Board endorsements make strange bedfellows Around Town, posted by Editor, The Almanac Online, on Oct 18, 2011 at 10:22 am
You'd expect unions to get along with pension reform advocates about as well as cats get along with water. But this year's election for two seats on the Menlo Park fire district board developed an interesting twist.
[Web Link ■ Thursday: Candidate forum for Menlo Park fire board.]
Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 18, 2011, 8:51 AM
Posted by Joe, a resident of the Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2011 at 10:22 am
I've been following this race with great interest.
I find at least one of Mr. Wurdinger's comments distressing, if you want elected officials who are willing to communicate, why did the union leadership walked away from negotiations and are refusing to meet and keep filing lawsuits and other charges?
As for Ms. Kiraly, it's difficult to try and be all things to all people. Accepting the unions' endorsement and then trying to distance herself from it. She could have met with the union just to hear their its side. However, she has embraced their endorsements by including them on her website.
Posted by It's just an endorsement, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2011 at 10:43 am
I agree that all the candidates seek these endorsements. What I think distinguishes some of the candidates (not just for the Fire Board) is that I beleive diversity in those endorsements is the important and relevant piece of information.
I think that a single constituent endorsement (all Labor Organizations, all Fire Board Members, all School Board Members, all ANYTHING) should be the WARNING sign. It takes a diverse voter base to get elected to county wide or multi-jurisdiction position. To show diversity across community and organizations in endorsements should show that the candidate works well ACROSS organizations. A single constituent endorsement shows that they WON’T.
Quite frankly most of these boards need to negotiate with Labor, and the communities they serve. And if you tilt toward ONLY ONE of these constituents the other will be ignored or relegated to a lower status. That is NEVER good in negotiating and navigating the LONG TERM interests of the tax payers.
Candidates who advocate a single constituency should concern all of us. These are all non-partisan elections and should remain that way.
Posted by I agree, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2011 at 12:13 pm
I find it odd that we currently have a conservative woman, with a strong analytical background, that is willing and open to listening to the complicated politics of the unions is someone some people would not endorse themselves? Virginia Kiraly is honorable, is forthright and does not compromise her character in any way, shape or size. In this day and age of extremely divisive politics, I applaud a person like Virginia that is willing to look at everything. Virginia is running for this office so that she can help make the district sustainable, bring down the costs and make sure tax dollars are spent wisely. "She is, who she is". She never changed her party affiliation to insure the other more popular side votes for her, she never changed her message, she never changed her position, and she most certainly would not change who she is, once elected. Common sense is what they call someone of Virgini's ilk.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2011 at 12:36 pm
Accepting endorsement from the union which represents 70% of the Fire District's expenditure is an inherent conflict of interest. The union is not spending big bucks on this election out of the goodness of its heart - it fully expects a return on its investment.
I speak from sad personal experience. The union endorsed me in my first election to the Fire Board in 2001. They subsequently played the "we supported you now we want you to support us "card to a degree that I found so uncomfortable that I ran very successfully without their endorsement in 2005 . As a consequence I feel strongly that candidates for the Fire Board should not compromise their sworn duty to the citizens whom they serve with either a real or perceived obligation to the firefighters' union.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
Citizens expect and deserve elected officials whom they can trust. An essential requirement for such trust is that there be neither the appearance or the reality of a conflict of interest by those elected officials. Just as the public would distrust an elected official who voted to approve a contract for one of his campaign supporters so to the public would distrust an elected official who voted to approve a new contract with a union whose endorsement that official used to get elected. The Fire Board will be called upon to approve a new firefighter's contract during the next two years and the public support for that action will be greatly diminished if it is approved by Board members who whose election was a consequence of that union's endorsement. How will the public know that those individuals acted solely in the best interests of the taxpayers by whom they were elected and for whom they are supposed to serve?
Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community, on Oct 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm
I do not have a problem with a political candidate accepting the endorsement of a corporation, a private citizen or a labor organization. In fact, I see no difference between them. If I like a candidate and I know people to whom my opinion matters, I will/have try to influence their thinking by endorsing my choice. I think it is naive to say no one or no organization should be allowed to endorse a candidate, or worse, if they do, the candidate, if they accept the endorsement has somehow automatically been corrupted. It would be equally wrong for someone to say that a person whom didn't get the union endorsement and subsequently voted against the union's position with respect to a contract did so because the union didn't support them.Better to take the time to know the candidates and make a decision based on your conclusions.
