By Steven Tavares.
Did Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer and Councilmember Tony Daysog break the law earlier this month when they voted against funding a previously approved employee pension trust fund? “The short answer is no,” Alameda City Attorney Janet Kern said Monday.
The allegation was first raised by Alameda Firefighters union president Jeff Del Bono following a Dec. 15 vote by the council approving, 3-2, an administrative item allocating $3 million to fund city employee pension obligations known as Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB).
The council voted by the same margin last April to share the cost of retirement benefits with public safety union members through the trust fund. However, Del Bono, incensed by the votes of Spencer and Daysog made this month, alleged on Twitter that they “broke the law.” During the Dec. 15 meeting Spencer said the agreement made by the city and public safety employees falls short of solving its unfunded liabilities problem. “I think long-term it does jeopardize the fiscal health of the city,” she said. Daysog offered a similar critique and argued the trust fund could be insolvent by 2034.
Following Del Bono’s allegation, Daysog quickly asked the city attorney’s office for an official inquiry into whether any laws were broken by the vote. In a memo to the city council Monday, Kern said no contract was breached by the council vote and that it “satisfies a City obligation under the Memorandum of Understanding with the City’s public safety bargaining units.”
Despite the allegation, Del Bono’s comments are another salvo in a long-running dispute between Spencer and the firefighters’ union that has periodically been inflamed during her first year in office. Earlier this year, firefighters released a recording of the mayor speaking negatively of the firefighters and former city manager John Russo. The conversation, surreptitiously recorded in a coffee shop, followed Spencer’s vote against funding a new fire station which, nonetheless, was approved by the council.
Shortly after the council vote earlier this month, Del Bono reiterated in an East Bay Citizen article his strong objection to the Dec. 15 comments made by Spencer and Daysog and labeled them “two derelicts.” He added, “It’s disappointing and sickening that we have two public officials who break their word on labor contracts.”
In a Dec. 21 letter, from the Alameda Firefighters, Local 689 to the City Council, the union argued the trust fund appropriation was agendized under the consent calendar and should not have been pulled for further discussion by Spencer.
In addition, the union said the council’s vote was one vote shy of exposing the city “to “liability and attorneys’ fees for a clear violation of the contractual commitments made on Apr. 29, 2015 to share the costs of prefunding retiree medical expenses.”
Meanwhile, the city attorney’s conclusion is no surprise to Daysog. In a statement Monday, he again expressed prudence by forwarding the allegation to the city attorney’s office. “As I had surmised from the outset, fortunately, I broke no laws during the course of the Dec. 15 meeting.”