The Worst Way to Spend Taxpayer Money

NBC News anchor Brian Williams recently admitted that he lied about an incident in Iraq. His punishment: a six-month suspension with no pay.

In San Jose, three top-level city managers were recently shown the door after dysfunction overtook the office. Their punishment: six months pay.

Maybe we should have simply suspended them.

The anger expressed by San Jose Inside commenters regarding the city payouts is representative of the public at large. A substantial segment of the population doesn’t believe taxpayer money is being used effectively; excessive payouts simply reinforce that idea.

In any large institution, government or otherwise, there will be some waste, fraud and abuse. Most of government works well and government employees often take on extra tasks simply to ensure service is provided to the electorate. These stories are not well chronicled by the media, but they are highlighted when individuals are recognized by their jurisdictions for going above and beyond the call of duty. Awards usually consist of a plaque and picture with public officials. These workers certainly are not rewarded with a six-month vacation.

To the larger point, taxpayers don’t want to pay for nothing. The old line applies that people will pay for a hand up, but not a handout. Conservatives will rail against people who take welfare, and yet when one points to government subsidies for businesses, they will express similar opposition at a lower decibel. It’s incredible how low-income people of color, and especially single mothers, are considered a greater pestilence to our nation’s bottom line than the grinning suit with his hand out.

If government officials are truly concerned about the perception of how they handle taxpayer money, paying people to go away should violate policy—and not become the norm for doing business. We should also have more stories on how individuals in government are making a difference—and not simply those who hold public office.

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. San Jose taxpayers have a long, silent history of apathy regarding their ineffective, unethical and untruthful elected leaders… and the administrators those buffoons then hire.

  2. When You have been making Horse Shoes as long as I have behind my Anvil as I have, You see things, most people don’t see, or dare, not to point out publicly..
    I’ll give you just one for instance, and then, I’ll leave it to the word smiths to get tangled up with each others tongues.
    Our X Mayor requested 6 million dollars to improve the facades along San Pedro . I must add that he owns all of that territory.
    But, just before the roof caved in on san Jose, our now dead horse mayor, gives our X mayor 6 million bucks, in American money! Huh?
    OK! time passes, right? Now it is time to go there and take a look at our new and improved old town. When I got to the North end of San Pedro doing so without seeing any improvement to our old town, What I saw was this shinny tin building. The first words out of my mouth, were ” What The Hell!”!. Second words were,”Why would they let any one build a gas station, in the most beautiful part of old San Jose! To date I have not been back there but to make My dear friend Ray O”flaherty”s bronze Plaque that now hangs at the entrance to his pub. All of Ray’s old friends at Henry’s High Life, pitched in and now that street is much more improved.
    Rich, Thanks for stirring up the pot!
    By the wonderful smells coming from my kitchen, I believe my Marinara with meat Sauce, is ready,
    Bon Appetit

  3. Smithey–don’t forget the $5.5 million+ of tax money for The Fallon House, another one of Tom’s black holes for money.

  4. There are two problems. Civil service jobs have become politicized. This means that anyone that takes a high profile job needs the protection of an employment contract. Those employment contracts make it hard to get rid of people guilty of incompetence or malfeasance. That creates the second problem. It’s easier to pay someone to go away than it is to fire someone.

    • Actually in the case of these three people you mentioned, I don’t think that all of them deserved to be shown the door. I’m not sure that Shikada was anything more than a political firing.

  5. > It’s incredible how low-income people of color, and especially single mothers, are considered a greater pestilence to our nation’s bottom line than the grinning suit with his hand out.

    Well, here’s a free-floating, unattributed, malignant judgement of someone or other, apparently NOT Rich Robinson.

    How about naming some names, Rich. Spell it out, Rich.

    WHO are you accusing of considering “low-income people of color,…especially single mothers” to be a “pestilence”?

    Planned Parenthood? Barbara Boxer? KKK Exalted Cyclops Robert Byrd?

