|Issue: #122||October 5, 2013|
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Comes before Council October 15
Employee Punishment is Bad Policy
|Stan Fleury deserves right of free speech |
The City's recent discipline of three employees who spoke up about problems in the City raises very serious questions.
In one case, Stan Fleury, who works in the Information Technology department and is a steward in IFPTE 21, was disciplined for comments he made during public forum at the Human Rights Human Relations (HRHR) Commission meeting among other charges. He was talking about problems of intimidation and bullying within the city administration. Punishment for this is unacceptable:
- First is the basic issue of free speech. So precious is this right, that the only time, someone can be punished for it is when it goes so far over the top as to be immediately and unreasonably threatening to the safety or well-being of others. It also goes against a section of Richmond's Municipal Code City employees shall not be discouraged from or disciplined for the expression of their personal opinions on any matter, so long as the opinion is not represented as that of the City and does not misrepresent the City's position."
- Second, he is being disciplined at work for an alleged action outside of work. There are courts to handle actions outside of work. The labor movement has long fought for the basic principle that you can only be penalized at work for infractions done while working.
- Thirdly, this was discussion before a City Commission which has been looking into workplace bullying and intimidation. Discipline for what one says, under these conditions is "chilling" It will make it very difficult for other city employees to step forward and complain or testify.
This discipline demonstrates an enormous double standard. When the person who is in charge of making and interpreting city employee rules, Leslie Knight, was found to have violated ethics and city policy in a number of ways, she was allowed to retire with full pension.
Now the city is punishing whistle blowers with firing and suspension for exercising free speech or much less serious infractions than Knight had committed.
This should not be allowed to stand. The HRHR Commission has asked the City Council to address this quickly. This will be heard at the Council Meeting on October 15 on items introduced by Councilmember Jovanka Beckles.
(Note Stan Fleury is allowing his entire file on this case to be public including his answer to the "charges". It is possible to view these files by contacting Stan Fleury firstname.lastname@example.org
City Employees Have Rights
Toward a Real Free Speech Policy
Why do some City managers feel so threatened when employees speak out? The people who work to keep our City running are more knowledgeable about the facts on the ground in many ways than any reporter, researcher, auditor, or attorney. These public servants carry a credibility and an insight that threatens to undermine the vague and unaccountable responses we get from the people they answer to. And, certainly, an informed workforce that is confident in expressing itself and asserting its rights is uncomfortable to anyone who sees them as simply human resources.
The City of Richmond spends a great deal of money to create the illusion of due process when it comes to employee discipline. They hire outside attorneys. In a hearing where half the Human Resources department is present, all of them are on the clock. When the City goes to arbitration and fails to convince an arbitrator of the merits of their case against an employee, more money has been wasted.
When I think of the good people the City has let go and the services we didn't provide suddenly those attorney fees and questionable disciplinary actions don't seem so insignificant. Then of course, there is the waste and inefficiency that could have been exposed and corrected in a more permissive and supportive atmosphere.
I encourage the following practices in an effort to strengthen freedom of speech and freedom from retaliation for the employees of the City of Richmond:
- The City should provide an easy to follow report to the Council and taxpayers which includes the number of new disciplinary actions, the number of cases still on the books, the dollar amount spent on staff and contracted attorneys, the breakdown of the outcomes of disciplinary actions and any policy recommendations that come from lessons learned. The names and specifically identifying details of any given case need not be revealed.
- The City should develop and implement a more transparent and effective manner to evaluate the performance of its executive staff. Such a process should include confidential evaluations by their subordinates.
- The City should develop more clear policies regarding retaliation, whistleblowing, and free speech. In such policies, even the appearance of corruption or retaliation should be examined. It is true that a supervisor should not feel afraid to fairly discipline an employee when it is warranted. However, there are practical, enforceable policies that could easily be implemented. The most obvious example is that former Assistant City Manager Leslie Knight should have been placed on administrative leave once it was determined that she did indeed violate City policies in a manner that could be interpreted as retaliatory.
