Today’s city council meeting was packed with discussions about many different issues including amendments to the budget. One that just cannot be overlooked is Council Member Helena Brown’s amendment for the city to stop paying into the pension systems. Her solution to the pension problem is to just stop paying. CM Brown’s amendment will “bring to question the state constitutionality of forcing a municipality into bankruptcy by obliging them to maintain an unsustainable pension plan” (see here).
CM Brown has a history of taking the easy way out, and this is no different. A council member’s job is to critically consider every ordinance. If a member already knows that he or she is voting “no” no matter what, that council member doesn’t have to take the time to fully consider anything. There is a difference between making tough decisions and making no decision. Also, rather than doing the hard work required to fix the pension situation, she is now saying that we should just stop funding it instead. Unlike many other projects in the city, this is not one that can just be defunded. City workers entered into a contract with the city, and the city has to hold up their end of the agreement. Can you imagine what would happen if they don’t (the red light camera contract comes to mind)? It is because of these types of situations that people have so little trust in our government. Surely changes must be made with the pension system. One idea might be to stop pensions for new employees, but pensions should still be paid to any current or former employee who presently qualifies for the pension and who we are contractually obligated to pay. While I can appreciate her sentiment that the current pension program is expensive, her proposal just acts as a roadblock and makes real proposals more difficult to introduce. Why propose ideas that have no chance of being implemented?
Other budget amendment Highlights:
Council Member Jack Christie – Proposed an amendment to require certain departments to fill all job vacancies with three months or forfeit the position. Interesting idea, but I think CM Christie needs to look into this one a little further. Departments such as Police and Fire might have vacancies because they are waiting to hire the best officers and firefighters for the jobs. So this might be useful in some departments, but I think he should not extend this amendment to agencies across the board.
Council Member Ellen Cohen – Proposed a $5/person fee on adult entertainment establishments. This is expected to generate about $3 million per year, and the money would go to help with the backlog of untested rape kits. You may remember that when CM Cohen was a state house representative, she passed a similar tax on the state level (House Bill 1751 in the 80th Session) and received bipartisan but not unanimous support. We will see how this pans out on the city level.
Council Member Andrew Burks – Proposed a ballot measure to change term limits from the current two-year term (up to three terms) to a four-year term (up to two terms). So while this wouldn’t change the number of years members are in office, the change would allow members to serve longer terms and not have to campaign every other year. This has been introduced in the past, but members failed to put it on the ballot. While Mayor Parker supports this, it is not an issue she has pushed for.
Council Member Melissa Noriega – Proposed for an evaluation of cost savings to provide electronic documents for council meetings. If it’s cost effective, I don’t see why they shouldn’t make this change.