The All-Volunteer City Government

Recently, a SJI columnist, who also is a city councilmember, suggested that libraries should be staffed with volunteers to avoid closure and increase hours of operation. I applaud this outside the box type of thinking, but why stop at libraries?

A friend of mine, John Harrigan, has offered to be San Jose’s city manager on a volunteer basis, which would save the city $276,684 a year in total compensation. John is very opinionated, fiscally conservative and has never worked in the public sector. His philosophy would require all city workers to volunteer, thus our savings in the city manager’s salary would just be the beginning.

My brother-in-law is a retired police officer. Yes, he is one of the former public servants who after years of serving the citizens of San Jose got a public pension. He is also currently recovering from surgery for long forgotten injuries as a result of his public service. I say we put him to work as chief of police. You don’t need hips, knees, or sight to be police chief. And he’s already got a city pension, so why pay him? Let him volunteer for the job. That is another quarter million in savings to the city.

It has already been noted that 71 percent of firefighters in this nation are volunteer. My son would love to drive one of those big red trucks for free, and I’m sure there are others. Now we just saved a huge chunk of the $153.9 million we pay for fire protection.

Of course there are naysayers out there. I have a sister who is about to have twins. She spent two years of her life and thousands of dollars on a Masters Degree in Library Science from San Jose State. I told her she would end up working for coffee and donuts. Why go to school and learn a profession when we have people who can stack books for free? It was incredibly short-sighted on her part.

Finally, let’s get back to volunteer elected officials. Norm Mineta served as mayor of San Jose for less than minimum wage—even back in 1972. We only had seven councilmembers then, including the mayor. The Board of Supervisors for the county only has five members—and the county is far bigger than San Jose.  So, we could decrease the number of councilmembers to three, all volunteer. We could get Bill Chew, Andy Diaz and William Garbett.

So, I embrace the idea of an all volunteer government; remembering the old adage; you get what you pay for.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant and author of “The Shadow Candidate”.

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. Rich

    Bernard Baruch ran the United States effort in World War One for a dollar a year.

    Now, when it comes to the litigation involving Santa Clara Plays Fair, documents from San Francisco show that their law firm is making one million dollars from Lennar to assist with the Hunters Point Stadium (Agenda Item 4-12/7/2010)  That is volunteerism to be paid by Lennnar and work as a volunteer law firm for Santa Clara Plays Fair.

  2. “You get what you pay for” is spot on. With POA member salaries being reduced by 10% land an additional 17.50 % (soon to be 20%) member contribution towards pension costs, SJ leaders are going to get what they apparently want: under educated, under trained, under qualified police officers. When other departments offer comparable wages WITHOUT 20% retirement contribution, paid uniforms, paid dry cleaning, higher education reimbursement; ALL qualified police candidates are going to the smaller agencies. The citizens of San Jose are going to get a PD force riddle with Paul Blarts that are going I cost the City millions in litigation costs web they violate citizens rights Because they don’t know any better

    • Councilmember Liccardo is responsible for St. James Park.

      The entire St. James Park is a “toilet” due to the ongoing “administrative and political incompetence” of his Honor, Councilmember Liccardo.

      Vagrants and all other forms of “social deviants and or miscreants” should be firmly and effectively dealt eviction notices from St. James Park.

      With reference to St. James Park, Councilmember Liccardo is “less than worthless.”

      David S. Wall (02.24.12)

      • Hey David..

        Just posted on Sam’s wall today.;
        Our mighty St. James Park volunteers came out Saturday morning to help clean up, armed only with garbage bags, dogs, and coffee! Special thanks to the Downtown Streets Team for joining us, to Ragan Henninger for helping to organize this impromptu gathering, and ubervolunteers Kennedy and Landry Schoennauer, who missed their Saturday morning cartoons join proud papa Erik!

        Sam’s at least in his own neighborhood getting down and dirty.  I agree though, overall St James park needs more, but this is exactly the kind of thing that needs to be done to clean it up.

        Actually engaging your constituents to take pride, and do something about it.

    • There was a stabbing in the bathroom of Saint James Park at 8pm on Sunday night. Cops everywhere! Can we get a volunteer to clean it up? PLO, you out there? Licardo, how about you? Anyone…

      • Sure lets bring up Another Cheater ( Steroids and Multiple Infidelities)! Wonder if Sir- cheats-alot is friends with Mayor Reed??????

