Ballot Measure a Political Disaster

Mayor Chuck Reed called an audit requested by local state legislators “politically motivated.”

He is correct. But calling a fake “fiscal emergency,” exaggerating the size of the problem and calling on voters to pass a pension reform ballot measure that most attorneys, including myself, believe won’t stand a court challenge is also “politically motivated.”

Worse, putting a ballot measure before the voters on a subject as complicated as pension reform for city workers is a terrible precedent, which is unfair to the public and those who work in the public sector. Why not ask the public to vote on redevelopment projects, executive salaries, and garbage contracts?

In fact, why have a City Council at all, let’s just have the masses vote on everything they know nothing about.

A democratic republic is often seen as a messy system. But pure democracy produces dangerous outcomes our forefathers recognized and tried to guard against.

Yet over time, the politicians have abdicated their responsibility and the people themselves have taken the initiative, literally, to give themselves more and more responsibility for major public decisions. A minority of people who vote are making the vast majority of these decisions—some by a very smaller minority, as measures like Proposition 13 eviscerate majority will.

Most of the people in this minority are persuaded by 30-second sound bites and legally protected misinformation. The voters are not necessarily ignorant, most are simply ill informed and many don’t have the time to educate themselves to the intricate policy matters—such as pension reform—required to make a sound decision. Hence the need for representative government.

Nobody disagrees that pension reform is necessary, but the professionals, experts and the process by which these issues are normally determined are being bypassed for a badly mismanaged, politically motivated agenda. How the mayor or city benefits from this agenda plainly escapes any reason.

Other jurisdictions, including the state and county, are dealing with these issues in appropriate, if imperfect, systems. But the lack of acrimony between labor and management is the biggest difference seen in those other governmental jurisdictions. The bad blood and lack respect for city workers has now reached a crescendo at City Hall. The lines are drawn, the war will take place and people will choose sides—with the voters determining the initial outcome with the courts potentially becoming the final arbiter. In this sense, from a political and policy level, this is a lose-lose situation.

There may be some political pundits who beat their chests and talk of political victory. But in the final analysis, government leadership has lost and public service has been diminished. Pension reform is destined to be litigated ad nauseum.

More importantly, the anger of public employees will not abate soon. There is no “politically motivated” advantage to any result, which is why the issue has been badly mismanaged. But the Mayor doesn’t always—or ever—take my advice.

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. You, my fellow citizens, are really going to suffer in San Jose. If you think we at city hall are aloof and disenchanted, wait till you really need the cops and firemen. If they don’t feel appreciated, we’re all losing our quality of life here in this town. You’re used to Nordstrom service??  Well, welcome to Fry’s electronics return center and you don’t have your receipt.

  2. I do not work for the city.  I would rather see the City and the Unions keep the pensions and agree to a plan where the substandard managers and employees are removed and the benefits increased to attract top notch talent.  That is why the pension system was put in place.  However, there are a minimum of good city workers from my interactions with the city government.  For Police and Fire, I would not touch the current staff or their benefits.  We need those services to be top notch. 

    I also agree that the issue should not be put to a vote.  Too complex.  Come up with a plan, that’s why we voted for the council members and mayor.  They should be able to take the time to analyze the issue and come to a solution.

    • State of Florida just lost a similar measure and now have to pay back pay to thousands of workers.  Figone/Reed need to learn from others mistakes.  funny thing about the Florida is that the workers had to pay zero for their pension they were arguing over 3% … and the workers balked..

      • I hope they look into the fact that the City stole employees sick leave pay out, when the employees had already earned it under contract. There is so much that is not right. I wouldn’t want to be in any of their shoes. I just hope the auditors dig far enough to also check out the land deals and how they all sit on all of the boards and make the decisions. Something really smells.

  3. Why this Mayor has been getting a constant pass is beyond me. Funny, if things don’t fit his agenda, it’s “politically motivated”. This leadership is a disgrace.
        And yes, you are right on the money.  We live in a representative democracy, meaning, we elect officials to make, and guide us through difficult policy decisions.  A last minute, thrown together ballot measure like this stinks to high heaven.  It is overflowing with political agenda, and the rush is on to get it on the ballot, before voters can wake up and do a little more research.  I agree.  Why have a mayor and council?  Let the voters make every decision.  Where were the voters on the decision to sell parcels of land to Lew Wolfe for pennies on the dollar? It’s their money, not yours, Chuck Reed.

