By a vote of 3-1 on Monday, Sept. 17, the Oakdale City Council moved forward to explore the privatization of the public works department by accepting requests for proposals for city park maintenance.
“We will not pursue this unless there is a real documented savings of 10 to 15 percent,” said Special Projects Administrator Greg Wellman when presenting the agenda item from a more than 50-page document on the subject.
In July, the council directed city staff to explore the possibility of privatization of public works services and if it was feasible for them to be provided at the same level at a reduced cost.
During Monday’s presentation, Wellman told the council that he and Operations Manager Dee Tatum had seven meetings with employee groups, emphasizing that the city was committed to following the Myers-Milias-Brown Act, the bargaining statute that governs city employees’ working conditions and terms of employment.
Examples from other cities were reviewed and Wellman said those from San Diego and Antioch seemed to be more relevant to model.
Wellman suggested that it was better to retain one firm for the entire park maintenance project rather than contracting with various companies or individuals for separate parks. He pointed out that, unlike other city bids, there was no obligation to accept or move forward.
During discussion, Councilman Mike Brennan wanted to ensure that the council could still accept a bid if there was only one bidder. The Antioch and San Diego examples given by Wellman had stated that the Request For Proposals would be invalid if there was only one bidder.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” commented Councilman Tom Dunlop in his support for the item.
“It gives us a side-by-side comparison,” said Mayor Pat Paul. “It shows what costs are now and what costs are out there.”
Operating Engineers Business Representative Mike Eggener, who represents the public works employees, complimented Wellman and Tatum on the meetings but pointed out to the council that many of the city parks were next to schools and he reminded the council that all the “private employees” would still have to be background-checked.
Eggener also pointed out that the 10 percent savings would only be approximately $32,500. He listed that in the past year the city had spent over $325,000 in one department head’s error, had extensive legal fees, paid thousands of dollars to study the privatization, and had entered into agreements with department heads that had led to massive payouts.
“All this adds (up) to over a million dollars and you’re wanting to save $32,000?” Eggener questioned.
Mayor Paul invited Eggener and his group to continue to bring forward the comments.
“We’ve tried to bring items forward Ms. Mayor, but employees have been told they can’t speak in public,” replied Eggener, referring to Interim City Manager Stan Feathers’ recent directive on public comments by city employees.
J.R. McCarty and Farrell Jackson, both candidates for city council, separately addressed the council stating their opposition to the proposal.
McCarty said he had spoken with the mayor of Stockton who told him their privatization move a few years ago was a mistake and they had lost millions of dollars in the process.
Jackson said that the privatization of parks maintenance may not be worthwhile in its entire picture.
“I want to go on record, I don’t agree with privatization,” said Jackson.
Councilwoman Kathy Morgan, who was the lone dissenting vote, stated she was not willing to trade the hard work and loyalty of current city employees for the risk of those from a private vendor.
“City employees care more,” Morgan said.
Morgan also brought up the current inconsistencies with the city’s lighting districts on how their privatized services were administered.
With the passing of the agenda item, the city will advertise the request for proposals (RFPs) and review responsible bidders before taking any other steps in the process.