Words can mean life or death for ballot measures, including a November one in Santa Ana

Column: Attorney threatens the city with legal action over noncitizen voting measure, but not for the reasons you might think

Officials are notorious for sticking their thumbs on the scales as Election Day approaches. But how much is too much? It’s a question Santa Ana officials might do well to ponder.

We’re not talking Venezuelan manipulation of voting machines or fake ballots stuffed in suitcases or other fantastical flights of fancy here. We’re talking about the comparably mundane use of language, and how officials crafting ballot measures (and titles and summaries) can bless, or curse, an idea with words and words alone.

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A rose is a …

Remember the Republican-backed attempt to repeal gas taxes in 2018?

Drivers hated the gas tax and registration fee hikes (which aimed to raise some $5 billion a year for much-needed infrastructure work), but officials loved them. Proposition 6 would have repealed them and, like all statewide ballot measures, it had to traverse officialdom before reaching the great unwashed masses at the ballot box. When the Attorney General’s office wrote the title and summary for the measure, it didn’t simply say “repeals recently enacted gas and diesel taxes and vehicle registration fees.” It said, “Eliminates Recently Enacted Road Repair and Transportation Funding by Repealing Revenues Dedicated for Those Purposes. Requires Any Measure to Enact Certain Vehicle Fuel Taxes and Vehicle Fees Be Submitted to and Approved by the Electorate.”

Huh? Prop. 6 failed.

And who can forget all those pension reform attempts?

s the cost of generous public worker retirements gobbled more and more of state and local budgets, reformers circulated some pretty logical plans to get future costs under control. These plans would not have impacted current public workers; only workers hired in the future. But you couldn’t tell that from the title and summary from the AG’s office.

“Reduces pension benefits for current and future public employees … including teachers, nurses, and peace officers ….”

TEACHERS, NURSES AND PEACE OFFICERS?! Reformers went ballistic, calling the language “provably false or grossly misleading” — but, well, here we are, sans pension reform.

Enter now the extremely interesting measure from the city of Santa Ana for the fall general election that raises all sorts of tremendous questions.

Who votes?

On Nov. 5, Santa Ana voters will decide if noncitizens will get to vote in city elections.

The measure says, “Shall the City of Santa Ana City Charter be amended to allow, by the November 2028 general municipal election, noncitizen City residents, including those who are taxpayers and parents, to vote in all City of Santa Ana municipal elections?”

A conservative Orange County attorney threatens legal action over this — but not for the noncitizen voting part.

“‘Taxpayers and parents?’” said Laguna Niguel attorney James V. Lacy, one eyebrow raised.

Which is to say, just as no decent human being would claw pensions away from righteous teachers and nurses and peace officers, who’s going to deny righteous taxpayers and parents the right to weigh in on local governance?

Of course, Lacy points out, the measure would also allow non-taxpayers and non-parents — which is to say, just about exactly everyone of legal voting age — the right to vote on local governance. So the words do nothing except try to tip the scales in the measure’s favor.

“That language is jimmying with the ballot,” Lacy said. “It’s election interference.”

If “taxpayers and parents” isn’t dropped from the measure, Lacy — who served in the Reagan administration and has filed similar suits before — will ask an Orange County Superior Court judge to step in.

We asked the Santa Ana folks their thoughts. City spokesman Paul Eakins said the city attorney’s office will be providing an impartial analysis of the ballot measure at a later date, and referred us to the city clerk’s website for more election information at www.santa-ana.org/elections/.

No idle threat

Lacy has worked in this space before.

A few years ago, voters in San Francisco amended the city’s charter to allow noncitizen parents and guardians of school-aged children to vote in school board elections. Lacy took the city to court, citing Article II, Section 2, of the California Constitution: “A United States Citizen 18 years of age and resident in this state may vote.”

The city violated the constitution by allowing non-U.S. citizens to vote, he argued. The court agreed.

But the city appealed, arguing that the state constitution doesn’t expressly say “only” U.S. citizens may vote and doesn’t prohibit expanding the electorate to noncitizens. You might recall that, once upon a time in America, women were denied the vote, as were Black Americans and “natives of China.”

It’s important that San Francisco is a “charter city” — operating under its own voter-approved set of rules and regulations — as opposed to a “general law city,” operating under the general laws of the state. The appeals court reversed the lower court and handed the city a victory.

