City Council Votes to Cut Community Preservation and Arts Staff

June 9, 2012
By

The City Council made key budget decisions at its June 5 meeting last week. The basic budget package developed in the three May workshops changed little, but the variations that did emerge are worth a look. They center on staff cuts, funding for Capital Improvement Projects, and two low budget but useful programs/projects.

Staffing cuts produced the sharpest divisions and a split Council vote. The job of Community Preservation Officer and an Arts Coordinator post generated the heat. SEIU representatives made eloquent pleas to keep both posts, making three key points. They argued that if reductions were needed, management and workers should share the pain. Why are just folks on the line rather than their up-line superiors at risk? A second argument focused on the danger of losing talent that could not be replaced. Down the road, as one of them put it, you’ll be sorry you lost the expertise these people represent. Finally, they argued for early consultation with workers when layoffs are first considered.

SEIU didn’t win the day, but their reps’ arguments, I think, had an impact.  City Council Members Ruth Atkin and Jac Asher were sympathetic from the start. Mayor Jennifer West was inclined to “bite the bullet” and reduce staff now rather than later. But she supported a move to reduce $500,000 set aside for capital improvement projects to $400,000 and to keep a reserve for consulting fees if the loss of the two positions resulted in important work not getting done. She also verbally endorsed the principle of early consultations with workers’ reps if layoffs loom in the future. The final vote, after the dollar adjustment mentioned above, was 3-2 in favor of reduction of the two posts, with Atkin and Asher voting against. The Council also found funds to extend the city’s existing contract for bike messenger services and for development of a “tech corridor”.

Oversight Committee

Mayor West, City Manager Patrick O’Keefe, and City Attorney Michael Biddle reported on how the Alameda County Oversight Committee is doing regarding Redevelopment Agency projects. This is the body dueling with the State Finance Department over funding for RDA work in various stages of planning around the county, including some important ones here in Emeryville. My read on their comments is this: Finance wants to reel in all it can of RDA funds; the city, through its reps on the Oversight Committee, is pushing back; and the cards are in the State’s hands in this tough game. I’m not optimistic that much can be salvaged for us. At least it’s good to see our city and others around the state putting up a fight.

One final comment: The City Council takes its last look at the budget for 2013-2014 on Tuesday, June 19 . It will be a meeting worth attending. I hope to see you there.

Bill Reuter is Resident Member and Chair, Finance Advisory Committee, City of Emeryville

 

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5 Responses to City Council Votes to Cut Community Preservation and Arts Staff

  1. Joe on June 13, 2012 at 1:42 am

    There is still a chance to make this right. If Emeryville citizens want their elected officials to run an efficient government, I would listen the many people who came out who said cut the managers. Why not reduce top heavy management, and keep those two people in the arts and community preservation? It seems like there is plenty of management expertise in the city to fill the gap and eventually there won’t be a need for a redevelopment director. I don’t get why the Mayor who was elected with the backing of the union, I hear, would support such a proposal. Luckily, there is one more time for these good folks in government to make the correction and keep a part time arts person and that much-beloved community preservation officer. From the comments, not too many people in the community would stand up, cry and cajole to keep the department director. Emeryville is making a very bad chess move with these staff cuts. It is a chance to serve the people of Emeryville with much needed skills and who are a big part of the community. I have heard from many people who came out to speak that they feel that the decisions were made behind closed doors to cut these positions, that it was a political gesture, and that they feel disenfranchised. What did their three minutes get them? They did not feel heard. It is quite outrageous. The Mayor seems over taken by the alliance between the City Manager and the councilperson Davis. She is the new generation — sad she is playing it like she is a machine politician. Her future is also at stake with this vote. Small town/big and interesting politics unfolding. Thanks for a great forum. Without this and the Tattler, we would have no real way to get our voice out there.

  2. Sam Wilde on June 13, 2012 at 3:20 am

    What Mr. Reuter does not recognize is that the proposed budget is a failure on many levels. Such opportunity lost! The loss of the redevelopment agency funding of the economic development department provided the City Manager and the City Council with the opportunity to analyze the City’s organizational structure, to analyze the way the City delivers services to its residents, to put in place structural changes that would help save money and pave the way for necessary funding for capital improvements.

