There is no simple solution for San Francisco’s overtime costs 

Every couple of seasons, Planet Budget and Planet Election collide and the resulting blast of anti-overtime bombast signals the creation of a legislative black hole. Good intentions and electoral pandering alike are sucked in and disappear, along with the public’s memory of their existence.

And so, dear readers, I write to remind you that Supervisor (and mayoral candidate) David Chiu’s recent proposal to curb the use of overtime is just the latest in a string of attempts to legislate a problem that simply cannot be dealt with in The City’s administrative code.

Currently, whenever a city employee spends more than the equivalent of 30 percent of his or her regular hours working overtime, the director of human resources has to give special permission. Chiu’s legislation would lower that number to 20 percent.

Chiu, and the rest of us, have a right to be concerned. The City’s overtime costs are staggering. It is projected to be about $141 million this year, which is $40 million over budget. And there are two general reasons for this: mandatory staffing requirements and union contracts. Trying to attack overtime costs without dealing with both of these factors is pointless sensationalism.

This reality was on display when the Budget and Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors considered the Fire Department’s budget for this year. In discussing the department’s overtime numbers, Chief Joanne Hayes-White said:

  • The cost of providing pensions and benefits when hiring additional employees is so high that it is generally cheaper to simply assign overtime to current employees.
  • In 2005, voters passed Proposition F, a requirement that The City maintain and operate all 42 firehouses and specific emergency and rescue vehicles and equipment at the same levels that were used Jan. 1, 2004. Achieving this staffing requirement often means using overtime.
  • When asked whether firefighters could conduct safety training during their regular shifts, as opposed to using overtime, Hayes-White pointed out that such a "dual role" would require negotiations with the union. Chiu asked Hayes-White what effect his proposed legislation would have on the department’s use of overtime. Hayes-White told him point blank that the 20 percent per employee maximum would just mean that overtime is spread out among more employees, and would not reduce the overall amount of overtime needed by the department.

This law is just one more item for the black hole.


City Hall tidbits to tide you over until election

July usually brings a fair amount of budget drama, but thanks to the velvet politics of Mayor Ed Lee, this summer has been relatively quiet. Let us enjoy a little gossip during this sitzkrieg before the war for Room 200 begins.

I hear Assemblywoman Fiona Ma plans to run for the State Board of Equalization once her term is up in 2012. The Statewide Redistricting Commission is proposing to extend her district (Assembly District 12) farther south, almost to San Bruno. So far, no one is indicating a desire to run for the position. The natural choice would be the west side’s golden child, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, but with a new baby boy in his family, the prospect of schlepping to Sacramento does not appeal to Elsbernd. He said he does not want the position. And, unlike Lee, I believe his denial of ambition.

Speaking of Lee, remember that, regardless of his commitment to sit on the sidelines when it comes to campaigning, if he signs a declaration of candidacy allowing his name to be on November’s mayoral ballot, he forfeits his right to be reappointed city administrator for at least one year.

Actually, come to think of it, Lee lives in Glen Park. That’s in District 12. So, he might have an alternate plan after all.


Oh, say, can you see all the pols’ surly fights?

Monday was the Fourth of July, which for certain Republican presidential candidates commemorates the day George Washington caught a pigeon at Pearl Harbor.

For the rest of us, it meant celebrating America’s independence from the British by eating burgers, drinking beer and continuing to not give a damn about the royal wedding.

Naturally, City Hall was closed. Here’s how I imagine some folks there spent their time:

  • David Chiu: Stuck pins in his Mayor Ed Lee voodoo doll.
  • Mayor Ed Lee: Felt pains in his kidneys.
  • Ross Mirkarimi: Investigated alleged politician voodoo doll ring by flashing his Huckleberry Hound sheriff’s badge at local toy stores.
  • Scott Wiener: Continued to fight the Twitter rumors that he’s "that politician named Weiner."
  • Jane Kim: Wishing we were still under British rule so she could wear outlandish bird-covered hats.
  • John Avalos: Led a takeover of Alcatraz to protest British imperialism, complete with a drum circle at sunset.
  • Eric Mar: Drafted a resolution declaring voodoo amnesty for Lee’s kidneys.
  • George Gascón: Watched "Law & Order" marathon. Wasn’t sure whether to root for Law or Order.
  • David Campos: Held a hearing on whether San Francisco should be a sanctuary city for locked-out NFL players. Chupalo, Santa Clara!

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Melissa Griffin

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