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Fire board imposes terms on union employees

Original post made on Apr 20, 2011

The firefighters of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District will get $350 more per month for health and welfare benefits, and an additional $400 more per month for post-employment health benefits, but no salary increase, according to terms imposed on the union by the district board of directors on Tuesday night.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 11:22 AM

Comments (41)

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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Apr 20, 2011 at 6:27 pm

This seems more that generous. I appreciate that health care costs have risen so maybe that increase was appropriate.

Appreciation shouldn't be linked to monetary compensation however. "Everyone loves a fireman" but that doesn't mean they deserve a raise just because they believe they're entitled to one. We live in tough times and the fire fighters need to understand this too. It's time they stop whining and be grateful for the job, salary and benefits that they have.

Not quite sure why John Wurdinger believes they are entitled to $750 in cash if it's not spent on health care; does that just go into their pockets. If so, that's not right.

Jack Nelson's position didn't make sense; the process wasn't working and hasn't been for almost 3 years -- wasn't he one of the candidates supported by the union?


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Posted by Peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

The fact is that all public employees are receiving pay and benefits which are well in excess of what the private sector marketplace provides. We have to both freeze public employee salaries AND move all public employees to a defined contribution benefit system. This will only happen IF citizens demand this change.


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Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2011 at 12:45 am

Peter

Thank you for being part of this decision. Unsustainable costs need to be stopped, and this is a step in the right direction. As you point out, the pension costs also need to be changed, and we trust that you and the fireboard will be leaders in making these changes!

Your hard work on behalf of the community is appreciated.

Thanks
Roy Thiele-Sardina


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 21, 2011 at 6:01 am

I was particularly disturbed by John Murdingers' comment "we are the people who get your cat out of the tree and perform CPR on Grandma". So does this mean if they don't get their way the won't be around when called" The large pay raise tehy wanted during these tight time is out in left field. All people are hurting during these times.

A typical union response.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 21, 2011 at 7:44 am

With regard to John Murdingers' comment "we are the people who get your cat out of the tree and perform CPR on Grandma"... yes, John, and WE are the people who pay you and allow you to buy your home, feed and clothe your family and provide you with incredible benefits and pensions.

When an employer feels the value they receive (ie, getting cats out of trees) isn't up to the compensation they are providing, you've got a problem. Ask airline pilots and Detroit auto workers how that worked out for them.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 21, 2011 at 8:41 am

What puzzles me is that government employees all over are seeing that the tide has changed, but our fire fighters still believe they are entitled to more money. What well are they drinking from?

I agree with Mr. Carpenter and others who have said enough is enough. It's time for reform. If government doesn't change its personnel costs, more will end up bankrupt like the City of Vallejo.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2011 at 10:18 am

Some facts on public vs private compensation:

"Private industry employers spent an average of $27.75 per hour worked for total employee compensation in December 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Wages and salaries averaged $19.64 per hour worked and accounted for 70.8 percent of these costs, while benefits averaged $8.11 and accounted for the remaining 29.2 percent. Total compensation costs for state and local government workers averaged $40.28 per hour worked in December 2010. Total employer compensation costs for civilian workers, which include private industry and state and local government workers, averaged $29.72 per hour worked in December 2010."

Web Link


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Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 21, 2011 at 11:37 am

Oh, Peter, dear boy, you're not posting that BLS drivel all over the forum, are you?

It doesn't account for job type, experience or education. Nor geography. It includes part timers in the private sector, and all the McDonald's employees. Shall we compare VA doctors with private practice?

How about some apples to apples comparisons? Similar education and job type.

Sticking with generic data like you posted? Okay:

" * Public and private workforces differ in important ways. For instance, jobs in the public sector require much more education on average than those in the private sector. Employees in state and local sectors are twice as likely as their private sector counterparts to have a college or advanced degree.
* Wages and salaries of state and local employees are lower than those for private sector workers with comparable earnings determinants (e.g., education). State employees typically earn 11 percent less; local workers earn 12 percent less.

* Over the last 20 years, the earnings for state and local employees have generally declined relative to comparable private sector employees. The pattern of declining relative compensation remains true in most of the large states we examined, although some state-level variation exists.
* Benefits (e.g., pensions) comprise a greater share of employee compensation in the public sector. State and local employees have lower total compensation than their private sector counterparts. On average, total compensation is 6.8 percent lower for state employees and 7.4 percent lower for local workers, compared with comparable private sector employees."