“(W)e agree with the City that the plain language does not restrict the Legislature’s discretionary power to expand the electorate to noncitizens,” the appeals court said. “(I)t makes sense to confer on charter cities the authority to expand the electorate where, as here, the city’s voters determine that doing so would better serve local needs. Conversely, where a charter city’s electorate determines expanding the electorate would not serve its local needs, it need not do so.”

Down the road, Lacy fears Santa Ana’s measure would dilute the voting power of minority citizens, thus running afoul of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Santa Ana is 77% Latino, 12% Asian, 9% White and 1% Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The overwhelming majority of noncitizens are presumed to be Latino.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Deep-Blue Santa Ana, California, May Give Voting Rights to Illegal Aliens

Voters in Santa Ana, California, a deep-blue city in Orange County, will soon decide whether or not to give local voting rights to potentially tens of thousands of foreign nationals, including illegal aliens.

Next year, during the November 5 election, voters in Santa Ana will be asked whether or not they want to approve giving the right to vote in municipal elections to foreign nationals, including illegal aliens, which would then go into effect by 2028.

According to the latest estimates, foreign nationals are nearly 25 percent of the resident population in Santa Ana. Potentially 60,000 illegal aliens reside in the city, parts of which voted 81 percent for President Joe Biden against former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

The measure is significant because local elections are often decided by very small margins where a few hundred votes can make or break a candidate. If voters approve the measure, Santa Ana would become yet another deep blue locality to afford local voting rights to foreign nationals, including illegal aliens.

Most recently, as Breitbart News reported, Democrats on the Boston, Massachusetts, city council introduced a plan that would extend local voting rights to foreign nationals living in the city who arrived on visas, green cards, and other forms of legal status.

Click here to read the full article in BreitbartCA

How Many Legal Wrenches Can Santa Ana’s Recall Election Take? 

Santa Ana’s police union-backed City Council members won’t unstrap themselves from an imminent, police union-driven recall election that the county has officially decertified. 

Not only did County of Orange elections officials find – at the 11th hour – that they and recall petitioners used the wrong electoral map to gather and verify signatures and mail ballots to residents, but the county has since rescinded its certificate of the recall’s signatures entirely.

Yet the seat of City Councilmember Jessie Lopez – a vocal police union critic – seems headed for a Nov. 14 special election anyway, one costing more than $600,000 out of the city’s public purse.

It’s putting City Hall at odds with the OC Registrar of Voters, with both looking to the other for guidance on the issue.

The police union has already spent nearly half a million dollars in their campaign to unseat Lopez, which, if successful, would be the second time they’ve ousted an elected official who challenged officer salaries and the union’s political grip, since the turn of the decade.

Now it may be up to a judge to decide whether an election should proceed without the say of nearly 1,200 residents who should have received a mail ballot for this election but did not.

“That’s why we’re taking this corrupt recall to court,” announced Lopez in a campaign email asking for donations from supporters on Tuesday.

If Lopez is unseated, her replacement would only hold office for a year before the seat again goes up for grabs in the November 2024 presidential election. 

The situation comes after three police union-backed City Council members – Phil Bacerra, David Penaloza and Mayor Valerie Amezcua – refused to cancel the election at a Monday night special meeting, despite OC Registrar of Voters Bob Page’s office raising serious validity issues in an Oct. 26 letter to City Hall.

Page’s letter states that police union recall petitioners gathered voters’ signatures for an election based on the current map of Lopez’s ward, instead of the prior boundaries that existed when she was elected, before the ward was redistricted.

On top of that, in closed door discussions before council members took their vote on Monday night, City Hall’s top attorney, Sonia Carvalho, advised council members to rescind the city’s own certification of the recall, according to remarks from the dais by Council Member Johnathan Ryan Hernandez.

Instead, council members on Monday deadlocked.

Meaning:

“The Registrar of Voters will continue to conduct the recall election using the current map of Ward 3 until we receive new direction from the City to use the 2020 map of Ward 3. The City Clerk is the elections official for the election. The Registrar of Voters provides election services at the direction of the City and the City Clerk,” Page wrote in a Tuesday email.

Above is a map of Santa Ana voters who should be voting in the Nov. 14 recall election but were not mailed ballots. Credit: Provided by the OC Registrar of Voters

In an Oct. 27 letter responding to Page’s original notice, city officials asked for more guidance from county officials. 