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardina, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm
Is that an answer?
We trusted you after you accepted their endorsement, and you proved to be a great steward of our public trust.
I believe that you are not the only person that can be trusted. That Virginia Kiraly can also be trusted to vote with a conscience for the citizens she will serve.
I have worked with her extensively on Measure L and I can personally vouch for her integrity and financial acumen. As you know she co-authored the San Mateo Grand Jury report that became the basis of our pension reform initiative (Measure L).
I think your myopic focus on ONE endorsement ignores the fact that she is the only candidate with bi-partisan support from 21 elected leaders, and dozens of community leaders.
She is the ONLY candidate endorsed by the leadership of Measure L (Henry Riggs, Ned Mortiz and me) an organization that moved a city government to adopt a fiscally responsible pension stance.
I think Steve Westly's quote says it all: “Virginia has years of experience in our community that has resulted in broad-based support for her candidacy. She is a bi-partisan problem solver who always listens with an open mind. I believe she'll make a great contribution to our fire board.”
You contention that a single endorsement taints her is bad politics....pure and simple.
Posted by Joe, a resident of the Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm
These are non-partisan elections and should stay that way. It does concern me when unions are so heavily involved; if in fact the spent $50K in the last election.
What should be pointed out is there are 2 unions at the FD; one has successfully negotiated a contract while the other one walked away from the process. The one which walked away constitutes most of the employees. I guess the Board is able to negotiate.
Posted by Thanks Roy, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2011 at 5:01 pm
Thank you Roy for bringing some common sense to this argument. I too support Virginia, and do believe she will do an excellent job of listening to all views, and all sides of the equation. She passionately believes in making sure the tax payers money is not wasted, and judging by the amount of effort and energy she exhibited during the Measure L Campaign, I can't think of a better representative of the citizens that are served within this District.
Again, thanks for the comments, well done. Good Luck Virginia Kiraly!
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2011 at 8:02 pm
I think what Peter is saying is that he made a mistake. he thought the union endoresement dinn't come with a quid pro quo. It turned out that it did. he is warning that it is likely the current endorsements come with the same.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 18, 2011 at 8:39 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
The Fire Board tonight adopted the following policy. It would be enlightening if those Fire Board candidates who have accepted the union's endorsement would publicly state that they will adhere to this policy notwithstanding any potentially conflicting commitments that they might have made to the union.
" LABOR RELATIONS COMMUNICATIONS POLICY
MENLO PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT
The purpose of this policy is to set guidelines for the Board of Directors and District staff, in the interest of promoting fairness and integrity in the process, to avoid actions that would circumvent the District’s designated bargaining teams to ensure that labor negotiations are conducted in good faith.
STATEMENT OF POLICY
It is the policy of the Board of Directors that all of its members and
District staff shall abide by the following guiding principles during any period when labor negotiations are occurring between the District and any District bargaining group.
1. All labor negotiations will be conducted by designated
representatives at the bargaining table. All District
representatives operate upon the direction of the Board of
2. No individual Board member will individually negotiate with any
bargaining group member.
3. District representatives commit to keeping the Board fully
informed and advising them of all substantive proposals.
4. Each Board member shall inform the Fire Chief at their earliest
convenience and publicly disclose in open session the general
substance of any communications he or she has had with any
District bargaining group member(s) that has any reference to any
labor negotiations with the District.
5. Consistent with Government Code section 54963, confidentiality
of closed session discussions will be maintained."
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2011 at 6:55 am
Some pertinent comments from our neighboring city:
"So the next question then is WHY does Palo Alto have so many ff's collecting a huge paycheck and retiring at 50 and collecting 90% inflation adjusting salaries for the next 35 years of their post retirement date. The reason is the financial largesse the unions contribute to politicians like Price. Price and her brethren represent the unions not the citizens of Palo Alto. It is a self funding situation. Price and her buddies raise the compensation and benefits of the union employees. The union take part of the increase and make sure Price and her buddies are re-elected. Same thing happens next election cycle. Pretty soon ff's are costing the city $225K a year. All because the rest of us sit on the sidelines and don't get involved."
Posted by Thanks Roy, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2011 at 10:37 am
Truth, exactly WHAT did the council members do again for the two tier union agreements again? Answer: Nothing. They piggybacked on the Measure L Committee's success, and decided that they better get on board. Roy was the Co-Chair, he deserves at least half the credit!