- The support of the Personnel Board should be changed so it is independent of the City administration. Right now the support staff of the Board are the same as the people who set and implement the City's personnel policy-a clear conflict of interest.
- Finally, the City Council should form a working committee with some representation from Council, the Personnel Board, City management, and City employee unions to work on and develop a set of recommendations for new policy on the investigation and disciplinary process for the Personnel Board and later City council to adopt.
Understanding Chevron Tax Settlement
As most people have heard, the County Assessor and Chevron reached an agreement last month to end the 10 years of appeals on a "fair" assessment for Chevron's Richmond refinery. The deal needed to be approved by both the County Supervisors and the Richmond City Council - both of which approved it quickly in closed sessions.
The Settlement sets the total assessment for the Richmond Refinery's 2012 land, buildings and personal property (equipment, inventory, etc) at $3.28 bil. It is a victory because Chevron's negotiating positions had been between $1.45 and $1.75 bil. The working assumption of the agreement is that Chevron's property taxes can be increased by 2% per year from this point. This means that Chevron will be paying around $50 mil in property taxes in 2014. Richmond's share of this will be $14-15 mil.
Why did Chevron settle? At the most basic level, they had gotten into a very bad place with the community and needed to end their image of intransigent and bullying ways to move forward on the Modernization Project and other important matters. The heat applied by the Mayor and the community certainly helped make them come to the table and the August 2012 fire and losing the 2007-2009 Appeal at the County's Assessment Appeal Board didn't put them in a very strong negotiating position.
Is $3.28 bil a "fair" assessment? No - it is 18% less than the $4 bil average assessment for 2007-2009 decided by the Assessment Appeals Board in 2012. And it is 32% less than the $4.85 bil mid-point in the range provided by the County Assessor's Expert Witnesses in the 2007-2009 Appeal case. And both the $4 bil and $4.85 bil figures are based on Chevron's manipulated "book income" for the Refinery. True operating income is much higher than what they report. So "Fair Value" calculated using discounted cash flows is clearly in the $8-12 bil range. The net of all of this is that Chevron is going to pay property taxes on roughly 1/3rd of the property's true value. And this is consistent with the way that Prop 13 caps property taxes for large properties that don't change hands. If Chevron Richmond was valued at $1.6 bil in 1978 when Prop 13 took effect, adding 2% per year gets you to the $3.3 bil Settlement for 2012. It's no accident.
Long term, we need to separate Commercial & Industrial Property from Residential Property and allow Commercial & Industrial property assessments to go up according to its true value and not limited to 2% per year. If Chevron had been simply paying 3% more every year since 1978, the County would be getting around $20 mil/yr more than this settlement. If we could have fought for the $4.85 mid-point of the range provided by the Expert Witnesses, they would be paying $23.5 mil more per year.
- Jeff Kilbreth
5 to 2 for Respect
Video: Respect at Richmond Council Retreat
The Richmond Council and senior city staff held their long-planned daylong retreat on Friday at the Marriott to discuss how to improve the functioning and perception of the City Council.
Organized and run by a facilitator selected by City Manager Bill Lindsay, there seemed to be agreement that despite different value systems that produced differences on what was important and how the city should respond, it should be possible for there to be agreement on a number of policy and procedural issues.
Many useful ideas were generated during the discussions. Some activities the Council could work on as united body included plans to assist the struggling Hilltop commercial area, implementing the General Plan, and passing a small tax increase to pay for a program that will repair the streets.
There were also a number of ideas to make Council meetings go more smoothly. One suggestion that had support was that City Clerk Diane Holmes be empowered to examine items placed on the agenda and talk to Council members about placing non-action items as study sessions during the third Council meeting. Another was to allow the Mayor and City Manager to recommend an agenda based on city priorities and expectations about how many people would be attending the Council meeting for that item. A third was to not allow a council member or public member to pull an item from the Consent Calendar unless he or she first talked to the staff person in charge of the item. A fourth proposal that had broad support was to limit the time each Council speaker could speak each time to three-to five minutes. (After a round, Council members would get additional chances to speak.) But no votes or even polls were taken on these items.
