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Should council candidates seek support from city employee unions?

Original post made by Richard Hine, editor of The Almanac, on Oct 30, 2006

City council members negotiate with city employee unions and act on labor contracts. Many people argue that council members must maintain an arms-length relationship with the unions, and to seek and accept their political and financial support in an election is a conflict of interest. Here is a recent Almanac story on the topic: Web Link

What do you think? To comment, click on the link "Add a comment" below.

Comments (12)

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 31, 2006 at 12:00 am

All candidates for city council have been endorsed by various organizations, all of which hope to have the council look kindly upon their own interests. If it's inappropriate for the local union to endorse candidates, then it should be even less appropriate for real estate developers to endorse candidates. The union, after all, represents the people who provide services to our community whereas the developers serve only their own interests. The developers who invested in our current council majority have seen a healthy return on their investment--for an outlay of a few thousand, they receive millions in windfall profits.

Perhaps all such contributions should be banned, including contributions from PACs. The amount of money spent in these elections is a little ridiculous anyway.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 31, 2006 at 1:23 am

Perhaps all PAC donantions should be banned, however unions are different from other PACs.

California law requires the city coucil to negotiate with unions behind closed doors and does not allow for public review of union contracts.

A deal with a developer must go through public hearings, the planning commission, the housing commission, public city council meetings, and in the end is subject to being overturned by a referendum (as we have just seen with Derry).

New union benefits are negotiated by the council in secret (during election season!) and cannot be overturned by subsequent councils or even a referendum. In fact, California courts have ruled that union benefits, once given, can NEVER be taken away.

Furthermore, the unions' interest in the outcome of the Menlo Park election is much bigger than Menlo Park. Just take a look at the SEIU litterature on the new pension benefits. They justify a 60% pension after only 22 years of work based on the fact that neighboring towns have already granted a similar benefit. If even one town says NO, they will not be able to make the claim in mediation that this is the norm.

Until union contracts are subject to public review and approval, unions should be barred from influencing elections.

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Posted by MenloMommy
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Oct 31, 2006 at 7:53 am

It's so hypocritical that Duboc and Winkler, who sought and obtained, union endorsements 4 years ago now condemn candidates who did the same this year. They and Boyle are inflaming adversity with their rhetoric. This does not serve Menlo Park well in public and certainly not behind closed doors during negotiations. There are tough issues to be addressed; both the city and union have a lot at stake. It is possible (and necessary) to restructure benefits for the future, and that is more likely to happen when the negotiating parties can converse so the other can hear.

There is one candidate who does not have the union endorsement but has spoken with them in order to establish a positive working relationship - Vince Bressler. He is someone I respect.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 31, 2006 at 8:30 am

Did you read the article? The unions, of their own volition, without consulting the candidates, put out pieces that expressed opposition to two incumbents and support of two challengers.

You can ban candidates' acceptance of funds, but how do you propose to stop unions from indicating which candidates they support? Take away their access to printing presses? Forbid them to communicate with their members? Even our most corrupt council members don't have that kind of clout...I hope.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 31, 2006 at 8:32 am

(previous post is in response to Resident, not to MenloMommy, with whom I wholeheartedly agree)

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Oct 31, 2006 at 11:44 am

Unless the city will provide public financing for campaigns it seems OK that, with proper disclosure, candidates accept funds from the unions, developers, and other interested parties. More concerning than monies given directly to candidates, is money spent indirectly on behalf of the candidates. The "Off the Deep End" mailing sent by a union-related organization is exagerated hyperbole, does not educate, and only serves to further community polarization.
The unions have a legitimate case to make -- job security for gymnastic teachers, living wages for pool attendants, a stable workforce for the long term good of Menlo Park. Putting forth these arguments about the choices Menlo Park will make going forward is legitimate -- overblown attack mailers only undermine the union's points.

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Posted by MenloMommy
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Oct 31, 2006 at 12:08 pm

I agree with Parent that literature should educate, not further polarize - regardless of source. Additionally, literature should be factual and not meant to deceive. That's why it's so disappointing to learn of the false endorsement mailers paid for by a PAC supporting Boyle, Winkler, and Duboc. Neither they nor the union deserve praise.

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Posted by Take Back Menlo Park!
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 31, 2006 at 2:42 pm

What is MUCH MORE interesting than the union spending a relatively paultry $7400 to unseat Winkler and Duboc is the incredible amount of money being spent to get Winkler/Duboc/Boyle ELECTED - and where that money is pouring in from - see below.

David Buckley, Spokesman
Take Back Menlo Park!

$100,000 Being Spent To Get Winkler/Duboc/Boyle Elected

It’s Worse Than Even WE Thought: $100,000 Will Likely Be Spent to Get Winkler/Duboc/Boyle Elected, Thanks to Generous Donations From Developers and Other Real-Estate Interests!

The latest news story from The Almanac (“MP Council Race: Developers Write Checks" – 10/29/06) is a total shocker. Through October 27, Winkler/Duboc/Boyle have raised about $78,500 combined – OVER DOUBLE what was reported by The Almanac to have been raised by the slate just one short month ago!

Add to that the money that the three had reportedly lent to themselves through September 30 – some $15,000 – plus the over $10,000 raised through September 30 by Menlo Park Matters, a residents' group supporting Winkler/Duboc/Boyle, and you have over $100,000 earmarked for getting the trio elected!

(No wonder Winkler/Duboc/Boyle have been able to advertise themselves - as reported in Sunday’s Palo Alto Daily’s “Mailers Urge Voters, Ask Questions” story - as somehow being simultaneously Republican, Democrat AND Independent by sending out three different mailers, each one claiming something different!)

