Our reporting relies on your support. Contribute today! 

Help us reach our goal of $250,000. The countdown is on!

Last week, after this column, as I said, there was a lot of feedback. I especially wanted to highlight one note I got and discuss it for a bit.

The e-mail was from Damian Tryon, a representative of the American, Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 127.

I define government largely as the effort to provide the services that people won’t or can’t do for themselves.

And Local 127’s workers are the ones doing the things that San Diego residents don’t want to do: They’re dealing with the trash and the landfill; they fix things and clean up the parks. There are no million-dollar pensions being handed out to this group.

Tryon wanted me to remember that not all city employees can be lumped together. There are blue collar workers, like his members. There are police, fire fighters and clerks and managers. We have to deal with them separately and they have separate deals, separate leadership and separate priorities, whether we like it or not. He’s got a point. While I didn’t deal with the nuance about the different employees in my proposal, I certainly know the difference.

It’s not fair to our members and never reflects what our contributions as a union have been.  While our efforts may not make your radar, AFSCME Local 127 has consistently worked to be constructive in these times.

How have they been constructive? Tryon pointed me to a presentation that the union has made.

In it are seven ideas for saving money. I think one of them (and maybe two) have serious merit and should be discussed.

First, the group would like to lower the number of managers the city has. It claims that the city has up to eight managers between the people doing work on the ground and the mayor directing it all. This, they say, is excessive and at most three or four people should be between the mayor and the people getting the jobs done.

This kind of argument comes up often in these discussions. Here’s how it goes: A local government agency faces a massive deficit. The managers threaten to lay off hundreds of employees. The labor unions scream. Everyone says, OK, unions, what would you do? The unions say, well, cut management. This is what happened last year when the teachers were asked to provide an alternative to the layoffs that school officials were threatening.

I have no doubt there can be savings in streamlining the city’s management. (Is the mayor done with that by the way? Haven’t heard much about that.)

But Tryon highlighted another proposal: How about the city’s management legions take on the same flex benefits package that the city’s lowest ranks have? Sure, managers need to make more money, but do they need more money for health care benefits?

No.

So I applaud the union for coming up with an idea. But asking that management be cut is what the mayor was referring to when he delivered that great line in his State of the City address in January:

There is no role here for the forces of obstruction and denial, or for selfish posturing by those who think they do their share by suggesting sacrifices others can make.

Look, we’re making a rock stew. You’ve heard this story right? I don’t know if it’s biblical or what but let’s remember it: A hungry villager can’t find a thing to eat so he boils a rock. He says it would taste good with salt, so one villager runs and grabs salt she has stored up. Another has some cabbage he thinks might work. Another has a beet. I don’t remember exactly how it goes but you get the point.

They each put whatever ingredient they have into the rock stew and — what do you know — they have a delicious stew that all the hungry villagers enjoy.

We’ve got to make a rock stew here. Everyone’s got to come to the table. If the city’s denizens of managers can come to the table, accept the same benefits of the people they manage then we have some cabbage. But pointing to one villager and saying, hey, you have some ingredients but not going to your own house and trying to find something to offer up is not helpful.

This applies to everyone. If taxpayers come to the table with some new revenue — a trash tax, for example — we have some meat for the stew.

The business community can offer up a re-examination of the transient occupancy tax, perhaps. Add maybe a pledge not to treat the raiding of pools of public funds as a growth industry, and it sounds like they can add some good carrots to our stew.

If the police officers can bring some beans (do you really want to keep defending DROP?) and the fire fighters can bring some potatoes (raise the retirement age maybe?), we’re going to get somewhere.

Where we’re at now, we haven’t even begun to grapple with the kind of changes that will have to happen to balance a deficit of up to $54 million this year. And we can’t even imagine one double that next year.

Unless we make fundamental structural changes to the amount of money we’re bringing in to City Hall and the amount we’re spending, the impact on residents — on streets, on parks, on libraries — is going to be intense.

So everyone grab a vegetable and let’s see what kind of meal we can put together. I’m telling you, we do not want to imagine the alternative and what will happen to this city if everyone keeps trying to protect their own lot.

SCOTT LEWIS

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.