Yesterday, I received some unpleasant news, job-wise.
No, I didn’t lose my day job. Phew.
But, like a fair number of us in our suburban community, I have been told I need to take a salary cut in the form of unpaid furloughs. My bosses were apologetic in delivering the news, but I was like, well, they could have laid my co-workers off. Instead, they themselves have taken salary cuts—pretty hefty ones I understand—and they’ve moved things around and are adjusting priorities to keep as many people as possible in their jobs. And, by the way, I’ve lived through one lay-off in my professional life. It was not fun, especially as my husband was also unemployed at the time. I had to deal with filing for unemployment, and we had to scramble to find ways to pay for our own health insurance.
In the end, that layoff ultimately led to different and better opportunities, but it also fed my underlying sense of insecurity that I’ll carry with me the rest of my life—that I can’t take anything for granted, that sometimes we, as in the collective citizenry of our country and globe, must weather forces beyond any one person’s control.
Actually, in my meeting with my bosses, I mentioned Tuesday night’s Walnut Creek City Council meeting. At this meeting, the council had to vote on a difficult budget plan, which I wrote about earlier this week. The plan involved a combination of pay cuts, pay freezes, and benefits cuts to the City Council, the executive management, and an array of city employees, including police. The council also had to approve four layoffs, the elimination of temporary positions, and reducing some staff from full-time to part-time status.
The city is facing a $5.6 million deficit for this year and a projected deficit of nearly $30 million through 2012. Yikes.
I didn’t attend the meeting but watched it on video, which you can do here.
An acquaintance, who went to the meeting, said it was emotional, difficult, but ultimately inspiring in that there was a real sense of collaboration and shared sacrifice amongst the various groups affected. She said it made her proud to be a resident of Walnut Creek.
And before I go on, I know that I have written commentaries in which I nag and criticize city leaders on various issues. But, I will concede, in this situation and in this crisis, the city leaders are setting the right tone.
My acquaintance said, for example, that she was heartened—and so were parents groups, and the superintendents of the Walnut Creek and Mt. Diablo school districts—by the council’s decision to find the $110,000 needed to continue, through this upcoming school year, the crossing guard program, which serves 10 intersections leading to elementary and middle schools around town.
Dick Nicoll, interim superintendent for the Mt. Diablo school district, spoke of the great partnership that the city has had with his district over the years. That Walnut Creek, unlike other cities, has stepped up and contributed to such projects as the construction of the Foothill Middle School gym, which has become a facility used by people throughout the community. Nicoll spoke of how everyone is having to make concessions at this time, then thanked the city for coming up with a recommendation to keep the crossing guard program going, at least through the next year.
Another group that stepped up was the police officer’s association, whose members voluntarily agreed to a salary freeze, which will save the city about $620,000.
City spending on the new library was cut $500,000, but staff and board members of the Walnut Creek Library Foundation said they understood that the funding reduction was necessary and that they would do what they could to make up the loss. The foundation has already raised $5 million to help fund the new library; construction, so far, is coming along well and on schedule.
(For those who continue to question whether the city should have even embarked on this library project in the first place, you might have a point, but that darned horse, as the saying goes, is already way out of the barn. Construction is underway, and the city now has to finish what it started in the best way possible.)
“We understand,” said Kristin Anderson, executive director of the foundation, said about the city funding cut. “This isn’t what we would like but it’s what needs to be done. This is a time for shared sacrifice.”
Echoed Dianne Longshore, vice president of the foundation board: “There are partnerships and there are partnerships, and we’ve had a fantastic one with you. … In that spirit of partnership, we have been here during the good times, and we’ll be here for the tough times. We’ll do what we can to help balance the budget.”
Shared sacrifice. Spirit of cooperation. What a concept. But, we pulled that off at my workplace. And from what I saw and heard about Tuesday night’s city council meeting, it sounds like that was the spirit guiding difficult decisions in our city, at least on Tuesday night.
Sure, we still have the Neiman Marcus mess to contend with.
Gee, it would be nice if our representatives in Sacramento, from the governor to the legislators to, yes, the lobbyists for the various special interest groups, could show that same spirit of cooperation and shared sacrifice. As Council member Kish Rajan said in an e-mail he sent out to residents, the “continued dysfunction and irresponsibility at the state level are an outrage.”