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Council Tables Janitorial Contract Amidst Growing Debate

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

January 10 -- A tussle at Tuesday’s City Council meeting over who should sweep the historic piers' planks may frame a future debate over whether millions spent annually on contract employees should be kept in-house.

After hearing from pier officials and municipal workers, council members -- who sparred two days earlier on the City’s contracting policies -- tabled a vote on a three-year, million-dollar contract to provide janitorial services for the pier.

Joining municipal workers who have been pressuring the City to curb outside contracting, Pier officials said they want better services to clean up after the four million visitors to the popular destination every year.

"I and the Pier Restoration Corporation Board (PRC) feel it is important to have custodial services in-house,” said Ben Franz-Knight, executive director of the PRC, the non-profit agency that runs the pier.

In addition to arguing that City employees would do a better job, Franz Knight said that continuing to use contract workers to clean up, as the pier has done for the past decade, no longer pencils out.

"On the cost side, it also makes sense to bring this in-house," Franz-Knight said.

The pier director produced a document he said proves it is cheaper to use City employees than contract workers, because Santa Monica's living wage law has boosted costs to the point that it now makes economic sense to hire in-house.

Franz-Knight cited City figures for labor costs that show the annual costs for six full-time employees and four part-time janitors is $305,895.20, or $37,60.80 less than the $343,500 annual contract.

He also said using City workers at the Pier would make decision-making more "flexible."

"If it's not in a contract to clean a plaque, then that is a contract amendment," said Franz-Knight, adding that his own staff often ends up doing janitorial work on weekends when the pier may be most crowded.

Tuesday’s debate continued a discussion over the City’s contracting policies initiated at a special council meeting Saturday. Figures released at the meeting show that $16 million, or five percent of the City’s total operating budget, is spent on contracting services that include everything from parking attendants punching tickets in local garages to tree trimmers. (see story)

Council member Bobby Shriver, who two days earlier argued that contract work often made economic sense, was one of several on the dais, including the City Manager, who urged postponing the vote to study the new information.

"This spreadsheet is wholly inadequate to make a true financial cost forecast," Shriver said. The council can’t “make a policy decision on a document we are seeing for the first time."

Council members Ken Genser and Kevin McKeown had backed an initial motion to terminate the contract outright and begin searching for new employees.

The two council members – who are vocal proponents of using more City employees – eventually pulled that motion after City Manager Lamont Ewell promised to analyze the information and return with a recommendation in coming weeks.

Ewell said he would prefer to address the use of contract workers as part of a restructuring of City departments.

"I'd like to do it as a citywide need, rather than a piecemeal approach," Ewell told the council.

Members of the city's municipal employees union who sat in on the proceedings said they were pleased that the extension of the contract at the pier was postponed.

However, they said they would continue to look at the bigger picture and lobby to keep municipal jobs in-house.

"It's a good time to say how we feel as employees," said Ramona Gandara, president of the MEA and an Administrative Clerical Technical Employee.

"It's now a good time to bring (the work) in-house,” she said. “It's not a good time to get committed to a three-year contract at over a million dollars."




"On the cost side, it also makes sense to bring this in-house." Ben Franz-Knight


"It's not a good time to get committed to a three-year contract at over a million dollars." Ramona Gandara


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