Government transparency effort faces union backlash

Small glass piggy bank with a silver coin in it

Senate Bill 331, a bill sponsored by government employee unions that is on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, is touted as increasing transparency in contracting by certain local governments.

But critics say the bill’s provisions are actually intended to punish agencies that have adopted ordinances increasing transparency in collective bargaining negotiations with employee unions.

Targeting COIN

The bill only applies to counties, cities and special districts that have adopted a Civic Openness in Negotiating ordinance. According to the bill’s Senate legislative analysis, COIN ordinances typically require agencies engaged in labor negotiations to:

  • Hire an independent negotiator.
  • Obtain an independent analysis of the costs of contract proposals.
  • Disclose within 24 hours any offers and counteroffers made during the negotiations.
  • Disclose communications that elected officials have with representatives of employee unions.
  • Disclose a proposed contract before it’s placed on an agenda for approval.

“The COIN ordinances’ proponents argue that the local requirements are necessary because the secrecy that shields labor contract negotiations results in labor agreements being approved by elected officials without sufficient opportunities for the public scrutiny,” the analyst said.

Versions of the COIN ordinance have been adopted by Orange County, the cities of Costa Mesa, Fullerton and Beverly Hills, and the East Bay Municipal Utility District. Although that’s just five local agencies out of thousands in California, it may be five too many for SB331’s backers.

“The opposite of what its title [Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act] implies, SB331 is a cynical piece of legislation designed to punish local agencies that adopt COIN ordinances, or even less stringent ordinances requiring public disclosure of benefit and long-term costs of labor contracts,” said the public law group Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai LLP on its website. “Under the legislation, agencies that adopt almost any measure promoting a better understanding of their labor costs must accept onerous requirements for all public contracts over $250,000.”

Those requirements force COIN ordinance agencies to apply similar transparency measures to all $250-000-plus contracts.

“The breadth of contracts covered by SB331 is also ridiculously extreme,” Renne Sloan said, “including ‘accounting, financing, hardware and software maintenance, health care, human resources, human services, information technology, telecommunications, janitorial maintenance, legal services, lobbying, marketing, office equipment maintenance, passenger vehicle maintenance property leasing, public relations, public safety, social services, transportation, or waste removal.”

For every $250,000-plus contract – regardless of how mundane or routine – the agency would have to provide a report listing offers, counteroffers, names of those involved and other negotiation details. The report must be filed at least 30 days before each contract is considered by an agency and at least 60 days before the agency votes on it. The agency must consider the contract for at least two meetings before voting.

The only way an agency can avoid the requirements is by suspending, repealing or revoking its COIN ordinance.

The bill’s author Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, on the Senate floor Sept. 10, portrayed it as simply a measure to increase governmental accountability and fairness. “I think we are all in favor of transparency,” he said. “Let’s make it equitable and make all contracts in open meetings and have them transparent – not just labor or just business [contracts].”

Encouraging Transparency

The only senator to speak against it was John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, who introduced Orange County’s COIN ordinance when he was a supervisor.

“A few days ago the LA Times had an editorial that encouraged municipalities to adopt COIN, civic openness in negotiations,” he said. “So here we are with a few municipalities, cities that have adopted COIN. And now we want to make it very cumbersome for them.


“Basically, most negotiations for collective bargaining in counties, cities are done in closed session, closed doors. And then the results are released, and a few days later they are voted on without any input from the public. COIN is just encouraging transparency. And we should not be penalizing it.


“We have a lot of funny things that come out of bargaining in closed session. And that’s why a lot of our cities and counties, and even the state, are in pretty poor fiscal shape. And no wonder we keep asking for tax hikes.”

Mendoza’s transparency argument in favor of SB331 was echoed by Jennifer Muir, the-assistant general manager (now general manager) for the Orange County Employees Association, at the July 1 Assembly Local Government Committee hearing.

“There have been a number of efforts in recent years to promote transparency in government, and those efforts are laudable,” she said. “We believe transparency should not be limited to a jurisdiction’s public workforce. And instead should be applied evenly to areas where taxpayer money is being spent.”


Bill Causes Rift in O.C. Sheriff’s Department

The debate on the bill pitted the Orange County sheriff’s 2,800-member rank-and-file against the sheriff’s department management.

Orange County Sheriff patchTom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, said, “SB331 represents a critical step toward assuring transparency in public contracts. Transparency is not truly transparent if it is being selectively directed at a single group or entity. Private sector contracts worth millions of dollars are routinely approved by elected officials with little or no public scrutiny.”

Dominguez continued, “SB331 will give the public a window into how taxpayer money is being spent on private sector contracts. And ensure these precious dollars are being spent serving the public.”

But Don Barnes, an Orange County assistant sheriff representing Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, countered that the bill could put lives at risk.

