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Learning from the Past: Labor Negotiations and Open Government

From: John Boyle <johncboyle_at_(domain_name_was_removed)>
Date: Sun, 12 Dec 2010 21:56:11 -0800

Council Members,   Based on your agendas (open and closed) for this Tuesday, I had hoped to be able to attend to make a comment, but it now looks like I will not be able to be there.  As such, I’d like to share a couple of thoughts in advance via this email.   Firstly, I hope you are able to quickly resolve the current mayor-selection issue and put it behind you.  It’s a shame that this happened.  On the one hand, it is easy to understand how conversations can spiral beyond original intent, but quite frankly, it’s disappointing to me to see this happen since a very analogous situation occurred roughly just a year ago during our council deliberations about endorsing one of us for the SamTrans seat through the Council of Cities election.  Based on what happened in that case, we were all given clear reminders and explanations with regard to the application of the Brown Act to this type of intra-Council lobbying.    My main reason for writing this email, though, is not about that situation.  Rather, it is about the broader topic of doing the public’s business in the open.  As important as it is to avoid inappropriate, multiple-individual conversations, it is even more critical to ensure that full Council meetings be done in the open, whenever possible (vs just whenever required).    When I saw the posting for a Closed Session for this coming Tuesday (the FIRST full Council meeting for you as a group) to discuss labor negotiations with the SEIU, I felt “like it was déjà vu all over again….”  Four years ago, when Rich, Heyward, and I first came onto Council, we went almost immediately into a Closed Session to discuss labor negotiations.   If I could do it all again, those Closed Session meetings are at the top of the list of situations that I would certainly handle differently.  I can only speak for myself, but I strongly regret following a process that had us giving negotiation guidance and direction to staff in Closed Session BEFORE having a separate, open, public, well-noticed meeting on the same topic.  Yes, there are things that need to be kept confidential, but it was, in my opinion, a major mistake to not more fully vet the general negotiation items and issues in full view of the public and press, BEFORE giving staff guidance that led to a preliminary agreement with labor.  Yes, that preliminary agreement still had to be approved in public, but let’s face it, by that point, it would have been very difficult to back away from the deal that was on the table.  I sincerely wish we had had the benefit of some of the insight and perspectives that the press and greater public gave us BEFORE, rather than after, we reached that point.   I, of course, don’t know what specifics are planned for discussion in your upcoming Closed Session (and that lack of detailed agenda is another issue which I hope you will take up at some point).  To the degree it’s simply for you to hear a confidential proposal from labor, or perhaps to get a confidential analysis of potential terms from staff, then that probably makes great sense.  But I urge you to learn from what I believe was a mistake made when I was on Council:  do not give staff guidance or direction on labor negotiations until AFTER you hold a Public Study Session on the same topic.   We used that approach (first having a Public Study Session) in the most recent set of labor negotiations, and with great results:  the public was heard in advance, Council (and Labor) understood clearly the strength of public opinion, and it helped unite us in pushing for a plan that, while unfortunately had to be imposed on one of our labor unions, it did respect our employees (no layoffs, salary cuts, onerous terms, etc) while at the same time, it was fiscally responsible.   Given the recent election results on Measure L and the current mayoral situation, I’d especially encourage you to be sensitive to the fact that the public clearly feels strongly about both labor negotiations AND about open process.  It is critical that you not inadvertently move down a path that might contradict the public’s will.   Thanks for your service and consideration of this matter,   John Boyle Received on Sun Dec 12 2010 - 21:56:32 PST

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