Q&A with City Manager Debra Figone

San Jose Inside’s Josh Koehn sat down with City Manager Debra Figone for a rare extended interview in late August. The following is an excerpted transcript of their discussion, which touched on Measure B, Figone’s relationship with the mayor and council, her thoughts on the performance of Police Chief Chris Moore, crime in San Jose and when she plans to retire. It should be noted that this interview took place before Moore’s announcement that he will retire from his position at the end of January 2013—Editor

Josh Koehn: Can you just tell me what you thought of this year in comparison to your past years in San Jose?

Debra Figone: Clearly, last year was a very challenging year, and actually the now five years as manager have been progressively getting more complex each year. From the standpoint of the compounding effect, on the organization, services to the community, navigating the complexities of how you deal with the size of that shortfall given the prior few years, it was extremely complex. Clearly in my career, I’ve been doing city manager since 2000, and been in public service for 43 years, it’s the worst that I’ve seen.

JK: That’s true. You’ve been doing this your whole life. You got involved in high school.

DF: Yes.

JK: When you’ve been entrenched in local politics this long, how much has your opinion changed on how city politics work?

DF: Actually, I was going to be a teacher. I fell in love with working in the community, because of where I got my start in Parks and Recreation, and working my way through college. I made a conscious choice to stay in local government. Going back to your words, “entrenched in politics,” I’ve never seen my work, even now, as being entrenched in politics. Especially now in San Jose, the political context is an important one for a manager and really has been for some time. But I work very hard at being politically astute, but not political. But I don’t know if people see or understand that when they look at the job.

(City communication director David Vossbrink, who sat in on the interview, chimes in to say that the job is not politics, but public service.)

JK: I can see the delineation you’re making, but I think a lot of people are confused about your role and what you do. You are selected by the mayor and council to do this position, and you’re not an elected official like them. Does that allow you to maybe step back from the politics and the sniping that goes back and forth between each district, and even districts to city to county to state? It does seem that you have a built-in wall that keeps you out of the scrum in the Fly columns and Internal Affairs columns.

DF: Oh, absolutely. The charter does basically set up the governance structure, which technically sets up the wall. It does not allow for interference in administrative matters. And at the same time, let’s face it, you know, there are powers in the charter that the mayor has. The mayor is the political leader. And the councilmembers are the political leaders of their districts. And, so, the manager’s ability to understand that, and work with the system, and understand the human side of their roles is very important. Clearly, though, if there becomes a point where the manager can’t do their job because of violations of the charter, then the manager would have to speak up about that. My way of working with people is to try and meet them on their own terms without undermining the integrity of my role. Kind of working what I call that gap between the administrative world and the political world.

JK: There’s a lot of people, who in addition to maybe not understanding your role and responsibilities, who see you as part of a faction—the mayor and council. There is a clear divide in 6-5 votes in the last year and a half, two years, with the mayor, Sam Liccardo, Pierluigi Oliverio, Pete Constant, Rose Herrera, Madison Nguyen and … a lot of people think you and your office get along quite well with the mayor and what he’s advocating publicly. When it comes to something like Measure B, how in line are you with what the mayor is advocating publicly?

DF: Actually, my role is to make them recommendations based on their policy interests. So, you look at everything that led up to Measure B, it was a result of council direction to the manager and administration, starting with budget balancing objectives and reducing pension costs and options for doing that. I think what people might be interpreting as alignment is, from my view, their acceptance of our recommendations of how to solve the problem. And as far as the political process amends that, which it has, or strengthens it, or takes other alternatives, it often has its start in what the administration brings forward as a result of council direction.

JK: Saying all that, I would think you are a supporter of Measure B.

DF: I am a supporter of controlling the costs to the city to ensure that we can provide services to the community; that we can maintain a viable workforce; that we can ensure we have the funds to pay our employees what we told them they would have, in terms of their benefits. That’s my goal as a professional here.

JK: But as far as the role of city manager with staff then, if you felt Measure B was the wrong thing, even if council directed you to do it, you would have to note that, right?

DF: Well, along the way we have made recommendations, which have changed the direction over time. So, there has been quite an iterative process that has gone on from the early-proposed Measure B. And as we went through negotiations and council conversations and the back and forth, things changed. And clearly the administration has a voice in those changes.

David Vossbrink: Just to flip it around to a different issue, earlier this month the city manager made a recommendation to put sales tax measure on the ballot. The council heard that and decided not to put it on the ballot. (Editor’s note: The measure failed to reach support on a 5-5 vote. Councilmember Constant was absent.)

JK: Right. And I heard you were upset. I talked to several people on the council about it and I heard you were none too happy.

DF: (Laughs) Well, the fiscal reform plan has three elements. And an important element, the last one, is revenue. Of course, I made the recommendation, because I believe we need the revenue. In order to have a complete tool kit, the city needs a full tool kit. Yeah, I was disappointed, but you move on. So, we will do the best we can with what we have. I completely respect the political calculus, and taking the temperature of the public and all the things that the mayor and council have to work through.

JK: When you say you completely respect it, because I can break down the votes in my head if I have to, Rose Herrera was pretty outspoken about thinking the city needed to produce extra revenue. And she was out there with Nancy Pyle beating the drum well before anyone signed on to Measure B and fiscal emergency stuff. And [Herrera] told the mayor, I am only going to support Measure B if we increase revenue. And she told me that to my face just a floor above here. (The City Manager’s office is on the 17th floor at City Hall. The City Council offices are on the 18th floor.) She did not vote for the sales tax measure just a month ago, and one could guess the political calculus would suggest she needs to get re-elected in November, and she can’t break her ties with the people who are going to be supporting her in that election, whether it be the mayor, whether it be the Chamber of Commerce. The political calculus there, to me, seems to be some self-preservation rather than following through on the things they said they were going to do. What do you say to that?

