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Tempers flare in debate over public pay

Original post made on Sep 1, 2009

Long-simmering political tensions boiled over at Menlo Park's City Council meeting Aug. 25, sparked by a San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report on rising public employee costs.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, August 31, 2009, 6:45 PM

Comments (18)

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Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2009 at 1:24 pm

To all of you who haven't read the wage report of our city employees, I think it would be a real eye opener as to what is being paid to our city employees in general.
The fact they make 33% more than the average person outside of San Mateo County is rather startling.
Some is, at first, a little difficult to read, but as you go down and find the retirement benefits, medical and the aforementioned salaries, you might wince.
It is no wonder cities like Half Moon Bay are bankrupt.
To think I almost glossed this over.

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Posted by E. Moritz
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 1, 2009 at 1:36 pm


Thanks for the links to both the Grand Jury Report and the Menlo Park Response.

I find it interesting (maybe strange) that the City Council had the City Employees write the response for them. Am I missing something here? The Grand Jury report was about escalating employee costs. Would we expect anything but a defensive effort by the same employees who are at the center of the Grand Jury report?

Has Mr. Robinson and the other members of the Council lost their pens?

It seems unfair to put the city employees in the position of defending themselves. And it seems unfair to expect the citizens of Menlo Park to accept this investigation and response to be accurate and useful.

I believe the primary thesis of the Grand Jury Report was that the employees were managing the system of wage negotiations to avoid normal market forces, AND that the lack of citizen involvement in the negotiations was a concern. And here we have the same set of circumstances the Grand Jury was concerned about repeating themselves.

Can we really expect Mr. Rpjas, and the other city employees who wrote the response letter to be neutral and impartial observers? Claiming "complexity" as the basis to avoid straight answers is right from Bureaucracy 101. I've done it in my career, and so have many others. So it's not difficult to recognize.

The Council debate surrounding the response letter seemed silly. The Court and the Grand Jury must be frustrated that their earnest, citizen-based efforts were once again allowed to be gamed.

Perhaps the City Council should find a way of constructing their "own" response.

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Posted by Blanket
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 1, 2009 at 3:18 pm

I read that Menlo Park gives our city manager over a quarter of a million dollars a year!

That is irresponsible!

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Posted by Kal Trains
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 1, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Slow the "Manure cart" down.

"Ms. Winkler, who along with Ms. Duboc failed to win re-election in 2006, is one of 19 members of the grand jury."

Judged by ones peers ?

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Posted by 19 People Can't Be Wrong
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2009 at 9:16 am

19 people, not one, 19 people had a hand in this document. I don't care what Ms. Ferguson says, or what Mr. Robinson is afraid to say, this is a scathing report. I am amazed that more people aren't concerned about their tax dollars, and the over spending of tax dollars that we, as citizens, are absorbing right now. I thought the City Council was the group that was supposed to watch how our dollars are being spent? Instead they think of additional ways to spend it, then hold private meetings with the unions to think of even MORE ways to spend these dollars. This is not all about getting elected to higher positions Ms. Ferguson and Mr. Robinson, you have a responsibility to the citizens of Menlo Park, not to the employees of the city, or the unions. Period!

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Posted by Alarmed
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2009 at 9:52 am

Council members Fergussen and Robinson (and to a lesser degree Cline and Cohen) are clearly desparate to dismiss the findings of the grand jury report. Why?

The report addresses the problem of unsustainable employee wages and benefits packages and makes constructive suggestions. Members of the Service Employees International Union will be negatively impacted by the findings.

I suspect that Fergussen, Robinson, Cline and Cohen are indebted to the SEIU for their election (donations, precinct walking,literature attacking opponents, etc.)and may be protecting these political supporters at the expense of the citizens of Menlo Park.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2009 at 10:16 am

Duckman Duckman Normal Duckman

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 2, 2009 at 10:50 am

Council memebers Fergusson and Robinson have clearly abrogated their fiduciary responsibilities to the people of Menlo Park. They are clearly controlled by the SEIU and will do whatever the SEIU tells them to do without question. The are essentially SEIU Union Stewards, doing their work, even when it is clearly contrary to the best interests of the people of Menlo Park.

Kelly Fergusson's intemperate remarks last Tuesday night were an embarrassment to the community at large. And for Heyward Robinson to validate her egregious behavior is a clear indication that those two council members are clearly not fit to serve.

The Grand Jury did a report on 20 cities in the county. There were 19 members on the Grand Jury. Yet Robinson and Fergusson are so delusional in their thinking that they believe that Mickie Winkler holds sway over the entire Grand Jury.

The Grand Jusry consists of 19 professional people who did a County study and not a Menlo Park study. These people are not out to get Menlo Park. They want to protect the fiscal health of San Mateo County and to enable the Cities to afford to pay for the services the residents need. The Civil Grand Jury performed a Great Service for all residents of San Mateo County and should be applauded for their efforts.

Only Menlo Park Council members Robinson & Fergusson, who have been co-opted by the SEIU, took umbrage to this factual Grand Jury report. None of the other 19 cities provided scathing criticism and many are already taking measures to stem the hemorrhaging of their City budgets.

