Ruffalo: Citizens: Your input sought on Auburn services

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Perusing the pages of the notebook while noting that Nevada City’s annual Parade of the Presidents is scheduled for Sept. 12. Wonder if it’ll be at a golf course so that the Obama replica has a chance to take part in the festivities? Also upcoming is a series of March meetings between various city departments and the good villagers of Auburn. According to City Manager Bob Richardson, who was the speaker at Tuesday’s Meddlers, those confabs are designed to receive input on what Auburnians feel are the more important city services. “All cities have been shrinking their services lately, so we want to find out what the folks feel are the more important services for them,” he said, adding that while city personnel might think one thing is more needed than another, the people may see things differently. In English, that means that certain services may be cut or drastically reduced, so it’s up to the “customers” to prioritize what they feel is needed most. And according to Richardson, the budget process won’t just include the setting of priorities. “The city is also looking into how to modify the ways those services are delivered. The council wants to maintain a robust level of service, but we may be able to find better and less expensive ways to deliver them,” he said. Richardson cited the change in the way the city enforces parking regulations as a prime example of what modification can accomplish. Traditionally, cities use sworn officers for such enforcement, but Auburn recently put several graduates of its volunteer program to work as parking enforcement officers. I’ve seen the program in action. Not only is it efficient and — more importantly — constant, but it also is being done for a lot less than it cost in its former form ... Punt, impasse and kick: There is another set of negotiations, these being the contract talks between Placer County and the Placer Public Employees Organization (PPEO). On July 28, the county issued what it termed its “Last, Best and Final Offer” (LBFO), one which basically reiterated the county’s intent to have retirees pick up a larger share of funding medical retirement benefits (the so called “80-20” funding mechanism). Then, somewhat inexplicably, at an Aug. 11 negotiations meeting, the county offered a “Last, Last, Best and Final Offer,” now labeled “LLBFO.” That document upped the sick-leave cap from the just-modified 440 hours to 600 hours, and reduced the cost members paid for family dental coverage. However, before that PPEO and its Local 39 representatives could even digest the latest “final” offer, the county apparently had its own time schedule, According to a PPEO memo, just about three hours after the Last-Last Offer — and before the PPEO could respond — the county e-mailed a letter declaring an impasse. The two sides met again five days later, but it was apparent early on things were at a stand-still. The county tried to label the Aug. 16 gathering as “an impasse meeting,” while the PPEO insisted it was “a negotiation session.” Gentle readers old enough to remember the silliest part of the early negotiations to end the Vietnam War will recall the first several meetings stalled because the two sides could not agree upon the shape of the bargaining table. I wish I was making that up, but ask the surviving families of the troops killed during those negotiation sessions how implausible and surreal it all seemed then. Most readers know I’m a firm believer that taxpayer-provided benefits need to be severely curtailed in these red-ink times, but I’m also a firm believer in honest and straight-forward bargaining sessions. Please save the games for supervisorial re-election campaigns. ... A quick word: Allow me to express my gratitude for the rather large amount of e-mails sent to me regarding my recent writings on the pensions mess. I admit most of the missives were critical, although more than a few said it was an issue requiring thorough discussion. A few even took my side. Still, I really want to point out that each and every note was accompanied by the writer’s name. That’s a far cry from those who post electronic messages under the cloak of a nom de plume. Isn’t that brave? When I write something, my name is there for all to see. But a shameful few go into full attack mode while hiding their true identities. Don’t worry, I can take it. In fact, I’m such a ham I revel in any response. However, I’m rather perplexed at how many people are being vilified, and even slandered in some cases, by chattering cowards who won’t even sign their own names. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at