“The City should not be left alone in deciding how to proceed, based on the error, regardless of who is responsible for it,” Carvahlo wrote

The county’s top attorney, Leon Page, responded that the county is relying on direction from the city.

Recall organizers and police union-backed council members have criticized Page’s office for recognizing the error so late in the game.

Page said he noticed the issue after receiving an email from the Kings County Registrar of Voters “asking other county elections officials in the state for advice regarding a recall effort involving school district officials elected before and after redistricting.”

“This request prompted me to re-examine how we reviewed the Ward 3 recall petition and are administering the recall election pursuant to the request of the City of Santa Ana,” Page said in an email.

In light of the 11th hour controversy, Page added that his office has “started to review our procedures and checklists to identify opportunities to improve how we support city clerks.”

On Monday, Page signed a “superseding” certificate rescinding the one he issued on July 17 – first reported by freelance journalist Ben Camacho – which originally determined enough valid signatures from voters in Lopez’s ward to move forward with the election. 

The following day, in a Facebook post, Councilmember Penaloza said he no longer endorsed the recall campaign.

In his post, Penaloza echoed police union-backed colleagues’ remarks on Monday, that council members shouldn’t be the ones to cancel the election. 

“The integrity of our elections is way too important and sacred for politicians to be the ones who decide whether an election currently taking place gets canceled or not, especially after many Santa Ana residents have already cast their votes. That is not a decision that I should be the one to have to make.”

Yet Page has said his elections office depends on the City Council’s direction on how to proceed.

Requests for comment from council members Phil Bacerra and Valerie Amezcua went unreturned on Wednesday. 

On Tuesday, OC Supervisor and former Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmieneto publicly questioned the integrity of the police union recall.

“The Santa Ana City Council had the opportunity to do the right thing,” said Sarmiento during supervisors’ regular meeting. “The rules are that when a person is going to be recalled, they should be recalled by those same voters that voted you in.”

Click here to read the full article in the Voice of OC

‘Emotional Distress’: Santa Ana Pays $625k to City Manager Who Abruptly Resigned

Santa Ana City Council Members have agreed to pay out nearly $652,000 to former City Manager Kristine Ridge, who abruptly resigned this month in the wake of the police union’s high profile legal battle with City Hall that focused on Ridge. 

It comes as the result of Ridge alleging “personal/ physical injuries and emotional distress damages,” according to the severance and release agreement, which Voice of OC obtained through a Public Records Act request.

The settlement amount – approved by City Council members behind closed doors on Oct. 9 – will be paid to Ridge in two separate checks. 

Click here to read the agreement.

“The City shall cash out any of Ridge’ s remaining accrued leave balances consistent with her Employment Agreement,” the agreement reads. 

As City Manager since 2019, Ridge steered the ship of one of Orange County’s largest and most predominantly Latino cities – and oversaw a budget of $760 million.

A request for comment from Ridge went unreturned over the weekend.

In Ridge’s stead, the city has named Assistant City Manager Steven Mendoza as acting City Manager – a role he filled before, from December 2018 until May 2019, when a wave of staff departures included that of then-city manager Raul Godinez, and the hiring of Ridge, under former Mayor Miguel Pulido.

Now another wave of executive departures this year is prompting hard questions about the future direction of City Hall.

[ReadAfter City Hall Shakeup, Where Does Santa Ana City Hall Go From Here? ]

Just weeks before Ridge’s resignation was announced, Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin announced he would retire by the end of the year, citing – in written parting remarks to employees – “corrupt and compromised politicians.”

In a high-profile saga, Ridge and Valentin resisted an effort by the former president of the Santa Ana police union, Gerry Serrano, to score a pension spike at City Hall. 

Ridge and City Hall executives deemed the request improper, resulting in a barrage of police union lawsuits against City Hall, which Ridge – in a written memo – deemed an “intimidation campaign” to “burn the city to the ground unless he gets what he wants.”

[ReadSanta Ana Officials: Police Union Boss Threatens to ‘Burn the Place Down’ to Boost His Pension]

Click here to read the full article in the Voice of OC

Councilmembers Restart Conversation About Allowing Noncitizens to Vote in Santa Ana Elections

At least two Santa Ana councilmembers said they think local voters should decide if noncitizen residents in the city should be allowed to vote in local elections.

Noncitizen residents make up about 24% of Santa Ana’s population, and nearly 20% of Orange County’s noncitizen resident population lives in Santa Ana, city officials quoted from US Census Bureau statistics. Immigrant residents, including noncitizen residents, in Orange County contributed $10.5 billion in taxes in 2018, according to the American Immigration Council.

