Figone Fires Back at Police Union President

City manager Debra Figone didn’t let police get the last word of the fiscal year regarding contentious labor negotiations and the first layoffs of officers in the city’s history. On Thursday, she sent a memo to the mayor and city council countering an op-ed piece written by Police Officers Association president George Beattie, which blamed city officials for the layoffs of almost 70 officers.

In her memo, Figone notes that the city has cut $680 million in spending over the last 10 years of deficits and lost 2,000 positions total. "While we are all sorry to see almost 70 officers leave City service today," she writes, "I’m confident that you join me in also feeling sorry for the many other talented City employees who have also been laid off either this year or in the recent past."

Figone also took issue with Beattie’s criticism over not accepting a federal COPS grant, which would have saved the jobs of 53 officers. Beattie failed to note that the city would have been on for $16 million over four years, according to the city manager.

"With regard to the COPS grant which was characterized as a ‘botched opportunity,’ what the op-ed failed to note is that acceptance of the full COPS grant would have burdened the General Fund with an additional $16 million over the next four years," Figone writes. "Given the current state of the City’s finances, we simply could not make that commitment."

With the city expecting a $78 million deficit for the 2012-13 fiscal year, Figone says that "(w)ithout additional concessions such as retirement reform, the discretionary part of the budget left to solve this shortfall will be only about $419 million, with more than $300 million of that devoted to public safety. We confront a future with limited choices. I expect that the reductions necessary to balance the budget will once again include public safety, unless something else on the cost side changes. In reality this means progress on real, bankable retirement and other fiscal reform.”

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.


  1. Police Chief Figone, you failed this city.  Just retire you can get your lifetime bonuses/benefits and $200k+ salary in yearly retirement.  We already know that more police will be fired (layed off) next year( at least 200, to get to your magical 900 number), because of their unfunded pensions . Hopefully, once the new baseball stadium is built they can name one of the bathrooms in your honor.

  2. A decade of poor decisions at city hall has created a very bleak future for San Jose residents.  We are already reading that officers’ safety is at risk with a lack of units to provide backup this past weekend. How long until an officer is injured because all the backup units have been laid off?

    We know our crime problems will only get worse with so few police officers yet our leaders are already planning for another round of police layoffs next year.  We need new leaders with a real plan for solving San Jose’s serious budget crisis that does not depend on turning more San Jose residents into crime victims.

  3. And how did she account for the roughly $1 billion allocated to the “Special” Fund or the *other* $1 billion city fund… 10% from each of those into the General Fund is $200 million.  Fight that Court battle instead of blaming employees!

    San Jose has been a safe and friendly place for decades due to City employees.  Now that the bill is due for that service (retirements), the leaders of San Jose don’t want to pay the bill.  Try that with PG&E after you used their gas and electricity.

    While Figone, Reed and the remaining knuckleheads on the Counsel lament about 3rd world conditions, they truly are not fixing the problems they created.  Public safety and infrastructure are the CORE services that should be funded, not libraries, airports, convention centers, baseball stadiums and the like.  This fiscal emergency is a structured farce and the media is complicit in it.

    • The special fund and capital fund are accounted for and it ieasy to follow the money.  You just need to read the volumes of finaince reports.  While the unions keep saying it is easy ot transfer the funds, it is not.  We would all like to just take some money from those funds but at this time it can not be done wihtin the frameowrk of the budget and the law. The revenue streams for the general fund have shrunk; property tax, construction and conveyence tax, sales tax have beceome less over the last couple years while retirement costs have soared.  Just like the cops saying take the grant and don’t worry about the $16 million, that would be irresponsible.  You can keep attacking the City Manager and Mayor, but they are working wihtin the constraints of the system with the real facts, not the imaginary facts and statstics used by the unions.

      • The city manager, mayor and counsel seem more than willing to challenge laws when it comes to pensions and anything else that stands in the way of their agenda?  If they wanted to, they could do the same for fund reallocation.

