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Letter to the Editor: City is Wasting $150,000 on Organizational Study

City Staff should be able to do the job without hiring a consultant.

by Todd Matthews, President
Benicia Firefighters Association 

To the Editor:

Re: Benicia City Council Allocation of $150,000 for Organizational Efficiency Study

Our city council recently allocated $150,000 to commission a study to evaluate organizational efficiencies of only two departments, one of which was identified as the Fire Department. I hope to provide some information while praying that our community will recognize that this expenditure is unnecessary and has been approved at the worst possible time.

I must begin with a question; isn’t this the worst recession in recorded history? Many economists have attached this label to our current economy. Your firefighters recognized and acknowledged this fact and immediately agreed to contract concessions to assist in covering projected budget shortfalls in 2009. How did our council respond to this recession? They approved Capitol projects that could have waited (Fire Station 12 Remodel at more than $200,000), and dumped at least a million dollars into a building the City doesn't own (Community Center). Further, we are all waiting to find out what the final tally will be for the land and equipment purchases and over-runs associated with the solar project. Now, the Council has directed City Staff to use $150,000 in order to perform an 'efficiency study': on a department that only has 23 employees! This action does not seem efficient, by any standard.

The Councils direction seems even less efficient when the City already employs a City Manager/staff, an Administrative Services Director, contracts with an HR firm, and has a full-time HR Staff. Presumably, one, or any combination of the previously mentioned could evaluate the efficiency of a Department with only 23 employees? Even more distressing is the fact that the Fire and Division Chief's have over 50 years of combined administrative experience which would certainly be capable of, at minimum, making a firm recommendation on adequate/efficient staffing levels. However, our Council has ignored these obvious facts. As a result I feel compelled to share them with you.

Finally, we will all soon learn that the City will not meet its projected budget revenue numbers from user utility taxes generated last year. Ironically, the projected deficit of this line item equals $150,000. Given all that I have shared and all that is known relative to our economy, the City's Staff, and projected tax revenue shortfall, does it make any sense to proceed with another $150,000 consultant expenditure right now? Your firefighters do not think so.

We are asking that you compel your Council and City Staff to accomplish the efficiency study in-house, using the expertise that we are already paying for. We believe that the necessary local knowledge and several years of experience already exists to perform a thorough evaluation of any Benicia Department.

