Fitzgerald and Flory: OCEA Needs To Get Its Facts Straight on Fullerton

In the August 26th Community Opinion by Charles Barfield, the General Manager of Orange County’s largest public union, he states that a crisis brings out the best and worst in people.  He then continues with a litany of lies to besmirch the Fullerton City Manager Ken Domer and his handling of employee negotiations.  Let us be clear, it was a 4 – 1 vote of the Fullerton City Council that prompted our City Manager’s final offer to the Fullerton Municipal Employee Federation (FEMF); he was simply the messenger.

As Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem of Fullerton during the COVID-19 pandemic, we understand firsthand the difficulties local communities face as a result of stay at home orders, closed businesses, and distance learning.  I also understand the toll that reduced revenues take on city services.  In Fullerton, we have had to do more with less, period.  City workers provide city services so the 20% vacancy rate we’re running directly translates into fewer services and programs, impacting our residents from seniors to children, and to those who need assistance from our Police and Public Works Departments.

Fullerton, a full-service city incorporated in 1904, has been facing on-going financial difficulties for decades.  Those problems have been compounded because of COVID-19.  We confronted the COVID-19 fiscal challenge first by dipping into our meager contingency reserves, we immediately cut services, and we had to ask all our employees to be part of the solution, as well.  The ask to our employees was not our first ask; but rather our last after all our other options were exhausted.  Immediately, city staff agreed to share the burden starting with our City Manager and Executive Team, who voluntarily took a 10% pay reduction.  The Police Officers Association deferred their previously negotiated raise and took the extra step of committing to a 10% staffing reduction.  Most recently, the Fullerton Management Association and the unrepresented employees agreed to a 5% pay reduction.

The City Council didn’t ask FMEF to do anything more than our other bargaining units had not only agreed to do but, in some cases, volunteered for.  And this request of FMEF was only AFTER a series of meetings initially requested by the City on April 23rd to identify and work with our labor groups during this crisis.

Understand that since April, the City has continued to squeeze every last dollar we can from our budget, using over $3 million in contingency reserves, laying off 153 part-time workers, cutting library hours, temporarily closing our museum and cutting operating costs to work down our initial $7.9 million deficit. The remaining amount to balance our budget requires the assistance of our workforce, plain and simple.  And I am proud that so many of them stepped up to do their part.

What a horrible picture Mr. Barfield creates with his misinformation!  We have to wonder if he was even in the meetings when extensive information was exchanged at the request of HIS staff.   Did his representatives not pass correct information along to him? We certainly hope FMEF is at least getting that for all they’re paying OCEA for representation!

And as far as our justification for our final offer to FMEF?  We are in the middle of a pandemic with millions unemployed and thousands of businesses suffering.  Our employees understand that – I’m unsure why OCEA does not.  Over the months, the City’s proposals from furloughs to tiered pay reductions based on compensation level were all declined under the advice of OCEA.  No proposal, other than to wait out the crisis, was ever received from OCEA/FMEF.  The City’s final offer of the 5% reduction was sent on July 22nd and while Mr. Barfield may not know this, that offer was accompanied by the following statement: “Should the City subsequently receive Federal funding designed to replace lost revenue during FY 20-21, the City will use such available funds to return wages to their regular level and reimburse prior reductions.”

The Fullerton City Council and our employees have shown grit, collaboration and fiscal prudence.  Times are tough and everyone seems on edge.  Instead of placing blame, Mr. Barfield should work harder to get his facts straight.  We do agree with one thing Mr. Barfield said in his editorial: FMEF does deserve better.

Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly said, it was an unanimous vote of the Fullerton City Council that prompted our City Manager’s final offer to the Fullerton Municipal Employee Federation (FEMF).  The authors regret the error.

Jennifer Fitzgerald is Mayor of Fullerton and has been on the Fullerton City Council since 2012.

Jan Flory is Mayor Pro Tem of Fullerton and is the senior member of the current Council having served on the Fullerton City Council at various times since 1994.

 

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For a different view on this issue, consider: 

Barfield: Fair-Weather Fullerton City Manager Throws Essential Workers Under the Bus