Posts Tagged ‘Steven Greenhut’

Scandals Show California Is Broken, Not Broke

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Read Steven Greenhut’s article on Bloomberg here.

Police Unions Cross Line While Bullying Public Officials

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

By Steven Greenhut | Franklin Center

Steven Greenhut

California city officials typically spare police officers even modest reductions in the pay and pension packages that are a main source of local budget problems, even when the other alternatives are cuts in public services or even municipal bankruptcy.

The common explanation is politicians are afraid of the cop unions’ political muscle come election time. That is true, but disturbing behavior by operatives associated with the Costa Mesa police union paints a much darker picture of the fear such unions instill in local officials. The incident has statewide and even national implications.

Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer had finished speaking at a community meeting last Wednesday, and then headed to a pub owned by fellow councilman Gary Monahan. Righeimer drank two sodas and drove home. After arriving home, a Costa Mesa cop showed up at his door and asked him to step outside and take a sobriety test, which he passed.

That a police officer can ask for a sobriety test after you have returned home is troubling enough, but the details of the case are even more astonishing.

A private eye with connections to the law firm Lackie, Dammeier & McGill of Upland, Calif., which represents the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association and many others across the state, called 911  and reported Righeimer as a possible DUI, representing himself as a concerned citizen. The caller said  Righeimer stumbled out of the bar even though surveillance cameras show no such thing. “He’s just swerving all over the road,” the caller stated.

The private eye, Chris Lanzillo, a fired Riverside police officer who showed up at Righeimer’s house in a car without license plates, claims he was not on orders to follow Righeimer. The law firm also denied this but promptly removed Lanzillo’s name from its Web site.

The Costa Mesa union fired the firm, moments before a city press conference. But this backpedaling is not credible. The law firm brags publicly about its brass-knucked tactics, and its Web site features testimonials from unions thrilled by how its legal work brings city managers to their knees. There’s no sense believing anything said by a man whose claims in the police report are not even close to reality. The whole situation screams set up.

“What you have here is police associations and their law firms hiring private detectives to dig up dirt on elected officials that they can then use to extort them, embarrass them or worse in order to get the elected official to vote against the best interests of the city to protect themselves,” Righeimer told me. “That’s the definition of extortion.”

The Costa Mesa City Council is gaining national attention for its willingness to challenge unions. The council has passed pension reform and embraced outsourcing. It recently approved the Civic Openness In Negotiations (COIN) ordinance, which subjects contract negotiations to a level of outside auditing and public disclosure that has infuriated unions.

It would have been an embarrassment had the union ensnared the ring-leader of this reform movement in a DUI. But this is the kind of behavior one finds in police states, or perhaps Mafia organizations. It is not an isolated incident.


Other U.S. Cities Can Learn From Anaheim Riots

Monday, August 6th, 2012

By Steven Greenhut | Franklin Center

Steven Greenhut

After Tom Tait was sworn in as the mayor of Anaheim in November 2010, he issued a statement announcing the city’s commitment to “kindness and freedom.” One reader — knowing this to be the type of governmental hubris that’s almost too easy to lampoon — urged me to reach for the poison pen. I declined. Although the statement struck me as naïve, I cut Tait some slack because of his apparent sincerity.

Two years later, as Anaheim makes national news because of riots sparked by police shootings, Tait is in an unexpected situation of having to put his well-intentioned rhetoric into practice. How he and his city resolve the conflict — whether officials can restore civic order and erase images that look like they come from a war-torn nation rather than the home of the “Happiest Place on Earth” — might offer lessons for other cities throughout the country.

As Tait told me in an interview Wednesday, his original intent was to spark a cultural change within city government that encouraged employees to help residents navigate the bureaucracy. He sees kindness and freedom as closely related — i.e., a government that kindly serves the people also is one that creates the broadest latitude for its citizens to live their lives as they choose.

He offered examples of where the two concepts intersect. Shortly after taking over as mayor, Tait learned of a plan by residents in the Colony District to host a July 4 parade that included not just the wealthier historic neighborhoods but also the apartment complex nearby. It was a nice idea to bring people together, even though they are divided by economic and ethnic differences.