      • Retirement costs have not soared over the last few years. The City decided to cover the unfunded liability with a 5 year schedule instead of longer.

        You should have seen that in your volumes of knowledge. Fighting a Cpurt battle to take money from the other funds is more palatable than taking away pensions.

        • The retriement costs for Fire alone went up drmatically in 2008 when they were awrded by an arbitrator 3% at 20, a system you dnn’t see anywhere else.  This alone was millions in unfunded costs.  Also GASB 43 and 45 dictated that funds must be solvent and is one of the reasons for the 5 year schedule.  Thank the federal government.  The retirement system must be fixed along with looking for other revenue streams.

  4. “With the city expecting a $78 million deficit for the 2012-13 fiscal year,….”

    The closer it gets to year 2012-2013, the higher the deficit will be announced. They will announce it higher and higher so they can justify what they want to do with the budget. Watch…it will probably be up to $120 million by that time. Investigation is needed. How can your deficit climb $20, 30 50 million in a matter of a couple of months, yet that is what it does. The closer the time for passing the budget, the higher the numbers get. Check the history.

  5. “Yeah, we wiped out in finance and real estate, but the real problem was our own poor choices. We tried to import jobs you must grow yourself. We tried to save cities with ballparks and convention centers. We borrowed like shopaholics, shortchanged pension funds and barely showed up for collective bargaining.”

    That’s the governor of Connecticut talking about the state’s woes. Some of it works for us here in San Jose too. Read the whole story in Thursday’s NYTimes.

  6. The mayor himself in an interview on KGO a while ago indicated that we could have afforded to fund as many and 20 positions from the COPS grant (10 more than the city manager decided to apply for). Councilmember Constant authored a budget memo to provide for the funds to pay for ALL 53 positions that could have been funded by the COPS grant. But on on Figone’s point that we couldn’t afford it, the city would only have been required to pay $1 million per year over 3 years to fund these positions and then in the 4th year when the majority the city’s burden came due San Jose could easily have afforded funding the remaining responsibility with the savings that the city will realize from the MANY officers who will retire over the next 4 years.

    But all of these arguments aside, the biggest load of BS in the City Manager’s memo is the implication that applying for these funds somehow obligated the city to accept the grant if it were awarded. This is FALSE. If the City manager had applied for all 53 positions, and if the federal government—in August—awarded funding for all of these positions, the city council still would have had to vote to accept the funds.

    City Manager Figone, look in the mirror and point your finger at yourself—the truth hurts. 43 of the 66 officers who lost their jobs yesterday did so needlessly due to your failure to effectively manage this city, and your usurping of power from the public’s elected representatives.

  7. Didn’t I read recently that the General Fund is also being used to cover $20 million worth of redevelopment obligations for the next fiscal year?  Meanwhile land sits undeveloped, owned by the RDA, in the delusional hopes of a baseball stadium purported to be the great saviour of San Jose.  Awesome job City management!  Keep up the mediocre work!

    • THe real interesting thing to look at is who ownes that all that land. not just the name on paper but behind those companies and names you will find out that Mayor Greed is a substantial owner of those land taht are are being developed and of the land that is being sold through the RDA.  He is self-serving his needs as mayor to rape the city of monies in order to line his pockets.  Recently, city counsel member found that he has benn hiding 2 to 3 million dollars that the CITY allocated for his re-election campaign.  that olone could have saved the jobs of all those officers.  BUt, as the mayoe said “HE and the counsel are not held to the sme ethical standards as the police that serve this city”.  IMPEACHMENT sounds good to me and take away his life time medical paid by the city.

      • “you will find out that Mayor Greed is a substantial owner of those land taht are are being developed and of the land that is being sold through the RDA.  He is self-serving his needs as mayor to rape the city of monies in order to line his pockets.”

        It really needs to be investigated.

