Written by David Greenwald Thursday, 14 June 2012 05:51
The city manager, in order to recoup the loss of around 800,000 dollars, announced layoffs the day after voters approved Measure D, the Parks Tax extension, of nine employees and the reduction of work hours of three more.
One of those laid off was James (Cory) Cooper, a tree trimmer.
"I work for the city of Davis in the tree division. We have always been under the parks department and there has always been two tree trimmers, a small tree specialist, a part timer for half the year to help plant trees, an urban forest supervisor and an urban forest manager," Mr. Cooper wrote in a letter to the editor.
Since 2009, there have been two tree trimmers and an urban forest manager.
"With the small tree position eliminated, we picked up the task of planting trees and stump grinding. My title is Tree Trimmer II, my partner that I work with, his title is Tree Trimmer I, On June 6, citizens passed Measure D to renew park tax for city services," he continued.
"At 2 pm on June 6, we both were handed layoff notices, plus 7 other employees from different departments, but all from DCEA," Mr. Cooper wrote.
He continued: "The letter states effective June 29, 2012 you are laid off from your position Tree Trimmer II. We were not given any options and no bumping rights, even though we were hired before other employees from the Parks Department. Human resources told us we are in the tree series not the park maintenance series, and that the city is eliminating the tree crew."
"I have been a dedicated employee," he said. "Although our call out procedure is voluntary, I have responded to all emergency calls regardless of time, weather, or date because I am a dedicated employee of the city and wanted to help the citizens of Davis when they needed me and I wanted to be sure the trees were also taken care of properly."
He continued, "Over the years we have dealt with hazardous trees with many different situations from storm damage, trees uprooted on houses, on cars, blocking entire streets. Our normal work day consists of citizens requests on city trees from pruning them to removing them."
"I wrote this letter for myself, but also for the people of Davis. I want everyone to know your City tree crew was eliminated even after the park tax passed, I would really like to know how the city will maintain the trees? If the city's plan is to hire contractors, why didn't they tell the citizens that even after you pass the park tax, we will still eliminate the city tree crew?" he concluded.
As City Manager Steve Pinkerton indicated on Tuesday, "Since budget year 2009/2010, the City has tried to reduce positions by attrition in order to avoid laying off employees. The City's work force has dropped from 445 full time equivalents to 376 full time equivalents over the last four years, a 15.5% overall staff reduction."
He noted that eight management positions were included in those reductions over the last four years, representing a 22% reduction in management staff.
"Unfortunately, reduction only by attrition is no longer a sustainable model and service delivery methods must now be evaluated," he wrote. "One such example of delivery of service is with the City's tree division. The City's urban forest is an important asset to the City of Davis."
The loss of tree trimmers, punctuated perhaps by strong late spring winds and numerous downed tree limbs and branches, has triggered some push back from residents and city staff.
"The level of knowledge and care to our urban forest requires an entirely different level than the mowing and blowing of rapidly growing landscaping," she argued.
She argued that the city has both financially, and in time, invested decades in order to nurture this urban forest.
"Eliminating the experience and attention that we currently have by the last two tree crew members is a terrible way to respond to the strong support that Davis Citizens demonstrated to support Measure D," she added. "Do you think that the same level of support and vote percentage would have been so high would we [have] known that these two crew members would be eliminated. I don't think so."
She argued that the savings by eliminating these positions is "miniscule compared to the canopy loss and energy savings that we can lose."
Still, the city manager defends the cuts as necessary after the city was unable to reach agreement with DCEA following the loss of the imposed contract.
"The City has in place a tree maintenance program which calls for the general pruning of all City owned trees at least once every eight years. This annual general tree pruning has been done by our current contractor since 2001," the City Manager said. "So the bulk of the City's urban forest has been and will continue to be maintained by contract. Having a dedicated city staffed tree crew to perform tree maintenance is no longer a necessity to maintain the City's urban forest at its current level. Consolidation of maintenance functions city-wide and changing the way services are provided should actually produce greater service levels to the community."
He argued, "A Tree Trimmer's annual salary may be approximately $50,000, but the attached benefits to that position add an additional $50,000 to the compensation package. The general fund savings of cutting two filled and one vacant tree positions are approximately $318,000."
During contract negotiations in 2010, the City was able to negotiate concessions with all bargaining units except for Davis City Employees Association (DCEA)," Mr. Pinkerton argued. "Because the City was unable to achieve an agreement with DCEA, the City had to impose concessions. Those imposed concessions were challenged by DCEA before the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB)."
---David M. Greenwald reporting
Still the City Manager defends the cuts as necessary after the city was unable to reach agreement with DCEA following the loss of the imposed contract.
