BREAKING THE UNION ONE BACK AT A TIME, BUT HOW DO YOU ATTRACT BUSINESS IF YOU SAY THE CITY IS NEAR BANKRUPTCY?
By Steven Tavares
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As far as ruses go, San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy’s ploy to bolster his sacrifice to the city’s budget perceived woes is one for the record books.
Cassidy famously vowed to not draw a salary as mayor until the budget was balanced. This was honorable until critics pointed out the budget, despite shortfall, has always been balanced. Every cities budget is balanced by law, they said. But Cassidy trudged along raising the spin of sacrifice based upon a lie.
What is galling about Cassidy’s ruse is it is based of downright righteous indignation. There is very little sacrificed involved in foregoing a paltry $3,500 monthly salary when you draw the paycheck of partner in a San Francisco law firm. It’s an affront to working people, the very employees he intends to cripple on the false assumption the city’s finance’s are shot thereby in need of a fix zeroing on pensions and benefits.
San Leandro’s announcement last week of a balanced budget, more precisely posed as a fiscal proposal with very few further cuts to services will lead to the wealthy mayor to again draw a salary. Ironically, Cassidy’s pocket money comes not by any fiscal solution on his part, but ironically from his rival, former mayor Tony Santos.
City Manager Stephen Hollister said without $2.5 million in additional sales tax revenue from Measure Z, the city faced a potential hole of $3.5 to fill. The sales tax measure overwhelmingly passed last November by voters, was vehemently opposed by Cassidy on the basis the tax was regressive. He now prospers on the back of a budget-saving proposal he did not support. His political sideshow duping financially struggling residents into believing the high-priced lawyer was acting as one of the people is shown nowhere in reality. In the months since becoming mayor, Cassidy has not personally struggled with his mayor’s salary, in fact, he plans to move to San Leandro’s most expensive addresses in the Bay-O-Vista neighborhood.
Despite signs of an economic prosperity in San Leandro’s future, Cassidy is now ignoring the recent good news and instead is again creating a false reality were a dire fiscal situation is still somewhere around the corner. Of course, no amount of good news will stop Cassidy from fulfilling his real agenda: breaking the city’s employee unions.
Last Monday, Cassidy unfurled a “Mission Accomplish” banner at City Hall and announced with the budget “balanced,” he will now accept payment for his work in the mayor’s office, although, most agree he barely spends one day a week at City Hall. But not to be outdone by the seemingly positive budget news, Cassidy puffed out his chest feathers like giant warbling Thanksgiving turkey and said he would take the initiative in paying more towards his city pension. “Leadership is by example,” he told his colleagues on the City Council. Cassidy will be paying eight percent of his salary towards his pension, but this Kabuki dance begs the question, if he is such a big shot, why is he drawing a pension anyway? The medical benefits are far more valuable than the pension. Why not give that up?
Of course, this is another attempt by the rotund mayor to continue to eat the city’s finest meats and cheeses from his home in the San Leandro highlands, while acting the hero. But his actions Monday night were far worse than that. As Cassidy’s brutish, uncivilized personality dictates, he rudely called out the council in open session to follow his lead. The ambush was noted afterwards by several council members, who waved off it off as Stephen Being Stephen.
“I’ll also put out there for consideration that we contribute to our CalPERS rate,” he said. “It’s your decision, but I think it’s something you need to think about because at the end of the day there’s going to have to be additional sacrifices and it’s not fair to ask others to sacrifices if we’re not going to sacrificing ourselves.” He later specified the sacrifices others, namely city employees, would be making is paying more benefits while receiving less pay and working more hours. “This is sacrifice is going to be employees picking up part of the CalPERS costs,” he said. Nevermind such a proposal does not have nearly enough support on the council to be approved and not to mention the notion of Draconian austerity will become increasingly laughable with shrinking shortfalls and an improving economy on the horizon.
He also did not realize his various sacrifices by example to the residents of San Leandro is not novel. Councilman Jim Prola does not draw a pension from the city and yet he did not stand on his chair and crow about his decision. The comments also raise questions of Cassidy’s ability to be collegial with the members of the council and whether anything will ever get done in the shadow of the impolite mayor.
San Leandro is one of the very few who will avert another devastating round of budget cuts. Alameda County, alone , is facing a $140 million shortfall. In the entire landscape of the East Bay, San Leandro’s proactive stance in cutting staff and gaining concessions from labor unions over the past three years is the main reason the hurt is a lot less here than other cities. What is most disconcerting about this mayor’s early performance is he has put his conservative fiscal agenda ahead of San Leandro’s ability to continue to climb out of the Great Recession. Ask yourself this: how can the city attract and maintain burgeoning tech industries when the mayor’s consistently plays the bankruptcy card when the truth is so far from his own reality?