After a few words of regret by Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, the Atherton City Council voted Wednesday night, Aug. 17, to proceed with outsourcing certain town services.
The council unanimously approved a resolution to eliminate staff positions for a finance department assistant, a public works supervisor and the entire building department. These employees will be laid off Friday, Aug. 19. Three more public works employees are to be laid off Sept. 16.
Council members said they are taking the action to address anticipated budget deficits, including an expected shortfall of $856,000 in the fiscal year starting July 1 if no actions were taken to cut costs.
The Teamsters union representing town staff have sued the town over the layoffs and the outsourcing plan.
"I'm saddened to see this resolution come before us," Councilwoman Lewis said ahead of the vote. "I was hoping that the town and the union negotiators could have reached an agreement. I don't think we have any other choice."
In a related decision, the City Council unanimously approved a contract to hire the Interwest Consulting Group to perform building department services, a step that will save the town $350,000 in the current fiscal year, according to Interim City Manager John Danielson.
In response to questioning from Councilman Bill Widmer ahead of the vote to approve the contract, Mr. Danielson described the process that led to the selection of Interwest as "very transparent."
With eight proposals to analyze, Mr. Danielson said his team of interviewers consisted of a building official from San Carlos, a planning director from Half Moon Bay, a former city manager from Rocklin, California, and a developer from Atherton.
"Do your own scoring (and) be consistent," were two of their guidelines, Mr. Danielson said, adding that they were free to "follow questions wherever they felt they needed to go."
They were told to score the proposals on a matrix; the four highest made the final cut: CSG Consultants of San Mateo, Interwest Consulting Group of Elk Grove, 4 Leaf Inc. of Pleasanton, and Precision Inspection Co. of Newman, California.
One was later dropped. Of the remaining three, the interviewers were asked to rank them and justify their choices. Interwest ranked first with all the interviewers, Mr. Danielson said. Town staff did not participate in the ranking, he added.
Mr. Widmer asked that the references for Interwest be checked by calling officials in the cities cited. "(Their views) are important and we're taking a big step," Mr. Widmer said. "It's got to be successful. We've got an eye on the financials, but the key thing is the service level."
Councilman Jerry Carlson asked about steps to check on the quality of service.
The town will conduct forums that include checking with builders on how Interwest is doing, Mr. Danielson said. "We will have measurement criteria to measure against."
"That's something we're never had before," Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen noted.
Mr. Danielson designed the plan to outsource building department and public works services. The staff's union representatives convinced a San Mateo County Superior Court judge in mid-July to slow the process down with a temporary restraining order, but on Aug. 11, Judge Steven Dylina denied an injunction that would have prevented the layoffs, calling it "a very, very difficult decision."