News

Guest opinion: City is 'No. 1' but that's not a good thing

By Mickie Winkler

Menlo Park has staffing problems, as demonstrated at the City Council meeting on Jan. 14. But neither city management nor council members are addressing them.

Here are some facts from the meetings and from the staff reports themselves.

Numbers: Menlo Park has more staff, higher total wages (including pensions and benefits), more staff per resident, at a higher cost per resident, than any other city our size in the nine Bay Area counties. We are No. 1 in all categories.

Engaged staff: A 2017 city survey revealed that only 29 percent of the survey respondents were "fully engaged," a full 15 percentage points below the local government benchmark supplied by the Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement (the Institute).

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Almanac Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

Also, in that survey, 49 percent of the respondents were categorized as somewhat engaged, significantly higher than the local government benchmark. No one can be happy about this.

Retention: Last year, 21 regular employees left their employment with the city. Approximately 50 percent, 11, left Menlo Park to take a job with another public agency; and 33 percent, seven, retired.

The balance of departures, according to the survey, assumed roles in the private sector or resigned for personal reasons. "The most common reasons cited in exit interviews were shorter commutes and professional development opportunities (promotion or career path available in the new organization)."

In fact, most employees leave for better opportunities in larger cities. Menlo Park has always been a feeder organization with a high turnover rate.

Training time: As staff explained at the Jan. 14 council meeting, it takes months to make a new employee productive and presumably constrains other staff who must help the new employee. Staff endeavors to hire retired employees who don't require training and are no longer pensionable. That is good.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

Pensions: Pension costs are on course to double by 2024 because CalPERS is changing its earning assumptions. Some of the increase is borne by employees themselves. But here's the kicker: When an employee leaves Menlo Park for another CalPERS city, he takes the pension with him. If that employee earns more at his new job, Menlo Park's pension obligation for that employee goes up, even though the employee no longer works in Menlo Park. This is a reciprocal arrangement but Menlo Park, a small city, is a net exporter of employees and is penalized by this rule.

Some staff and council members claim that Menlo Park offers more and better resident services, which is why its costs are so high. I encourage these members to actually study other cities. They suggest that some costs are covered by grants. And they suggest that many of its costs are recoverable by fees. But even if these statements are uniquely true, the grants and fees will disappear when a downturn occurs, but the number of staff will remain.

The only way to reduce staff size is to wait for an employee to voluntarily retire as our city manager said. We know that it is impossible to fire a staff member for almost any reason.

Clearly, Menlo Park is not organized to benefit its residents. I believe that it could outsource the child care facilities, sell the water department, join the county in managing and overseeing rents. (In the past, our staff costs in housing were higher than the benefits accrued to recipients.)

In any case, I believe that the City Council should hire a good consultant. The consultant should be answerable to the council, not staff. And the consultant should be charged with proposing two differing organizational plans for staffing Menlo Park.

There are currently the equivalent of 28.5 full-time vacancies in the city. The opportunity to reduce city staff is now.

Mickie Winkler is a former Menlo Park City Council member and mayor.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Follow AlmanacNews.com and The Almanac on Twitter @almanacnews, Facebook and on Instagram @almanacnews for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Guest opinion: City is 'No. 1' but that's not a good thing

Uploaded: Fri, Feb 7, 2020, 10:45 am

By Mickie Winkler

Menlo Park has staffing problems, as demonstrated at the City Council meeting on Jan. 14. But neither city management nor council members are addressing them.

Here are some facts from the meetings and from the staff reports themselves.

Numbers: Menlo Park has more staff, higher total wages (including pensions and benefits), more staff per resident, at a higher cost per resident, than any other city our size in the nine Bay Area counties. We are No. 1 in all categories.

Engaged staff: A 2017 city survey revealed that only 29 percent of the survey respondents were "fully engaged," a full 15 percentage points below the local government benchmark supplied by the Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement (the Institute).

Also, in that survey, 49 percent of the respondents were categorized as somewhat engaged, significantly higher than the local government benchmark. No one can be happy about this.

Retention: Last year, 21 regular employees left their employment with the city. Approximately 50 percent, 11, left Menlo Park to take a job with another public agency; and 33 percent, seven, retired.

The balance of departures, according to the survey, assumed roles in the private sector or resigned for personal reasons. "The most common reasons cited in exit interviews were shorter commutes and professional development opportunities (promotion or career path available in the new organization)."

In fact, most employees leave for better opportunities in larger cities. Menlo Park has always been a feeder organization with a high turnover rate.

Training time: As staff explained at the Jan. 14 council meeting, it takes months to make a new employee productive and presumably constrains other staff who must help the new employee. Staff endeavors to hire retired employees who don't require training and are no longer pensionable. That is good.

Pensions: Pension costs are on course to double by 2024 because CalPERS is changing its earning assumptions. Some of the increase is borne by employees themselves. But here's the kicker: When an employee leaves Menlo Park for another CalPERS city, he takes the pension with him. If that employee earns more at his new job, Menlo Park's pension obligation for that employee goes up, even though the employee no longer works in Menlo Park. This is a reciprocal arrangement but Menlo Park, a small city, is a net exporter of employees and is penalized by this rule.