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Posted by m. sweeney
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2011 at 9:01 am

What is not mentioned in this article is that firefighters were previously receiving $42 monthly for retirement medical. With the imposed contract they now get $400 a month!!. The board talks about the FF retirement benefit being too great but then quietly add this to their retirement. makes no sense, but thank you. And to make matters worse if a FF was on his spouse's medical he is now being forced to pay for a Menlo Fire provided medical plan. Makes no sense.29 yrs on the job, captain, medic, acting battalion chief and get payed $38 hr and work 240hrs a month. im sure many people in Menlo Park and Atherton are in the same boat.lol


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 26, 2011 at 9:45 am

For those of you who think there isn't really a problem...

States are short $1.26 TRILLION in paying for public employee pensions and other retirement benefits, a gap that grew 26 PERCENT IN ONE YEAR and will take many more years to wipe out, according to a report released on Tuesday.

And here's the link: Web Link


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 26, 2011 at 1:42 pm

"public employees at both the state and local levels enjoy a compensation premium of close to five percent compared to
an employee of similar education and experience in the private sector.
That five percent pay premium should be considered a floor, not a ceiling. Public sector workers enjoy substantially greater job security than their private sector counterparts; their layoff and discharge rate
as a percent of total employment is over three times lower than the private sector as a whole."

www.unionfacts.com/downloads/Public_Sector_UnionsBrief.pdf


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Posted by CalPERS Facts
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm

CalPERS by the Numbers

$70 billion - the amount of money CalPERS gained back in their investment portfolio since the market low in March 2009.

12.5% - The net return on CalPERS investments for the 2010 calendar year.

78% - The percentage of CalPERS retirees who earn $36,000 or less in retirement annually.

21.5% - The overall 2010 return of the CalPERS private equity program.

$2,200 - The amount of monthly pension the average public employee earns after working for 20 or more years.

$13 billion - The amount of money CalPERS paid in pension benefits to more than half a million retirees in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

64 cents - For every dollar paid in pensions, the amount that comes from investments.

21 cents - For every dollar paid in pensions, the amount that comes from the employers.

15 cents - For every dollar paid in pensions, the amount that comes from members.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 26, 2011 at 7:39 pm

CalPERS facts -

Also "by the numbers," we currently have about $1.5 TRILLION in unfunded pension liabilities and it increased by more than 25% this year alone (and it will get worse each year for the foreseeable future). See Susan Page's article in in USA Today TODAY.

Unsustainable. Putting your head in the sand won't make it go away.

You remind me of politicians who say we desperately need entitlement reform so long as you don't touch Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. Yeah, right.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 26, 2011 at 8:43 pm

This is what happens when public agencies do not maintain fiscal discipline:

SJ Mercury News:
"After months of nervous anticipation, 106 San Jose police officers are getting notices this week that they may be laid off as the reality of the city's dire financial picture cast a gloom over police headquarters and City Hall.

Another 20 cops learned they may soon be demoted. And overall, the city could lose about 9 percent of its police force in what could be the first layoffs of cops in the city's history.

City officials have been threatening layoffs for months, and City Manager Deb Figone last week broadcast a total of more than 600 city employees."


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 27, 2011 at 9:42 am

Under the old pension system and economic conditions:
64 cents - For every dollar paid in pensions, the amount that previously came from investments.

21 cents - For every dollar paid in pensions, the amount that previously came from the employers.

15 cents - For every dollar paid in pensions, the amount that previously came from members.


The above figures result from a large number of individuals who retired with much less generous retirement plans than those enjoyed by current employees and from an economic climate that we will probably not see again for at least a decade.

Under the existing pension system and economic conditions:
Under the current retirement plans the payouts will soar and the investment returns will stagnate, so guess who gets to pick up the difference - the taxpayers. This is not the fault of public employees but of the political leaders, myself included, who made bad decisions regarding retirement benefits and contributions to those retirement plans.

Leverage is great on the way up but really hurts when the economy falls.


