Salary whittling proves a painful exercise

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Trying to power the notebook with solar panels while promising to buy one of the new tiny green cars when they’re ready. Matter of fact, I’ll purchase two — one for each foot ... And speaking of new cars, were you aware that some state assembly members and senators can use taxpayers’ money to finance the care and feeding of two vehicles? Seems we working stiffs are legally on the hook for an auto in each district, and another for use at Sacramento. Not all of the solons and legislators resort to such padding, but one’s too many. Then add per diem, travel expenses and other benefits such as insurance to those hefty salaries and it’s easy to see why about half of the state’s adult population eventually eyes a run for office. Such porking out at the public trough is despicable, especially in today’s economic world where more than one in 10 of us is without a job, and another large chunk of the populace is less than gainfully employed. What can we do about it? Very little, except to try to remember which snout goes with which set of cloven hooves come next election. And what can Kathy Sands do about it? Apparently a whole lot more. And — thankfully, she’s doing it. The former mayor of Auburn currently sits on the California Compensation Commission, a governor-appointed board which has some purview over the salaries and other benefits (thoroughly) enjoyed by the state’s elected officials. Two years ago, Sands led the way in chopping a suggested 7 percent pay hike down to a more reasonable 2-and-change. This time around — joined by some new members who share her sense of outrage — the commission is using a meat cleaver where previous boards opted for micro-surgery with paltry penknives. The commission has already rammed through an 18 percent salary cut, and now is targeting the per diem, a racket which many state legislators manage to live on while banking their six-figure salaries, “I really don’t understand what those (elected) officials are thinking,” Sands said, adding “if I were an elected official during times like these, I would voluntarily cut my salary.” As it stands now, even the cuts already approved aren’t all that draconian, not when they don’t go into effect until after the next election. Still, it’s a long overdue step in the right direction and Sands and her cohorts should be applauded for their efforts. ... Pied Piper of Hamlin: Auburn police officer Stan Hamlin is in charge of his department’s labor bargaining organization — the Auburn Police Officers Association (APOA). As such, he formulates strategy during contract negotiations, and at other extraordinary times such as the current dilemma which finds the local cops mulling an offer from the city to accept some unpaid time off in exchange for extra paid days down the line. As I explained before, the idea is for the employees to give a little in order to keep layoffs at an absolute minimum, as two young officers will find out in the next few weeks. Hamlin is well aware that cops can’t strike, which severely limits the number of tools in that box. However, cops can file lawsuits, and thus far, nobody’s seen a lawsuit that didn’t cost a lot of money — on both sides of the case. APOA has already filed one, and we’re told by excellent sources that at least two more are on the way. The cops appear to be buoyed by a strike fund they’ve put together, one we’re reliably told runs close to $60,000. Well guess what? Sixty grand these days doesn’t buy a whole lot of legal time. Meanwhile, APOA would do well in Googling the names Stan Hamlin and that of Auburn City Attorney Mike Colantono. See which one produces the greater amount of legal cases and opinions. Granted the city can easily outspend and (legally) outwit the APOA, but as usual, only the attorneys will get rich. Also, should the APOA courtroom ploy wind up costing the city a bulk of dough, that can only lead to the need for even more layoffs. Care to predict which department will suffer those new ones? How about whichever department caused the new expenditures? I posed the question to Mayor Mike Holmes as to who would be laid off should the APOA cause even more precious city dollars to be whittled away. The mayor said there was a “distinct possibility” any needed layoffs would come from the ranks of Auburn’s Finest. We tried checking this out with Hamlin, but calls were not returned by press time. No, I do not believe he’s avoiding me, such as is the case with the Local 39 brain trust. Hamlin has always been a stand-up guy, especially with returning calls. I expect to hear from him soon, and will relay his side of the story in a future column. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at jimruffalo@