The MGH Report

Michael G. Haran, Proprietor

Our Next Leader

Posted by on Nov 22, 2014

Healdsburg Tribune 10/20/2014

The election is over, the signs are being picked up and James Gore is on the job. I met with James on Veteran’s Day at the Center Street Café. Knowing Mike McGuire pretty well and now getting to know James I was curious to find out how the heir apparent to Sonoma’s north county supervisorial district will match up to McGuire’s stellar tenure. Although they are both quality people in their own right I couldn’t help but compare them. A few of their similar traits include – they are both extremely intelligent and excellent multi-taskers; they are both tireless campaigners; they both have charismatic personalities; they both will take the time to talk to anyone; they both suffer fools graciously; they both put their constituents above special interest groups; and they both absolutely love the flora, fauna and people of northern Sonoma County.

James Gore #2

James Gore 4th District Supervisor

So what’s on James’ mind? Well for one thing he’s not waiting for January to get to work. He recently had a meeting with Mike McGuire to discuss how they can make the transfer as seamless as possible and to continue the economic gains the current Board has made. James supports many, if not all, of McGuire’s priorities such as the big three “E”s: the environment; employment; and education. Gore also supports the Sonoma County clean power initiative, community outreach programs, and solutions to the critical issue of affordable housing.

One of the things that strikes me about Gore is how pragmatic he is. It is this pragmatism that his election opponent mistook for being non-committal. As he explained to me the County has many fiscal priorities with a limited amount of revenue to fund them. For example, although he totally believes in it he wouldn’t commit to a $15.00 “living wage,” until the board figures out how that will impact the county’s $12 million social services budget which includes elderly care workers. The same can be said for road improvements. Gore is in favor of using general fund money but the amount has to be within budget constraints. If a majority of taxpayers are okay with it a road tax measure may be put on the spring ballot.

As important as road maintenance is to business and residential quality of life a more important issue is our water situation or more precisely our growing lack of it. This is where I think Gore’s time spent at the federal government level can initially benefit us. Working with Mike Thompson and Jarred Huffman, Gore knows how a federal bureaucracy like the Army Corps of Engineers operates. Changing the antiquated methods of releasing water from Lake Mendocino and getting Coyote Dam raised are high priorities. He sees the key to change in water release policy is with NOAA’s new satellite smart weather monitoring system.

James Gore #5

Northern Sonoma County

James said that his primary concern regarding water supply is with the towns of Cloverdale, Geyserville and Healdsburg. He doesn’t like the rumblings coming from some Eel River conservation groups about cutting off the diversion to Lake Mendocino which is its prime water source. Although flow has been stopped for repairs to PG&E’s hydroelectric facility, the giant utility isn’t likely agree to cut such a valuable source of electricity. But at the same time the issue bears watching. Gore supports studies on creating opportunities to inject water into local aquifers during the high water events that happen even in drought years; and user and student education and conservation programs.

Regarding county pensions Gore felt that the Board has done a good job of, as he called it, taking care of the “low hanging fruit.” Spiking has been eliminated but issues of equity still remain. Gore wants to protect the county retirees that receive modest benefits while continuing to rein in the abuses of six-figure incomes. The problem for the lower income retirees is that in exchange for allowing an increase in their pensions they agreed to freeze their healthcare compensation which, as it turned out, didn’t work to well as healthcare costs have soared well above any COLA adjustments.

James Gore #3

Gore for Supervisor

Because of his ability to speak fluent Spanish, which he learned in his Peace Corp days in Bolivia, I think Gore will have a positive impact on not only County agriculture employment but also education where almost fifty present of K-12 students are bilingual.

And what about all those orange and blue campaign signs? Well, they’re being recycled to keep as many as possible out of the landfill. In fact, Willie Lamberson, Gore’s sign guy, is developing a program that could be used nationally to reuse campaign signage. Some will become theater signs; some will become planter boxes; and some will become beehives. If you have any other suggestions contact James and let him know. This is so cool and environment friendly.

The last thing James wanted me to mention is that in the post-election Tribune article it quoted him as saying “I deserve this position” which sounds terrible. What he actually said was “I WANT to deserve this position.” As I wrote after Mike McGuire was elected I think the same holds true for James Gore, “I think we have a good one.”

 

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Managing the Public Sector

Posted by on Oct 26, 2014

Healdsburg Tribune

10/23/2014

With this year’s elections fast approaching both candidates for the 4th Supervisorial District, James Gore and Deb Fudge, have represented that they possess the knowledge and skills necessary to manage Sonoma County’s public sector and its problems, one of which is the gorilla in the room – unfunded pension liabilities.

With annual pension costs having increased from $25 million in 2002 to $117 million and are expected to grow to $200 million by 2020 with the county’s unfunded liability at about $300 million (PD 10/11/14) even considering water related issues, this is the most pressing issue facing the county’s elected officials.

Now I have no squawk about how much public employees are paid. Even the issues I have about too many county managers isn’t about pay. It is critical that public employees get paid a middle class wage as all the support we can give the middle class is important to stave off the ravages of the growing aristocracy in this country. Without a strong middle class we could go the way of the Middle East – yikes!

It’s the retirement system that’s broke and needs to be fixed. This problem got rooted when public pension became guaranteed and tied to a wage and benefit plan that was intended to compete with the private sector. Back then everyone had a pension and it was felt that in order for the public sector to attract talented professionals they had to offer benefits that were as good, or better, then what was being paid in the private sector. The problem is the public sector pensions are guaranteed while the private sector pensions were/are not and those that didn’t get eliminated have gotten decimated as many corporations switched their employee pensions to 401ks.

Now the situation has reversed with the public sector jobs paying more than most private sector jobs and with benefits including retirement at age 50 to 55 with up to 90% salary and the immoral practice of perk “spiking” (Jerry Brown and the legislature has tried to put a stop to this but several unions have sued to restore the practice).

So what can be done to bring the system back into balance? The only way that retirement benefits can be “unguaranteed” so that they will fluctuate with the market like everyone else’s 401k, is for legislators to amend the state’s retirement system. This, however, is problematic since most elected state officials are “in the pockets” of the powerful public employee unions. Even if a ballot initiative were to pass it would be ruled unconstitutional by California’s Supreme Court and then it would have to go to the U.S. Supreme Court – which may very well happen. This is why Mike McGuire was against the initiative and saw that in order to get any reform the unions would have to agree to change. Many have but it hasn’t been enough to impact the long-term liabilities and more concessions have to be made.  As stated in a contemporary economic theory:

“This means that the political, legal, religious and educational systems must be understood dynamically in terms of whether they serve to enhance or to hinder human development. Thus, a system that, at one point in time, may have served a progressive role in society may, because of changes in the possibilities created by new modes of production, come to serve a negative function. Accordingly, it might be quite appropriate and functional for a certain perspective or ideology to dominate the thinking at a given historical moment, while at a later time those same ideas may become unproductive expressions of false consciousness and hegemony.”

The situation is not hopeless if all stakeholders work together and in good faith. This is the problem with politicians signing pledges. They work against good faith and erode the ability to compromise. I do not see how any candidate for elected public office who has pledged allegiance to one party or another could possible take an oath of office without perjuring themselves even before they’ve taken their seat at the dais.

 

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