I’ve been going around town asking people one simple question about how their town is run: Had enough?
For my part, I’ve had enough with the stranglehold the firefighters’ union has had on our city’s finances and politics. And I’ve had enough with Kurt Henke playing politics with our money.
The city is broke only partly because of reduced revenues from the state and other sources. In far greater part, it is broke because of the inflated and no longer sustainable salary scale of our firefighters – set in a time when our city was far better off financially and based on a spurious comparison study with far more affluent Bay Area communities. It is time to get real.
It is time to get real also about overtime. Last year, when the reality of our fiscal situation started to come into focus, the City negotiated supplemental agreements with its employee unions. The aim of those agreements was to rein in costs on an across-the-board, share-the-pain basis. To their credit, the police and the city’s civilian workers have fulfilled their undertakings. The Fire Department, however, has completely ignored its undertakings, asking for an additional $750,000 to cover overtime expenses and racking up $200,000 in overtime in July alone.
What’s Mr. Henke’s response? He storms into the August 9 Council meeting and accuses the Council and, in particular Councilmembers Cloutier and Pearsall of playing politics, saying we could cut overtime by hiring new firefighters. Talk about Chutzpah! They know that, I know that, and Mr. Henke knew that when he agreed to the supplemental last year. And we all know that, under current circumstances, we cannot make those very desirable new hires – not until and unless we get the overall Fire Department budget under control.
I applaud Messrs. Cloutier and Pearsall and Ms. Schivley for having the courage to face up to that imperative. It is high time for the City to re-negotiate its contract with the firefighters to adjust salary scales and staffing patterns to levels reflecting current realities. If that means re-opening the City Charter, so be it!
It is also high time for Mr. Henke to get off his high horse from which he threatens Vallejoans with cuts in essential emergency services and seeks to bully our elected officials. For too long, the firefighters, through their PAC, United for a Better Vallejo, have played an unhealthy role in electing those officials – officials they then come back to, a thumb to their collective nose and their other hand out in expectation of another bailout.