News - May 5, 2010

Pension reform advocates turn in petitions

by Sean Howell

People trickled onto the sun-baked patio outside Menlo Park's city administration building to join a bubbly crowd as 1 p.m. approached on Monday, waiting for more of their number to arrive. Then somehow a decision was reached, the doors opened, and the crowd flowed into the building, pooling in front of the city clerk's desk upstairs.

If the two men sitting on a nearby bench had made a bet on what the people were there for, the one who put his money on pension reform probably would have gotten pretty favorable odds. He also would have walked away with money in his pocket.

"This is about Menlo Park being a leader, and taking the initiative," Roy Thiele-Sardina, a leader of the group, told a couple journalists outside the building. "The initiative we're proposing is the fiscally responsible thing to do."

The group said it gathered more than 3,100 signatures from Menlo Park residents in the past six weeks, over half-again the 1,882 required to put an initiative measure on the ballot. They collected so many signatures, in fact, that the city will likely be forced to hold a special election if it isn't able to arrange everything in time to present the measure to voters in November, according to City Clerk Margaret Roberts.

Mr. Thiele-Sardina and Mr. Riggs, the other leader of the initiative drive, said they had forgotten all about that possibility. After Ms. Roberts told him that it would cost the city about $60,000, Mr. Thiele-Sardina assumed roughly the pleased and sheepish expression of a kid who has broken a neighbor's window with a home run ball (the men said they had meant to avoid gathering that many signatures).

If it makes it to the ballot, and if voters approve it, the initiative would scale back public pensions for new city employees so that they would receive three-fifths of their annual salary after retiring at 60 (under the current formula, they receive four-fifths at 55). It would also require the City Council to send any future "enhancement" in pension benefits to the voters.

Many of the 100 or so volunteers who helped with the campaign came out for the event. They looked over Mr. Thiele-Sardina's shoulder as Ms. Roberts checked the paperwork. They chatted and took photos of each other, but mostly just stood there, looking pleased and a touch apprehensive, happy to have been part of something that felt momentous, waiting to see what would happen next.


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