Steve Kline is an attorney who is currently running for a City Council seat in District 6. He wrote this column for San Jose Inside.—Editor
San Jose has failed its neighborhoods and citizens by inadequately delivering the essential city services for which the taxpayers have dearly paid in tough economic times.
Overall, the city has a $2.8 billion budget. The budget is comprised of multiple funds, many of which the city has created to fund special interests and projects. Then, there is the battleground called the General Fund, which is only about 33 percent of the total budget. What the council hath created, the council can change. That fund should be more important than the special interests.
More importantly, this is all our money. Priority setting should be started with the neighborhoods’ interests first. We should stop the annual charade of city management detailing their decisions, asking for the community’s comments and then defending their decision—all at the same meeting.
There is a better way. The city has to have an open, understandable budget for all to see. For example, last year I asked how many outside consultant contracts did the city have and what was their value. I was told that there was no complete answer to that question. Later, I learned at a public meeting with San Jose City Auditor Sharon Erickson that even she can’t locate all the outside consultant contracts for the city, let alone any changes made to them.
In the Capitol of the Silicon Valley, we need to have that information easily available for our review and understanding. Once again, this is our money, not theirs.
We need more police on the streets. Residential crime is up and one can expect the violent crimes to increase as the weather becomes warmer. The officers currently working for us, who put their lives on the line every single day to protect and serve, are subject to increased stress because of the self-imposed short staffing. As Chief Moore has said, “Less is delivering less.”
Last year, City Manager Debra Figone had the opportunity to apply for a Federal government grant—by the way, that’s our money, too—for about 55 new police officers. She chose not to apply. Her excuse, without a discussion by the City Council, was that the city could not afford the condition of not laying off those officers for three years. If we invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in training police officers, why would we want to throw away that investment by letting them go?
The City Manager receives over $80,000 more than the Governor of California. We need to stop the exorbitant payment of high-priced public service executives. It is an honor and privilege to work for the people. Limitations on her salary are imperative.
Lastly, the neighborhoods need their libraries, parks and community centers opened throughout the city. These are vital services that demonstrably help reduce crime, and educate people. They add to the quality of life and bring business into our city. A city where half of its libraries are closed on Saturday is a failure.
Volunteers are a vital part of the operations. In fact, San Jose libraries over a six-month period have had over 1,500 volunteers contributing over 24,000 hours of service. We must encourage community service at all levels. However, we must also respect those who by education, experience and skill do excellent work at the day-to-day, ground level, providing citizens with needed public services. They are our neighbors, friends and an integral part of the fabric of our community. They are not the cause of the economic downturn.
The time to make the neighborhoods first is now.
Steve Kline is an attorney who is currently running for a City Council seat in District 6. He wrote this column for San Jose Inside