Shouldn't Mr. Cooper be blaming DCEA for the loss of his job? It sounds as if those 9 jobs could have been saved had DCEA been willing to make concessions...
These are tough economic times, and something has to give or the city will go bankrupt...
Elaine... DCEA agreed to take the "last, best, offer" to their folks for a vote in November 2010. Before the vote could be taken, the City declared impasse. Look to CM office (prior administration or HR for culpability.
I understand your point (and agree w your statement inre to prior CM). But do you honestly think the DCEA would have voted to take the offer? Based on their reactions at the CC at the time, and their statements now, I have my doubts...
"He noted that eight management positions were included in those reductions over the last four years, representing a 22% reduction in management staff. 'Unfortunately, reduction only by attrition is no longer a sustainable model and service delivery methods must now be evaluated', he wrote. 'One such example of delivery of service is with the City's tree division'."
How very odd that the Tree Trimer example Pinkerton choose to illustrate his point that "reduction only by attrition" isn't a "sustainable model" well might be the ONLY place in city government where the model has worked.
Consider: There were six positions in in the urban forest division. Apparently, 50% of the section (including the urban forest supervisor position) was lost through attrition. Yet, the city manager uses this successful attrition model as rationale to make a 100% reduction in the remaining staff.
Obviously, the tree trimmers were targeted for reasons others than their alleged "reduction by attrition only" record, which (at 50%) probably exceeds all departments in the city. My guess is that the other considerations were benign ones having to do with evaluations about what work could be handled by outside contractors, but it doesn't look good if there's a retaliation atmosphere being perceived by city workers.
So, now we have a bunch of quality tree trimming equipment and vehicles sitting idle when the next windstorms arrive. It's surprising that Measure D didn't save these positions in a division already cut in half by attrition. Wonder why the tree trimmers aren't viewed as beneficial, or even critical, to our park maintenance program?
Also, wonder why Mr. Pinkerton selected this example to justify cutting the most recent nine employees.
Thanks, Mr. Cooper, for writing and for your service. Good luck on your search for a new job.
"I understand your point (and agree w your statement inre to prior CM). But do you honestly think the DCEA would have voted to take the offer?"
The answer, of course, is that there's no way to know since the city attorney screwed up the process so badly. Will this loss of the appeal embolden employee negotiators? Will Pinkerton's narrow targeting of the nine layoffs temper that increased confidence?
Elaine, convicted murders end up with new trials when they have inadequate counsel. What do we get?
But do you honestly think the DCEA would have voted to take the offer?Elaine, we will never know... if you were asked to take a cut to your compensation, and while you were pondering what your best course of action would be, and in the meantime, you would be told that it doesn't matter what you decide, it is a "fait accompli", how would you respond? After DCEA was told "it matters not how you vote", they unanimously voted to reject the offer. But, by and large, they're just 'guys'. A sensible person like you, told to accept your fate, might say, "thank you very much for your consideration".
since the city attorney screwed up the process so badlyDid the City Attorney do this (not within the power of the CA), or did the CM, HR director, and/or CC make a bad decision that the CA may have advised against (or was not asked), and the CA was left trying to cleanup the bovine fecal matter? Were you there? I wasn't, but I do have reasons to suspect that the 'error' did not lie with the CA.
It is general fund money, but like all parcel taxes, they have to lay out in advance where the money goes.My understanding is that it has to be dedicated for the purposes stated... but to the extent that "other" GF revenues are NOT 'dedicated, the city can use those funds for anything. Let's say there is $100,000 in general fund revenue, $20,000 of which goes to Parks. The City passes a tax measure generating $20,000, for parks. The City needs to spend the $20,000 for parks, but $20,000 of the general fund that does not HAVE to be allocated to parks is now available to fund increased compensation to CC, or, whatever.
hpierce, your evaluation could mean the Measure D money simply gets used to offset general fund money that gets moved to another, less"desirable" use. In other words, approved measures simply put in a floor below which park funding cannot drop? In other words, parcel taxes actually just increase general funding income/spending and can result in zero impact on the program which voters intended to inhance/backstop?
In other words, parcel tax measures are a sham designed to boost the overall budget by playing on voters' support and sympathy for specific programs? In other words, the city manager shouldn't feel guilty about firing the arborists when we just voted him money to pay for them?
Think of how your cynical interpretation could be applied to other parcel taxes, school programs, for example. We might keep getting lists of programs that supposedly would get eliminated, we vote to keep them and the parcel tax money displaces the original funding for the desireable programs. Then, we repeat the process for another list of popular programs. And on and on.
Shirley, you can't be correct about the minimal accountability for approved parcel tax money.