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2011 at 10:43 am
TR asks:"exactly WHAT did the council members do again for the two tier union agreements again"
They made it City policy - something that Measure L did not do.
We have a representative form of local government and the MP Council had the courage touch the third rail of public pensions. They were not the first to do so nor will they be the last but they did it. They were certainly encouraged by Measure L but not they were not compelled to act as they did.
Posted by Steve, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm
I don't think this was your intention but your last response confirms what I've been saying all along: Measure L was a totally unnecessary initiative as the Council - like city councils up and down the state - rectified pension plans for new employees once the recession hit and it became clear that the benefit package was not affordable. Our Council worked with the unions - on their own initiative - to hammer out a responsible agreement before Measure L was even put to a vote.
Measure L was a waste of time, energy, civic comity, and, increasingly money. I saw in the Almanac that the Council has had to set aside $50,000 for legal charges to defend this unwise initiative that, in all likelihood, will be overturned.
Posted by RUOOYFM, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm
The Council wass going nowhere on Pension reform. The only reason it was adopted was solely because of Measure L. Once we got over 71% of the vote and won every single precinct in Menlo Park(the first time for a seriously contested Measure) did the Council decide to do something.
Measure L saved Menlo Park. I repeat the Menlo Park City Council did not do an anything to support Measure L before we won the contest.
Posted by Steve, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2011 at 1:37 pm
I'm afraid you've got your facts wrong.
The vote on Measure L took place in November, 2010. Web Link
The Council met with the Employee Unions the previous spring and voted on May 4, 2010 for a 2-tier pension to replace the overly generous plan they'd approved in early 2007, nine months before Wall Street went to Hell.Web Link
Like Councils up and down the state, they realized the pensions approved during the boom times of 2007 were no longer affordable and modified the contracts, with cooperation of the unions, to reflect this new reality.
Measure L was approved after the fact and has proved itself to be not only totally unnecessary but a fiscal liability to boot.
Sorry but the facts do not support your statements.
Posted by Steve, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2011 at 1:53 pm
That Almanac article I referenced Web Link has some interesting quotes from Council members that indicates they had decided the pension plan was no longer affordable based not on the Measure L political pressure but on the facts that: 1) revenues to the city were declining as the recession worsened, and 2) other cities were moving to redo their pension plans too, which would mean Menlo Park could follow suite and still expect to be successful in hiring & retaining employees. It just confirms that the Council was acting responsibly in the new economic environment and shows just how unnecessary Measure L was.
Here are the pertinent quotes from the article:
"Since December , the council's position on the two-tier system has apparently shifted. In a staff report, Mr. Kramer cites the continued economic downtown, as well as political factors, including the "public perception that the existing plans in place ... are excessive when compared to the private sector."
The "pension reform" group began gathering signatures for its campaign after the city agreed to that initial contract, and the issue has generated a lot of public interest since the recession began.
While several union representatives have suggested that the council's shift on the issue may have more to do with politics than financial stability, Councilman John Boyle said in an interview that the proposal is all about managing the city's risk.
"I certainly don't think this is just a political ploy," he said. "In my various conversations with other council members and with staff, I never heard anybody say anything (to that effect).
"There's a sincere intent here: We have to fundamentally change the model, and come up with something that is sustainable in the long run."
Asked why the city wasn't eyeing a two-tier system in late 2009, Mr. Boyle said that it's become clearer since then that the city's revenues are lagging. He also said that other nearby cities are implementing or exploring two-tier systems with more gusto, giving Menlo Park more confidence that it can be competitive in the labor market.
Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson said the two-tier plan will help the city's long-term financial situation.
"Without taking significant steps to modify the pension structure over the long term, we are looking at layoffs and a decrease in services," she said. "That's what we want to avoid.""
Posted by Steve, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Oct 19, 2011 at 2:57 pm
Apparently you didn't read the pertinent link. If you had you would have read:
"Menlo Park's City Council voted unanimously Tuesday, May 4, to impose terms on the city's largest union, including a "two-tier" pension system." This is hardly "absolutely nothing", as you put it.
But Peter's right - this is off-topic for this forum.
Posted by Joe, a resident of the Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle neighborhood, on Oct 20, 2011 at 4:00 pm
So based on Henry's last comment, how much money has the fire fighters union spent on its primary candidate, Rob Silano?
He was backed by them in the last election and lost. This time the community seems more polarized. I wonder if all the people who display Rob's sign really know how much efforts the union is going to to get him elected.
