Opinion: Fridays off policy should have gone to a vote

OPINION

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

I was surprised to learn that Los Altos City Manager Chris Jordan decided on his own, without a public hearing or a vote of City Council, to give city employees every other Friday off.

In exchange, the employees will work extra hours the remaining nine days of a two-week pay period to make up for the day they’ll get off. The schedule is called 9/80.

He says the schedule will reduce air pollution and combat climate change because employees won’t have to drive to work as often. Of course, the city could also reduce air pollution if he simply laid off unnecessary city employees, who would then stop driving to work entirely.

The other argument Jordan gave is that 9/80 would boost employee retention.

If an employee doesn’t want to work five days a week to make over $100,000 annually plus a lifetime pension and lifetime health benefits, the city is better off without that guy. Anybody who is complaining about a five-day-a-week work week isn’t the kind of employee the city should be trying to retain.

Palo Alto and Menlo Park switched to 9/80 in 2001. For a member of the public who needs to do business with the city, it meant that Fridays were always a crapshoot. Would they be closed this Friday, or is it next Friday? It’s hard to find that information on the websites of the two cities. So half the time you’d show up at City Hall on a Friday and the place was closed.

Eventually, people realized that they had to get their business done Monday-Thursday because you never quite knew if the city would open on Friday or not.

But customer service seems to never be a priority in any city government, and 9/80 is proof of that.

Mayor Jean Mordo insisted to our reporter that 9/80 wasn’t a perk. I disagree. For the average worker, a day off every two weeks without tapping vacation time or sick leave hours is definitely a perk.

A one-way gift

And it’s a perk Jordan gave away without getting anything in return. He confirmed that he didn’t reopen the union contracts of city employees. It was just a unilateral gift.

The switch to 9/80 would be easier to take if he had obtained a concession from the unions in return, such as a reduction in the next set of raises employees will get or an increase in the amount employees pay toward their own retirement benefits.

And he should have brought it to the city council in a public session to let the taxpayers — the people who fund the city — have a say in whether this perk should be given away. Jordan told council about the change in a closed-door executive session.

“He runs the city, not the council, but he had the courtesy to tell us he intended to propose to do that,” Mordo said.

A roll call vote would let the community know where elected council members stand when it comes to fiscal responsibility. But that’s probably too much accountability to ask from Los Altos.

No time clocks

Speaking about accountability, how will anybody know if employees are keeping up their end of the bargain and actually working extra hours on the days they have to come to work? Apparently the city doesn’t use time clocks or other mechanisms of timekeeping. Nor does it measure employee output.

When our reporter asked Jordan how he would make sure the employees worked the additional hours, he had a telling response. He said, “the same way they know that the employees are working eight hours a day now,” but declined to say what he meant by that.

We apparently have no way of knowing whether they come to work on time or leave early now, before 9/80 starts on Aug. 27. We won’t know after 9/80 either. There’s no accountability.

Managing the manager

This controversy illustrates a problem that exists in many cities — that city councils often fail to do a good job managing their city manager.

I think many council members reverse the employer-employee relationship in their mind. They act as if they work for the city manager.

Actually, the city manager works for the council, not the other way around. The council hires and fires a city manager.

The council should also set goals for the manager and see to it that those goals are met.

Sadly, few people who are elected to a council have the experience to know how to manage anybody. So they get seduced by “the staff” — the manager and his or her department heads who cater to their every wish. They eventually develop a bond with these employees. And when the public criticizes the city manager or a city employee, these seduced council members turn against the public and defend the employees as if they were beloved family members. Council members should understand that they represent the community, not the city employees.

Legally, the council is still in charge in Los Altos and has every right to establish employment policies such as hours to be worked. The council can put 9/80 on the agenda for a public hearing and an up-or-down vote.

But I won’t hold my breath. Just beware of the people you elect.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

18 Comments

  1. Mr Price, thank you for calling out this for what it is: a sham, a deceit by public servants on the residents of Los Altos, a sham that could not have been perpetrated but for the support and “nurturing environment” provided by Mayor Mordo and some other council members.

    The reasons touted for the amended schedule: reduces greenhouse gas emissions and employee fatigue. If those are indeed sound reasons then why not completely *eliminate* the emissions and fatigue by shutting down City Hall? When the reasons don’t add up…and the public servants engage in big servings of self-help…and the Mayor and council members are in cahoots with the scam…and the taxpayers get less than what they paid for and expect for their money…it is time to hold all involved to account. This opinion piece is a good start…and the DA’s Office would be next.

  2. >“He runs the city, not the council, but he had the courtesy to tell
    >us he intended to propose to do that,” Mordo said.