      • You placing Mayor Reed as a major land owner of the property is ludicrious.  Show us the paper work. I do not believe that and your statement has no facts to support it.  Your also outlandish calim that the City hasput asisde 2 to 3 million for his re election is also false.  The City Council, mayor and Adminstrators are held to very high ethical standards, completing several forms yearly documenting their expenditures as well as any gifts etc.  They complete the forms every year and they are public record.  Talk about no ethical standard, the union representatives are held to no standard or accountability of their expenditures of their members dues and can and do spend on some unscrupulous things.

        • Please……government/politics not matter what level (especially San Jose) has NO high level of ethical standards…..funny how the surrounding cities are able to work with their citizens, balance their budgets, and not spend taxpayer money on crap….hahahaha

        • The form 700’s are on file for the elected officials and shows their property holdings, gifts etc. and I am sure the forms dispute what the original post ‘truth hurts’ posted regarding the mayor properrty holdings. Nothing on file for Union leaders or lobbyists, they are not held to the same standards.  Not sure if the previous mayors forms are there or he completed them, but look for trips to Mexico for fishing excursions, a few trips around the State to various conventions etc all provided by the union monies.  Thats just a few union “expenses”, there are many more.  Our current elected officials are scrutinized more closely now than in the past; the union leaders are not held to the same standards and have found it difficult to oprerate under the new system.

        • Form 700 doesn’t necessarily mean that the truth is being told on those forms. Does anyone filling out those forms have to show proof that what they are inputting is correct? Do they have to show tax records, or is their word the only acceptance of truth?

        • “…Talk about no ethical standard, the union representatives are held to no standard or accountability of their expenditures of their members dues and can and do spend on some unscrupulous things…”

          Show us the paper work. I do not believe that and your statement has no facts to support it.

        • I don’t beleive tax records are required, but it is equivilant to perjury if the information is not correct.  They are an official document and can be used in court.

      • How can we find out if the Mayor Reed is part owner of some of this City land that is being sold. I would like to know.

        I do have one other question. You stated that recently, a city counsel member found out that Reed has been hiding 2 to 3 million dollars that the City allocated for his re-election campaign. Surely you mean for his prior second term, correct? Being that he is termed out, there is nothing else for him to be elected to. Not within city government.

        Lastly, the mayor cannot be “impeached”. He has to be recalled.

    • You know what I get tired of seeing voters do?  Blame the elected officials.  Why?  WE PUT THEM THERE.  Go look in the mirror, you got nobody but yourself to blame.

      • Ofcourse you would make such an ignorant statement your family is all politicians.
        Your statement makes as much sense as saying “well yeah mesherle shot Oscar grant but mesherle is a cop. Just accept it because he was good enough to get hired”
        Brilliant…no wonder your a bouncer at a dive bar

        • >>Brilliant…no wonder your a bouncer at a dive bar

          Brilliant enough to see you don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re”. 

          “Your” is a possessive pronoun, it would be like saying
          “No wonder you own a bouncer at a dive bar”

          Now let’s try that with the contraction “You’re” (which means, “you are”
          “No wonder you are a bouncer at a dive bar”

          Guess that makes me smarter than you dumbass.Got anything else smart to say?  You can’t even grasp the English language, let alone word your thoughts into something coherent the rest of the English writing world would understand.

          Your (see?  possessive pronoun bitch) entire comment is so filled with grammar errors, fragmented sentences (which is amazing because it is so short) it’s amazing you would even consider posting.

          I guess I shouldn’t pick on you.  It would be like picking on the kids at special Olympics. You’re still a dumb ass though.

        • Actually you are grammatically correct. My problem was letting my iPad correct my spelling and me not re-checking. Sorry bob. But, although you immediately fall back on name calling I will not.
          Now go check some IDs and calm down.

        • I hereby declare Robert Cortese the clear victor.
          With his unprovoked condescending remarks toward Mr. Cortese’s occupation Wendell White revealed himself to be an effete Silicon Valley elitist.

          Final Score:
          Cortese 1   White 0

        • I believe you started this hankie fight with the name calling (I think it was “ignorant” and the sarcastic “brilliant”.)  Why are you trying to change the history of our thread when it’s posted in black and white above us?  You obviously have the attention span of a goldfish.