By contrast, their three opponents combined war-chest remains at approximately just one-half that of Winkle/Duboc/Boyle, so don't expect multiple slick mailers from them!

And Winkler/Duboc/Boyle will blow WAY past Winkler/Duboc/Jellins record of $62,000 spent supporting their election back in 2002.

But the real question is: Where is this avalanche of money pouring in from?

Turns out, DEVELOPERS and other real estate-interests are apparently lining up, checks in hand, to support Winkler/Duboc/Boyle.

As reported in The Almanac story cited above, representatives of the company behind plans to build a condo complex at the former Cadillac dealership on El Camino have donated a total of $12,000 to Winkler/Duboc/Boyle – that amount alone is more than what one of the opposing candidate has raised overall and is nearly more than what a second opposing candidate has also raised overall.

Add to that the fact that, as also reported in The Almanac, the Park Theater owner, who has issued a proposal to the city to convert the theater into office space, has donated $6000 so far and one has to ask:

Who will REALLY be running this city if Winkler/Duboc/Boyle are elected?

As Fox News like to say, “We Report, You Decide.”

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Posted by Andrea Gemmet
Almanac staff writer
on Nov 1, 2006 at 12:20 pm

Andrea Gemmet is a registered user.

The Fair Political Practices Commission enforces state election laws and posts guidelines for candidates on its Web site. Here are some excerpts pertinent to the debate on the Menlo Park City Council election candidates:

"In most cases, the receipt of campaign contributions is not the basis for disqualification by a public official. However, certain public officials who make decisions in proceedings involving licenses, permits, or other entitlements for use (e.g., planning commissioners, board members of joint powers authorities and other regional governing or planning agencies, and members of other state and local boards and commissions) are subject to the restrictions of Gov. Code Section 84308.

"Section 84308 prohibits solicitation or receipt of campaign contributions from parties, participants, or their agents, in proceedings involving licenses, permits, or other entitlements for use. The law also requires an official's disqualification in those proceedings if the official has received campaign contributions of more than $250 from a party or participant within the 12 months preceding the decision. Finally, Section 84308 requires disclosure of such campaign contributions."

"Elected state officers, judges, and members of local government agencies who are directly elected by the voters (e.g., board of supervisors, city council, school board) are exempt from Section 84308 when they are acting as members of the agency to which they are elected. However, if one of these individuals is also a voting member of another nonexempt body, such as a joint powers agency or regional planning agency, he or she is covered by the law with respect to license, permit or other entitlement for use proceedings before the nonexempt body.

"For example, if three city councilmembers and two county supervisors sit on a city-county joint powers authority, Section 84308 applies to the license, permit or other entitlement for use proceedings before the joint powers authority because the officials were not elected directly to the authority. It does not apply to the officials when they are voting on matters before the city council or board of supervisors."

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Posted by Andrea Gemmet
Almanac staff writer
on Nov 1, 2006 at 12:27 pm

Andrea Gemmet is a registered user.

This is what Menlo Park City Attorney Bill McClure told the Almanac about candidates accepting union endorsements:

State elections law does not prohibit council candidates from accepting donations from developers with pending projects, nor does it prohibit candidates from accepting union endorsements from unions that they will be negotiating contacts with.

There is nothing in the Menlo Park municipal code that addresses the issue of contributions or endorsements, he said.

"There's nothing in our code," Mr. McClure said. "Anything else would just be a policy statement, like a procedures guideline for the City Council, but that would be non-binding and I do not believe that there is anything that addresses that."

Mr. McClure said the city uses an outside negotiator and HR head Glen
Kramer to do the union contract negotiations -- they receive their
negotiating authority and guidelines (on salary ranges, benefits packages and retirement benefits) from the council, and negotiating team makes a recommendation for the council to approve a contract. The council votes on the contract in open session, and that contract is a public document.

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Posted by Take Back Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 1, 2006 at 3:37 pm

As a follow-up to our earlier post on real estate-related donations to Winkler/Duboc/Boyle, using these two Almanac articles:
Oct 29: MP Council Race: Developers Write Checks of Oct. 29
Oct 11: Menlo Park Council Candidates Report Campaign Finances

We calculate that Winkler/Duboc/Boyle have received AT LEAST $43,250 in direct donations from real-estate-related interests. Here’s the list we compiled:

$12,000 from representatives of Sand Hill Property Management
$3000 from the president of Menlo Management Co., a mortgage loan company
$3000 from Walter Harrington, a commercial property owner
$1500 from Charles and Russell Collier, who work in real estate management
$6000 overall from Howard Crittenden, a real estate broker and owner of the Park Theater
$6000 from Frances Nelson of Bohannon Development Co.
$7500 from the California Real Estate PAC
$1500 from Tod Spieker, a real-estate agent
$750 from Byron Brill, property manager for Freestone Property
$2000 from 7 miscellaneous real-estate-related interests that each contributed from $200-$500

Now The Almanac reports that Winkler/Duboc/Boyle have received about $78,500 in direct donations overall. So, doing the math, $43,250 divided by $78,500 equals 55%.

So that’s what the news story SHOULD be – not that the union donated a mere $7400 to the opposing candidates, but that Winkler/Duboc/Boyle have RECEIVED WELL OVER $40,000 FROM DEVELOPERS AND OTHER REAL-ESTATE INTERESTS – REPRESENTING OVER ONE HALF THE TOTAL AMOUNT THAT THEY HAVE RAISED.

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Posted by Unflappable
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Nov 1, 2006 at 3:38 pm

Is anyone surprised to hear that the incumbent slate is willing to sell its collective soul to speculative developers? The sad thing is that their price is so low--these aren't Abramoff amounts we're talking about here. Surely our city is worth more than a few thousand dollars in graft?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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