The Swing Vote

Back in July 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from England and adopt the Declaration of Independence. However, there were several votes before the final vote that were not unanimous as some colonies voted no or chose to abstain.

Voting is an opportunity not everyone across the globe is afforded. We know that in close elections every vote counts. We also know that in our respective legislative bodies (at different levels of government) that each vote casted by an elected official has a magnified impact.

There have been many times throughout my elected tenure that I have casted the sole no vote. There was the time when I voted against spending $2.26 million dollars on golf nets for the already problematic golf courses the City owns.  Most recently I was the only vote against transferring Old City Hall to the County.  Other no votes included funding Mexican Heritage Plaza (again), raising residential recycling fees at a rate higher than inflation, labor contracts that tie the City’s hands, converting industrial land to housing, subsidizing Hayes Mansion or housing developments that do not pay property taxes yet require more services.

The City Council met on June 24 to discuss the mayor’s proposal on providing guidance on current negotiations for proposed ballot language and retirement reform. There were five councilmembers in support of the proposal put forward by the mayor and there were five against.

It came to me to cast the final vote. I could have supported the Mayor’s proposal, however, I needed the negotiations of such an important issue to be public. Negotiations really need to be made pubic, in my opinion, so that retirees, employees, residents, basically everyone, could see what is being said.

The largest union by membership, AFSCME-MEF, wanted negotiations to be public and I feel that the concept of public negotiations is good.  I attended most of the public negotiation sessions for our city attorney union and found the sessions extremely valuable to hear for myself what was being said. These meetings simply let any member of the public sit and listen. No speaking was allowed by members of the public, however they could observe.  This seemed to be a fair way of doing it instead of some suggestions like mandating that only certain members of the City Council could attend the negotiations and no members from the public, or that negotiations should be done during a council meeting which would possibly make council meetings last several days.

Issues of trust have been brought up and I feel public meetings would make those who feel there is a lack of trust be confronted with the reality of seeing for themselves what is said.

I asked that the motion on June 24 be amended to allow public negotiations for those unions that are open to having them conducted as a public meeting. The city cannot force a union to make the meeting public as they must offer.  We debated the topic for 45 minutes going back and forth. The first motion did not entertain making these meetings public if a union was open to it. The vote on the first motion was 5-6 no, which included myself voting no. After considerable discussion a final motion was made that allowed review of proposals for public negotiations. The proposals from the unions would be brought back to the Council for consideration. My preference was to automatically accept proposals that followed the city attorney union public meetings model however there was resistance on the council.

The final motion which included the opportunity for public negotiations passed on 6-5 vote, which included myself voting yes.

Sometimes a single vote can be symbolic and sometimes it can be the deciding factor. In either circumstance my votes are consistent.


  1. Nice example of where withholding a yes vote forced a little positive movement on a public policy issue.

    As another observation, when public bodies have frequent unanimous votes and handle most or all business in a consent calender kinda way, its a sign that the politicians are really not that engaged and they “trust” staff to do the right thing and only bring things to them after they’ve been vetted and researched.

    In some cases, this might work, but not often.  What happens is that staff become unelected custodians of public business and you get some silly shenanigans (think Santa Clara Valley Water District, City of Bell, etc.)

    While SJ is a large, complex city and the business of running the city government is a full time job for hundreds, council members are not only paid a full-time salary, but given an office budget sufficient for 1-5 aides.  If they could invest more intellectual energy in “fine details” of running the city, we’d probably all benefit as a community.  More debate in council chambers actually helps staff and the community through “fine tuning” how wedeliver the best possible public goods and services.

    We could almost use a civic organization like the commonwealth club to hold some roundtables to discuss regional and local public policy and help in the shaping of new or revised plans.  Seems like its been a closed loop for waaaaaaaaaaay too long with the same players and thinking dominating discussions and implementation.

  2. PO

    Keep up good work

    Pensions, city employee and city building contracts are largest city costs but city government has stalled, delayed and used weak excuses to prevent residents and taxpayers from knowing all the details and having open public meetings

    Many residents have learned to do NOT trust Council and especially city administrators because we know they are not being 100% truthful, tell us only facts that support what they have decided to do before they started Council meeting and manipulate public opinion by withholding facts so public can not tell what is happening, who is being truthful or where taxes are being spent  

    The unions publicly have said they want open public meeting so public and their members can see what is going on while labor elected Council members an d mayor Reed support City Managers recommendation to continue closed door secret meeting

    PO or others that know:

    Who is telling truth ?