But noncitizens can’t vote for the local lawmakers who help set the policies affecting their everyday lives, councilmembers Johnathan Hernandez and Benjamin Vazquez said in requesting their City Council colleagues consider putting on the November 2024 ballot the question of allowing residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote in local elections. The City Council is set to decide at its Tuesday night meeting whether or not to direct city staff to look into the options.

“We know that the right to vote isn’t set in stone. It’s an open book and we’re fighting to push it forward,” Vazquez said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon before the meeting. “The founding fathers of this country could not have imagined a world where the Black community, (community) of color or women had the right to vote. We have won those rights. Now, we ask that you see immigrants for their humanity with the rights that give them a role in the government in which they live.”

At least two Santa Ana councilmembers said they think local voters should decide if noncitizen residents in the city should be allowed to vote in local elections.

Noncitizen residents make up about 24% of Santa Ana’s population, and nearly 20% of Orange County’s noncitizen resident population lives in Santa Ana, city officials quoted from US Census Bureau statistics. Immigrant residents, including noncitizen residents, in Orange County contributed $10.5 billion in taxes in 2018, according to the American Immigration Council.

But noncitizens can’t vote for the local lawmakers who help set the policies affecting their everyday lives, councilmembers Johnathan Hernandez and Benjamin Vazquez said in requesting their City Council colleagues consider putting on the November 2024 ballot the question of allowing residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote in local elections. The City Council is set to decide at its Tuesday night meeting whether or not to direct city staff to look into the options.

“We know that the right to vote isn’t set in stone. It’s an open book and we’re fighting to push it forward,” Vazquez said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon before the meeting. “The founding fathers of this country could not have imagined a world where the Black community, (community) of color or women had the right to vote. We have won those rights. Now, we ask that you see immigrants for their humanity with the rights that give them a role in the government in which they live.”

Now, the conversation “is not about whether the city of Santa Ana has the legal power to do it or not. Today is about whether they have the political will to do it,” said Carlos Perea, executive director at the Harbor Institute for Immigrant and Economic Justice, who participated at Tuesday’s press conference with the two councilmembers.

Santa Ana has already been a leader in protecting civil rights and its immigrant and refugee communities with recent policies and this would continue that momentum, Hernandez said.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Santa Ana Objects to Syringe Exchange Program Approved by California

The Harm Reduction Institute is one step closer to providing needle exchange services in Santa Ana following the approval of its application by the California Department of Public Health despite objections from city leaders.

City Manager Kristine Ridge and Police Chief David Valentin sent a letter of opposition to the state’s health department in May, pointing to concerns about public health and safety after a previous exchange program. Between 2016 and 2018, the Orange County Needle Exchange Program operated in Santa Ana before shutting down after city officials denied it a permit, saying the program had resulted in needles littering the area. The same group was barred by a judge in November 2018 from running a mobile needle exchange program in four Orange County cities, including Santa Ana, saying volunteers didn’t have adequate resources to prevent or clean up needle litter.

The city’s letter called the effects of the needle exchange program on the community “dire,” and said that despite the city’s pleas for management of the needles handed out, the program had resulted “in thousands of used hypodermic needles being discarded in or on the adjacent public buildings, libraries, streets, sidewalks, parks, and waterways both in Santa Ana and elsewhere in Orange County.”

Mayor Valerie Amezcua called the state public health department’s decision “unacceptable” and argued that Santa Ana has already shouldered too much in addressing homeless and substance abuse concerns of even surrounding cities.

“It’s about the quality of life in Santa Ana. I just I don’t accept it as a mom, as a person, as a community member, as a mayor, as a granddaughter, or as a daughter to say, ‘Well, this is just what it is. This is why we come here. You’re the county seat. You provide all the services,’” Amezcua said. “No, sorry. That’s a cop out. There are other cities that can provide services.”

The nonprofit has been authorized to provide delivery of clean syringes and pickup of used syringes at private homes, tents, RVs and other non-traditional forms of housing. It will not be allowed to deliver supplies to unhoused individuals near playgrounds or schools.

The organization does not have a launch date yet. Carol Newark, executive director of the Harm Reduction Institute, said Santa Ana has an ordinance that bans needle exchange programs so her group will have to figure out how to work within those rules.

