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LWV League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

Smart Voter
Santa Clara County, CA November 5, 2013 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
Council Member; City of Sunnyvale; Seat 3

The questions were prepared by the Leagues of Women Voters of Santa Clara County and asked of all candidates for this office.     See below for questions on Experience, City Management Selection Process, Pension Liabilities, Council Track Record, Conflicts of Interest

Click on a name for candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.

? 1. Of all the experience related to city government you would bring to the City Council, which three would be most important to your effectiveness and why do you think so?

Answer from Tappan G. "Tap" Merrick:

1. I have ten years of government accounting experience with the Federal Reserve System. I was a cost accounting and budgeting expert with them and fully understand how large organizations (12,000 employees) are structured, where the financial weaknesses are and how to make Sunnyvale run more efficiently and at lower unit cost. As promotions came, I gathered highly pertinent experience managing staff, leading procedural audits of banks around the country and working with senior management on a wide variety of issues.

2. As a parent for 38 years, husband and father to teachers, youth sports coach for 19 seasons, a big brother in college, active in varsity sports myself in high school, 9 years of scouting (Cub, Boy & Explorer) and 6 years as an alter boy, I understand how important it is to get all of the various aspects of our society to work together to provide a safe, well educated and active community for our children. Expanding volunteerism, whether through schools, sports, senior programs or scouts will help make our community much stronger and cohesive. I believe that I have that ability to bring our community together to make Sunnyvale a great place to live, again.

3. Serving as a neighborhood activist these past nine years to work with and control ultra high density growth, I understand how difficult it is to get neighbors together for commission and Council meetings, and will show every deference to neighbor wishes in these situations. I will support our neighbors. They are the ones that elect me to my position, not other groups or developers.

Answer from James R. "Jim" Griffith:

Over my past four years, I've established myself as a councilmember who does his homework, gets the facts straight, and makes the smart and difficult calls. I've worked hard to understand the inner workings of all aspects of Sunnyvale's government, so that my decisions are well-informed and thought out, and so that I can consider all options when casting a vote.

I've made resident outreach a priority over my first four years, so that residents know what's happening, and so that I know what residents think and want. I've operated a city council blog, on which I report city news and provide both a preview and summary of City Council meetings, as well as an explanation of my votes and concerns. I've operated an annual resident study issue survey to get public feedback on proposed study issues before I vote on them. I've conducted multiple town hall meetings, the first councilmember in a decade to do so. And I'm active in the online mailing lists and a regular attendee of neighborhood association meetings, to better understand the ground-level issues that concern residents. I've worked hard to keep government transparent and residents engaged in issues that matter to them. And I've built relations and trust with Sunnyvale's community leaders, so that they come to me with issues and concerns, and they know I'll reach out to them when issues concern them. Leading well isn't simply a matter of telling people what I think - it's also a matter of understanding and caring about what residents think and value, so that I can represent our interests, and not just my own.

Sunnyvale has had issues with contentiousness on council over the past two years. However, through it all, I've remained a calm and productive voice, and my motions and proposals consistently receive majority support. I work well with my Council colleagues, with city staff, and with residents on issues of interest to them, and I was selected by my colleagues as Vice Mayor not once but twice. My accomplishments on Council, my advancement as a leader on intergovernmental committees, and my long list of endorsements from colleagues and co-workers are all a testament to my ability to avoid contention, work collaboratively, and serve Sunnyvale well.

? 2. The City Council is now in the process of selecting a new City Manager. What, specifically, is working well about the selection process, and what would you like to see done differently?

Answer from Tappan G. "Tap" Merrick:

I expect the recruiting process to be similar to the last search for a City Manager, and I think that Mr. Luebbers is a fine person who has done an excellent job for the City. This process, however, misses several significant goals. Goal number one ought to be to find a City Manager that will develop a cross training program so that the next city manager will rise from the ranks. This may require actually having two assistant manager positions. Goal number two ought to be to look for a City Manager that is young enough to be able to expect him/her to remain in Sunnyvale for many years to come. It should come as no surprise that 61 year old Mr. Luebbers chose to retire at age 65. Goal number three ought to be pay the City Manager at no higher than the mid-point of his salary range. This way, he/she will be entitled to cost of living raises every year, just like every one else. Goal number four is to only grant a maximum 20% raise over the new hire's previous salary. Goal number five is eliminating the concept of "hiring the best of the best." Sunnyvale ranks tenth in per capita property taxes (according to County Assessor Stone's recent report) and yet past Councils have extolled this "best of the best" and paying the "most for the best." This has the effect of competing directly with other towns for employees based solely on salary. Sunnyvale will be better off paying at the middle of the pack level and using it's money more efficiently. Those familiar with hiring practices will tell you that money is only one issue to consider. Sunnyvale makes a mistake making money the only reason to work here.

Answer from James R. "Jim" Griffith:

The previous selection process was extremely involved, with interview committees representing Council, labor, business, and residents. It resulted in one of the best City Managers Sunnyvale has ever hired, and that process was widely regarded as a huge success. We need to duplicate that process this time.

I was part of the selection process for the current City Manager, the current City Attorney, and the current Library and Community Services Director. Selecting a good City Manager is the most important task facing the next Council. With only one other Councilmember experienced in the City Manager selection process, my experience will be invaluable to Sunnyvale.

However, due to Sunnyvale's lower retirement benefits and a contentious Council, hiring a new City Manager will be a much greater challenge this time. We may need to widen our outreach beyond its traditional scope to identify a good candidate.

? 3. What has the City done to make its pension liabilities sustainable? Would you advocate for additional changes?

