San Marcos Councilmember Chris Jones (center) argues for the council to table an item setting council compensation. Listening in are San Marcos City Manager Rick Menchaca (left) and Councilmember Fred Terry (right). Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
On the eve of an election that could define a new voting majority on the city council, San Marcos City Councilmembers voted Monday to table two contentious items regarding compensation.
Councilmembers tabled an employment agreement with the city’s police officers, then tabled a second and deciding vote on payment for themselves.
Danny Arrendondo, president of the San Marcos Police Officers Association (SMPOA), said some of his membership wanted clarification regarding aspects of the proposed police agreement. The city and the SMPOA have been working on a three-year agreement during meet and confer negotiations.
“There was some legal language that needed to be cleared up,” Arrendondo said. ” … We were in the course of taking a vote among the membership (at the last SMPOA meeting). Since there was a question about legal language, we had to stop the vote in order to maintain the integrity of the process, and now we’re going to wait in a few days. We’ll have another meeting and we’ll determine — we should get a copy (of the proposed agreement) back (from the city) with any language corrected and we’ll move forward from there.”
Arredondo said 92 members of the San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) were at SMPOA’s last meeting. All city police, whether they are members of the association, have a right to vote on the terms of the employment agreement. Arredondo said the only law enforcement officers who do not vote on police employment agreements are the department’s two assistant chiefs and the chief. The chief’s pay is negotiated separately from the meet and confer negotiations.
“Economic issues are not the only issues discussed in (meet and confer),” Arredondo said. “There are a number of things that are discussed … which include issues such as promotions, arbitrational issues, a number of other things. In fact, you find that a lot of the legal terms (of the agreement) come from more non-economic issues than they do economic issues.”
Arredondo said one goal of the meet and confer negotiations is to attract and retain high-quality employees.
“I think (most SMPOA members) are satisfied with the (meet and confer) process,” Arredondo said. “I think what you find is when you have something like this, you’re always going to have things in an agreement that are going to — that somebody’s not going to be 100 percent happy with everything in it. And each individual will be able to look at some part of an agreement and say, ‘That doesn’t apply to me.’ But what we have to do is look at the big picture and look at the totality of the agreement and how it affects the entire membership or the greater good. And that’s what the vote’s for, to determine that.”
In a related development, councilmembers voted, 6-1, to allot up to $45,000 more to the law firm Denton, Navarro, Rocha and Bernal (DNRB) for its work in negotiating for the city with the police and fire fighters associations. DNRB also is drafting the employment agreements with the SMPOA and the San Marcos Professional Fire Fighters Association (SMPFFA).
The city already has paid DNRB more than $70,000, which is the amount originally agreed upon. DNRB has represented the city in about 14 nine-hour rounds of meet and confer negotiations with each professional association. Additional meet and confer negotiations are scheduled between the city and SMPFFA.
“Spending $70,000 for an outside attorney, and now we’re asking for another $45,000 — I think it should have been done for $70,000,” said Councilmember John Thomaides, who voted against the additional funds.
Assistant City Manager Collette Jamison said the city may not have to spend all of the additional $45,000 once the contracts between and fire and police associations are finalized.
Councilmember Chris Jones asked whether the meet and confer process would have to be started from “square one” if the council chose not to retain DNRB. City Attorney Michael Cosentino replied that the meet and confer process could continue on without DNRB, but on pain of losing the relationships and knowledge DNRB has developed in its work up to this point.
As the council approached a second and final reading on ordinance that would pay themselves $500 per month and the mayor $750 per month, Jones motioned to table the item. Councilmembers Fred Terry and Pam Couch voted against tabling the council compensation item, and the tabling passed, 5-2.
“I think that this item has gotten to the point where, with an election looming, it’s become very political,” Jones said. “And, quite frankly, I think there are clear merits that we, as a council, need to consider before making this decision, and I don’t think that those merits need to be influenced by politics.”
After Jones outlined his reasoning, San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz said the discussion regarding city councilmember pay began in February 2009.
“… And so, well before the political season,” Narvaiz said. “My request at the first meeting was not politically-driven.”
Jones replied that he had been referring to the current debate on council compensation, not the discussion at the time of its inception.
The council voted, 4-3, for the compensation on first reading at its Oct. 22 meeting. Voting in favor of the compensation at that meeting were Councilmembers Couch, Jones, Terry and Gaylord Bose. Voting in opposition were Narvaiz, Thomaides and Councilmember Kim Porterfield.
Two seats are at stake in the city council election on Tuesday. Among sitting councilmembers, only Thomaides is running for re-election.
On June 16, councilmembers voted down the proposed stipends without discussing the matter in open session. Terry and Jones cast the only votes for the salaries at that meeting.
In November 2008, city voters gave 80.28 percent approval to a charter amendment “to provide that city council compensation shall be set in a public forum by ordinance of the city council,” in the language of the ballot.
After the Monday city council meeting, Couch said she hopes the council compensation item will be placed on next meeting’s agenda.
“That is what the citizens voted on, that is the direction from the citizens, and I think that people forget that,” Couch said. ” … That was a very clear message.”Email | Print
The pay discussion actually started back in the ’80’s, but like many a political hobby-horse, it continues to circle the show ring, each time with a new rider and an altered rationale. Think Sign Ordinance, Downtown Bar Ordinance, Residential Zoning Ordinance, Noise Ordinance–even the ancient discussion of whether our public safety personnel wanted the security of Civil Service, with its built-in inequities, or the riskier Employment by Contract–maybe fairer, but not so secure.
Whew! Next thing we know, the Wonder World cut to RR12 and Loop 110 will be brand new concepts instead of two-decade battles with UPAC and the State and others. So far, five environmental studies–esp. for endangered birds–and hardly a decision made except that both are necessary for SM not to choke on its own traffic. Not a bird found yet, to my knowledge. Same with CBD parking.
Hint: If it is critical for some reason that it be done, and if it is feasible, and if it won’t lead off a cliff, do it. If it doesn’t meet the critical needs test or the smell test, etc., don’t do it. Flirting is a waste of talent.
Maybe Pam was making a joke at her last meeting — “clear message.” Your average voter who turned out for the Presidential election probably couldn’t tell you if coucil was paid or volunteer. When they read that compensation should be set in “public” and by “ordinance of .. council,” I am sure that sounded preferable to in secret or by whim of the Mayor. Clear language would have noted that council was moving from volunteer to paid with tax dollars and would have made clear that Council itself would determine its compensation. That would have been clear, but it might not have passed.
Yep! Mr. McGlothlin, you nailed it quite accurately there.
It’s amazing what our City Council majority can convince themselves of.
I think I voted for it in 2008 knowing what it meant, alhtough I’m not sure if I would still vote for it now. When you start second-guessing voters based on hunches and what you think they were thinking, it becomes a slippery slope.
Vague proposition language leaves people to argue over what was approved. Second-guessing is different — what voters approved was clear but you think they are wrong. I agree that second-guessing is a slippery slope or downright undemocratic.