It has been a tough week for Mayor Chuck Reed. An enterprising investigative reporter, Jenna Susko, from KNTV News challenged the mayor’s veracity of the “fiscal crisis” and exposed his administration’s exaggeration of the unfunded liability facing San Jose
The mayor’s opponents were quick to jump on the news and quickly filed an ethics complaint. A complaint which, ironically, is justified under Reed’s own ethic reforms, which state that public officials shouldn’t lie. But the regulation—like many Reed Reforms—is unenforceable. A lawyer for the ethics commission advised the body not to investigate as they have no jurisdiction over the matter. That is lawyer-speak for you can’t do anything even if he did lie. (Editor’s note: The matter could go in front of the City Council at a councilmember’s request.)
If the people could have passed a law that made it illegal for public officials to lie, we wouldn’t need the current drug laws to fill our prisons.
But whoever advised the mayor to continue to use the number $650 million should be fired, especially after it was revealed to be a “made-up” number. Politically, whether the number is $650 million or $300 million is irrelevant to the public. He didn’t have to over-reach.
But by utilizing the larger number the administration could justify asking for larger concessions from unions. It was a negotiating tactic, but it backfired on a mayor who is lauded for his honesty—and whoever advised it should be publicly fired to help restore that image.
Moreover, the mayor should be outraged by this predicament. Except for one unexplainable lapse of judgment exposed during his campaign, where he reimbursed himself for charitable donations, Reed has been careful to cultivate his honest mayor image and polling suggests he has been successful—until now.
That said, if he will take a little unsolicited political advice, he can reverse this blemish on his integrity and help bring about a solution for a major problem facing his city.
Having recently worked with the mayor to end the marijuana wars, I know Reed has the skills to bring diverse interests together, understand difficult issues and make a reasonable deal that is in the best interests of the city. Make no mistake, Reed is a formidable negotiator, but he is also reasonable. As a lawyer, he has tremendous skills at identifying problems and offering solutions. It is that combination of skills that can lead to a real solution on pension reform.
If Reed were to use his significant personal skills to negotiate a real pension deal, he would establish himself as a mayor who brought San Jose together at a critical time in its history.
Certainly, there are extreme people on both sides who would oppose this solution, for many have an interest in the political fight that would ensue. But both the mayor and those who represent city employees should reject those self-interested voices.
The ballot measure the mayor is seeking to put on the ballot—on a 6-5 vote of the City Council—is divisive and will lead to a court challenge. As a competent lawyer, Reed is not unaware that voter imposed solutions to employee benefit issues is fraught with peril, both from the courts and as a matter of policy.
In addition, the voters could very well reject his proposal. A defeat would leave the Mayor with little or no room to negotiate with unions, which currently have a huge interest in avoiding an expensive campaign and an even costlier legal challenge.
Moreover, labor leaders have already shown a willingness to negotiate and have made painful concessions to help solve the current fiscal problem. But they won’t and shouldn’t accept an imposed solution—especially one they feel is arbitrary and disrespectful. They also resent being cast as the sole reason for the budget problems, and they aren’t.
The mayor’s quoted desire to negotiate in good faith regarding pensions during his State of the City speech was welcome, but it was immediately followed by a call to voters to pass the mayor’s unilateral vision of pension reform. Utilizing the stick at the same time you hold out a carrot is not a sign of good faith.
But this mayor does have the skills to make a good deal for the city; to be successful he will have to be personally engage in the process. The ultimate political war, if necessary, can always take place in the future. But a solution forged from a reasonable mayor and an engaged public employee union sector would be in the best interest of San Jose and a model for other governments.
This Mayor can pull it off, I’ve seen it firsthand.