Negate what point? I'm curious about hpierce's comment that nothing obligates the city to use any specific amount except the parcel tax income for the parks department. It does make sense upon reflection, but it leaves a different impression than we get when the measure campaign is underway. Are we approving a tax to increase the amount devoted to parks, or maintain the existing level or keep the cuts from going "too deep"?
If hpierce is correct, what keeps the "extra" money that otherwise would have been spent for parks from being redirected to another use once a parcel tax supposedly "increases" parks money? What's the difference between having a "General Fund parcel tax measure" and one that supports a specific program if it all gets dropped into the GF pot for rebudgeting?
The City’s action of laying off our last two tree crew members one of which is an arborist) is appalling when the city is so top heavy with highly paid administrators. One obvious example of “administrator overload” is the “Community Development Administrator”.
The City has recently eliminated Davis’ Redevelopment Agency due to the State eliminating Redevelopment funding to the cities. This “Redevelopment Agency Administrator" position (which pays well over $100,000 annual salary) was clearly no longer needed. Yet, City management kept this highly paid employee and simply re-named the position “Community Development Administrator” with the same salary. So why do we need this costly administrative position when so little development is going on?
The added insult is that that this same administrative level employee mishandled the Crown Castle cell tower issue and brought on a costly lawsuit that we all are still paying for. How does the City Manager possibly justify maintain the funding of such an incompetent and highly paid administrator who is not needed and counterproductive? Furthermore, how does the City manager justify turning around and then cutting the jobs of the lower paid service people who we do need and are doing a good job?
What has happened to Tree Trimmer II is a personal tragegy, one of many, and of many still to come. There has/is/ will be, lots of pain, anger, and anxiety. I really feel for all the individuals and families that have been caught up and will be caught up in this maelstorm.
We have been in a new paradigm since 2008. We need to recognize that we are in a new paradigm and make choices suitable to the new paradigm. All too often I see us making choices as if we were still in the old paradigm. We need to shift our priorities significantly.
I don't have any objection to the city government or the school district leadership being able to manage their own budgets, whether or not they've been supplemented with successful parcel tax measures.
It's just an interesting aside that hpierce points out, given all of the agonies we go through justifying why we need each of the parcel taxes. I presume that Davis politicians maintain the faith with voters' intentions even if the controls are fuzzy and tracking must me almost impossible.
How can we find out what the eight "management positions" are that have been claimed as eliminated by attrition over the past four years? How can we find out what positions have been added during the same person and whether any are considered management positions? What are the additional management positions that are to be eliminated in new type of forced layoffs that started this week.
Such claims are meaningless if no one knows what positions are included in the claimed and projected accomplishments.
Sorry hpierce, should be JS, Just Saying.
I was responding from my iPhone and it is not possible to enlarge one's post on the device.
Also why do we have to go to log on page every week or so before posting, on log in page we are already logged in so have to re-enter the DV site to post. Strange.
David... your list is "redacted"... ironic. For folks who want to see the unredacted list, http://cityofdavis.org/finance...12_13.pdf, starting at page 20.
I find some of the redactions interesting, to say the least.
Will city liability rates go up if more people, cars (parked or moving), houses, etc. are hit by falling city trees or big limbs? What about spread of tree diseases from leaving rotten trees/limbs in place to fester? Expense transferred to road crews to clean up when they fall over roads? Could this be another short-term feather-in-the-cap that turns into a long-term expense?
This is an unfortunate decision. The city's tree crew was very high quality. Much of what a city arborist does is preventive maintenance. Putting this out to bid is likely to lead to reduced preventive pruning and shift the management of our thousands of trees to an emergency basis.
I am less concerned about diseases spreading (that isn't a major issue) than I am about some of the higher-maintenance species becoming unsafe. Calleryana pears will fall apart more often, rather than get thinned to prevent limb breakage. Ash trees will have some spectacular limb breakage because narrow angles won't be managed.
Unless professionals with knowledge of tree maintenance are overseeing the bids, the tendency to go with the lowest bid will lead to more problems, poorer maintenance, and hastier pruning work. This will incentivize faster, not better, tree work. This isn't the kind of work you want done by utility-line tree companies. But theirs will be the lowest bids.
It is hard for me to imagine a city with thousands of trees completely privatizing their maintenance without some adverse consequences.
Don... you should copy your post to City Manager, copy to HR Director, bcc to Rob Cain. You are so "on point" on this matter, and you have a professional cachet that might make a difference. Please also contact the current and 'future' Council Members. Perhaps they will listen. I'm guessing that if they do, they will layoff an equivalent # of sewer/water/transportation/storm drainage PW employees.