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Letters to the Editor

Dome Defense

I'm writing in response to your article, "Top-Heavy Dome"—an article in The Fly (Oct. 3) that reports on the supposedly overinflated salaries of city workers. You make some incorrect assumptions based solely on the numbers and without the correct context to back them up. Comparisons used without proper reference is just plain bad journalism.

First, you state "San Jose officials were finally forced to release their protective clutch on city payroll data," which implies they were hiding something from the public. While it is true that the Supreme Court judge ordered these to be released, the reasons may not be what you think: S.J. officials had a legal right to protect the private information of their employees. Personally, I feel releasing city position, as well as individual names, is an invasion of privacy. Yes, these people work for a city government, but they are not all elected officials, nor are they necessarily doing anything that warrants their salaries to be publicly available to anyone with Internet access to view. Why can't positions be listed and not names? I suppose the point is moot since the judge has ruled and you've already named a name, but the reasoning behind the city's "protective clutch" should not be lost.

Second, you compare the 27 percent of city workers making over $100,000 with the national average, which shows them making a 15 percent higher wage. But you failed to give the full picture. Since California, the Bay Area and San Jose itself have a much higher average salary and cost of living than other places in the U.S., why would you not list that instead? Not an impressive enough difference to make good copy? The truth is San Jose has the highest median household income in the United States, so my guess is that people working in the area also have some of the highest salaries. Not surprising when you realize San Jose has more than 6,600 tech companies employing over 254,000 people. However, even with this information, yours would not be a true comparison, as averages account for workers both skilled and unskilled, while all city workers are skilled if not well-educated, experienced, licensed or certified.

Third, you list employees making over $100,000 annually that show boosts in salary of over 15 percent, yet without specifics on these numbers, how you can be so quick to call them out? There are so many reasons for various salaries: retroactive raises, overtime, vacation, years with the city, new licenses or certificates and more. And even with those notations, you don't get the full story. For example, the fire department, which you note is making more money. Yes, there are many people making overtime in the fire department; however, this isn't something they do for fun. They are at a station all night, answering 911 calls, risking their lives and serving the public. When you pay for someone with experience and a paramedic license to provide good medical services to the community, you have to pay them at scale. In my opinion, they deserve to get paid for that time. Same with the police. Same with building inspectors. Librarians. And so many more. Of course, many of them would make more in the private sector but choose to serve the communities they live in. And did you know that San Jose city workers are some of the most efficient?

And lastly, calling out Nancy Alford for her substantial salary increase from 2005 to 2006 due to her retiring and cashing in her vacation time is uncalled for. If you saw that she never took vacation and worked diligently every day at the city doing her job, would you be angry? It may look like she had a big increase, but the facts don't bear that out. I can only imagine what you will say next year when you see fire salaries for 2007. It will probably "look" like they are rolling in the dough. If you did your research, you would realize they worked 3 years without a contract and that money is all a retroactive lump sum for the raise they just negotiated when a contract was finally signed.

At first glance, it seemed that Metro published an insightful article with lots of facts to back up suppositions about city workers. But if you dig just beyond the surface you'll find the real story: the taxpayer's dime is not arbitrarily lavished on select officials. Rather, it is spent to attract and retain qualified and dedicated workers.


San Jose

Hearing Is Believing

Richard von Busack's article on silent/sound films (Film, Nov. 28) is good, but he misquotes Al Jolson, who actually said "You ain't heard nothin' yet" not "You ain't seen nothin' yet."

Stephen Eichler

Sewanee, Tenn.

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