DF: No, no comment.

JK: (Laughs)

DV: That illustrates the council’s role and the city manager’s role as being very different.

DF: It really is. Again, I respect the decision that they made, the way the vote went. I did my professional best to put out there what I thought should happen and the time isn’t right from their perspective. That’s why they’re elected. As we move forward, there’s a lot of things we’ll have to do. We certainly won’t have new revenue, but there’s the other things on the ballot this fall—card clubs—hopefully the economy picks up and we’ll continue to press on.

JK: Card clubs is an interesting deal, because Metro wrote about it quite a bit, when it came to the sniping going on back and forth between the casino owners, the political consultants, and basically criticizing your staff or the police department. Now that it’s done and the casino is open, can you give me a better picture of what really was going on? I do know the structure of the ownership group was very complicated. I think (assistant city manager) Ed Shikada told me there was a minimum of 14 LLCs that you had to snake through to figure out where the money was going. And in those final recommendations that the police chief had for [the casino’s permit] hearing, there was some pretty strict stuff—having rights to Dolche’s records, or the Profitable Casino tracking. I’m curious in hindsight what are your thoughts on the way things went about, because it was a long delay compared to the owner’s expectations.

DF: I think that it’s always a challenge in difficult projects, whether it’s development or a casino, something that has a great value to the individual or company,  who needs a city’s approval to get open. I think that was going on here. There was one set of expectations on the part of the developer, the casino owners. They had grand plans. Certainly gaming is legal in San Jose, but my job and the job of the staff was to make sure Title 16 was complied with. So, important steps had to be followed so the operation was a good operation, so that we could follow the money. And that’s to protect those who are playing there, to protect the city and to protect our residents. I heard overwhelmingly from the gaming industry, they want a clean operation. They welcome the regulations.

JK: What was your biggest source of frustration with the process?

DF: The need to go after information, and not necessarily navigating through it smoothly. There were hiccups on the city’s side. I think there were clearly hiccups on their side. And so it boils down to communication. Some of it boils down to not understanding why we needed what we needed. But staff was trying to be thorough and I supported them in that regard. And at the same time, I asked that we treat them like customers in the process.

(Vossbrink cuts in to explain the process and how the city deals with different industries)

JK: Yeah. But usually this process doesn’t result in the city losing millions in potential revenue in the meantime. That’s the most lucrative revenue stream the city has, correct?

DF: It’s not the most, but it is a significant revenue stream. And there operation (Garden City) was still open. I guess that another role of an administrator is to not be shortsighted, because you’re so anxious to get the revenue. They wanted to make sure they got open—they’re a customer to the city—but we thought it was critical to give our stamp of approval on it and get the police chief’s—ultimately be accountable, and the buck stops with me; that we could look the council and the community in the eye and say ‘ready to go.’

JK: You mention the police chief. Obviously, there’s quit e bit of talk about the homicide rate and the number of property crimes that have gone up. I keep hearing double-digit increases in robberies and assaults and the like. I’m curious how your relationship with the police chief works. Is it a daily meeting? Is it a phone call. How do you guys communicate with one another and what role do you have in that communication?

DF: Well, I have a very good relationship with the chief. He, like any other department heads, is an expert in [his] field, and that’s why they’re hired. So, I consider him an important member of what I would say is the cabinet. We communicate in a variety of ways. There are formal 1-on-1s. Periodically, I’ll wake up to the text message in the middle of the night where I’m informed something has happened, or he’ll call me.

JK: So if there’s a murder—

DF: I’m informed, yes. And what I always tell him is, ‘Let me know. I know you have a job to do, just let me know in a way that doesn’t interfere with what you all need to do.’ So we have a great relationship. I respect him. He seeks me out for advice and coaching, and I clearly depend on him for his expertise around public safety issues and how to address them in the city.

JK: So then, when you hear a former councilmember, Assemblymember Nora Campos, sending a letter that was obviously not meant to be just between her and the chief, saying that he should look to outside resources such as California Highway Patrol, what was your reaction when you heard that?

DF: I thought it was an interesting offer.

JK: (Laughs)

DF: And I talked to the chief about it, asked him if he had considered outside resources, and he said he had but he would look to other resources first.

JK: It’s gotta be a last resource I would think.

DF: Well, that’s not to say we’re not using resources now. Because of the partnership with the probation officers, in particular, when we do a gang sweep it is something we do. The relationship with the sheriff: sheriffs patrol VTA, for example. To assume outside resources aren’t being drawn upon in the day-to-day operations of the police department is something people don’t really realize. Those networks are in place. We’ve all heard of mutual aid. As the chief said publicly, if and when he thought CHP would be useful, he would call on them. The kind of public safety needs we have right now are not for CHP, unless we brought them in for traffic purposes.

JK: I was having lunch with (Police Officers Association President) Jim Unland. I’m sure you guys are close friends.

DF: Actually, I like Jim.

JK: OK, well he tells me that if Measure B goes through the implementation stage, there will be a mass exodus (from the police department) and it will make it almost impossible to return services to levels before; and crime will only continue to increase. We’ve heard the POA beating this drum for more than year. What are your thoughts on when Measure B will be implemented and what the fallout will be?