        Wait are you talking about MY councilmember?  Oh no, you meant the governator…

        Had me fooled for a second there…

  3. Your satire failed here Rich.  Here’s a hint when you write satire, because I’ve read several really good satire pieces here.

    You want the reader to believe you actually believe it.

    Back to subject though…

    Some of our councilmembers do squat.  A month ago I wrote my councilmember about an arson that happened on the slide at our local playground.  After a month of not getting back, I see this picture today..;
    So why is he playing hokey pokey instead of actually solving city problems.  I hope this didn’t count towards his work hours.

    There’s a lot of things we should be doing to get our monies worth out of our council.  One friend of mine is neighbors with another councilmember.  They’re never in their office, all week long.  I’ve been at my friends house several times over the last year for beers, and we just sort of laugh when we see that councilmember out watering their lawn on a weekday afternoon, only serving the citizens with their aids instead of doing work themselves.

    The other side of why our employees get paid so much is because bureaucracy takes time.. time == money.  A great example that is always brought up is police reports are still for the most part, hand written.

    I’ve seen other council members spend money on bags and booths at various community functions.  My money…  They siphon off my taxes to promote themselves while in office.

    Seeing how our council (at least by my observations) is spending on average, 1/2 their time in the office, and at least a 1/3rd of their time promoting themselves on our dime, I’d say it’s not unreasonable to cut their pay when they’re not in city hall.

    Why did Liccardo need a trip to Amsterdam a year ago?  Supposedly it was so “He can see how they do bicycles there”  Does he really need a $5000 trip to see that?  Do I really feel like my tax dollars are being spent responsibly in a fiscal crisis??  On top of that, he drew a salary while he was on a useless trip paid for by us.

    That $5k could have easily paid a month salary for a 911 operator.  Thing is, these types of trips happen often in the glass dome. 

    Right now I have a broken driveway at my business in his district.  Would I rather have him go on a trip, or fix my curb/sidewalk?

    (comment mirrored, btw what’s up with my other post?)

    • Mr. Cortese,
      The city of San Jose has 1 Arson Investigator on duty per day, and 3 total Investigators in the office.  Fires that involve huge monetary loss or have resulted in a fatality receive a bulk of the attention.  Arson is not a crime that this city administration is interested in dealing with.  While I understand the fiscal condition of the city, San Jose could do as other cities do and charge insurance companies for the reports done by its investigators. (Currently these reports are free) This could recoup some costs and allow the city to hire more investigators so all fire could be properly looked into.

      • So I guess dancing the hokey pokey and shameless self promotion take precedence over arson, or in the very least giving a response to my query.

        (hint, my councilmember is not Ash or Pyle)

      • One other thing Retired City…

        If Dave Cortese can offer a $1000 reward to catch some taggers, why can’t my councilmember not only do the same, but put out some reward posters.  We’re talking what, maybe a few phone calls to some wealthy constituants for the money, and may a phone call or two to round up volunteers to put out the posters?

        Also something else to consider..  Fire department calls them “Fire bugs” They don’t stop at burning one thing.  Once they get away with it once, there’s nothing stopping them from doing it again.. Let me see if I can pull up a standard law enforcement profile on arsonists for you.. Hang on…

        Also here’s another safety related site that claims that arsonist are serial.

        Not sure how public safety takes a back seat to hokey pokey.  Maybe you can elaborate your point better.  Maybe I’m retarded and can’t understand your obviously higher level of thinking /sarcasm.  (mirrored guys, check my fb, thanks)

        • Council members can’t be expected to produce a thousand dollars every time there’s a vandalism in their district. Rocha’s not responsible for every piece of playground equipment in District 4.

        • Don is the council for district 9, so your statement is totally correct.  He’s also not responsible for playing hokey pokey in district 10.

          Got a response from Don after a week of community meetings via facebook.  He blames his aid for the lack of response.  Good show Don.. Are you passing the buck, or do you have an inability to delegate?

        • I meant “District 9”. I regret the error. But Rocha didn’t do anything wrong. Visiting a senior’s fitness event shouldn’t be a mark against him, and if it is, why isn’t it a mark against Kalra? I’m sure that, like Rocha, Kalra had not met the needs and demands of every single one of his constituents before attending that event.

          Rocha and Kalra are both good council members. They may have done the hokey pokey with a bunch of old people, but they didn’t take a trip to Amsterdam on taxpayer’s money like you mentioned Liccardo did.

        • Jury has already deliberated on Rocha in my neighborhood.  We’re not too happy about the Walmart going in, nor are we happy about the 5 months of construction while they take away our dedicated turn lanes onto Almaden expressway.

