Friday, November 5, 2010

Patch story - City Council Members Continue to Cash Out Benefits

Submitted by Lionel Emde


Kathy Meeh said...

Well presented report. This city benefits "cash-out" policy began with the
existing city council 4 years ago. Do other cities have such a policy? I think its rare.

With private industry, such a benefit would be very rare. From working with such benefit plans, I know of none.

Anonymous said...

Interesting and it's always fun to bash 'em but where is the rest of this story? You know, the really big numbers. How about all the other city employees who use this cash out option? I've heard it costs us, the taxpayer, almost a million dollars a year. Part of their union contract? Of course. But it's a relic from the past that should have been ended years ago. That's what other cities did because it is a bad, dangerous idea. Does anyone at City Hall have a clue? Professional staff? Put a cap on it of $100 and get these benefit and pension numbers under control. Idiots!

Kathy Meeh said...

Anon, from my view its no fun to bash city council, but its the 8 year city council 4 that is the issue. Prior to 4 years ago there was NO health cafeteria plan that allowed city council members to take cash if they did not take benefits. Such a plan voted in by the existing 8 year city council 4 (to benefit themselves), 4 years ago is legal but unusual-- really unusual, effectively doubling their pay.

How is it that Pacifica city council qualifies through merit to receive the 2nd highest compensation in San Mateo county? Not the size of the city, not effort to bring about a needed balanced city economy, not a vote that required city council to plot their own "no growth, poor city" strategy.

However, it seems city council base stipend pay should be updated and increased if justified, to compare with other San Mateo County cities.

There is a secondary issue, some accountability standard (other than default, periodic 4 year citizen votes where incumbents generally have an advantage). And, in some instances, some form of merit pay is warranted and should be considered for special productivity-- I can think of one example of that on city council right now.

Anon, not sure who you want to cap $100 for all "benefits and pensions", not even the private sector is generally that draconian. The point you may be making is that employees have been funding their own pensions in part through 401-K and 403-b plans for the past 30 years. Group medical plans are expensive, and most employers these days provide the majority of cost but not all, particularly for families of employees.

Anonymous said...

No. The cap would apply when an employee wants to take the cash instead of the benefits. All or part. Take a real hard look at how this 'cash cow' of a cafeteria plan has bloated labor costs for this city. It's probably more than a million a year. Does council use it. Sure they do. All of them. It is legal and available. But that's not where the big bucks are and it's a bad idea no matter who has it and yet it continues. Stop the politics long enough to take a look at what's really going on and where the significant costs are. Compare a couple of recent dept budgets from year to year to see the real problem. Head counts have not gone up. No one should have this option. Cap it as other SMC cities did years ago. Private industry, with few exceptions has avoided or learned the hard way to avoid this dangerous trap.

Lionel Emde said...

"However, it seems city council base stipend pay should be updated and increased if justified, to compare with other San Mateo County cities."

The Pacifica city council voted themselves an increase from $400 to $700 in 2001 in base salary. The increase took effect after the 2002 election. At that time, it was the second-highest base salary in San Mateo County.

The basic problem, IMO, is that the concept of "public service" is lost. This is not a job. This is a position that calls activists to higher service, and it should not entail higher salaries.

Kathy Meeh said...

Lionel, thanks I'd kind of forgot about the pay increase after the 2002 city council election, probably because I'm less concerned about the stipend increase, and think people should be compensated and ACCOUNTABLE even though this is a "higher citizen service" as you've suggested. Consider with part-time salary of $700 per month, they may not pay off their campaign cost after 1 year.

However, building-in a "cash compensation" as an alternative to a medical/health benefit seems a bit slimy, so I have problems with that and would prefer to see what is paid to city council members as part of their stipend.

We view this city council compensation issue just a little differently, no surprise and no problem. Your research on these issues is stiller, and very much appreciated.

Needless to say 3 city council members determine the fate of this city. I would prefer paid competence, since almost "free" has been expensive and disappointing. As you've noted, from the first (2002), these city council members have found alternative ways to get paid while getting re-elected by being polite, "friendly" and painting a rosy, irrational (financial) scenario ("our environment is our economy")-- while at the same time failing to preserve and improve the survival of this city.

So, 2 incumbents are re-elected (again), because there always seems to be too many change candidates running against them. Feels like groundhog day (the movie).

Anonymous said...

Going beyond the missing dedication to public service, council comp is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the cafeteria plan goes. Needs to be dismantled.