Carter under fire for using city resources in special election
August 16, 2011
By KAREN VELIE
Members of the San Luis Obispo public safety workers’ unions want to know why city councilman Andrew Carter is possibly violating the law in his attempts to overturn binding arbitration and implement pension reform during August’s special election involving Measures A and B.
Carter has been instrumental in bringing Measure A and B to the voters, while at the same time allegedly using public resources to battle opponents of both measures.
Critics contend Carter is using his city email account in his fight against binding arbitration, actions which appear to violate laws restricting the use of taxpayer resources or money to support either side of a ballot measure.
In addition, according to emails obtained through a CalCoastNews public records request, Carter has enlisted the help of city employees to spend work hours to disprove claims of opponents of Measure A and B that, since the passing of binding arbitration, paramedic staffing numbers have increased.
Matt Blackstone, president of the San Luis Obispo Police Officers’ Association, expressed doubts about Carter’s email use and influence over city staff. ”It ties into the ongoing concerns I have with conduct of certain council members regarding the ballot measures. It appears they believe the ends justify the means.”
On Aug. 1, Carter emailed city Human Resources Director Monica Irons, with a copy to City Manager Katie Lichtig, asking Irons to help him refute the claims about increased staffing in the fire department.
“Do you know when we went to three firemen on each truck at stations two, three, and four and four at station one?” Andrew asks Irons in the email. “The firefighters are claiming this happened since binding arbitration was passed. But my records show little increase in fire department staffing since 1995/1996, which would indicate what they are saying can’t be right.
“Also, do you know when we shifted from two paramedics on duty to four?” Carter added. “Their saying this has happened since binding arbitration was passed.”
Irons sent an email back to Carter explaining that staffing minimums and paramedic assignments had increased since binding arbitration, but that she would also ask Fire Chief Charlie Hines to verify the numbers had actually increased in the department.
On July 29, Hines responded by email that he was “on it,” and would review the matter.
After several city employees investigated Carter’s assertion that the firefighters were incorrect about the numbers, it was determined the firefighters were right and the number of paramedics had indeed increased.
The use of Carter’s city council email account to inquire into firefighter staffing, and the expenditure of public employee hours in the fight against binding arbitration, appear to violate Government Code 8314, which bans government officials from using public resources including buildings, government employee hours, phones, computers, or public email accounts to discourage or support a ballot measure.
On July 27, a San Luis Obispo resident sent an email to council members questioning if two firefighters standing on the sidewalk in front of Fire Station One, waving “No on B” signs, were on duty and if the coat and hats they were donning belonged to the city.
Carter emailed the resident thanking him for his concern and voicing his own.
“My expectation is these are not on-duty personnel, but we won’t know until we look,” Carter says in the email. “If the firemen in question are off-duty and on the public sidewalk, they have a legal right to be there, even if this sends a terrible signal to the community.
“The wearing of firefighter coats and helmets is another matter. It is absolutely off limits to use city property in this way.”
Nevertheless, the firefighters were off-duty and wearing personally purchased coats and helmets while promoting No on Measure B.
When contacted by CalCoastNews, Carter said he was too busy to respond to requests for comment prior to publication because of teaching at Cuesta College and a Tuesday evening council meeting.
Opponents of Measures A and B are wondering about an email Carter–who is advocating for council control of employee benefits and compensation packages–sent Irons on July 19, asking how retiree medical benefits apply to council members.
Irons responded by telling Carter in order for him to be eligible for retiree benefits, a council member must retire directly from service in the city, be enrolled in the PERS medical plan, and be at least 50 years old.
If passed, Measure A will amend a city charter that requires voter approval to change employee benefits and instead places that ability in the councils’ hands.
Measure B would undo binding arbitration, a measure passed by the voters in 2000 that allows a third party to decide on safety worker contract disputes.
The deadline for returning ballots in the special mail-in election is Aug. 30.