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CORD BAUER, San Clemente

My favorite COVID-19 lockdown activity has been trying to find the end of the internet.  During one attempt a couple weeks ago, I happened on a live session of the San Clemente City Council meeting, and was astounded at what I heard. 

Mayor Pro Tem Gene James asked his fellow councilmembers to consider changing how we negotiate our employee contracts, because both sides of the bargaining table are represented by Calpers members.

That’s right; the taxpayers are represented by the city manager, a California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers) member. On the other side of the table are union negotiators. Strangest of all, this has been going on for as long as anyone can remember. 

Gene James brought this up, because right now the city has $49 million in unfunded pension liabilities. While unemployment has spiked and our local shops are going out of business, this unfunded liability only grows.

Part of the problem with this $49 million hole is that last year we were told by our interim city manager that the city budget was under control.  It turns out that it wasn’t, and our revenues slipped. 

I’ve heard the same words this year about our budget and about the resilience of management to cut corners without cutting jobs or services. But based on the results I’ve seen year after year, I simply don’t believe it. Expenses have outstripped revenues by $6 million for more than three years in a row.

The main question we need to ask: who is looking out for the taxpayer? Is it our city manager—a Calpers member who lives in another town? Is it our part-time city council?  I think the residents of San Clemente can see that there are serious ongoing problems. 

During the last election, over 90% of the town’s registered voters went to the polls. Is this patriotism on display, or a sign that San Clemente residents are worried about their government?

Finally, although it might seem like I’m pointing fingers at city employees, they are not the enemy. There are ingrained rules and management structures that need to be fixed, and I hope this council can work together to make it happen.

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