Yet Fergusson & Robinson, go blithefully along their merry way, like lemmings jumping off a cliff. Their paranoia is not conducive to the effective conduct of the City's business. They are clearly not up to the job, should be recalled for their reckless and irresponsible behavior, and replaced with indivduals who will put the residents first.

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Posted by Lucky
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 2, 2009 at 11:48 am

If you're interested in THE FACTS, go to the City website to inquire and obtain accurate data about employee wages and benefits. (By far, the largest portion of $ is for the police dept. - not SEIU employees.)

An easy way to ask a question and get facts via email is to use the "Direct Connect" link on the home page.

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Posted by informed
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 2, 2009 at 12:23 pm

To "R.GORDON" -- the reason Half Moon Bay is bankrupt is, as I understand it, because of am 8 year old legal dispute and a $37 million judgment in favor of Palo Alto Developer Chop Keenan over a 129 unit housing development tentatively approved in 1990 to go in on what later was designated as wetlands under wetlands protection laws.

For an even smaller city than Menlo Park, a $37 M judgment like that is a HUGE blow.

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Posted by K. Much
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 2, 2009 at 1:16 pm

The "shocking ... misstatements of facts" came from Kelly Fergusson, who was elected with union backing, not from the former council member she accused. The Grand Jury report is quite temperate, in contrast to Kelly's ravings. Read it and judge for yourself.
Menlo Park, like other cities in San Mateo County and like San Jose (see recent series in the San Jose Mercury News), has committed its taxpayers to an unsustainable level of benefits for city employees. If the city council won't make sensible changes, we the voters must replace them with people whose heads aren't in the sand.
It's time to put city employees on defined contribution retirement plans. We in the private sector aren't guaranteed 30 or 40+ years of retirement pay at 81% of our final salary (plus tax-free health benefits); I see no reason to feather the union beds at such high rates. Payment for unused vacation and sick leave should also be capped at one year's accumulated value.
In addition, the over-generous 8-1/2 weeks of vacation and sick leave should be cut back to private-sector levels.
CalPERS has already warned that it will be unable to pay the promised benefits unless the cities cough up even more money. By then, of course, Kelly Fergusson and Heyward Robinson will have retired and will not have to face the outraged taxpayers. Let us hasten them on their way.

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Posted by Ritchie
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Wow, an all-powerful union. Maybe they'd like to buy me? I'm not a politician but I could use the money.

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Posted by Callie
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 2, 2009 at 1:36 pm

The “Upward Trajectory of Employee Costs,” is fueled by the “nexus” between Staff, Council Members and employee unions,all of whom gain when employee benefits escalate. That’s what one conclusion in the Grand Jury report says.

Unfortunately, as E. Moritz above notes, the Grand Jury Report must be addressed to elected bodies, in this case all Cities of San Mateo County, those very entities the report criticizes. No wonder Kelly Fergusson (who went ballistic on TV) and Heyward Robinson, both of whom are great friends to the Unions, tried to deflect the issue by blaming the problem on the messenger, on the grand jury itself, instead of addressing the compelling issues and solutions in the Grand Jury report.

As for the assertion that this grand jury is “political:” Note that all our neighboring counties have addressed, with dismay, similar employee compensation issues—including San Francisco, Santa Clara, Marin, Alameda and many more. San Mateo County was only the latest entrant voicing profound concern. I guess Fergusson’s indictment of the Grand Jury should apply to those Grand Juries as well.


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Posted by Henry Fox
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 2, 2009 at 6:05 pm


In the past 2 weeks we have heard from Ms Fergusson that the reports issued by San Mateo Civil Grand Jury on increasing labor costs and the waste-handling agency were written with the purpose of some “political agenda.”

In regard to the employee cost report, Ms Fergusson opined (with great volatility) that it was written to express the agenda of 2 former Menlo Park City Council members and was riddled with errors (not enumerated).

Mr Robinson seemed to be supporting Ms Fergusson’s position when he overrode Mr Boyle’s comment that Fergusson’s comments were not on topic.

It seems to this observer that the Council spends more effort in seeing conspiracies than in considering the value that the in-depth studies of issues may provide in improving the governance of Menlo Park.

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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 3, 2009 at 11:54 am

Responding to the Sept. 2 post "Duckman, Duckman, normal Duckman," I want to note that there is no such thing as a normal Duckman.

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 3, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Alamac bias shines through again. Did you notice how quickly Tom Gibboney took this blog off the front page when public sentiment ran strongly against Kelly Fergusson. The Almanac is incapable of objectivity.

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Posted by YOU "set it right"
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 3, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Thanks Hank Lawrence, I was looking for this post and I couldn't believe it had already been relegated to the "back bench". Then, after I found it, and found that most of the posts criticized Kelly, this ALL MAKES SENSE! I wonder if these blogs were about Duboc or Winkler, how long they'd stay up, and also continue to appear on the front page. This state run media is getting way too obvious!

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Posted by Prince
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 4, 2009 at 4:03 pm


You wrote that the Almanac is incapable of objectivity.

You are right. The Almanac made the irresponsible choice of recommending candidates in this past election. It is impossible to be objective if the very paper you are working for recommended the election of certain candidates. I take the Almanac for what it is worth...

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

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