Union officials have pulled their representatives out of the San Luis Obispo City Manager’s budget task force. Citing the “elitist nature” of the group, SLO Firefighter’s Association President Erik Baskin and Police Association Matt Blackstone have boycotted the meeting. City Manager Katie Lichtig had assembled the task force to meet twice a month to advise her in planning for the next city budget.
Citing a New Times article revealing the makeup and nature of the Task Force, the unions released a joint statement explaining the reason for their departure: “Initially, we supported the new City Manager in her efforts to bring a diverse segment of the community at large along with City Employees and employee representatives, and were optimistic this would be a good opportunity for the citizens to have a voice in City Business. Unfortunately, when the selection process was completed and the participants were unveiled, the task force’s composition was far from the average citizens of SLO, and was a comprised largely of elite special interests and insiders within the County—the majority of which are Chamber of Commerce past and present Board members, CEOs, business owners, top management officials, and City department heads—unreflective of the community at large.”
The statement goes on to state that though the police union pulled out of the task force when its membership was announced, the Fire Association representatives left after attending the first meeting: “It was quite apparent after attending the first meeting that there was a high priority placed on secrecy and the anonymity of proposals/ideas submitted from those within the group, and that our continued presence there gave this task force a sense of legitimacy it was unworthy of and did not sit right ethically with us—whether we agreed with its findings or not...
“While we recognize removing ourselves from this task force may likely result in retaliation from some within the City and their allies in these special interest groups in future budgets, in the media, and at the bargaining table—our code of honor demanded we have no part of these meetings which go against the very fabric of the transparent and accountable democracy we have sworn to uphold,” the release explained.
City Manager Lichtig responded to the unions’ departure in an e-mail to New Times:
“Overall, I am disappointed that employees from parts of the city family won’t be participating in the Task Force’s effort to assist and educate me in preparation for my first budget process with the City of San Luis Obispo. I did have the opportunity, prior to their decision, to explain that the work of the Task Force is not a substitute for the community’s robust goal-setting process that will precede adoption of the 2011-13 financial plan. The work of the Task Force will continue without the benefit of their input and perspective.”
Baskin said in a telephone interview he felt uncomfortable with the first meeting of the task force. “It was clear they wanted a cone of silence over the meeting,” he explained. “The ground rules were that we were not to talk about what was discussed and not to talk to the press. … If one of her goals is to have transparent government, that’s not the way to do it.”