    Do unions support or oppose open public meetings and if so why do their Council members vote against open meetings ? 

    Do some unions want open meeting ( who ? ) and others ( who ? ) do not, if so why should public trust unions if we do not trust city government for hiding facts and information from public ?

    Why does Chuck Reed who ran on open government principals now opposed open public city / union meetings about spending many millions city taxes ?  Has he switched to closed government after starting his last term betraying public’s trust ?

    What do unions and Mayor Reed want to hide where taxes go from public ?

  3. Pierlugi,

    Keep voting for more public meetings for negotiations, pensions, any tax spending that benefits private groups / companies and other important public issues,

    Everyone, employees, residents, retirees taxpayers should see what is being said, what are issues and where our taxes are spent

    Great defining political issue for next Mayor and Council elections:

    Candidates who support openness vs candidates who support city’s closed door political deals where taxpayers do not know where tax money is spent while paying higher and higher taxes for less and less services

    Let Voters decide – openness or more close door political deals

  4. We do not want any closed door sessions. As taxpayers, we have the right to see what is being done, what is being said, what is being decided and how the decisions are made. We have a right to see where our tax dollars are being spent. At this time, it appears that our tax dollars have not been used appropriately. We want this corrected and we want it corrected now!

  5. Your Honor,

    You have been correct all along with your position of open negotiations. Public negotiations are innovative for a number of reasons, chief amongst them, in my opinion, is that open negotiations serves as a “checks and balance system to combat corruption”, especially in combatting corruption in “government contracts”.

    Not that “contracts” have much meaning any more, with reference to what Council is doing to city employees, who are dues paying union members and the just bargains that were entered in to in “good faith” are being systematically and unilaterally abrogated by you and your brother and sister Councilmembers.

    There continues to be unnecessary and destructive consequences that are influencing the city organization to wit the city may not recover from as contracts with employees are unilaterally made void by either private or public ministerial edicts.

    One such example came at the last or next to the last Rules and Open Government Committee meeting where the Auditor is looking into the ramifciations that the loss of employees in specialized areas will have negative consequences to city operations.  Even the City Manager chimed in on this issue and said, “the organization is vulnerable”.

    Public negotiations will have no meaning if contracts are not respected and upheld as viable instruments that embody the course and scope of good faith and understanding between the parties.

    As to the June 24th meeting there was an incident that was very disturbing and should be outlawed.

    The incident involved the City Manager’s Director of Communication as he saw fit to “statistically manipulate the timeing of the ballot iniative, the number of issues on the ballot to achieve the administrations goals.”

    Taxpayers may not want to fund this type of government activity. Even though it was done “publically”.

    David S. Wall

  6. Hey lets start with the Sunshine as Reed puts it with Measure V and W. Oh I forgot closed sessions, no citizen input, last minute late night work to get it on the ballot! Sure we trust you! You will NEVER be trusted!

  7. > Hey lets start with the Sunshine as Reed puts it with Measure V and W. Oh I forgot closed sessions, no citizen input, last minute late night work to get it on the ballot! Sure we trust you!


    You want sunshine?

    How about if ALL voters were allowed to vote in union elections?

    After all, EVERY voter is affected by what the union lunkheads decide to do in their “negotiations” with the vothers.  So, EVERY voter should be able to vote for the union lunkhead leaders.

    I’m sure this will cut done on the union “hostage taking” and fully restore the principle of “Government By The People, For The People”.

    • you don’t even have to take the drastics steps mentioned above to get a little insight to the unions and their secrecy.  The City’s web site is fully open to the public, calendars of the elected officals and Department heads and all the budget documents from revenues to expenditures.  You even get to see City memos with ideas for retirement reform to comment on; haven’t seen much from the unoin on concrete ideas in that area and I hope they come forward.  Try to get on a union web site and a citizen is blocked to certain sections.  Let’s see the union officials calendars and the budgets for the unions posted online, their dues intake and their expenditures including the union board salaries.

  8. Measure V and W will be the saving grace for this City.  I predict that in three years the public employee compensation and retirement packages will be at a level that is sustainable for the revenues and we will see an increase in public safety employees.

  9. “lets start with the Sunshine as Reed puts it with Measure V and W. Oh I forgot closed sessions, no citizen input, last minute late night work to get it on the ballot! Sure we trust you! You will NEVER be trusted!”

    What the Heck does it matter HOW Measures V & W were written?  The fact is, they were presented to the voters, and the voters overwhelmingly approved them.  The citizens got an opportunity to provide their full input on Election Day of last November.

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