The much anticipated San Jose Rotary Club debate between Councilmembers Pete Constant and Ash Kalra did not disappoint. Both Constant and Kalra were spirited advocates for their positions: Constant defending Measure B, the pension “modification” measure; Kalra, a lawyer, presenting the views in opposition.
By the end of the debate, to the disappointment of many, it was Kalra who gained the most.
Let’s set the scene: Constant is a current member of Rotary and a crowd favorite. He is affable, charming and shares the moderate/conservative views of many members of the organization. Kalra, a past Rotary member, is more liberal and suspect for supporting organized labor on pension reform. Though it must be noted, Kalra spoke for himself and not for the anti-Measure B campaign.
The moderator, judge Arthur Weissbrodt, prepared specific questions for each protagonist. In truth, many felt the judge may have won the debate with his tough, but fair, questioning of both participants.
Constant began the debate with a recitation of the current fiscal problems facing the city and a plea to support the ballot measure, which he believes is legal and will solve the long-term financial problems facing the city.
Truth be told, Constant is the poster child for pension reform. As a former police officer who was disabled on the job, he receives a pension and benefits for life. He also draws a City Council salary. Under Measure B he would not be eligible for a disability pension despite the severe injuries he received as a police officer, because he is obviously still able to work at another job.
Kalra countered with a nod to the problem, then eviscerated the proposed solution advocated by Constant as unconstitutional, costly, unfair and unworkable.
In closing, Kalra asked whether Measure B passed the four-part Rotary test: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Kalra noted how Measure B was put on the ballot, its effect on current employees, and the fact that the issue already divides the city.
In the final analysis, the case law against the current proposal is overwhelming and despite a highly trumpeted Meyers Nave legal opinion that suggests the city may have an “argument” for Measure B; even Constant acknowledged it was going to court if it passed.
Which is fine by the lawyers at Meyers Nave, as Kalra pointed out, because they were paid to create the legal conditions for a fiscal crisis that was ultimately dropped. They were paid to write the ballot language, they were paid to argue the ballot title and summary arguments—which they lost—and they have been retained to argue the merits of the measure, should it pass, as it winds its way through our judicial system.
So the real winner of the debate may be the lawyers at Meyers Nave. They’re the only folks guaranteed to come out ahead on Measure B, win or lose.