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.