employees are appropriate.”

So why did she get a 6 percent raise in November while the city’s lowest paid workers faced a two-year wage freeze? 

Ray explained, “Since city employees (police officers only) have received salary increases each year she has been city manager, this provision has not been triggered. The contract does not refer to any one employee group, rather ‘employees’ in general.”

Apparently, when it comes to executive pay hikes, the wages of firefighters and those who keep parks meticulously groomed, city libraries customer-friendly, and drinking water, traffic and sewage flowing safely can be disregarded.

Councilman Keith Blackburn said he wants city employees to be paid enough so that “we don’t lose our best people.” The lowest paid workers, of course, are the ones who can least afford to move. When they ask for pay raises they’re often reminded of how lucky they are to live and work in such a beautiful city. So why would a paycheck be the only thing keeping city executives from leaving Camelot to live and work in a less attractive, less manageable city?

If we value our lowest paid workers as much as we say we do, maybe their pay should be linked to the salaries of our highest paid employees. Carlsbad’s city manager now makes 7 times more than a first year park maintenance worker, up from 6 times last year. Will the worker bees get a 6 percent increase after two years of no raises to help them close the gap? Don’t hold your breath. I’m guessing the gap will only widen over the years, as it has in the private sector.

I hope Councilman Blackburn would agree our “best people” can be found at the bottom, as well as the top, of the pay scale.