DF: I really don’t know when it will be fully implemented. Obviously, as Jim said, it’s proceeding through the court process. In the meantime, we’re going to work on implementing what we can, those reforms that are not part of the ballot measure. We’ll meet and confer over a second tier with police and fire. Clearly, we’re experiencing turnover. I think that turnover is driven by a variety of things. When I arrived five years ago the city was talking about turnover associated with the “Baby Boomers” Every other city is experiencing (this). Has some of that been accelerated? I would say, yes, (we) feel the loss in benefits and 10 percent cut in compensation, which nobody enjoys taking. The cutbacks. So, yes, it’s a very tumultuous time and people are making decisions for a variety of reasons. Not to sugarcoat it, but we are getting people interested in coming in the door. We are filling up our academies now that we are able to hire again. And I hope that by the time those individuals, if we just talk about police, but anybody who comes in to work for the city, they’re enthused. This is going to still be a good place to work. For those used to a former system, like the one I grew up with, or Jim, or anybody who has been here for any amount of time, to understand the value of it, there’s going to be people who are upset, and I really understand that. We have had a lot of conversations from the administrative level on down to the front lines that there are some personal decisions that individuals need to make.

JK: One obvious example of that, when you talk about sick leave and vacation payouts, Chief Moore even said he wouldn’t be able to walk away from that much money. And I’ve told him ‘you’d be crazy to do that. I don’t blame you. This has been promised.’ I wouldn’t be comfortable giving up six figures of money. What are your thoughts when you saw the police chief said he would not be willing to give up his sick leave payout?

DF: You know, Chris has been very honest with me early on, of the importance of that to him. And you know, I told him, ‘I understand that. So, at the time you feel you need to make the decision you need to make, that is a personal decision.’

JK: There’s speculation that decision is going to happen before the end of this year. I mean, I guess you could call Tony Batts back, but I don’t think that’s’ going to happen. How much of an issue would that be if you had to go through another police chief in the next six months?

DF: (Laughs) You know, would I relish the idea? No. Do I think the chief has been a great chief? Yes. So many external issues that needed to be calmed down have been calmed down. But again, as I said, I would respect his personal choice and we would move on. And we would try to find the best candidate that we could to find our next police chief.

JK: And there is also speculation that you will be retiring here sometime soon. What is the timeline for your departure?

DF: When I’m done. (Laughs)

JK: OK. What will make you feel like you’re done?

DF: I feel I still have some things to do stabilize this organization.

JK: Is that implementation of Measure B or is that something else?

DF: No, Measure B has now been decided. And some of that may go well beyond my time. We have a lot of department head vacancies. That’s very important for me to fill. I certainly have another budget year that’s going to be critical for laying out a gameplan for the city. I want to ensure the public service spirit is rekindled in the city. We’re doing a lot of conversations about the city as an employer and getting back to basics, given the turnover we’ve experienced.

JK: So, just to go back slightly, your staff is really trying to take direction form the council and mayor and give them the guidelines to work with. When something like Measure B happens, you put out all the info that you can and then take a step back.  But at the same time, I’m curious how you view what happens when you get away from City Hall; once you see the campaign going on. I’m sure you’re probably aware there was quite a nasty fight between labor unions and Mayor Reed’s bloc of pension reform voters on the council, and the Chamber spending three-quarters of a million dollars. When you’re not entrenched in that part of the political process, how do you view it when you take a step away?

DF: Well, clearly it’s the political process in action; it conveys to me there’s a lot of passion around the issue. For my own personal values, stepping away from the professional, I think some of that is unfortunate. Because of where I sit, the need for change or cost control is something that idealistically everyone should rally around. But what you see playing out there is the clash of values, and the different roles of elected officials doing what they believe is right, for the people they serve. Our labor unions are doing what they think is right for the people they serve—but they’re political institutions, also. And, so, when I step back and look at it, from my personal values perspective, I would have liked to see more harmony around the problem.

JK: When you see all this happening, is it frustrating to not be able to go out there and voice your personal opinion more? Are you more comfortable saying clearly from a dollars and cents issue, ‘this is my opinion,’ or are there other times where it’s frustrating to hear, I don’t know, Mayor Reed going to the police union and telling them they’re on the gravy train, and that just making your job more difficult? Do you want to get out there more often and speak to the people of the city?

DF: I think I speak to the people of the city through our professional work. My job, what I take very seriously, in addition to speaking with the people who through our professional work, is to speak to the workforce, so through of all of this, all of that time, I was most concerned by the workforce, and how the workforce was feeling. Public servants, clearly, interpret or misinterpret, depending on your perspective, the campaign activity—what the political messages are saying—as an affront to them and their work. And they’re very proud of their work, as I’m proud of my work. And, so, what I worked hard to do during that period and will continue to work to do—see my earlier comments about trying to stabilize this organization—was to try and have my voice internally be louder than that noise. … So that’s really where my emphasis was. The more I heard out there, the more I became inspired and challenged to try to keep this organization calm; because we had a lot of work to do. If you can imagine, while all of that was happening we were laying people off, we were preparing notices, we were having discussions about what services would go away and how to keep the wheels on. So, I could not get distracted by that, because my job was to keep this ship moving forward.

35 Comments

  1. The elected leaders, along with Figone, have no skin in the Measure B fight.  Politically they win just by floating it (even though they know its illegal).  But they literally are not affected by it one bit- they are not in SJ’s retirement system and enjoy private (lucrative) contracts that are not affected by collective bargaining.  The things the impose or send to voters do not affect them personally, they are for political gain only.

    A true leader, a person that really cares about fiscal responsibility would give their $200,000 sick leave pay out up (especially since some bargaining units have now been imposed on). They would subject their own paycheck to a potential 50% hit from retirement costs.

    It’s quite telling that Figone did not mention how poorly the City has been at negotiations since Reed came to power.  If she is truly a power broker of sorts between the Mayor, Council and other stakeholders then this should be her ace card… But 5 years later (after a previous 5 year stint as assistant CM) this has not been her agenda.  Not even a peep.

