Saturday, June 28, 2008

"The truth is "hate speech" only to those who have something to hide."
~Michael Rivero

According to my friends who read our local newspaper's blogs (I tell them to stay away from them -- the nastiness can't be good for them), anyone who opposes unsustainably high public safety salaries and benefits in Vallejo is called a "hater." We are called "haters" because apparently the, "if you're not with us, you're against us" mentailty reigns. The alleged "haters" are accused of hating all police officers and firefighters.

We don't hate police officers and firefighters. We hate the tactics their unions are using against our city and our community. We hate the fact that nearly nearly 80 percent of our general fund goes to public safety and unsustainably high salaries and benefits, leaving only approximately 20 percent for other necessary city services. We hate the fact that our streets are riddled with potholes, our trees are overgrown, our libraries are closing and our senior centers are reducing programs and services to seniors in need. We hate the fact that we want our city back, and we can’t do that until we regain control of our own city checkbook again.

We are not haters. We are Vallejo citizens who have a right to demand services for the taxes we are paying. We have a right to decide if our taxes are being spent wisely and if not, to demand a change that will do so. We have a right to complain about gross inequities. And we have a right to complain about any abuse of the public trust.

I’m copying a letter here from a resident of another city in California. I won’t name the city or the woman because she is apparently already facing retribution from speaking the truth in her community. My heart went out to her when I read her e-mail as she's apparently enduring a lot of what we Vallejoans have been enduring these past few years. Is she a "hater" too? Or maybe she is a heroine for having the courage to stand up and be counted in the face of a powerful opposition. It’s amazing how many definitions for “hero” there can be – and it doesn’t just have to be one.

Hi Ms. Gomes,

I have been watching your city's situation since my 85 year old cousin, a life-long Vallejo resident, told me what was going on about a year and a half ago. About a year ago, our city manager announced we were in the same situation. We have the same problem with salaries – in a city where the average family lives on about $40,000, we have 84 city staffers who make over $100,000 a year, about half of those make over $150,000. Plenty of those salaries are in our development services dept, but the police dept takes almost half our budget, and of course their biggest expenditure is salaries. The chief makes a base salary of over $160,000.

They achieved these salaries through a Memo of Understanding that tied their salaries to city revenues. I often wonder if that's how Vallejo ended up in trouble - our staffers were getting raises as high as 22 percent per year because they were permitting every subdivision that came along. Now our housing market is completely bust, and prices and prop tax revunues are headed down, but they are kicking and fighting to keep their crazy salaries.

They continue to justify these salaries not with a survey of cities nearby of similar size, but of faraway cities that are much bigger and have a much bigger tax base. Sound familiar? I wonder if this is going on in the same fashion all over the U.S.

When our local tv news ran a story about Vallejo's financial problems, a lot of other people here started watching. People like me and my husband are saying "Go Get 'Em Stephanie!" You're tough, and you say it like it is. Thank you.

The discussion has gotten ugly here - I am sorry to say, we have found out our public safety workers are not very classy people, that's too bad. Anybody who stands up to say we need to cut salaries gets a lot of nasty flak - they posted my photo on a website, and you should see the comments they make about me. They're trying to smear me, because I am vocal in my demands that salaries get cut and the public be let in on the salary discussions in future. I have one city counselor on my side - he's one of only two members who is not a union employee himself, go figure. Five of our seven council members are public employees themselves. Our mayor has said he will refuse to vote for bankruptcy.

I am surely hoping the judge will decide in your favor. I think that will change the tune here. It will sure be a good topic for our up-coming election.

Thank you again Ms. Gomes.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Do what you feel in your heart to be right -- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't."
~Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, June 20, 2008

I was on the waterfront the other evening and noticed this lone goose sitting on the grass in front of the ferry building. It seemed very out of place, sitting on the grass tucking his head into his back feathers and trying to snooze in the heat. The waterfront was busy, and people were walking by him, leading their small children up to the goose to check him out, letting their dogs get too close. The goose would get up and get a bit cranky, then settle down again when left alone.

