By Allen Payton, Publisher & Editor
Just as we entered the holiday season, and Antioch residents were preparing for Thanksgiving, they got an early Christmas present from the city council, in the form of a big lump of coal in our stocking, when they unanimously voted for the new contracts for all city employees – tentatively.
Repeating Past Mistakes
What the mayor, council members and city manager have demonstrated is their failure to learn from the mistakes of the past. Here’s a little reminder of recent city history, if you’re not familiar. First, in the early 2000’s the city council approved the 3% at age 50 retirement benefit for police, which is explained below. Then, in 2007, the city council approved a rich and unusually long, six-year contract for the police. That was followed by the economic downturn in 2008, which created the situation we’re currently in and the hole in police staffing the city has been digging out of, ever since.
But, it was the rest of the city staff who took the hit, with a 10% pay cut, with an equal 10% reduction in work time, while, by the way, cutting out 20% of city time available to the public with the Furlough Fridays.
Two Tax Increases
So, we the people gave them two tax increases in the forms of Measure C’s half-cent sales tax and Measure O’s rental property business license fee, to use to get out of the hole.
Yet, even after the current council staff was put back to work full time, ending the 10% cut in pay and work, at the beginning of last year, they also got an additional 3% pay raise at that time. Still, the council voted to give them all another 4.5% pay raise plus increases to their benefits packages, in the new contracts.
Unfulfilled Promise to the People
Now, while the council members may be acting like Santa Claus to the city employees, they’re acting like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas to the taxpaying residents of Antioch because we’re the ones paying the bill. We’re the ones who don’t have the 22 more police officers we were promised “immediately” by soon to be former Mayor Wade Harper and all council members, including Mary Rocha, Monica Wilson and Tony Tiscareno, (except for current Mayor Pro Tem Lori Ogorchock who wasn’t on the council at the time) in the ballot argument they all signed in the summer of 2013, in favor of Measure C, if we passed it – which we did.
Instead, they’ve only given us a net seven more police officers and it took them three years to accomplish. At that rate, we won’t have the other 15 additional officers on the force for another six plus years, long after Measure C will have expired. Of course they’ll tell you they’ve given us an additional 14 officers, because they’ve chosen to conveniently use the figure of 82 sworn officers as the base figure, which the city had in November, 2013 at the end of the Measure C campaign, rather than the 89 Antioch had at the beginning, which is the figure Harper and the council members used in their ballot argument.
But, even using their manipulated base figure of 82, they still owe us another eight sworn officers, for a total of 104, which at the current pace, will take another three and a half years to achieve. That brings up the question, since they owe us 104, why have they only included 102 sworn officers in the annual budget? It’s just more game playing with Measure C money, the budget, our tax dollars and city staffing.
Yet, Ogorchock is aware of the promise for 22 additional police officers, and has the responsibility for helping the city achieve it for we the people – for whom they’re all supposed to be working. Plus, she voted along with the rest of them for these irresponsible contracts. So she needs to be held accountable on this, as well.
Furthermore, the fact that all the contracts extend beyond Measure C’s sunset, four years from now, is another aspect of what makes them wrong.
Politics Played on Contract Timing
What’s also wrong with the contracts is that they weren’t completed and approved in a timely manner. Instead of the council directing Duran to finalizing the negotiations and the council taking their vote before the contracts expired on August 31st and September 30th, when what is in the contracts could have been revealed to the public before the November 8th election, Duran and Harper – whom together set what is on each agenda – chose to wait until the next meeting on November 22nd to place them on the agenda. The fact that the contracts were voted on by a lame duck city council, during the week of a major holiday when most people are focused on getting ready for the holiday weekend or already gone on vacation having taken the entire week off, shows a serious lack of integrity and transparency.
Even if they didn’t intentionally delay finalizing the contracts and placing them on the agenda until after the election, which is clearly how it appears, then it’s just plain mismanagement of the process and a demonstration of incompetence. Either way it’s unacceptable. But, come on. They knew that if the voters were made aware of what is in the contracts before the election, none of the incumbents would have stood a chance of being re-elected or even close to it, as in the mayor’s race.
It’s Our Government & Money
What they all have failed to recognize is that it’s our government and our money they’re spending. The council members put the commitments they made to the various employee groups, including the one to the Antioch Police Officers Association – who, not surprisingly rewarded Harper, Rocha and Wilson by endorsing them for re-election in November – above their commitment to the people to give us the 22 more cops.
That commitment should have been fulfilled, first and still needs to be. They need to give Police Chief Allan Cantando whatever resources he needs to hire the rest of the 15 additional officers, now.
I’m sick and tired of politicians over-promising and under-delivering, especially when it comes to taxes. Here’s another bit of Antioch history, which this council is ignoring and could learn from – and it’s my own mistake as well as a success, during my time on the city council.
In 1994, during my first year in office, I along with three other council members, including Rocha, voted for a 1.9% utility tax to pay for 19 more police officers. Knowing it was going to pass without my vote, anyway, I tried to get the council to agree to look at the budget before it went into effect that July 1st and then have a vote by the people on it, that November. So with their agreements I voted for it. But, even after I presented a budget cut plan developed with the help of 45 Antioch residents, to eliminate the tax and still hire 14 more police, the other three council members rejected it. Plus they voted against funding a ballot measure in November for the public’s approval. Fortunately, the council unanimously approved my budget cut plan later that year, but the recall still went to the ballot. A majority of the voters recognized what I had done for them, that I had learned my lesson, so to speak and I was able to beat the recall. The other council member who voted for the tax increase and also faced recall, defended her vote and the tax, and she lost her recall election.
