Ruffalo: County budget tightened at expense of staff

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
-A +A
Skimming the notebook while considering that if Jerry Brown should win the governorship, won’t he be both the youngest and oldest person ever to hold that post? ... Whether or not he deserves another shot at that job will be settled in early November, but at least he’s running for an elective office. Granted, he always seems to be running for some elective office or another, but he’s doing something I never will. First off, I fully agree I could never garner enough votes to be elected to any real political office, but on the other hand, I’ve never had any desire to do so. It’s a whole lot easier to stand on the sidelines and boo and hiss, rather than suit up and get into the game. Even the politicians with which I’m in total disagreement do have my reluctant gratitude for taking on the assignment in the first place. And had I ever entertained even the slightest notion of running for office, that would have vanished in the about two hours it took the Placer County Board of Supervisors to decide on making county employees the latest target of cutbacks. Anybody sitting through that dreary process had to realize that there was no way either side was going to win. Nearly everybody not employed by the county seems to feel that cutting costs is a whole lot smarter — and palatable — than raising taxes. That means that wages and benefits given to county employees were a very inviting target. While I feel very sympathetic to the plight of those workers, as well as with those who retired from those positions, I fully recognize the need to sharpen up the scalpels and do some prodigious cutting to the governmental budget. Still, one has to deplore the heavy-handedness evident by this most recent set of negotiations. As I’ve mentioned earlier, nothing can take the place of a full set of bargaining talks. But this time, the county appeared to take advantage of a situation in which it could — and did — declare an impasse, allowing it to unilaterally dictate terms for the next fiscal year. Go back to Wednesday’s Journal for a full look at the new contract, one which requires workers to fund more of their health-insurance costs, while cutting sick days. Hopefully, supervisors will be just as draconian when — if ever — it comes around to the time where we inspect and tinker with the much larger pensions and benefits enjoyed by the county’s management personnel. Meanwhile, the workers’ representatives were entirely correct. The county could have taken more time and even prodded the other side into realizing the folly of some of their choices. Face it, the Placer Public Employees Organization (PPEO) may not have provided full representation. Don’t know if that’s a fact because I wasn’t at any of the sessions, but as a son of a pretty darn good union organizer, I can tell by the finished product it could have been handled better for the workers. Simply put, the county saw an opportunity for a one-year solution and jumped at the chance. Good for the supes in that another piece of a seemingly unsolvable puzzle has been put into place. On the other hand, nobody seemed to question what this does for the whole process. Have we taxpayers (through our elected representatives) so poisoned the well that in the future neither side dares take a sip? Gentle readers are completely aware I seldom agree with Fifth District Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, but last Tuesday, she had it right when she endeavored to take an additional step by going into mediation. “Mediation is designed to bring people of opposite views together,” is the way I remember her saying it. Don’t get me wrong. I fully applaud the supervisors for their vote. Something drastic had to be done to stem the hemorrhaging of red ink. It’s just that there appeared to be a better way to have done it. Mediation should have been the next step, although the supes may have been handcuffed from doing so because of the looming open-enrollment period for heath-insurance coverage. PPEO President Clark Gehlbach was probably correct in claiming the bargaining sessions “did not have dialog, but instead was a monologue.” No doubt because the bottom line is usually the bottom line, the supes faced up to their duties. For them there is always that looming question of not only when to cut the baby in half, but where on that tiny body to make the slices. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs on Sundays. Reach him at