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Citizen’s Group Reviewing Santa Monica City Hall Compensation Holds First Session
By Niki Cervantes
August 28, 2017 -- Members of a citizen’s panel formed to help review Santa Monica City Hall compensation met last week, providing the first glimpse of the role it will play in a heated debate over employee pay and pension costs.
The panel was convened Wednesday in the first of three joint meetings of the City Audit Subcommittee, the council-controlled panel with which the temporary compensation panel is to work ("Santa Monica Citizens’ Panel on City Hall Salaries Set to Get to Work," August 22, 2017 ).
The ad hoc panelists have no voting power and will not meet on their own. According to the state's Brown Act, the majority cannot discuss the proceeding among themselves, Assistant City Attorney Joseph Lawrence said during the meeting.
Council member Sue Himelrich, who is a member of the Audit Subcommittee, said the issue of compensation took up most of the four-and-a half-hour meeting.
"We had a lengthy and very detailed discussion of what data should be collected and from what sources and for what period of time," Himmelrich said.
"Every member of both committees spoke, and the auditors and our staff took due note and plan to proceed accordingly," she said. "We also allowed public comment without time limits."
The restrictions that have been placed on the new panel drew criticism from at least one neighborhood leader, who wrote an unflattering review of the meeting in a mass email to Northeast Neighbors and others outside City Hall.
Tricia Crane, the activist who was behind a neighborhood association campaign to inject outside voices from the community into the compensation review, said members of the panel left their first meeting feeling as though they been seated at the “children’s table.”
Additionally, the ad hoc committee learned the City’s internal auditor had already started the review, creating “obvious disappointment.”
City Manager Rick Cole, who suggested creating the ad hoc citizen’s panel and selected its members, said the meeting abided by longstanding rules and was "productive."
"These are the same rules that apply to the City Council and the Planning Commission and the Audit Subcommittee -- but which are suddenly outrageous when applied to a group of appointed citizens in this case," Cole told the Lookout in an email Thursday.
"Despite having some logistical and legal challenges, the four and half hour session was actually quite substantive and productive."
Cole said a study being conducted by a consultant will place the City's compensation costs in perspective, a point he said he made at the meeting.
"Any fair study is not going to be a black and white indictment or vindication of the City’s compensation policies to the disappointment of those seeking to confirm their preconceptions," he told the Lookout.
"For those expecting the study to demonstrate irrefutably that the City of Santa Monica lavishly overpays its staff and has an absurdly bloated workforce, they will find a few facts to support their view and lots to rebut it."
The ad hoc panel was formed at a time when City Hall has been facing intensifying criticism over employee pay and benefits (especially pensions) -– some of California’s highest ("Santa Monica Municipal Budget Among Highest Per Capita in California," November 16, 2016).
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