The needle exchange would be added to the nonprofit’s current offerings of overdose prevention and harm reduction services to about 300 people via street outreach. The organization also provides case management and treatment navigation services for participants who need medical care, as well as social and mental health services.

Newark said the state is requiring the organization be able to offer needle disposal services Mondays through Fridays, as well as do daily sweeps to clean the streets and ensure that there is no needle litter. The public health department is also offering to pay for needle disposal kiosks to be placed around the city.

One limiting factor to being able to use the program is that a person must own a cellphone as a way to keep track of needles for disposal. So, if a member of the outreach team makes a delivery and the next day the person is no longer living there, they have a phone number to find out where the person is to ensure proper needle disposal, Newark said.

“We’re trying to be proactive,” Newark said. “We are concerned about improperly discarded syringes. People really tend to focus on the fact that we provide sterile syringes to people, but that’s only 50% of what we do. We provide them, but we do also dispose of them.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Could Undocumented Residents Soon Vote in Santa Ana?

While undocumented immigrants remain barred from voting in federal elections, Santa Ana could join other parts of the U.S. that have in recent years allowed noncitizen voting at the local level.

As they debated city charter amendments at their July 19 meeting, most City Council members indicated support for a ballot measure opening local elections up to more people living in Santa Ana but born outside the U.S.

If passed by voters, Santa Ana would join a list of cities across the country – from as large as San Francisco and New York City (where a judge recently struck down the law) to even smaller towns like Montpelier and Winooski in Vermont – that have pushed for such expansions of civic participation to residents without citizenship status. 

“These are people who pay taxes. These are people who live in our community,” said Councilmember Johnathan Ryan Hernandez, who proposed the new idea in the middle of an existing discussion on city policy revisions that would need to go before voters in November.

More than 82,000 undocumented people are believed to live in Santa Ana, according to American Community Survey estimates from 2020. More than 60,000 residents in town were born outside the U.S. but have naturalized, according to the same set of estimates.

“I would like to see us include language that would allow voters to decide if residents who are non-citizens should be able to vote in our elections,” Hernandez said at last Tuesday’s meeting.

The idea got traction among most of his colleagues, for staff to come back with a recommendation at a future meeting, including Mayor Vicente Sarmiento, who noted from the dais that, at least in spirit, the idea “already (has) precedent” in town. 

Specifically, the majority Latino city allows undocumented residents to sit on city boards and commissions – a policy change made officially in March last year.

In Santa Ana, Sarmiento said, people of undocumented status – who tend to confront some of the city’s most pressing quality of life issues – “sometimes are more vested” in city affairs “than voting members.”

“We have other cities that have done this and this can be legally upheld,” Sarmiento said, expressing the need for “a bit more robust explanation for it.” 

The idea would have to come back to council members some time before the Aug. 12 filing deadline for city ballot measures. The City Council’s last regularly-scheduled meeting before then is Aug. 2.

Council members Sarmiento, Hernandez, Thai Viet Phan, Jessie Lopez and Nelida Mendoza supported the idea that evening. 

But two did not: Phil Bacerra – who at last Tuesday’s meeting said he didn’t support approving something proposed on the spot – and David Penaloza. 

Both council members tend to disagree with the ideas pushed by an opposing political camp on the dais, under Sarmiento. And the proposal by Hernandez, who’s frequently aligned with Sarmiento on certain issues, came during what was already a contentious debate that night about the existing, proposed city policy revisions before them. 

Aside from that, Penaloza said in a Friday phone interview, “I’m not supportive of it coming as a charter amendment this election cycle, mainly because these are the midterms.”

Penaloza argued the idea’s approval would hinge on what’s generally a smaller midterm election voter turnout compared to presidential election years.

But Penaloza said “it’s a valid discussion to have” and that he does see “a benefit to increasing the democratic process for a huge area of our community.”

“But how do we make sure it’s feasible?” Penaloza said, arguing the city could step into legal mud. 

Namely, Penaloza invoked the stricken law in New York, where a state supreme court judge from Staten Island said it ran afoul of the New York state constitution, according to the New York Times, which applies voting eligibility to citizens meeting adult age and residency requirements. 

A legal expert interviewed by the Times, as well as proponents of the law, argued the New York constitution’s language didn’t translate to an express exclusion of noncitizens who meet the age and residency requirements.

