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By Diana Diamond

Such delightful city employee perks

Uploaded: Jun 1, 2020

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” William Shakespeare once proclaimed in “Hamlet.” I will soften that considerably, but suggest something is amiss in the city of Palo Alto.

In my blog last week, “Why am I suspicious about Palo Alto’s budget cuts,” someone asked me how the 9/80 system was started in Palo Alto (a policy that also exists in several neighboring cities). Nine-80 is where city staff works 80 hours for nine, not 10 days every two weeks, and has every other Friday off – 26 days a year.

All my suspicions about the program came galloping back when in my blog last week an anonymous former city employee wrote about his (her?) experiences with 9/80. (I tried to track him down but he had not registered with the Weekly as a blogger, so I will only quote what he said.) I had no other confirmation that his comments were right or wrong. But, to me, they sound correct.

Posted by A Former PA City Employee, a resident of another community,
on May 27, 2020 at 8:42 am
I "Can someone explain why city employees get every other Friday off,
by default?"

>> "The "9/80" program, as it has been called, was introduced years ago when Frank Benest was city manager. He claimed we would save gas and help the climate if employees had every other Friday off -- or 26 days a year. He said employees could come in at 7:30 am and leave at 5:30 pm and would still be working 40 hours a week."

^ In addition to the city manager's environmental concerns, it was also implemented as a morale booster to help alleviate on the job stress factors.

^ This move was welcomed by over 95% of the city employees. The additional 26 days off was the equivalent of enjoying a holiday-type weekend every other week and how many average workers have that perk? It was even better when certain observed holidays fell on the weekends...it was like a having a mini-vacation every few months. Working for the city was a terrific employment opportunity that also included a generous retirement program & health benefits.

The current pandemic & subsequent loss of municipal revenue has changed the future of city employment but at one time working for the city provided an enjoyable work environment that paid reasonably well with minimal supervision. Job vacancies were generally filled due to attrition because most employees stayed on until their retirement benefits kicked in + the top administrators always had the option of creating assistant administrative positions to lighten their workloads.

>>> "The problem was and is that they don't come in at 7:30 am -- more like 9 am -- nor do they leave at 5:30 pm -- more like 4:30 OR 5 pm. So the whole thing is a sham, in my opinion. Just a way to get more time off."

^ If the supervisors arrived late and were not there to supervise, why should the underlings arrive early? It was a pattern that everyone followed and besides, there was rarely a need to expedite anything internally...with the possible exception of city utility, animal control and protective services (i.e. fire/police/paramedics) which were all outside the office duties …The KEY was to land a job in city hall rather than one at the library, fire/police station or municipal services (on Bayshore) where there was usually more super
visi==on."==

I believe the writer. When Benest first introduced this schedule around 2005, I was suspicious at the time that employees would NOT diligently come into work at 7:30 and leave nine hours later. I had an office directly across from the city hall and could see people come and go. Several times I was in my office by 7:30 but I didn’t see many city staffers coming in. I frequently toured the seven floors of city hall around 8 a.m., and while the administrative assistants were there answering phones, most others were not.

In winter months I noticed that at 5 p.m. most office lights were off – city hall was dark. And every other Friday city hall was closed.

In reality, the employees – then and now -- are working nine short days but getting paid for a full-time 40-hour week. And the average management professionals group has a base salary of $149,306, and with benefits, $240,791, according to the Palo Alto Weekly. The City of Palo Alto offers its employees a generous benefit package, featuring family medical coverage, retirement, life insurance, plus 12 paid holidays per year, complete dental and vision plan, fully paid life insurance equal to an annual salary, long-term disability plan, 96 hours of sick leave a year, two to five weeks vacation a year, a flexible account for health care and child care expenses, and more, according to the city’s web site. Plus they are about to get an automatic pay raise -- one not based on merit but just being on the job.

Sounds pretty cushy to me, and 9/80 has been going on for years.

BTW, since the coronavirus hit, most employees were told to work from home. But they all are being paid full salary from April until the end of June, costing about $5 million) when final decisions will be made or who has to go because of the city’s budget deficit of $39 million.

Speaking of the deficit, City Manager Ed Shikada announced he was taking a 20 percent cut and other managers would be taking a 15 percent salary cut. But it turns out Shikada maybe isn’t really taking such a big cut, which resident Jeanne Fleming complained to me about, and also the Daily Post ran a story about it. A memo from last Monday’s city council meeting explained how Shikada is taking a 20 percent “cut.” Some 4.5 percent is due to a city-imposed salary freeze. And 10 percent comes from 26 days of his unpaid time off. He will also give up $1,250 from his $5,000 spending account. The Post reported that Shikada acknowledged “online comments about my compensation giveback, (but) the council’s approval of this plan recognizes the value of our management and employee contribution to ensure continued services to the community.”

Shikada makes $403,729 this year, including benefits. So it seems like there’s no real 20 percent salary cut. Who is fooling whom?

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