  2. “Because my job was to keep this ship moving forward.”

    Now that the ship is taking water, and is on the verge of sinking (talking about SJPD),we lost 9 officers to resignation in the last two weeks. The rumor is, that another 10-15 more will be leaving in the next two months and that’s not counting retirements.

    The spin that the mayor and council have produced is unethical and morally inappropriate. Your job is to point them in the right direction, you didn’t, so your to blame also.

    Now that the state audit has determined that you and mayor have lied about the 650 million figure and that last year’s 100 million dollar deficit for year 2012-13 was complete hoax that turned into a 10 million surplus, how can people trust you? Do you even care?

    Do you only care about the people at camber of commerce who invite you to their summer BBQ’s and Christmas parties???????

    Shame on you, your spin and lies is just as bad as the mayor’s and his cast of clowns.

    • Do your homework,

      I hear your frustration and share in it with you. Our City leaders SHOULD show City employees that they care all year around. You deserve that respect for your service to our community.

      I too have the same frustration with public safety that you have with City officials. I have been holding candle lit vigils for 4 years now in honor of fallen Officers, Firefighters, and victims of violent crime, community forums to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the public, and will start with BBQs honoring public safety beginning THIS Sunday, and few to none pubic safety personal attend them. Why is that? Don’t you guys care when efforts are made by community members to thank and honor you for your service to us? 

      Having said that, let me ask you a question, doesn’t your job limit you to certain constraints? Don’t you have policies and procedures that you have to follow no matter how you feel about the situation from a personal standpoint?

      • Kathleen, dont think we dont appreciate when we hear that someone is doing something nice for us like a bbq, or a vigil. But please try to understand, that in the larger picture it doesnt really change how disrespected we are by the city, the council, and yes, the large number of people who voted for an illegal and immoral ballot measure. If you really want to make a difference in the lives of police and fire, spend your time fighting against the lies that the city has continued to put out against us. We get flipped the bird by soccer moms driving by our fire stations in $80,000 lexus SUVs as we clean our equipment, on a regular basis. We know what the people in this city think, and frankly, most of us are either looking for work elsewhere, or really dont care anymore. If that disappoints you, I understand. However, this is the reality of what happens when an employer mistreats its employees. We will still continue to respond to your emergencies, and treat you with the respect you deserve. But to answer your question, no, we really dont care about BBQs or vigils, when we are worrying about how to stay afloat and keep our bills paid, while we go thru hiring processes with other cities.

        • SJFF,

          I truly am sorry “some” members of the public treat you so badly, but for every one person who disrespects and abuses you, there are 5 who support you. I am one of the 5 who appreciates you.

          A few weeks ago, over 300 people showed up at City Hall to honor and pray for all of our public servants because we all do care and appreciate you. Several Fire Fighters, and Police Officers who attended were deeply touched by the out pouring of love and support that was offered to you. 

          Also, 75 caring citizens turned out, at the last minute, on a holiday weekend, for the prayer vigil we had for Frank Ryan. Many of these folks shared stories about how courageous you all are, and how you saved them or a family member from dying. The hand full of Police Officers, and Fire Fighters who attended, really appreciated the kind words, and loving support.

          When I’ve held the candle lit vigils, fallen Officer Fontana’s parents, and other families who lost loved ones cried together, and were very grateful for the support. You see you might not care, but the families of these victims need to know that their loved one is not forgotten, and that they are not alone.

          Having said that, I want you to know that regardless of whether or not you and others come to these events, I will hold them in your honor any way because you deserve the gratitude and respect we are offering you. You can change your mind any time and join us. We’d love to have you. 

          In closing let me say this, if you ever need help finding scholarship information for you/your family members, or if you need help finding a way to save your home from foreclosure, need assistance with feeding your family, or paying your utility bill, etc. please let me know. I will do my very best to assist you in any way I can. You can call me at 408-861-5323. I will return your call as soon as possible.

          Thank you for your service, and please, stay safe out there.

      • I thank you for the invitation to the BBQ. Unfortunately I have plans with family for we are celebrating two birthdays on Sunday and my oldest is in a soccer tournament.

        With that said, I appreciate the community putting together these events for us. But, I cannot stand the sight of the representatives of D1,D3,D5,D6 and D8. I can not be the same room with then, let along break bread with them. I would never give them a photo op of me standing next to them and then them saying they support public safety. I would be breaking my own promises to myself. I hope you understand.

        I try and spend every moment of my time off with my kids. They are my life!

        I’ve worked 17 years for this SJPD, I’ve been injured, missed holidays and family events that I will never get back. I will never miss them again.

        • Do your homework,
          I completely understand! I hope your family enjoys this valuable time with you, and that you get the R&R you so richly deserve.

          Let me just say one thing, while I appreciate your feelings and agree with you that you shouldn’t have to be anywhere with anyone you don’t want to be, just remember that it is an opportunity for the public to have face time with you, and to thank you for all you do for them. In the end and at the end of the day, you are the only reason WE are there, and YOU are the only thing that matters to us, not the politicians.

          I try very hard to make sure these events remain non political, and that you feel honored and respected. If you ever change your mind, and you can come, I would love to meet you in person, and thank you for your service.

          Have a GREAT weekend, and please stay safe out there.

        • Do your homework,

          I look forward to meeting you. The BBQ yesterday was awesome! We had over 30 Police and Firefighters show up!!! I was thrilled. Both Chiefs were there, members of the public came, of course we had our wonderful co-sponsor Council Member Rocha, and his awesome staff. Assembly Member Beall, and Council Member Kalra came to show their support too. (And NO, not one politician spoke!) 

