By Olin Ericksen
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
"On the cost side, it also makes sense to bring this in-house,"
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
"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
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."