    Can someone explain what “intended to propose to do” means?
    It seems nothing but a lame excuse to protect the guilty and justify, rationalize their illegal actions?
    Mordo’s statement makes him complicit in actions that are (borderline) illegal, making him less of a representative of the public and more of Jordan’s protector.
    What favors has Jordan rendered Mordo to make Mordo his protector?
    Are there other instances of misconduct, misrepresentation, bad faith by Jordan (and/or his staff) that were condoned, pushed under the carpet by Mordo?
    How complicit were those council members (that vote along with Mordo) in covering up those violations of the law?

  3. >these…council members turn against the public and defend the employees
    >as if they were beloved family members.

    One reason, overlooked by Mr Price and especially applicable in the case of Los Altos (Council and City Hall), is that sometimes one or more council members are complicit with the employees in the violations of law and common sense.

    The staff serve as the errand-boys of the Council member(s) in return for protection from the public (should they get to figure things out, a task sometimes made harder by staff and Council for the stated reasons).

    A nice racket, if you can get into it.
    Explains why the Mayor is on record backing up the Manager’s illegal actions.

  4. This reads like a rant from an angry out of touch old man.

    “Of course, the city could also reduce air pollution if he simply laid off unnecessary city employees, who would then stop driving to work entirely.”

    Sure, if they also never find another job and yet still live in Los Altos somehow. Back in the real world, asking employees to commute less times produces less pollution.

    “The other argument Jordan gave is that 9/80 would boost employee retention.

    If an employee doesn’t want to work five days a week to make over $100,000 annually plus a lifetime pension and lifetime health benefits, the city is better off without that guy.”

    You seem to think that the point of working is to suffer, and that nothing other than direct monetary incentives help retain the best employees. That must explain why no bay-area companies offer perks to employees to entice them.

    What a sham.

  5. >must explain why no bay-area companies offer perks to employees to entice them

    Those employees don’t get lifetime health benefits.
    They do not get lifetime pension.
    The Los Altos public servants get both. They also work lesser hours than the “bay area employees”. They don’t have to worry about layoffs or being fired or replaced, an ever-present risk for the “bay area employees”. The bar for accountability is far lower for these public servants than for the “bay area employees.” After all that they complain about “commuter fatigue” and unilaterally take alternate Fridays off to “reduce greenhouse gases”?

    If “commuter fatigue” is an issue for these public servants let them quit their jobs and take up work in the private sector in their town or nearby.

    Bill, your argument is that the Los Altos public servants want to keep and eat their cake. Perhaps you are a shill for the Los Altos manager and his enabler, the Mayor, ready to protect and serve the public servants at cost to the taxpaying public.

  6. A puzzle for this decades-long resident of Los Altos: I recall Jean Mordo led the charge in terminating the former City Manager (Marcia Somers) 2016. He stated on record she acted unilaterally, misrepresented to the Council, and was not effective.

    As an aside: the Los Altos City Manager, the Asst City Manager, and City Attorney were all let go, on the heels of one another, 2-15-2016 owing to several instances of bad faith and cover up on their part.

    Why then is Mordo supporting, protecting the current City Manager, Chris Jordan, in the face of behavior and evidence far worse than in the case of Ms Somers? What does Chris have on Jean that prevents Jean from taking the action he took so easily in the case of Ms Somers?

  7. Bill’s spiel makes no sense. In short he seems to argue Los Altos city employees (public servants, as someone pointed out) get to keep the benefits they get (lifetime pension and health)–which private sector employees do NOT get–even as they unilaterally get alternate Fridays off because of “commuter fatigue and greenhouse gas reduction”. What next: time off for the tooth fairy?

    Why were the public not informed or consulted on what affects them? after all they pay taxes that pay for the salaries and lifetime benefits for these public servants, right?
    Why did the City’s manager, a beneficiary of the unilateral action he took without presenting to Council or public discussion, decline to answer how the City tracks its employees hours today and how it would track them with this change? The simple answer is: there is no system to track the hours today and there will be no system for tracking them under the new scheme.
    Since when are these public servants entitled to taking unilateral actions that benefit them alone and cost the public? Where indeed is the accountability that the editorial inquires about?

  8. I wish we could have a serious policy discussion in Los Altos without somebody alleging a conspiracy or waving their finger and saying the DA should intervene.

    I agree, 9/80 wasn’t a good move, and council should reprimand Jordan for it. We have a city manager who overstepped his authority and made a bad decision. Now council has to correct him. Likely the reprimand will come in a closed session. The 9/80 program will have to be scrapped, but council will try to do it in a way that helps Jordan save face in front of his employees.

    This is a management mistake, not a dark conspiracy.

