Court: San Diego Mayor Broke Rules in Bid for Pension Reform

Former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders at the 2012 graduation ceremony of the San Diego Center for Children. (Photographeroflife/Wikipedia)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The California Supreme Court on Thursday reversed a lower court decision upholding San Diego’s pension reform ballot measure, finding the city’s former mayor skirted meet-and-confer rules with labor unions and used his influence to push the citizen’s initiative.

In a 29-page ruling by Justice Carol Corrigan, the state Supreme Court found former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders engaged in unfair labor practices when he refused to meet and confer with union representatives for city employees while at the same time using his influence to sponsor a citizen’s initiative for pension reform.

Proposition B, overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2012, replaced pensions for new city employees with 401(k)-style retirement benefits. Only newly hired police officers were grandfathered into the old pension plan.

The Public Employment Relations Board previously found Sanders’ failure to meet and confer with union representatives before the measure was put on the ballot violated the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act – which gives public sector employees the right to collective bargaining – and constituted an unfair labor practice.

But last year, the Fourth Appellate District rejected that contention and found Sanders did not violate meet-and-confer requirements.

In Thursday’s opinion, Justice Corrigan detailed how Sanders wanted to pursue pension reform through a citizen’s ballot initiative after concluding the City Council was unlikely to put the measure to voters. He held a press conference at City Hall announcing Proposition B which was attended by then-City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and former city councilmember – and current mayor – Kevin Faulconer.

Sanders formed a campaign committee to raise money for the proposed initiative and his chief of staff monitored the committee’s activities, keeping track of fundraising and expenditures. The mayor’s office released press releases on the matter. He also discussed the ballot measure during his January 2011 state of the city address, according to Corrigan’s summary.

But Sanders maintained he was acting “in the public interest” as a “private citizen” when he engaged in his pension reform efforts and was not subject to meet-and-confer requirements.

The state’s high court rejected that argument, finding based on the undisputed facts “Mayor Sanders had an obligation to meet and confer with the unions.”

The meet-and-confer requirement “is an important feature of state public employee labor relations law, and one that places a relatively ‘minimal’ burden on a local agency’s governing functions,” Corrigan wrote for the court.

Furthermore, the appeals court “failed to give PERB’s statutory interpretation the deference to which it was due.”

She added, “Under the facts presented here, Sanders pursued pension reform as a matter of policy while acting as the city’s chief executive officer.

“He consistently invoked his position as mayor and used city resources and employees to draft, promote, and support the initiative. The city’s assertion that his support was merely that of a private citizen does not withstand objective scrutiny.”

The high court remanded the case was remanded to the appellate panel, advising the judges there to address the appropriate judicial remedy for the city’s violation of meet-and-confer requirements.

Proposition B remains in effect, though it could be tossed by the appellate court.

A spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer did not immediately return a request for comment.


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