Cutting jobs from the top down 

It is only human nature that when managers are assigned to cut costs by making layoffs, comparatively few managers get laid off. A disproportionate number of staff cuts often fall upon lower-paid line employees who do the actual work of serving the public, rather than on their supervisors.

Californians started seeing that principle demonstrated in the 1970s, when Proposition 13 helped permanently lengthen waiting lines for many basic services — think DMV. But when San Francisco’s huge projected deficit came into view earlier this year, a welcome change from standard practices seemed possible.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin drafted an ordinance in March to eliminate all city positions paying more than $150,000 per year, which would cover many top jobs. And in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s first meeting with department heads to demand 3 percent spending cutbacks, he also called for management layoffs to be the first staff reductions.

Now Newsom’s June 2 budget draft has reached the Board of Supervisors, and it lists layoffs for 100 city employees earning more than $100,000. Another 90 vacant positions earning six-figure pay would also be eliminated. These total job cuts would save The City’s general fund at least $19 million out of the $338 million shortfall now estimated for 2008-09.

The 190 proposed $100,000-plus job cuts add up to an impressive and virtually unprecedented ratio of executives to frontline workers among the 450 current employees and total 1,085 positions proposed for elimination. Many of those laid off would be attorneys, business analysts, engineers and managers.

The Department of Public Health would be hit hardest, with 63 professional-level layoffs — physicians, nurses and a supervisor, pharmacists and a physical therapist. The size of this proposed drop is attributed to the downsizing of Laguna Honda Hospital and the planned closure of Clarendon Hall. Runner-up in staffing cuts would be the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services, with 14 employees departing.

There would also be law enforcement administrators eliminated — a police captain and commander, a sheriff’s lieutenant and sergeant, and a juvenile probation senior supervisor. Other departments proposed for staffing cuts include the Human Services Agency, Department of Building Inspection and Office of the Treasurer.

Naturally, nobody enjoys seeing any working person lose their job. But there is no warm and fuzzy way to balance an entire $338 million budget deficit. And from the viewpoint of taxpayers who fund the entire municipal enterprise, it seems considerably more beneficial to be without a few back-office administrators instead of losing a large number of street repairers, police patrol officers, firefighters and park landscapers.

Now it is time for the full Board of Supervisors to continue finalizing a budget that preserves a realistic number of city workers to directly serve public needs.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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