  9. It is one thing if this were a mere mistake.
    It is another thing if the “mistake” is part of a larger pattern where irrefutable evidence from the City’s own records show the staff willfully, intentionally contravene the law, misrepresent and fabricate to the Council and the public, hatch a conspiracy to cover up, introduce and pass new ordinances under false pretexts, etc. All this abetted by some members of the Council.

    Watch the video transcript of the July 12 Council meeting where residents voiced their concerns, presented evidence from the City’s records, and demanded Council investigate. The response from the Council so far: SILENCE. That hardly reassuring and only goes to further reinforce the fact this is no “management mistake” but a dark conspiracy by public servants complicit with some elected representatives. That is made all the more credible when a public servant unilaterally acts, with entitlement that is not his, to render himself and his staff benefits without consulting the public or their elected representatives and the Mayor is on record coming up with preposterous “explanations” to justify such behavior.

  10. >We have a city manager who overstepped his authority and made a bad decision

    Those who subscribe to this line of thinking ought to do their homework and read up on the complaints residents filed–as recently as July 12–with Council, the lawsuits the City faces, etc so they are more familiar with the many and serious instances of the city manager and his staff overstepping their authority and making bad decisions that affect residents (and benefit staff and some Council members).

    Becoming familiar with the evidence and information should suffice to convince them this is no mere “management mistake”.

  11. I looked up and confirmed yesterday Chris Jordan received a multi-million dollar loan from the City to assist him in housing when he took up the job as City Manager.
    He is well compensated, higher than the mean for managers of similar-sized cities in the area.
    The article refers to lifetime benefits and pension.

    Is he giving up any of what he gets in exchange for his unilateral decision to award himself (and his staff) alternate Fridays off?

    We the taxpaying public want to know what we got in return for his action and “reduced greenhouse gas emissions and commuter fatigue” doesn’t cut it.

  12. As a longtime Los Altos resident, I’d like Council to do three things immediately:

    1. Cancel 9/80

    2. Tell Jordan that any future changes to employee rules, wages or benefits need to be approved by council on a regular agenda, with advance notice to the public.

    3. Engage an outside efficiency expert to root out waste, fraud and abuse at City Hall.

    How come I have a feeling that nobody on Council, and none of the candidates running this fall, have the guts to do any of these things!

  13. I voted for Jeannie Bruins a few years ago thinking she would bring reform to the city but instead she was “seduced” (as Price put it) by the staff. Remember those trips she took as part of her official duties? Why does a council member need to go overseas in order to do their job.

  14. CTA would notice Council’s decisions always have a dissenting vote. That confirms there’s at least one person on Council who disagrees with the rest of Council and she expressed her surprise and alarm at the Manager’s action in the matter at hand.

    Prior coverage in this newspaper and elsewhere would also confirm the Mayor has bullied others, including the dissenting Council member, and more or less intimidates others from disagreeing with him. On the issue at hand he is on record as backing the City Manager’s actions.

    Bear in mind also the City Manager got a multi-million dollar loan, along with hefty compensation, for taking on the job. With the Manager acting unilaterally in self-help, a Council in thrall to a Mayor that is in cahoots with the Manager…this is only going to get more and more ugly.

  15. Logan would do well to watch the video transcript of the Feb 27 Council meeting. A resident asked Ms Bruins to recuse herself from voting on changes to an ordinance that would benefit her personally. The request for recusal was dismissed and the ordinance approved by a majority in Council (with Ms Bruins voting in favor of the changes). No ethics, no shame, no nothing…which goes to show why she and others in Council back the staff.

    The mice run wild when the cats don’t do their job.

    What’s worse: the changes were pushed through under false pretexts by staff and the approving Council members. We, the residents, were lied to, duped.

  16. I think Los Altan was referring to Lynette Eng, who was portrayed in the previous Post article as “preferring” that 9/80 would have gone to a public vote of council. ( https://padailypost.com/2018/08/13/fridays-off-plan-for-city-workers-didnt-go-to-council-for-a-public-hearing/ ) The article made Lynette sound timid, like she wasn’t sure if she should say something strong, so the reporter used language like “it’s a concern” and “I would have preferred.” I got the impression that Lynette was afraid to rock the boat. But it’s true that she’s the only council member on record who even raised an eyebrow about this, so my hat’s off to her.

  17. Bill L. is right, and the evidence speaks for itself on this as well as many other Council matters. Check the voting patterns.

    If you want more of Mordo’s tactics to intimidate, bully, etc.: check
    https://padailypost.com/2017/12/07/new-mayor-apologizes-to-vice-mayor/

    And here’s another on the Mordo-Jordan nexus also made apparent in this current matter:
    https://padailypost.com/2017/10/10/dispute-over-closed-meeting-and-transparency-in-city-government/

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