Image   Vallejo's March 3 Council Meeting

 3/5/08                                       Lipstick on a Flying Pig and Other Sordid Tales 


By Marc Garman 

Monday’s City Council “Special Session” was a press circus and a cavalcade of crazy characters. Chambers were packed with both supporters and detractors of the fiscal stop gap measure before the council.

Outspoken council irritant Sam Kurshan was ejected from the chambers by police to the strains of “hey hey—na-na-na-na—hey heeey—goodbye” from jubilant firefighters and their supporters.

James Moore, another strident voice, and volunteer fire and police department advocate wheeled in a barbeque grill with a severed pig’s head on it to make his point.  I’m not sure if folks were laughing or gagging or both, but it certainly had an impact.

Who says Vallejo is boring??

A considerable number of citizens spoke about issues on both sides keeping the session going until past 1 AM. 

Attorney and former councilmember Lewis Brown raised a good point while scolding the mayor as if he were a small itinerant child.  Brown, leaning on his cane demanded to know why Mayor Davis was so intimately involved in negotiations with the labor unions—a job the city charter specifies as being under the jurisdiction of the city manager.

“Let Mr. Tanner do his job!” scolded Brown, referencing a likely violation of Vallejo’s City Charter.

Brown further cautioned the mayor not to “put me out like that other fella!" referring  to Kurshan’s earlier ejection.

Looking away from the “Three Ring Circus” qualities of the evening there is a lot to be said about the deal itself. Unfortunately, there's not a lot to garner optimism.

City Manager Tanner puts the chance of this deal working at 5%. That’s what they call a long shot folks.

On the down side (and there are several) is the fact that the city agreed to “dismiss with prejudice” the lawsuits we have pending against the public safety unions. (This also includes waiving any right to use or act on the information in the Union Business Leave Abuse Report.)  And all this before receiving a guarantee of financial considerations from the other side.  A risky and ill considered tactical move in any playbook.  Even Assistant City Manager Craig Whittom had to admit our only remaining leverage in negotiations with the unions is the threat of bankruptcy.

Also on the down side, Interim Fire Chief Russ Sherman, who has been a voice of reason for some time is likely out on his ear.  By shuffling several top positions it would appear that IAFF 1186 President, Assistant Chief Kurt Henke would be in line for the top position. 

Councilmember Schivley extracted this point with a series of razor sharp queries directed at Assistant City Manager Whittom.  When the words “Kurt Henke” emerged, City Manager Tanner responded, “Not on my watch.”  Hmmm, Can you say “Chain Link Fence Match?".

A potential big down side for the Fantastic?! Four--Hannigan, Wilson, Sunga and Bartee, plus our Dear Leader Osby Davis is the specter of personal liability. 

In the unfortunate instance of insolvency smacking us without bankruptcy protection, councilmembers who voted “YES” could find some portions of their anatomy flapping in the brisk wind of litigation.

Considering the whopping 78 or so percent of the general fund being consumed by public safety salaries, the cuts needed to achieve long term solvency for Vallejo will be huge indeed…likely in excess of the 15 percent the unions previously discussed.

Couple this to the uncertainty of the recent wave of public safety retirees' willingness to defer half of their payout until next year, the worsening economic picture nationally and the unlikely prospects of Vallejo citizens voting for a tax increase and we have a very, very shaky picture indeed.

Too little too late Vallejo?  Hard to say.

Councilmember Gomes made an attempt at floating an alternate resolution.  She suggested prudent moves such as:

  • waiting to accept the plan until after financial considerations were guaranteed from public safety

  • establishing structural changes in the percentage of the general fund devoted to public safety

  • re-establishing funding to community based organizations

This went over like a popsicle brunch during an igloo building contest.

Bartee, Hannigan, Wilson, Sunga and Davis gave campaign speeches.  Nuff said.

For a long and crazy meeting there was not a whole lot to be surprised about.  The vote was 5-2.  Schivley and Gomes opposed.

And Vallejo's long shot is outta the gate!!!