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Posted by m. sweeney
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2011 at 11:24 am

lets not get to far off subject. its about an imposed contract in MP that is forcing employees to used a district medical plan when they are already on their spouses and also increasing a $42 a month medical stipend to $400 month.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Apr 27, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I think there is a point that has been overlooked here. The role of a council, board, etc. is to govern. In governing decisions are made, sometimes they are tough and even unpopular decisions. In this case the fire board made a decision that seems unpopular with the fire fighters.

This is a much bigger and more complicated picture than is being portrayed in this thread; to make specific comments and points which are taken out of context often skews what is really going on.

I think that the fire board has done a good job of maintaining a balanced budget when cities, the county and the state are in the red.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm

The Bureau of Economic Analysis has just announced that the personal income in San Mateo County decreased 3.5% from 2008-2009.

Personal income changes precede personal spending changes and those precede tax revenue changes.

This is confirmed in that Bay Area home prices fell 3.5 % in February 2011 from a year earlier, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Index.


We are in for a very slow recovery with regard to property tax and sales tax revenue and local governments would be wise not to plan on any near term increases in those revenue streams.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Apr 27, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Maybe our fire fighters should look just a little north of here and realize that a private company doing the same work was given serious consideration for contract service and remains a viable contender should the first option not work out.

The point is that private companies can do the same work as what we have been use to and can do it more cost effectively. Maybe our fire officials should explore this option since our fire fighters seem ungrateful and unappreciative for their jobs and compensation.


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Posted by joker
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Apr 27, 2011 at 8:55 pm

private companies can do the same work? [Portion deleted. Please make your point without attacking other posters.] ... if private FD comes to your city u can watch your insurance rates rise. Joe, do you what an ISO rating is? FF are pnly unappreciative due to the fact the FD board is throwing tax payer monies at FF for retirement medical, but hey Joe its your money


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 27, 2011 at 9:25 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

If you want a well written explanation how local agencies got into this pension mess then read this article:

Web Link

"After receiving assurances from city staff that the changes wouldn't cost the city anything, Johnson said, the council – unanimously and without debate – approved the benefit bumps, first for police and several months later, firefighters. But eventually, she said, she learned that all those assurances were for naught."


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Posted by CalPERS Facts
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Why is San Carlos struggling with this problem, but not the communities within the MPFPD?

I think the answer is that MPFPD gets its "cut" directly from property taxes. So, the participating cities never have to write a check to the MPFPD. They don't have the ability to change fire service providers -- or have a motivation to reduce the expense.

The MPFPD is quite the government organization in its own right. Its budget is actually pretty large. Here's a comparison of the 2010-11 FY budgets of the MPFPD and the jurisdictions it serves:

$14,286,709 Town of Atherton
$30,054,511 City of East Palo Alto
$31,006,800 Menlo Park Fire Protection District
$38,207,591 City of Menlo Park

The MPFPD budget strikes me as a large number for providing a single service (Fire Protection), especially when the other budgets encompass several services (parks, public works, police, administration, etc).


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 27, 2011 at 9:40 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

MPFRD provide fire and emergency medical response to all the cities that "CALPERS Facts" lists plus additional portions of the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County - almost 95,000 residents in total for a per capita cost of about $300. The cities listed spend about 3 times as much per capita.

MPFPD's share of property taxes was fixed when Prop 13 passed and it cannot be changed.

The District has also greatly expanded the range of services that is provides since Prop 13 was passed and has voluntarily taken on the cities' responsibilities for such things as CERT training and disaster planning - at no expense to the cities.


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 28, 2011 at 9:17 am

peter carpenter is a registered user.

M.Sweeny states:"What is not mentioned in this article is that firefighters were previously receiving $42 monthly for retirement medical. With the imposed contract they now get $400 a month!!. The board talks about the FF retirement benefit being too great but then quietly add this to their retirement. makes no sense,"

The District makes a contribution each month to a third party vendor on behalf of the employee. There is no other fiscal obligation on the part of the District, no future liability. After retirement the employee draws down from HIS account with the third party vendor a reimbursement of his medical premiums. Additional benefits to the District is that this contribution is not reported to PERS, is not in the OT calculation, does NOT increase the future liability of annual leave balances.


