Concerns about endorsements by Benicia police and fire fighters associations
[Editor: note that although both Police and Fire associations appear on campaign signs, the $740 contributions mentioned below were reported ONLY by the Benicia Police Officers Association as of Sept 29. UPDATE: The Benicia Herald published a similar correction on Oct. 26, adding, “According to the Firefighters’ Association, contributions from that organization were less than $99 per person and thus have not been publicly reported, per California Fair Political Practices Commission runes.” - RS]
My hat is off to the full slate of capable and qualified people vying for positions on our City Council. Anyone who follows the workings of this body knows well the time and commitment required in what’s too often a thankless job. Being a 13-year resident of Benicia, I’ve been drawn to the issues most likely to have a bearing on the safety, health and welfare of our community. But, as the election grows nigh, I’ve noticed various groups and individuals taking sides for or against the various candidates.
Two groups, the Benicia police and fire fighters associations, caught my attention right away. Their many yard signs promote a slate of candidates including Lionel Largaespada, Mark Hughes and Christina Strawbridge. In turn these same candidates tout the police and firefighter endorsements in their campaigns. When I learned that most of the police and firefighters don’t live in Benicia and that they each contributed $740 apiece to raise $20,000 to support their slate, that bothered me. From what I can tell, all the candidates want to promote public safety and support a strong police and fire department. So I was puzzled why they would endorse these particular candidates.
From my 35 years working in the federal government, I’m well aware of the Hatch Act, a law intended to protect federal employees from political coercion at work. The law is a safeguard to the merit system by ensuring that career advancement for federal employees is based on merit and not political affiliation. One of the other goals, which is tied to the two previous ones, is that it fosters public trust by requiring that federal programs, federal institutions be administered in a non-partisan fashion.
I know, city employees aren’t federal employees, and so long as Benicia doesn’t accept federal funding, city employees can use their positions to promote their political agendas. But I don’t have to like it. $740 apiece is a big chunk of change for most of us, so the police and firefighters must hope to gain something from these endorsements. To wit, unions typically support candidates that support higher pay and benefits and our police and fire fighters contract negotiations begin next year. Hmmm.
The only other reason I could see for the police and fire endorsement is their perception of “growth.” Like the construction trades that operate on the “more is better” premise, the police and firefighters may hope that unbridled growth will result in more jobs and city revenue in support of future pay and benefits. If that’s the case, it’s clear why they are supporting Largaespada, who openly supported Valero’s Crude-By-Rail Project and amending the General Plan to allow construction of 900-plus homes on the Seeno property. Hughes and Strawbridge similarly voted to consider dropping the approved business park plan in lieu of residential development on the Seeno property. Elizabeth Patterson and Tom Campbell voted against adding residential as that would limit our ability to attract businesses there.
Oddly, the council candidate most knowledgeable about community development, Steve Young, was passed over by the police and fire fighters. Young was director of community development for the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency from 1999 to 2008 where he oversaw a $20 million budget managing the development of large business and industrial parks at Mather and McClellan Air Force bases after they were closed. Steve knows what it takes to attract business and undertake planning and development. According to Steve, “good planning requires a Master Plan with input from the community to assure the end result satisfies both community and economic benefits.”
So why wouldn’t the police and firefighters endorse Young?
A likely reason is Young’s in-depth analysis of Valero’s Crude-By-Rail Project while serving on Benicia’s Planning Commission. Young, like Mayor Patterson, is very detail oriented and his in-depth analysis highlighted reasons for rejecting Valero’s proposal that was later unanimously rejected by the Planning Commission and City Council. Yet, despite an abundance of evidence and hours of testimony, including findings by the state attorney general, both Hughes and Strawbridge were unable to reject the Crude-By-Rail Project initially, opting to delay the decision to get “more information.” Meanwhile, Patterson, Campbell and Young read the analysis, studied the regulations and rejected the proposal outright – without delay.
Which candidates will do the best analysis of the pay and benefits package for the police and firefighters next year? Which candidates are best prepared to oversee development of the Seeno property in a way that benefits all Benicians? In my view, it’s clearly Steve Young and Elizabeth Patterson.Craig Snider is a Benicia resident who retired from the US Forest Service in 2014 where he fought forest fires among other things.