  6. The majority of govt appoinnments do not get these payouts. But those in the highest levels have no civil service protection. They are at will employees and at the city manager level very much affected by politics esp in bigger cities. They run programs and services that have a greater impact on our lives then the latest video gaming software or whatever else our high dollared private sector workers provide . If you want good people to work in the public sector at the highest levels you have to pay them a competitive salary and benefits and offer them employment contracts. I know you public sector bashers don’t want to hear this but this is the reality. And if you are challenging the payout then go complain to the City Attorney’s office and HR depts. They recommend this because of litigation from the PRIVATE sector.

  7. Of course the SJ city attorney’s office wants to avoid litigation. They don’t have anyone in the office with the cojones to try a lawsuit. That’s why they recommend paying millions of $$ annually to the relatives of scumbags shot by police officers whose lives were threatened by the scumbags.

  8. Betty, I would buy your argument if it applied to police, fire and library services as well. But the only time we hear the need for “competitive” salaries is for those at the top of the food chain. Paying for nothing is galling and the salaries of Administrators have become absurd.

  9. Right on Rich! It’s not just local government administrators that are overpaid. Just look at the public education system. A gazillion school districts in Santa Clara County alone, each with bloated, high paid administrative staffs, all overseen by yet another layer of administrators who add little to the education of our kids–Di Salvo and his crowd. Meanwhile, teachers have to use their own money to buy basic supplies for the kids because the school budgets are sucked dry by administrators’ salaries and benefits.

    • What grinds my gears was seeing the James Lick Parking lot converted to retail parking. The biggest blunder/failure that we voters have done is allowed these same folks you’re talking about JMO convert school land, either purchased or granted into housing or retail just so they can keep padding their own pockets.

  10. JMO, I have long opined against the sheer number of school districts and the respective administrations that exist. We have nearly 1,000 school districts in a state that has 58 counties.

    • I understand you live in Cupertino. Would you be for merging the Cupertino Union and Fremont Union High School districts into Santa Clara Unified?

      • I strongly agree with Rich’s point about too many school districts. Unfortunately, defensive arguments from Nimbies, strongly urged by self-interested, threatening bureaucrats and incapable politicians (our fault) often in cahoots, make a County wide redistricting unlikely. That could reduce a lot of overhead at the highest points of the bureaucratic food chain. Just combining Cupertino and Fremont Union HS (not including SCUSD) would save a lot, although not the best example. Campbell Union & the separate HS which are my districts is a better example. In fact, those probably shouldn’t exist at all, and should be pieced out in a geographically more appropriate manner. The County logistics have changed dramatically over the last 60 years, but the school districts have had no or little change.

        • I also believe combing all Union representation into County wide representations would be a great benefit to both the general population, and the Union members themselves. A lot of time and money is wasted by making each negotiation a (too many) district negotiation. Those separate representations are one of the obstacles to Redistricting. The separate district seniorities are also a disadvantage to Union membership, especially the newest teachers coming in, with the possible volatility of demographics dictating school openings and closings

  11. Rich again you are missing the point. All of those people you listed get civil service protection. And I think folks in those positions do get paid competitive salaries, and benefits or at least they did prior to Measure B. If you in an at will position especially one that is political it is not unreasonable to ask for an employement contract.

  12. “Who” ever made the decision to whack the City Manager, Did not want to take on a law suit. So, Every one got paid to go away. Was it arrogance, or brilliance! Hell, it’s only their Money.
    While I’m on the subject of brilliance, I and a friend walk every day past the stainless steel bird cage, better known as
    R2 D2, on our walk through City Hall and the University. It is always empty!
    Yet behind it is a bivouac of homeless. Tents, push carts, etc.
    Get those folks into Ron Gonzales’s homeless Aviary at night.
    Arrogance built that Bird House, with our money.
    Was that brilliant , or , what?
    Some body, call the Cops?

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