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Sonoma County, CA November 2, 2004 Election
Smart Voter

Budget Responsibilities in a time of fiscal crisis-RP City Council shows how not to do it!

By Jake Mackenzie

Candidate for Member, City Council; City of Rohnert Park

This information is provided by the candidate
A position from Jake Mackenzie - 2003 when the rot had set in!
A Year And A Day ...(This is a statement I made at a City Council meeting in June, 2004 as we were about to vote on the City's budget. I hope that this statement will illuminate some dark corners of a process that continues to drive the search for new revenues in Rohnert Park.)

A year and a day have gone by since the council adopted a budget for the Year 2002-2003. The council knew in 2000 that deficit years were ahead. And yet both last year, and evidently this year, members of this council are going to award salary increases along with mandated benefit increases at a cost of $500,000 per annum. In 2000, an additional $2 million increase was part of the budget. Since neither the economy nor the voters cooperated with last year's budget forecast by adding the necessary $3.3 million to our revenue, the prophecies I made as mayor in 2001 have come to pass. A reduction in the city's work force has had to be implemented. This is no surprise to the three of us senior council members. However, I am the only one who voted against the salary increases!

In the go-go years of the late 90's, we had avoided the consequences of expensive benefit increases because revenues exceeded the very conservative budget forecasting then employed by our financial director.

I have 3 points I will make tonight before I vote against this budget and against further salary increases. These points are consistent with my written statement last year and recent statements made regarding the manner in which terminations have been executed.

[And I use that verb deliberately]

Salary increases

At a time of fiscal crisis, it is irresponsible to be granting salary increases, increases NOT EVEN SOUGHT BY THE EMPLOYEE BARGAINING UNITS THEMSELVES. These salary increases granted over the past 2 years and about to be added to are cumulative! Unlike other cities ,there has been no attempt to rescind unwise salary increases through discussions with employee bargaining units. Indeed, the RPPSOA refuses to even discuss such a matter.

Reduction-in-Force to Balance Budget

As was clearly seen two years ago, the size of our generously salaried and benefited staff needed to be reduced to balance the budget. That I forecast and to that reduction I agree. However, I DO NOT AGREE WITH THE MANNER BY WHICH THIS HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED AND JUSTIFIED.

I believe that a systematic and carefully planned vendetta against senior city staff has been waged by a cabal of local power brokers intent on restoration of the conditions existing in this city throughout the decades until a court-ordered moratorium on construction started to bring this city to its senses in 1990. The election campaign of last year was orchestrated with the intention to restore the old power structure - not answerable to the citizens of Rohnert Park but to a select few who regularly meet on Friday nights at the Rogers' compound.

The effort to remove the former city manager Joe Netter and 7 out of 9 department heads was planned before any critical analyses of city functions and their budgetary needs was conducted. The "open recruitment" of a new City Manger was a sham. The former Assistant City manager was pre-selected to become the new City Manager as soon as the election results were in. To him fell the task of firing these senior staff members no matter what the risk to the city from illegal and improper dismissal. Clearly the reason of financial insufficiency fails to meet the city's own established policies for reduction in force. These dismissals have been hastily executed with a goal of political retribution. They are not the result of careful consideration in light of the City's budgetary and management needs.

Two examples suffice to illustrate my argument:

The termination of a Public Works Director ostensibly to save general fund monies when 35% of the Director's salary is not even general fund derived. In fact, the city would save money if Bill Stephens were not being forced out and stayed on to do the excellent work he has loyally performed these last years.

The hastily and incorrectly conducted attempt to remove Fire Chief Cassel from his position, overlooking that the more junior Police Commander would have had to be fired first. Again, political retribution overrode the City's own policies on reduction-in-force.

There's much more to this story, including the loss of key Public Works employees through the early retirement "golden handshake" offer. We will no doubt rue the day that a more considered approach was not utilized.

Budget Process

I will simply state that the reductions in force were conducted prior to a full budget analysis, department by department. End of story.

So we return to the Dark Ages of Rohnert Park.

I will continue to speak out against the manner in which the city's business has been conducted over the past six months. The full impact of the various benefits granted to city employees is yet to be felt. But as we retire more of our employees, the pension and benefit burdens are going to become more and more onerous. This is true not just in Rohnert Park but also in Sonoma County and throughout the State. As a retired Federal employee, all of my career I paid in 71⁄2% after-tax income towards my retirement, and paid my share of my health insurance and continue to so do as a retiree. Despite not having dental or vision insurance through the Federal Government, and despite paying my share of retirement and benefit costs, I am grateful to be in the Federal Civil Service Retirement system. I know full well that many other citizens are not so fortunate.

Citizens of Rohnert Park need to realize the extent of employee benefits here in Rohnert Park + that there is an incredibly rich benefit structure and that the "employee share" of retirement is paid by the city not by the employees or the retirees themselves.

Yes the budget is balanced for this year. I deplore the manner in which it was balanced. It puts this city at risk. Yes employees, including senior staff had to be laid off. No, it should not have been done in such a manner. And on top of it, these new salary increases and their concomitant benefits will come back to haunt future councilmembers and city managers long after we're gone from this stage.

Jake Mackenzie

(Statement was made to the city council as they adopted this fiscal year's budget with one dissenting vote- MINE! 6/24/2003)

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