Reading SB 331 (Mendoza), I was reminded of the proverb made famous by playwright Clare Booth Luce, “No good dead goes unpunished.” SB 331 would significantly increase the costs of providing vital services to residents to punish any local government that had the temerity of enacting an ordinance that discloses to the public the provisions and potential costs of any proposed collective bargaining agreement or counter proposal offered by the local government employer or the public employee union. Measures that cast a healthy sunlight upon collective bargaining provisions and their potential short-term and long-term cost costs have become known as as “Civic Openness in Negotiations” or COIN ordinances.
Reminiscent of the good government citizen reformers who formed the Lincoln-Roosevelt League in the early 20th Century to take back our state government from the steely grips of the all-powerful Southern Pacific Railroad, a relatively small number of locally elected leaders have stood up and are using the power of transparency and accountability to maximize the provision of cost-effective services to their residents. Out of the approximately 5,500 cities, counties and special districts in California, the elected leaders of only a few local governments, such as the City of Costa Mesa, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Orange County and Auburn have enacted COIN ordinances or policies.
As the Mayor of Auburn in 2012 and based on my study of the reasons why some local governments succeed while others deteriorate, I concluded that the only way to ensure that our local government would be a servant rather than a master of our constituents, maximize services, enhance public safety and be fiscally sustainable over the long-run was to enact two key transparency and accountability policies. The first was a Performance-Based Budget that annually measures service levels provided to constituents. For instance, how many lane miles were repaired or what is the response time in minutes to emergencies by the city’s Fire Department. The second was a “Transparency in Bargaining” policy, which has many of the same attributes of a COIN ordinance. They city’s “Transparency policy requires that the initial and final provisions and fiscal impact of the city and union collective bargaining proposals be put on the city’s website. A key feature of this policy was a prohibition on the City Council from approving any collective bargaining agreement for at least two weeks to give the public sufficient time to examine the proposal and speak out in support or opposition.
But for the public employee union sponsors of SB 331, giving voters more opportunity to learn about the provisions and potential costs of collective bargaining proposals is considered a grave threat. Under SB 331, any local government with a COIN ordinance would also be mandated to approve certain types of contracts for goods sort services with a value of $250,000 or more only after first hiring an independent auditor, reviewing the auditor’s published report, delaying approval of the contract for no less than 60 days and holding two public hearings. If the elected board met every two weeks, the total delay in contracting for service would rise to 74 days.
The public employee union sponsors conveniently forget that while in the state and most local governments collective bargaining agreements are negotiated behind closed doors and hidden from the public until only a few days before approval, state law requires an open and competitive bid and evaluation process before a local government decides to contract for services. So under SB 331, the most transparent local governments in California would be forced to spend additional tax dollars to conduct redundant studies and further delay action whenever the local government wanted to contract with private sector firms with the expertise and equipment to pave roads, update phones and computers, lease property, remove waste, clean restrooms or provide services to the poor, disabled and mentally ill.
And to show the animus toward non-union workers in the private sector, the public employee union sponsors amended the bill to exempt the time-consuming, expensive and duplicative auditing requirements if the services are provided by a union shop.
The underlying aim of supporters of SB 331 is that all services provided by local governments should be provided by local government employees, that citizens should pay more in taxes in support the local government employee wages, pensions, workers’ compensation and health insurance costs and that all collective bargaining negotiations should return to the back room safety hidden from public view. They seek the crush a fledging reform movement and raise the cost of good government.
Did Governor Brown support hard-working Californians, taxpayers, seniors and the cherished concept of local control? Or did he side with the special interests who use the legislative process to crush good government? Governor Brown signed SB 331.