          We had some great food, music, lots of laughter, bonding, and appreciation speeches by our Board Members, and a prayer from Pastor Sonny Lara.

          All in all it was a great time for everyone! The chocolate, and vanilla cakes from Costco were well received! wink

          I am so grateful to all our public safety servants who came. I meant the world to me that, in between calls, they took the time to attend. It was so great to meet so many dedicated professionals. Thank you to all of them!

          Stay safe out there!

  3. Josh,
    Thank you for posting this interview. Hopefully, it will help readers to see that City Manager Figone is a very warm, and thoughtful woman who walks a very difficult tightrope.

    I have seen her try very hard to keep the interests of everyone concerned balanced and fair, while following the guidelines of our City Charter. What people fail to realize is that even if she has/had a personal opinion on the issue, she is required to follow the laws that we as a City have set forth for her to follow. So, if people don’t like the guidelines we’ve given her, they should fight to change the Charter.

    Also, I supported her request that we put a small sales tax on the ballot to increase revenue, so we could increase public safety funding. Like her, I was deeply disappointed that our Council voted it down. That money would have helped our employees, programs, and City services tremendously.

    Having said that, while I completely understand the frustration held by employees having to take such large hits to their salary and benefits, I have been outraged by the unfair attacks on her, and the misinformation put out about her, and her role as City Manager.

    I completely disagree with the protests held at her private residence, and find that the actions by labor pounding on the windows of the Flames, while she was having lunch to be unacceptable.

    I have spoken to her on many occasions, and I know first hand just how much she loves this City, sympathizes with victims of violent crime, and their families, and values City employees.

    I cannot imagine the stress involved in doing a job like hers. I’m sure she gets very little down time with her family, never mind having a day off to herself to just relax and unwind.

    I for one think Ms. Figone is doing an excellent job considering the bad economy, and the budget deficit our City is facing. I applaud her for taking a big pay cut along with everyone else, and for trying to improve employee morale.

    I think we are very lucky to have such a caring, compassionate, professional to guide our City through this very difficult time. I hope that people reading this article are better educated on her role as City Manager, and will start to see just how truly difficult her job really is.

    • Please dont condescend to us, the employees who have lived through Debra’s reign, with a lecture about how much she cares. Im glad that you are buying what she is selling, but its a little much to those of us actually in city service. Obviously you care about our city, and have a degree of respect on this forum because you generally take a fair and even handed approach. With these kind of posts, you lose all credibility.

      • SJFF,

        Sharing my view of how I see Ms. Figone, and my interactions with her is not meant to be a lecture, nor is it meant to belittle, or disregard your feelings about her. I respect your feelings, your anger, and frustration about this situation, but I also have a right to my perception of things.

        It is very easy to sit back and finger point, place blame, and judge others unfairly, like you pointed out that Soccer Moms do to you, but in reality, you have never walked a mile in her shoes, the Mayor’s, or the Council’s, and vice versa.

        Let me ask you this, have you ever had the awesome responsibility of holding the fate of thousands of employees, businesses, and the public safety of over a million people solely in your hands, made a the best decision you could to do the right thing, and then have people hate and despise you for it?

        • Clearly you are impressed with Figones “awesome responsibility” I am not. I have held the LIVES of countless people in my hands, and have been responsible for life and death decisions on a daily basis, just like every other public safety worker in San Jose. I have done it on days that I was sick, sad, happy, and tired. WE ARE DESPISED by figone and reed, who make a point of playing politics with the publics lives, and also ours. Forgive me if I dont sound as impressed with Debra as you clearly are.

        • SJFF,
          We can agree to disagree and still be on the same side. I know you have saved many lives and I thank you for that.

          Please be safe out there.

  4. Anonymously, you said, “A true leader, a person that really cares about fiscal responsibility would give their $200,000 sick leave pay out up (especially since some bargaining units have now been imposed on). They would subject their own paycheck to a potential 50% hit from retirement costs.”

    I respectfully beg to disagree with you. Police Chief Moore has served our City faithfully for almost 30 years now, and has a family to provide for. He was promised a certain amount of money for his service to us for those 3 decades of service, and he deserves what he is owed.

    Our Police Chief works 24/7. I know our current Chief works 80-90 hours a week! He rarely gets time with is family, and he has a very bad, and painful hip injury that he has neglected to get surgery for for years now, just to serve our City.

    Police Chief Moore has done a lot for our City. He has bridged the gap between law enforcement and the community. He has always shown compassion, and concern for the safety of his men/women on the force, and for our community.

    I am applauded by the way he has been treated not only by some of his own peers, but by the public, and by certain big mouthed Council Members who have unfairly attacked him in the media, in Council Meetings/Study Sessions, and during Council Committees meetings.

    These unethical politicians have scapegoated our Police Chief for the increase in crime, just because they are either running for re-election, or want to deflect the consequences to public safety for their vote to pass Measure B. It is pretty sickening when you think about it.

    Honestly, I feel sorry for the poor man/woman who takes Chief Moore’s place. They are in for one hell of a ride.

    • I never said he doesn’t deserve it; all the public safety workers deserve it! But he is going to get it and it will be well documented in the media.  There will be yet more backlash and the folks who don’t make $200k will lose their (deserved) pay out.  The 20 or so percent cuts have far more reaching effects on those that bring home $60k than those that bring home $100k (despite what’s made on paper).  That expected pay out for Figone, Davis and Moore is devastating when the same amount was expected for a non-supervisor/line employee.  Many of which WILL be imposed on.

      I don’t doubt that Figone and Moore started with good intentions and pure hearts, nor that they work hard and do thankless work.  The majority of City workers are in that same category but aren’t in a position to make change.  Leaders of organizations ARE in that position and should not take the responsibility to do what’s right lightly.

