City Council: Proposal to hire law
firm as labor negotiator rejected

December 24, 2014
Santa Paula News

The new City Council signaled they want change but not when it comes to handling negotiations when they rejected a bid by the city manager to hire a labor law firm.

Only Councilman Jim Tovias supported the move at the December 15 meeting to hire Liebert Cassidy Whitmore (LCW) for $30,000 to negotiate with selected city workers.

The job to negotiate with police, firefighters and members of the SEIU traditionally has been held by city staff but City Manager Jaime Fontes noted the city already has a “standing agreement for special services,” with LCW.

Fontes did note that concerns of the previous council prompted the idea of seeking outside help for negotiations slated to begin in January.

Chris Mahon, president of the Ventura County Professional Fire Fighters Association indicated it wasn’t the negotiators in the past that had been problematic but rather the ability of the former leadership to resolve problems. 

He questioned the expense, as did Danny Carrillo of SEIU 721 who noted there would still be city staff involvement and expenses.

He asked why the city had balked at an additional $7,000 asked for by employees but now was willing to spend four times as much on a paid negotiator. 

He urged the council to, “Ask if the truth of the matter,” was unclear directions from management and the council given to city negotiators that muddied negotiations.

Fontes said although negotiations have not been factored into the budget the cost for city staff is $29,000 and, “It’s a wash” when comparing the labor cost to the proposed contract.

Liebert Cassidy Whitmore would charge $325 an hour, but their experience would keep the process “moving smoothly... “

Fontes added the last council majority had seen contracting a negotiator as an alternate and time is now of the essence. 

Councilwoman Ginger Gherardi said she found the proposal “premature” especially without a workshop to address city goals and priorities that could impact funding. 

“The idea to have a negotiator is ludicrous,” and she questioned making such a move without asking for proposals from other law firms.

City Attorney John Cotti can provide legal assistance as needed, said Gherardi.

“I don’t believe in fixing something if it’s not broken,” said Councilman Martin Hernandez who also questioned the timing of the request.

“When I saw this item I thought it would be a new, fresh approach,” said Tovias, who noted he found the cost “revenue neutral,” especially as City Hall is “short-staffed.”

Councilwoman Jenny Crosswhite asked if city staff would still be part of the process - Fontes said yes depending on the specific issue - and noted, “The majority of us have not been through the process... “

If need be, Crosswhite said the issue can be readdressed in the future.

The council decided against the proposal to hire a negotiator 4-1 with Tovias the dissenting vote.

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