I love geese. They have this cocky attitude and bold, expressive eyes that are part challenger, part comic, and part inquisitor. They make me laugh. But while amusing in their attitude, I also know that geese can be aggressive, and they will snap at people if pushed too far.

I knew the goose didn’t belong there, and felt that it was very vulnerable – humans and dogs being their primary predators. I was getting ready to call Animal Control when a young man and woman walked up to the goose. They were obviously high on something, and the man went up to the goose and tried to grab it. The woman was laughing and egging him on. The goose snapped at him, and the man jumped back, then advanced towards the goose again.

I asked the man to leave the goose alone, and said very calmly that it was wildlife and should not be messed with. I was dialing Animal Care & Control at the time, and the man started yelling at me. It wasn’t the yelling that bothered me as much as the chilling effect of his words. Something to the effect (I won’t repeat the cuss words, which were liberally laced throughout his speech), “Who are you going to call? The police? The police aren’t going to help you. This city is bankrupt. The police said they’re not going to answer any calls that aren’t violent. I know the law here. They’re not going to help you. They’re not going to protect you. They’re not going to come out here and save you. This city is bankrupt. The police aren’t going to do nothing.”

Animal Care & Control came and we caught the goose (Thanks to Justine and David, he’s at a sanctuary now). But the encounter has been repeating itself in my mind for two days now. The obvious realization is that the scare tactics had obviously gotten to the streets, emboldening people who heard that they can do whatever they want in Vallejo as long as it wasn’t a violent crime. (The young man was wrong, as Chief Nichelini told the Council Tuesday night. The VPD will continue to protect the life and property of the citizens of Vallejo, as they have sworn to do).

Setting aside the couple’s bad behavior, I felt my encounter with that lone goose happened for a reason. And after a bit of research, I found some perfect inspirational tidbits that were just waiting to be shared with Vallejo*:

  1. Geese fly in a V formation, and as each goose flaps its wings it creates an "uplift" for the birds that follows. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone. People who share a common direction and sense a community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.
  2. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front of it. If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.
  3. Geese shift the leadership positions frequently during the flight. It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities, and unique arrangements of gifts, talents, or resources.
  4. Migrating geese make loud, honking noises, called contact calls, to help them stay together. We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater.

Yes, the police may not be able to be everywhere for everyone in Vallejo. But their intentions are good and they are sworn to protect us, and I believe they will do their best to continue doing so. But as residents, we can help pick up some slack. We can join together, keep an eye out for each other and help and volunteer when we can. I feel very strongly that we can work our way through the pain of bankruptcy, that we’ll solve our financial problems and our structural imbalance. And when we come out on the other side, we’ll be a strong community that will take pride in our resolve and our tenacity and our newfound health and vigor. So please, as we go through these trying times, watch out for those more vulnerable than yourself – bad behavior should never be tolerated, and inhumanity never witnessed without protest.

*The information from Lessons from the Geese came from, and is based on a written piece in 1972 by Dr Robert McNeish.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I've been meaning to start a blog for awhile now, but it seems that time is always a factor. But with a newspaper that has a certain political bent, I realized that I had to show that there are different perspectives to most issues. And contrary to our less than venerable local newspaper, all news in Vallejo isn't bad news, and all sides to an issue aren't "right" or "wrong." They're just different. This blog will focus on sharing my points of view, my reasonings behind some of the more controversial votes, and things I'm doing in our community.

So here it goes. But a disclaimer is needed, I think. This blog will be similar to an editorial in a newspaper. The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone and come from my personal point of view -- they are not the opinions of any other city councilmembers, the city manager or staff. The issues I discuss on this blog will center around the public realm, city politics, and issues related to Vallejo and city government. Once I get things up and running, I will allow people to post moderated questions to me on the blog. But for now, I'll just be posting as regularly as possible, sometimes more often than others, so keep checking back!
"It does not take a majority to prevail. Just an irate, tireless minority, setting brushfires in peoples minds." ~Judy Cohen Hotchkiss

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