      Being a Department head means leading by example and standing up for your subordinates, even when it causes you extra grief.  If one is not prepared to sacrifice for the troops then don’t take the job. If Figone can’t, or won’t stand up for what’s right, then her $250k a year and sick leave are undeserved.  If Moore is unwilling to face a bully, then he shouldn’t lead a pack of sheepdogs.

      SJPD is in its death throes from 1000 cuts.  Having stood for nothing, we’ve fallen for everything.

      • Anonymously,

        Thank you for the clarification. I personally could care less what the media thinks about this issue. They are a huge part of the problem. The way they have reported pension reform, and bashed employees to make a profit is shameful. Too bad they are never held accountable for their actions!

        I agree that lower paid employees suffered and are suffering the biggest blows. I asked the Mayor and Council not to group everyone together and do cuts on a sliding scale, but that request fell on deaf ears.

        The public remained and remains ignorant of the facts regarding cuts and pension reform because your Unions didn’t take the time to educate them on the facts until it was far too late! Now the public is standing there ringing its hands because crime has exploded. Duh, what did they think was going to happen?

        I agree that leadership was and is lacking, but I also know that Debra Figone and Chief Moore tried to fight for all of you in the only way they could. Could they have done a better job? Yup! But it is what it is.

        By leaving his position as Police Chief, and being honest about why he is, he is sending the Mayor and Council a very loud and clear message that he supports his men/women. He is basically saying, enough is enough. He can’t help it if they are not listening.

        Debra Figone tried very hard to get a small sales tax put on the Nov. ballot to help City employees. For whatever political reason, the Mayor and Council voted NO! (BTW- She also took a 10% pay cut along with everyone else.)

        The bottom line is this, we all have to start pulling together, and move forward. If we do, we’ll get through this together. Never give up hope Anonymously because people can surprise you in difficult times.

        Faith leaders, community leaders, and loving citizens are coming out of the woodwork to work with and to try and heal public safety, and our community. Let’s be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

  5. Are you going to eliminate other employees’ sick leave pay outs and keep yours…or are you going to give up your pay out, as well?

    PS…I bet this question won’t get answered.

  6. Kathleen -

    You have consistently supported Public Safety in San Jose and for that, please accept my sincere thanks. I happen to know that you are the “real deal” and that you’re frying to bring some sense to this chaos that we have been experiencing over the past several years.

    I am a firefighter for the City of San Jose. When I signed on 20 years or so ago, I was promised certain pay and benefits on which I planned my future. I bought a house, started a family and did my best to support them. I proudly protected and continue to protect the people who live, work and visit San Jose. Life throws us “curve balls”, I get that. As a result of my efforts to serve our public, I’ve suffered several injuries that have required surgery and will likely shorten my career and threaten the quality of my life after I leave Public Service. As I write this, I must tell you that the 10% pay cut (as published) but is really closer to 17% pay cut, has caused me to lose my house. It also compromises my ability to pay for my wife’s prescription medications that are required to treat a recently diagnosed life-threatening illness. My kids also must go without, as I make $30,000 less now , than I was making just 3 years ago. I pay $900 a month out of pocket for my health insurance, in addition to approx. $1200 per month towards my pension and another $1000 per month for prescription meds not covered by my “gold-plated benefits”. I too am a real person, with real issues and I am a taxpayer as well. None of this is ever reported in the Mercury News. My colleagues an I are characterized as “greedy public employees” and nothing else. We are hurting too, but nothing stings as much as the pain that we feel when we experience the hate and lack of support from the public that we serve. We really do care about our City and want to do our very best to keep our people safe.

    I’m sure that Ms. Figone is a nice person and cares very much about the City of San Jose. As a City employee, I just feel that she has let us down and has forgotten that part of managing the City, includes taking care of those in her charge, even if it means going against the Mayor and City Council from time to time. She has failed to advocate for us, which has resulted in a failure to best serve the interest and the needs of our citizens.

    Thank you to all that continue to support City employees, Public Safety and aspire to do what is right. I know for a fact that the people that I work with will always strive to be the best and do the right thing, despite the beating that we have taken.

    • Thank you for the kind words Lee. I thank you for your service, dedication, and commitment to our community.

      I’m deeply sorry about your wife’s illness. Check with her medical provider and see if they have any in house programs that can assist with medical/RX bills. Many hospitals have programs available to help.

      I’m also sorry that you have been injured, and are dealing with all of this. Please call me at 408-861-5323, so that I can try and assist you in finding resources to help you and your family.

      To you comment, “As a City employee, I just feel that she has let us down and has forgotten that part of managing the City, includes taking care of those in her charge, even if it means going against the Mayor and City Council from time to time. She has failed to advocate for us, which has resulted in a failure to best serve the interest and the needs of our citizens.”

      I’ll go you one better Lee, EVERYONE has let you down. A good leader treats it’s servants with respect, compassion, and doesn’t abandon you during down times. They walk through the mud with you, offer you encouragement, and support you when you feel you can’t go on.

      The City AND your Union should be offering you resources and services to help you save your homes, feed your kids, etc. There are so many non profits, grants, programs, and resources that you should be made aware of. Many of these services are FREE for God’s sake! 

      Please contact the drug companies for the RXs you and your wife are taking. Many offer free trials, or will help you pay for them, or in some cases will give you the medications for free. Also, many pharmacies have low cost programs that can cut your portion of payment in half.

      Ask your pharmacy how much your prescriptions are, and in some cases you will find that it is cheaper to outright pay for them than it is to go through your insurance company. Also, shop and compare prices of the differing pharmacies. Some are much cheaper than others. 

