Tonight: Atherton council meets on outsourcing

Layoffs delayed at last minute

Tonight: The Atherton City Council meets tonight (Wednesday, July 20) to consider an outsourcing contract for public works, emergency staffing of the building department, and a resolution hiring a temporary police chief at a salary of $14,500 per month. Town staff recommends that the council award a contract for public works maintenance services to MCE Corp. for no more than $599,000. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the town council chambers, 94 Ashfield Road in Atherton.

Below is an expanded version of a story that previously appeared online.

By Renee Batti and Sandy Brundage

A judge temporarily stopped Atherton from laying off six city employees at the last minute on Friday, July 15, after hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed in San Mateo Superior Court by union representatives.

A follow-up court hearing on the issue is set for Aug. 11.

In a closed-session meeting on July 12, the Atherton City Council had "affirmed the actions of the City Manager in effecting layoffs of personnel," according to a statement issued by Deputy City Clerk Theresa DellaSanta. No formal vote was taken, she said.

The council support frustrated the hope for a negotiated agreement between the town and the union trying to save jobs. The six employees who received pink slips include three from the building department, one from finance, one from administration, and one pending retirement, also from building, according to Interim City Manager John Danielson. The town had one other retirement and one resignation in recent months. Finally, five public works maintenance employees received job extensions through Aug. 31.

But the union representing the staff fought back. Peter Finn, a Teamsters Union Local 856 representative, said the union filed a lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court based on a section of the state government code the union claims makes it illegal for the town to outsource the jobs it has targeted.

The union, he said, asked the court for a restraining order to prevent the layoffs and the outsourcing of services.

A similar case in Orange County Superior Court led to a preliminary injunction earlier this month against outsourcing of city services in Costa Mesa. According to the firm representing the employee union in that case, the lawsuit cited California Government Codes 37103 and 53060, which it interprets as prohibiting the use of private contractors for general services performed satisfactorily by city employees.

Atherton has received bids from private firms to provide the services traditionally provided by town staff. The council will be asked to approve contracts for the outsourced services as early as July 20 during its regular meeting, Mr. Danielson said.

In light of the judge's "incredibly disappointing" ruling, however, Mayor Jim Dobbie said that agenda will change. While he still expects the council to vote on the contracts, with the understanding that they won't be implemented until the lawsuit is settled, the agenda item calling for a formal vote to eliminate the city positions will be postponed until at least Aug. 11, he said.

Union representatives continue to press the town to reconsider the move toward outsourcing services, and employees have offered concessions in compensation that would save the town at least $300,000, according to Mr. Finn.

Mr. Danielson said his decision to eliminate the in-house jobs and hire private firms to provide the services stems from the need to erase an $856,000 structural budget deficit. Outsourcing, according to a staff report, saves the town approximately $760,635.

Opponents of outsourcing note that the building department is supposed to be self-funded through fees charged for permits, inspections and other services. They argue that rather than outsourcing the services, the management of the department needs fixing to keep it on track to pay for itself.

At the July 12 council meeting, several residents spoke before the closed session. Melinda Tevis and Jon Buckheit questioned the choice of jobs eliminated, noting that many if not most of the employees being axed make in the neighborhood of $60,000 annually. Police officers, on the other hand, make more than $100,000 a year, yet their jobs appear to be secure, they said.

"That doesn't seem fair," Ms. Tevis said. "Was fairness considered?"

Mr. Buckheit noted that employees being laid off offered some $300,000 in concessions, while the police officers will be asked to make only $200,000. He was referring to Mr. Danielson's statement, quoted in the Almanac, that he intends to ask the union representing police officers to reopen contract talks, and will seek concessions that will save the town about $200,000 annually.

Resident Anne Anderson said she felt "blindsided" by the move to outsource. Noting that the plan moved forward with no public discussion, she said that the elimination of in-house services and use of private contractors to provide the services "is a philosophical decision, and the town's residents should have weighed in."

Ms. Anderson encouraged the council to consider asking residents to increase the amount of parcel taxes they are paying.

Former councilman and finance specialist Malcolm Dudley told the Almanac that he and a group of other residents plan to survey the community to see if, instead of layoffs, they're willing to pay more taxes, or to launch an initiative to put the question on the ballot, once they see how the lawsuit turns out.

"Just to cast people off and turn your backs is wrong to me. That's what motivates me. You just don't treat people that way," he said. "You have people that have worked [for the city for years, single-parent families. This could put them out on the street."

Mr. Dudley rejected the idea that the town is in a financial crisis, and analyzed 12 years' worth of budgets to support his argument. (See his column in today's Viewpoint section, on page 15 in the print edition.) By his calculations, the $856,000 budget deficit could be solved through union concessions, building department revenues, and restoring rentals of town properties such as the pavilion.

"To me the motivation for calling this a 'crisis' is clear. They want to justify their action as something that is forced upon them because of circumstances. My feeling is that there are two major reasons driving this action. It reflects a strong anti-union sentiment and a strong preference for outsourcing over in-house employment," Mr. Dudley said.

Mr. Danielson responded that no matter what someone calls it, the town spends more than it takes in. Even by outsourcing the positions now in jeopardy, city management will still need to seek concessions from both union and non-union employees going forward to be sustainable, he said. "I don't want to lay off anyone in this town again."

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Like this comment
Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

"That doesn't seem fair," Ms. Tevis said. "Was fairness considered?"

The Town of Atherton is not a welfare organization. The Town exists to provide essential services to its residents, not to be a source of jobs.