          Don’t blame your inability to understand the difference between “your” and “You’re” on your Ipad. You should be the one running for office, you’re chock full of excuses.

  8. Once again, Debra Figone demonstrates her disdain for virtually every stakeholder affected by the layoffs – City Council, citizens, and police officers alike. Her latest memo is a slap in the face to anyone who is paying any attention and an insult to the intelligence of all involved. Here’s why:

    1. Assuming the feds awarded the grant for all 53 officers, the city would have incurred a (wait for it) whopping $16 million obligation to retain those 53 officers for an additional year. This would have required that the city set aside a comparatively paltry $5 1/3 per year for the first three years of the grant. Depending on the budget for the General Fund for those three years, this is anywhere from 1/2 to 3/4 of a percent of the general fund.

    2. Retirement services estimates that more than 100 officers will retire in the next two years – well before the bill would come due for the $16 million in the fourth year. Assuming (a safe assumption here) that the city does no hiring in the next couple years the net result is still attrition and a loss of manpower – in other words, the cost of retaining those officers would be completely offset by the time year 4 rolled around.

    3. Assuming that the costs for retaining those 53 officers was relatively stable over the course of the 4 years, the total savings to the city by accepting the grant would be $48 million for those 3 years. By failing to apply for all 53 positions – walking away from the possibility of retaining 43 additional officers – the city walked away from a total of $7.525 million in training costs or just slightly less than half the cost of the obligation for that fourth year. All told, by laying off 66 officers, they walked away from $11.55 million in training costs. Again, this was unnecessary since within the next couple of years retirements will more than offset the cost of having retained them. And, at some point, San Jose is going to have to make good those costs all over again – probably much sooner than anyone in charge over at City Hall is willing to admit.

    This whole thing – the layoffs, the ‘pension reform’, the wage concessions – have vastly more to do with enabling the city to have more disposable income for things like a stadium, for political paybacks and for pandering to special interests who can’t stomach the idea of seeing something like that money pit called the Mexican Heritage Plaza get cut loose from the city purse strings.

    In short, this is politics of the worst, most cynical variety and the only people who are getting ahead are the politicians, Debra Figone, her friends, and various special interests. Certainly the public interest is not being served.

      • If, by ‘member’, you mean to ask if I sit on the board, the answer is ‘no’. If, however; you mean to ask if I am a part of the general membership, the answer is ‘yes’. However this is not by choice. Immediately after the vote, a number of us have expressed a desire to withdraw our membership from the POA. For most of us, the reasons are twofold: a deep dissatisfaction with the representation offered by many on the board and, secondarily, because membership has become more expensive than we care to have to afford. Unfortunately, and in the best tradition of the worst practices of unions elsewhere, we have been told that we cannot resign our membership until November.

  9. City employees who are having trouble shaking a persistent case of ‘low morale’ might consider moving to a job in the real world workplace, an environment that is inhospitable to the ‘low morale’ virus.

    • “The real world,” are you you talking about the M-TV show. Or maybe it’s the show ” The Office.” My friend, you have no idea what the real world is. Not my fault you sit in a cubicle with the safety of a dead end job making millions for some one else.

      Come with me and strap on a rifle and gun on your hip, put a bullet proof vest on and steel toe boots and then walk up to a house where you know violence has occurred in the past. That is the real world my friend.

      Like Lt. Co. Grossman said, there are sheep, and sheepdogs and wolves. You have have NO idea.

  10. Our police department has been destroyed by Reed, Figone, and certain city council members. They made the decision to spend money on feel good projects and failed business ventures rather than public safety. Our department already had the lowest per capita ratio of officers to citizens in the United States. Now it is 200 less with the lay offs and retirements. Wholesale investigative units at the department have been eliminated. Good luck, San Jose. George spoke the truth. Figone can try to put any spin she wants on it, but she knows the truth of the situation.