Todd Matthews, President,
Benicia Firefighters Association

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Stan Golovich September 13, 2012 at 05:02 PM
This is a matter we can handle in-house with citizen volunteers. Here is the text of an email I sent to the council. I encourage Patch readers to copy and paste into their own email or compose similar. Honorable Mayor and Councilmembers, The City of Benicia has an abundance of retired and active professionals across many disciplines of municipal management and public safety operations. A recent letter to the editor of the Benicia Herald indicated council has approved an allocation of $150,000 to commission a study to evaluate organizational efficiencies of two city departments, one identified as the Fire Department. I request council suspend this allocation pending public discussion of the formation of an ad hoc committee of volunteers to perform this review, similar to what the the City of Vallejo has done. Respectfully, (Name and address)
Scott Burford September 13, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Wow. This City sure hires a lot of consultants. $400,000 spent including a no-bid renewal for Jack Wolf's firm to stir up tourism business, and now this. I'll certainly be sending something to the city council to voice my opinion. Whatever happened to leveraging the talent that already exists in the city? Seems to me that if the people already being paid to do their jobs can't handle this task, then perhaps we have the wrong people working for the City. I would love to know what the potential rate of return is of the $150,000 spent by whatever improvements are made to a 23 person department. 20 years? 30? Benicia will probably hire many millions of more dollars in consultants by the time this money is ever recovered, if ever. By all means, let's spend money on this and then lay off some police and firefighters once we realize our revenues are continuing to sink. Yes, I am being sarcastic with that suggestion. Holy Toledo.
Karl Voigt September 13, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I don't know why anyone is shocked about this. This Mayor and City Council do this over and over again....and the sheeple keep on electing them.....Ya get what you vote for.
Linda Voigt September 13, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Government by consultants for consultants. You asked for it you got it. Look if the people we pay to run the city don't have the skills to do it, they should be fired and just work with consultants. Why double dip. They can spend money on studies but can't avoid cutting public employee salaries and benefits. Are we in an economic bind or not? Or do just working class people deserve to be the victims of austerity measures that we obviously don't need? Elites in charge making decisions to gentrify Benicia and drive out the working class. That's what I'm thinking. Also I like the comment above about a citizen's committee who would be willing to donate their time if given the opportunity. After many years of experience working with consultants I can say with confidence most of them are not worth the paper their recommendations are written on. Common sense would have worked better not to mention cheaper. Credentials mean nothing. Any fool can develop those and sell their services to the gormless. The people who know best how to operate more efficiently are those doing the job. My best ideas can from my staff who did the actual work. Consultants get it wrong because they come in with preconceived ideas that don't fit the situation. Plus a boatload of arrogance. And psychobabble. Linda Voigt
Joe Feltcher September 13, 2012 at 10:09 PM
Nice letter Todd, thanks. I bet you that at least half that $200k on the Hastings/Solano Fire Station upgrade was on those solar panels. What a waste. This mayor is an absolute joke. How Alan lost is still beyond me.
Babaloo September 14, 2012 at 04:20 PM
what would make you think they would do anything different ? The expectation that the city has your or our best interests involved is , well, "questionable". The "Solar" Villiage at the end of Rose Drive is an eyesore. But they bought the land for 500,000 from Volero ? Are you kidding me. ? the land for 500,000 plus ? They get "grants" and then they rebuild the Generals quarters for a "huge" amount of money. Follow the money, see who benefits. then ask the questions. The cost of "rehabbing" the Arsenal was a waste of funds and could be done for considerable less. The cities resources should be spent wisely. Stand up, make the calls, JUST SAY NO.
Insider September 14, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Joe, Alan lost because he did not have a positive direction for Benicia. His vision was build, build and bring the Seeno Family to town. Alan lost, plain and simple his vision blurred by his dream of placing money in his and other conservative pockets. Now back to the topic, our Mayor Is out of touch, her team continues to demonstrate financial failures in their logic.
Bruno September 14, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Todd: Thank you for sharing this disturbing information. Of course, I would like to know more - the other area of focus for the study, what the desired results are that will be obtained from a consultant’s efficiency study, and the time frame involved... Here is a suggestion. The plan of action towards realizing an efficiency study should involve a “local” collaborative effort, i.e., a citizen committee (comprised of knowledgeable volunteers) and the City's existing staff (subject matter experts from the sectors being evaluated, human resources and finance sectors, etc.), to devise an efficiency study (a starting point on which to build upon). The resulting documentation (feasibility analysis) would be the deciding factor as to the necessity of an “outside” consultant’s efforts or to move forward with an efficiency study using local subject matter experts. On another note, I recently received a mailer entitled: "Information on Benicia's Health, Safety, and Financial Integrity" which focused on new water/sewer rate increases signed by Brad Kilger, City Manager, and Melissa Morton, Public Works Director. The City Manager and City Council may consider these urgent fiscal needs of the City (i.e., the costs of a safe water system) as a priority – far more important than the need of an efficiency study by an outside consulting firm. Your comments will be most welcomed.
Robert Livesay September 14, 2012 at 05:22 PM
I do have some agreement with most of the comments. I do believe cooler heads will rise and there very well could be a change in direction. Trying to evaluate ones self is very easy. We all think quite a bit of ourself. At least I do and believe I have attempted to show that. But at the same time I do believe what could and maybe needs to happen. Direction from the City Manger. Lay out the objective and have all the Directors come up with a solution. It can work and I have used it before. Remember Directors are a direct report to the City Manager. He hoilds their jobs in his hand. They are also responsible for the effective results of their departtments. So as you can see it is in their best interest to give a very honest evaluation of the operation of their departments. At that point you will also find out how effective they are as dept. heads. This could work very well. I believe the City Manager is responsible for thi and will do it to the best advantage of the city. By the way Alan lost to a much better organized campaign She had many worker bees, Alan had next to noe.. I am no fan of the mayor. You would have never guessed that.
Joe Feltcher September 14, 2012 at 09:46 PM
"Direction from the City Manger."? I'm pretty sure the ACLU made the City take that down years ago...
Robert Livesay September 14, 2012 at 10:08 PM
All directors report to the city manager. He can hire and fire and not be over ruled by the city council. He has a very strong position.
Robert Livesay September 14, 2012 at 10:10 PM
The city manager can be fired by the city council on a 3/2 vote. He and the city attorney are in the same boat. The only two that the city council can fire.

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