As the meeting was drawing to a close, Bill Lindsay noted with disappointment that they never reached the point on the agenda about what people would do differently as a result of the retreat. The facilitator started a discussion on this. Jovanka Beckles proposed that they could all agree that each would treat each other with respect at Council meetings. The facilitator said this was important and added "demand respect from others and for my colleagues." Lindsay said that even if respect wasn't defined, the commitment to do this was important. Each Council person was asked, and five Council members (McLaughlin, Beckles, Butt, Rogers, and Myrick) made that commitment. Corky Booze said he could not make that commitment because he had to stay true to his principles. Nat Bates, the Councilmember who pressed for this retreat, but missed half of it to attend a funeral said he could not commit to respecting other council members at this time.
Tuesday, October 8, 5pm
As we approach the October 10th deadline, many BART passengers are justifiably concerned about the chaos that will result if service is stopped. While the public clearly does not want to see service stopped, we have to ask who is responsible for the failure of negotiations.
The BART board and mainstream media are spreading the word that the Board has been compromising while the unions have been intransigent. The reality is something quite different. BART clearly planned for a strike when they paid $400,000 for chief negotiator, Thomas Hoch, with a record of union busting and forcing strikes as the way to defeat unions. (See East Bay Express story here)
BART workers took a wage freeze four years ago to help out BART. In these contract negotiations the BART proposal has been to cut worker wages/benefits when inflation is figured in. (See East Bay Express explanation here.)
Because the jobs are unionized and it is difficult to outsource them, BART workers get good wages and benefits. They are not excessive--in the $20.00 to $30.00/hour range. These set the bar for the wages and working conditions of others in the Bay Area, particularly public employees. If management is successful in lowering the wages and benefits for workers with strong unions it will intensify the downward spiral for all working people in the community.
BART workers are seeking support. How you can help:
- Bart Workers have an adopt-a-station program to leaflet BART passengers before the strike. If you can help, particularly during the morning rush hours, email email@example.com. Put "I support BART Workers" in the subject line and indicate the station(s) you are willing to leaflet, days and times. Or call 1-415-571-5741.
They are planning a big community support march on October 8 at 5pm starting at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland.
- They are asking supporters to go to community meetings, council meetings and call attention to the workers side of this story.
See ATU 1555 We Make BART Work website
See SEIU 1021website
Real Help Instead of Sympathy
Another View on City Policy on "Eminent Domain"
While BAPAC, Corky Booze, and Nat Bates claim to speak for the whole African-American Community, there are other voices. For example Wright Enterprises Strategic Communications says this about Nat Bates' opposition to the city's attempt to fight blight by keeping people in their homes:
RICHMOND DEBATES EMINENT DOMAIN TO HELP HOMEOWNERS
Richmond City Council Member Nat Bates: "While most of us are sympathetic to the many citizen [sic] who are undergoing financial risk of losing their homes through the mortgage crisis and etc, as responsible elected officials, we must not comprise the integrity and financial ability of this city to operate efficiently." Wright Enterprises asks whether that concern translated into real help considering the programs created by the financial institutions to police themselves and the government programs have according to empirical evidence done little to nothing to help people who have lost or losing their homes? What proposal beyond "concern," has Bates and others of his thinking produced as Mayor McLaughlin is now trying to use policy, an instrument "eminent domain" that has usually been used to hurt the powerless citizens, to keep their property and dreams from being stolen?
