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General Manager’s Report, Third Quarter of 2011

You can say a lot of things about the state of affairs in the City of San Diego, but at least you have to admit that we live in interesting times. The fiscal year that just ended on June 30 was no different. One year ago we were concerned about a variety of significant uncertainties, from the future of retiree health benefits to a projected $80 million City budget deficit to Carl DeMaio’s outsourcing ballot initiative.

What a difference a year makes. On the other hand, the more things change in San Diego the more they seem to stay the same.

The negotiations with the City related to retiree health benefits were lengthy and grueling, and frankly many of us were thinking that litigation was the most likely end result. When a different City union lost a significant retiree health court case in the middle of negotiations, that pessimism turned into the feeling that further litigation was all but certain. But an agreement was ultimately reached thanks to a significant amount of effort, leadership and compromise on both sides of the ball. For the first time in recent memory—at least with respect to this issue—a majority of City leaders chose the path of reasonable compromise and certainty over the path of litigation and turmoil.

Along those same lines, the City finally ended its appeal of MEA’s victory in the years-old Aguirre pension litigation. (See Ann Smith’s article beginning on page 5.) Ending this significant piece of litigation, as well as avoiding the threat of more with the agreement on retiree health, represents the first rays of light at the end of the City’s litigation tunnel.

Of course, there is still plenty of action at the courthouse. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s “substantially equal” lawsuit has the potential to dramatically affect employee pension contributions, and MEA has and will continue to fight this attack. Add to that the injustice related to “window period” purchase of service credits, as well as other ongoing and potential litigation issues, and suffice to say that Ann Smith isn’t going to get bored anytime soon.

At the ballot box, one year ago Carl DeMaio’s self-described purpose in life was to pass a sweeping outsourcing initiative meant to trump our agreed upon managed competition process. Ironically, Councilmember DeMaio’s proposed initiative hit a road bump when he contracted out the petition signature gathering to a private company that failed to properly qualify the ballot measure.

However, Carl is nothing if not relentless. He immediately shifted to what turned out to be a relatively effortless assault on Proposition D, the City’s attempt to raise the local sales tax rate, and eventually to a new ballot initiative that he and others are trying to qualify for the June 2012 ballot. Put that together with a crowded primary election field vying to become San Diego’s next Mayor, and we should all be prepared for months of political action that promises to be nauseating at times. For now, MEA is in the “ABCD” camp (Anyboy But Carl DeMaio) for Mayor. But in the coming months your Political Action Committee will be working hard to find a candidate to get behind as well as actively engaging in the five City Council district elections that will also be taking place next June.

Last year at this time MEA was out on a limb in our support of David Alvarez for City Council. David was running against the brother of the incumbent Councilmember at the time, and most other unions and interest groups were supporting David’s opponent. But David was clearly no ordinary candidate, and his background, work ethic and enlightened political beliefs made his campaign easy for us to support. His victory in November was a great day for the City, and his first six months in office have demonstrated that he will be an even better Councilmember than campaigner, which is really saying something.

Finally, after very significant deficits and additional layoffs were proposed for the City’s FY 2012 budget, the final result restored almost all of the proposed cuts. Until the City’s tax revenues are set at the levels needed to support the services politicians promise and citizens demand, we will continue to be a “cash-strapped” City on the brink. But there is hope that the worst may be behind us in terms of additional cuts.

On MEA’s budget front, on June 8 your Board of Directors gave final approval to our FY 2012 budget. The new budget continues to cut costs at MEA, while putting a greater emphasis on our core functions of representation, legal action, political action, and member communications. Since 2009, your dues have been reduced by more than 10%, MEA staff has been reduced by 30%, and we have eliminated hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenditures on consultants and other non-essential functions. We have done more with less by taking those savings and strengthening MEA’s essential activities, and in the process our Union has become more effective and more impactful at City Hall than ever before.

One last item…I would really encourage you to please mark your calendars for MEA’s annual General Membership Meeting scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on August 18 at the Balboa Park Club. This is always a great event with good camaraderie, interesting speakers, and tasty food. If you are a General Meeting regular, we look forward to seeing you again. If you have never attended an Annual Meeting before, come out and join the fun! We hope to see you there.

Until next time, please stay strong and hang in there. If you can, try and take some time out this summer for yourself and for your family. Everybody deserves a break from the City of San Diego once and a while!