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Citizen Panel Members Recommend Wage or Hiring Freeze at Santa Monica City Hall
December 12, 2017 -- Members of a first-ever citizen advisory panel helping to examine pay and benefits at Santa Monica City Hall -- among the highest for cities in California -- are recommending a freeze of employee compensation or possibly of new hiring.
Advisory panel members advocated the wage freeze and possibly similar action on hiring of non-public safety personnel at a joint session with the City's Audit Subcommittee on November 1 devoted largely to an on-going review by outside auditors (Moss Adams) of wages and benefits of City employees.
“What we are advocating is that the City take decisive action,” Dominic Gomez, a member of the seven-member advisory Compensation Study Advisory Committee, told the Lookout on Monday.
“All we’re asking is that (the City) look a wage freeze and without a doubt reducing the size of the bureaucracy,” he said.
But discussion was short lived, with Council Member Sue Himmelrich, who is an Audit Subcommittee member, saying the ad hoc members were out of bounds.
“As for exploration of a reduction in number of employees and pay scales by the ad hoc, the committee can recommend anything they want but was not assembled to look at that issue,” Himmelrich said in an email to the Lookout.
The ad hoc panel was created in July to “assist the Audit Subcommittee and staff in critically reviewing and objectively considering the City’s methodologies related to compensation,” she noted.
“Even the members of the audit subcommittee itself have no power to implement budgetary changes in the City: that task remains with the City Council itself,” Himmelrich said. “The scope of the compensation study (by auditors) was fact-finding.”
Creating the new panel was an olive branch to a collection of groups critical of City wages and benefits and trying to muscle its way to a larger voice on the Audit Subcommittee -- itself a newer entity meant to increase fiscal transparency at City Hall ("Citizen’s Group Reviewing Santa Monica City Hall Compensation Holds First Session," August 28, 2017).
Some of the ad hoc committee members -- including Gomez -- are active with neighborhood associations at odds with the City over spending and other issues. But its members have no voting power in any case.
Last month’s meeting indicated some significantly different viewpoints between some ad hoc members and the subcommittee they were appointed by City Manager Rick Cole to assist.
Laurence Eubank, an ad hoc member who is with the Wilmont Neighborhood Association, pressed the issue of big debt as City officials explained their limits in dealing with it.
Pension costs -- bound to the up-and-down investment health of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) -- were such an example, Cole said.
Santa Monica has been trying to pay down its unfunded pension liability, which stands at almost $387 million pending recalculation by CalPERS, he said.
Last year, the City also paid about $45 million for employee pensions, or eight percent of its operating and capital budget.
“There is no way out of CalPERS,” Cole said at the session.
Eubank was not impressed.
“I look at debt as debt,” Eubank said.
The two panels meet again January 16, with the compensation committee’s final session in February.
Himmelrich said her primary concern about the talk of a City employee wage or hiring freeze was the impact on the City’s efforts to address its sharp rise in homeless people.
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