Mexico Considering Country-Wide Soda Tax
Dear RPA activists,
Anuncio censurado sobre impuesto al refresco para bebederos
(Blocked Soda Tax Ad)
Our partners in Mexico, El Poder del Consumidor, have come a long way and are on the brink of a vote in the Mexican Chamber of Deputies (like US House of Reps) on a country wide Soda Tax. Mexican TV has blocked the airing of a pro Soda Tax commercial. Join the twitter action to help make the commercial go viral.
1. See the soda tax ad that main Mexican TV stations (#Televisa, #TVAzteca & #MilenioTV) refuse to air #anunciocensurado http://bit.ly/1bXyU4p
Main Mexican TV stations refuse to open airways to public interest NGOs to fight obesity #anunciocensurado http://bit.ly/1bXyU4p
While diabetes kills Mexicans, TV stations censure ad on soda's risks to public health #anunciocensurado http://bit.ly/1bXyU4p
Big Soda and Mexican TV team up to deny access to critical public health ad #anunciocensurado http://bit.ly/1bXyU4p
5. Mexican TV stations
(#Televisa, #TVAzteca and #MilenioTV) censor health ad to keep Big Soda happy #anunciocensurado http://bit.ly/1bXyU4p
Main Mexican TV stations refuse to open airways to public interest NGOs to fight obesity #anunciocensurado http://bit.ly/1bXyU4p
Mexican TV oligopoly (#Televisa, #TVAzteca and #MilenioTV) sides with Big Soda. Refuses to air soda tax ad. #anunciocensurado http://bit.ly/1bXyU4p
What's more important: public health or Big Soda's interests? Mexican TV denies airways to soda tax ad. #anunciocensurado http://bit.ly/1bXyU4p
Information is a critical tool to fight preventable diseases. Mexican NGOs denied airways on public health #anunciocensurado http://bit.ly/1bXyU4p
A Dream Interview
Chevron: We have no choice but to provide jobs to Richmond
The following is an interview with the CEO of Chevron Corporation, John Watson, about the relationship between his company and the local governments of Richmond and Contra Costa County, where Chevron's refining operations are headquartered.
Barb Weir: Mr. Watson, the relationship between Chevron and the local governments has not always been rosy. What's the problem?
John Watson: I'm pleased to say that we recently achieved a settlement on taxes, but you're right. The problem is that there is a fundamental difference of interests between the local residents and Chevron.
BW: How do you mean?
JW: Chevron's predecessor, Standard Oil, chose the Richmond location for its cheap land and taxes. That is still an important consideration. The economic recession was very good for us. The foreclosures and blight in Richmond caused property values to tumble, reducing our taxes by millions of dollars.
BW: So are you promoting urban blight in Richmond?
JW: "Promote" is too strong a word, but yes, we do what we can to keep Richmond in poverty.
BW: How exactly do you do that?
JW: We have no choice but to provide jobs to the people of Richmond, but the vast majority of people who work at the refinery do not live in Richmond, and most of our employees who live in Richmond are at the lower pay grades.
BW: What about the safety issues?
JW: Yes, that's also a good example. The 2012 explosion and fire cost us a lot in fines and repairs, but it also sent property values plunging, saving us more millions of dollars. It became much harder to find people and businesses willing to relocate to Richmond. All in all, it was a very good outcome for us.
BW: Where does Chevron stand on the Richmond City Council initiative to use eminent domain to seize mortgages that are "under water" - meaning greater than the market value of the home?
JW: That's an interesting question. The Wall Street banks oppose it, because they can make more money by forcing the owners to pay the high mortgages or even by foreclosing and collecting the taxpayer-backed mortgage insurance and then selling the house for peanuts. However, that's of no interest to us. We're more interested in low property values and cheap labor.
BW: So does that mean you back the mayor's plan?
JW: Not at all! The Wall Street investors say the mayor's plan will lower property values, but we don't believe that and they really don't, either. No, the mayor's plan is actually designed to rescue property values in Richmond, which is why we have decided to work against it.
BW: Isn't that going to make you a lot of enemies in Richmond?
