Regarding Item 15 on last night’s city council agenda, to increase his personal aide’s budget, Mayor Tom Tait made some serious allegations. He accused the council majority of maliciously reducing his assistant’s budget and concluded his closing comments by actually saying his entire council was mean because they didn’t vote to give his assistant a 50 percent increase. The mayor’s remarks included a lengthy slide show on compensation for staff of mayors of other big California cities (several of which are in dire financial straits, but that is another issue).
In 2002, the city council, which included then-Councilmembers Tom Tait and Lucille Kring, unanimously adopted a resolution establishing the same budget for aides to councilmembers and the mayor.
The truth of the matter is that the council-adopted budget last year did not adjust Mishal Montgomery’s salary – the council set a standardized budget for all offices and implemented pension reform to prevent future council aides from receiving pension benefits. Mishal Montgomery was eligible to receive the entire $60,000 budget as direct salary. However, she is the only council assistant taking a pension, and it is public record that she is only contributing 1 percent to her pension. Pension burn rate is what exhausted the mayor’s assistant budget, not the council’s June 2012 action.
This is a simple matter of dividing the budget of $60,000 by 12 and monitoring the expenses monthly – it is what the mayor and council ask of the city’s bargaining units and city departments when it comes to their payroll and pension benefits. Why did the mayor wait until the budget was exhausted to request the council amend Montgomery’s salary by 50 percent? Especially in light of the fact that the Mayor Tait was the lone vote against the AMEA bargaining agreement last summer to restore the 5 percent reduction that AMEA members gave to help reduce the city’s budget during a deep fiscal crisis. Many of those employees make less as full-time workers than Mishal Montgomery makes as part-time council assistant.
The mayor’s request also set the wrong tone for the next budget cycle, a tone of “do as I say, not as I do.” As the city’s fiduciary leaders, the city council must lead by example. Mayor Tait has consistently and rightly called for pension reform for city employees, but he doesn’t walk that talk when it involves living within his own budget and supporting pension reform within his office.
Mishal Montgomery had several options following last year’s budget action that would have enabled her to live within the budget that every other member of the council abides by:
- Opt out of the pension program like the other council assistants volunteered to do;
- Reduce her weekly hours to maintain the same pension and rate of pay; or
- Contribute more to her pension to maintain her rate of pay and hours.
Mishal Montgomery was calling everyone she could reach including state and local officials, community leaders, heads of the city’s non-profit community to misrepresent this item as necessary to avoid her being fired by the City Council. That allegation was another absolute falsehood.
Agendizing this item last night only created unnecessary division and conflict. The mayor’s commentary and Mishal Montgomery lobbying efforts misrepresented the situation and further fueled the impression the city council is at odds and the city is suffering from continued discord, when the reality if the discord was being generated by the mayor and his staffer.
Mayor Tait also repeatedly stated that he would have no staff support if the Council did not approve the action. Again, the fact is that the Mayor has a dynamic, professional full-time staff that serves his office and the city every single day. In fact, the 7th floor has not been this well staffed by qualified professionals since before the recession. It is false to claim he will be stranded without staff.
At a time when the public is urging the council to be responsive to the needs of residents and especially those of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods – when the city is looking for every dollar to reinvest in public safety and other core services, the Mayor was asking for special treatment for one individual.
It is comforting to know that a united city council refused to enable the mismanagement of the mayor’s personnel budget.