“While the Sheriff’s Department welcomes transparency, this bill will detrimentally impact those we serve, as well as our employees in providing those services, due to the unnecessary restrictions and costs caused by the mandates of the bill,” he said.

“If SB331 were made law, critical public safety contracts would be delayed. Specialized contracts with the crime lab, often with sole-source vendors due to the specialized nature of the equipment, would be adversely affected by the passage of the bill.”

Another risk, Barnes said, is that the county could be sued if delays in procurement of goods prevent the county from meeting its mandated welfare requirements for county jail inmates.

“While proponents of the legislation point to openness and transparency – a value that we share and a worthy goal – the additional burdens and cost increases associated with SB331 will inevitably and unnecessarily strain staff’s time, burden budgets that are already stretched too thin and result in unintended consequences affecting the delivery of public safety services to the residents and visitors of Orange County,” he said. “This is not an anti-union position; this is a continuity of operations issue that I’m stressing for public safety.”

Orange County COIN Struck Down in Court

Democrats on the committee were not persuaded.

“Having a certain incapacity much like O.C.’s in the past, it’s amazing to me that cities and counties and districts that decide they want to outsource public services because of a claim of reducing costs, somehow want to increase the costs for negotiating with their own employees, while giving an unfair advantage of course to those services that are outsourced by suggesting there’s no need for equal transparency,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. “Frankly, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

If Brown signs the SB331, it will be the second major transparency setback for Orange County this year. The county’s COIN ordinance was struck down by a Public Employment Relations Board administrative law judge on June 16. The judge ruled that the county, before adopting the ordinance, should have provided “notice and an opportunity for the union to meet and confer over that adoption or its effects.”

Renne Sloan warned that the ruling “may further discourage local agencies from adopting similar measures to make negotiations more transparent and responsive to the public’s interests and welfare.”


Write a comment
  1. Dude
    Dude 23 September, 2015, 09:10

    Union = Organized Crime

    Reply this comment
  2. LGMike
    LGMike 23 September, 2015, 10:11

    The arguments in favor of this bill say they support transparency if it applies to private sector contract, not just public sector unions.
    Well guess what, most if not all private sector contracts must follow “prevailing wage” which is no more than union wage which we all know is anywhere between 20 and 45% higher than “real” private sector wage and benefits . Think how additional savings on contracting by government agencies would say pave hundreds of miles of streets and highways.

    Reply this comment
  3. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 23 September, 2015, 16:24

    And still these fool unions support the demacrats in every election I see the Lemming Effect

    Reply this comment
  4. Fed Up
    Fed Up 23 September, 2015, 18:34

    Good to see this important issue getting such detailed coverage at CW. Keep up the great work!

    Reply this comment
  5. ricky65
    ricky65 27 September, 2015, 08:51

    Not surprised the PE unions would be against this one.
    Cockroaches always scurry away from the light.

    Reply this comment
  6. Youcan'tfoolallofus
    Youcan'tfoolallofus 8 January, 2016, 13:03

    Transparency in all matter pertaining to government should be the law. There are many great public servants, who are appalled at the waste of taxpayers dollars by management off loading jobs to private vendors. Remember private vendors make huge political contributions while costing taxpayers billions more than a reliable public servant.. If public servants speak up or question they are systemically run out of government, especially if they have been around for years and know where the bodies are buried. The only protection they have is their Union because there is a systemic cleansing going on to get rid of public servants who are appalled at the wasting of taxpayers dollars. Many of the contracts to private vendors are below the $250,000 mark so the public can be kept in the dark. There needs to be a complete audit of vendor contracts especially under $250,000. Start with Department of Corrections, Employment Development Department, and Department of Transportation. The media should track the whistleblowers and those fired from long term State Service. They’d be amazed at what they’d find out.

    Reply this comment
    • Rex the Wonder Dog!
      Rex the Wonder Dog! 8 January, 2016, 19:39

      Remember private vendors make huge political contributions while costing taxpayers billions more than a reliable public servant..
      Hahahaha…OMD!!!…LOL… The BIGGEST $$$ contributors in CA are PUBLIC TROUGH FEEDERS fool, the CTA is and always has been #1!!!!!!

      You trough feeding leeches are killing CA.

      Reply this comment
  7. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 8 January, 2016, 19:43

    The bill only applies to counties, cities and special districts that have adopted a Civic Openness in Negotiating ordinance.
    Well this right here tells you everything you need to know, that it is trough feeder/public union scam. If it was legit it would apply to ALL private sector contracts, not just muni’s where CON has been implemented.

    Reply this comment
  8. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 8 January, 2016, 19:44

    10 times the cost?? You mean like the $200K-$300K GED cops and firewhiners are comping, which is about 30-50 times the cost of a private sector GED job….nice try loser. Fail!

    Reply this comment

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