Posted by three time winner, a resident of another community, on Oct 21, 2011 at 8:10 pm
I agree with Peter Carpenter. IMO, It is a conflict of interest to accept an endorsement of the district union. I turned down union endorsements three times in my community, and I won three elections without it, and without any help with campaign expenses.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
It is of note that the two posters who have actually held elected office and hence understand first hand the implications of union endorsements both agree that such endorsements are a conflict of interest.
Posted by Menlo Analyst, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2011 at 9:02 am
I thank you for your service. However, for you to criticize Virginia Chang Kiraly for taking the Union endorsement when you also did the same thing defies logic. I don’t understand why it was acceptable for you to accept the Union endorsement but not acceptable for Virginia Chang Kiraly to do the same.
I realize that you felt betrayed when the Union refused to negotiate. This can be attributed to two factors:
1) The economic climate was different and the Union was fighting to get all that it could because most people, including the Union, were not aware of the impending financial crisis, and
2) You are not a great negotiator. You have many formidable skills; but negotiating is not among them.
I am not a big fan of Unions; but if you are going to be sitting at the negotiating table you had better listen to what they have to say or there will be an impasse and nothing will get accomplished. You make the erroneous assumption that if you couldn't negotiate a deal with the Union then nobody else could. Times have changed. The Union is aware of the financial crisis and that compromise needs to be made and Virginia Chang Kiraly also possesses better people skills than you; not that I don't appreciate what you have done.
Two new board members will be elected. For the sake of the community I hope Virginia Chang Kiraly is one of them. She is honest as the day is long. Her friends and acquaintances know that she will not compromise doing what is right just to curry favor. She is also smart and accomplished. Being the foreperson of the San Mateo County Grand Jury reflects on her leadership and the ability to make the correct decisions even in the face of great political pressure to do otherwise.
It is unfortunate that you are intransigent with regard to the Union endorsement. You have made great contributions to San Mateo County in the past but you view accepting the Union endorsement as a personal betrayal. Virginia Chang Kiraly cannot be stubborn when negotiating with the Menlo Park Fire Board. She needs to be open-minded (which she is) and do what is best for all parties concerned. That means she needs to be fair to the people of Menlo Park and to the fire fighters. Given Virginia Chang Kiraly’s record of community service, her financial skill set, her honesty, sense of fairness, and commitment makes her the best candidate for the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board.
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2011 at 9:20 am
you say the fire board should do what is "fair" for the citizens and the firefighters. Do you think it fair to give the firefighters a raise of 11%? In this economic climate? With 100 qualified candidates appplying for every opening? By the way, the firefighters are the ones that walked away from the negotiating table, not the board. So who's being "intransigent?"
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2011 at 9:34 am
Menlo analyst - before you comment it is useful to read all of the prior posts:
"I speak from sad personal experience. The union endorsed me in my first election to the Fire Board in 2001. They subsequently played the "we supported you now we want you to support us "card to a degree that I found so uncomfortable that I ran very successfully without their endorsement in 2005 . As a consequence I feel strongly that candidates for the Fire Board should not compromise their sworn duty to the citizens whom they serve with either a real or perceived obligation to the firefighters' union."
I do not view Kiraly's acceptance as a "personal betrayal" but rather as a serious error in judgement.
I also do not consider the union's refusal to negotiate as a "betrayal" but rather as an illegal and self serving posture. They are hoping for a union controlled Board.
Finally, I have never served as the Fire District''s negotiator. That role has been properly delegated to professionals - who have never before encountered such intransigence as has been displayed by the firefighters' union.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 22, 2011 at 9:45 am
Every candidate who accepts the firefighters' union endorsement receives financial benefits from that endorsement. Those benefits include the value of the endorsement on the union's and the candidates web sites as well as the value of the firefighter's word of mouth and precinct activities.
If the endorsement wasn't valuable then why have the endorsed candidates used that endorsement on their web sites and their mailers?
What does the union expect for their very large expenditures?
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm
Fortunately I am old and wise enough and had enough years of public service not to be at all concerned about my popularity with anonymous posters.
And as I have repeatedly posted, I believe that responsible public sector unions perform an important role and many of those unions have wisely agreed o concessions in this difficult time. Unfortunately the firefighers' union has no interest in consessions, has filed numerous law suits against the District, demanded an 11% pay increase and refuses to even come to the bargaining table. This is not a responsible public sector union.