Testing their mettle

True character comes out in a crisis. Last Friday’s storm tested the people whose salaries we pay, and doubts about their dedication got swept away in the wind and rain.

Public road crews—municipal, county, Caltrans—had major thoroughfares cleared within hours. Police and firefighters responded to an onslaught of 911 calls. Hundreds more employees coordinated efforts behind the scenes.

Individual homeowners and neighborhoods may have cause for complaint, but on the whole, tax-funded folks gave us meritorious effort.

Yeah, but did they earn their money?

That’s not a flippant question these days. Chico city employees have taken knocks over their pay and benefits. The root of the city’s “structural deficit” traces to labor contracts, and city employees, particularly firefighters, have gotten criticized collectively and individually. (How would you like your name and income posted online in a searchable database?)

Their crisis response, to the literal and figurative storms, reminds us all to take care when casting blame. Don’t glare at Firefighter Smith just because his union got him a good deal—save the stink-eye for the people who authorized it.

In Chico, the buck stops with the City Council. Human Resources Director Dan Fulks may handle the negotiations, but councilmembers have the ultimate say. The six-year deal with the firefighters union, which will affect the upcoming police pact, got unanimous approval last July as a consent-agenda item—no public discussion.

So question the council’s wisdom before questioning the heart of the people who work for them, and us.