Some staff and council members claim that Menlo Park offers more and better resident services, which is why its costs are so high. I encourage these members to actually study other cities. They suggest that some costs are covered by grants. And they suggest that many of its costs are recoverable by fees. But even if these statements are uniquely true, the grants and fees will disappear when a downturn occurs, but the number of staff will remain.

The only way to reduce staff size is to wait for an employee to voluntarily retire as our city manager said. We know that it is impossible to fire a staff member for almost any reason.

Clearly, Menlo Park is not organized to benefit its residents. I believe that it could outsource the child care facilities, sell the water department, join the county in managing and overseeing rents. (In the past, our staff costs in housing were higher than the benefits accrued to recipients.)

In any case, I believe that the City Council should hire a good consultant. The consultant should be answerable to the council, not staff. And the consultant should be charged with proposing two differing organizational plans for staffing Menlo Park.

There are currently the equivalent of 28.5 full-time vacancies in the city. The opportunity to reduce city staff is now.

Mickie Winkler is a former Menlo Park City Council member and mayor.

Comments

Dana Hendrickson
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 2, 2020 at 8:44 am
Dana Hendrickson, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 2, 2020 at 8:44 am
4 people like this

Mickie: Please explain the meaning and significance of the "staff engagement" survey results for Menlo Park. What does it actually measure? How do you interpret them? What actions should be considered? Thanks.


MP Resident
Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 2, 2020 at 3:28 pm
MP Resident, Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 2, 2020 at 3:28 pm
10 people like this

Real companies freeze hiring in times like this, and re-shuffle staff as needed to fill the actually critical vacancies. Menlo Park should do the same.


George Fisher
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 2, 2020 at 5:28 pm
George Fisher, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 2, 2020 at 5:28 pm
Like this comment

January 14th meeting?


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 2, 2020 at 5:58 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 2, 2020 at 5:58 pm
10 people like this

MP residents need to realize that the city staff has totally captured the elected City Council.

The staff has de facto control of the Council agenda and nothing goes on the agenda that has not been vetted by the staff. Obviously in this arrangement the Council will only be given a very limited set of alternatives to consider.

A test question is - Will the staff recommend outsourcing police services to the Sheriff as is done in both Portola Valley and Woodside? This would save millions of dollars annually and would also improve the level of service. And it would avoid future increases in the city's liability for police pensions.

If not, then we know for sure that the Council is not in charge but rather is being led by the nose by the city staff.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 3, 2020 at 10:39 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 3, 2020 at 10:39 am
6 people like this

"The Sheriff’s Office has designated patrol service for more than 70% of the County within the unincorporated areas. The Sheriff’s Office also provides contract law enforcement services for the cities of Half Moon Bay, Millbrae, San Carlos, Eichler Highlands, the towns of Portola Valley and Woodside, as well as for the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board and the San Mateo County Transit District. "

Web Link


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 3, 2020 at 10:46 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 3, 2020 at 10:46 am
5 people like this

Interesting San Mateo County Grand Jury Report:

STRAPPED CITIES THAT HIRED THE SHERIFF…IS IT WORKING?

FINDINGS
F1. The SO is providing the police services for which the cities of Half Moon Bay, Millbrae,
and San Carlos contracted within the cost perimeters of the contracts.
F2. Public response to the transition from individual police departments to the SO is positive.
F3. No increase in the number of police involved incidences has been reported by the cities
due to the transition of policing services to the SO and one city, Millbrae, reports a
decrease of 17 per cent in crime.
F4. The transition from individual police departments to the SO was incident free with
former city personnel generally pleased with the change.
F5. The police service contracts between the SO and each of the cities of Half Moon Bay,
Millbrae, and San Carlos serve as good models to other cities in the County which
operate their own police departments and which are facing budgetary restraints.
F6. The trust funds for each city comprised of unallocated funds should be disclosed in
financial reports and described in the policing service contracts.

See full report here - and send it to your Menlo Park City Council:

Web Link


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 3, 2020 at 1:40 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 3, 2020 at 1:40 pm
12 people like this

From a population and demographic standpoint San Carlos (2017 population of 30,499) is very comparable to Menlo Park ( 2017 population 34,357)

Per the Grand Jury report here is how much San Carlos spends and saves annually by contracting for police services with the Sheriff:
"San Carlos
Annual contract = Approx. $7 million
Annual savings = Approx. $2 million
1 Captain
5 Sergeants
14 Deputies
4 CSOs
12 Patrol Officers"

That is $7 million for 32 FTEs

******
Here is how much Menlo Park currently spends to have its own police force:

$22 million for 76 FTE's

Web Link

**********************

Do the residents of Menlo Park need more than twice as many police FTE's at 3X the cost as do the residents of San Carlos?

Do the residents of Menlo Park actually get better police services than do the residents of San Carlos? Three times as good?