  11. This was the most embarrassing day in city history. They wasted 8 million dollars training these young officers that other agencies will hire. While all this is going on, Mayor Greed is giving interviews to the mercury news sports writer Mark Purdy. He’s telling him how he is going to fly out to Milwaukee for a Brewers game and protest in front of the stadium, so he could put pressure on Mr. Selig to make a decision on a stadium. A little out of touch. In the article, he state’s how the top 150 companies in silicon valley worth 1.5 trillion dollars support a stadium. Wow, how about these companies start paying there fare share of taxes so we can build 10 stadiums.

    I hear the city manager has been writing a lot memo’s lately, some hand written so there is no e-mail trail, because employees are calling her out. What happened to being transparent.

    NO CLASS. Corrupt, unethical, liars. If they were running a business, they would have fired. Their day is coming.

    Read the SJPOA vanguard about the acting police chief of Costa Mesa. That man has a spine. Hopefully the leaders of the SJPD will read that article and grow one.

    • The SJPOA ageed to this contract and convinced the membership to sign.  Yet time and time again it is reported the Department will lose more officers next year.  Should have let the city cut all the officers and let the Chief and elected city officials deal with the fall out.  Your own people have no spine.
        Stand up using your spine and let the city cut.  Politically it is better to bleed a little every year for the city.  In a year nobody will even know those officers left.  City 2 Association 0

        • But, a significant majority of the union chose to actually participate (like you did) and a majority of the participants approved. The POA put a contract before the membership – it didn’t put a gun to anyones head to take all of the steps necessary for a member to vote (have a poa web account, logon, find the proposal on the site, cast a vote, validate the vote…).

          there might be a point if “turnout” was lower – but then one could also say that over the course of the POA’s history votes and surveys generally don’t generate much interest.

    • and not consistently try to bash the unions and the employees, they will have a clearer view of what is REALLY happening. I suspect that is starting to occur, for some, and they are starting to see that the mismanagement is what has caused this city the financial problem…not the pensions. Bashing the pensions and public employees is starting to become old school and people are starting to focus on where the fault REALLY lies and that is with the administration and the mismanagement of the taxpayer’s money. Get the management of the taxpayer’s money back on tract and the financial problems will start to correct. This administration really needs to be replaced. Until we can get the correct people in there, we will have to worry about how the money is being spent. Something is really, really wrong. I think I read somewhere on this blog where mayor reed has his fingers in some of the city’s land that is being sold. Am I getting that right? That just does not sound right to me. I think someone needs to look a little deeper into what is actually going on.

  12. Not only will the deciat go up before 2012-2013 but because of those great Firefighters and Poice Officers we once had, It will be because of their retirement pensions that will cause all this?  Funny how Chuck Reed and some other council members all voted for this and now they blame the Police and Firefighters for all of this. I sat ” RECALL REED”

  13. Facts and Reality writes: We would all like to just take some money from those funds but at this time it can not be done wihtin the frameowrk of the budget and the law.
    Well then change the law.YOU would put a ballot measure to try to change retirement law, why not instead put the ballot to change the law and move
    $ 1 Bil from Capital and $1 Bil from “Special Projects”? Seems to me if YOU really are in a “Fiscal Emergency” this vote would win hands down? Now explain to me WHY YOU cannot do this? All it takes is 6 out of 10 Council votes!

    • First of, I am just a tax paying citizen and do not work for the City or any councilmember.  I would fully support that ballot measure to change the struucture of the various funds and I hope that will happen, as long as it comes with retirement reform also.

    • While I agree that more flexibility is needed in the use of capital and special funds, most are restricted by state and/or federal funds or require approval from other agencies. The largest of these funds are for the airport and water pollution control plant.

  14. The Environmental Services Department has a surplus as a result of the fees that homeowners and businesses pay. The funds are locked up and cannot be used for other services. This is why PO wanted to pay the salaries of specially trained police and fire from that fund, thereby limiting more layoffs. What would it take to change the Muni Code to allow the movement of funds to the general fund in a fiscal emergency? It seems to me that the city has a whole of host of funds that contain money that can be used to save jobs until the economy improves. I think a public review of the budget, its various funds and perhaps a more reasonable way to tap these monies in situations that the city faces today.