Click here to read the full article in the Voice of OC

Democrats Want to Exempt California Teachers from State Income Tax

Ashs-teacher-and-studentsIn a surreal political moment, California State Senators Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) and Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) have introduced the “Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017” which offers a novel incentive for teachers to remain in the profession. Senate Bill 807 would exempt California educators from paying the state income tax after five years on the job, in addition to allowing a tax deduction for the cost of attaining their teaching credential. If passed, the bill is estimated to cost the already burdened California taxpayers an additional $600 million a year. All this is transpiring because of an alleged teacher shortage.

So, let’s see – if we indeed have a shortage, why exactly are districts laying off teachers? In Santa Ana, 287 teachers were just pink-slipped, essentially because the school district couldn’t afford to keep them. Seems that the Santa Ana Educators Association had pushed for and received an across-the-board 10 percent pay raise in 2015. The money had to come from somewhere, and it’s going to come from what would have been used to pay 287 of the newest hired, now soon to be laid off teachers. San Diego, facing a major deficit – much of it due to spiraling pension costs – is about to lay off about 900 recently hired teachers.

In fact, these types of fiscal issues are burdening more and more school districts across the state. So I suppose one could argue that we have a teacher shortage because we are laying them off. But however you identify the problem, the way to solve it is to rejigger teacher union orchestrated state laws and teacher work rules that are mandated in a typical union contract, thereby attracting and maintaining the most talented teachers, rather than giving older, more senior ones – competent or not – more money.

On the state level, defined benefit pensions for teachers, a union must, are causing school districts to go deep into the red and now the Golden (State) Goose is beginning to dry up. A great way to keep young teachers in the field – and ultimately save school districts and the state billions of dollars – would be to offer them a higher salary rather than way-down-the-road retirement benefits that many will never see.

Also, a state issue, the union’s hideous seniority or  “last in, first out” law, one of the statutes that Vergara judge Rolf Treu said “shocks the conscience,” is clearly a deterrent to promising young teachers. Why should a bright, enthusiastic, skilled 20-something enter a field where her worth isn’t appreciated? She knows that no matter how good she is, come tough fiscal times, her job may very well disappear. So she would rather go into a field where her abilities are truly appreciated, and the quality of her work matters more than the number of years she has been employed.

Locally, the unions keep talented teachers from entering and staying in the profession by insisting on a quality-blind way of paying them. In just about every district in the state, public school teachers are part of an industrial style “step and column” salary regimen, which treats them as interchangeable widgets. They get salary increases for the number of years they work, and for taking (usually meaningless) professional development classes. Great teachers are worth more – a lot more – and should receive higher pay than their less capable colleagues. But they don’t. Also, if a district is short on science teachers, it’s only logical to pay them more than other teachers whose fields are over-populated. But, of course, stifling union contracts don’t allow for this kind of flexibility.

Another local way to promote and pay great teachers is to get beyond the smaller-classes-are-always-better myth. To be sure small class-size does help some kids, but for most it matters not a whit. In fact, some kids – like me – did better in bigger classes. But, thanks to union lobbying for more dues-paying members, class sizes are kept small. In fact, as Mike Antonucci writes, “Since 1921 (nationally) we have almost quintupled the number of teachers, more than quintupled the average teacher salary in inflation-adjusted dollars, and also cut the student-teacher ratio in half.” In California, the student-teacher ratio is currently under 20:1. Yet on the 2015 NAEP test, California’s 4th graders ranked 49th in the country in reading and 48th in math. So school districts should be able to give great teachers a stipend and add a few kids to their classes. That would net more quality teachers and higher achieving students at a lower cost to the taxpayers, but the unions won’t allow it.

To achieve badly needed education reforms in California, state legislators and local school board members must stand up to the powerful teachers unions. Until then, all we are doing – SB 807 being the latest example – is putting a heavy coat of lipstick on a bloated tax-sucking pig.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

This piece was originally published by UnionWatch.org

Can Unionized Police Be Held Accountable for Misconduct?

“We thought [the employees we fired] were inappropriate to be employees of the city.”

– Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks (ret.), in reference to the termination of corrupt police officers, Rampart scandal (late 1990’s)

police-badgeAbout a year ago UnionWatch.org published an editorial asking this question, “How much does professionalism cost,” using as an example the tragic death of Kelly Thomas. In that case, six police officers repeatedly struck with batons and tased an unarmed man, who died a few days later of his injuries. Since that tragedy back in 2011, numerous cases of police misconduct have surfaced, many of them with equally tragic consequences. The latest one, while inexcusable, is more farce than tragedy, involving a team of Santa Ana police officers who recently raided a marijuana dispensary in that city.

