Compensation cuts for some Atherton staff? | November 28, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - November 28, 2012

Compensation cuts for some Atherton staff?

by Renee Batti

The mayor calls it a wrap-up. The police union is calling it revenge. As the Atherton City Council meets on Nov. 28 for the last time before Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen steps down, it will vote on a resolution that would require the handful of the town's non-represented employees to pay more for their benefits, and take a one-week unpaid furlough between Christmas and New Year's Day.

The resolution will affect fewer than 10 employees, including the police chief and lieutenant, the city manager and city clerk, and the finance director, according to Mayor Bill Widmer.

The resolution also would cap vacation and sick-leave accrual, cap the town's contribution for health plans, eliminate health benefits for retirees hired after the effective date, and create a two-tier retirement system for employees hired after the effective date — a move reflecting a statewide trend for public employees.

Although most police department employees won't be affected by the resolution, the Atherton Police Officers' Association (APOA) posted a missive on its website last week titled "Atherton's lame duck council takes revenge," blasting the current council for "the vengeful nature of this last minute resolution."

"Widmer, Dobbie, and McKeithen will use their last majority vote to exact revenge for their political loss upon Atherton's residents and its employees," the posted statement said — the "political loss" a reference to the perceived shift of political leanings on the council resulting from the Nov. 6 ballot victory of Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis and newcomer Cary Wiest, both of whom were endorsed by the APOA.

"That this council would rush to implement a furlough that shuts down government for a week certainly appears to be a punishment for the voters not approving a library and their preferred candidate(s)," the statement said.

The APOA said the results of the resolution would include "significant disruption to town services," and would cause employees to look elsewhere for jobs, driving up employee replacement costs and offsetting any savings.

The statement concluded that any such changes to employee compensation should be decided by the council after Mr. Wiest takes Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen's seat next month.

Mayor Widmer disputed the APOA assertions, saying that the current council has been discussing the changes the council will vote on this week since last April. "This needs to be resolved by the people most knowledgeable about it," he said. "This is not vengeance."

Noting that the police department would not be affected by the proposed furlough, Mayor Widmer said records indicate that other departments in town have "little to no activity" during the week in question.

The town expects to save $14,213 in salaries over the four furlough days, according to a report from City Manager George Rodericks.

Other expected cost savings resulting from the proposed employee-cost changes include $92,413 over three years from shifting more of employees' retirement fund contributions to the employees; and $24,960 next year from capping the town's employee benefit contributions, shifting more of the burden onto the employees.

Mayor Widmer said the changes are needed to solidify the town's financial position. "We took some steps last year (through outsourcing services and reducing the workforce), but those steps by themselves aren't going to secure long-term financial stability for the town, which had been losing money since 2008."

Also at the Nov. 28 meeting, Reserve Officer Bruce Potts will make his annual presentation of awards to children participating in the anti-drug D.A.R.E/Red Ribbon program, and the council will be asked to approve up to $6,000 in costs for a town volunteer and employee reception.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Holbrook-Palmer Park Pavilion at 150 Watkins Road.


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