  15. ” Figone notes that the city has cut $680 million in spending over the last 10 years of deficits and lost 2,000 positions total. “While we are all sorry to see almost 70 officers leave City service today,” she writes, “I’m confident that you join me in also feeling sorry for the many other talented City employees who have also been laid off either this year or in the recent past.”

    City Hall has lost most of credibility with public and employees becaause it plays number games so that public and unions don’t know what is fake and what is real

    An example – Actual layoffs What is actual number of people laid off by year and department not ” last 10 years of deficits and lost 2,000 positions total ” 

    Most 2000 positions were empty open positions used to hide general fund money then transfer to reserves or used political projects hidhen from public

    Up until 3 years ago – zero ( 0 ) layoffs since 2000

    In last 3 years, best estimate is about 250-350 layoffs total of 2000 positions lost

    Ask City Hall to tell you exactly how many employees have been laid off in last 10 years out of 2000 position lost by year and department ? 

    You will get runaround about actual employees laid off by year and department, not empty position eliminated

  16. There is no doubt that the city manager and mayor are the proud architects of SJPD’s dismemberment but others share culpability too: the POA President and Chief of Police.

    POA President:
    President Beattie’s Merc News op-ed of 06/29/2011 “Opinion: Blame San Jose city leaders, not police officers, for layoffs” is CYA at its best. True, “rank & file” officers are blameless but the POA leadership cannot claim the same. A year ago the City told the POA: come next contract (July, 2011) Tier 1 officers are going to be laid-off…and their lay-offs are non-negotiable. What was the POA’s response? Did President Beattie stand tall and tell the city to pound salt; the brotherhood of “thin blue line” stands together when attacked? Did he publicly inform the citizens of SJ that the elimination of Tier 1 positions reduces public safety to levels that criminally endangers their lives and property? He did not (remember, we are talking about Tier 1 positions, not Tier 2). Fighting for (all) brother and sister officers and exposing the mayor and city managers’ folly (to their constituents) is, or I thought was, what a “union” leader was suppose to do. What did Beattie do…he folded without a fight. Beattie and the rest of the POA hierarchy told the Tier I officers that the POA was NOT going to fight for them; they were to look for jobs elsewhere.

    Why didn’t the POA use their political influence (muscle) with city hall or their positive relationships (goodwill) with community groups? Because the POA has neither and hasn’t for a long time. All they could do was hold job fairs.

    What would cause Beattie to abandon his “best and brightest” from the get-go – fear, a “back room deal”, greed? No way…he wouldn’t take $50.00 a month in extra POA dues (for the last nine months) from the Tier 1 officers and not spend it on saving heir jobs…would he? 

    This should be s fairytale (but it’s not) and Jimmy Hoffa shouldn’t be turning over in his grave (but he is) – wherever he rests. 

    Chief of Police:
    Chief Moore where is your backbone…your honor? Is getting a positive recommendation for your next job (i.e. “he knows where his bread is buttered and will act accordingly”) so important that you are willing to prostitute yourself for the city manager? You have introduced her as your “Boss”. That may be true in a dry city government chain-of-command outline but you took an oath to protect the citizens of San Jose and you swore to uphold the Police Officer Code of Ethics.

    What about the officers you command (lead)… what is your responsibility to them? Months ago you publicly stated that the minimum number of officers you needed to safely police the City of San Jose was 1100 –  1.1 officers per thousand in a city just short of 1,000,000…you have to be kidding. Did the FBI academy you graduated from recommend that staffing level? I think not. What flavor of Kool-Aid does the city manager serve?

    That BS will work with the public in the short run (because they trust their Chief of Police) but when “the cows come home” i.e. violent crime starts infecting the Rose Garden/Almaden Valley area; home burglaries become common place (with a 6 hour+ response time and no follow up investigation); a “drive by” shooting 10x’s a 7 year old (anywhere in the city) – what are you going to say…”the city manager made me do it”?.

