Managers hired despite program cuts

April 30, 2009 6:53:59 PM PDT
There is no doubt the Bay Area job market is tight right now. However, the I-Team found one place where, despite a shrinking budget, they are hiring a lot of top managers every year -- the city of San Francisco.

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This is an issue of accountability and whether or not your tax dollars are being spent in your best interest. The I-Team looked at how many new executives are joining the San Francisco payroll while pink slips go out to the city rank and file. That money has to come from somewhere, and in this case it means many people who depend on city programs will have to do without.

"What about the people? Are you guys listening to them? Whatsoever? This is all about money," says Rajan Alexander, SF assistant rec. director.

While city employees at the bottom fight for their jobs in this tough economy, life at the top is very good. The number of managers in San Francisco city government continues to grow ? they are up almost 20 percent since 2005 with 54 new executives hired in just the past year.

"I have concern overall across the whole city about the increase in management disproportionately over front line staff and it's something we need to look at in the budget," says San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos.

The controller's office crunched the numbers for the board of supervisors, but never released the study to the public. However, here's the five-year snapshot: 48 new executives at Muni, 30 for public utilities, 34 joined the human services agency.

And we're taking a close look at the recreation and parks department. They have taken on 18 new managers, most making $100,000 or more.

"I have six other managers managing me, and what do they do? I don't know," says Alexander.

Alexander has taught a tiny tots class at the Excelsior Playground for 13 years, but she got a pink slip in February. In fact, every single assistant rec. director on the front lines like Alexander are being let go ? that's 72 people -- many of whom have been filling town hall discussions and City Hall budget meetings.

"You guys are cutting down these recreation centers and you got to look at the kids that's behind me because these are who they label gangbangers even though they not gangbangers, they're family, they have nowhere to go, that's the only safe haven that they have," says a former employee.

The rec department does not want to discuss just how many neighborhood programs will have to be shut down when the staff leaves.

Dennis Kearn is the director of operations.

Noyes: "We've got a rec. and park list of cuts that shows 313 canceled classes as of May 1. Does that sound about right?"

Kearn: "That doesn't sound right. I'm not quite sure where you got that figure."

An internal document obtained from a source gives a good picture. It is over 300 classes -- many of the cuts falling on neighborhoods that depend on the programs most.

Ruben Nunez attended the same tiny tots class in the outer Mission 40 years ago. Now, he brings his son.

"Coming here is big to me, it's big to my family and to the community," says Nunez.

James Ross is worried about his Bayview swim team, a model program that is making a difference.

"We're the first nationally recognized swim team in the Bayview. We became that two years ago -- that means a lot because we've made a change in history," says Ross.

And with no staff around, Supervisor Avalos says rec. properties like the Excelsior Playground will be easy targets for crime.

"We need all eyes on that facility all the time. If we don't have really strong programming there it deteriorates rapidly and we don't have the kind of services that families need," says Supervisor Avalos.

"Obviously you cannot have the cuts that we are having and ask the services to remain the same," says interim director of rec. and park Jared Blumenfeld, who defends the staff and program cuts, saying he is also losing five unfilled manager positions. "I felt it was not equitable or fair to even look at staff line positions until we made some cuts."

The one manager who is actually losing her job happens to have filed a harassment complaint against the department.

The few cuts to rec. and park managers are no consolation for the dozens of long-time staffers losing their jobs, like Alexander. We were there for her tiny tots picture day -- one last chance for the kids to socialize, before the class is shut down.

There is one other point to consider. With these cuts leading to fewer programs city-wide and more kids on the street, voiceover public defender Jeff Adachi expects to see an increase in his caseload. That is why he is refusing the mayor's demand that all departments cut their budgets by 25 percent.

Is there waste in city government? Are there other ways that this budget crisis could be met? I would bet there are," says Adachi. "I don't think that to say to every department, take a 25 percent cut, is good policy.

We're posting many of the documents we obtained for this investigation in a new I-Team blog here.

Send us your comments or tips by e-mail here or by calling 1-888-40-ITEAM.

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