        Thanks for the great article.

  4. $39K take home pay and no disabaility if I am shot and paralized protecting the citizens of San Jose…..Not worth it…. Good bye San Jose thanks for the training and experience!!!

  5. What is being lost in the discussions is that San Jose employees cannot opt out of retirement.  Employees pay close to 1/4 of their salary for the benefits the City negotiated, instead of giving raises.  Now that the benefits bill is due, the City is balking on their contracted obligation.

    Under the ballot language, employees will pay up to 50% of unfunded costs.  Take home pay for a veteran officer will be under $40,000.  Since they cannot opt out of this plan, employee’s only remedy is to leave.

    You get what you pay for folks.  Since you’re unwilling to pay for good public service, wallow in what this ballot measure reaps.

    • The city wants us to leave, so they can hire back under a new tiered pension. That’s the design of the entire ballot measure, out with the old and in with the new. The cheaper new… And I say you get what you pay for.  Yes there will be some that will come, to be cops and firemen.  The ones that come as law enforcement.  In my opinion they will cost the city a lot more in law suits from excessive force issues and false arrests. Get ready for the law suits… The Independent Police Auditor will be very very busy… I have 29 years in law enforcement, 17 with the City of San Jose.  I have 3 more years left before I could have retired from San Jose PD. I am looking for another job and will leave San Jose. I brought almost 12 years experience with me and the city doesn’t appreciate it. I’m gone….And I will never return to this city again…Never…

  6. A voice of reason, very refreshing.  This seems to be a more appropriate editorial for the Mercury.  Good luck having them put this in their paper. The Mayor has seemed to inspire a lot of hate for the city employees….

  7. Now that I’ve had a couple of days to process everything, I have two words to describe it, “employment slavery.” The communist in China and North Korea have better packages for workers.

    I wonder what Pete Constant would say if he were cop today, hmmm, “HELL NO!”

    It’s a sad state of affairs for this once great city. I cannot wait for these clowns to term out.

  8. Well written Rich… While I understand the publics outcry over our pensions, I too agree that we need to scale back although through a proper negotiated manner.
    There have been successes through out California with this process.  What the Mayor and Debra Figone have set forth will cost the tax payers in the end.  Just recently in Florida a similar pension slash was ruled illegal in the courts.  The only winners will be the attorneys most likely with Meyers/Nave, they will bill the City for hundreds of thousands if not multi millions. This law firm has a track record of this… Ultimately the measure will be ruled illegal and against both the U.S. and California constitution.
    The workers were willing to negotiate and receive a reduced pension and benefit package…
    Now all the city will get is poor service to the citizens and a large legal bill and still no pension reform.

  9. The Mercury News editorial says that Reed’s proposal last year was “largely illegal.”

    How does an attorney and a person who is an elected official get away with doing things that are “largely illegal.”

    Ron faced an investigation, but Chuck gets an editorial honor?

  10. I have been a San Jose police officer for nearly fourteen years. Without even factoring-in the hardships and dangerous situations a patrol officer encounters on a daily basis, and exclusively looking at one’s personal accomplishments, I feel extremely disrespected and not valued.  I served my country in the US military and have a master’s degree from a reputable university. For a take home pay of 39,000 annually, I will lose my small three bedroom house in north San Jose and can no longer afford to work at this city. This act truly feels like someone just spit in my face, especially when the pension proposal we gave was more progressive in savings than any other POA across the State of CA… Thank you for the good times San Jose PD, but I will now take my valuable experience elsewhere. Ridiculous and Disgusting…

  11. The public has yet to see what a disaster this will be.  You need the cops to be out there making the extra effort especially down 400 officer positions.  They are demoralized and they know that no one in San Jose cares about them.  Why risk your life for a City that could not care less about you and your family? 

    Crime is up, yes because of cutbacks and lack of enforcement.  But mostly because of apathy among the ranks of the Department.  It used to be that catching the bad guy was the most important thing no matter what, now it is getting off on time and going home to avoid the toxic work environment called SJPD.