“Someone calls the city and the official there said they needed a permit and that’s a fee and a certificate of insurance and approvals,” Tait said. “The parade didn’t happen. … On the other end of the phone, there’s a guy who works for the city and he has a checklist. He goes into government probably to help people, but he has a tight fence put around him.”

Tait also told the story of how a city security guard gave an elderly man a ride home from City Hall after seeing him struggling in the heat. Tait learned about it because the man’s supervisor wrote him up — the guard was being punished for doing something that was outside of procedure. Tait was appalled and was thankful that a department head recognized that the guard should be praised, not punished.

Changing a bureaucratic culture sounds naïve, perhaps, but Anaheim had beginning in 2002 gained national attention for putting into place some unusually kind and freedom-friendly public policies that no other major city in the country had embraced.

Like many older cities, Anaheim wanted to encourage new tax-generating developments. Most cities adopted the government-driven redevelopment approach, in which favored businesses were subsidized and others were driven off their property by eminent domain.

Instead of taking the heavy-handed “hatched in City Hall” redevelopment approach, city officials banned the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes and then “upzoned” targeted areas, meaning that they loosened zoning rules so owners had more latitude on what they could do with their land.

As a result, the Platinum Triangle area near the stadiums boomed as property owners found great value in selling their low-rise warehouses to condo and office developers. It was a market-friendly approach that did not violate anyone’s property rights.

The city also reduced regulations on businesses, issued a business-tax holiday, stopped prosecuting minor code violations as crimes, reduced some misdemeanors to infractions, and worked on fostering a more helpful attitude among city workers. Tait, then a council member, helped build a bipartisan council agenda to advance it.

In the early 2000s, I wrote about Anaheim’s nonsensical rules that forced people who lived in low-cost motels to move out every 30 days. Officials didn’t like that these old motels were turning into budget apartments and were making life difficult for some of the city’s poorest residents, thus forcing some of them into homelessness. The then-new freedom-friendly city administration took a different approach by working with the motels to assure safe and sanitary conditions and bringing in the Rescue Mission to administer services. That’s an example of how a changed governmental approach can expand freedom and kindness, the mayor argues.

“I don’t think people are free to be kind in the city because of all the rules, because of the culture and the bureaucracy,” he said. “It’s not about changing the rules, but about changing the culture.” He wants to allow city employees to “use their brain” and not just follow the rules.

Unfortunately, in my view, the city’s police department has embraced the wrong kind of policing methods — ones that are unkind and undermine people’s freedom. I don’t see police officials there using their brains to handle a situation born, in part, of overly aggressive policing tactics and insufficient police accountability and transparency.

Clearly, the cultural changes the mayor is trying to implement in the city bureaucracy need to filter into the police department — a point Tait also makes. Cops need to get out of their cars and get to know members of the communities where they patrol. They need to put down the riot gear and recognize that in a free society, police officials are supposed to protect and serve the public — and must respect the inherent rights of all citizens.

I never thought that Tait’s seemingly naïve statement upon taking over as mayor would have taken on such significance, but life is funny that way. Despite my cynicism, I agree that reforming a rigid governmental and policing culture is exactly what’s needed in Anaheim and elsewhere. Fortunately, I can’t think of a more sincere mayor to advance those ideas.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.  Write to him at [email protected]


Anaheim Riots Spotlight Need for Broad Police Reform

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Read Steven Greenhut’s article published on the North County Times here.

Shutting Down the Voices of Our Opponents

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

By Steven Greenhut | Franklin Center

Steven Greenhut

Whatever happened to the old “I may not agree with your position, but I’ll fight for your right to express it” attitude that was common on the political left?

Those who would say such things often did so in a self-righteous manner, with this underlying attitude: “Your ideas are so stupid, but I’ll hear them out because I am deeply committed to free speech.”

Nevertheless, the underlying sentiment was noble. We should all engage in debate, rather than try to shut down our opponents.

People on both sides of the political spectrum have been known to shout down ideas they don’t like, but these days the left has become particularly aggressive in its attempt to intimidate people into silence.

I’m a Libertarian, so some of my views are considered conservative — property rights, smaller government, gun rights, lower taxes — and others are considered liberal — less-restrictive borders, non-interventionism in foreign affairs, drug legalization. Conservatives often have been angry with what I write, but only liberals have tried to get me fired from a job for taking a legitimate position they didn’t like.