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Posted by CalPERS Facts
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Per a MPFPD produced report, the per capita cost for those covered in the district is indeed $300:

Web Link

BUT, when you break it down the cost of MPFPD per-capita within the communities, the numbers are certainly interesting:

$400 East Palo Alto
$1,100 Menlo Park
$1,300 Atherton

Peter was kind enough in several other threads to give us the cost for law enforcement services per capita:

$??? East Palo Alto
$477 Menlo Park
$681 Atherton

I would have though the cops would be more costly, given the number of calls for service. Is this disparity unique to the MPFPD??


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Posted by CalPERS Facts
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2011 at 7:51 pm

If MPFPD were to consolidate with other jurisdictions, what would happen to the Prop 13 set revenue percentages?

Would money go back to the communities if the consolidations led to savings??

What's the incentive???


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

CalPERS Facts(???) states:'Per a MPFPD produced report, the per capita cost for those covered in the district is indeed $300:

Web Link

BUT, when you break it down the cost of MPFPD per-capita within the communities, the numbers are certainly interesting:

$400 East Palo Alto

$1,100 Menlo Park

$1,300 Atherton"

It is arithmetically impossible for the per capita figures for Menlo Park, Atherton and East Palo Alto to all be above the per capita cost for the entire District - where did you get these 'facts'?


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 28, 2011 at 10:21 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

CalPERS facts(???) asks:'If MPFPD were to consolidate with other jurisdictions, what would happen to the Prop 13 set revenue percentages? "

The consolidated fire entity would acquire the property tax revenues of each of its component parts.


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Posted by CalPERS Facts
a resident of another community
on Apr 29, 2011 at 6:21 am

You are correct. My facts were wrong.

I mis-interpreted the information in the MPFPD document referenced in the link I supplied in my post. The MPFPD document appears to be reporting per-capita costs of local governments general funds, not the per capita costs of MPFPD within those communities.

I believe these are the per-capita costs of MPFPD at the community level:

$102 East Palo Alto
$517 Menlo Park
$1,428 Atherton
$??? Unincorporated Areas

I'm sure you want to know how I got to those figures: On page 5 of the document referenced in the following web-link, the MPFPD states that it receives 17.5% of the property tax from each community it serves:

Web Link

The County Assessor's office provides the values necessary to calculate the property tax (1% of assessed values). The MPFPD report referenced in the original post gives the populations of the communities. The per capita number is the 17.5% value divided by the populations.

Shouldn't MPFPD be getting revenue from properties in the unincorporated areas it serves? I don't see where they account for the revenue from the unincorporated areas in their report:

Web Link

I do see that San Mateo County receives 7% of property tax for fire in areas not served by a fire district. MPFPD appears to merit a premium of 10.5% over what the county gets (see footnote 4 in the above report).

Also, the $300 per capita "fact" you offer appears to be an "estimate". The report which calculated that number notes that the MPFPD serves 1/3 of the residents who reside in all of the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County. That appears to be an estimate and, therefore, so is the per capita number which is based upon it.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 29, 2011 at 9:09 am

The Fire District receives, as shown in the table labeled "overview of the General Fund revenues by jurisdiction by major revenue
category", $31,362,645 from all of its revenue sources and of that $ 29,935,411 is from property taxes. As shown in the table labeled "Population figures from the Department of Finance web site" the Fire District serves 95,455 residents.

$29,935,411 divided by 95,455 is $313.60 in property taxes per capita.


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 29, 2011 at 9:37 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

I forgot to include that the Fire District contributes $3,489,000 from its property tax revenues to the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF) with those funds going to augment local schools' property tax revenues.

After removing that $3,489,000 from the District's revenue the net revenue from property taxes is $26,466,411 and the property taxes per capita is $277.27


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Posted by CalPERS Facts
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2011 at 8:57 am

Peter,

By that logic, every city government and district in California would have their per-capita costs reduced.

ERAF is not a benevolent "donation". It is an enforced re-distribution of property tax imposed by the State on municipal governments and districts to help prop up challenged public education. Moreover, those dollars don't stay in the Menlo Fire District's community. The dollars could go anywhere (and likely everywhere but the District).

Does your new found per-capita logic mean that Menlo Park Fire's per capita number goes down further during the day because of the all the people who come into the served areas to work at local businesses or attend schools?

