Free Stuff for Public Servants

“City officials…are allowed free use of a special box at Sharks games.” (Mercury News, April 7). Why? And, why do members of the San Jose City Council get a car allowance?  Do you get a car allowance from your employer? I don’t.

While a member of a committee on the Reed Transition Team, I tried to advance the recommendation that city councilmembers should not have access to any privilege or benefit that was unavailable to a citizen. In other words…sell the city-owned luxury box at the Arena, no more car allowances, no more free lunches, etc. Unfortunately, my recommendation didn’t make the final cut.

Ours is supposed to be an egalitarian society. Civic leaders are supposed to be public servants. There should be no separation between the people and their representatives.

Maybe it’s time for an adjustment of attitudes. Perhaps it’s time to revisit this recommendation, and eliminate access on the part of city councilmembers and executive staff to any benefit or privilege that is not also available to every citizen.

19 Comments

  1. City leaders are allowed access to the city box as a way to thank community leaders or other people for the work they’ve put in serving the greater SJ community.  I have no objection to the use of the box for this purpose being that San Jose made a significant contribution to making the Arena a reality. 

    In terms of the car allowance, council members spend a significant amount of time traveling to and from and around their districts on city business and frankly should be allowed this allowance.  Of course considering the harsh budget deficits the city is facing discussion should probably be had about whether the amount should be decreased, however this doesn’t mean it should be scrutinized.

  2. Does every citizen get a column here on request?

    Why does a Mayor in a city manager form of government have a transition team?

    Peter Campbell’s pundit credentials are what?

    Does every citizen get a commission appointment?

    Citizens that request certain slurs get deleted get laughed at, and by what standard?

    An elitist critical of elites?

  3. They get a car allowance since they must drive all over the county attending events and meetings.  Better a car allowance then providing them a car that would need to be maintained by the city which would increase the cost.  It is fairly typical for private sector employees that visit clients and partners to be compensated for their cars based on the IRS mileage rate (55 cents a mile) or straight amount each month to cover gas and maintenance.

    Free lunch?
    Council is not allowed to charge lunch to city unless it is for buying lunch for a religous person doing the innvocation that day at the start of the council meeting.  The council does get snacks and sandwiches for council meetings that go for extended periods of time on Tuesdays. Councilmembers do attend events with food and like most people will eat if food is in front of them.

    The city box at the Arena is used to recognize San Jose residents for volunteering in their neighborhoods, serving on a city commission or employees for good work.  Sometimes the councilmembers attend with the these groups. All of this is public information on which councilperson requested tickets to the box, for whom and when. So if you want to write something really interesting do some research.

    They are also eligible for $30 a month towards their cellphone which barely covers all the taxes and fees associated with a cellphone. My friend who is in outside sales gets $125 a month towards her cellphone bill.

    You can paint a picture of scandal but it is simply a tall tale.

  4. Speaking of perks, the best kept secret in San Jose is the elaborate benefits accorded volunteers at the airport: an elegant annual dinner featuring huge gift bags, and tickets to most theater shows and other entertainments under the guise of making the volunteers capable to telling visitors to San Jose about the wonderful cultural amenities they might like to take in during their brief stay.

    Until someone exposes this fat cat give-away, you probably won’t believe it, but these volunteers are gifted with amazing benefits, just for something like 4-6 hours at the air port every week.

  5. It is so fascinating that Campbell appoints himself the big herald of reform.  Reed, who Campbell has never crticized, because he does not dare to, benefitted from all the perks that he writes about.  To Campbell, the country club reformer, all city employees are lazy, all elected officials except Reed are corrupt, and the Irish are very nice and entertaining people who sing and dance, but are just irresponsible smiling adult children who never phone their employer when they are an hour late to work.

  6. Perhaps an investigation is in order.  How about listing the attendees in the city box and seeing how council members take advantage of (or don’t) the situation?

  7. SO today we hear that not only does SJ arrest more drunks than anywhere, it also pays the highest workers compensation benefits, and has the highest rate of disability retirement in police & fire depts.  Allegedly 50% of cops and 75% of firefighters retire on disability.

    Pete Constant says that’s ok…but of course, he’s on disability from SJPD.  If he doesn’t recuse himself from any deliberations and votes on the matter, someone needs to do whatever is necessary to keep him from voting on those matters due to his clear conflict of interest.

  8. Saw Peter Campbell at the Country Club yesterday sipping his blood mary and making more jokes about how lazy city employees are.

    Campbell sat back and moving his mortgage broker kickback money from account to account while sitting back on the lounge chair, casually sipping his drink, and lamenting how city park employees balked at his request to take his tennis bag out of his car the other day.

    “I tipped those paddies a quarter each,” Campbell lamented.

    After buying his opera tickets with a Visa Gift Card, Campbell looked at his Mevdo Watch and asked to be excused.  “I am late, and it is never fun to be late when invited to the Reed Compound.”

    “Oh, what do you and Armando do there,” I asked.

    “What Armando does with the mayo, I do not ask, ” Campbell said.  “But after Armando comes down the stairs, we watch hidden camera shots of city employees napping in the restoom.”  Campbell smiles and winks.

  9. This column is a perfect example of conservative nonsense.  All these guys do is drag down elected officials for whatever reason, and then they bitch, moan, and complain about how nobody qualified runs for public office. 

    What person in their right mind wants to put up with this crap 24 hours a day?

