Reed Offers Cover to Measure B with State Pension Reform Measure

Mayor Chuck Reed is a good lawyer. That’s why his pension reform proposal for the city of San Jose made no sense. It is one thing for a Rose Herrera or Pierluigi Oliverio to support a blatantly unconstitutional local measure, based on a weak legal opinion of a law firm whose bottom-line will be enhanced even if the proposed law is struck down. But our good mayor knows better.

The protection of contracts is established law by the U.S. and California constitutions. A City Charter does not supersede, even if interpreted correctly, the established contract rights in the superior law of those constitutions.

That’s why Mayor Reed is moving forward with a statewide petition to change the state Constitution. It is the biggest admission we have to date that he understands the legal flaws to San Jose’s pension reform initiative, which voters passed last year.

But as one observer told me, “The Mayor took a boat with a hole in it out to sea and decided, once the boat was swamped, to fix the hole.”

That was the best metaphor I’ve heard regarding Reed’s pension reform efforts. In sum, the proposed ballot initiative is a tacit acknowledgement that his proposal can’t pass judicial muster. When that happens, the whole house of cards called “pension reform” comes crashing down around the city of San Jose and its next mayor. All of the “savings” from pension reform become illusory; all of the attorney’s fees, court costs, and political upheaval increases; and the decline of public employee morale results in real costs to the city treasury.

Meyers-Nave, the outside law firm that wrote the legal opinion defending Measure B, is asking for an additional $650,000 to their contract. If authorized by the City Council, San Jose’s legal fees could rise to $2.75 million, and probably much more before it is all over.

More importantly, many voters will become angry with government because most don’t understand why a majority vote of the people will not be honored.

Mayor Reed understands this and his statewide proposal will give him some political cover. But the fix will be too little, too late to save the San Jose boat.

Moreover, there are problems with his proposed solution. First, governing employee contracts by the ballot box is a bad idea. Second, polling shows strong opposition to Reed’s proposed solution. Third, and most importantly, even if he is successful in changing California’s Constitution, that pesky contracts clause in the U.S. Constitution remains.

Even this conservative U.S. Supreme Court, five members of whom would like to stick it to unions, would be loathe to overturn 200 years of precedent and put all government contracts at risk. Even if narrowly drawn, a decision that modified the right of contract would send a chilling message to corporate America, as they are the biggest beneficiaries of government agreements.

Whatever happens going forward, Mayor Reed was told that his “legacy” would be pension reform. It was almost unfathomable to think Reed would choose a short-term political victory as his legacy, knowing that it will be struck down by the courts.

But that is what happened, and Reed now finds himself politically adrift, trying to repair a craft that was never sea-worthy.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. Reed is doing exactly what got him elected mayor.  He’s got his issue.  He’s running for governor next.

    Get ready for lurid images of Enron billionaires and long lists of multi-hundreds of dollar pensioners on TV and in your mailbox.  If I had to guess, the long lists of fat-cat pensioners will resonate more than the Enron billionaires.

    To be honest, if you’re one of those fat-cat pensioners, you want Reed to succeed.  You want him to succeed, because that helps make sure that you will live to collect on your pension.

  2. “It is the biggest admission we have to date that he understands the legal flaws to San Jose’s pension reform initiative, which voters passed last year.”

    No, it’s not.

    It’s an attempt to stay somewhat relevant until the end of 2014, and an attempt to lay the groundwork for a statewide election campaign.

    This method of achieving electoral fame has receded in the recent past, but it was often the way a politician could identify himself with some idea or other, and pick up support from that segment.

    Its weakness was revealed when one Democratic candidate for governor, as I recall, ran a combined campaign with three separate initiative petitions.  They swamped his image, his purposes, and his goals.

    One initiative seems about right for a no-name mayor with an undistinguished record to be a busybody around the state while San Jose languishes.  But then he never was a “pothole fixer” as we learned to our sorrow in Berryessa when he led no program to better the actual lives of his constituents in concrete, specific ways.

  3. So Reed is costing the city millions without a care in the world, who cares what everyone else thinks.  We’ll show me a picture of Reed and I will show you a crook.

  4. Well stated, but wish it was written 2 years ago.  Maybe if voters had more facts they would have told Reed NO.  But Reed called the police and firemen, cancer and union thugs.  He lied about the debt and made are public servants villains.  He will probably use this strategy again.

    • I don’t know that he called police and firemen, cancer and union thugs, but stuff like that was a necessary political move.

      Let’s face it, when police and fire effectively use the halo that their job confers for political purposes, is it any wonder that the other side is going to try to reduce the effect of that halo.

      No one would say anything bad about Mother Teresa.  However, if Mother Teresa uses her image for some political purpose, then she isn’t Mother Teresa anymore.  She’s a political vehicle.

      It probably is an unfortunate side effect that the image of police and fire have been sullied, but that’s politics.

  5. Thanks for at least acknowledging that it’s impossible for Measure B to get a fair hearing since judges also benefit from the same sort of public employee fanatasyland contract terms upon which we vainly hope they’ll rule objectively. You’re absolutely right Rich. Our government has got us over a barrel.
    Yep. Government writes the rules, interprets the rules, and enforces the rules. Rules that are favorable to themselves, that have caused the size and cost of our Government to explode, and there’s not a damned thing the We The People can do to rein it in.

  6. Hey I have a great idea. Let’s keep pumping up public service employee pensions until we go bankrupt!  Then we can do away with them altogether!  Unionism at its finest!

    • Better Idea, lets get rid of chuck (well he will be gone) but lets get rid of 99% of council , vote in a new outside mayor and council and get this city back on track.

      And quit spending millions on wasted law suits this is all about chuck and clowns trying to advance their political carriers.

      Pumping up, really!  They are taking a life long employment cut

Leave a Reply

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