What I've learned from my limited research into Menlo Fire:

Menlo Fire is a $30+ million bureaucracy which is larger than most of the communities it serves.

Atherton residents pay more for Menlo Fire than they do for their ENTIRE municipal government.

Menlo Fire Directors are entitled to numerous benefits, including health insurance. (Wasn't there a recent SJMN expose about this problem?)

The County is afforded 7% of the property tax to operate an FD for unincorporated areas. Menlo Fire gets 17.5%, a 10.5% premium over what is likely a "right-sized" service model.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 1, 2011 at 9:03 am

Per capita cost is based on full time residents, not day time population.

As a Director I receive no payments for attending meetings and no health or other benefits.


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Posted by CalPERS Facts
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Redwood City Fire Department Budget is $15.5 million for 74,500 people

$200 Redwood City Fire Per Capita Cost
$310 Menlo Fire Per Capita Cost

$1,400 Atherton Per Capita Cost for Menlo Fire
$1,300 Atherton Per Capita Cost for their Government

Perhaps consolidation means driving down MPFPD's per capita cost. But, what's in it for Redwood City? Apparently, they already have their costs under control.


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Posted by CalPERS Facts
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2011 at 7:19 am

The wheels are coming off over at San Carlos. They are considering Wackenhut for their Fire Department!

One has to wonder what is the per-capita cost for that City which is driving all of these conversations.

$281 - San Carlos / Belmont Fire Per Capita
$231 - San Carlos Per Capita Cost
$331 - Belmont Per Capita Cost

I think San Carlos was looking to reduce their contribution to that agency. Belmont, understandably, balked as they are already on the losing end of the deal.

San Carlos is now getting in bed with Redwood City. Redwood City provides Fire services for $200 per capita.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 7, 2011 at 11:01 am

CalPERS Facts -

The wheels aren't coming off at San Carlos. The wheels are coming off our government - federal, state and local. Perhaps you haven't noticed but our spending has exceeded our revenues by a considerable sum for quite a while. As many of have been saying, it's unsustainable.

Mayor Bloomberg in New York City announced the layoff of 6,000 teachers today. San Jose's whopping request for a 10% wage cut for public workers doesn't seem to be enough. Half of the politicians in Washington don't want to touch entitlements and the other half won't raise the debt ceiling. And our governor has a $15 billion gap. Geez, you want more? By comparison, San Carlos's problem is peanuts.

As I've said before, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Our government has lived WAY beyond its means for a long time and recalibration will be painful... as it should.


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Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 7, 2011 at 11:57 am

Wackenhut? The vodka shots held in place by their buddies "cheeks" Wackenhut?

Contractors. First priority is shareholders and profit, that's corporate law. You want to count on a for-profit to save your grandchild? Imagine if Atherton tried to hire these guys. No worries, most of us could handle the increased premiums. Imagine most the folks in white oaks and laueola can, too, without too much pain.

But what about the late night 911 call for the grandkids...

Photos form OUR embassy in Kabul, Wackenhut "guards" (warning - nsfw)

Web Link

note: the POGO listed at the link is not our illustrious poster above...

Wackenhut? Wow.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm

How do you know that's not me that's referenced at your link?

So here we go, it's EITHER Wackenhut OR status quo. Personally, I vote for NEITHER. How about rational compensation and pensions (read: defined contribution plan) for NEWLY HIRED public employees?


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Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Pogo:

My bad, was unaware that your moniker was just an acronym: Project on Government Oversight

golly, new found respect.... ;-)

Agree it's not an "either/or".

Good day, sir...


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Posted by CalPERS Facts
a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2011 at 12:50 pm

The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the largest public pension fund in the U.S., estimated a 21% return on its investments for its fiscal year ended last month, its best performance in 14 years.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm

"The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the largest public pension fund in the U.S., estimated a 21% return on its investments for its fiscal year ended last month, its best performance in 14 years."

Will CalPers guarantee that return for the next 20 years? Of course not.

And if there is any shortfall between what CalPers earns and what it needs to pay CalPers pensions who has to make up the difference - you bet, local governments which means the taxpayer.

It is time to move every public employee to defined contribution programs.


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