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 Joe Tanner's firing/Vallejo City Council


4/28/09

By David Corbett

 

Dear Carolyn:
 

First, thank you for your piece on Vallejo today. A great deal has been happening behind the scenes up here, outside the citizenry's purview, and this ouster is just the latest chapter in a city disaster that now looks as though it will continue unabated.

 

Something I would love to see in a follow-up piece is analysis of the timing of this decision. The city is facing a deadline with the bankruptcy judge concerning contracts with the firefighters union and another city union; the police struck a deal earlier this year. The firefighters already forced the issue through Mr. Henke's usual brinksmanship--this is his method of negotiation. He has browbeaten city council into getting what he wants for a very long while. But he overplayed his hand in bankruptcy and compelled the court to issue a landmark ruling in a case of first impression (Chapter Nine bankruptcy is a virtual blank slate in terms of governing law). The judge ruled that cities facing bankruptcy can break contracts with public service unions to put their financial houses in order. This was not a ruling other firefighters and cops around the country wanted, to put it mildly. (And since bankruptcy is a federal venue, its rulings have national impact.) Thus Mr. Henke is fighting for more than his own political head here, and he knows it. getting rid of Joe Tanner before the city has its final financial showdown with the unions in bankruptcy tells you all you need to know about Vallejo. Kurt Henke runs this town. He said it himself: Mickey Mouse could run this city. And that's been the union's choice in candidates it has supported for years: docile incompetents who lack the character or courage to stand up for the city instead of the firefighters union. (If you talk to a cop in this town off the record, they'll give you an earful on this, believe me.)
 
All of which brings us to Mr. Davis. This decision also comes amid his bid to change the city charter to enhance the mayor's powers and limit the city manager's. Does Mr. Davis (or Mickey Mouse) have the skill set to actually manage a city? Does anyone care. Not Mr, Henke, assuredly. All the mayor needs is the ability to say yes to Local 1186's demands.
 
This is an impossibly sad set of circumstances. This really is a wonderful city. But as many residents will tell you, it has had "potential" for over 40 years. Meanwhile, it's had its pockets picked by various local players the whole time, and the firefighters are the worst of the bunch. There really is a story up here, a cautionary tale for all California cities. If you're willing to write it, I can lead you to some people who might help you.
 
By the way, you mentioned Mr. Tanner's salary. You might want to ask what Mr. Henke's is, and what the salaries are for all Vallejo firefighters, how they compare with local averages, and what it is doing to this city's finances. Bankruptcy, to be brief. That too would be worthy of a follow-up.
 
    Thank you again for your article today. I hope there will be more.
 
    David Corbett