  10. As an undergrad I served on the Student Union Board of Directors.  I was able on occasion to get free tickets to shows at the Event Center on campus (owned and operated by the Student Union, a campus auxiliary corporation.)

    It was nice because left to my own devices, I probably would have gone to 0 or maybe 1 show and not really had a sense of how the building worked as a venue.  We were dealing with a long drawn out lawsuit over construction errors being foisted onto the students with mandatory fees.  It was important to understand the building not just in the abstract or via guided tours, but as member of the public enjoying a show or event.

    I say that to tell you its not that big of a deal to have free tickets to city venues for office holders.  Mountain View built it into the Shoreline deal, but I think they got a better bargain (converting a dump into a world class outdoor concert venue.)  San Jose paid for every inch of that arena and then gave it away to a private corporation to manage and reap the revenue for not only their own professional sports team but all the other events that come through.

    I still think they gave away too much, even taking the City’s name off the building and selling the naming rights for a measly few million when the taxpayers basically paid for the whole thing.  It’s almost like privatizing public goods, like turning carpool lanes into carpool/toll lanes.

    I see a lot of that creeping up in local, state and federal government and agencies thereof.  Let’s let a concessionary run the park or whatever and they’ll pay for a new trail and in return everyone who want to enjoy the park has to pay and admission few that feeds that companies profits.

    As far as cars and cell-phones, basically we’ve created an elite of professional amateur city managers who each think they inherited micromanagement competencies along with their plurality that got them elected.  If they need a cell phone for city business, give them a blackberry on the city plan and require that they reimburse for excess usage beyond a baseline.  If they need to travel, give them the choice of transit, bicycles for check out, or a pool or hybrid cars or electric vehicles that they and other city staff can use at need (or schedule in advance with a shared outlook calender.)

    You ever wonder why transit sucks in the South Bay?  Look at how big the employee parking lot is at the transit agency.  If you want to know why city councilmembers sometimes appear too well insulated from reality?  Perhaps eliminating the employee cafeteria where council members, staff and public could all rub elbows like in the county building was a bad move in the new city hall (fortress of solitude).

    Anyway, each easy to make cheap cracks, but we can’t have it every which way where we want the council members to find some guts to make the tough calls on spending and projects and also tell them that they aren’t worth a cell phone.

    Oh yeah, I’m also half-convinced that the pyrric (sic) victory with the Sharks and Arena might have been worth it to push downtown to a critical mass, but lets see if Soccer and Baseball still command sweetheart deals when they have proven business models and an established fan base.

  11. Hey Pete,
      Doesn’t Metro cover employee expenses? 
      If a reporter reviews a concert/play/event does Metro buy the ticket or does the reporter have to pay out-of-pocket? (Or does Metro…gasp…accept a free ticket to allow it’s reporter to cover the concert/play/event?)
      If so, how do you square that with what you wrote above?
      If not, find a better job!

  12. Campbell does not work for Metro.

    No blue collar on this trust fund populist.  Just a tanned, smarmy guy who likes to push around people who get a paycheck.

  13. #4 wrote, “Campbell…benefited from all the perks that he writes about.”  Complete nonesense.  We received ZERO “perks” for serving on the Transition Team…it was a 45 day assignment.  Also, I have opposed Reed publicly on several issues, most recently, the call to have the RDA cap put to the vote.

    #11 I’m not an employed by the METRO.  Perhaps you should try again.

  14. Oh, and #6…How is it “conservative” or “nonesense” to advocate that elected reps should not have access to anything that citizens don’t have access to?  Isn’t equality a liberal notion?

  15. >> What person in their right mind wants to put up with this crap 24 hours a day?

    Someone dedicated to public service and who understands the price of living in a free society.

    Pete is 100% right. There is absolutely no justification for hockey tickets for public officials. There is no reason I should be forced to pay for union labor I DON’T NEED to participate in San Jose conventions, and there is no reason to put civil pensions out of the range of ‘potential budget cuts’.

    Politics here is broken, and a handful of connected ‘hand-shakers’ is bankrupting us all.

    Personally, I’m severely torn between working with Pete to fix these problems, or just moving to another nearby city that isn’t strangling itself to death.

  16. 9 – Oh no! Volunteers are given something for their time. How terrible. Assuming your “exposé” is accurate, so what? You don’t indicate who pays for this but it probably isn’t the city. So keep digging. I’m sure you’ll come up with something more dramatic to tell us about—maybe that the volunteers at the rose garden get free gloves and clippers??

  17. Pete,
    The reviews of your article are coming in and unfortunately, but predictably, they’re mostly negative. No wonder our City is in the mess it’s in.
    There doesn’t have to be a blatant quid pro quo for us to acknowledge that a politician’s susceptibility to influence is a very important factor. When a politician accepts special treatment from some private entity we should see this as a clear signal that he doesn’t understand the difference between SPECIAL interests and the PUBLIC interest. He may not be corrupt, but he IS corruptible. There is no way that we should be tolerating or excusing this.

    The City of San Jose is being crushed, both politically and financially, under the cumulative weight of special interests that were favored by an infamous lineage of politicians who weren’t held accountable by the electorate.

    As a tiny example, people wonder why a small group of activists should have the power to negatively influence the activities of the police department? Well, it’s because they can appeal to politicians that we elected KNOWING that they are unclear who they work for.