The misconduct didn’t involve murderous violence, but it did involve blatantly unprofessional behavior. Once the officers secured the dispensary and ejected the staff and customers, they proceeded to disable the security cameras, and, at least according to the video recording from the camera they neglected to destroy, some went on to gobble up marijuana “edibles.” Watch this video and make up your own mind whether or not these individuals are engaging in conduct appropriate for employees of the Santa Ana police department.

Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness, on his radio talk show, has frequently discussed the issue of police misconduct. He makes an observation that bears repeating – in a population of over 1 million police officers in the United States, it is inevitable that you will have bad apples. It is statistically impossible to have a group of humans that large, where every single individual will be beyond reproach. There will always be a percentage of crooks and thugs who slip through. It can’t be helped.

Critics of police fall roughly into two camps – those who are concerned about police respecting civil rights, and those who are concerned about excessive police pay and benefits. While there’s overlap, these are very distinct concerns. But those who are concerned police overstate the risks of their job in order to justify increasing their pay are often the same ones who overlook the fact that police misconduct can also be overstated. Critics can’t have it both ways. Police fatalities are rare. Police misconduct is also rare.

What can be helped, however, is how police who do cross the line are held accountable.

According to a source at an Orange County blog that covered the pot bust, the supervising officer on the scene was Alex Sanchez, a police sergeant with the city of Santa Ana who in 2013 made $107,952 in regular pay, $27,205 in “other pay,” $16,184 in overtime pay, and earned employer paid benefits of another $68,820. In other words, this officer earned pay and direct benefits during 2013 of $221,162. This rate of pay is not unusual. Take a look at the pay for Santa Ana city employees – note how nearly all of the high paying positions are for police officers.

Citizens have a right to expect better behavior from a police officer who makes this much money. And a police officer who makes this much money should be prepared to be held accountable. In the corporate world, on-the-job drug use, vandalism, or insults directed at a member of a protected status group are all grounds for instant termination. And in the corporate world, despite repeated claims to the contrary by government union propagandists, total compensation packages in excess of $200,000 per year are very unusual. Notwithstanding that incessantly cited handful of rapacious and untouchable Wall Street bankers, corporate managers and executives who make $200,000 or more per year have little or no job security, and are held accountable, and terminated, for transgressions of far less import.

There’s more. When critics of police conduct say police should not consider themselves above the law, they’re right, but they don’t go far enough. Police should not merely obey the law, they should be role models. By their words and deeds they should inspire the rest of us. The destruction of cameras, the needless vandalism, the profanity, and the insults undermine respect for law enforcement, which is the human face of the laws we must obey.

Police unions not only highlight the risk officers face as the reason they deserve excellent pay and benefits, they highlight the professional requirements of the job. Police perform an incredibly difficult job that goes well beyond the physical risk they live with. Every day, they have to deal with uncertain, volatile situations, with agitated individuals and groups, with hostility and disrespect, and with violent criminals. Police work in 2014 America requires more professionalism than ever. That’s why they’re paid like professionals. But with professionalism comes accountability.

Police officers depend on the trust and solidarity of their colleagues. That is a necessary and proper element of an effective police force. But police unions overlay onto that solidarity an us-vs-them mentality, as well as a layer of protection against individual accountability, that at the least may be described as problematic. Police unions, like teachers unions, may consciously proclaim their commitment to the broad public interest, but their organizational agenda invariably pulls them away from the people they serve.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Purging Corinthian Colleges student debt may cost taxpayers more than $200 million

As reported by the Orange County Register:

The abrupt closure of Corinthian Colleges may cost U.S. taxpayers more than $200 million in canceled student loans.

Corinthian, the for-profit chain based in Santa Ana, reached an agreement Sunday with the Education Department to shutter its 28 campuses serving about 16,000 students. Forgiving their debt, if all students request it, would cost the government about $214 million, according to Denise Horn, an Education Department spokeswoman.

When a college closes, enrolled students are eligible to have their federal loans discharged, under certain circumstances. Some Corinthian students who are able to finish their degrees by transferring into other programs may not qualify to have their loans canceled, said Daniel Hanson, an analyst with Height Securities in Washington.

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