    Why didn’t Moore and Beattie hold a news conference together…say 8-10 months ago (maybe several)?  The two them could have stood together in front of the grand old flag, chimed reciprocal tunes and saved the Tier 1 officers positions and the citizens of San Jose from the scores of crimes they should have never have been victims of.  Beattie could have stated that his members understood the City’s financial woes and were willing assist i.e. the 10% pay reduction and pension reform they agreed to; Moore could have said (based upon his education, training and experience) that laying off Tier 1 officers would leave the city all but defenseless against the socially deranged. The two of them, acting in concert, would have stopped the mayor and city manager cold and they would have gained the publics’ trust and confidence…but that type of action takes vision (ability to anticipate possible future events), integrity (maintaining high moral principles) and guts (courage under fire)…something in short supply at SJPD.

    Leadership = Responsibility = Accountability

  17. I am not trying to be unfair here, but I honestly don’t understand this whole debate or issue. How can we as a society put a salary of any fairness on Police, Fire Fighters, or our military personnel? They put their lives on the line for us everyday, see things we will never see, and have horrific memories because of what they deal with on the job. They rarely have time for their spouses, families, or friends. They are the reason we get to walk around feeling safe.

    Both the PRIVATE and public sector pays CEOs and electeds well, so why not Police, Fire, and the military?

  18. It is State Law that does not allow utility finds to be used for any purpose other than that for which they are collected.  Prop 218, a voter initiative, solidified this legal restriction and it can only be changed by another State initiative.  Monies collected in sewer bills must be used for sewer purposes, water funds for water purposes, waste management funds for waste management purposes, etc.  The City can not use utility funds to support the General Fund.  Also, responsible fiscal policy requires a certain fund balance to be maintained in the utility funds to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances.

  19. American democracy works in some funny ways.  We’re a mass society, which means a lot of people with only a few involved in the business of government.  It’s been said that government is everyone’s business, but most people give passive consent and tune out unless there’s a problem.

    When elections roll around or some policy matter in disupute moves high on the agenda, it becomes sort of a civic dialogue in a culture used to sound bites, informercials, sale pitches and highway billboards.  You can imagine the number of really engaged people is still rather small, but suddenly a bunch of people are sort of talking or fleetingly thinking about stuff like health care, pensions, taxes or whatever.

    Trusted authorities are helpful in the shorthand of politics to get “message” out to folks who need talking points for the water cooler and blog-o-shpere.  One of the still useful reasons for political parties is that they help coordinate “message” for leadership and rank-and-file members.

    But let’s be honest, politics like commercial hucksterism is a shady and deceptive business.  We’re not engaging in Lincoln-Douglas style town hall debates in an era where people without radio, televion or other past-times were starved for stimulation.  Civic duty has devolved to something like puting your trash out on time and making sure you seperate the recycleables.  As far as participating in democracy, your sort of expected to agree with the right people (your party) and repeat the right talking points and vote when told to (usually every 4 years.)

    So I said all that to make it clear that op-ed pieces are just part of this all, and don’t represent objective statements of fact.  For that matter, many newspaper stories, even on the front page of credible newspapers can have a selective bias in how they pitch a story (who get’s quoted, what’s quoted. contrasting quotes, and selective research).  Critical Thinking is taught in college and is also a life skill people pick up in life.

    I think most people sort of get it, think about the source, do you trust them, can you corroborate the information, does it have “face validity” etc.  Works with shopping as well as politics.  As far as the City Manager and POA, each has talking points and a viewpoint to espouse representing a public policy preference.  The talking points are a means of moving the public agenda in the direction they wish.  City council members seem to operate the same way, making little stump speeches sometimes before voting (though its clear that most city council votes are decided before folks entire the council chambers and there’s rarely an undecided council member who changes a vote mid-discussion.)  I think congress works this way too.

    So why are we debating at all if folks only listen to people they already agree with and the votes on policy matters are predecided by staff, advisors and contributors before floor debates and voting?