      Depending on your income, the County offers affordable health care through their, “Ability To Pay,” health care program. Many friends of mine who lost their jobs, and who could not afford their insurance payments, or COBRA, have dropped their insurance and gotten on the “Ability to Pay Program, while they look for a better job, or while unemployed.

      Sacred Heart Community Services has a program to help you pay your PG&E bill, if you are behind. They also have food, and clothes available.

      Churches are also a valuable resource to ask for help.

      Please go to the County of Santa Clara’s website and look at how many programs they have to help people who need it. You can also go to the hundreds of non profit websites, to see if they have services you need. 

      As to housing, if you are supporting many family members on one, or a low income you can put your name on the affordable housing list in ANY City. Your rent will be based on a portion of your income. (In some case there are complexes that have affordable housing now.) There are many programs like Catholic Charities that can assist you with deposits, and first and last month rent.

      Almost every non profit I know of offers help with foreclosure problems, or can direct you to a credible place that does, and they also offer scholarships too! The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Association of Santa Clara Valley will be offering scholarships again in March of next year! Please feel free to apply!

      I hope that I have helped you in some small way with these ideas/resources. If not, please call me. I’ll do my very best to assist you.

      Again, thank you for all you do for our community. If you are any where near Houge Park this Sunday between 2-5pm, please feel free to bring your family and enjoy the BBQ Council Member Rocha, and our Board is holding for you. Your kids are more than welcome to join us. I would love to meet you! 
         
      Stay safe out there!

      • Yes Lee, why dont we just go on food stamps and ask for canned food from charities…..Or heres a thought? WHY DONT WE JUST GO WORK SOMEWHERE ELSE? I KNOW I AM… when people in the academies at other local departments are making WAY more than a top step firefighter or a captain in San jose, which would you rather do? I will keep my pride, and my families financial security, and go elsewhere. Anyone who comes to work for this city is a fool.

        • SJFF,
          I think your comment is uncalled for. Lee is going through a very difficult time, and no one in his situation should be made to feel bad for asking for help. And BTW- I never told him to go on food stamps, and even if I did, he has payed into the system and deserves the help if he needs it.

          Go ahead and leave the City for more money, and financial security. No one will blame you, but keep in mind that no matter where you go, eventually you’ll face the same budget challenges there too.

          I wish you good luck.

        • SJFF,

          Thank you. I have faith in our public safety servants, and I know I’m in excellent hands if I ever need their assistance.

  7. Lee Burton,

    I’m truly sorry about your wife’s illness and about your injuries. I wouldn’t wish these difficulties on anybody. 

    But I’m one of those people who’s been guilty of thinking of many public employees, particularly when represented by their unions, as greedy.
    So help me to understand and maybe you can dissuade me and others from that perception.
    You told Kathleen that the 10% pay cut was really more like 17% and that meant a $30,000 pay cut.
    So using those figures we can do the following calculations:
    $30,000/.17 = $176,470. (Your previous salary)
    $176,470 – $30,000 = $146,470 (Your current salary)

    Many people, including myself, have a hard time understanding how somebody who earns $140,000/year loses their house. So maybe you can help.
    To gain an understanding it’d be helpful to know how much you paid for the house. How much was the monthly payment?
    Interest rates have dropped a whole bunch lately- did you try refinancing? Were you unable to make the payments or had the house’s value gone down to the point where you didn’t think it made sense to keep paying the mortgage?

    I know the public employees were skeptical of Mayor Reed’s claim that the City was suffering a fiscal emergency and they asked to see the figures and to publish them so that the public could be educated and gain some perspective.
    By the same token, maybe the public would change their view of public employees if we were more enlightened about the details of the financial hardship they claim to be suffering.
    Thanks.

    • John Galt,
      I knew I liked you for a reason! wink These are great questions that need to be asked, and answered.

      Please keep in mind that the amounts you have sited about salaries may be too high or too low for Lee’s situation. These public safety and employee figures touted by the press are BEFORE taxes, BEFORE deductions, and are usually incorrect! The media likes to go by the highest salaries given rather than the average salaries earned. Also, many of these pubic safety employees, and even City employees are supporting their families on ONE income.

      While 140K might sound like a lot of money, after taxes, deductions, and contributions to their own medical, and retirement benefits, many often live from pay check to pay check, or even fail to meet their financial responsibilities for the month.

      It is so frustrating for me to see how much misinformation on employee salaries is being touted in the media. These public employees are struggling just like the private sector. I’m so glad you are asking these questions, and trying to educate yourselves on the FACTS John. Thank you!

    • Mr. Galt -

      Thank you for concerns and comments. Before the pay cut, I was making about 140k/year, as I have promoted several times over 20 yrs. after the pay cut, I’m now making about 110k/yr before taxes. The monthly expenses previously stated are incurred after I pay taxes. I know that this adds up to more than 17 %, but I took an additional 8% pay cut when the City cancelled the reserve paramedic program. So my pay is about 25% less than it was a course of years ago. I literally am close to broke after paying my bills, pension contributions and medical insurance premiums. I did not buy my house when prices were sky high, yet as a single income-earner, I had to reset my priorities after the pay cuts and my wife’s illness forced us to make some difficult decisions. I love my job, I understand that changes were needed, but I don’t think that our citizens really understand the truth about what this is doing to our city employees. We are not immune from the same problems that affect the rest of society.

      The SJFD recently received a Federal Grant (SAFER) to rehire firefighters that were laid off. 7 former SJFD Firefighters were offered their jobs back. ONE person accepted and six turned down the job offer. We nor for the first time in our history, have one recruit in a fire academy. San Jose used to tout itself as “the employer of choice”. The word is now out that SJ is a pretty awful place to work. It’s really a shame and I hope that things will improve, but its not looking very good. I will continue to protect and serve you, as I swore to do twenty years ago. I’m just asking that our citizens not be so quick to judge us, when we too are trying to provide for our families and we are just asking for a “fair shake”.

