Menlo Park's Future


Who Is Speaking for The Taxpayer?

Fellow Residents,

I originally released the following on June 20, 2008.  In light of what has recently happened, I hope you take the time to re-read it.

Who is speaking for the Menlo Park taxpayer?

My term on the City Council taught me that the negotiation process for wages and benefits for City employees is heavily stacked against the taxpayer.  Why?  Let me count the ways:

·         It is stacked against the taxpayer because no one involved in the negotiation process has anything to gain by holding, much less reversing, the line.

·         City management (who negotiates with the employee representatives and interfaces with the City Council members in closed door meetings) has little to gain from holding the line because management benefits are always equal to or better than those of the unionized employees. (Note:   Even the most fiscally conservative City Manager cannot help but have mixed feelings about enhancing benefits and salaries; even if these feelings are sublimated.  And, having striking workers and/or “worker unrest” in his/her city is never conducive to workplace harmony.)

·         Council members who depend on union support (or at the minimum hope for a lack of interference during the election/re-election process) have everything to lose by holding the line.

And, it’s management and Council that ultimately decide on the employee contracts.  These contracts are brought out into the open only AFTER negotiations are concluded and cannot legally be changed.

The process is stacked against the taxpayer because of the way negotiations are spaced.

·          First the police (and in many cities firefighter) contracts are negotiated.  Since there is currently a system-wide shortage of police officers, cities outbid other cities in the benefits and pay that is offered.  Menlo Park recently bid way up.  But, it is highly probable that in the long run there will be NO taxpayer winners in this “can you top this” game.  (The City of Vallejo is experiencing this right now.)

·         The municipal workers follow the so-called “safety” contract negotiations and get an equivalent raise, though never quite as much.

So is there a solution to the upwardly generous salary, benefit, and retirement and healthcare benefits that public employees receive?  Here are a few:

·         Wait for cities to go bankrupt.

·         Have a countywide PUBLIC discussion on this issue.  Perhaps the Board of Supervisors can organize and facilitate a meeting that all San Mateo County cities participate in.  At this meeting (or meetings) all will discuss ways to hold the wage/benefit line.  This could start a process whereby cities stop acting as competitors, and begin to work together as equal partners, cooperating in a way that could minimize employee cost escalation.

·         Introduce a two-tier benefit package, whereby new hires get reduced benefits – a solution many pay lip service to, but no one ever promotes.

·         Hold public hearings, in our own Council Chambers, before labor negotiations begin.  Produce detailed staff reports that outline employee demands; present salaries/benefits; costs of proposed salary/benefit increases; comparable salaries/benefits in the public and PRIVATE sectors; and any other information that is allowable by law.

As always, I’d like to hear from you at

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Lee Duboc