I take issue with some of Rush Limbaugh’s Republican apologetics, but it was appalling when liberals tried to get him booted from his radio show because they didn’t like some of his remarks. Likewise, I’m appalled by liberal attempts to intimidate businesses into cutting their ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that creates model legislation in state capitols.


Bad News For California Housing Recovery

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Alleged reforms will delay foreclosure process, increasing the costs, which will only make it harder for distressed properties to work their way out of the system.

SACRAMENTO – Just as the housing industry is showing signs of recovery, California’s Democratic officials have concocted a “solution” that adds regulations and higher costs to the foreclosure process. These are the same officials who can’t produce an honest budget and refuse to deal with a deepening public-employee pension crisis and other issues under their purview, but once again they think they can correct problems in complex private markets.

The newspaper photograph from Tuesday showed legislators and the state attorney general congratulating themselves for their work on a Homeowner Bill of Rights, which they believe will be emulated in other states. It is based on a national legal settlement between states and five banks and is likely to be signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, discusses the homeowners protection legislation package she supported during a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento, July 2. Lawmakers approved the bills that were sent to the governor. Also seen from left, are Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, right.

Most news coverage makes the legislation sound benign. The bills would stop lenders from engaging in “dual tracking,” whereby they engage a distressed homeowner in a loan modification while also beginning the foreclosure process. The legislation also would require banks to assign one group of employees to deal with each person’s mortgage situation and ban those robo-signed documents.


Eminent Domain Is Bad Ploy for Underwater Mortgages

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Read Steven Greenhut’s article published on Bloomberg here.

ObamaCare Decision Helps a Muddled GOP

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

By Steven Greenhut | Franklin Center

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Thursday upholding the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s sweeping health-care law was, of course, shocking given that everyone – including, reportedly, the president and his administration – expected the high court to toss the individual mandate portion of the law. I could almost hear the screams of angst in newsrooms, where reporters have no doubt pre-written much of their work on the demise of ObamaCare.

There are two significant portions of the decision. The first part upholds the government’s decision to force the public to buy health insurance, a chilling expansion of government power even in a nation where government’s reach has expanded into nearly every part of our lives.

The second significant part voids as unconstitutional the law’s granting to the federal government the authority to withhold funds from those states that refuse to approve the expansion of Medicaid.

Much of the commentary will now focus on the politics of the decision. Democratic National Committee staffers are busy gloating via Twitter, and Democratic partisans see this as a vindication for the president’s signature health-care law. They see it as a victory that the beleaguered president can take into the campaign season. Republicans – despite their nomination of a man whose Massachusetts health-care law is seen by many as the precursor to ObamaCare – are attacking the decision and promising to bring up a repeal vote in the House of Representatives.

The good news: The public will at least have something approximating a substantive debate for the fall election about the role of the federal government in something that affects our everyday lives. Mitt Romney has been dancing around the issue, still backing the reform he signed asMassachusettsgovernor while attacking the president’s national health-care law. He’s going to need a clear and believable story line. American voters might not pay careful attention to the nuances of policy debate, but they rarely embrace candidates who waffle, dodge and weave.


High Court Rebukes Union Totalitarianism

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Steven Greenhut

By Steven Greenhut | Franklin Center

SACRAMENTO – For people who truly are interested in a just and fair society, there’s one easy way to sort through some seemingly complex issues: turn the tables. If, for instance, one is debating a controversial law affecting a particular group, it’s best to think about how fair it would seem if that law were applied in the same way to you.

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a verdict in the case of Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000, showing how deeply it understands that basic concept. By a 7-2 vote, the high court slapped down the union for deducting money from its employees’ paychecks and using it to fight against two California campaign initiatives – without giving its nonmembers a chance to opt out of
these political campaign contributions.

Critics of the decision are blasting it, as one union official put it to the Sacramento Bee, as another “attack on the right of public sector workers to act collectively.” But let’s apply our test to these outraged union spokespeople. What if their money was deducted by force from their paycheck and used to support conservative tax-limiting initiatives or Republican candidates? Would they be OK with that? We know the answer.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court recognized by a 7-2 vote – with two liberal justices dissenting – the enormous free-speech issues at stake here. Ruled the court, “Public-sector unions have the right under the First Amendment to express their views on political and social issues without government interference. … But employees who choose not to join a union have the same rights. The First Amendment creates a forum in which all may seek, without hindrance or aid from the State, to move public opinion and achieve their political goals. ‘First Amendment values [would be] at serious risk if the government [could] compel a particular citizen, or a discrete group of citizens, to pay special subsidies for speech on the side that [the government] favors.’ United Foods, 533 U. S., at 411. Therefore, when a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide a fresh Hudson notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent.”

