Mountain View Voice

News - September 16, 2011

Council members slam Civil Grand Jury reports

by Daniel DeBolt

City Council members felt that three grand jury reports critical of the city's practices were not worthy of much discussion Tuesday night, and several members had some harsh comments.

"It's been clear that not a lot of research has taken place," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga of the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury reports, having been questioned for another investigation into the county's Local Agency Formation Commission, of which she is a board member. "These reports are frankly unfounded in terms of facts."

The council focused its brief discussion on one of the reports, titled "Rehiring of Pensioners: Good Business, Bad Policy, or Both?" which focused on the common practice of re-hiring city employees who are also allowed by state law to draw on their retirement pensions if only working half-time or less than six months out of a year.

Two other reports focused on consolidating fire departments and emergency dispatch services in the county.

The council approved responses to the reports written by city staff, voting 6-1. Abe-Koga was opposed, saying she wanted responses from the city that were more strongly worded in disagreement with the reports findings, particularly one that said the city's early retirement age of 55 was leading to higher rates of retirees returning to work, which the city said it was in "partial agreement" with. Council member Tom Means said that finding in the report made sense.

By law, the city must state whether it agrees or disagrees with points made in the report. "Frankly, to me, this seems like an exercise. I have no interest in spending any further time on this," said Council member Ronit Bryant before motioning to approve pre-written responses to the reports, adding that they didn't "define the truth in absolute terms."

In a staff report, it was revealed that the city has 27 retired employees on the payroll among its 600 or so employees, 11 from other cities.

City staff members say retirees are hired only when necessary, on a temporary basis to finish a project or investigation, do seasonal work or fill a position until a replacement can be found. The Grand Jury report admits that "there are situations that warrant re-hiring pensioners and often it make good business sense." The pensioners do not require benefits and work for an hourly rate, saving the city money. The problem is "one of public perception," said Mayor Jac Siegel.

Council member Laura Macias was the only one to support less use of retirees. "There are so many people looking for jobs," Macias said. "If there are jobs available, maybe we should give someone who hasn't had that job a shot."

The Civil Grand Jury report says potential problems with re-hiring retirees is that retirees can "block change" in the workplace, make it difficult for new hires to establish authority and create the appearance that a favor was made to the retiree. The report also states that hiring managers expect more retirees to be hired in the future because of their cost-effectiveness.

The Civil Grand Jury found that county-wide, there are 404 retirees employed by cities and the county, out of 26,000 total employees. In Mountain View, 4.6 percent of city employees are retirees, while the average county-wide is 1.55 percent.

In one case, in Santa Clara, a retiree was found to have held a position for six years. Helene Popenhager, 2010 foreperson of the Civil Grand Jury, said she didn't "recall anything strange" about Mountain View's practices.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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