          They’re giving traffic priority to walmart.
          Don says, “I’m trying to introduce stuff so this doesn’t happen in the future”

          Well, he’s had what.. 2 years to do something about it before it happened?

          There was about 300 people at that pine hill school meeting.  Could have just as easily handed out 300 petition forms and had them gather enough petitions to keep that thing out.  Could have done that 2 years ago.

          Maybe he’s a great councilman for other neighborhoods, but not mine.  My neighbors agree.

          And I have no issue with Ash, I know a lot about Ash from personal experience.  He has my permission to play hokey pokey.  I grant Mr Kalra the Cortese Hokey Pokey pass.

          It’s made of gold leaf…  Been a long day, I’m tired and writing weird. Gnite.

        • makes him not a great councilman, in your eyes, then that is sad. I am in *your* neighborhood and I am happy the Walmart is going in. Everybody has their own opinion and I think he is doing just fine.

  4. You sir, have brought a smile to my face with an audible laugh…. Thank you.

    I am in total agreement with you, Let’s just get it over with and kick out all the winey overpaid Police and Professional Firefighters and replace them with crossing guards and Volunteer Firefighters…. I’m sure that the volunteers will be as proficient and effective as the silly public servants who put their body on the line everyday in one of the busiest and most understaffed systems in the united states….  No really, let’s just do already.

    • Actually, our crossing guards get a salary… Confuses the hell out of me too, I remember 20 years ago kids took pride in being crossing guards.  Which slimy politician took that little bit of school spirit away?  Was it to give some loser relative a job?  Maybe appease some union rep?

      Police are underpaid for the amount of bureaucracy they have to put up with.  You couldn’t pay me enough to take the crap they do on a daily basis.

      • I could be wrong, but I think it has to do with the distance from the school.  When I attended (1975-80) the now-defunct Ralph O. Berry Elementary School on Oka Road in Los Gatos, the crossing guards at the school, on Oka Road itself, were always 6th graders.  But the crossing guards a couple blocks south, on Lark Avenue, were always elderly men who I assume were paid.  A lot of the school crossing guards I used to see around D9 & D10 in recent years, didn’t appear to be operating even within sight of a school.  I don’t think the school is willing to dispatch student crossing guard crews to whichever intersection requires them, but prefers to keep them operating in the immediate vicinity of the school.  Which frankly does kinda make sense.

  5. I say go for it! Once the volunteers get in there and find out how hard we have to work for that salary, they won’t be too happy to do it for free. I think it’s a great idea. I would love for the citizens to know what the City will be like with high turnover and a lack of total dedication. You don’t miss the water til the well runs dry. Do it, do it do it!

  6. Now that San Jose is more like some kind of fairly land where everything is make belive why not pretend everyone works for free or maybe even jelly beans?  Maybe one of the volunteers can help chuck find the people who do the thingy with numbers.

  7. Gosh Rich, your heart’s in the right place. But I think our Government should more closely follow the example of ordinary, responsible citizens doing their best to run their households. Here’s what professional financial advisors suggest:

    Always indulge your whims and convince yourself that it’s an ‘investment’. Always buy the best. Always pay top dollar, blindly assuming that the more you pay the better goods and services you’ll automatically get. Be generous. Don’t think of it as your money. The guy you’re giving it to deserves it more than you do. Put everything on credit. When you’ve reached your credit limit don’t let that stop you. Just put it on your childrens’ credit- then THEIR childrens’. If you need quick cash for another ‘can’t miss investment’, pawn your spouse’s jewelry and other valuables.
    These are the tried and true strategies that ordinary people have always used to achieve financial security. Maybe it’s time the City followed their lead.

  8. This piece is nonsense and deflects from the real problem of fat government.  During WWII the US Navy had 127 purchasing agents and we built nearly 1,000 ships a year.  Today the Defense Dept has tens of thousands working in procurement and we turn out something like four ships a year.

    Modern public agencies are bureaucratic organizations and they are incipient: they keep themselves going for the sake of the organization rather than for the purpose of which it was intended to do.  A sure way to keep a public bureaucracy going is to expand it.  This is a natural instinct of bureacracies, so that when it comes time to cut, you start snipping at the bottom, ironically where a lot of actual work gets done. The heads of depts are safe, in the top drawers of the bureau – and they stay there – never coming or thinking outside of their bureau drawer or “box.”

