The Coast News Group

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Public manipulation in hiring of the new city manager

The council continues to hold “for show” meetings. The hearing to consider the qualifications desired in the next city manager appears to be the most recent example.  The council claimed they wanted to include the public in the process, but there were whiffs of insincerity.
I asked the City Manager Search Subcommittee (Stocks and Houlihan) how public comments would actually be used in the process. No reply. Why no reply? Well, public comments were collected after decisions appear to have been finalized. Indeed, this time the council didn’t even bother with a ceremonial vote. They just announced what criteria would be forwarded to the city’s search firm without a vote. The criteria had been finalized before the public meeting. Most of the public speakers didn’t realize this.
I spoke and simply stated that I thought the council should consider asking candidates if they would be open to a 401K retirement rather than a pension. We have at least two council members (Barth and Gaspar) who indicated in the last campaign that they are interested in pension reform. The hiring of the new city manager was a great opportunity to start over, at least for this single employee. The city manager would oversee any forthcoming citywide pension reform and it would be good for her to set an example.
It turns out that someone in charge already decided the new city manager would be getting a CalPERs 2.7 percent at 55 retirement package. I can find no evidence that the council ever publicly endorsed or discussed these terms of employment. The council must have approved this or passively endorsed it because the job advertisements clearly state the new city manager will get a defined benefits retirement package. 
I thought the council is supposed to hold a vote, on record, regarding terms and conditions of the manger’s employment. I asked council members Gaspar and Barth if they approved this pension plan for the new city manager. Barth claims she was unaware of any decision. Gaspar eventually responded (after I began circulating this editorial). She said there has not been council discussion of the benefits package. She also says that she’s now looking into the possibility of giving the city manager an alternative retirement plan. She didn’t mention that when I spoke in front of council weeks ago. She says there is still plenty of time to figure it out, but it seem to me like it’s a little late.
I accidentally came across the city manager job advertisement, which clearly states the position comes with a 100 percent CalPERS pension. Peckham and Mckenney, the city’s search firm, had printed the advertisement. This was odd because I had been in correspondence with the firm trying to find out how the public’s input would be used, given that the City Council never voted to endorse any of the ideas presented by the public. 
Peckham & Mckenney continued to present vague assurances that the public’s comments would be utilized. It was a snow job. Not once did the firm indicate my comments regarding pension reform for the city manager were worthless for the selection process because the decision had already secretly been made Peckham & Mckenney had already been instructed to offer a CalPERS pension and they printed up advertisements saying so.
It sure looked like Peckham & Mckenney were aiding the city’s manipulation of the public. I let the firm know of this conclusion and asked them to explain why they never mentioned the retirement package had already been established and asked for them to tell me the conclusion was wrong. They told me they couldn’t answer those questions and to direct my questions to the city.


Charles McDermott March 23, 2011 at 9:57 pm

The City needs to cite very clearly the legal statue that prevents them from putting the new City manager on a 401K system that is outside of the CalPERS pension plan. The City manager is NOT under union contract so I can see no reason why he cannot be on a 401K – plus some of their managers on contract are already EXCLUDED from participating in the pension. There is a strong desire by the City to get this person in the pension system before they re-negotiate employee contracts. A 401K’er is going have a lot less sympathy for millionaire pensions than a fellow CalPERS clubber will – this is a critical issue.

Kevin Cummins March 23, 2011 at 9:13 am

It has been weeks since I asked the council to consider asking candidates if they would accept a defined contribution package. It has been over a week since Gaspar claims to have contacted HR to ask them about the option. I have sent follow up emails to her and the entire council asking what factual information was provided to the City Council regarding this issue. No response yet. Right now it sure seems like the city wants that information to be kept secret.

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