Answer from James R. "Jim" Griffith:

In my first term, we negotiated two-tier (lower) pensions, increased employee retirement cost responsibility, and two zero raise years. We implemented pension reform. I am the only councilmember in decades who strictly voted on labor agreements that kept flat or reduced employee benefits. And we accomplished this by working with our bargaining units and avoiding the chaos that cities such as San Jose have endured.

We still need to negotiate with the bargaining units to have them assume their remaining share of retirement costs (or equivalent savings through other means), at which point our revenue will exceed expenses for the 20 year budget projection. This is the plan that the Council developed, and we need to deliver on it. Electing councilmembers who understand and support the plan already in progress will be critical to Sunnyvale's future fiscal picture.

Answer from Tappan G. "Tap" Merrick:

Sunnyvale, in conjunction with State actions, has implemented a three tiered pension system. Thus newer employees, especially those that have never worked for a CalPERS agency before, will get a lower pension payout at retirement. To make this effective, the City would need to only hire people without existing California pensions. Typically many of our employees transfer from other agencies, bringing along their current CalPERS rate with them. This only delays the beneficial effects of the three tiered system even farther out.

Sunnyvale needs to re-evaluate it's pay scales and pay practices for new employees to lower the basic cost of operations. Lowering the amounts paid to future employees will start to lower the future pension liabilities faster. Cross training needs to be expanded because it costs, on average, 10% to give an existing employee the promotion verse 20% to hire a new employee (according to a Wall Street Journal article). These actions will together help reduce the City's pension obligations faster.

? 4. What is the most important accomplishment of the City Council in the last two years? What is its greatest failure?

Answer from James R. "Jim" Griffith:

It would be easy to point to the way Sunnyvale emerged from the Great Recession with services and staff intact, more money in the bank, and pension reform implemented. But I'm most proud of the plan that Sunnyvale developed for Onizuka Air Force Base.

For years, Sunnyvale muddled through the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, trying to come up with a good use for Onizuka, and the best use to be proposed was development of an auto mall, an idea which nobody actually liked.

A year into my first term, we developed a new plan to transfer the homeless and low income housing claims to a lease on the city's Armory property, and then provide land at Onizuka for a Veterans Administration Research and Development facility, an expanded Fire Station 5, and a new satellite campus for Foothill/De Anza College, the first such college in Sunnyvale. At it's conclusion, the Air Force Transition Coordinator said of Sunnyvale's efforts "This is a shining example of how multiple agencies can work together to transfer this facility, and provide the local community with the facilities it needs for a new life".

And I'm proud of the part I played in this process, working with Foothill/De Anza's Board and leadership to capture their interest and create their enthusiasm for the project.

The greatest failure is our inability to break the legal log jam between Wells Fargo and the previous Downtown developer, which is preventing the bank from selling the property to a new developer to get the job finished. However, in the past four years, even with the legal log jam, Council convinced Wells Fargo to invest $80 million in the project, when Wells Fargo could have just sat on its hands. Wells Fargo finished the two office buildings which are now occupied by Apple and Nokia, and we opened McKinley, Taaffe, Frances, and Murphy Streets through the downtown for the first time in decades and landscaped them. Clearly, no other issue frustrates residents and Council more than this one, and we did the most that we could do with the courts blocking us, but it isn't enough.

Answer from Tappan G. "Tap" Merrick:

Unfortunately there are several accomplishments and failures that are worth noting, and an artificial time frame of two years is too limiting. But within the last two years, the fact that Council finally was willing to admit, at Sunnyvale Pension Reform's 700 members insistence, that indeed, CalPERS unfunded pension liabilities were actually $280 million instead of the claimed $140 million for 2010. Other accomplishments over the past six years include bringing more jobs to Sunnyvale, and in 2007 requiring the City to present a balanced 20 year budget every year.

The greatest failure remains the still unfinished downtown Town Center. The second greatest failure and highly embarrassing to all in Sunnyvale was the censure of Council member Meyering. Not only did Mr. Meyering fail to seek any solutions, but the opposing councilmembers failed to own up to their own financial dealings when they had already publicly reported these dealings in previous filings to the State.

? 5. Who are your top five donors and what total amount have you received from each one? What conflicts of interest can you foresee from your campaign contributions, and how would you handle them?

Answer from Tappan G. "Tap" Merrick:

$10,000 Loan - Candidate Tappan G. Merrick 1,231.16 - Donations by candidate Tappan G. Merrick $500.00 - Sunnyvale retiree $500.00 - Self employed consultant, Sunnyvale Resident $500.00 - Customer Service director, Sunnyvale Resident $100.00 - various

I see no conflicts of interest in City business, but if so, I would recuse myself from deliberations. I will not accept campaign donations, either before election or after, from developers or unions.

Answer from James R. "Jim" Griffith:

My top donor is actually the taxpayers of Sunnyvale. Knowing the high cost of running an effective campaign, and being unwilling to ask for significant special interest donations, I set aside 1/3 of my City Council salary for the past four years to fund almost half of my re-election campaign. This allows me to run without being beholden to special interests, supported primarily by Sunnyvale's taxpayers.

Additionally, I have contributed my own money, making me the second largest donor to my campaign.

The next three largest donors are a Sunnyvale resident active in the environmental movement, a doctor with a practice in Sunnyvale and his wife, and a Sunnyvale resident and long-time supporter of mine.

I don't foresee any conflicts of interest with my donors, since an estimated 85% of my campaign will be funded by myself, ordinary Sunnyvale residents, and friends and family. The rest will be balanced between a very diverse group of Sunnyvale stakeholders.

This is current as of September 10, 2013

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates' statements are presented as submitted. Word limits for answers are 400 words for all questions. Direct references to opponents are not permitted.

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily. Candidates who did not respond are not listed on this page.

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Created: January 15, 2014 17:15 PST
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