Consultants vs. Lifeguards & Librarians

VoiceofSanDiego.org, 6/18/08 |

As the budget veto showdown between San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Council draws nearer, a left-leaning advocacy group is criticizing the mayor for preferring consultants over librarians and lifeguards.

The mayor proposed a fiscal 2009 budget that includes the elimination of 125 positions, many of them coming from parks and recreation and the libraries. Left untouched, however, is $900,000 for managed competition consultants and $225,000 for audit committee consultants.

The line-item for Jefferson Wells, the audit committee consultant, was left in even though it has been called a “colossal waste of money” by Sanders spokesman Fred Sainz.

“We are getting too top-heavy with consultants who really don’t perform a service to residents,” said Murtaza Baxamusa, research and policy director for the Center on Policy Initiatives. “They don’t cut grass, they don’t pick up the books and they don’t stand guard at the swimming pools.”

The budget passed by the City Council last week, which Sanders vetoed Monday, restores 62 positions at a cost of $4.3 million. To help offset the cost, City Council cut $400,000 of the budgeted money for Grant Thornton, LLP, the consulting firm hired to help the mayor with his privatization effort, known as “managed competition.”

Also cut was the entire $225,000 budgeted for Jefferson Wells, which performs reviews of the city’s financial controls.

Council’s cuts were made on the advice of Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin. Time has been set aside this coming Monday for an override vote on Sanders’ veto.

After announcing his veto, Sanders said, “I am more than happy to cut down on the number of consultants, and that is something I’m hoping we will be able to do as we move forward into the future.”

Nonetheless, Sainz said the managed competition consultants are needed, and, long term, cost less than employees.

“Consultants are often hired to perform specialized functions,” Sainz said. “It’s better to rent this expertise — you don’t have pension or health costs.”

Sanders is scheduled to go before council this coming Monday to ask for $400,000 from the city’s appropriated reserve fund that would go to Grant Thornton. The appropriated reserve is intended for unanticipated expenses that are time sensitive.

The money is needed, Sainz said, so the consultants can write statements of work that are required when the city requests proposals from outside contractors.

Tevlin said she made her recommendation that council cut $400,000 of the money for Grant Thornton in the 2009 budget because she knew the mayor’s request was coming.

If council approves Sanders’ request, but overrides his veto, as is expected, the total budget for Grant Thornton over fiscal years 2008 and 2009 will be $1.15 million.

Stay tuned for more on this issue.