    Because sometimes the public does shape the public policy agenda, especially when an issue moves up fast on the agenda (and a lot of people start paying attention.)  But we rarely punish our own representatives by withholding votes for re-election and don’t even let them know we care about an issue because frankly most people recognize that as one resident and voter they just don’t matter and that folks with money and lobbyists are always going to be more important and powerful.  Unions, however, are helpful in organizing political power and money so that politicians can be rewarded or punished based on how receptive to union issues thay are.  Other interest groups of AARP to the Sierra Club do the same thing, only with narrower interest areas.

    It would be nice to have an actual, intellectual, factual discussion/debate about some of these issues.  But we usually get a circus style quasi-protest with talking points and cheap rhetoric designed to score points with your supporters and not win a real arguement.  Emotional appeals carry far more weight than logic.  Ad hominem attacks are the zingers that work every time.

    Final point = pension reform is a public policy issue.  It impacts every resident and taxpayer.  It needs to be done in a balanced and reasonable way to address costs/liabilities as well as benefits to retention, recruitment and just compensation for loyal service over a lifetime.  I don’t think having a few professionals from the city and union hash it out in a back room is the right way to go, and I don’t think we’ll get a good outcome, just more half-assed compromised public policy designed to pander to powerful interests rather than the greater good.

    • BW,
      Good thought provoking stuff as usual.
      The infrequent and irregular renewal of this site, the long lag time between statement and potential response, coupled with the short attention span of most participants and the tendency to drop yesterday’s discussion and jump onto today’s topic all contribute to the tendency for posters to feel that they have to make their points strong and quick because they won’t get a second chance. This might account for some of the cheap rhetoric. I have to admit, I can add homonyms with the best of ‘em!

      Our political discourse has become increasingly ‘issue oriented’ to the point where we almost never discuss the philosophy that leads us to form our opinions on those issues. We’re so focused on a thousand little details that we never see the big picture.
      The local political scene, particularly, is dominated by people who have adopted one or more specific issues and see some sort of governmental activism as essential to creating the desired effect regarding those issues. There’s practically no counterbalancing voice advocating a general philosophy of extreme reluctance to intrude the power of the government to ‘solve’ a given perceived problems.
      So hell yes Blair. I’d be delighted to see us back up a bit and instead of yelling at one another about the “issues”, go a little deeper and have more Lincoln/Douglas and Founding Father type debates and talk about what we think is the proper role of Government.

      • BW, and John Galt,
        Very well said. I agree completely!

        As to lateness of posts, the owner of this blog requires that our comments be read and pre-approved, a job that is not easy as it requires a lot of time to do, delayed posting is to be expected. Nothing’s perfect, but I thank Eric and Metro staff for working on getting them posted as quickly as possible.

        • Yes, thanks for pointing that out Kathleen. I didn’t mean to be critical of the management of the site. They’ve been doing a great job. The slower pace is more my style and, to me anyway, a nice break from all the instantaneous interconnectedness with which we must contend.
          PS- I’m delighted to see your name appearing more frequently lately under ‘Recent Comments’.

    • Good post Blair. I would however, suggest something of great import. The pension issue alone is far too narrow a focus. What we need, not only to fully comprehend the pension issues but also for accountability of actions, is a city budget breakdown first. I would bet most off all us would be schocked to find that actually less than 30% of this city’s budget is Prop 218 controlled. The municipal code is responsible for twice that much. The rest is discretionary.

      • The budget is available online at the City’s web site. Has been for years. Plenty of info there and in each program’s overview section. Look it up!
        And do you really believe the unions, with their agents, auditors, and attorney’s wouldn’t notice a large pot of unrestricted funds? Gees…….

  20. No legal fireworks show this year, but there’s all kinds of major/near-professional-caliber ordnance being set off all night here in my neighborhood (south of Santa Clara St. between downtown and 101) tonight.

    No sign of any law enforcement presence or visible public services of any kind, as per usual. Can only imagine how much worse these third-world conditions will get in the foreseeable future.

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