Police and fire attack new budget task force
July 11, 2010
San Luis Obispo Firefighters Association and the San Luis Obispo Police Association are withdrawing their support for a new behind-closed-doors budget task force recently assembled by City Manager Katie Lichtig because of allegations of elitism.
In an email sent out Sunday, Erik Baskin, president of the Firefighters Association, and Matt Blackstone, president of the Police Association, announced their decision to withdraw from the Financial Sustainability Task Force, citing numerous concerns about how the group was set up by Lichtig.
“When the concept of this task force was first proposed to us a few months back, it was presented to be made up, “a cross-section of the community”…These meetings were to be moderated to ensure discussions were frank, respectful, and productive,” Baskin and Blackstone write in their email.
“Initially, we supported the new City Manager in her efforts to bring a diverse segment of the community at large, along with city employees and employee representatives, and were optimistic that this would be a good opportunity for citizens to have a voice in city business. Unfortunately, when the selection process was completed and the task force was unveiled, the task force’s composition was far from the average citizens of San Luis Obispo, and was comprised largely of elite special interests and insiders within the County–the majority of which are Chamber of Commerce board members, business owners, CEO’s, and City department heads, unreflective of the community at large.”
Lichtig recently formed the Task Force to provide feedback in setting budget priorities and providing advice as San Luis Obispo wrestles with a multi-million dollar deficit.
The City Manager had already rebuffed attempts by New Times to have a reporter attend the meetings, arguing that closed sessions would yield better discussion and policy.
Baskin and Blackstone said they attended the first meeting and were immediately concerned by the priority placed on secrecy in the deliberating process.
“Our continued presence there would give this Task Force a sense of legitimacy it was unworthy of and did not sit right ethically with us, whether we agreed with its findings, or not.”
The two public safety officials are especially concerned that half of the Task Force members don’t even live in San Luis Obispo, a decision that is inconsistent with city policy, since, they argue, all other city committees require members to live in San Luis Obispo.