      Thank you for asking.

    • Top step Police Officer at SJPD with family Kaiser plan, brings home $2,335.86 without overtime (which is abundant due to crime and low staffing) every two weeks.  This is why many Officers work pay jobs… Should Measure B take affect, employees could see an even larger portion diverted to the pension plan.  Increases to retiree medical plan are already scheduled. $60k/year doesn’t go far in SJ.

      Using the salary info listed on Murky News, the base salary is $102,596.  That’s bringing home about 60%…

      The pension plan is mandatory for City employees, there is no alternative.  No opt out and nowhere less costly option.  The numbers used by our elected a were (are) balloon like payments, akin to paying off your mortgage in a five year window instead of amortized over 30 years.

      Public safety pays roughly $900 per check into retirement, and likely the same for rent/mortgage.  That leaves about $20k for everything else, if like Kathy mentioned it’s a single breadwinner family.  Ruck Chuck Feed!

  8. “(City communication director David Vossbrink, who sat in on the interview, chimes in to say that the job is not politics, but public service.)”

    Vossbrink?. Isn’t this the schlub that was always pontificating about how great the airport would be?

    Now he’s Reed’s Gepetto, pulling the strings on Pinocchio? Chiming in to “set the record straight”?

    Get rid of this guy and his 159K salary.

    Entity   Name   Title   Base   OT   Other.    MDV   ER   EE   DC   Misc   TCOE
    San Jose   Vossbrink, David   Director of Communication U
    City Manager
    $109,321   $0   $5,809   $6,846   $33,657   $0   $0   $3,421   $159,054

    • It is very odd and also very troubling that the City Manager needs a “Communication Director” to sit in, to chime in and set the record straght.  The City Manager can’t speak for herself?

  9. AN OPEN LETTER TO MS FIGONE AND MAYOR + 5

    Ms Figone and Maryor Reed + 5…you have sat up there on your thrones and have simply ruined this once great city. You try to present to citizens that all is okay and going to be alright, but you KNOW that is not true. You are trying to keep this city from panic. You don’t want them to know that the employees are leaving in droves. I suspect it will get worse before July, 2013. The way you have treated the city employees has been disgraceful…and you know it. At the end of your day, you retreat to your fine homes and eat your steak and lobsters while the city employees are losing their homes and trying to make ends meet to take care of their families, because of what you have done to them. I don’t know how you sleep at night. You should be so ashamed. You ruin employees lives and now you talk of trying to offer them a little more money to try to keep them from leaving the city, after you literally raped their lives. Do you think that all it is going to take is your offer of a little more compensation? Retention bonuses? Why SHOULD they want to stay, after the way you have treated them? You have lost their trust AND respect. Why would a few more dollars make them want to stay? As you are finding out, it is the employees who run this city—not you, Ms Figone. Not you mayor reed. Not the 5 others on the council staff. You simply make decisions and your decisions have been bad. The employees TOLD you what would happen if you moved forward with illegal Measure B, but because of your not knowing how to interact positively with staff and your stealth determination to try to make a name for yourselves, you moved forward, anyway, and as you are finding out, you made the wrong decisions. So many people warned you. As a result of your bad decisions, you are seeing first hand what happens when the employees disappear. Never in the history of San Jose has anything like this taken place and it took YOU to bring it down. The city is on its way to being nonfunctional. Look at what is happening at the waste water treatment plant and with public safety and other departments/divisions. The city is at a near emergency due to staff fleeing the city for other jobs in other cities. Cities who respect them. Cities who take care of their employees. Cities whose citizens have not been made to turn against them. You have taken so much from these employees and they are scarred. Why should they want to stay to help you out? You were so cold to them that you even stole many of the employees’ sick leave payouts, EVEN THOUGH THE EMPLOYEES HAD ALREADY EARNED THOSE PAYOUT HOURS UNDER NEGOTIATED CONTRACTS. Dedicated employees who came to work, everyday, and didn’t abuse sick time, knowing they would be paid for their hours…and then, when they have all of those hours accumulated…you steal them. They certainly would not be able to use all of those hours. Do you think they would be able to call in sick for 500+ hours? They are stolen hours due to the employees having a reasonable expectation that they would be paid for them. They accumulated them with the understanding that they would be paid for them…and then you stole all of those accumulated hours. I am hoping some employee will start a class action lawsuit due to that breach. You have shown that you have no respect for contracts and you have no respect for the employees, so…why should they want to help you? You took their salaries, you took their sick leave payouts, you even took their lightrail passes and now you want to reduce their benefits. They no longer have any incentive to want to work for this city, when working for other cities will allow them to live more comfortably and take better care of their families. I think you have a lot of nerve even attempting to try to retain ANY employee with more pay, after what you have done to them. You should have thought about that before you started ruining their lives. It’s like beating a dog and then turning around and trying to pet it. You have created a mess, so now you can play in it. While you are at it, why not be truthful with the citizens and let them know the city staffing is falling apart? If your city auditor is a smart person, he/she would take a look at what is happening in ALL departments/divisions. You are losing a lot of educated, experienced and talented employees…and it’s all YOUR fault. I hope America is watching.

  10. Its just to bad that Doug Figone ,  Reed + 5 havent figured out ” THAT THEY ARE THE BIGGEST PROBLEM ” facing San Jose. The seven of them combined couldnt tell one truth if their lives depended on it . Lets see how many of these individuals become Double dippers( some already are)