The Hudson notice refers to the requirement that nonmembers, who must pay union dues in union-shop states such as California to cover the portion of union efforts used to negotiate salary and benefit matters
on all workers’ behalf, have a chance to opt out of those portion of the collected dues used for political purposes. It’s a simple concept outlined by the justices above: People who choose not to belong to a
group should not be forced by the government to pay for that group’s political priorities, especially given that those priorities often fly in the face of the beliefs of nonmembers. If you disagree with me, then I’m sure you won’t mind having a portion of your salary deducted to help candidates who advocate policies chosen by me, not you.

While the decision simply upholds basic tenets of freedom and fairness, it should indeed be viewed as part of the growing national backlash against the special privileges that unions – especially those in the public sector – have come to enjoy in recent years thanks solely to their political power. It’s ironic that SEIU took money from nonmembers to specifically battle a statewide proposition that would
have stopped them from being able to take such money in the future. There’s something disturbingly totalitarian about that – making me give you money that you can use to stop me from exerting my rights.

I’ve been shocked by the totalitarian tactics that unions routinely use, such as their attempt in San Diego to void a pension-reform election by appealing to a statewide board of their cronies who were expected to declare the vote an unfair labor practice. Fortunately, the courts nixed that idea. But unions don’t ever apply my basic fairness test. Their goal is simple – exert whatever benefits them at the time, regardless of how wantonly it crushes basic constitutional precepts. Just look at how the SEIU Local 1000 handled the specific dues issue at hand.

As the court explained,  “In June 2005, respondent, a public-sector union (SEIU), sent to California employees its annual Hudson notice, setting and capping monthly dues and estimating that 56.35 (percent) of its total expenditures in the coming year would be chargeable expenses. A nonmember had 30 days to object to full payment of dues but would still have to pay the chargeable portion.”

After that 30-day time period expired, the union then imposed a huge surcharge on dues – a 25 percent assessment that would be used for the 2006 election. Because the 30-day opt-out period had expired, union officials figured they had come up with a clever way to circumvent the law. Nonmembers had to pay the amount and they provided no opt-out provision for the temporary dues increase. Eventually, the union
offered to return the dues, but the court ruled that it is not a moot case – the union can collect dues, use them for political purposes and then after the political damage is done simply return the money if anyone bothers to sue.

Here’s the court again:  “Under the First Amendment, when a union imposes a special assessment or dues increase levied to meet expenses that were not disclosed when the regular assessment was set, it must provide a fresh notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent.” That’s clear and that’s fair.

The justices also made it clear that they are open to consider the entire matter of whether it’s appropriate for unions to have the opt-out provision rather than the more sensible opt-in requirement. Currently, union members and nonmembers have their dues taken out of their paychecks by force and there’s nothing they can do about it if they want to keep their jobs. In practice, unions make it extremely formidable to opt out. They provide a small window of opportunity, require complex paperwork and union members who opt out at times report harassment and intimidation by the union authorities.

Think of it this way – how fair would it be if, say, the cable company took the money for the full-package cable programming and forced you to file paperwork once a year to get a portion of it back if you chose
a less-comprehensive set of programming? What if they played games with the numbers so they could keep more money than they should be allowed to keep?

The dissenting opinion, written by liberal Justice Stephen Breyer and joined by Elena Kagan, stated, “The decision is particularly unfortunate given the fact that each reason the Court offers in support of its ‘opt-in’ conclusion seems in logic to apply, not just to special assessments, but to ordinary yearly fee charges as well. At least, its opinion can be so read. And that fact virtually guarantees that the opinion will play a central role in an ongoing, intense political debate.”

Their main problem, then, was not the substance of the majority opinion, but their concern that the court is intruding too deeply into the opt-in/opt-out debate – a political debate that is coming to California voters in the form of another “paycheck protection” initiative in November.

