Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - November 5, 2010

Editorial: Dousing Measure R sends strong message

Firefighters' union leadership made a strategic gamble with Measure R, but Palo Alto voters saw through it — as should firefighters

The astounding 3-to-1 defeat of the Palo Alto firefighters' union-backed Measure R should send a strong message to the union local's rank-and-file members that voters are fed up with scare tactics and exaggerations such as those practiced by the current leadership of the local.

Those tactics have resulted in a serious embarrassment to the union and a damaging setback to the union local's credibility in the community.

Measure R if approved would have required citywide voter approval for any reduction in Fire Department staffing or station closure, shielding the department from any reorganization or budget adjustment based on broader city needs. It was promoted by "every minute counts" messages, one showing a firefighter holding a baby, and implying that there was an imminent threat to timely responses in emergencies.

There isn't. And if one comes up in the future it should be dealt with in open debate using appropriate channels, and by holding our elected officials responsible for public safety.

Opponents correctly argued that Measure R would have placed the Fire Department in an impossibly rigid and protectionist position at the potential expense of all other city programs and services — including a number of other important "public safety" services.

The measure was opposed by a huge cross-section of Palo Alto residents and civic leaders, and the final tally was more than 75 percent of voters rejecting the proposal, one of the largest rejections of a Palo Alto measure in history.

Rank-and-file firefighters need to take a hard and realistic look at how their union local has led them astray. Then they might take similar look at how they want to be perceived in the community, particularly in a time of hardened public attitudes toward wages and benefits of public employees in general and public-safety personnel in particular.

Challenging times lie ahead for unions representing all public employees, as the unsustainable costs of pensions and high salaries become clear and significant cuts necessary. These will be difficult discussions, made more difficult by the tactics of the firefirghters union.

If nothing else, the overwhelming rejection of Measure R should send a message that voters want and expect a more honest and constructive dialogue from public employees — one aimed at finding solutions rather than emotional posturing.

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