The city ended up hiring the 19 additional officers during my remaining three years on the council, and we did it without a tax increase, by reprioritizing city spending, trying to reach the goal of 1.2 officers per thousand. But, we never reached it, bringing us to 85 sworn officers on the force by the end of 1998, with about 85,000 residents, or one officer per thousand population.
The current situation is much worse. The city has grown by about 25,000 residents since then, yet we only currently have 96 sworn officers on the force, and with a very different population then we had, back in 1998. We’re now down to about 0.85 officers per 1,000 population.
Plus, most of the current police officers still have a much richer retirement now, compared to back then. With the 3% at age 50 approved in the early 2000’s, they get to calculate that figure times the number of years they’ve been on the force, times the average of their last three years’ salary to determine their annual pension payments. So, if a cop has worked for the department for 25 years, at age 50 he or she will get 75% of the average of their last three year’s salary. Fortunately, that changed under the leadership of the late Gary Agopian when he was on the council and they renegotiated the benefit to 2.5% at age 55 for new hires. The current council later changed that for a few lateral hires from other departments, and gave them the 3% at 50.
Council, Manager at Fault
Let’s be clear. I don’t blame the city employees at all for trying to get everything they could in the new contracts. I believe in the old adage, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Plus, I believe in what is written in the Bible of “pay the worker his due.” But, it’s the city council members who determine what the amount of that due is for city employee.
So, I blame Duran who shepherded the contracts through the negotiation process, and ultimately the mayor and council members who demonstrated a serious lack of backbone. They caved in to the desires and requests of the city employees, and forgot about their first commitment to us, by giving us the 22 additional police officers, they promised, before offering a pay raise.
Some Antioch residents, including me, are wondering who was at the table negotiating on behalf of we the people, the taxpayers and our interests against the special interests of the employee groups? That’s what the mayor and council members were supposed to be doing. But, it surely wasn’t any of them, who instead all demonstrated a complete disregard for fiscal responsibility. They forgot who it is they’re supposed to please and who are their bosses – we the people.
Huge Salaries, Threat of Massive Layoffs
Now, Duran is telling us that if we don’t approve an extension to Measure C in 2020, there will be “massive layoffs in police and Code Enforcement.”
This coming from a city manager who earns over $300,000 per year in pay and benefits – including over $8,000 per month in benefits alone. Sorry, but Mr. Duran has a conflict of interest making any arguments in favor of the contracts that personally benefit him, and will increase his pension, as he prepares to retire next year.
He and the council members know we will be left with the bill after he’s long gone and some, if not all of the current council members will be, too, yet they still voted for them.
At the same time many of our top city staff and police officers earn well over $200,000 a year in pay and benefits, with Cantando being the top income earner of all city employees during 2015, at $338,000 in pay and benefits, earning even more than the city manager.
Perhaps the rest of the city workers needed a pay raise, but did the police officers, police management and city management staff really need a 4.5% pay increase on top of what they’re already earning, or any pay raise, at all? I’d say no, not until we got the 22 more police we were promised.
For a real eye opener, click here to see what each Antioch city employee earned last year, according to public records. While the average is about $58,000 per year, there are many city employees earning over $100,000 and many over $200,000 in pay and benefits.
Using Basic Services to Pass Tax Increases
Why is it, that the first employees that will be laid off are police, when that’s a basic reason for local government and why, going back to 1872 when Antioch was incorporated, our city was formed – “for police and other matters?” Why must our government officials always go after and threaten the basics of government in order to scare us into voting and paying for another tax increase?
How about, instead pay cuts for those earning exorbitant salaries already and implementing a no overtime policy? How about selling Humphrey’s instead of the city trying to be in the landlord and restaurant business? How about closing or contracting out the Antioch Water Park which costs the city’s General Fund (which pays for police) $200,000 to $300,000 per year?
The fact is, the extra half-cent sales tax was only to be temporary, and the city was supposed to increase revenue from basic sales and property taxes over the seven years of the lifespan of Measure C to replace the $7 million per year it currently generates. But that’s not going to happen if the city spends an extra $1.7 million per year on increases in pay and benefits which are included in the new contracts.
But, There’s Hope
Using a compound metaphor, there is a silver lining to this picture, not just lumps of coal. First, the contracts are tentative and won’t be finalized until the city council votes to approve the Memorandums of Understanding (MOU’s) in either January or February.
Second, with the election of Dr. Sean Wright as our new mayor and Lamar Thorpe to the City Council, who will also be our new Mayor Pro Tem, hopefully they can get at least one of the remaining council members – Tiscareno or Ogorchock, who aren’t up for election until 2018, or Wilson, who was just re-elected – to join them in getting the city employees to work with them and renegotiate at least the length of the contracts. Frankly, all the council members should rethink their vote and join the two newest council members who will be the new leaders of the council in asking for a renegotiation.
The contracts should be shortened to no more than four years, when the city’s extra half-cent sales tax from Measure C will end, and preferably three years, so the contracts don’t end during another election year. Never again should we have contracts end during an election year nor voted on by a lame duck Council.