Stu Soffer
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 3, 2020 at 1:59 pm
Stu Soffer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 3, 2020 at 1:59 pm
7 people like this

Learn from Mickie and Peter Carpenter.

Our present staffing v revenue situation is not sustainable.

I have heard the aspirational phrase 'One Menlo Park'. Not exactly true. We own the remains of the former Redevelopment Agency (RDA) - in a sense a second Menlo Park. Our Government is the successor agency of our former RDA and we are still responsible for paying those bondholders, and assure that this doesn't negatively affect our bond ratings.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 3, 2020 at 6:20 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 3, 2020 at 6:20 pm
4 people like this

The reason why contracting with the Sheriff's Office (SO) saves so much money is economies of scale - each city no longer needs a chief, or police admin, or police training and most of the square footage used by a city owned police department can be eliminated.

From the Grand Jury report:
"SO Contracts
The contracts utilized by all three cities are basically the same. They have a common theme of
saving each city thousands of dollars by having the SO perform virtually all policing duties.
These savings are gained by having the SO assume responsibility for office expenses, including
accounting and personnel, along with pension and medical obligations. The contracts provide for
police services at staffing levels determined by the individual city councils, which are
commensurate with the cities previous staffing levels. Additional services not set forth in the
base contract can be added by the cities to fit their needs by amending the contract. There is a
right of termination by either party. Contract costs are adjusted with an anticipated three percent
maximum annual increase. The cities retain revenues generated through violations of city
ordinances, license fees, inspections, vehicle impounding, and the sale of accident and crime
reports. The cities are responsible for the fee collection process. All local ordinances are adhered
to. The cities provide office space for the SO at the cities’ cost.
The contracts allow for the cities to obtain additional services from the SO for special programs,
depending on their individual needs and budget. For example, San Carlos wanted to reduce the
number of traffic accidents around schools. A $100,000 contingency fund was created to enable
the placement of officers on duty during morning school hours for two weeks. Parents who failed
to follow the driving laws were cited thereby establishing a standard for driving near schools in
San Carlos. The additional personnel hours were accounted for at the end of the fiscal year.
The SO provides support services such as property and evidence management, training, technical
services (including 911), records retention, fiscal services such as payroll, and human resource
services. The SO sets the standards for performance and conduct and determines where specific
personnel will be deployed. An effort is made, however, to assign patrol personnel to areas
familiar to them.


Outsource
another community
on May 3, 2020 at 8:14 pm
Outsource, another community
on May 3, 2020 at 8:14 pm
14 people like this

Menlo Park PD is a joke. Officers getting arrested for seeing prostitutes on duty, and keeping their job! Always have been a bunch of cowboys. Since the city council won't hire a strong external chief (Carpenter's theory about the staff controlling the council is spot on, they are using an internal chief with anger management issues), the result is pre ordained. Outsource!


Lynne Bramlett
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 4, 2020 at 2:49 pm
Lynne Bramlett, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 4, 2020 at 2:49 pm
2 people like this

Here's the link to the City Employee Satisfaction Survey that Mickie referenced. I had to make a public records request to obtain it. The results show that the employees consider the management the then biggest problem. Web Link

On a related note, here's the link to the Performance Review of the Community Services Department Web Link and the one for the Public Works Department. Web Link I also needed to make a public records request for both. Note: Matrix Consulting identified many serious problems in both departments along with recommendations. Matrix also reported directly to Staff and Council only publically heard a brief (and what I considered very sanitized) presentation that was not given to them before the meeting, let alone the reports so Council could study them in advance.

I plan to write the Council members directly with more specific observations.


timing is important
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 4, 2020 at 4:58 pm
timing is important, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 4, 2020 at 4:58 pm
Like this comment

In reference to the 2017 employee engagement survey that a few comments have noted, these results were from the leadership of a different city manager. I've heard there's been improvement since Starla Jerome-Robinson took the role. The survey is done every 2 years. What about the 2019 results? Do they show improvement?


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 12, 2020 at 1:36 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 12, 2020 at 1:36 pm
3 people like this

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 2, 2020 at 5:58 pm

"MP residents need to realize that the city staff has totally captured the elected City Council.

The staff has de facto control of the Council agenda and nothing goes on the agenda that has not been vetted by the staff. Obviously in this arrangement the Council will only be given a very limited set of alternatives to consider.

A test question is - Will the staff recommend outsourcing police services to the Sheriff as is done in both Portola Valley and Woodside? This would save millions of dollars annually and would also improve the level of service. And it would avoid future increases in the city's liability for police pensions.

If not, then we know for sure that the Council is not in charge but rather is being led by the nose by the city staff


********************

Just as predicted - the staff is dealing with all of the nickel and dime issues and does NOT even discuss (much less recommend) the easiest way to save MILLIONS - contract for police services with the Sheriff:

Web Link

Note that the City spends over $22 MILLION on police services - twice per capita what other communities pay.

Obviously protect the staff is more important than things like Belle Haven Child Care.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

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