    Several months ago, the Council asked for, and received, organizational charts of similar cities. Reviewing those charts one could see that few, very few, of the other cities had independent economic development and housing departments. In most of those cities, economic development and housing fell under the umbrella of planning or in the city manager’s office. It was not a wholly separate department with a highly compensated department head. It was likely a manager or one or two people.

    Why, when we listened to the direction of the city council to focus on public safety, public works, housing, and community services, why is there no reorganization? How does this budget shift focus from economic development? It looks the same as the previous budgets, perhaps with a few less positions and all general fund funding, but it looks the same, it feels the same, because it IS the same. Yes, it appears that funding is no longer available for the work assigned to the community preservation officer; and yes, a part-time art coordinator might no longer be necessary as the other economic development coordinators have little or no funding for any meaningful work; but is there really, truly enough work remaining for THREE economic development coordinator AND a department head? What funding is available for them to move projects forward? This is now a department with no funding other than for compensation. Silly.

    Why not combine planning and economic development? How many plans, and planners, does a one square mile city need? When the planning employee spoke during the budget hearings about all the plans she needs to complete in the next two years, I could not help but think, “Do those plans HAVE to be completed in the next two years?” We have the general plan, we have the parks plan, we have the climate action plan, we have plan upon plan upon plan with NO money to implement these plans! The important plans are completed, maybe it is time to slow down!

    Mr. Bryant’s budget presentation about how little redevelopment funding his department received was a red herring. This budget opportunity was just that, an opportunity to take a good, hard look at what we have, where we are going and how to create a streamlined, high performing city staff. Combine departments where it made sense to better serve Emeryville and its residents and save money for the future. The lack of creativity is disappointing. Mayor West said it was time to “bite bullet.” What bullet? Why was there no comprehensive, coordinated effort to rethink the way the city offices deliver the desired services? Is the city in the business of employing people or is it in the business of using the taxpayers’ money to provide the services that the taxpayers want? Where was the creativity? I am appalled that a council who was unwilling to accept a mission statement developed by the staff, so meekly accepted a budget that was lacking in creativity and lacking in accountability to the residents of Emeryville.

  3. Joe on June 13, 2012 at 5:20 am

    I am in complete agreement however the arts program comes from building permit fees and not redevelopment so it carries on, and the community preservation officer is a necessity. Redevelopment or not you need some with a law enforcement background with great community skills to make sure the city doesn’t look like a dump. What these managers did is cut the two positions with nothing to do with redevelopment, feather their own beds to keep their jobs a little longer. I AGREE THAT YOU IT WOULD BE PRUDENT, EFFICIENT, CREATIVE AND SMART TO COMBINE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND PLANNING. Someone told me that it used to one department in Emeryville. The union rep said that the director of economic development makes $240,000 a year. Give me a break. These high level people are protecting their own pensions. Just do the math — they appear in their late 50s and early 60s and are a step away from public sector retirement. They will leave the city in shambles and keep their high level retirement salaries. Most of them will get 90 percent of what they are paid in the last three years of service. No wonder they went to the mat on this. If the City fathers and mothers, our fair elected body, weren’t cowed by the city manager (who is only asking for a one year contract so I guess he wants to get out faster than any of them) they could see that this is a much more important decision. Letting the staff decide how to distribute the cuts is like have the FOX GUARD THE HEN HOUSE. And now all these people have come out to be heard from the community and artists, and it is also a slap in their faces. It was a done deal, a fait accompli, shame on you City Council. Hats off to council members Asher and Atkins for trying to bring some sanity and intelligence to this circus.

  4. Joe on June 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Here is a great analysis from SPUR, San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, http://www.spur.org/blog/2012-01-24/life-after-redevelopment

    They argue that “economic development is shaky,” but blight removal is critical to a city as is infrastructure. Why not set up one of these funds that they talk about in the coming years to support building and repairing sewers, roads and schools? But in the meantime, we would be crazy to cut the GO TO person for making the city safe, clean and community-friendly. We might need to reinvent some of the things that the code preservation office does after the end of redevelopment, but we still need her. We don’t need economic development top brass. And why not keep the arts? Without a clean city and an interesting city, Emeryville is Concord or East Oakland.

  5. Brian Donahue on June 16, 2012 at 1:52 am

    Thanks for a well written and informative article. Mr Reuter, please continue to serve Emeryville residents on committees and by informing us of the goings-on therein.

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