    In great part this was the downfall of the former USSR.  It became top heavy with its own party appointed fat cats and it became cost prohibitive to get anything done or made.

    The equivalent of our party bosses here are the public employee unions and bosses who perpetuate the downward spiraling of cost efficient government by the same type of cronyism, rewards and payola as the old USSR.

    In order to get the park cleaned up or a sidewalk fixed and done in cost effective manner it is necessary to reorganize city government.  Right now there is an entire chain of command (multiples of people) with salaries, benefits, pensions and other built in “costs” that have to be assumed just to fill a pot hole.

    I have to believe at the dawn of the 21st century there are more cost effective ways of getting simple city services.

    • Hugh,
      You paint a clear picture of the mechanisms by which bureaucracies become bloated and ineffective. In theory it is possible to prevent this sort of devolution and assure that our government’s programs remain focused on efficiently achieving the function for which they were initiated.
      But fighting this natural erosion of purpose takes honesty and awareness among the principles- qualities which are conspicuously lacking among many Big G Progressives like Mr. Robinson here. It’s impossible to get them to even admit that such processes exist in any organization anywhere in the world, let alone in their own precious, personal pet projects.
      Lacking objectivity they fail to see that which is perfectly obvious to those with a more detached perspective. By steadfastly denying that any problem exists they’ve created the perfect environment for the problem to thrive.

  9. I’ll suspend my dis-belief and pretend you’re serious.

    In the past, school boards, city councils, state legislatures and even members of the house of representative served only for a token compensation.  This created an interesting dyanamic.

    1.  Only folks who were comfortably well off ran for and served in those offices where they had to travel (Sacramento, DC) away from home and business for months at a time.

    2.  Even with the wealthy, the pressure was on to wrap up legislative sessions so people could get back to family and business interests at home in the district.

    3.  Local offices were usually held by those whose standing in the community was measured in decades and in the pre-term limit era, that service in office often continued for decades as popular figures remained in office until they grew tired of it.

    4.  In the provision of public services, we’ve had volunteers in the classrooms and helping with other community ammenities.  Often a retired person found that having too much time on their hands was unhealthy and they wanted to help others.  When I worked at the Santa Theresa Branch Library, Irma who was in her 90’s would come in 5 days a week for a couple of hours and help shelve books.  She was capable and competent and at the time we were the busies branch library (outcirculating the Main Library) and needed all the help we could get.

    Entrenched interests (unions) and the creeping paranoia of the nanny state now believe that all public workers need to be properly vetted (read this to mean the bar is raised such that volunteers and anyone other than unionized public sector employees are unqualified to do the jobs in the public sector from trimming rose bushes to shelving books or tutoring a child having trouble with reading or math.)

    “You get what you pay for?”  – Sometimes we’ve tried to turn everything into a zero sum game about money, benefits and vesting and in reality a healthy community is so much more.  Its that older resident who sweeps the sidewalk and picks up trash, its the kids who pause to help a disabled person cross the street, its the neighbor who notices someone hasn’t been outside in awhile and check in on them to see if they are alright.  There’s room for collective effort in addressing our problems.  Its not all black/white.

    But your not paid to come up with big picture community building points but rather zingers that will support the position of those who pay you.

  10. Quote from PO about the pension reform measure:

    “These are council members who carry water for big labor,’’ said Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio. “They’re just trying to present fear, uncertainty and doubt about the ballot measure.”

    This tells us how much he hates the unions and the minority of his fellow city council members.  No doubt he has made his stance.

    • “They’re just trying to present fear, uncertainty and doubt about the ballot measure.”

      Just what did he think the mayor was doing with spewing his sky is falling tactics trying to put fear in the citizens so they will vote for the measure?

  11. We could go back to a volunteer fire department in 5 minutes.  The lines of volunteers would be miles long.  Waiting in those lines would be some current firemen, who would do the job for free (albeit not full time) because that’s just the type of people they are.

    Police too.

    • so Rich, clarify PO and Lic’s comments in the paper.  Sounds to me like the hate the other 5 on the council and are not willing to budge.

      • You’ve got the childish five on one side and the honest five on the other side. Who would you want to keep in office? They are now at a standoff, due to the childish five who now do not like the honest five simply because the honest five want answers, which is the way it should be. The childish five hate the honest five because the citizens are starting to ask questions and are moving to the side of the honest five, while the childish five are standing alone with their fingers up their u know whats. That’s what they get for being who they are and falling in behind a mayor who is about as honest and transparent as a coiled snake in the grass. Like for like.

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