Bill Usurping Decision Making from Governing Boards Moves to Senate Fiscal Committee
Senate Bill 239, by Senator Robert Hertzberg, places
agreements between public agencies to provide fire protection
services under the purview of local agency formation commissions
(LAFCOs). Secondly, this bill requires the contracting local
agency to receive written permission from the recognized employee
organization to extend fire services outside its service
Public agencies contract with each other for the provision of services frequently. Flexibility to contract together is authorized in order to ensure efficiency and cost-effectiveness, maximizing resources to meet the needs of the public. This is a fundamental function of local government. When a contract is agreed upon, the agency does not abrogate its authority or fiduciary responsibility to the residents it serves. For many local agencies, contracted services with other local agencies are critical in order to avoid duplication of infrastructure, equipment and staffing. These agreements can be long-term or on an urgent basis according to the needs of each community.
Fire protection providers that negotiate service agreements are directly accountable to the communities they serve. Before agencies modify services, an internal fiscal review is completed in order to determine its feasibility and any needs for increasing staff and equipment. Requiring a second fiscal analysis is duplicative and extremely costly. Contracting for services is similar to other significant budget decisions that must be made by local governing boards. LAFCOs are not, and should not be, tasked with making the day-to-day financial decisions for local agencies.
Board members are elected to represent the community and ensure that a certain level of service is provided. The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA) is very clear in the scope of which employee organizations play a role in the public agency decision-making process. The MMBA states that employee organizations can represent its members on issues which, “include all matters relating to employment conditions and employer-employee relations, including, but not limited to, wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, except, however, that the scope of representation shall not include consideration of the merits, necessity, or organization of any service or activity.” In most cases, local agencies are already required to “meet and confer” over decisions made by the agency that may result in changed work conditions. Requiring employee organizations to approve service decisions is inconsistent with the MMBA, and would effectively eliminate the ability of a community and its representatives to decide how fire protection is governed.
Further, it is unclear if local agencies have recourse to protest the employee organization’s disapproval of a contract. Under the general process for “a change of organization,” all affected agencies and the public can formally protest a LAFCO action, potentially triggering an election or a reversal of the LAFCO’s decision. SB 239 would preempt that process entirely to the extent it would allow the recognized employee organization to unilaterally veto an agreement for services.