WE THE PEOPLE
By Katherine Kelly
Today’s subject: 5% Merit Bonuses
Being able to trust those whom we have elected to represent our interest is important. When they lie or obfuscate, when they waffle or weave or defer, when there’s a song and a dance or an outright dog and pony show instead of a simple answer, it is our right and our duty to pursue the subject until we are satisfied. When we don’t accept the fantasy being presented, the common reaction is pearl clutching and feigned outrage because we dared question their integrity. Such is the case of the merit bonuses for department heads from late March, 2010.
I had a hard time accepting this merit bonus plan at a time when the city was screaming hardship and bankruptcy at the mere thought of lowering the sewer rates. While it was being decried as the city’s ruin to lower the rates on our sewer bills, it was all so important to give these already-over-paid-by-Crescent-City-standards more money because they did the job they were hired to do. When We the People spoke up about the travesty, the defense written by Charles Slert (March 27, 2010 in a Coastal Voices article in the Daily Triplicate) was “CALpers made us do it.” He literally called it a mandate by CALpers. I didn’t know what CALpers was so I Googled it and went to their website. They manage city employee retirement funds. I looked around and could find nothing about merit bonuses. So I used their question form and asked them about our situation in Crescent City, told them what Charles Slert said about the mandate, and asked for some kind of documentation regarding this mandate.
This was CalPERS response:
“You have been given incorrect information. CalPERs manages the city of Crescent City’s retirement plan. We do not have any say or involvement in how much city employees are paid, which is strictly a city decision.”
So, according to CalPERS, there is no “mandate.” The only thing CalPERS mandates is the reporting of this extra income. So rather than just take their word for it, I also asked Charles Slert directly for his mandate documentation. I emailed him the request and did not receive a reply. I also asked City Manager Rod Butler for this documentation. Neither responded to my request for information so I went into City Hall and submitted a Freedom of information Act request. This time the reply was mailed to me, by Mr. Butler. Seems that this was all in my head, a “misconception” as it was put to me by Mr. Butler. And what the city council voted on was the eligibility of the department heads for the merit bonuses, not the actual approval of the bonuses. I was never unclear about that part, only the mandate that was claimed but did not exist.
The bottom line here is that a representative of the People, in order to cover for something untoward by the council, danced around the issue and laid blame elsewhere. It’s all CalPERS’s fault. They made us do this. Meanwhile people are having a difficult time paying their sewer bills. The list of defaults is longer this year than last. City officials need to break the bubble and get out of their echo chamber and realize that with a 63% poverty rate in Del Norte County, there are more important issues than making sure their cohorts have extra money in their retirement plans. For many residents of Crescent City, the here and now is dire and getting darker by the day.