By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa rehired its labor negotiator Tuesday despite questions raised by two council members about the cost of the firm’s services and the soundness of its guidance.
The council voted 5-2 to extend the contract for Burke, Williams & Sorensen, over the objections of councilmembers Gary Wysocky and Julie Combs
Both expressed concern with the cost of services of M. Carol Stevens, a partner in the firm, particularly over the negotiation of the latest labor contract for firefighters.
Wysocky said that Stevens presented “inaccurate and untimely” information to the council during closed-session discussions about the firefighters’ contract, a three-year deal the council approved in October.
Wysocky sought to lift the confidentiality covering the limited portion of those discussions relating to the information provided to the council, but on a 4-3 vote his colleagues declined.
Vice Mayor Robin Swinth, who voted against lifting confidentiality, noted that the city was in the middle of negotiations with other groups and releasing such information now wasn’t sound negotiating strategy.
After the meeting, Wysocky said the inaccurate information presented to the council was directly relevant to the deliberations of the council on the contract. But he declined to detail the information, citing his colleagues’ decision not to release it.
He instead focused on the cost of Stevens’ service, which he noted cost the city $300 per hour. He noted that on one day alone Stevens billed the city for 12 hours of work.
“We have some hard working attorneys,” said Risk Manager Lynn Margolies.
“For $300 an hour I’d work that hard too!” Wysocky replied.
It is standard for such consultants to be paid their hourly rate during travel time, and it was pointed out that Stevens, whose office is in Mountain View, likely billed for travel time on the day in question.
The city already has spent about $100,000 with the firm, and the new contract authorized $150,000 more.
The additional work is needed in part because two city labor units, Santa Rosa City Attorneys and the Santa Rosa City Employees Association, the largest in the city, have declared impasse and called for the city to go through factfinding, a new and potentially complex process with which the city has no experience.
Nevertheless, Combs said she was disappointed the city did not explore other firms that might be capable of the doing the work. She said Stevens “did some surprising things” during presentations to the council and “made some statements that were questionable.”
But Mayor Scott Bartley said he was satisfied with the work of the firm.
“I think we’re doing more damage to ourselves with this kind of discussion,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater.