Fuzzy math should not obscure real progress by SLO City
December 14, 2011
OPINION By JOHN B. ASHBAUGH, San Luis Obispo City Councilman
Here’s a riddle for you: When is a “0” not a zero?
Answer: When it’s being deployed by a political activist with an axe to grind.
I refer, of course, to “SLO Salary Cuts: $0” by Kevin P. Rice, elsewhere on CCN. In it, Kevin disputes the reality of the compensation reductions that will result from a new two-year agreement with our City Manager, City Attorney, and 71 other employees who are unrepresented by a union. Kevin’s conclusion is based entirely on “fuzzy math,” replete with errors of judgment, flawed reasoning, and outright distortions.
I could refute each of Kevin’s points in sequence, but instead I want to “take the high road.” I invite you to read for yourself the Council staff report for our December 6 meeting, where you can find for yourself two fundamental facts:
• This agreement results in substantial savings for the City – $807,000 per year, exceeding by almost $50,000 the target set by the Council when we adopted our 2011-13 Financial Plan.
• The City of San Luis Obispo has made significant progress with this contract in implementing a smooth “glide path” to fiscal sustainability. We hope to obtain similar agreements from our five employee unions, and this first agreement with our managers gives us reason for cautious optimism.
The staff report contains all you need to know to realize that Kevin’s argument is completely bogus. But you may need to “read between the lines” to realize fully the critical leadership role played by our City Manager, and by all our Department heads, in recommending this new agreement to our Council.
The fact is that ALL employees covered by this agreement will “feel the pinch” of a 7.2 percent reduction in their compensation (and yes, in the case of our City Manager, that reduction is fully 12 percent). They deserve our thanks and our praise: This reduction in our managers’ compensation exceeds that of any other city in this county, and most other cities in California.
There are, of course, those who argue that “It’s not enough.” There are those, like Mr. Rice, who would have you believe that these cuts are fictional, or exaggerated; it’s all too easy to obfuscate this issue by delineating fine rhetorical distinctions between “salaries” and “total compensation.” Let me assure you: These cuts are absolutely real, and (to repeat) they go well beyond the target that our Council had set when we adopted the Financial Plan in June.
I’m optimistic about our fiscal and economic future in San Luis Obispo, but I’m also a realist when it comes to employee compensation: We require professional services in managing a $100 million municipal corporation with over 300 employees, and we must pay competitive salaries to obtain those services. Our Council unanimously chose to hire BOTH our City Manager AND our City Attorney in my first year in office. I continue to believe that our City is very fortunate to have the services of these two individuals.
In these times of rampant conspiracy theorists and paranoid fear-mongers, it is too easy to convince your readers that “corruption” is rampant in City Hall, that Council members like myself are “on the take,” or at best that we are willfully ignorant of fiscal realities facing our community.
Here’s my “take” on this: There really are no dark conspiracies at City Hall; we listen to everyone who has a complaint or a suggestion, and we make a serious attempt to respond. We do our level best to comply with California’s “open meeting” law (the Ralph M. Brown Act). We couldn’t take bribes even if we tried; we have a very vigilant City Attorney and City Clerk, and people like Karen Velie who actually read our Financial Disclosure forms required by the California Fair Political Practices Act.
Finally, all five of us diligently read voluminous staff reports on our city’s fiscal condition, and we listen carefully to citizen and staff input. We disagree on many issues, and often interpret data differently, but we do so not out of ignorance. We differ on matters of perspective, ideology, and experience.
We also have an excellent staff, in my opinion. I do my best to provide them with the respect they deserve, and I value their services. For their part, our employees also value their jobs, and they give 100 percent, and often more, because they also care deeply about the community they serve.
If you want accurate information about any issues confronting our City, please do not hesitate to contact me. My cell phone is 550-7713; my email is email@example.com. Sure, I’m just another political activist with my own axe to grind, but I’m also an elected official with a record that I’m ready to talk about any time, in any forum, with any constituent. Call me.