Like this comment
Posted by Melinda Tevis
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 20, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I don't believe you were attendance at this meeting Peter.
I also believe my comment was " How is it fair or equitable for you to ask these 12 employees making 60,000 for 500,000 in concessions, and at the same asking 30 APD employees making 100,000 plus for only 200,000 in concessions? Had the very simple strategy of across the board concessions that were proportional for all Town employees been considered?'
My comment was not intended as an opinion on the concept outsourcing in Atherton or any where else. It was a response to the strategy the council had already chosen to apply which I believed might have benefited a more simplified formula. It just seemed more practical than a law suit.
Everyone knows that I am a terrible public speaker. I will try to be much more careful about use of the word "fair" when used in the context of Town afFAIRs if you will agree to do the same.

Like this comment
Posted by John P Johns, CPA
a resident of another community
on Jul 20, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Shame on you Peter Carpenter.

You have cast Atherton's long-standing employees in a most unfavorable light and unfairly so.

The long-standing employees of Atherton expect nothing more than a living wage and decent benefits. They aren't asking for a handout. Your statement "the Town is not a welfare organization" is technically correct but it is outrageous nonetheless, it is insensitive it is disrespectful, it is despicable.

[Portion deleted. Please discuss the issue without attacking posters.] You seem to be content with sending 13 public works and building department employees on their not so merry way without so much as a thank you. You seem to think that these public servants have no expectation of reciprocity in regards to loyalty.

[Portion deleted.]

Melinda raises a very good point, with all your brilliance you fail to grasp.

She raises the issue of fairness. Is it fair to expect that the average police officer who makes over $100k per year makes no sacrifice whatsoever? Is it fair that taxpayers should extract concessions from its public servants that equate to perhaps 30% of their income? Is it fair that Atherton would be advertising for a Finance Manager at a salary of $100k when it is laying off 13 other employees?

I think not.

[Portion deleted.]

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm

John John - relax, cool down, read my words - I said nothing about the Town's employees but rather that the mission of the Town is to provide services not jobs.

Like this comment
Posted by Melinda Tevis
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Peter and John:
Could the both of you please carefully examen item 12 on the consent calendar for tonight and weigh in on this here for all of us?
In May of this year, The Grand Jury issued a recommendation that the Council owed the Atherton Public an explanation on this major accounting issue which might explain the shortfall.
It's great if they are going to fix the problem--but maybe we all need to understand what happened to be sure what lesson was learned.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm

"Is it fair that taxpayers should extract concessions from its public servants that equate to perhaps 30% of their income?"

Yes John, it is fair. In our current economy where 12% don't even have a job and the rest of us in the private sector have taken pay cuts of 30% or more. My pay is down 40%. So, yes John, you're damn right it's fair.

What's not fair is that the town isn't asking for the same level of concessions of its polite officers. The police department eats up more than half the town's budget yet all the city manager has asked for from the APD is a measly $200,000?

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Item 12 looks straightforward to me - no huge dollars and no smoking gun and a prudent recommendation.

"Accept the recommendation from the Audit Committee to set up an IRS approved Section 115 irrevocable trust to prefund retiree health care cost and to direct the Finance Committee to make recommendation on the trust provider."

Like this comment
Posted by Melinda Tevis
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 20, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Peter I wanted you to examen the item 12 2 page background as it appears in the council packet please-not just on the agenda menu list.
If the Grand Jury feels that an explanation to the public is required, then I would hate to see it slip through on the consent calendar vote with out you taking a look first and commenting please.
Or anyone else
Again I believe they are fixing it--I want to understand what went wrong

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 20, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Melinda - I did - the recommendation comes from page 2 of ietm 12 in the packet.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 21, 2011 at 9:35 am

All of you should be taking a look at the town council,something is not right. Where are the statistics showing that there is savings by outsourcing . Has anybody but the town council seen this magical report?
Didn't the town pay for a study and it shouldn't it be public record? Isn't the towns only source of income parks and the building department,and doesn't that pay for our employees for those departments as well as some other departments. If so ,why would we hire outsourcing companies with employees that are receiving twice the wage . Something seems a little rotten in Atherton.

Like this comment
Posted by Moreover
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 21, 2011 at 10:39 am

Didn't Kathie Mckeethan talk for over 30 minutes about how the community needed to make the decisions about the new library? I heard her say nothing had been decided.

It seems something has. They are turning away money at the park from special events because they want to build the new library where the main house sits. I think that means they have decided to build at the park.

I think everyone agrees, the library is less than ideal.

Rebuilding at the current location will cost less.

Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm

R.Gordon is a registered user.

Mr. Carpenter is not to be criticized for his opinions.
It is terrible that most of us spend so much time looking for words to say against others when MOST of you (not me) has never had the opportunity to live a diversified life amongst the richest,cultured, truly educated, well-born with proveable lineage; or devastatingly attractive people who might like you for yourselves and even care to be friends with you for your charms.
The people who are admirable, like Steve Jobs, Mr.and Mrs.David Kelley, and a few others, do not read this stuff to find their names to feel important. They do important things.
There are a lot of well intentioned locals who do not have a clue as to whom they let the gates open to this beautiful area but are not too thrilled when the snob appeal made this area have appeal.
As for me, I can judge primarily because I have seen the importance of taking the focus off of the hundreds of millions I inherited without doing too much to deserve it.
If you've got it, spread it around. Do not pretend to be civil servants.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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