In my summation of the reasons for voting against the budget presented by Mayor Gimenez, I told the story of a minister who compliments a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. The minister remarks: "You two must have a very special formula to have lasted fifty years together."
The husband, with great pride, answers: "Yes; our formula was proposed by my wife: She said I would make all the big decisions and she would make the small decisions. Come to think of it, we haven't had a single big decision to make..."
And so it has been with the county budget. The mayor allowed us to make some small decisions, but he has not yielded an inch on the major features of his proposed budget.
For example, the commission reinstated most of the budget for agricultural services and libraries. In addition, the commission insisted that the proposed privatization of Head Start be effectively postponed for another year. And an agreement was reached to restore most of the funding for the "Boot Camp" program administered in conjunction with the juvenile court.
But nothing important changed in the budget initially presented by the mayor. From day one, Mayor Gimenez has insisted that the only way we can balance the budget is to reduce the salary of all employees another 5% -- on top of prior concessions that required them, at all levels, to give up 5% towards medical insurance and 3% towards their state-run pensions.
In the meantime, absolutely nothing changed in the way the county does business. The resounding mandate given by the voters that we streamline a bloated bureaucracy was ignored -- almost as if the enormous sound of an 88-12 recall vote had taken place in a desert, where no one heard it.
Approximately 1,200 positions were eliminated in the new budget; approximately 1,200 vacant positions are scheduled to be filled. So the county will have almost the identical number of employees (26,000) as before.
In the meantime, the mayor has "reorganized" the upper management levels by consolidating 42 listed departments into 25. But not one of the former department directors has been discharged and not one has been reduced in pay, beyond the minimal 5% reduction applicable to all employees and the loss of certain executive benefits.
The best analogy for this "reorganization" is when a president decides to reduce his cabinet from 42 ministers to 25; henceforth, the president relocates 17 chairs, belonging to 17 former ministers, to the back of the cabinet room. No longer do they sit around the table in the cabinet room; no longer are they called "ministers" ("directors" in this case). Now they are merely "assistants" or "deputies."
As it happens, not all 17 chairs previously occupied by directors were removed from the cabinet table. Five now have the names of "deputy mayors." So the mayor's top management team is still a handsome 30 people.
Not one county facility has been closed, in an effort to economize. Not one computer, or one cell phone (or Blackberry) has been taken away. Only a handful of the 3,200 take-home cars have been returned. The county still has more than 3,000 employees making more than $100,000 in combined salary and benefits.
And there are 1,743 employees in the now-famous "DROP" program -- meaning that they are simultaneously earning a pension and a salary.
As the French say: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
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