As if the mayoral mayhem weren't enough, the Menlo Park City Council is also taking fire for scheduling a closed session tonight (Dec. 14) to meet with negotiators regarding the Service Employee International Union Local 521 (SEIU).
Although the meeting agenda state labor negotiators will be present, City Manager Glen Rojas clarified that no representatives from SEIU will attend.
In an e-mail to the council, Mr. Rojas described tonight's closed session as essentially a history lesson for new council members about past negotiations with SEIU.
In May the council imposed new limitations on pension benefits for SEIU that raised the retirement age for non-police city employees from 55 to 60, and decreased pension benefits from a maximum of four-fifths of annual salary to three-fifths.
While the council voted to impose it on the 152 SEIU employees, the changes go into effect only if the city negotiates the same deal with the city's middle management employees when their contract expires in 2011.
But now SEIU may want to come back to the bargaining table -- behind closed doors.
"There was an impasse and we imposed," said Councilman Rich Cline. "That means that they can come back with another offer to open negotiations any time. They have not yet, but we will discuss our position (Tuesday) night I think."
Former council member John Boyle, along with several other figures from Menlo's political past, wrote the council to ask that they first hold an open session to receive public input.
Mr. Boyle said if he could do it all again, holding closed session meetings about labor negotiations would be at the top of the list of things he'd want to handle differently.
"I can only speak for myself, but I strongly regret following a process that had us giving negotiation guidance and direction to staff in Closed Session BEFORE having a separate, open, public, well-noticed meeting on the same topic," he wrote in an e-mail on Dec. 12.
"Yes, there are things that need to be kept confidential, but it was, in my opinion, a major mistake to not more fully vet the general negotiation items and issues in full view of the public and press, BEFORE giving staff guidance that led to a preliminary agreement with labor," Mr. Boyle explained.
"Yes, that preliminary agreement still had to be approved in public, but let's face it, by that point, it would have been very difficult to back away from the deal that was on the table."
Mr. Cline commented: "I think we should hold our closed session, but to John's point, hold off on any direction. I agree with him that we should make decisions with the (public) involved moving ahead."
The union, along with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), has threatened to sue the city again now that Measure L, which set similar pension limitations but also requires a public vote to raise them, passed in the November elections by an overwhelming margin.
As of Dec. 14, the agenda for tonight's City Council meeting now reflects that the public may comment on the labor negotiations before the meeting adjourns to a closed session. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St.