But, regardless of how California’s fickle voters vote, it is entirely unfair to require this system whereby the union takes the money and the member or nonmember must plead for a portion of it back. The majority got it right when it cut to the chase: “The general rule – individuals should not be compelled to subsidize private groups or private speech – should prevail.”

What a refreshingly fair and just ruling – and a reminder that the days of union special privilege might be subsiding.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity; write to him at [email protected].

COMMENTARY: Unions trounced in Wisconsin, California

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

By Steven Greenhut | Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity

Steven Greenhut

The AP headline declared, “Wisconsin voters divided on governor, bargaining,” but that review of exit polls stood in stark contrast to reality. Voters always are divided to some degree, but Wisconsin voters overwhelmingly rebuked the public-sector unions that had sought to recall reform-minded Republican Gov. Scott Walker. As of 9 p.m. California time, the election was called in his favor as he held an astounding 18-point lead.

Furthermore, the Republican lieutenant governor also was cruising to victory, as were three of four Republicans in the state Senate seats targeted by the Democrats and their labor union allies.

This is a big victory not just for Wisconsin residents, who will continue to see good-government reforms proceed, but for the rest of the nation, even those of us in California.

Had the public-sector unions succeeded, then serious efforts to rein in pension costs for public-sector workers would have evaporated as politicians would have become too nervous to pursue them. Instead, politicians — a bunch generally driven by little more than a desire to hold and retain office — have learned that it’s possible to take on the unions and not only survive, but to prosper. Walker has just catapulted to the vice-presidential short list, and provided other things don’t trip him up, he has a promising national political future.

The Wisconsin victory also proves that reform can take place in blue states, in places where the union movement has prospered and where Democratic majorities are an ever-present reality. Wisconsin has for decades been at the heart of the progressive movement and remains a liberal bastion. California, of course, could not these days elect a Republican governor who takes on the unions, but we’re seeing signs that Democratic politicians might emerge who embrace a similar agenda.

Pension reform in California

In San Jose, Measure B — a serious pension reform measure that reduces benefits for current workers – passed overwhelmingly, with little opposition from the unions, which are gearing up for a legal fight. They know they can’t win in the democratic arena. The measure was leading with 71 percent of the vote in that Democratic city, which along with Scott Walker’s victory suggests that unions are now going to be backpedaling fast. Councilwoman Rose Herrera, the swing vote on the council, is leading in her race to retain her seat, which is more good news for San Jose pension reformers.

In San Diego, pension-reform councilman Carl DeMaio was leading the race for mayor, followed by Democrat Bob Filner, which is the best-possible news. A DeMaio-Filner general-election race will be great for DeMaio.

The likely third-place finisher is Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, one of the least principled politicians in the state. Fletcher claims to be for pension reform but has worked closely with the unions. If he finishes in second, he would be a much more formidable candidate for DeMaio. Fletcher’s career should be kaput if these results hold, given that this establishment Republican quit the GOP after it endorsed DeMaio, something that will make him persona non grata in the GOP. And the pension reform measure pushed by DeMaio, Proposition B, is winning by an overwhelming margin.

And now for some really great news, as Fullerton residents are well on their way to recalling three of the biggest buffoons to hold elected office in the county: council members Don Bankhead, Dick Jones and Pat McKinley. The three Republican pension-spiking, pro-redevelopment tax-hikers came into the figurative crosshairs of local activist Tony Bushala after they disgraced themselves by trying to downplay the horrific beating death of an unarmed homeless man by city police officers.

Also in OC, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor is handily beating the pro-union liberal Republican Leslie Daigle.

Sure, Todd Spitzer, the pro-union Republican who retroactively increased pensions for his deputy buddies as an OC supervisor, won back a seat on the board — but that was predictable given his weak opposition, establishment support and his huge war chest. This will soon be an embarrassment for the principle-lacking OC GOP as Spitzer will almost certainly go back to his old ways of advancing legislation designed to help public-sector unions. He will continue to seek the spotlight and once again the most dangerous place in Orange County will be between Todd Spitzer and a TV camera.

But if the results hold, this will be a great night for taxpayers and a terrible night for those public-sector unions that have been plundering the nation for so long.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. He is based in Sacramento. Write to him at [email protected]