Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Recall in Mount Shasta?

A group of 10 individuals has initiated a recall petition for three city council members, including Mayor Michael Murray, Tim Stearns and Sandra Spelliscy.  The only sponsor mentioned in the press is Kim Latos, who is the manager of the Humane Society's animal shelter.  (Mt Shasta Herald)  

However, the recall appears to be directed by unhappy city employees.   The petition accuses all three of "“Participation in creating a hostile work environment for city employees by willfully ignoring the advice and recommendations of the city manager, financial manager, Mount Shasta Police Department, fire department and public works with disregard for the expressed wishes of the citizenry and best interests of the community.”

Like all cities in California, Mount Shasta had a budget crunch this year that was very difficult to deal with.  Employees were temporarily furloughed on alternate Fridays, and more radical furloughs were considered.  City contributions to fringe benefits were reduced.   The most hated change was a repeal of the policy allowing some employees to drive city vehicles home. 

The city finance director and city manager made relatively optimistic revenue estimates for the city, before a final state budget was passed, and did not allow for cuts to local government that had been proposed by governor Schwarzenegger.  This estimate was not accepted by the three, especially by Murray.  Some employees thought it scandalous that he didn't accept the projections of the staff, and used his independent judgement. 

So who would sign this petition, if it gets that far?  It needs about 190 signatures, 20% of the vote in the last city council election.  The Republicans in town would tend to respect these council members for standing up to the employees' union and recognizing that difficult and unpopular cuts need to made.  The Democrats would support these three because they are the liberal, environmentalist wing of the council on many issues.  City employees and their families will sign it, but many employees live out of town and are not eligible.

There are some unsettling parallels between the local situation and the state situation.  In Sacramento, nobody really wants to make the hard choices required to balance the budget.  The budget analysts, under a lot of pressure to make the numbers work, come up with optimistic revenue estimates.  The legislature finally passes a budget that is "balanced."  Then, a few months later, the revenues do not meet expectations, mandated spending exceeds expectations, and the budget has to be redone.  Fortunately, in Mount Shasta, we have some councilmen who are independent enough to reject the optimistic projections.  Unfortunately, these are the council people targeted in the recall. 

The state's fiscal problems began when we elected a governor who was overly beholden to the state employee unions.  We got saddled with employee salary and pension expenses that we can't afford.  The Mount Shasta City employees are definitely not overpaid, but this recall is an attempt to install a city council more friendly to the employees, both union and non-union.  If you are thinking of supporting the recall, imagine the city being run by Gray Davis.  That is what you would be voting for. 

A third parallel is that the current governor did hold his ground with one union, the prison guards.  In response they initiated a recall.  The recall was denounced and ridiculed throughout the state as a blatant abuse of the collective bargaining process, and was dropped.  It is quite likely that this recall will end the same way.

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