  12. In the vein of giving people a voice, I found it interesting that Pete Constant would object to employees making their voices heard at the meeting.  Sure, you could construe it as being rude to the speakers with opposing views- I agree. Those residents and taxpayers should not feel intimidated.

    I also think it’s ridiculous to dismiss their views because they they are employees.  They have the largest stake in this game, and more importantly- they are most likely RESIDENTS and TAXPAYERS as well!

    Feelings of intimidation are not isolated to City Hall, as that is how most San Jose employees feel when it’s time to “negotiate.”  Whether it’s a “Give 10% back or else” or trying to bargain with this draconian ballot measure held over your head.

    • Imagine this..Had Pete Constant remained a Police Officer and kept that type of attitude with him, Do you think he would have ended up in Internal Affairs?

      • What is funny is good ole Pete got his disability retirement, allegedly had an exception made for him to keep the full disability retirement even though he owns a business and is now receiving another pay check & retirement as a city council member…..but yet he supports a measure in which he would of been denied his own questionable disability retirement. There is a young officer that was recently hit by a car which fled then scene & has yet to be identified. That officer was on a police motorcycle and broke his neck. Guess what, he will be fired without a disability retirement like Pete gets for doing his job if this measure is passed, but Pete will keep his for a substantially less significant injury.

  13. Its nice to have new libraries and new palm trees in parks but who will make the visitors feel safe Mr. Mayor? 

    Crime is up despite what the Mayor says!  Robbery after robbery every night!  Cops that don’s care anymore.  Summer is going to be ugly. 

    If you can, move to a city where the leaders are smart enough to know how important public safety are.

  14. Citizens will be voting by emotion. Reed knew this and thus the reason for the all out campaign to cause citizen rage and to pit the citizen against the employee, by making the employees the evil, greedy people. The problem is…the citizens, for the most part, are not informed. They will be voting blind. What reed has done is wrong. Karma will fix that.

  15. Well said. This Council continuously abdicates the tough decisions to escape critcism. They want to say “Well—the voters told me to do it”

    For example, members of the public should not making decisions regarding public safety staffing either—i.e. when the council polled citizens and asked if they wanted 3 or 4 persons on a fire engine to save money. How in the world can a citizen make an informed decision about that. Of course they would say 3 for cost reasons but if you tell them that it is exponentially more dangerous for the citizens and firefighters and violates national safety standards, they change their minds. Yet, the city council says this should be implemented in part because the citizens chose this as a cost savings.  Baloney!

    They were elected to take responsibility.  They are failing in their charge and in my opinion breaching their fiduciary duties to the citizens of SJ.

  16. I grew up in San Jose and was hired by the San Jose Police Department over 17 yrs ago.  I knew from high school that I wanted to be a Police Officer in the city I grew up in.  I went to college and got a degree and I eventually put myself through the academy when there was a hiring freeze.  I was so proud when I got hired.  I hit the street every night excited to be there.  I worked midnights for 7 years because that is where all the fun was. I helped people, protected others while they slept and more importantly I put people who broke the law into jail. I have been lucky enough to work different specialized units.  I have been hurt, watched my friends get hurt and been here when other officer’s have paid the ultimate sacrifice while on duty. Now I always knew I wouldn’t get rich from being a police officer, but I knew I had something to look forward to in the end.  I figured it was a good trade off in the end. Since I signed a “contract” with the city, I knew I would get a good retirement and health benefits.  I may not retire 100% healthy and my life expectancy after I retire isn’t that long, but I figured my family would be taken care of.  Since day one, I have paid every cent of my required contribution into my retirement.  I have not missed a payment and every payment was taken out of my check in full.  Up to this very day, I have upheld my oath and my obligation to the city and the citizens of San Jose. It wasn’t until last week, did I realize “what a sucker I have been.” Everything I held true about this job and the commitment I made was thrown out the window by an 8-3 vote.  What a sucker I was to believe that 11 people would do the right thing. What a sucker I am that I served the citizens of San Jose to the best of my ability and they are going to repay my 17 years of hard, dangerous and bloody work with the passing of this ballet measure. What a sucker I am thinking that a city would uphold their obligation to me and my family for the work I did and will continue to do. I could go on but I will end it with this, there is no way in hell I will let me boys be policemen. One sucker in the family is enough!