JW: Nonsense, Barb! Around election time, we hire local youth at minimum wage to spread propaganda, and we make sure that our donations to candidates that support us are ten times higher than the budgets of their opponents. It's really not that much, when you look at the figures. In Richmond, you can have friends at very low rates. That's why we love Richmond and plan to stay.
Barb Weir is the pseudonym of a writer and human rights advocate in Northern California
[October Fools. But some dreams are pretty realistic.--ed.]
Amigos trying to fill five slots from Richmond
Summer Program in Latin America
Some friends with Amigos are trying to fill five slots from the Richmond area for their program in Latin America next summer. It is a free program for youth (scholarships available with parent participation).
Age requirement - 16 years and above by Sept. 1, 2014
Completed 2 years of high school Spanish or equivalent
Participate in chapter fundraising efforts
This is a life changing program for the hundreds of youth who travel to Latin America each summer to work on community projects.
RICHMOND MEETING - SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12 - 2:30 Pm
Bobby Bowens Progressive Center - 1021 Macdonald Ave.
Please spread the word on this informational meeting.
For more info on Amigos program: email Brittany at
Dedication of Bobby Bowens Progressive Center
Video: Bobby Bowens Center Dedication 8-11-13
USA Today Covers Richmond Housing Debate
Monday, October 14, 6:30pm
San Rafael City Councilman Damon Connolly
& Talk Show Host Norman Goldman
Representative Christopher Pearson of Vermont
at the home of Councilman Connolly
1888 Las Gallinas Avenue
San Rafael, CA 94903
Hear Vermont State Rep. Christopher Pearson,
House Caucus Leader for the Vermont Progressive Party,
the most successful third party in the country
with eight members in the Vermont Legislature.
Learn more about Vermont's move to a single-payer healthcare system
For more information, or to RSVP,
and how the Progressive Party has been instrumental in making it happen.
Radio Host Norman Goldman will discuss his thoughts
on how the Progressive Party has been so successful at
"creating a new model for change in America."
please call 802-229-0800
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Some History and Understanding of the RPA
Long article with pictures
--have patience in downloading
Join the RPA
We can only keep this city moving forward, protect our health and safety, and resist corporate domination of our politics if enough of us join together. We are asking you to take sides--to join the RPA.
UNITY - One Richmond: African-American, Asian, Latino/a, Native Americans, white, united for the good of all.
DEMOCRACY- Government of, for, by the people; all the people, not just those rich enough to buy influence.
DIVERSITY - of ideas: Democrats, Greens, independents, or other. We sometimes disagree but respect each other enough to keep working for a better Richmond together.
WHAT RPA MEMBER VOLUNTEERS DO:
- participate in periodic RPA discussions and events of community interest;
- staff the office, make phone calls, meet in committees, arrange events and parties;
- work on campaigns of RPA-endorsed candidates for city council;
- engage with neighbors;
- help shape RPA and its priorities;
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- read the newsletter at www.richmondprogressivealliance.net for what REALLY goes on in Richmond;
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Download the membership form and mail it in with dues.
Send us an email at email@example.com with the information requested on the form. And go to the RPA web page. Press the "Donate" button in the left column and make a dues contribution. An additional contribution is greatly appreciated and helps us keep dues low for those with low income.
RPA Activist Info
is for Richmond community members who want to be active in taking on the problems of the environment, racism, joblessness, housing, and crime to create a healthy Richmond. We believe that community involvement means more than voting every two years. It means regular communication with the candidates we elect, letting them know our issues and positions, supporting them as they try to take our issues forward. It means we attend meetings, use email, phone our neighbors, or go on marches building an organized movement to create real change.
Comments and columns are welcome. Articles and columns are the views of the author, unsigned text the views of the editor, Mike Parker, and not necessarily those of the RPA. Send photos, articles, and comments to RPAactivist@gmail.com or call 510-595-4661. Longer articles of analysis and archives of past newsletters can be found on our website.